Next up- Chapter 3. This story is a delicate balance because I have to show Elizabeth and Darcy as they begin their story but Charlotte and Mr. Collins (my Bill) and they get their HEA.
What do you think? Leave me a comment. Let's chat 🙂
As was her custom, Elizabeth ran four to six miles each morning before work. When one lives and works with their sisters, one needs as much time away as possible and an activity to work out frustrations. For Elizabeth, that’s running and today was a runner’s dream.
The sun, bright and glorious, was complimenting the blue sky. Mother nature offered a gentle breeze, and by glancing at her watch she was pleased to see she’d increased her running pace by seven minutes. Using the tab on my headphone cord, Elizabeth increase the volume and let the beat of the heavy pulsing metal band push her. She hoped to harness some of the vibe for work today. The Bourgh’s visit was scheduled today and she was determined to make this day as positive as possible. Increased run pace was a great start.
The morning has yet to begin for the rest of Westerham only the local tea and coffee shop and grocer were seeing any action. Elizabeth’s best friend, Lottie, was the owner of The English Fog Coffee house. Elizabeth knew she started her day before the sun rose and it would be right about now Lottie could be persuaded to take a break.
The sidewalks of Westerham were wide and offer a tremendous amount of room for walkers, strollers, and the like during the normal hours of the day. Imagine her surprise when she turned up the block toward Lottie’s shop and standing directly in her path was a tall guy doing a remarkably good impression of a statue. He appeared to be built like one, too. Broad and solid, his stance wide as he held a coffee cup in one hand, the other tucked in his front pocket. He looked out toward town completely unaware that she was headed for him.
“Heads up” Elizabeth shouted over the music only she could hear.
He turned his head slowly toward her, still not moving.
“Queue to your left, please.” She assumed he’d turn to her and then follow her instructions.
Not so much.
Simultaneously, they move in the same direction, closer to the buildings. Then closer to the street. Then back again.
Elizabeth pulled her earbuds out. “Go up.” She gestured manically for him to move, hoping to not break her stride but it was too late. Their uncoordinated dance caused her to falter her steps. It was not one of those cute ‘excuse me’ dances were both parties tried to move from each others path only to find themselves closer and laughing. No, the thin press of his lips told her he found nothing cute about it and as she drew closer she watched him briefly arch one brow before he brought the mug to his lips. He came off almost…haughty.
The next thing she noticed were his laser blue eyes, then his demeanor. He wasn’t smiling nor was he glaring. He’s searched her up and down with his icy gaze, his brow winging slightly more.
Elizabeth knew he wasn’t from the area. There wasn’t a single thing about him that spoke of their small country town. Not his dark washed jeans and light knit jumper in matching steely grey. Like he’s meant to be on a magazine layout. Yet, there was something awkward, or dare she say stiff, in his posture.
When his gaze met hers a thrill of something so wholly unfamiliar to her raced through her body and heated her from the inside out. That alone was enough to help her find her manners.
“Good Morning.” It surprises her that she managed to sound normal because at the very least she expected her racing heart to affect her speech. Make it stammer or something.
He nodded slightly. “Morning.”
She wanted to say something else, something clever but that’s hard to do with a complete stranger. She went with, “Next time queue up to your other left. Unless you were trying to get me to collide with you.” She gestured toward the top of the pavement and smiled so he knew she was teasing. Maybe even think she was flirting. Which she might have been? She wasn’t sure. It had been so long since she’d found anyone worthy of the energy.
“Do you always run on the sidewalk where most people are milling about?” There’s a subtle clipped tone to his words and Elizabeth stepped back.
Racy heart and heated blood aside, She was instantly perplexed by his rudeness.
“Generally, in the ten years I’ve been running this path, I’ve not come across someone standing in the middle of the walkway at this time in the morning. You can imagine my surprise.”
“Can I?” He sipped from his mug again.
“Can you not?” Now the clipped tone belongs to her. Lacks imagination she mentally noted. She liked men with imagination. In the brief second he became a consideration of someone she thought she might like to know, he came off that list just as quickly.
“Is it a good path to run? Is there not some place that doesn’t cross through town?” He looked over her shoulder in the direction from which she came.
Elizabeth shrugged. “It depends on what you are looking for. I like this path. I get a variety of scenery and challenges.” She stepped aside and toward Lottie’s shop.
“And the kilometers?” Still looking down the sidewalk.
“Nearly six and a half. If you go around the lake and through town.” Her heart rate had slowed and the idea of a nice cuppa for her cooling off and stretching period appealed to her immensely. He nodded and returned his stare in her direction but she knew he wasn’t seeing her. His attention was elsewhere.
“Well, then.” She had no further conversation to offer. Opening the door she wished him a good day before entering.
“Without a doubt,” he said.
Elizabeth stepped into the shop and paused long enough to inhale the loveliness that is Lottie’s shop. Scones, coffee, tea, and so much more goodness.
“Do I smell something spicy? Cayenne maybe?” Elizabeth smiled at her bestie and roommate. One couldn’t be tight with a foodie and not learn to identify scents or flavors while blindfolded.
“Morning Lizzy, you staying or going?” Lottie waved at her from behind the counter.
“Morning. That depends on what that amazing smell is.”
“Today’s special is Mexican hot chocolate and a I’m working on a sinfully good cupcake with cayenne pepper and cream cheese frosting.”
Sounds unusual but Elizabeth knew it wouldn’t be anything less then unbelievably decadent. Lottie was a cupcake prodigy. She was part of the reason why Elizabeth ran. Frequent taste testing was part of her friend duties and there was no way Elizabeth could say no to that.
“How was your run? Day starting out well?” Lottie handed her a large black coffee. Elizabeth loaded it with a splash of cream and two sugars.
“My run was fabulous. But—“ Elizabeth leaned over the counter to get closer. “I just had the oddest conversation.” She looked over her shoulder to find the man watching her through Lottie’s large paned window. Quickly, she turned away. “Ack, he’s still there.” She grimaced.
“I should hope so. He’s got one of my mugs. Did he say something rude to you?” Lottie’s gaze darted between Elizabeth and the guy outside.
“No, he…I can’t describe it. It felt odd.”
“I see.” She said but halted the conversation when Bill came in from the back whistling a jaunty tune.
“Morning, Billy,” Lottie said, moving toward him. She took the bag he held out to her.
“Fresh cayenne from Rosings Park garden.” Bill crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels, a smug smile across his face.
Elizabeth stepped toward him. “Did you—“
“Help myself to peppers from the abundant garden at Rosings? Where there are so many they are rotting on the vine. Perhaps.” Bill winked at Lottie.
“You stole them.” Elizabeth sipped her coffee, using the cup to hide her smile.
“Billy’s going to help me make the cupcake batter. I’m short staffed today.”
“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor—“
“Yeah, yeah.” Elizabeth waved her hand and turned away. She couldn’t pick on him for being a good guy. Aside from her, Bill was Lottie’s closest friend. They’d spent their entire childhood in the house right next to each other. “I suppose I’ll take some treats to go. Can you add in a scone? They smell amazing.”
“I saw Lydia climbing in Kitty’s window this morning as I was leaving.” Lottie’s look was pointed. We both knew Lydia wasn’t coming from Mom and Dad’s place but from parts unknown.
Elizabeth shook her head. This was not the first time she, Lottie, and often Jane had this conversation.
Lottie handed her a bag. “We’re still good for lunch?”
“Of course.” Because they lived together, Elizabeth was allowed to keep an account at the cafe. Often, after a run she’d grab a drink without having to worry about carrying dollars.
“Good luck out there.” She gestured outside with her chin.
Elizabeth wagged her brows. “Forget that, I’d rather use it for my meeting today at work today. Don’t you be late Bill.” She pointed at him for emphasis. Though she wasn’t too worried he’d miss his meeting with the grand dame herself. The Bourgh could almost be considered his demigod.
Bill went behind the counter and donned a fire red apron that said ‘hot stuff coming through’.
“As if,” he said, his voice a smacking good imitation of Lydia.
Lottie laughed and returned to refill customers’ coffee. She looks supremely happy even if her ponytail was starting to come undone and there was a smudge of chocolate on her glasses. Elizabeth wondered if she looked this blissful when at work? She hoped so, though not likely today considering what was on the agenda, but definitely when she was talking with clients.
When she stepped outside the guy faced her though continued to drink from his mug. With no words at her disposal she turned and headed home. Though the urge to turn back, just once, was awfully powerful. It’s like people say, she really could feel his stare focused on her. Or at least she imagined she could.
Thankfully, at the blocks end she turned off and he was out of sight. Her brownstone within sight. Two things Elizabeth loved, her company and her house. She was lucky she had enough sisters that she was able to let the rooms and cover her mortgage. Though technically Lydia still lives at home with Mum and Dad she hasn’t slept a night there in nearly three months. Not that she was sleeping at Elizabeth’s place either.
Elizabeth made a mental note to start charging her rent.
Crossing a pasture, she climbed Mr. Yelvington’s fence, cut through a second pasture and come up through the backside to a row of homes. Her’s was on the end.
When she enter through the back door the screetching of sisters fighting, a safe guess would be Kitty and Lydia, greeted her. Briefly, she considered turning around and going to work as is.
Instead, she went into the kitchen and found Jane sitting at the little table drinking coffee.
“Scone?” Elizabeth placed the bag before her.
She shakes her head. “I think I’m too nervous to eat.”
“Whats the worst that can happen, Jane?” After plopping into a chair she pulled the still warm scone from the bag.
“I’m not sure,” Jane says.
Elizabeth knew Jane would have a hard time conceptualizing something awful. It's simply wasn’t in her nature. Her worst scenario was Elizabeth’s best case one.
“I suppose we go more automated. Though that’s not how I envisioned things when we mapped out this business.”
Case in point. Going more automated is what Elizabeth expected would be the push. Closing shop forever because of some unattainable demands was her worst case.
“How do you feel about that?” She push half a scone toward Jane.
Honestly?” Jane waits for a Elizabeth’s nod.
“Maybe I’ve become disenchanted with love but if our way hasn’t been successful enough for Mrs. De Bourgh then how’s automating going to improve that?”
“How's that?” Elizabeth wasn’t sure she followed. What this have to do with being disenchanted with love?
She leaned closer so she could be heard over the screeching that continued above stairs. “I truly thought the human factor would appeal to people. That clients would spread the word and business would boom.”
“We are growing. Slowly and steadily. We’ve only been open four years.”
“But people don’t want others to know they’ve found love through a matchmaker, Lizzy. I thought people wouldn’t care. That the love would be enough and they’d shout it from all over.”
Elizabeth had to agree. “It is surprising how private people are about this all while posting every other tidbit on social media.”
“Kitty! Give it to me.” Lydia screams.
“That’s it. I’ve hand enough” Elizabeth slapped her hand against the table then rose. “Did you know she snuck in this morning? Lottie saw her as she was leaving.” Not waiting for a response Elizabeth stomped from the room and came to a stop at the bottom of the stares. Putting two fingers in her mouth like their Dad taught her she whistled long and loud. By the time she was done not only Kitty and Lydia were at the top landing but Mary as well.
“I’ve had enough. This is ridiculous. Jane and I can’t even have a conversation in the kitchen because we can’t hear each other. Here’s the solution. Lydia, if you want to live here you need to start paying rent. Today.”
“But there are only four bedrooms.” She crosses her arms. “Why should I pay for sleeping over in Kitty’s room?”
“Its my room too,” Mary says.
“That would be a sound argument had you actually stayed over. We’re not your beard, Lydia. You can’t tell mum and dad you’re staying here and not be here. What if something were to happen to you? No one would know until it was too late. You don’t want to pay rent? Stay home. But if you stay more than two nights a week then you’ll need to split Kitty and Mary’s rent with them. By staying over I mean even sneaking in at four in the morning. You’re welcome to move it but not for free. You’ll contribute to groceries and utilities as well.”
Lydia stomped her foot and open her mouth to speak but Elizabeth hold up her hand. “You can talk it over with Kitty and Mary today and let us know by this evening. But if you decide not to move it you can’t sleep here the rest of the week. When was the last time you slept at home?”
“You’re an evil bitch, Elizabeth Bennet,” she says very near tears. Crocodile ones to be sure. The thing about Lydia is that she has no money. As soon as she gets paid she blows it on shoes and handbags and whatever else strikes her fancy. Not that Elizabeth wanted her to move in and bicker with Kitty all the time, but the responsibility would do her good. But she won’t, she can’t afford it. Dad mentioned she’s maxed out two credit cards. How she even got those Elizabeth will never know.
With a shrug Elizabeth said, “See you at work.” Then turned and went back into the kitchen. It was blissfully quiet.
“You need to get ready Lizzy, we should get to work earlier than normal today, just in case.”
Nodding, Elizabeth scooped up the remains of her scone and made her way to her room that, thankfully, was on the bottom floor. In order to offset the expense of starting the business and buying a brownstone, Elizabeth had converted the study into an additional sleeping space. She loved the wall of bookshelves and circular stain glass window and had no regrets offering Lottie the larger room across the hall.
Jane had selected the large room upstairs with the view. Elizabeth the bucolic view of Mr. Yelvington’s cows and meadows. The downside was summer when the windows were open and a slight breeze was blowing from his field toward our house.
With summer hinting at making an appearance, Jane and Elizabeth decided to take advantage of the slightly cooler morning air and walk to work. Soon enough, temps would be high. Air conditioners would be running non-stop and their neighboring cities, New York and Boston, would be warning of possible blackouts.
On the walk to work they discuss a few new ideas and strategies that might improve awareness of the company. All previous campaigns to bring clients out to rave about their services had failed. No one wanted to become a print ad saying they needed help finding their mate.
They beat Bill to the office by ten minutes. He’s loaded down with fresh pastries and a box off coffee from Lottie’s. He cleans out the coffee pot, turns it on but doesn’t set it up. He Dumps Lottie’s brew in the carafe and set it son the warmer.
“Are we ready?” he asks while pouring a cup.
The used ‘we’ irked Elizabeth, as he was nowhere to be found the last few nights as she printed data sheets. Standing up she shows him her old school binder with all the figures and forms.
“I’m more than ready. “
Bill points to the two-inch binder in her arms. “Yeah, that doesn’t scream a need for automation or at the very least some tech training. I will be waiting by the front door to greet them.” His bangs were combed more to the side so one eye is covered. Like a wanna-be pirate. A glob of something brown is stuck to a branch of hair near his ear.
“Ah, Bill you might want to —“ She gesture to the region near his ear and made like she was smoothing it out.
“Please, Elizabeth. Don’t call me Bill while they are here. If you must use my first name at all call me William. It’s more professional.”
Elizabeth wasn’t sure how he surmised that. Bill Gates might object.
He did as she suggested and came away with the glob in his hand.
“Chocolate cupcakes I’m guessing.”
“They’re here,” Kitty whispered over the phone’s speaker system. Bless her for coming in early. Thankfully she didn’t press intercom as the entire office, including the lobby, would have heard.
Bill jumped and quickly wiped his hand with one of the napkins he brought with him. He paused by the door, clutching his hands over his heart and said, “Dear Lord, we are so blessed.” Then fairly ran from the room.
Elizabeth tried to understand his attachment to The Bourgh. Lottie had once tried to explain it. Something about Lady Catherine being a surrogate mother to him. Bill having lost his mom when he was a teen turned to the next best thing, her long time friend. Though whatever Bill’s mom and Lady Catherine had in common would forever remain a mystery to Elizabeth and neither Bill or Lottie were willing to part with the information.
“They’re here!” Elizabeth said in mock excitement to Jane. “However do we get through the days without them?” She shook Jane by her shoulders. “Oh, want to make a wager? I bet this Darcy character is unsightly. That’s why the pictures are all blurry. What do you think it is? Crossed eyes? Missing nose? A nipple in the middle of his forever. Come on, take a guess.”
“Stop it Lizzy,” she laughed and pushed her sisters hands from her shoulder. “I’m sure he’s perfectly fine.”
Elizabeth shrugged her uncertainty. Perfectly fine takes good pictures. What’s this guy’s deal?
“Shall we then? Let’s go see.” Elizabeth gestured for Jane to proceed her.
She followed her to the glass doors that separated the main room from the offices. Bill was stroking his chin, nodding excessively, and bobbing around like a mating intended Bird of Paradise. Mrs. De Bourgh was talking over his head to the person holding the front door open, though all Elizabeth could see was an arm.
“Should we go out or let them come to us?” Jane whispered.
The person holding the door steps in and Elizabeth finds her words lost, caught in her throat.
“Holy cow,” Elizabeth said.
“Yes,” echoed Jane.
Its was a man. A tall- had to be over six feet- solid yet not bulky, man that looked like he could command armies. His close cut hair and cleaned shaved face spoke to an attention to detail that was seen in his crisply ironed shirt-the narrow but prominent pleats that ran down the length from the breast pockets were perfectly aligned.
Elizabeth swallowed. If this was Mr. Darcy they might be in serious trouble. Going up against him would take a formidable will and even stronger constitution.
When their gazes meet he nods slightly and provides a slight smile. Its then Elizabeth knows he doesn’t want to be here and more than she or Jane want him her.
This might be easier than she thought.
“Come on.” She pulled Jane with her as she entered into the main room.
“Good, good,” Bill said and clasped his hands together. “Lady Catherine, you remember my cousins, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet. It’s been a while since we all saw each other.”
Can one really say four years is a while? Seemed like it was only yesterday that The Bourgh had her lawyer hammer out her part of the deal.
Lady Catherine, a tall, well coiffed woman dressed in a Chanel Navy blue business suit, continued to show signs of aging no matter how many times she has a facelift, scanned the sisters up and down.
“You’ve both matured into pretty things, I must say.”
“Thank you,” Jane said.
“Yes, Thanks.” Elizabeth echoed.
“But you’re awful at running a business. You should marry yourselves off and call it a day.” Not waiting for a response Lady Catherine gestured to the man behind her.
Something about him, maybe the way he stood stock still or simply because he had similar blue eyes- reminded her of the man on the sidewalk.
“Let me introduce my nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam. He is leaving the Army soon and will be joining the corporation.”
At the mention of his Army career the Colonel appeared to clench his teeth, pressing his lips into a thin line. Elizabeth considered his presence and knew it was a loss to the country that this formidable man would no longer be protecting and serving. She’s not like to come across him in a dark alley.
Poop. If this man wasn’t Mr. Darcy what were they to expect? If the corporate raider was anything like his cousin- they might be in for it.
Thanks for your time. Have a great day!