iLaw! Parts 30-35 & Epilogue

Part 31

Elizabeth woke up to the totally unfamiliar sensation of a very large hand cupping her breast. Said hand was attached to the strong arm of her brand-spanking new husband of less than a day. Her hand was over his holding him close to her. Liz’s thoughts were a whirl of pictures and sensations as her fingers absentmindedly caressed his.

Her unintended ministrations caused William to gradually wake.

“Good morning, Mrs. Darcy.” His voice was gravelly and low. Elizabeth rolled over to face him, reaching up to tenderly caress his stubbly jaw.

“Mhhh, a very good morning, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth moved to kiss him. After a quick kiss she pulled back. “You have morning breath.”

“So do you.” Elizabeth rolled away and got out of bed. “Hey, where are you going?” he demanded.

“I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” Elizabeth knew she was a terrible tease, but she couldn’t resist seductively swaying her hips while she walked away from him towards the bath. She took her time in the luxurious bathroom too, using the facilities and brushing her teeth. When she was done she strolled slowly back to their bed and sat down on the edge.

“Fitzwilliam,” she crooned. He scooted over toward her but before he could kiss her, she put her finger on his lips and then held up his toothbrush. “Don’t forget to floss.”

*****

Later, brushed and flossed, they lay in bed planning the rest of the weekend. Elizabeth had called in to work the day before to tell them she would not be in the office until Monday. Will had sent an email saying the same to Mrs. Reynolds.

“Elizabeth?”

“You know, you always call me Elizabeth, never Liz.”

“I suppose after the first time we met I just have always thought of you as Elizabeth since it was pretty obvious that you didn’t want me to call you Liz.”

“I was such a shrew.”

“Nah, I deserved it.”

“Still, you’re the only person that calls me Elizabeth. Even my parents call me Liz, unless they are angry with me.”

“Would you rather I change?”

“No, I like the way you say my name. It sounds different coming from you. What about me? I’ve never called you Will. At first it was because you were such an ass when we met, but after that you were always William even when everyone else called you Will.”

“Elizabeth, I like it that you call me William. It makes me feel special. Kinda lame, huh?”

“No, I perfectly understand.”

“And if you wanted to call me Fitzwilliam, I wouldn’t mind that either,” he said shyly.

“Fitz-william,” Elizabeth exaggerated, “it rolls off the tongue.”

“Speaking of tongues…”

The newlyweds did some rolling of their own.

*****

“How do you want to tell Georgiana?” she asked after they finished their breakfast – compliments of room service.

“Hmm, I would like to tell her face to face.”

“We could fly over to LA on Sunday morning and then fly back here that afternoon to get the car.”

“It’s faster to drive over and then head back to Phoenix from LA.”

“That’s a long day behind the wheel.”

“It’s only about a four hour drive from here. We’d spend more time catching flights and getting a car.”

“You’re right. Should we call tomorrow to make sure she’ll be home?”

“Yes, I’ll let her know I’m coming to town for some unexpected business and the only time I have to see her is that afternoon.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrow at his words. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. It’s the truth! Besides, we need to practice if we are going to pull off our little plan for Charles and Jane.”

“Fine, but what shall we do about my father? He’d kill me if I didn’t tell him and Jane talked to him before we did.”

“I can’t see why we can’t talk to him Monday evening. We can meet him at your place. Don’t you want to tell your mother?”

“If you had met her, you would understand that she could never keep a secret like this. I’m the first of five daughters married. One of my mother’s goals in life is to see every one of her daughters married by the time she turns sixty.”

“How old is she now, if I may ask?”

“Fifty-one, and the clock is ticking! I should thank you for relieving me of the burden of listening to her telling me how to catch a husband before I become an old maid.”

William was highly amused with the picture he was forming of his new mother-in-law. She sounded perfectly abnormal and he was looking forward to finally meeting her. A little folly would go a long way toward forgiving him for eloping with her daughter.

They spent the rest of the day in their room, never venturing farther than their window to watch the famed fountain that evening. Elizabeth and William talked and got to know each other better in more than just the biblical sense – but that too. There was also time spent curled up together napping; the past month had been an exhausting experience for them both and they were physically and emotionally drained.

*****

The next morning William called his sister.

“Hello Georgiana.”

“William? Oh, thank God! Where are you? Everyone has been looking for you,” she cried.

“I’m fine. I’m in Vegas right now.”

“What are you doing in Las Vegas? The last anyone heard from you was that you were racing across town trying to stop this Elizabeth woman from going on some TV show.”

“I just needed a few days away, that’s all.”

“Well, you certainly have a bunch of people worried. You weren’t home and you haven’t been answering your cell phone.”

“I sent an email to Mrs. Reynolds telling her I was leaving town for a few days. As for my phone, it’s been off.”

“Hmph. Well?”

“Well what?”

“Did you get to Elizabeth in time? According to Luke, the show didn’t air that night.”

“Yes, I made it and we left to talk.”

“And?”

“We talked and resolved our differences. I hope we will be able put the whole mess in the past now.”

“Oh Will, that’s wonderful!”

“Don’t get your hopes up too high, Sis. I was an ass and I need to show her over time that I’ve learned my lesson. Now about the reason that I called: I’m driving over to LA tomorrow in preparation for some meetings and I’d like to come and see you. Will you be home around lunchtime?”

“Sure, I’ll be home, but you had better be prepared to do a lot of explaining.”

“Oh, I will. I promise. I’ll call when I’m getting close to your place to give you a little warning.

“OK, I look forward to it. I love you, Bro.”

“I love you too. Oh, and Georgiana, one more thing. Please don’t tell anyone I called. I’m enjoying the solitude.”

“Sure thing, Will. Bye.”

After he hung up Elizabeth looked at him in delight.

“You certainly can think quickly on your feet. Nice going! I’m impressed.”

“I never considered that Luke or Charles would call her. That was close.”

“Ahhh. Just consider it practice. We’ll both be doing some fast-talking the next few days… ‘Alex’.”

“Why ‘Ali’, you make it sound like we’re up to something.”

“I know something that’s definitely up,” she purred. “Come here, big boy.”

*****

Early the next morning Mr. and Mrs. Darcy reluctantly checked out of their sanctuary at the Bellagio. Four hours of driving lay between them and the first family member to hear the news of their nuptials.

Will did remember to call when they were about thirty minutes away from his sister’s apartment. When they finally arrived she flung the door open, clearly anxious to see him.

Georgiana sprang towards William and embraced him. “Will! You’re a sight for sore eyes! Come on in!” Just then she noticed Elizabeth standing behind and off to the side. “Oh, excuse me. I didn’t know you where bringing someone with you,” she said in confusion.

“I wanted to surprise you. This is Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth stepped forward offering her hand, which Georgiana instinctively took.

“William has told me so much about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”

William took charge of the situation and motioned the ladies inside and into the living room. He and Elizabeth sat down on the sofa.

“Is Amanda here?” he asked.

“No, she had some things to do today, but she said to say ‘hi’ in case she missed you.” Her arch look implied that he had better start giving her some answers and soon.

“Georgiana, do you remember me telling you about Elizabeth?”

“Ah, so this is the famous Elizabeth Bennet!”

“Well, yes and no.”

“Huh?”

Elizabeth thought she had better step in before William stuck his foot in it again. “Just tell her,” she encouraged.

Will took a deep breath. “Elizabeth and I were married Thursday in Las Vegas. It’s Elizabeth Darcy now.”

“A few days away, my ass!” Georgiana took a few moments to collect herself. “This is certainly a shock.”

“For us too, Georgiana.” William replied softly. “I’m sorry if our running off and eloping upsets you. For what it’s worth, I did wish you were there but we didn’t think it was fair to fly you over for a short ceremony and then, ahh, drive you back to the airport a couple of hours later.”

“I’m not angry with you, just… really surprised. Last I heard you two were not talking to each other.”

“You were the one who urged me to seek Elizabeth out. You saw how miserable I was. Please, be happy for us,” he pleaded.

Georgiana looked closely at the couple seated across from her. They looked nervous, but behind that was a contentment she had never witnessed in her brother before. The woman next to him wore the same expression. Who was she to pass judgment on such a short acquaintance?

“As long as you’re happy, I’m happy,” Georgiana finally said. “I’m also starving! Let’s go get some lunch while I assimilate the bomb you just dropped.”

The three Darcys went out to eat at a nearby quiet restaurant. William and Elizabeth filled Georgiana in on the details of their courtship. After she heard about how her brother had proposed and convinced Elizabeth to marry him, Georgiana sighed.

“I never knew you were such a romantic, you big lunk!” Georgiana playfully swatted her big brother. “Though I did say that an impulsive streak runs through the Y chromosome in our family.”

“We were at the ballpark the night Luke proposed, Elizabeth. She’s just taking the opportunity to remind me that the men in our family tend to be a bit impetuous,” William explained, pleased that his sister was teasing him again.

“Based on the performance of the two men I know, I would have to come to the same conclusion,” Liz replied dryly.

“Now that you know all, Sis, I have to ask you a small favor.”

“What’s that?”

“We would appreciate it if you did not tell anyone that we are married – at least for a little while.”

Georgiana looked perplexed by this request.

“We thought a little payback to Charles and Jane Bennet was in order,” clarified Will.

Comprehension dawned. “Ohhhh! A little revenge for the way they set you two up?”

“Exactly. And the less you know at this time, the better.”

“You take the fun out of it!” Georgiana pouted in mock outrage.

“Oh, when it’s time, we’ll try to arrange it so you can be there for the coup de grâce.” Will offered.

“Promise?”

“Yep!” he smiled.

“Deal. But I’ll be miffed if I don’t get all the juicy details.”

Two hours later, after heartfelt wishes of congratulations, William and Elizabeth were headed east on Interstate 10 back to Arizona. Phase One of their plan had begun.

Part 32

The most difficult task for the new couple was next. William had never met Elizabeth’s parents and now they had to tell her beloved father that they were married. He was much more nervous than the afternoon before when they had spoken to Kris… err… Georgiana.

William had just gone to use Elizabeth’s bathroom when her father arrived.

“Hello, champ.”

“Hi, Dad.” Elizabeth kissed her father on the cheek and they went to sit in the living room.

“You caused a small ruckus with your disappearing act last week. Did that have anything to do with Will Darcy?”

“As a matter of fact it did.”

Will walked into the room. Mr. Bennet smiled wryly, guessing the identity of the unknown young man. He stood for the introductions.

“William, this is my father, Fred Bennet. Dad this William Darcy…” (Here is comes!) “… my husband.”

It took a moment or two for the words to register in Fred Bennet’s mind. When they did, he sat back down like a sack of potatoes without shaking William’s hand. The older man looked back and forth between the gentleman he had just met and his precious daughter.

“It’s true, Dad. We were married on Thursday.”

“I think you and your…” Mr. Bennet swallowed, “husband had better go back to the last time we talked and tell me what the hell made you elope.”

William and Elizabeth sat down then patiently informed her father of all that had happened since he had last spoken with her. Even though he had already told her his part of the story, it thrilled Elizabeth to hear William tell her dad how he had come to love her so thoroughly during their estrangement. Will also explained his reasons for marrying so quickly and his certainty that they had done the right thing. He hadn’t yet told Elizabeth about his “business gut reaction” and how it had convinced him that she was the woman for him. She was stunned.

“Let me get this straight, you married my daughter, less than 24 hours after you made up and confessed your undying love because you didn’t have some gnawing sense of dread?”

“Sir, my instincts have never led me astray.” He turned turn to face Elizabeth. “I didn’t tell you this before, but the day before the Gala I had this feeling that all was not well. I was sitting at lunch with a friend of mine and I just felt something was not right. I tried to put it off as nothing, but then the next evening happened and I knew that was what was bothering me. It wasn’t until after I decided to try and make things right between us that feeling left. You can laugh at me, but my instincts have never proven wrong.”

Elizabeth blushed, “I haven’t told you this, but I was at Chompies that day. You were seated right behind me and I heard what you said about me.”

“That’s how you found out! I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I’m an idiot.”

“I was angry, but you have proven to improve on further acquaintance,” she teased.

“Ahem, as happy as I am that it appears you two are now past that little road bump, it still stands that you eloped with my daughter!”

“Dad…”

“No, Elizabeth. He spoke to me and has every right to an answer. Yes, Mr. Bennet, I married your daughter and I consider it to be the best decision I ever made. I’m sorry that I could not speak to you before to gain your consent, and I’m sorry that you were not there to give away the bride, but I’m not sorry that she’s wearing my ring on her finger or that she now bears my name. I would do it the same way all over again if it meant such an incredible woman would be my wife.”

William finished his defense and stared at his father-in-law, daring him to object. Instead, Fred Bennet smiled. “You’ll do. But mark my words, if you ever hurt her again like you did before, I will kick your ass.”

Will knew Mr. Bennet could never take him, but he understood the fierce love and loyalty behind the sentiment. Georgiana had threatened Elizabeth with the same form of retribution.

“Now that we are in agreement, what are you going to do about Jane?” Fred asked.

“Why do you think we are going to do anything to Jane, Dad?”

“Come now, child. You have summoned me here, sans Mama, to tell me you are married. Obviously, you would rather keep this news to yourselves as much as possible. Considering you have barely spoken to Jane in a month, I assume you wanted to have some fun at her and her boyfriend’s expense.”

Elizabeth beamed. “See William, I told you Dad was superman! Yes, Dad, we do have something planned and we wanted to tell you about our marriage before rumors got back to you about me that would upset you. Whatever Jane tells you, don’t believe it.”

“You’re planning to feed her a line?”

“Yes, I’m going to tell her I’m seeing someone, and then I’ll tell her that I’ve discovered that he is a married man.”

“This married man being your husband.” Mr. Bennet nodded in approval.

“Naturally,” Will replied.

“I like it. It’s true, you’re just leaving out the small detail that your new man is actually your husband.” He turned to address William. “Welcome to the family, son. I hope you can appreciate that you have married a very good planner. If your life’s not in shipshape by now, she’ll have you organized before long.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“How long do I need to keep this under my hat?”

“We’re not sure, but it could take as long as four to six weeks to come to fruition.”

“Fine, but you are the one who has to tell your mother she doesn’t get to plan your wedding.”

“We’ll have a reception here after we take care of Jane and Charles.” William said hastily to appease any residual anger his father-in-law might still possess.

“I wish you two luck. Just be careful not to burn any bridges.”

*****

The first thing Will did after they got back to Phoenix (besides… you know) was to call a locksmith and have the house re-keyed. Next, they changed the alarm codes, but left Georgiana’s personal one as it was. Now that there were safe from accidental discovery, Elizabeth began moving some of her clothing to Will’s home. He had plenty of space in the master suite’s walk-in closet and fortunately, the bath had a double sink and more than enough vanity and medicine cabinet space to accommodate Elizabeth’s things. She wasn’t ready to totally move in; she needed to make it look like she was still living at her place.

They went to work on Monday as if nothing had happened. Liz knew her sister would be calling in to check on her.

“Liz, where have you been? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you since Wednesday!”

“Hello, Jane. Nice to talk to you too. I just needed to get out of Phoenix for a few days and I got back from Southern California last night.”

“Don’t ever scare me like that again. I was really worried. No one could get in contact with you or with Will…”

“What does William have to do with me?”

“Didn’t he come and rescue you from the show?”

“Oh that, yeah. We talked and apologized and then he left. You’d have to ask him what happened after that.”

“That’s it? You aren’t a couple?”

“Jane, I’m at work and I can’t talk about this right now. How about lunch tomorrow? I would say today but I promised I would go to lunch with some of the girls in the department.”

“Ok, how about the Yoshi’s?”

“Perfect. See you then.”

*****

Tuesday Liz met her sister at Yoshi’s on Central Avenue. It was a rather interesting place for a fast food teriyaki chicken shack. For over thirty years, the building was a McDonalds – one of the oldest McDonalds in the country. Then the owners built a new facility just to the south and on the other side of the street and the place was sold. The new owners remodeled and made it into what it was now Yoshi’s, Japanese takeout, with a little bit of the McD’s soul haunting the place.

Jane’s interest in her sister’s state of mind took a direct detour when she saw Liz nearly radiant with joy.

“Hey, Sis.”

“Jane!” Elizabeth threw her arms around the stunned attorney. “I have so much to tell you.”

“About you and Will?”

“About Alex!”

“Who’s Alex?” asker the confused older sister.

“Let’s get our food and I’ll tell you all about him. Oh Jane, I think I’m in love!”

It didn’t take many minutes before they were seated with their teriyaki chicken and green tea.

Elizabeth began, “I see I need to tell you all that has happened. After William pulled me out of the studio, we had a chance for a good long talk. We both apologized and agreed to be friends. It felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Anyway, we talked and both came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to date and all that. It was such a relief to resolve things between us. I’d been feeling awful about the way we parted and I was more than ready to put that episode behind me. After William and I came to our meeting of the minds, I let him go in his car. As he drove away, I had a sudden urge to get out of town and away from things. I went home, packed, and left for a long weekend.”

“But your car was parked at your apartment complex.”

“I didn’t want to leave it at the airport for 5 days so I got a ride instead. It was so good to get away,” Elizabeth smoothly countered

“Did you meet this Alex while you where in Southern Cal?”

“Yeah! He was staying at the same hotel I was. We ended up sitting by each other for breakfast Thursday morning and struck up a conversation from there. He’s from Phoenix! Can you believe I met a guy from Phoenix while I was away? We spent a lot of time together. He was alone too. Jane, it was so romantic! It was like I knew him all my life. We talked about everything you could think of. He’s funny, charming, intelligent, and handsome.”

“Wow. This guy sounds amazing! You are going to see him again, right?”

“I saw him last night. I just can’t seem to stay away from him for very long and he seems to feel the same way,” Elizabeth confessed.

“Liz, this is wonderful. I mean, we had all hoped you and Will would hit it off again but if you’re happy, then that’s all that matters.”

“Thanks, I know you were just trying to help.”

“I hope Will’s not to upset over this. Maybe Charles should talk to him,” Jane said with real concern.

“Whatever you think is best. William seemed resigned to our decision. I think he’ll be fine.”

“When will I get to meet Alex?”

“Soon, I suppose. I just want to keep him to myself for right now, like you did with Charles.”

“I can understand that. When you are ready, Charles and I would love to have dinner with you.”

Hook, line and sinker!

“I’ll let you know when. In the mean time, I would appreciate it if you would call before you come to visit me at my home. I… ah… don’t want to have any embarrassing situations, if you know what I mean.”

Jane was shocked. She did know what her sister meant but Liz wasn’t one to sleep around. However, being the good lawyer she was, she schooled her features to hide her newfound unease.

Elizabeth withheld a smirk from her face after watching Jane try to conceal her sudden change of emotions. Everything was going just according to plan. This little bit of double speak was a piece of cake!

Part 33

“How did it go?” William asked after he kissed Elizabeth. He had made it home from work before her, a first for them.

“I find it startlingly easy to lie while telling the truth.”

“She bought it.”

“Of course, I know my sister better than anyone in the world. Talk to Charles yet?”

“Nope, but we are supposed to go to the baseball game on Friday, so I expect the questioning to commence then.”

“When do you think it will be safe for me to go to a game with you?”

“Hmmm, that depends on what you mean by safe. If you mean as my wife, then after we finish this with Charles and your sister. If you mean as my “buddy”, then we need to wait a couple of weeks.”

“I think I can handle a couple of weeks.”

“Elizabeth, you are overlooking one teeny tiny detail.”

“Yes?”

“Do you honestly think we will be able to make it through an entire nine-inning ball game and keep our hands off each other?”

“Oh,” she paused, “good point.”

*****

Will arrived at Chase Field for the Diamondbacks’ game at the end of the first inning. He was late, but that was Elizabeth’s fault. She was too sexy in her Friday casual day work clothes to just leave. She was just as sexy in her Monday through Thursday attire, but he wasn’t thinking about much of anything when he saw her.

Charles was already in his seat when Will slid in between innings.

“Sorry I’m late. Something came up and I had a hard time detaching myself.”

“Work can be all consuming at times. Did you even have a chance to eat?”

“No, I’ll grab something in a little while.”

The guys did what guys normally do at ball games – they watched the action and checked out the new “talent” seated around them.

“Things still going well with Jane?”

“Oh yeah, though I’m not sure she would be too happy with me right now for rating the ladies.”

“It’s okay to look as long as you don’t touch – and as long as you wipe the drool off your chin. Speaking of Jane, I owe you an apology, Charles. I know you were just trying to help me find a nice girl when you set me up.”

“Things got out of hand, though. I hope that you and Liz parted on good terms.

You have no idea.

“Jane told me she talked to Liz and that you two decided not to get together,” Charles continued. “I was surprised because Luke said you wanted to reconcile and start a relationship.”

“My love life seems to be a topic of conversation,” Will said with a touch of annoyance.

“It’s not like that, Will. We care for you and want you to be happy. Are you sure you are okay with how things are with Liz? You did disappear after you talked her out of going on that show.”

William sighed for maximum drama. “I appreciate your concern, but Elizabeth and I are both adults and are resigned to our situation. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“Okay. Where did you go off to last weekend?”

“I drove up to Las Vegas to clear my head.” Will put on a smug little smile for Charles to see. He was thinking about his time with his wife, but Charles didn’t know that. All he saw was the look of a man who had a really good time.

“Find anything interesting in Sin City?”

“Perhaps, but it’s too early to tell. I don’t want to be a guy jumping into a new relationship while on the rebound.”

“And what happens in Vegas…”

“…Stays in Vegas, for the most part. We exchanged numbers. She flies into Phoenix sometimes for business. She said she would give me a call. Until she does, I’m not getting my hopes up.”

“Geez Will, you’ve been through the wringer lately. Are you sure you want a long distance relationship?”

“She may never call. I’ll just see what happens. In the meantime, I have plenty of work to do to keep me occupied.”

Just then a foul ball came drifting towards the area where they were sitting. At the last moment Will stuck up his hands and caught the prize. He held it up in victory and then handed it to Charles.

“For Jane. You can tell her how you braved the crowds to get this for her.”

“Cool! You can even see the mark where the bat hit the ball. Are you sure you don’t want it?”

“I have enough balls. You take it.”

*****

The next item on the revenge agenda was an iLaw! meeting for Liz. Char had asked Jane and Liz to be part of the wedding party and Maria was the maid of honor. They met at their normal haunt for dinner. Charlotte had already called and apologized for jumping on Elizabeth the last time they met.

“If it’s not the first woman to bail on Dating Arizona! You’re my new hero, Liz!” Maria exclaimed as Liz took her seat.

“Would you like my autograph?”

“Nah, unless it’s on the credit card slip to pay for dinner.”

“Your sincerity astounds me.”

“You can’t blame a girl for trying,” Maria quipped, shrugging her shoulders and grinning from ear to ear. That was all that was needed to break the tension, and the girls laughed together like just old times.

All was well with the women of iLaw when the cheeseburgers arrived and the fries and onion rings took their place of honor in the middle of the table.

In a very unladylike fashion, still finishing her bite, Maria asked the question they all wanted to say.

“What did Will say to get you away from the show in time?”

“He told me he had talked to Charlotte and finally knew what was going on and that I didn’t need to do it to prove anything. By that time it was good enough for me, so we left. Oh, and Char, I think the host was one of your Betty dates.”

Char was not expecting that. “Huh?”

“The dud you pick up at the convention center. The one you practically ran away from after coffee at FourBucks. George Wickham is the new host of the show. Or at least he was the night I was supposed to be on. He may have gotten fired over his antics, the prick. What a phony lecher.”

“What happened after you left?” Maria prompted.

“Not much. We went outside and talked. He apologized and I apologized and we left it pretty much at that. He wasn’t interested in dating if I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared to commit to that kind of a relationship, so we agreed to go our separate ways. I took off and left town for a protracted weekend. Not much else to tell on the William front.”

Maria could tell that Liz wasn’t telling the entire truth and pressed on.

“You seem to be taking this very well, is that all that happened?”

Elizabeth gave a half smirk, half smile. “Not exactly. When I went away, I met this amazing guy!”

“Alex,” Jane piped in.

“Alex,” Elizabeth said in a dreamy voice. “He’s actually from here and we really hit it off.”

“She’s been seeing him since she returned,” Jane clarified.

“No wonder I never get you at home.” Char said knowingly.

“When do we get to meet this guy?” Maria demanded.

“When I’m good and ready. No offense, but I’ve got a good thing going and I don’t want to jinx it by sharing him right now. Besides, Alex is really hot and I don’t want to be distracting the bride-to-be.”

“As if,” Maria snorted. Char was complete besotted with her fiancé and everyone knew it.

“Have you set a date yet, Char?”

“June 16th, like we talked about. The Church is booked as well as the reception at the Country Club. We need to get together very soon to pick out your dresses. Since it’s a summer wedding, I was thinking something summery casual.”

“Something normal? Please, oh please, oh please?” Maria begged.

“That’s the plan. I’m not looking at wearing a traditional dress, but something definitely classic. Luke’s liking the idea of no tuxedos.”

“Woohoo! I knew you would be the one to break the mold!”

Char tossed a fry towards her annoying younger sister.

“Hey, no desecrating the food!” Elizabeth commanded. All four simultaneously reached for the three remaining onion rings. Char was the one who missed out. “He who hesitates is lost!”

Elizabeth chuckled at the aptness of the situation. If they only knew, she reflected.

*****

The game of cat and mouse continued for a total of three weeks. Liz kept in touch with Jane, continuing to extol the virtues of her Alex. Will was amused to listen in on these phone conversations whenever they occurred. He loved to give her a rakish grin whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Charles continued to pry into William’s love life trying to find out the identity of the woman he met in Vegas. Will eventually spilled that her name was Ali, and even confessed that he had left several messages and was waiting for her to fly into town to see her again.

It was time to implement Phase Two. Elizabeth knew she needed to be in a foul mood to pull it off, so she went to her apartment – leaving William safely behind at the house – and spent an hour reliving her greatest failures on the basketball court. Once she was sufficiently depressed, she pulled out the opinions page of The Arizona Republic and settled in for a thorough read. After she was convinced that she was smarter than at least nine people, she pulled out the onion and started chopping. Eyes tearing, she called her sister.

“Jane?” (sniff), “oh Jane!”

“Liz, honey what’s wrong?”

“Everything! My life keeps going from one disaster to another.” Elizabeth sobbed dramatically.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Calm down.”

“I can’t!”

“Yes you can. Take a moment to blow your nose.” Liz did, making sure the receiver was pointed straight at her.

“Back.”

“Now then, tell me what’s wrong.” Jane said with the patience of Job.

“Its… it’s Al… it’s Alex.”

The hair stood up on the back of Jane’s neck.

“Did he break up with you?”

“No, it’s worse than that.”

Jane was very concerned now.

“You can tell me, you’re the one who called after all.”

“We got into a disagreement and… and… one thing lead to another and he told me he’s… he’s…” Elizabeth broke off sobbing.

“Come on champ, tell your Janey. What’s wrong with Alex?”

“HE’S MARRIED.” Elizabeth put on an extended show of crying.

Jane always suspected something was not right with the situation. Now she knew what the problem was. “Oh Liz! I just knew this guy was too good to be true. It’s better you found out now than later.”

“But Jane, you don’t understand. I still love him! I want to be with him.”

That was not what Jane had expected to hear.

“Liz, you can’t continue seeing a married man! What about his wife? How would you feel if you were married and your husband slept with another woman?” Jane challenged. She needed to get Elizabeth to stay away from the asshole.

“I know that!” Liz cried, “that’s why I feel so guilty. I mean, sleeping with Alex before this was one thing, an affair with a married man is another.”

Jane’s worse nightmare seemed to be coming true. Elizabeth had slept with Alex. She was even more bound to the prick after being intimate with him. Jane hurt for her sister.

“Do you want me to come over?”

“Yes, no, wait! Don’t you have other plans for the night?” Liz had stopped the hysterics and sounded much more calm.

“Charles and I were going out, but he’ll understand.”

“No Jane, keep your date. I think, I think I need to get out of here. There are too many fresh memories here.”

“Where will you go? You can stay with me.”

“I’d rather not cramp your style. I’ll call my friend Ellie. She and I have cried over men before” sniff, “and have an open door policy with each other.”

“Well, if that’s what you want, but you are welcome to stay here if you need to.”

Jane felt a little hurt herself that Liz was turning to someone else in her time of need, she had thought Liz had put their differences over Will behind them. Perhaps they were not as buried as she had hoped.

“Thanks for being there.” Elizabeth said to appease her sister. She could tell Jane was not happy that she was not coming to stay with her.

“What are big sisters for? You sure you’ll be all right?”

“I think I just needed to tell someone. I’ll,” (swallowing sound) “call again if I need a shoulder to cry on.”

“I love you, Liz.”

“I love too. Bye.”

Elizabeth hung up the phone and took a moment to relax. A triumphant smile soon spread across her face. Speaking to no one in particular, she raised her glass of water.

“My dear Jane, all is fair in love and war! I’m coming home, ‘Alex’!”

Part 34

Elizabeth lay on her back, staring at nothing on the ceiling. “How much longer until we spring the next part of the plan?”

William rolled toward her and tucked a wayward bit of hair behind her ear. “Oh, we need to let Jane stew a good week or two, I believe. Ellie is fine with this? Jane won’t go looking for you there?”

“Ellie is my friend, not Jane’s. She doesn’t know how to get in touch with her except through me. However, I’ll have to answer my cell phone now when Jane calls.”

“At least it will give you an excuse to forward the calls from your land line to your cell and not have to keep checking your answering machine.”

“Small favors.”

“I’ve discovered you’re quite the actress!”

“Any good point guard worth her salt is. How do you think I drew some many charging fouls.”

“You flopped?”

“Bill Lambeer would have been proud.”

“Hahaha,” William laughed, “I had better learn not to underestimate you. So, what would you like to do today?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to go someplace where were can just be ourselves and not have to worry about anyone seeing us and word of it getting back to Jane or Charles.”

“Let’s go for a drive then. How about Sedona? Hey! We could go up to the cabin! Yes, let’s do that.”

“What cabin?”

“We, our family I mean, own a cabin up in Oak Creek. We’ll take our stuff and stay the night. It’s past time to open it for the year.”

“I’ve always wondered what kind of people own homes there. Now I know.” Liz kissed Will and then sat up. “Get a move on it, buster. We’re wasting daylight.”

It took two hours to pack and make a stop at the local grocery store for provisions. They decided to take William’s Landrover to hold all the gear and ice chests. Since it was the first time the cabin had been opened since December, they had to bring along all the items that were needed to restock the refrigerator and pantry.

William guided the vehicle onto Interstate 17, and they headed north. The traffic was a tangled mess until they made it past Anthem and New River; there the grade steadily increased as road ran up towards Sunset Point and the turn-off to the Prescott area. They passed the junction and continued driving through the some very rugged country. They climbed through the next pass and then started to head down into the Verde Valley as the red rocks of Sedona came into view.

It was one of Elizabeth’s favorite scenes in all Arizona – the mountains to her back, the Verde Valley stretching out in front of her, and the solemn sandstone cliffs on the far end of this little bit of paradise. She wasn’t the only one to appreciate what they saw. William held the same sense of awe for the place. For centuries, people had come and settled here. The Native Americans came first – the area was littered with their ancient dwellings now designated as National Monuments. No one knows for sure why those people left, but they leave they did. The white man eventually came and took claim to the lands. People still farmed there.

Now, tourism drove the economy. The famous red sandstone outcroppings had been the backdrop for many Hollywood westerns. Today the area is a retreat from the intense summer heat of Southern Arizona. Spectacular vistas make it perfect for golfers who enjoy a bit of nature when they play. Artists also flock to the area, the colors an irresistible lure.

At the far north end of the Verde Valley is Oak Creek Canyon. The waters of the creek have carved out a slice of heaven. Through the red rock, the riverbed twists and turns as it climbs up the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment that runs nearly 200 miles through central Arizona. The plateau area on the top of the rim is home to the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the world.

The Darcy’s destination was halfway up Oak Creek Canyon. The oaks which give the canyon its name form a canopy over the windy road as it follows the pathway dug by the creek. They drove past Slide Rock State Park and over the long suspension bridge that gave unparalleled views up and down the canyon. William hoped to someday bring his children here to slide down the watery channel as his father had brought him. They continued on, the hotels and campgrounds finally giving ground to the private properties that lined the waterway. Elizabeth enjoyed looking for the telltale stone work of the WPA, the last shrines to the men who built the road they now traversed. She was surprised when her husband turned off the road and stopped in front of a steel gate with a sign that read, “Private Road – No Entry.” He parked the SUV, got out, and opened the padlock on the gate to let them in.

“Are we here?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes, this is the driveway. I’ll pull through and close the gate.”

“Your own road? I’m surprised it’s not paved.”

“It’s better that it’s not with all the frost and thaw. Much more efficient to have it unpaved and grated as needed. Face it, it doesn’t get that much traffic.”

Will pulled through, closed the gate behind them, and drove down the embankment. A very large house came into view.

“You call this place a cabin?”

Will laughed. “I guess a house would be more accurate, but there used to be a cabin here.” They parked the Landrover and walked towards the house. Will led Elizabeth onto the porch overlooking Oak Creek. He pointed to a patio below with a large river rock fireplace and chimney. “That’s all that’s left of the cabin.”

“What happened?”

“Forest fire. They couldn’t save it. My father decided to build higher this time. The old place was flooded out on several occasions. He left the old stone hearth for an outdoor fireplace. I think it’s kinda cool, myself. Would you like to see the house?”

Elizabeth was more than eager. She looked back at the newer building and at the floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the water. She couldn’t see much inside, through, and was anxious for a tour.

The interior did not disappoint. It was a mixture of wood, rock, and glorious glass! The whole side of the two-story great room was plate glass, and it extended to the kitchen and dining area. There were four bedrooms upstairs, and the master on the far end of the house wrapped around over the kitchen so that it, too, looked across the creek. It was a magnificent use of the slope of the land.

“This place is wonderful!”

“I’m glad you like it. It’s a very special place to me and to Georgiana. We practically lived here all summer long while I was growing up. As soon as school let out, Mom would pack us up and head up the hill. Dad still had to work, but he would drive up on the weekends.”

“I noticed a comfortable, lived-in feel to the house.”

“This place was meant to be a sanctuary and is pretty much how it was when my folks were still alive.” Will fingers a small bronze sculpture sitting on the end table. “My parents were killed on the way back home from here,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth gasped. “Oh, William! You said they were killed in an accident, but I had no idea.”

He sat down on the sofa and tugged Elizabeth down in his lap, pulling her to lean against his chest.

“I couldn’t come back here for the longest time. Every time I started out, I turned around before I made it up the hill. Georgiana was the one who finally convinced me to come. She practically begged me to bring her up here the next summer. We always spent July Fourth here as a family, and she had missed it the year before.”

“So you came.”

“Yes, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The place was full of memories. Georgiana and I decided to leave the downstairs pretty much the way it was. We got rid of a few things and put other stuff in storage. Then we tackled the master bedroom. We redid everything. It was just… too much to walk in and think that they would never sleep there again. There’s a picture of what it used to be like around here somewhere.”

They fell silent for a time, Will finding comfort in holding his beloved wife. It was Elizabeth who spoke next.

“Thank you for telling me about your folks, William. I have a much better appreciation for all of this now.”

“They would have loved you.” He could tell she was smiling. “I learned to fish here. There’s trout in the creek.”

“I’ve never been fishing before.”

“We can remedy that.” Will pushed Elizabeth to sit up and then he stood up. “Come on, we need to get our stuff inside. While you put the food away, I’ll make sure everything is turned back on. Then we should have enough time to head back down the canyon.”

“But we just got here!”

“We’re not going far, but you need a fishing license, and we need some bait.”

*****

They sat outside on the deck as it got dark. The sound of water flowing over the rocks was very soothing. William decided not to build a fire in the outdoor fireplace. It was still very dry in the forest. Elizabeth could just make out the cabins of their neighbors to either side.

“This is a huge lot, William.”

“That’s one of the reasons my grandparents bought it. They used to own more parcels, but sold off most of them in the 1970’s. They kept just enough land for privacy, but the neighbors are close enough to notice if anything is amiss. Which reminds me, tomorrow we need to pick up the litter that has accumulated over the winter.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. That’s the way we’ve always done it. And if you stop and think about it, it makes sense. Stay on top of things and it’s a lot less work over the long haul. Besides, it won’t take that long.”

“Fine. When you put it like that, it seems reasonable.” Changing subjects, Elizabeth asked, “Have you given any more thought as to when we’ll hold our wedding reception? Luke and Charlotte’s wedding is in four weeks.”

“How about the weekend before? Is that enough time?”

“That’s really pushing it. What about the weekend after?

“Then we are into the July Fourth extended weekend. I think the next would be better.”

“July in Phoenix. Yuck! I guess as long as we are inside, it will be okay.”

“I’ll call Phoenix Country Club on Monday.”

“Whoa!”

“I’m a member there, didn’t I tell you that?” William could have sworn he had.

“It seems to have slipped your mind.”

“I haven’t exactly had time to play any golf there since we got married. Speaking of golf, that’s another thing I need to take care of. I need to add you to the member’s spouses list, so you can use the facilities.”

“Will, about the country club, I don’t want a huge reception – just family and close friends.”

“That’s fine, but I do have some business associates I should invite, but I’ll keep the number as low as I can. I’m thinking somewhere between 150 to 200 people total.”

“That’s not small!” Elizabeth said.

“You’ll be amazed how quickly the guest list will fill up.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

It was dark now, and the air was becoming chilled. They decided to go inside and start a fire in there. Before long, the smell of burning juniper wood permeated the house. William loved the heavy scent, and Elizabeth found she couldn’t argue.

“Tomorrow I’ll take you fishing. There’s a spot near here that’s usually good for at least a nibble.”

“I just hope I don’t impale one of us with the hook.”

Will laughed. “I was going to say I’m not afraid of you, but then I thought better of it.”

“Fitzwilliam Darcy!”

Before he knew what had hit him, Elizabeth had attacked with a fury. She discovered that her husband was a very ticklish man.

“Mercy! Please… stop!” he cried.

Elizabeth warily complied.

“I had no idea you were that ticklish.”

“I had hoped you would take longer to find out. Come here and take your punishment.”

After a while they came up for air.

“How long do you want to wait before we start trying to have kids?”

“Not too long. A year maybe? I’d like us to be more settled before we start adding little Darcys. I’ll be twenty-seven in August, and if were serious about three kids and I want to be done by thirty-five, then we need to get a move on it.”

“What to practice?”

“I thought you would never ask!”

Arm in arm, they walked up the stars to the bedroom at the end of the landing. It was time for a new Mr. and Mrs. Darcy to mark the master suite as their own domain. The passionate laughter of lovers had been absent from the place six years too long.

Part 35

Relaxed and refreshed from their weekend at the cabin, Elizabeth and William set out to implement the final phase of their master plan. Elizabeth spent the next several days psyching herself up for another call to her sister. This time the truth was really going to be stretched, and a face-to face encounter needed to follow. Jane would brook no opposition; she would demand to see Elizabeth.

Elizabeth woke up Friday morning not feeling well. Fortunately, eating a little toast seemed to do the trick, and she made it to work on time. Will had suggested she head straight to her apartment after work to prepare for her call to Jane. She needed all the time she could get to get in the proper frame of mind for the task at hand. Traffic wasn’t too bad, and she made it to her old place fairly quickly.

After a half-hour preparation, it was showtime! Elizabeth waited until she knew her sister would be finished at work.

“Hello, Jane, it’s Liz.”

“I was just getting ready to call you.”

“Jane, I need your help.”

“Is something the matter?”

“I think I might be pregnant.”

There were a few heartbeats of silence.

“Where are you?”

“At my apartment.”

“Stay put, I’ll be right there.”

The real test of Elizabeth and William’s master plan was about to begin. Jane was a good lawyer and could normally tell when things did not add up, however, when it came to family, she had a huge blind spot. Elizabeth hoped to use that to her advantage. She decided to use the “numb” approach. Tears just didn’t seem quite right.

When the knock on the door came, Liz had already stationed herself of the sofa, her knees pulled up to her chest, arms hugging her legs.

“Liz, it’s me – Jane.”

“Come in, the door’s open,” she called out.

Jane surveyed the room as she entered. A week’s worth of mail was piled haphazardly on the dinner table, Elizabeth’s purse and car keys lying next to it. A half-full glass of water sat next to the sink. The blinds were closed, and the room was dark. Jane sat on the sofa next to Elizabeth and reached a hand towards her sister. Elizabeth grasped it and let their intertwined hands fall to rest on the seat.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jane asked.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were careful and everything.”

“Are you sure? You don’t have the most regular cycle.”

“I know. At first, I thought that might have something to do with it, but then I wondered. I haven’t felt well, and my breasts have been sore.”

That was true enough. She hadn’t felt well that morning, and William had made her breasts ache with his enthusiastic attentions.

“To reassure myself, I thought I’d take a pregnancy test. Well…”

“Are you sure you read the results correctly?”

“It’s pretty idiot proof. Minus means no baby, plus means call the Ob/Gyn. I can tell the difference between plus and minus.”

Jane let go of Liz’s hand and sat back. “Wow, so you really are pregnant. Have you thought about what you are going to do?”

“I’ll keep it, of course. Though the thought of being a single parent is daunting, I’ll manage somehow.”

“What about Alex? He should be told.”

“I know, that’s why I need your help. I want you to come with me when I meet him.”

“I’m really rusty on family law, but I’ll see what I can dig up this week. You have to know your rights.”

“Thanks, I would appreciate that.”

“Liz, how did you find out he was married?”

Elizabeth threw her head back and exhaled heavily through her nose. “The night I called you, Alex had come over. I was so happy to see him, but he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He told me that he was married and that he and his wife had been estranged for a month when we met in California. He said that what had happened was a mistake and that he now realized that he loved his wife too much to leave her. That was it.”

“He just dropped you like that? God, what a bastard!”

“Thing is, he was so sincere. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he loves his Sheila.”

“Sheila?”

“His wife.”

“Are you still in love with him?”

“Yes, I think I always will be, but I’m not going to be the reason a marriage ends, no matter what my feelings may be.”

“If he’s been unfaithful once, he may very well do it again.”

“That is his choice, not mine, Jane. My choices are made on what I now know to be the truth. If he wants his wife, let him have her.”

“I’m relieved that you’re doing the right thing. I’m just worried about the consequences for you and the baby.”

“It will work out. I have a loving family that will support me, no matter how disappointed they may be in me. And I still believe that my soul-mate is out there just around the corner, waiting for me like I’m waiting for him.”

“A child will scare away a lot of men.”

“The ones worth having will accept it as their own.”

“You are taking this really well.”

“I’m still a bit in shock.”

“Are you going to stay here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I’ll stay with you, if you like.”

“I think I would rather be alone.”

“Are you certain?” Jane thought she would want company.

“You know how my brain works. I need time to process everything in peace and quiet. If I need you, I’ll call. Thanks for listening, Sis.”

Jane reached her hand back towards Elizabeth and pulled her to her in an embrace.

“Anytime, Liz. Anytime.”

“Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Please don’t tell anyone about this yet. I’d rather not deal with Mom and Dad right now.”

*****

Charles picked Jane up from her place on their way out to dinner. Jane was very subdued, and Charles noticed her lack of spirits. Before he started the car he turned to her.

“What’s wrong?”

“Liz is unhappy.”

“Is it the guy she was seeing?”

Jane had told Charles about Alex and that they had broken up, but she did not tell him the loser was married.

“Yeah, I’m afraid he has really hurt her, and it makes me furious.”

“That’s natural. She’s your younger sister. You’re really protective of her. What did the guy do?”

“I can’t tell you, but suffice it to say that he was less than honest with her.”

Charles sat thoughtfully. “I wish things had worked out with her and Will.”

“Me, too. Now I sincerely doubt they’ll ever get back together.”

“Too bad. Will said he was seeing someone, but it’s a long distance thing. I don’t think he’s seen that Ali woman since the weekend he met her in Vegas.”

“Frankly, I’m glad he’s been crossed by love. If he hadn’t blown it with my sister, she wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Will was ready to fall in love with Liz. Luke saw it, and I suspected it. If she had only given him another chance…”

“She didn’t, and I don’t think she will. Things have changed – she’s changed. What a mess!” Jane covered her face with her hands.

“Jane, there’s nothing we can do to change things. Let’s not dwell on it an let it ruin the evening.”

Jane sighed. “You’re right.” She gave him a halfhearted smile. “Where are we going for dinner, anyway?”

“Your choice.”

“I don’t want to make any more decisions today. You choose.”

Charles couldn’t make up his mind, either. They ended up stopping at the store and picking up some steaks to grill at his place.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth returned home to her waiting husband. He could tell it had gone well by the smug look on her face. It was time to call Georgiana and invite her home for the upcoming weekend.

*****

That Saturday Georgiana was sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. Elizabeth walked in wearing a bathrobe.

“You know, Liz, it hadn’t truly sunk in that my brother was married until I saw you walk in here this morning wearing Will’s robe.”

Elizabeth poured a cup of coffee for herself and then sat down at the table across from her new sister. Warming her hands on the mug and taking a sip, she smiled contentedly.

“That’s understandable. We’d only met for a few hours a month ago. Last night was the first time we’ve had to spend time together as a family.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen my brother so eager to go to bed before ten o’clock.”

Elizabeth blushed and Georgiana laughed.

“Sorry, couldn’t resist. You two are still newlyweds. I get it.”

“You might not want to tease your brother like that. He might not be so forgiving.”

“Forgiving about what?” asked a very masculine voice. Will walked into the room wearing a t-shirt and lounge pants.

“Oh, nothing more than a little impertinence on your sister’s part,” Elizabeth said smoothly. “Women talk.”

“Whatever you say.” Will shrugged. “I need some of that coffee I smell.” He poured a cup and then sat down to join them.

“Everything all set with Charles?” Elizabeth queried.

“Yeah, I told him that Georgiana was in town and was tagging along for lunch.”

“Good, I’m meeting Jane at noon at her apartment, and then we’re driving over to the restaurant to confront ‘Alex.’”

“I still cannot believe you two have managed to pull this off so far. Do you think they’ll be very upset with you?” Georgiana asked.

“Probably, but we’ve gone to great lengths not to downright lie to them,” Liz answered.

Georgiana snorted. “Nor have you exactly presented the truth.”

*****

Jane had spent almost all of her free time since she had met with Elizabeth researching the Arizona laws and statutes regarding paternity issues. She had a pretty good grasp of where her sister stood. She would play the role of consummate attorney, advising both parties. Once that was done, she would give Alex a piece of her mind.

Elizabeth was very composed when she arrived at Jane’s place. Jane was impressed with her sister’s self-control. She could tell she was nervous, but only because she knew Liz so well.

They arrived at The Eggery, and Jane parked and turned off the ignition. “Are you ready for this?” Jane asked.

“If I’m not now, I’ll never be. Let’s get this over with.”

They walked into the building, and Liz immediately spied Will. She broke out in a big smile and walked towards the table where he sat with Georgiana and Charles. Will saw her coming and stood up in anticipation, his smile matching hers.

Jane followed closely behind, surprised to see the three of them there.

When Elizabeth and Jane reached the table, Will leaned down to kiss Elizabeth full on the mouth.

“Have you got them?” she asked after their lips had parted.

Will smiled and reached into his pocket. Jane and Charles were transfixed as Will pulled out his hand and took Elizabeth’s left hand in his. He carefully slid on her wedding band, bringing her knuckles to his lips for a sweet caress. Then he dropped his band into her awaiting palm, and she repeated the gesture. Elizabeth stood next to him, and they faced a dumbstruck audience.

“Charles, may I present my wife, Elizabeth Aileen Darcy.”

Elizabeth didn’t miss a beat.

“And may I present my husband, Fitzwilliam Alexander Darcy.”

As comprehension dawned on Jane, her jaw dropped. “This is Alex?”

On cue, the waiter brought two more chairs to the table. William asked Jane and Elizabeth to take a seat.

“Of course, this is Alex. Did you really think I would sleep with a man who wasn’t my husband?”

“You… you…” Jane sputtered.

“We did exactly the same thing to you that you did to us. We selected the parts we wanted you to hear and left out the rest.”

“But you said you were pregnant,” Jane blurted out.

“I never said that, I only said I might be. You formed your own conclusions based on what you thought you heard.”

Charles hadn’t said a word, but it was clear to him that he and Jane had been had. He smiled and patted Jane’s hand.

“It’s not funny, Charles! Do you have any idea of the hell you put me through the past two weeks, Liz?”

“Actually, I do.” Liz wasn’t going to back down nor let the situation get out of control.

Charles jumped in. “The game’s over. They got us. We probably deserved it. Jane, don’t say something you will regret.”

Jane started to form an angry retort, but Charles squeezed her hand to stop her. She took a few deep breaths to calm down and then looked around the table. Everyone was watching her with a concerned look. Jane felt her anger melt away, leaving her only with chagrin. She shook her head, and a wry smiled tugged at the corners of her mouth. Elizabeth was relieved.

“Do you forgive me – I mean, us?”

“I suppose so, if you can forgive me in return,” Jane replied.

“Oh, after pulling off this con, you are definitely forgiven.”

That made everyone laugh in relief. Elizabeth and William then told them what had happened the night at the TV studio and their impetuous decisions to go to Vegas. Jane could not believe the skill with which Elizabeth had twisted her words to lead Jane to the conclusions she wanted her to draw. She would have made a hell of a lawyer… or a politician.

“I still can’t believe you eloped!”

“We’re going to show the video of the wedding at the reception as proof,” Elizabeth answered her sister.

Jane rolled her eyes. “Mom will love that.”

The waitress came by with water and took their drink orders. Now that the truth was out, they looked over the menu and discussed what each was ordering for lunch.

“I want something light, I’m still not feeling quite right,” Elizabeth proclaimed when asked about her selection.

Will leaned over to whisper in her ear, “You don’t have to pretend anymore, Elizabeth.”

Liz stood up. “If you will excuse us for a moment, I need to talk to William.” They left the dining room and walked outside for a bit of privacy. “I’m not pretending. I really don’t feel well.”

William became concerned. “Would you like to go home? I can drive you.”

“I’ll be fine. Uhm, William, I have something to tell you.”

“What is it, darling?” he said tenderly.

“I got to thinking this morning and decided I needed to do one thing to have a clear conscience about this meeting. I stopped by the drugstore and bought something.”

“What was it?”

Elizabeth opened up her purse and pulled out a small plastic bag. Inside was a white plastic test stick. She handed it to her husband.

“What is this, and what does the plus sign mean?”

We finally made it, the end of the story! Elsa and I co-wrote this last part, with the bridal shower being my addition. How much of it is based on fact is for you to guess.

Epilogue

Charlotte Lucas always loved a good game of baseball, but her relationship with America’s Pastime had become even more devoted since the memorable day she became engaged. Now, every mention of the sport made her instinctively glance at the ring that adorned her left hand. Every time she watched her favorite team play, she could not help grinning, no matter what the score.

Thus, she was in a great mood on Sunday afternoon. She sat in her seat next to her fiancé, ready to cheer and yell at the umpires, but most of all, to be as deliriously happy as she had been the last few weeks. However, there was one tiny cloud on the horizon, slightly disturbing her state of bliss. It concerned her friends, who had been acting strangely the past few days. She shared her observations with Luke.

“Jane has been quite concerned about Elizabeth, but absolutely refuses to talk about it. And then, after the lunch she had with Liz and Will last week, it’s like nothing ever was the matter. I don’t get it. Did your cousin tell you anything about it?”

“Nope,” Luke replied, “and he’s been acting odd himself. I mean, he never was the most sociable person in the world, but as of late, I think that he’s been intentionally avoiding me. Whenever I call to ask him how he is, he immediately begins talking shop. That’s not the Will I know.”

“I wonder what’s wrong with them. I even called Liz to invite her to join us today, hoping to pry some information from her. She told me that she was coming to the game with some “special guest” and that we would definitely see her at some point.”

“With such a crowd and no idea where she’s seated, I highly doubt it. Something is going on; Jane must have had a very good reason to worry. A special guest, huh?” Luke’s furrowed brow was indicative of his puzzlement.

“Well, Jane doesn’t seem troubled at all since that lunch. That’s the most astonishing of all, after the state she was in before then.” Char shrugged. “Anyway, they’re all adults, and I suppose we should trust them.”

“And enjoy our bliss,” Luke added and embraced her tenderly before searing her lips with a kiss.

Thus they continued watching the game – very absorbed in each other and less and less on what was happening on in the field – and very fortunate that no foul balls came their way – until some louder than normal cheers roused them. Since it was between innings, at first they thought it was the Kiss Camera or something. But why was the crowd laughing and applauding? Then they took a closer look at the big video board in center field; there was a man and woman in serious lip lock.

“Luke, that couple kissing… Isn’t it?…Is it?” Charlotte’s eyes were twice as big as usual.

Her companion could not reply at first, as his mouth had dropped wide open. He then asked, slowly, “Why is my cousin kissing your friend on the Jumbo-tron?”

The answer fortuitously appeared in big letters on the screen. “Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.”

Mrs. Darcy?” both Luke and Charlotte cried.

“Char, love, didn’t they swear to us that they were just good friends the last time we talked? Didn’t they say they couldn’t fall in love with each other? Back me up here.”

Charlotte was unable to utter anything but a few incomprehensible words.

“Did you hear any engagement announcements? Attend a bridal shower? Heck, do you recall being invited to any wedding, because I certainly don’t.”

Before Char could reply, the big screen again gave the answer. “We married in Las Vegas, Cousin. I made it to the altar before you, after all!”

The information was a bit too sudden to be easily processed, and no one could blame Char and Luke for being unable to watch the game after that bombshell. However, after talking it over a bit, they agreed that it was a very romantic thing to do, after all. Besides, they had always thought William and Elizabeth would make a great couple – if they could get past their issues. As a result, they tried to spot the newlyweds so they could congratulate them in person. Much as the big screen had served to deliver the messages, now they wanted to offer their best wishes in person.

It was Elizabeth and William that found them, as William knew where the Copper Star Homes company seats were located.

“Typical Liz, always wanting to have the last word!” Charlotte joked.

“That’s typical of my cousin, as well,” Luke added, grinning. “Congratulations. You’ll make a perfectly insufferable couple!”

“Yeah, but we’ve had more than our fair share of misunderstandings,” Elizabeth said before Charlotte embraced her so tightly that she grunted.

“Careful of my wife there, Char.”

“We’re so happy for you! You had us really worried lately, you know.” Luke tried to frown at his cousin, but he could not hide his pleasure.

“Well, in order to induce you to forgive us for keeping the whole thing a secret,” William began.

“… And for not inviting you to our wedding,” Elizabeth added.

“…And because we happen to have some wonderful news to share,” William put his arm around Elizabeth’s waist.

“…How about joining us for dinner after the game?”

Intrigued, Charlotte and Luke agreed. Later, on the way to their cars, Luke bent to kiss his fiancée’s cheek and whisper in her ear, “Elizabeth always keeps her promises, doesn’t she? She said that we would definitely see her, and we sure did!”

“Yeah, and so did the other 31,000 or so fans in attendance today.”

*****

Liz pulled into the parking lot of the local Walgreens to pick up a card and some wrapping paper. Tonight was Char’s wedding shower, and Elizabeth was returning from a shopping trip that began at Borders and ended at Bed, Bath and Beyond. In the trunk of her car was a shiny Kitchen Aid 6-quart Mixer – complete with all the extra add-ons – and a few other interesting items.

She had to admit, being married to William had many advantages. She would never have forked out over $500 for shower gifts, but William agreed this was a very worthwhile cause. His only regret in financing the operation was that he wouldn’t be there when Char opened her package.

Liz picked out a sappy card and some appropriate paper for the presents and then went to the checkout line. There were two customers ahead of her, but they only had a few items each. As the cashier rang up the first customer, Elizabeth looked at the woman waiting next in line. She was tall, looked to be in her late thirties with bleached blond hair, high-heeled strappy sandals, a snug-fitting pair of black stretch shorts and matching black tank top. On her well-tanned right shoulder was a tattoo of a heart with the name “Arthur” emblazoned in script in a banner across it. The woman looked dressed for a night out at the clubs.

The customer in front finished paying for his purchase and “Arthur’s girl” stepped forward, placing her items on the counter. They were a small package of condoms and a small bottle of KY lubricating lotion – the perfect size for her tiny handbag.

Meanwhile, the hapless cashier looked up and saw this Amazon princess. He blubbered something to the effect of, “Wow, you’re a tall woman… Of course my manager is tall, but I’m not used to seeing anyone like you.”

The woman made some polite response and waited impatiently for the poor guy to finish. Elizabeth was having a very hard time not laughing at the tableau before her. She nearly choked when the cashier said, “I hope you have a good afternoon.”

Elizabeth thought the patron would rather have a good night, but kept that thought to herself.

Walgreen’s Boy watched, riveted, as “Miss Good Afternoon” walked seductively out of the store. Only then did he turn his attention back to Elizabeth. The poor thing was still too stunned to do much more than mumble. Once Elizabeth had paid for her items, she managed to get into her car before she broke down in hysterics. That would make one hell of a story to tell at Char’s shower.

*****

Liz was rather antsy waiting for Char to open her gift. She had spent some time considering what to give her dear friend. There weren’t that many items on her wedding registry. Between them, Char and Luke had most of the basics covered. They had decided to remodel and redecorate Luke’s house in the fall and didn’t want to have to pack up a lot of stuff when it came time to do the demolition. Therefore, Elizabeth was delighted to pick up the mixer for them; it was the perfect diversion from the real gifts.

Charlotte’s bridal shower wasn’t huge, only about a dozen people in total, but Elizabeth had arrived early to help set up and to make sure her gift was at the back of the stack. After nine other packages, hers was up.

“Oh, this is heavy, Liz!” Char said after she read the card.

“Maybe I threw in some rocks to fool you,” Liz teased.

Char tore at the paper when she opened a gift. Being a paper ripper was a shared trait that helped seal their friendship. When she saw the name and the picture of the mixer she gave Elizabeth a huge smile.

“Thank you! I’ve always wanted one of these things, and I just couldn’t resist putting it on the list.”

“Why don’t you open it to make sure you like the color?” It was the chrome one Char had asked for, but that was beside the point. Elizabeth wanted her to open the box.

The unsuspecting bride-to-be opened the package, took off the top layer of cardboard and got a quizzical look on her face. She reached in and pulled out a royal blue thong and matching demi-bra. The tag said Fredrick’s of Hollywood.

“Go on, there’s more in there.”

Char blushed and started pulling out more skimpy lingerie and then brought out a book. Everyone laughed when she held it up.

A Year of Spicy Sex: 52 Recipes to Heat Up Your Sex Life

“Read the inscription,” Elizabeth demanded.

By this time, Charlotte was beet red. “To my dear friend Charlotte. Here’s hoping you won’t need this right away. Love, Elizabeth”

The laughter only increased.

“I figured that you didn’t have time to learn how to cook when you were going through school, so I decided to buy you a cookbook. Once I saw this title, I had to buy it for you. I hope Luke won’t mind – or need this. You found yourself one heck of a guy.”

“Don’t I get any of the credit?” Jane pouted.

Liz and Char answered in unison. “NO!”

*****

That November

It was quite late in the afternoon. The six of them had been in the Bennet family garage all day, but none of them gave the impression that they were tired. Even though Jane, Charlotte and Elizabeth had to admit that they would have finished the clean-up of the place much sooner had not their beloveds been present doing more mischief than actual work, they would not have traded their company for all the tidy garages in the world.

Actually, the men had great fun exploring all the old stuff that Jane and Elizabeth had accumulated there. After laughing about their first dolls and their baby clothes—which, of course, led to many tender moments between William and Elizabeth as they contemplated on the utter happiness the arrival of their baby would bring them—they discovered the boxed treasures of the women’s teenage years.

The men had a good laugh, mocking every actor or singer they used to worship, but that was nothing next to their reactions when they discovered the clothes.

“You really wore that skirt? I mean, are there people who have seen you in it? I can’t believe your dad let you out of the house with this on?” Then William lowered his voice, feigning seriousness. “Maybe we should hunt them down and eliminate them so that there are no remaining witnesses.”

Elizabeth put her hands on her hips. “I’ll have you know that I wore it just once, before dad found out. When he confiscated it and forbade me to wear it again, he said that he was doing it for my future’s sake.”

“I rest my case.”

“Dad was wise, as always,” Jane said, laughing as she reached into another box of old clothes. “As wise as a man can be who’s worn this shirt can be considered, of course.”

“Let me try it,” Luke volunteered, and grabbed the oddly cut short-sleeved brown shirt with the wide yellow stripes. “I think I should grow my hair out to better fit in the seventies style, though.”

“Your father used to wear it with mustard yellow trousers and jacket, right? I’ve seen the pictures,” Charlotte said.*

“And here I thought we’d managed to burn them all,” Elizabeth said with an exaggerated sigh as she looked at the hideous shirt.

“You’re forgetting what is still in their closet,” reminded Jane. Both sisters shuddered.

“Wait! Are you talking about these, Char?” William had a triumphant smile as he emerged from a chest, holding the afore-mentioned articles of clothing. “I get to try these!” he protested when Luke attempted to wrestle the jacket away from him.

“Wait,” Jane said, laughing, “we have to give you Dad’s glasses, too.”

“The huge yellow ones!” Elizabeth clapped her hands. “Very much in style.”

“…A few centuries ago,” Charlotte added.

In the end, William and Luke were two perfect Ugly Peters, while Charles was very proud of the cowboy get-up he’d discovered and now wore. Jane was still looking for the Stetson, but Elizabeth and Charlotte couldn’t help staring at their men.

“You really, really, really look ridiculous,” Elizabeth pointed out.

“Yeah, and it’s such a liberating feeling,” William smugly retorted.

“Will, I think I’ve just realized how difficult it was for you to see the real me behind all the disguises. And to think that I was a sane person while I was wearing all these!”

“Oh, no,” her husband told her as he moved next to her and took her into his arms. “You think that dressing up was ridiculous, but I’m beginning to think it’s a good idea.” He paused for effect. “I was thinking we could make an appearance on Dating Phoenix dressed like this.”

“As in Ugly Pete is courting Ugly Betty?” Charlotte asked.

“Utterly romantic,” Luke commented.

“I do prefer cowboys, but it would be interesting to watch,” Jane mumbled weakly, as Charles had managed to catch her with a newly discovered lasso and was currently pressing her very tightly against him. “After all, you owe poor George Wickham a favor. I hear he still needs guests to appear.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Elizabeth said. “I said that I’d go to that show only if I lost the bet.” She threw a loving gaze at her husband, who kissed her cheek and stroked her pregnant belly with his hand. “But, right now, I really feel like I won the Lottery.”

William looked even more intently at his bride. “Not everyone loses their shirt in Vegas?”

Elizabeth whispered into his ear. “Though I liked the way you lost yours.”

“Do you always have to have the final word?”

“Of course, especially when it’s, ‘Oh God! William!’”

“What can I say to that, minx?”

“All’s fair in love and war, my dear.”

“iLaw!?” He was a quick learner.

“iLaw!”

The End?

*****

Note from Elsa=this is how my dad’s best man was dressed at my parents’ wedding. It is scary, really! 😛

Thanksgiving Vingette

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