That night, when Fitzwilliam Darcy returned to his hotel room, he couldn’t help but think of Elizabeth Bennet. Ever since she had walked into the theatre lobby with her child in her arms, he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
Standing before him was an entirely different woman than he had seen the previous weekend.
In the club, she had been pretty, with her golden waves pulled back into a ponytail. Her eyes had been dark, making her brown irises too severe for her complexion. She was petite and yet full of curves and her pale lips, which someone had mistakenly painted a shimmering metallic pink, were too full.
She had appeared uncomfortable in her surroundings, though the dress she was wearing was simply stunning. If it hadn’t been for her severe make up, Darcy would have said she was dressed more for an Autumn picnic than a club. The black had been a soft linen, he let his hand brush against it as she leaned up against the bar, looking out at the crowd.
He admitted to himself now that he had only taken a precursory glance at her that first night. His thoughts had been too preoccupied with Charles and the Broadway star he was dancing with.
He couldn’t help but keep his eyes trained on the black haired beauty, watching her for any signs that she was the usual “devoted fan” that Charles inevitably attracted. They were always clingy, fame hunting, and air headed. Charles was too kind to say anything against them and would just “go with the flow.” He needed someone to look after him to make sure there wasn’t some tabloid scandal. Sadly, Darcy was the lucky man for this job.
Despite himself, he couldn’t help but listen to the girl’s conversation with the barman as he watched Charles on the dance floor. The barman was obviously trying to pick up, but she was having none of it.
He didn’t know what made him talk to her. It was just that she – he couldn’t quite explain it to himself. And then Charles had come over and his world had imploded on itself again. She was that horrible little fortune and fame seeker’s sister and her name was Lizzy, just like her. He closed his eyes and willed the memories to leave him. From then the entire first evening had been down hill.
Everything about her began to remind him of the other Elizabeth, that girl who had been haunting his dreams for too long. All of his friends had called it “the break up” until he had finally gotten his Master’s and left. Unfortunately, it was legendary. Speculation had run wild on the girl who had broken Fitzwilliam Darcy’s heart in such a short time. But none of it mattered any more.
That night he had dreamed of his Elizabeth but she had been different. She was no longer the charming student who had debated the merits of Kafka with him over shots of vodka (which she had patiently explained to him was the best alcohol she had ever had). Now she had aged and morphed into this blonde stranger with dark eyes looking out at him. Her voice was slightly deeper, more somber, more mature.
Today, however, she had been different. Softer, more beautiful. Her hair had fallen naturally to her shoulders, the waves straightened to reveal natural red highlights.
She was wearing a brown dress that brought out her eyes, embroidered at the bottom with buttons running down it as if it were an outer coat. The short sleeves and white collar made it look like a dress that a little girl would wear and yet – he sighed – she had been absolutely stunning.
She wore the dress with grace and although she appeared youthful in it, she was nonetheless mature and comfortable in her surroundings with her little girl hiding in her petticoats. Whenever she looked at her daughter, her eyes lit up and a small smile would form on her now red lips. In those moments she was truly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her no matter how hard he tried. He barely paid attention to the performance and just stared at her, taking in the curve of her neck, the lines of her face, the hint of her bare thigh underneath her dress.
Darcy couldn’t help himself but invite her and her little girl to dinner after the performance. He had to be near her, to take in her natural scent and to try and get her to talk so he could hear her voice sharp in exasperation. The child was too intelligent for her own good, but she was clearly her mother’s daughter, with the same oval shaped face despite their differences in coloring.
Elizabeth, Darcy decided, was dangerous. She was too intoxicating with her cynicism and yet gentle love and devotion for her daughter. Clearly he had to stay away from her.
When Jane returned late at night from her date with Charles, Elizabeth pretended that she was sleeping. Mabel had fallen asleep in her arms on the cab ride home after dinner with Darcy, happy with her hot fudge sundae and another pair of ears to listen to her childlike concerns. As she carried her daughter up to the apartment, humming a lullaby to keep her asleep, she was surprised to see Darcy following her. She supposed that he was only being the gentleman and left him in the kitchen as she tucked her daughter into her bed.
“Well, thank you so much for dinner and dessert, Darcy,” she said as she looked up at his tall frame.
“It was my pleasure. Mabel reminds me a bit of my sister, and I sometimes wish Georgie hadn’t grown up so quickly.” Everything he said was matter of fact, to the point, with no hint of emotion.
“How old is your sister now?” she asked, trying to be polite as she sat down at the kitchen table.
He followed suit. “Sixteen.”
She smiled. “My sister Kitty is seventeen and Lydia’s fifteen.”
He bowed his head.
“It’s an interesting age. All they do is chase boys and wear skimpy dresses,” she laughed. “I understand that they’re quite a handful.”
He hesitated briefly and she offered him a glass of wine. He accepted. “When’s the last time you saw your sisters?”
“Apart from Jane?” she inquired as she set down a glass of New Zealand Shiraz. “Five years last August.” She didn’t know why, but suddenly she found herself opening up to this taciturn and disagreeable stranger. “I saw my parents when I graduated two years ago; I invited them despite myself. It was horrible.”
Darcy drank slowly from his glass. “Why?”
“There were so many questions. Why did I stop calling home? Why did I disappear? Why was I no longer a size four?” She laughed bitterly. “The last one was my mother’s, obviously.” After a pause, she continued, grabbing a glass of milk. “That was the worst weekend of my life, being away from my little girl.”
“You seem a devoted mother,” he complimented her.
She stared at him as if she wanted to say something to him, but couldn’t decide whether or not to say it. Her emotions flickering across her face, Elizabeth responded, “Well, it’s getting late. I have to get Mabel to preschool early in the morning before work.”
“Yes, of course,” Darcy agreed as he took his glass to the sink and quickly washed it for her. “Goodnight,” he said hurriedly as he put on his coat and walked out of the door, not looking back and leaving a stunned Elizabeth behind him. Darcy was the most confusing man she had never met. As she slid into her bed, her face washed and her hair pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck, she was glad that she would probably never have to see Darcy again.
The next morning, Elizabeth rushed to work as she tried to forget the dream she had had the night before. She had been standing in a dark club and everywhere there had been supernatural creatures dancing and breathing menacingly as they looked toward her. She hurried to the bar and smiled at the man behind it, thinking that he looked oddly familiar. What can I get you? he asked with his eyes and she tried to scream “a coke” but no words came out of her mouth. She clasped her hands to her throat in fear.
Sorry, we only have vodka, the man thought at her and she nodded, tears running down her face.
She felt an arm around her shoulders and she looked up to see a giant cat grinning down at her. “Can I buy you a drink, love?” it purred into her ear and she shivered. She shook her head. “Sure?” She nodded. Everywhere she looked she saw circus animals and vampires and creatures from fairytale stories. As she pushed her way through the crowd, she tried to call for help but no words escaped her lips.
A wolf pulled her into his embrace, a vampire stroked her neck as she rushed from his frozen embrace, and then there he was, holding a scotch and staring at her from the center of the dance floor. His cold eyes had drawn her closer and closer toward him, and she shivered from something other than terror despite herself.
As he wrapped her in his gaze, she felt him envelope her in his strong arms and she gazed longingly into his eyes. He bent his head down to her ear, his fingers slowly tracing the lines of her right arm until she could hardly breathe. Remember me?
As Elizabeth walked into the front door of the publishing firm, her assistant hurried toward her with a cup of coffee. “Good morning, Miss Bennet,” she said quietly as she kept pace with her boss.
“Good morning, Helen, how was your weekend?”
“Great, Miss Bennet,” the girl sighed. Turning to the schedule in her hands she quickly said, “you have a nine fifteen with Mr. Hayworth and Grendel Films.”
Elizabeth stopped and took a quick sip from her coffee. “Grendel Films?”
“Yes,” the girl smiled.
“Hmm,” Elizabeth smiled despite herself. “Great name. I’ve always loved Beowulf.”
Helen looked at her blankly. “Beowulf, Helen,” she sighed at her assistant’s lack of knowledge of Anglo-Saxon literature.
“Oh, like the movie?”
She rolled her eyes as she looked away. She resumed her walking.
“Do you have the folder?”
Elizabeth looked over the file in approval as she walked toward the second conference room. Opening up the door, her head still buried, Helen asked her, “Will there be anything else, Miss Bennet?”
“Yes,” she turned, taking another drag from her coffee. “I’d like you to go to a bookstore and pick up the Chickering, not Heaney, but Chickering translation of Beowulf and read it this week. Don’t get the sparknotes. Get the actual book. Also, I’d like another cappuccino at eleven, I think.”
“What’s wrong with me having watched the movie?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Beowulf was the greatest piece of literature written in Anglo-Saxon, or Old English. I’m furthering your education and knowledge of the world and you’re being paid for it instead of doing your normal work. You’re getting the better end of this deal.”
She could hear laughter from inside the conference room, presumably from the executives from Grendel Films.
“Yes, Miss Bennet,” Helen agreed and left.
When Elizabeth turned and entered the room, she saw Alexander Hayworth smiling at her.
“You’re horrible, Elizabeth,” he laughed.
“How can she be an English major and not have read Beowulf?”
“Not everyone graduated Magnum Cum Laude in three years from one of the leading liberal arts colleges,” he snickered into his hands.
She chose not to reply and looked at the other two people sitting in the room and her jaw nearly dropped. She tried to keep her cool as she took her seat next to Hayworth and introduced herself. “I’m Elizabeth Bennet, representing the publishing rights.”
The first man was jovial looking and his eyes were actually twinkling at her. “Richard Fitzwilliam,” he introduced himself. “I’m with Grendel Films. I understand your daughter is a bit of a fan of Hayworth.”
Elizabeth smiled despite herself. “Yes, she can’t get enough of Hayworth’s books. She’s even reading them to me, now!”
She turned to the other man and waited for him to introduce himself and his blue eyes stared directly back at her. The silence stretched between them and finally Elizabeth conceded. “What a pleasure it is to see you again, Darcy.”