iLaw! Parts 26-30

Part 26

Word of Char’s engagement spread like wildfire and the iLaw! sisterhood called for an immediate convening. They met for dinner the next night. Liz wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of seeing Jane. They had yet to speak to each other since the Gala. Still, for her friend’s sake, Elizabeth came. She did not talk to her sister; it was surreal. Jane and Liz had always been very close, even though their interests varied. Rarely had they argued, even more rarely had they held on to their disagreements. Yet here they were sitting next to each other celebrating the engagement of their close friend while Liz refused to do more than barely acknowledge Jane’s presence.

“Tell us everything. We want to hear every single itty bitty detail!” Maria demanded.

“Well…” Char went on to tell them about the wonderful Sunday horseback ride and dinner and then to the game.

“Did you have any idea before you saw yourself on the screen?” Jane asked.

“I had no idea after I saw us – until he knelt before me. It was almost like I was watching someone else.”

(Collective sigh.)

“Did you ever think of not saying yes?” Liz was still a bit skeptical. Being put on the spot like Luke did to Charlotte made it hard to not go with the flow. Very few women would have said no.

“Truly, it never crossed my mind. I was surprised, yeah, but I was as ready as Luke to commit.”

“It seems so quick.” Maria remarked.

“It is quick, but that does not make it wrong or a mistake. I don’t know how to explain this other than that everything that I am tells me that Luke Fitzwilliam is the one I’m destined to spend the rest my life with.

“I want to thank all of you for the part you played. Liz for challenging me, Jane for setting me up with Luke and you, Maria, for being a help and a support.”

“At least it all turned out well for you.” Liz said in agitation. “Not all of us meet Mr. Right.”

Elizabeth ventured a look at her sister.

“You cannot blame any of us here that things did not work out for you with Will.” Char said in defense of Jane.

“That’s your opinion and you are certainly entitled to it.”

“It’s his loss,” exclaimed Maria.

Liz looked at the three ladies, in anger.

“His loss? I sent the pecker head away! He wanted a relationship with me but I said no.”

“Huh?”

“He had the gall to tell me that he had fought an attraction to me and that he was relieved to find me not plain. Imagine how it felt to be seen only as the sum of your looks. Oh, and on top of that learning that his only motive to continue our relationship before that night had been to fulfill the terms of a bet? When exactly were you planning on revealing this little bit of information, Jane?”

“I had hoped that you were mature enough to work through it on your own, just the same as the issue of the manner of your dress.” Jane replied.

“Oh, what a marvelous foundation on which to build a relationship. Deceit is right up there on the top of my list!” Elizabeth said sarcastically.

“Liz, calm down!” Charlotte demanded. “I for one am grateful to Jane and Charles for their part in bringing Luke and I together. Instead of blaming Jane for your disappointment, perhaps you should take a good look at yourself.”

Elizabeth stiffened. “And what do you mean by that?”

“What Char means,” Jane interrupted, “is that you are angry because Will bruised your ego.”

“I am not!”

“Like hell! What if Will had been a bit more judicious in his choice of words to you after you went outside and hadn’t said something that wounded your stubborn pride? I would lay money down that you would be a couple right now. The way he looked at you, and you at him left little doubt in the minds of those of us who witnessed it.”

“So I’m the proud one?” Liz asked incredulously.

“You BOTH are! Charles has told me about Will and he sounds a lot like you. Liz, I love you – you’re my sister – but I’m not blind. You have one of the biggest egos I have ever met. That’s just the way you are. It’s also carried you far, I’ll grant you. You would not have been the athlete you were without it; you have a very high confidence in yourself and who you are. Will came along and made you question yourself. The suggestion that you might not be good enough was a staggering blow and you haven’t recovered from it yet.”

After Jane finished no one said a word until Elizabeth spoke up.

“I’ve made the arrangements to be on Dating Phoenix. The show is in three weeks.” Elizabeth stood and put a $20 on the table, a habit she seemed to have fallen into of late. “I pay my debts. Char, congratulations. I’ll leave you to celebrate with people more in the mood.”

After she left Charlotte asked Jane, “Do you think she’ll listen to what you said?”

“Knowing Elizabeth, it may take awhile.”

Char and Maria agreed; they knew their friend.

*****

Luke breezed into Will’s office.

“Whatcha doing tonight?”

Will refused to look Luke in the eye. “Nothing.”

“Sounds boring, let’s go out.”

“I thought you would be out with your fiancée tonight?” Will could not hide all the bitterness from his voice.

Luke laughed, purposefully ignoring his cousin’s surliness. “Nah, she told me to go do something with the boys this evening.”

“Very accommodating.”

“Oh, we’ll be seeing each other most of the weekend. I’m going over to meet her parents tomorrow and then we pay a return visit to my folks the next day. However, tonight I am a man of leisure with no female responsibilities. Who better to have a night out with than my dear cousin? From your gloom and doom mood, it looks like you could use some cheering up.”

“I’d rather not go out again tonight.”

“Again?”

Will opened up the drawer on his desk and pulled out a stack of various bit of paper. “Phone numbers from my recent scouting ventures”

Luke whistled, “That’s a bunch of women represented there.”

Will laughed mirthlessly. “Oh, they will give me their numbers when I’m not being set up.”

“Still angry with Charles?”

“Aren’t you? No, you’re not. You got a future wife out of it.”

“I don’t see why you and Liz aren’t together. You seemed to enjoy getting to know her and I saw that you had make-up on your shirt collar the night of the gala.”

Will steepled his hands. “Elizabeth dumped me.”

Luke was shocked “Did you just say she dumped you?” Will nodded in confirmation. “That would explain those.” Luke pointed to the stack of phone numbers. “Wanted to see if you still have it?”

“Yeah. And I do, but…”

“None of them are like Liz.” Luke finished.

Will sighed. “I haven’t been able to call any of them, not a single damn one. Every time I try, I see Elizabeth in my mind and I just can’t do it.”

“Have you tried to call Elizabeth?”

“She made it very clear she didn’t want to be with me.”

It was time to lighten the mood.

“She has more good sense than I thought. If I were a woman I, the moment I saw you I would turn and high tail it out of there. Come on, let go get something to eat.”

*****

Charles finally cornered Will at home. It had been three weeks since the Gala, and Will still refused to speak to his best friend. Charles had decided enough was enough and drove over to Will’s Encanto neighborhood home. Seeing Will was home, Charles let himself in. There were some advantages to knowing where the Darcys kept their spare house key.

“Get out of here!” Will threatened when he saw he had company.

“Not until I’ve said my peace!”

“Then say it and leave.”

Will turned away and sat, stone still, on the sofa.

“I know you are angry with me and I admit I deserve some of that wrath. I deceived you and Luke and I apologize to you just like I have already apologized to Luke.” Charles paused, and then continued. “Did you ever wonder why I did it?”

Will still refused to look at Charles, who by this time was standing opposite him.

“I did it because I was tired of you complaining about the women you were dating. As if it were my fault you were dating bimbos; you were the one picking out your dates. Well, I decided it was time for you to learn a little something about women; that there is more to look for than how they look. Yes, I set you up and yes you lost. But has it ever occurred to you that you actually won, and that I lost and have since paid off the bet?”

That caused Will to finally look Charles in the eye.

“I promised you that if I lost I would introduce you to a beautiful woman who does have a brain. I did, two actually, but Luke and Char were destined to be together. You and Liz seemed to move past your initial opinions of each other and were working towards a friendship, at the very least. So you can continue to be angry with me or you can grow up and accept my apology.” Seeing that Will was not going to answer, Charles finished his monologue. “You know where to find me.”

Charles was at the door when he offered on last thought.

“If it gives you any comfort, Liz isn’t speaking to Jane either. Wonder why?”

Part 27

The next day Will finally worked up enough courage to call Elizabeth. When her phone went immediately to voice mail, he chickened out and did not leave a message. An hour later he was ready to try again.

Liz had been on the phone the first time Will had called and had checked her caller ID to see who hadn’t left a message. She was shocked to see Will’s name, but it did serve to warn her that he wanted to talk to her. Thus, when he rang again, she was somewhat prepared to talk to him.

“Hello Elizabeth, it’s William.”

“Hello William.” Let him do the initiating, she thought.

“I’ve spent the last day rehearsing what I wanted to say to you and now that I am finally speaking to you I don’t know what to say.”

“Honesty is always welcome.”

“I deserve that.”

“I probably do, too.”

“Elizabeth, we need to talk. Face to face. I… we didn’t part on good terms…”

“That certainly is an understatement,” Liz quipped.

“Yes it is. Luke said you told Char that when I was ready to contact you I should do so. I’m not really sure I’m really ready, but I don’t think I can stand to put this off any longer. Can we have lunch someplace soon?”

“William… I…” Does he understand why I was upset? There’s only one way to find out. “How about tomorrow afternoon at Pie Zano’s. Have you every been there?”

“Sure, Town and Country.”

“That’s the one. How about 1:00?”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

And so, our two star-crossed lovers went to bed that night anxious about their reunion the next day. Alas, they both woke the next morning wondering what the day would hold. Unfortunately, the only thing Will awoke to was the wish to keep hold of his cookies until he could make it to the bathroom. For on the day when William and Elizabeth might have met and resolved many of their differences, fate had another thing in mind. William had the flu and was forced to call Elizabeth and postpone their meeting until Montezuma had left. Will and Liz did not meet that lovely Saturday afternoon and the events that were set in motion in the days following would rapidly change their lives forever.

*****

Elizabeth was very disappointed after she spoke with William. She could tell by the sound of his voice that he was as unhappy about delaying their lunch as he was sick, the poor man.

She had thought of him often since they had last seen each other. Feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal characterized the first several days after the gala. Her talk with her father had begun to turn her thoughts in a more positive direction toward William. She recalled the soft light in his eyes when they were dancing. It felt so right when she was in his arms. She remembered the way he kissed her and the passion she tasted on his lips. What had come next was too painful to contemplate… at first.

It was her anger at the ladies of iLaw! that helped her confront her emotions over her argument with William. She had not gone to the restaurant that night to be interrogated about what had happened at the Gala. While the talk with her father had opened up her eyes to the possibilities with a future relationship with William, Elizabeth had yet to come to understand she needed to change just as much as he did. In her resentment of her friends’ attack, she had justified her actions and attitudes. However, the more she thought on it, the more convinced she became that she was just as much at fault as William.

She could more understand his initial resentment when they first met. He was not at Phoenix City Grill by choice. He was being forced, by his sense of honor, to take out a woman not of his choice. He had judged her as below his notice when he first saw her. In a moment of insight, she realized she had done the same thing at the Men’s Expo with Johnny and Greg. She had dismissed them as unworthy of her attention even after spending a pleasant time with them based solely on a faded round patch she had spied on back pocket of a pair of blue jeans. True, the thought of smokeless tobacco was repulsive to her, but she should never have dismissed them so summarily based on a stereotype.

Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.

He admitted he was confused in his attraction to her. Now there was something she could understand! She was attracted to him, even though his hubris made her blood boil. They possessed a similar turn of character. For as difficult and rather uncompassionate in its delivery when it was said, Char and Jane were right, she did have an ego the size of Apache Junction. She understood, but was she willing to accept? The desire to answer that question was why she had jumped at the chance to talk things over with William before she went on Dating Arizona. How could he still be interested in her after that public humiliation if they did not clear the air first? It would be best to make their peace before the public humiliation. After the show, no respectable man in his right mind would want any thing to do with her. She hoped he was recovered in time before the show, and time was running out.

Four weeks previously, the Monday after the Tovrea Gala, Elizabeth had called the folks at Dating Arizona to inquire about going on the show. They had faxed her an application and she had completed and returned it that day before she lost her nerve. They called her back the next day and asked if she could come that Friday night for a briefing and to watch that evening’s show live.

She arrived to discover another twenty or so women. They were all given a short interview, in an attempt to verify the facts on the applications. After that, the producer introduced himself and described what would happen on the show. From there they gathered in the studio to watch that night’s production.

A new host had started just that Monday and Liz thought he was vaguely familiar. When the lights on the set were finally turned down, the new host charmingly came to greet the women he would be working with in the coming weeks. It was only when the host came close that she was able to place his face; the man from the Sex and So Much More convention! The guy Char had coffee with. The dude she had shamelessly flirted with in order to get his attention but who had totally brushed her off! Well, he certainly wasn’t brushing her off now. No sir, he was schmoozing with all of the woman, taking every opportunity to use his considerable charm.

No wonder Char got rid of him as fast as he could. If he’s noticed anything other than tits and asses, I’d be surprised.

Liz left the evening with no less sense of dread than she had coming in.

Now, weeks later she looked at the note pinned to the refrigerator. Wednesday was doomsday – her day to appear on Dating Arizona. Time was slipping by at an incredible pace.

She had thought to invite Char, Maria and Jane to the taping – remembering their offer of moral support. However, Liz was still smarting from the last gathering of iLaw! and she felt no more obligation than to call them the day of the show to tell them to them that the day of reckoning had finally come. She would do this alone.

*****

On Wednesday morning, Will awoke feeling human again. He dressed and went to work, resolving to call Elizabeth that morning. He tried twice before lunchtime but only got her voice mail. Odd, he thought.

While waiting in line at Miracle Mile Deli, he heard a familiar voice.

“If it isn’t my cousin, back from the dead.” Will turned his head and saw Luke smiling at him.

“I wished I were dead a few times the last few days. Care to join me?”

“Char’s coming in a few minutes.”

“Oh, you’ll want to be with her.”

“No, knucklehead, I was just saying she’s coming so grab a table for three.”

Will was up to the counter by then and decided on the cabbage rolls. As he pushed his tray down the counter he saw Char join Luke in line. He gave her a faint smile and turned back and told the servers what sides he wanted. Food and drink on his tray and the bill paid, Will looked for a table. He had a few minutes to collect himself before facing the couple. There were questions he wanted answered before he met with Elizabeth and who better to ask than Char; she was in on the bet.

They exchanged small talk while eating their food allowing Will to work the conversation around to the subject of the ladies’ bet.

“I know this is an awkward subject, but the night of the Gala Elizabeth mentioned a… challenge.”

“The iLaw! bet.” Char said, resigned. “Luke knows all about it but I doubt you know much at all. I’ll tell you what I can, but some things I have to leave for you and Liz to discuss.”

“We were supposed to have lunch on Sunday but I got sick that morning. Since you are here, I would like to know what I can before I apologize to her for my behavior. Maybe then I’ll have a better idea what all I need to apologize for,” Will said wryly.

“Fair enough!” Char chuckled, “I suppose I should start at the beginning.”

Char spent the next ten minutes talking about the event that led up to the bet and what had happened afterwards. Both Luke and Will had the grace to cringe at some of the escapades they had had before they were all introduced.

“Let me get this straight. The loser was to go on Dating Arizona? Good God! That’s a heck of a motivation to try to win. Thankfully you both got your fourth dates in the same night.”

Charlotte’s expression turned troubled. “Not in Liz’s mind.”

“What?”

“She did not consider the Gala to be a true date. Will, she forfeited.”

Will felt like someone had sucker punched him. “She’s going through with it?” he asked, shocked.

“Yes, sometime soon.”

Will whipped out his cell and dialed her number. Nothing but phone mail again. He ran his hands through his hair, thinking.

“Swear to me that you will let me know when Elizabeth tells you when she is scheduled to go on that show.”

“I promise, Will” Char said, laying a hand on his to comfort him.

Will looked down at the unexpected show of compassion. He gazed at the couple seated across from him. “You two will do well together. If I hadn’t meant it before, I mean it now. Congratulations. I know you’ll be happy.”

“Thanks.” Luke knew his cousin was truly sincere.

“If you will excuse me, I need to get going. I have to be in Scottsdale at a project in a half hour and it’s normally a forty-minute drive from here. Thanks for letting me barge into your lunch together, and thanks for shedding some light on the situation with Elizabeth. Let me know when you hear something.”

*****

Will made his meeting on time. When he had the chance, he tried Elizabeth’s number, but she did not answer. They inspected the site and noted the different stages of construction. They had been behind schedule but some diligence on his and his builder’s part had paid off and they were nearly caught up. Finally, the necessities had been accomplished and Will could leave for home. He climbed into his Viper and prepared to tackle rush-hour traffic.

His phone rang. It was Luke.

“Liz just called Char a few minutes ago. Tonight is the night.”

Will said nothing.

“Will, did you hear me?” Luke asked.

“Yeah Luke. When does it start?”

“At 6:30.”

Will looked down at the clock. It read 5:30.

“SHIT! I’m still at the jobsite”

“Yeah.” There was a pause. “Have you talked to Elizabeth today?”

“She hasn’t answered my phone calls. Shit!”

“I’m sorry, Will.”

“So am I. I gotta go, Luke.”

“Good luck, and Will…”

“Yeah?”

“Try not to total the car.”

Will snorted. He appreciated his cousin’s attempt at levity. “I think that’s the least of my worries.”

He ended the call and pulled out into traffic. How was he ever going to make it across town in time?

The following chapter was written by the extremely talented Elsa. Oh, disclaimer. I have no idea if the stage make-up stuff is right, but it sounds good!

Part 28

Tires squealed and another car-horn blared. William had the impression that someone was swearing at him, but he paid little attention as he accelerated to leave. He was lucky there were only a few pedestrians in the area, because the thought of not killing anyone due to the way he drove, did not register in his brain. His only worry was to save Elizabeth—or himself, as her salvation was his, too. If he could catch her before the show, and beg, and plead, or at least keep her captive and tied-up until she would agree to give him a second chance, there was still hope. But he knew very well, that if the experience of Dating Phoenix was to be added to the whole affair, there was no way he would be forgiven for his sins.

Damn, I don’t have any rope!

Where were those studios? Why had they built them in the area currently snarled with road construction for the damned Lite Rail project! Okay, he would pay through the nose in traffic court and probably score so many points that he would lose his drivers license, but that would be nothing if he could have Elizabeth comfort him, care for him, and drive him to work in an emergency. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if he lost Elizabeth… and his license. That was too painful a thought to bear.

Finally, he parked the car—well, not exactly, he just stopped somewhere, (a fire lane?) – and rushed out of the vehicle. It was a good thing that he had money in his pockets, because he had no time for polite conversation. He bribed the first man he ran into to take him to the studio immediately! He promised himself he would think about certain moral aspects of the situation – after he saved Elizabeth.

He ran along some corridors, fell upon two or three people who were too busy to get angry with him – which was good, because he was in too much of a hurry to apologize. Finally he found himself at the back of a large studio, hidden behind a series of cameras and other things that he had no idea what they were called. The lights were different, so bright that for a moment he felt dizzy, as if partaking a surreal festivity. But at the next moment he saw Elizabeth, standing under all those lights, looking beautiful but oh so tense. His heart reached out for hers, as he knew exactly what was going on in her heart and mind. He knew her, he understood her. He realized now that this woman, slightly shivering but proudly keeping her word, was his other half. How could he allow some inelegant t-shirts and a stupid golden chain for her glasses blind him as to that?

He had no time for regrets now, because that awful man with the plastic smile had entered the stage and seemed to have every intention of presenting a flawless show. Well, William Darcy would not just sit and watch his love be ridiculed, the presenter be damned.

“Five minutes! George, where the hell have you been?” Darcy supposed that the voice that filled the studio belonged to either the director or the producer. The plastic man, however, didn’t flinch.

“Five minutes is plenty of time! And it is not my fault! We could not find my make-up! There was no number 14 make-up shade! And you know that 13 makes me pale as a ghost and 15 red makes me look as if I am having a stroke!”

“And what did you do? Mix numbers 13 and 15 together?” William was surprised at how venomous Elizabeth’s voice was.

The plastic man cast a look at Elizabeth, as if he was appalled that she dared talk to him, and then she replied, looking straight at the camera, “George Wickham, sexiest showman in Arizona, would never make compromises about his make-up. I fired my assistant, and found someone who could find me the right shade.”

“Yeah, leaving us four minutes for the final preparation,” the loud voice did not seem pleased.

“What do we need four minutes for? People are here, the lovely…” he leaned too much towards Elizabeth’s bosom to read the card with which held her name and William felt an urge to make that plastic smile vanish forever, “…Elizabeth is here. What else do we need?”

The deep voice of a desperate man replied, “You need to find another lovely lady, because Elizabeth won’t be appearing in this show.” William had not meant to make such a forceful statement, but that irritating George Wickham made him sound a bit more demanding than he intended.

Every face turned toward his direction, as he walked toward the stage, and stood right in front of Elizabeth who was gaping at him.

She has neither come forward to smack me nor has she fled – yet.

“Who are you?” William was certain that the guy with the voice was glaring at him.

“William, get out of here.” Elizabeth’s face was red, either from anger or mortification Darcy could not tell.

“The only way I am leaving is with you.”

“My dear fellow,” Wickham said, putting his arm around Darcy’s shoulder, “you cannot take the lovely Elizabeth with you. She will be appearing on our show in two minutes’ time. If you want a date with her, you can call in. I promise to give you top priority.”

Darcy pushed Wickham away, not with too much force, but the showman made a pirouette and fell down with theatrical grace. Then he started shrieking.

“Brutal man! Heeeeeeelp! Heeeeeeelp!”

“What the hell is going on down there? Get up, George. You have one minute and thirty seconds! Where is the guard! Take this lunatic out this instant!”

But the guard was the man who had led William to the studio and was now busy spending his tip next store at Mary Coyle’s Ice Cream Parlor.

“Elizabeth…”

“Get out, William. Don’t make this harder.”

“Elizabeth, please, listen to me for a minute.”

“No! We don’t have a minute!” Her voice was clearly panicked now.

“I’m leaving!” George shouted. “I will not put up with this! A showman of my quality would never allow anyone to treat him like this!”

“No one moves, except the lunatic!” the voice ordered.

“You’re the lunatics! All of you!”, William yelled. “Elizabeth, even if you never talk to me again, please abandon this farce. I know about iLaw!, I talked to Charlotte. You don’t have to do this.”

“I don’t need pity from you and I don’t need favors! I said I would do it if I lost and I will do it!”

“Thirty seconds!”

“You are wrong! You did not lose! You won, we both won! Luke and I won. We all won, because we found each other!”

“Twenty seconds!”

“Elizabeth, you don’t want to do this. Come with me!”, William offered his hand; it was visibly shaking.

“Fifteen seconds!”

Elizabeth hesitated for three full seconds, before rushing out of the studio, holding tightly onto William’s arm.

*****

Charlotte was biting her nails. She had not bitten them since she was twelve years old and her big crush had just asked out Laura Donovan, a girl with big breasts, but now the old habit came back naturally.

“It’s my fault. I should have stopped her. I should have never let her go there. She will hate herself and Will too.”

Luke hugged her lovingly. “There was nothing any of us could do. She thinks she is doing this for herself.”

“My stubborn sister!” Jane sighed. “She is punishing herself in order to punish William.” She paused a little and then, the inspiration coming to her, Jane asked, “Do you think William will go and stop her?”

Luke shrugged his shoulders. “William was in too much shock when I called him and there was not enough time to act. I doubt he will get there in time, though I won’t be surprised if he bursts in the studio in the middle of the broadcast.”

“I would laugh at this, if I did not feel so guilty about it, you know.”

“Who knows? Maybe we will all laugh at this in the end. And maybe in a few years we will be telling this story to their children and they will be equally amused.” Charlotte kissed Luke to show him how much she appreciated his words.

“I think there are too many TV ads.” Charles, the only one focused on TV, noted.

“True, what’s the delay?” Jane asked.

“Wait, it’s starting now.” Char replied

“Excuse me, but that’s not…” Luke stammered.

“Charles? Did you mess with the remote?” Jane said angrily.

“Are you kidding me? I have no idea what happened.”

“This is certainly not Dating Phoenix,” Luke said.

“No,” Jane said with eyes wide open. “This is…”

“…an infomercial for natural male enhancement,” Charlotte finished it for her.

*****

William kept walking hastily out of the building, holding Elizabeth’s hand firmly, taking energy and life from the feeling of her palm against his. Sensing that she was starting to have difficulty keeping up with his pace, he stopped under a beautiful palo verde tree and turned to look into her eyes. The fragment yellow blossoms rained down on them under the persuasion of the springtime wind

“Before you say anything, Elizabeth, breathe.”

He saw her deeply inhaling the pungent air and then exhaling very slowly. Doing this again, and again. He feared if she kept it up she would have a panic attack.

“Will you not talk to me?”

Her response was a mingle of angry laughter and a sob. “Talk to you? I have been through hell these last few days all because of you and you want me to…”

“You did not answer my calls!” He protested. “I tried to be there for you, I tried to…”

“I didn’t want to hear your voice!” She snapped back. “You hurt me, do you get it? I thought the fact that we were having such a great time meant something to you. I thought that you looked forward to our dates! I thought we had become closer. I had deceived myself into believing that you and I had similar tastes and that our talks meant something to you! Apparently, the only thing that meant anything to you was my dress at the charity gala!”

“That’s fine coming from you!” William burst out. “What should I say? Do you think that I’m flattered that the only reason you went out on a date with me was that stupid bet?”

“Very funny! Do you forget that you asked me out because you had lost your bet as well?”

“That was in the beginning! I did not know you, but as we started going out I warmed up to the prospect. What about you, Elizabeth? Do you think that I like the fact that you did not feel the slightest temptation to forget the rules and try to be yourself, your real, beautiful self with me?”

“My real self has nothing to do with make-up and fashionable dresses! You saw my real self at the basketball game, you saw my real self every time I was with you. I never hid my soul from you, William, but that was not enough.” Elizabeth spat the last words.

“Damn it, Elizabeth, no, it was not enough! It was not enough to make me admit it. Because you know fully well that I am a flawed man., I have never loved before, and I was hesitant and scared. No, it was not enough to make me see it, but it was enough to make me feel it! I love you Elizabeth, and I loved you before I saw you in that dress. I needed that dress to tell my body how much it needed yours, but my heart already knew it. And now my mind knows it too, and I find you alluring whatever you wear, in any way you try to hide how beautiful you are, inside and outside.”

There were tears in Elizabeth’s eyes, which were fixed on the ground, watching the shadows of the palo verde tree dancing at the light breeze’s rhythm.

“I’m a weak, vain man, Elizabeth, and for that I’m sorry. Can you not forgive my sins? My stupidity? My blindness? I’m far from perfect, I admit it. But I can’t lose you, I can’t bear to lose you just because that dress bewitched my mind and I couldn’t think what I was saying.”

“Yeah right. Any woman with ample bosom in a dress with décolletage can make you forget yourself. You’re not doing a very good job of recommending yourself, William.”

“No. That dress on you. We did things backwards, Elizabeth. If I met you wearing that dress, I would be impressed and flirt with you and ask you on a date. And then I would fall in love with you, because I am destined to fall in love with you forever, even if you came to the date in pajamas. My falling in love with you has nothing to do with your décolletage!”

“But would you ever talk this nicely to me if you had not seen my pretty version? Or were you chasing after me just because you suddenly realized I’m not a trial to look at?”

William’s eyes had a very soft expression in them when he spoke. “Maybe I need a little more time. One more basketball game at which we fall in each other’s arms while cheering. Or another drunken night when I wake up and find out that you had taken care of me. One of your soups or just one of those big smiles of yours that come from your heart and light your eyes. And then I would fall on my knees and beg you to marry me, even while wearing a T-shirt at the wedding.”

“What?” The tears were running freely down Elizabeth’s cheeks.

“I told you. I love you, Elizabeth Bennet. I love you and I need you by my side. I love your mind, your thoughts, your feelings, your enthusiasm, and your dedication to your friends. I love your laugh, and your desperate frowns. I hate your tears, I hope I won’t be seeing many of them in the future, unless they are of joy. I love the way your wrinkles when you make faces, and I will love them when we grow 80 years old. I know you don’t trust me now Elizabeth, but try. I am not afraid, I have never been more certain about anything in my life. Marry me, try me and test me for the rest of our lives.”

He knelt down. “Marry me, Elizabeth.”

Then, under the canopy of the palo verde trees which kept the sunbeams dancing imperceptibly, Elizabeth Bennet knelt down and hugged the man before her. She hugged him tightly and brushed her teary eyes on his shoulders, then she whispered in his ear, “I love you, William, I love you so much that it scares me.”

“Good. So am I. I dread losing you. Marry me, and we’ll be a happy terrified couple.”

She brought her lips next to his, slightly brushing them. “Do you realize that you proposed to me without even kissing me?”

“You can give me your answer after I kiss you, if you want to make up for my shortcomings.”

Their lips united and their breaths and tastes mingled, becoming one, until they were lost, above time and space, above beauty and ugliness, above questions and answers. They were aware only of the dance of their mouths as the kiss intensified in fervor and perhaps the dance of the magnificent tree that was generously protecting them in its shade.

Minutes later, Elizabeth had only one word to say. “Yes.”

Part 29

Sometime later Elizabeth found herself strapped into the front seat of William’s car as it turned right out of the TV station’s parking lot and headed northbound on 7th Avenue. William pulled into the left-hand turn lane at the first intersection.

“Where are we going?” she asked while they were waiting for traffic to clear.

“Vegas.”

He started his turn onto Bethany Home Road.

In an instant, the fog of euphoria began to lift from Liz’s brain and the cold reality of her situation sank in.

“Pull over, now!”

Instantly he obeyed and she noted that they had turned into the parking lot for Grimshaw Mortuary. Elizabeth prayed it was not a sign.

There where no cars save his, but Will still maneuvered the Viper so that it was perfectly centered in the space. He turned off the engine and waited.

“Vegas? Why do you want to take me to Las Vegas right now?”

“To get married, of course.” Will thought the answer was pretty obvious.

Elizabeth was about to open her mouth and unleash a verbal tirade but stopped herself when she saw the earnest look in his eyes. She pursed her lips and let out her breath, willing herself to be calm.

“William, I’m not sure that getting married tonight is the wisest thing for us to do.”

“But you said you would marry me not ten minutes ago,” he said with some distress.

“Yes, I did. However, I thought I would have longer than six hours to be engaged.”

When Elizabeth had said yes to his proposal, William had only one goal: marry her before she could change her mind. For someone who had never had a long-term relationship, he was rather impulsive in his desire to commit to this woman. Still, it was a demonstration of his willingness to please her that he allowed that she might not be in sync with his wishes.

“I guess an elopement was not what you had in mind,” he answered at last.

“William, I know I said yes, and I do love you, but we barely know each other. I’m willing to learn all about you as your fiancée.”

He took her hand in his. “We know each other well enough to fall in love. I know this is crazy and sudden and that we have just only reconciled after a month apart. Thing is, I am convinced I know you well enough to marry you this instant. Listen to your heart, doesn’t it say the same thing.”

“With all that has happened it’s a little loud to hear anything other than the traffic.”

Will chuckled at her retort. “OK, how about this. We drive to Vegas. That will give us five uninterrupted hours together. When we get there we get a couple of rooms and sleep on it. In the morning we can decide. If you want to wait, I’ll agree. If you want to get married, we can do so and then spend a few days away before we come home. How does that sound?”

It sounded eminently sensible and insanely right.

“On one condition. We need to go back to our places and pack. I for one would rather be dressed a little more comfortably for the drive.”

Will had noticed how well she looked in her outfit; he had not noticed the extra makeup she was wearing. A change of clothes did sound like a good idea.

“I’ll drop you off at your apartment and head to my house to pack while you get changed and get your stuff ready.”

“Oh, I almost forgot about my car! I’d rather not leave it where it is.”

“It’s not like we’ve gone very far! Ok, let’s get your car and I’ll follow you to your place.” Will leaned over and kissed her. “Elizabeth, I’m going to do every thing in my power to bring you back to Phoenix as my wife.”

“I know that, William. Let’s get going so we can make there before we are too tired to drive.”

“With you sitting next to me, I doubt I’d be able to sleep.”

They went back to pick up Liz’s car. By mutual agreement they had turned their cell phones off. Both of them already had missed several calls from some very nosy friends.

Will was careful not to loose her on the way to her apartment. He was amazed that she lived less than two miles from him in a revitalized older neighborhood. Once he knew where she lived, he drove home to pack a bag. He paused while selecting what to bring; in an act of faith he packed his best suit.

Elizabeth was struggling with the same decision at her place. In a matter of planning for each contingency – something she did all the time in her job – she picked out her most elegant finery. It was that dress. If he were the man who she believed him to be, then he would understand and approve.

Liz was finishing zipping up her garment bag when Will knocked. He looked her up and down before resting his gaze on her face. She saw an unabashed smile grace his features.

“I never said I didn’t appreciate how well you look,” he drawled.

“As long as you see what’s inside, you can admire the wrappings. I’m just finishing up.”

“Er, are you bringing something just in case we… you know.”

Liz patted his cheek in a madly patronizing way. “I get paid to try and think of everything. Of course I have something appropriate.”

He cleared his throat. “Right. Ready?”

“No, but let’s go.”

*****

They decided to stop and eat before they left town. Will suggested drive-through but Liz could not in good conscience eat inside his most excellent car. Water bottles were the only things she would consent to.

“For someone who doesn’t own this car, you sure are protective of it.”

“I just cannot imagine letting crumbs spill onto the seats and carpet.”

“And I thought I was obsessive about my baby!”

“You forget I’ve driven this thing before. I think that gives me the right to veto eating food inside.”

“I’d forgotten about that. Actually, I’ve forgotten most of that evening. I’m sorry I let myself get that plastered.”

Confession time…

“William, about that night. I have a confession to make.”

“Yes?” his voice was a little tense; he had no idea what she was going to say.

“I… uhm… I was the one who got you drunk. I don’t know if you remember, but I worked at Max’s and knew the waiter. I talked him into making sure your glass was never empty.”

Will chuckled. “It’s been a long time since anyone pulled that trick on me.”

“You’re not angry with me?”

“No, just a little miffed that I let it happened. Elizabeth, when I got in this car I promised myself not to get angry with you. If we are going to attempt to condense a courtship into a five-hour drive, then we had better be prepared for a whole lot of honesty. We don’t have time for hostility.”

Elizabeth was impressed. He was right; honesty only was the best policy. They both should have learned that by now.

“I didn’t mean any harm by it. I just acted on an impulse of the moment and before I knew it, the plot was hatched. I must say you make an interesting drunk.”

“What did I do?”

“You made a pass at me on the way home.”

“I’m sorry about that.” He sounded honestly repentant for something he couldn’t remember. Liz liked that.

“Don’t be. I found it charming and funny. You did say some interesting things. You admitted then that you found me desirable even dressed to discourage any passion. After you tried to kiss me you realized you were supposed to behave like the perfect gentleman. I didn’t have any trouble from you after that. Unless you count having to call Jane and Charles to help me get you into the house.”

Will groaned.

“I did learn a few things about you that night.”

“What can you possibly have learned from seeing me passed out?” Will asked.

“I saw that behind the image was a good guy and someone I could enjoy spending time with. I’m just sorry that you had to pay the price of a hangover for my new knowledge.”

“If it meant that I could win you, then it was worth it.”

“You sure are a smooth talker when you feel like it.” He smiled at her easy banter.

“Anything else?”

“Secrets? Only one.” Elizabeth sighed. “I overheard you in the restaurant with Charles before we were ever introduced. You were an arrogant jerk then, you know that.”

“I suppose I was. Believe me, it wasn’t about you. I was in a bad mood about the whole thing and you were just the person I lashed out at.”

“I was rather abrasive myself,” she admitted.

“Yeah, you were. But thinking back on it, maybe that’s when I began to be intrigued. You wouldn’t let me have my way, none of my previous dates have pushed back.”

It seemed the perfect segue into the subject of the bets.

“I had lunch with Luke and Char today, Elizabeth. Char told me a little about the whole iLaw! thing but she insisted I needed to hear most of it from you.”

Elizabeth then told him about everything that had happened.

“Funny thing is, I always had a confidence about who I was but when I stripped away the outside and was left with only my personality and character to attract someone, I wanted to be accepted for myself. I’ve never felt like that before.”

William felt like a cad once again. “And I went and hurt you by only accepting you after I saw you dressed as your beautiful self. I’m an idiot. I fell for you before that night at the Gala but was too proud to admit it.”

“William, you apologized and I accepted it. Let’s not dwell on it now. I think I can understand why you reacted the way you did.”

“Because I was a jerk.”

“Yes, and no. Did you ever play sports in school?”

“High school? I played baseball.”

“I bet you were pretty good at it.”

“Yeah, I was pretty good, but not great like you where in basketball.”

“Thank you, but there is a point to this. I played basketball because I was good at it. I didn’t go out for sports that I couldn’t star in. I knew I could be great playing hoops, but I would never be all-state in volleyball for instance. I didn’t want to be second best, I didn’t want people to see me fail, so I avoided the sports I could not dominate. My guess is that my standards for excellence on the playing field were the same as it is for you with woman. You wanted to be seen as a success and that meant a beautiful girl on your arm. I came along and destroyed that image. I could see how you resented having to be seen in public with me.”

“I never stopped to think about it like that,” he admitted, “but you are probably right. I did resent having a woman thrust on me, especially one who did not fit into my concept of what a woman should look like.”

Will then told Elizabeth about the circumstances of his bet with Luke. Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing a few times as he explained how Jane had brushed him off.

“That must have been a blow to your ego.”

“I’ll say, but in the end Luke and I got the last laugh. We got the girl before Charles has caught his.”

Liz squeezed his hand and they continued northwest across the desert on the clear springtime night; the stars the only witnesses to the couple’s conversation.

Before the gala, on the night they had gone to the movies, they had told each other about their families. Once again these loved ones were discussed, only on a much more personal level. Everything they talked about was on a much more personal level. Convictions, beliefs, standards, nothing was taboo. It was not the time to debate, it was a time to reveal; laying bare their true selves as best they could was all they had time for.

The lights of Las Vegas loomed in the distance. Their future was calling to them. What would Elizabeth say it would be?

Before I forget, I want to thank Aimee/GeeAMouse for letting me borrow one of her characters from Stop The Presses! Really, it was too much of a temptation for me to pass up.

Part30

The moratorium on cell phones ended as they approached the city in the middle of the desert. Will made arrangements for two rooms at the Bellagio for that night and the next.

“So we don’t have to worry about getting up to check out by 11:00,” he explained.

William saw Elizabeth safely to her room but decline to enter, only kissing her forehead and reminding her that he would meet her in the lobby at eleven o’clock.

As tired as Elizabeth was, she decided on a hot shower before going to bed. The cascades of water ran over her body, soothing away some of the tension in her shoulders and back. Sufficiently relaxed, she got ready for bed, slipping under the covers and melting into the mattress and pillows.

When she was younger and heavily involved in competitive athletics, Liz had developed the annoying habit of replaying her games in her head at night after she went to bed. Four years of high school and six years of college made it an ingrained practice that reared its ugly head at the most stressful of times. Tonight was one of them.

Liz kept going over the conversations they had on the drive up. Like William, she too had resolved to do her best to listen to what he had to say in as detached a manner as possible. Emotion was an impossible factor to dismiss, but she would not allow hers to distract from what he was trying to say. She found that if she approached the matter as the analyst that she was, she could more easily discern the intent and not be overly swayed by the expression. In other words, she tried to understand what he meant and not be influenced by any poor choice of words.

William Darcy was far from perfect, she already knew that. She found out a few things about him that could easily be classified as flaws. For instance, from a comment he made, she suspected he could be quite jealous. She asked him about it and he did not deny that he could be. The question was, could she accept that about him and could it be an issue they had to deal with down the line?

Not all that she discovered was negative, some of it was quite admirable. He was very involved in the issue of the homeless. She might have guessed that from what she had learned when she Googled him, but tonight she learned why it was so. William told her about how his parents had taken him to homeless shelters and to food banks. She learned about an uncle who suffered with mental illness and had spent years living on the streets. While William was arrogant, he was also a man full of compassion.

She liked him as a person. She loved him for himself and everything she had learned that night had only strengthened her good opinion of him. Still, was it enough to risk marrying the man the next day?

Elizabeth willed her mind to let the question be unanswered and gave herself over to exhaustion. She finally slept.

*****

William lay in bed thinking too. He knew he was being impulsive and reckless, but he didn’t care. The moment he freely admitted he was in love with Elizabeth was the instant his heart was no longer his own. Instinctively he knew that as long as she was alive it belonged to her and since that time he had begun the process of wooing and winning her hand. He had taken a hard look at himself to try and see what she saw. Some things were difficult to admit. He had been immature in his dealings with women. He had never valued what was most important, the soul inside, which would explain why, until he met Elizabeth, he was so dissatisfied with the kind of women he dated.

He hoped and prayed that Elizabeth would agree to this crazy scheme and that tomorrow night they would spend the first night of the rest of their lives together as man and wife. He was not afraid, and with good reason. The inner warning that had served him, and his father and his grandfather so well in building their family fortune was conspicuously silent.

Will placed a request for a wake up call at nine o’clock. He had a lot to do before he met Elizabeth at eleven.

*****

Shelby Green really did enjoy her job. Sure, there were a lot of spoilt rich jerks that could make life difficult, but then there were those guests whose kindness and enthusiasm made it all worthwhile. This morning was one of those good times.

“May I help you sir?”

“I hope so. My fiancée and I are considering getting married today and I was wondering if you could give me some information.”

“Certainly. Are you a guest at this time, sir?”

“Yes, William Darcy. We checked in quite late last night.”

Shelby was busy looking up his information on the hotel computer system. Odd, two rooms, how old-fashioned!

“Ah, there you are. The Bellagio offers many different packages. Are you considering marrying here?”

“Is anything available for today?”

“Another moment, please.” The ever-efficient Shelby soon gave him his options. She patiently explained what was available and then had a bellhop show him the locations in question.

While Will would have like Elizabeth’s input, he was limited in time. Seeing his choices he made a decision on his way back to Ms. Green.

“An excellent choice, sir. I will make the necessary arrangements here. You will, of course, need to secure the license with the bride. I’ve included a map and driving directions for you convenience.”

Will was relieved. He might have just wasted a chunk of change if Elizabeth decided to wait, but if she said yes, he was ready!

Shelby watched Mr. Darcy walk away whistling. Damn, that man is fine! And what is it with these William Darcys? This is the second one I’ve arranged a wedding for in the past year. Both were gorgeous and both married women named Elizabeth. What are the odds of that happening, even in Vegas? Shelby just shook her head and went back to work assisting the next guest.

*****

William was waiting for Elizabeth near the elevators. He searched her face for some clue as to her answer but all he got was a shrug; she still had not made up her mind. He grabbed her hand and brought it up to his lips for a soft caress.

“Hungry? I have a table waiting for us at the Café Bellagio.”

“Starved, lead on.”

They walked hand-in-hand to their seats. Reviewing the menu took a few minutes but once the food was ordered they were ready to talk.

“I take it from your expression that you have yet to decide?” Will ventured.

“I haven’t thought of anything else and yet I can’t seem to make up my mind.”

“At least that’s not a ‘let’s not get married yet.’ I’ll take hope from that.”

Elizabeth had to give him points for being an optimist.

“It’s just that it is so sudden. We’d be crazy to get married on such a short acquaintance. How do I know you’re not some homicidal maniac?”

Will stuffed his hands in his pockets as if he was searching for something. “Damn, left my chainsaw at home.”

“Cut it out, we are trying to have a serious discussion about something that will dramatically change our lives. We’re in Las Vegas for God’s sake talking about getting married today! People do stupid things here all the time.”

“Elizabeth, listen to me,” he said in a calming voice. “How can I convince you that this is not something stupid. Yes, it’s courtship at light speed, but it’s real. This thing between us is real. When I just touch your hand do you know what I felt?”

“A connection,” she admitted

“Yes! You feel the same way. If this is what a simple touch of the hands can bring, imagine us making love. I swear the two times I kissed you I was close to dragging you someplace private and making you mine.”

“William, that’s lust.”

“Yes it is. But is it lust when I look at you and envision you carrying my unborn child? Is it lust to wake up in the morning having dreamt you were at my side and feeling melancholy when I realize I’m alone. Is lust to watch the Women’s Final Four and wondering what you would say was happening? I have never watched women’s basketball before I met you! Yes, Elizabeth, I desire you. I desire you to be my lover, my partner, my companion, the mother of my children, and my best friend.”

She was overwhelmed by his confession. “You really think that?”

“Of course, that’s why I want to marry you.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Sure, but I doubt I would be less afraid if we waited a year. I’m ready… and I think you are too.”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said slowly, still full of doubt.

“Take a chance on us,” William urged.

“William, we’re in a city built on chance. People come here to gamble and make money. Most of them don’t. Sure, some get lucky, but the reality is that almost everyone leaves having lost.”

“But not everyone. Most people leave happy. Some even leave newly married. Yes, marriage is a gamble but there is no guarantee that waiting any longer will increase our odds. You’re fighting yourself.”

“This is crazy.”

She was tempted.

“Yes.”

“I could regret this.”

She was almost there.

“Possibly, but it’s my intent that you won’t. Elizabeth, marry me here, tonight.”

“We shouldn’t.”

Her last bit of resistance.

“We are.”

“We are.”

It was done. Will reached across the table and Elizabeth grabbed his hands.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She shook her head in wonder, a shy smile on her lips.

“I’ve already made arrangements for the ceremony. We still need to get the license and we need rings. Everything else is set.”

“You were busy this morning, Mr. Darcy.”

“I like to be prepared.”

Just then their food arrived and they remembered how hungry they were, the hadn’t eaten in nearly sixteen hours.

“You aren’t upset that our families won’t be here? I know I wish Kris was here” Will said between bites.

“You mean Georgiana. As to my family, not especially. I mean, it would be nice if my Dad was here to give me away, but right now I’m still upset with Jane and Charles.”

“I share your annoyance.” Will thought for a moment and then continued. “Maybe we could extract a little revenge?”

“What do you have in mind?” Elizabeth listened to his proposition. It was devious and it just might work.

“Being married will certainly help.” She remarked.

“It wouldn’t work any other way.”

“You should have mentioned this earlier,” Elizabeth said after she wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “It would have been much easier to convince me to go ahead with our wedding.”

“I would rather revenge was not the motive of your acquiescence.”

“Still, it is a delicious result.” Elizabeth raised her water goblet. “To us, and to revenge!”

“To us!”

*****

Elizabeth arranged to meet William on the terrace overlooking the fountain about ten minutes before they were scheduled to be wed. The man, a Mr. Web, who would be performing the ceremony had a few questions for them to answer.

William saw her and was stunned, it was that dress! He was overjoyed! Nothing could have conveyed her forgiveness for his past follies and her willingness to trust him more than wearing that dress.

He walked up to her and starred in open admiration. Elizabeth was nearly as affected as he. She knew he was pleased, and goodness, did he look great in his suit!

“You look stunning, again,” he murmured.

“Thank you,” she replied demurely. “That suit looks great on you.”

“I would have brought a tux if I had known.”

“I meant to surprise you.”

“You did! Oh Elizabeth, I want to crush you in my arms right now but I’m afraid if I did I would not wait around long enough to be married before I carried you to our room.”

There tête-à-tête was interrupted by a discreet cough. Mr. Web introduced himself and then set to finalize the last few details.

“About the vows, do you have your own or do you want the standard version?”

“Er, Standard is fine.” Will said looking at Elizabeth for any signs of disapproval. She had none.”

“Will that be ‘for as long as we both shall love’ or ‘both shall live’?”

Will looked helplessly at his bride.

“Live,” She answered for them.

“Right, and just to make sure I have the names right, it’s Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” said William. Elizabeth giggled recalling his embarrassment earlier when they were obtaining the license.

She was filling out the forms.

“Full names. Elizabeth Aileen Bennet and Fitzwilliam Alexander Darcy.”

“How in heavens did you know that?”

“The night I drove you home, you passed out before we got there and I went looking for an address. I had to fish out your driver’s license to find it. I wondered when you where going to tell me your full first name.”

“I’ve always gone by William or Will.”

“I think Fitzwilliam sounds kinda sexy. Fitzwilliam. It rolls off the tongue”

Will swallowed hard. “When you say it that way, I would have you call me Fitzwilliam forever.”

Mr. Web’s voice broke her reverie. “Unless you have any further requests, it’s about time to start. After you Miss Bennet, Mr. Darcy.”

With a minimum of fanfare, and the required witnesses, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth exchanged their wedding vows promising to have and to hold, for better or for worse, in want and in plenty, in sickness and in health, for as long as they both should live.

After everything was signed and the pictures where taken, they went to dinner at one of the hotel’s fine restaurants. While they were away, the hotel staff had moved their possessions from their rooms of the night before into the new suite William had secured. When they were done eating, William led his bride to their honeymoon retreat. Everyone and everything else was forgotten as they sealed their union in acts of passion and love…

Hours later, clothed only in their simple gold wedding bands, they fell asleep happy, sated and content.

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