Hi, It's time for another chapter. I'm sharing these with you because I'm really needy. I like comments and encouragement. I want to know I'm on the right track or totally off the rails.
“William.” Lady Catherine De Bourgh eased her thin framed glasses from her face while scanning him from top to bottom. “You should come around more often for dinner. You’re getting too thin.”
He loved that she mothered him- in her bossy not very maternal way. Though he hated when she called him William. It reminded him of his over bearing and pessimistic father and made him wonder if others compared them- or worse- expected them to be similar because they shared the same name. He’d been teasing Lizzy when he told her to call him that. Sorta. He knew Lady Catherine would have appreciated hearing it.
But there would be no asking Lady Catherine to call him anything other than his given name. His mother has always done so and Lady Catherine would honor that, hoping to preserve what little memories he did have of her.
“Thank you Lady Catherine. You’re very kind. But we see each other weekly as it is and sometimes coordinating those are very difficult.” He smiled widely. “You are a very busy and sought after woman. You have better thing on your agenda than dining with me.”
“Nonsense, William. I look at you las if you were my own child.” She brushed the bangs from his eyes. “I will be staying at Rosings for the next few weeks while we iron everything out here. You will come at least three times each week to dine. I will not allow for less.”
Fortunately for Bill, he saw right through her haughty mannerisms. He knew she’d been struggling with loneliness since her husband, Lewis, passed a few years ago and with Anne having moved out right afterward- well- he didn’t mind filling in some of the emptiness. Sometimes she would talk about his mother and he’d have those rare and sudden memory moments where he would recall how she sounded or how lovely and airy she smelled.
“Speaking of children, has Anne showed up yet?” Lady Catherine glanced at her watch, a delicate piece encrusted with diamonds, then sighed with dismay. “Is it possible for that child to ever be on time?” She looked at Bill. “While here William, I expect you to use your positive influence on Anne. Guide her toward the right path—“
She cut off her words as the front door swung open and in stepped Anne. She’d cut her long dark hair and now sported a short, sporty style that was dyed blonde.
He liked it. It suited her lanky frame.
“Ah,” she said while lifting her hands in praise. “My brother from another mother. Well, and father. If you were Catholic, Billy, we would need to spend some time in a confessional- if you know what I mean-I just got back from the Netherlands.” She ended her greeting with an exaggerated wink then stepped toward him with arms held wide.
“It looks like it suited you. Dutch living.” He refocused on the people before him.
Hugging Anne felt good. Like he’d been the one who’d gone on a long journey and just come home to the safety and comfort of his family. Except they were the ones seeing the world and would be moving on soon enough. Rosings Park was respite for them. But as Lady Catherine liked to say, ‘sleep and rest were for the dead and weak’.
Not the first time, Bill wondered if that was why he liked to sneak into the city and frequent the open mic comedy opportunities. It was another Bill, another lifestyle. An adventure. Heck, traveling into the city was its own undertaking of that requires commuter trains and seedy parts of town, but standing under a spot light in front of strangers and trying to make them laugh was a high he’d yet come to understand.
After they separated, Anne flung an arm around his shoulder and leaned in. “You, me, and some beers and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“If it’s anything like that time you went to Ireland, perhaps its best you not share.” He nudge her with his shoulder.
“Ah, Ireland. And the sublimely perfect Ollie.” She sighed happily.
“I thought you said his name was Seamus.”
Anne pulled away, pushed up her sleeve and scratched at a raw, red welted area, surrounding by rough patchy, scarred skin.
Bill looked away because he knew Anne was self conscious, knew she hated everything about the fact that she had eczema. Not that Bill was convinced that was Anne’s real issue. All the money in the world and no successful treatment could be had.
Lady Catherine stepped close to them. “This is quite the reunion. Perhaps we should have come in a day early so as to do this in private.”
“You know you love the attention, Mother,” Anne said.
“What I would love would be a grandchild.” Lady Catherine swung her gaze to him. “Any chance that’s a possability, William?”
Marriage was their one bone of contention.She wanted him to do it- yesterday and he wasn’t sure he’d do it-ever. He shook his head. “Illigitimate children. Hmm. Don’t think thats a wise move for someone in my profession.”
Anne tossed back her head and laughed.
“Shall we take this back to the conference room?” He gestured toward the inner offices. Hoping to change the subject and deflect the attention from him.
“Anne, where’s your cousin?” Lady Catherine asked.
She pointed to the Colonel. “Really Mother, perhaps you should get your prescritpion checked.”
Lady Catherine stared down her nose at Anne.
She sighed. “He’s still outside on the phone. Probably complaining about being stuck here…. “Well. You know.“ She looked at Bill and widened her eyes. Then moved to the door and pushed it open.
“Your presence is requested,” she said to someone they couldn’t see. Bill had spent time with Darcy off and on as they were growing up Darcy a few times before. Though, while he and Anne had run roughshed over the property Darcy had been more inclined to fish in the lake or read by a tree.
Anne gave an exaggerated, beckoning wave then step away from the door, holding it open with an extended arm. She sighed heavily, rolled her eyes and then stepped away, preceding him.
“Here he is mother. The Prodigal son.” Anne did a flourish of hand gestures as she presented Darcy. He looked like Bill remembered- tall, dark, and reserved.
“William” Bill stepped forward, hand extended.
“Bill. Good to see you again.” They did a brief shake
“You as well. How’s Georgina?” Around William Darcy Bill felt the need to stand with his hands on his hips and feet wide apart. Much like Darcy did. He was also overcome with the urge to make a fire from rubbing sticks together and camp. Without a tent. Darcy was, in Bill’s estimation, more a man’s man than he was. Of course, Bill was more a people’s man. Equal opportunity, God created everyone equally and all that. But next to Darcy, it was hard for one to feel equal. He made quite the impression, his physique was a large presence in the room without so much as having to say a word.
“She’s doing well.”
“I’m told she’s planning a gap year.”
Darcy shook his head. “Not if I can help it.” He deadpanned.
Bill smiled. “I’ll add it to my prayers.”
Darcy grunted in a way that Bill knew it was a laugh. “I’ll take all the help I can get.”
Bill turned to the others and clasped his hands together. “Now that we are all here, let me make the introductions and then we shall take this to the conference room.”
Elizabeth couldn’t believe her eyes. It was the odd man she’d nearly ran down this morning. Clearly his impersonation of a statue was not because the hour was early, the view beautiful, or the coffee contributing to a tranadnetal state. No, this man was a stiff. His laughter a short one syllable sound. If one could count a grunt laughter.
“Allow me to present my cousins, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss. Elizabeth Bennet.”
Ack! She hated that he was prefaced introduction with the fact that they were cousins. It felt incongruous with the professionalism he professed to desire.
Bill stood next to Jane and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Meryton Matchmakers was their brainchild and I must say they do a wonderful job with it.”
Lady Catherine snorted.
“May I introduce Mr. William Darcy,” Bill said.
“My cousin,” added Anne quietly.
Jane took a small step forward but didn’t extend her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Darcy.”
He nodded. “You as well Miss Bennet.”
His gaze swung to Elizabeth’s and the distant looks she’d seen in his eyes earlier remained.
“We’ve met,” Elizabeth said and continued when Jane gave a puzzled look. “This morning when I was out for a run. Mr. Darcy was outside Lottie’s.”
He nodded offering no further explanation to her story. There was no gentle teasing about their earlier encounter. No ease that comes with the beginnings of a familiarity. Nope. There was a force field around Darcy that’s sole purpose was to keep people away.
Maybe it was the electric pulse from said field that played havoc with cameras which would explain why his pictures were the way they were. And if one were to be honest- Elizabeth prided herself on being honest- she’s glad the pictures were blurry. Had they been clear she might have, on occasion mind you, fantasized about the mysterious man. He was very striking in a rugged outdoorsy way. As it was, the state of his pictures allowed her to have little opinion and their run in today was all the first impression she needed. Thinking he was a impersonable stiff helped her cleave tightly to her bubbling anger. If this granite man was going to put her out of business it would not do for her to be swoony.
“Let’s take this into the conference room.” Bill waved his hands for everyone to move tothe back. Jane lead the way. As it would happen, Darcy fell in line next to Elizabeth but said nothing. As they approached the conference room they passed Mary and Lydia’s office. Jane motioned to someone inside for them to join them and Elizabeth assumed it was Mary.
Sure enough her sister burst through the door, notepad’s clenched in her arms, and careened right into the Colonel.
“Oomph,” he said and caught her.
“Holy Lord,” she cried. “Take me.” She stared up at him, her eyes wide.
“I’m sorry?” Fitzwilliam asked.
“I mean, how embarrassing. I’m sorry to nearly run you down.” She was still being held up by his grip on both her shoulders.
“You want me to take you somewhere?”
Elizabeth heard the laughter in his tone.
“Actually, I wanted the Lord to open up a hole and take me away from here. I meant to think it. Not say it.” Mary bat her eyes several times. Elizabeth stepped closer.
“Mary.” She sighed wistfully.
“Mary, “Elizabeth said, hoping to draw her stare away from the Colonel and to her. Maybe she could snap her out of what had come over her.
“I’m going to let you go. You steady?”
“Mm-hm.” Mary nodded.
One hand at a time he released her shoulders. Mary swayed toward him a bit but stayed upright.
Henry stepped away and Elizabeth moved to stand in front of Mary.
“Ready?” She tried to convey with her eyes that Mary needed to snap out of it. Elizabeth was aware of Lady Catherine’s presence and her repeated sighs and harumphs.
Mary continued to look dazed, in a just-ate-three-glazed-donuts- happy way- that is. “Sure, sure. I’m ready.” She nodded for emphasis.
They continued into the conference room and when Henry sat next to Mary she giggled. Elizabeth and Jane shared a look. One that said perhaps someone should sit between Mary and the Colonel and block her view of him.
Clearly he was a distraction for Mary and Elizabeth wasn’t sure how to handle it. This was a never-been-seen before Mary. Kitty or Lydia, sure, giggly girl was something they’d been for years- ever since they’d become aware of the opposite sex. But Mary? No. She was more devout than Bill. Elizabeth shrugged and took a seat at the end of the oval table next to Jane. Darcy and The Bourgh stood. Bill sat next to Elizabeth.
Lady Catherine cleared her throat, put on thin framed glasses, then clasped her hands before her. “I won’t beat around the bush. I have asked for this meeting because I am going over my investment portfolio and need to make some changed. This little endeavor here is on my list to investigate further.” She held out a hand and The Colonel, Henry, handed her a small tablet. Elizabeth wasn’t sure where he’d produced it from.
“According to my records, this company has made a profit, albeit a small one.”
“We are seeing the profits grow each year. Double basically.” Elizabeth interjected.
The Bourgh stared down her nose at Elizabeth. No one said anything.
“As I was saying. A small profit is nice but doesn’t do much too boost my overall income. I’ve had some research done and well…quite frankly- in order for me to keep my money in this small little affair I’ll need a great return.” She continued to look at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth held the stare and tried to stave off the heat flooding her cheeks. She knew it! Hadn’t she instinctively known this was coming? Oh, how she wished she’d been more prepared. How she could have gotten more prepared was uncertain but she wished it nonetheless.
“What are you proposing?” Jane asked mildly. Her hand folded neatly in front of her, resting on the table.
The Bourgh shifted her gaze to Jane. “Either we start seeing an increase in monthly profits to this level.” She showed the tablet to Jane and Elizabeth. The number was shockingly high. It was more than doubling their yearly profit, it was quadrupling it- monthly. Impossible. “Or you buy out my investment and then you are free to do as you want.” She swiped her finger over the tablet and showed another figure. “This is what my percentage is worth.”
Elizabeth gasped. She hadn’t meant to show her surprise but it was double what they owed her. Hoping to cover up her shock she asked, “Of course, you will let our accountant look at your figures and our books and come up with what we think is a reasonable buy out price?” When The Bourgh looked at her over her thin little glasses Elizabeth held her gaze steady.
“You have two weeks.”
This time Jane gasped, her hands pressed to her chest. ‘Two weeks!”
“Sixty days.” Elizabeth countered and watched both The Bourgh and the ever silent Darcy. He stood next to his aunt, arms crossed, and rocked on his heels. Briefly, he ducked his head but not before Elizabeth caught the slight wisp of what she thought might be a smile.
Was he about to go in for the kill?
“Thirty.” Lady Catherine responded.
“Forty-five.” Elizabeth sat back, reclined the chair and crossed her arms. Two can play this game.
“Fine, You have forty-five days to get your accountant to look at everything.”
“What if they can’t afford to buy you out? Is there no other option?” Bill asked.
“Of course, they can improve their bottom line.” She looked at Darcy. “My nephew has put together some interesting research for me. From it I have decided that if Meryton Matchmakers were to go more automated, go global then the profits would follow. People are looking for something other than what’s out there. Something fresh. For the love of Pete, even Mountain men in Alaska have an online matchmaking site.”
“We pride ourselves on the human factor, making genuine connections. Not algorythms,” said Jane.
“And it shows. You’ve made some money but you’re growth is much slower than is should be in this day and age. Technology has to be involved.”
Elizabeth and Jane shared a look. One of panic and uncertainty.
“The point here is that you have forty -five days to decide which it will be. Pay off my aunt or automate.” Darcy raised one brow as if waiting for an argument.
“In the mean time, my daughter Anne will be staying behind to work on getting you updated with technology. Darcy and Henry will be staying behind briefly to get things moving in the right direction. They’ll need space to work.” Lady Catherine whipped the glasses from her face and pointed them at Elizabeth. “You have anything left to say?”
“I have plenty but I’ll save it for another time.” Elizabeth tried to smile but it felt so forced and awkward. Her mind spun with possibilities. Could she take a second mortgage on her house? How much did she have in savings? Her IRA?
What she really needed was to get Jane alone and brainstorm.
“Lydia and I will move out of our offices and you can have our space,” Mary told Henry.
“I don’t want to put you out,” he said.
“But I like being put out…I mean- I don’t mind,” she fairly cooed.
The Bourgh grunted and swiveled on her heel. She paused at the door and turned to face them. “I will be at Rosings Park all week if you’d like to discuss more. But let me say this. Part of my issue with this company is that you all profess to help others find true love yet not a single one of you are married.” She shook her head. “Why ever would I come to you for love guidance?”
So that's the end of that chapter 🙂 What did you think?
Can you overlook the errors- yeesh. Thankfully, I have an editor.
Thanks for your time. Have a great day!