Elizabeth didn’t care what she looked like. She was going to yell at Darcy, not head up a fashion show. Her blonde hair was pulled loosely into a bun at the nape of her neck, loose strands falling into her eyes. She wore no make-up as she had been planning on staying in and playing with Mabel all day.
She did not expect to see Alexander Hayworth on her way to the park, especially when her mind was so singularly focused on Darcy. “Elizabeth!” he cried, falling into step beside her.
“Hayworth,” she responded, nodding quickly, wanting to get on her way. She had never thought her friend handsome, but it was nice to see a friendly face, however briefly, so that she could think of something other than the conversation that was going to inevitably turn into a shouting match, at least on her side. She wasn’t certain if Darcy ever shouted.
“Where are you off to?” he asked, his eyes never leaving hers.
She looked away. “I’m actually meeting someone,” she replied hesitantly. She hoped that would tip him off that he couldn’t follow her all the way to the park.
Despite his creative brilliance, Hayworth didn’t take the hint. “Anyone I know?”
“Y-yes,” Elizabeth admitted without giving a name. She looked out across the street and saw the trees of the park in the distance.
“It’s not Collins, is it?” he suddenly asked, horrified.
“No, definitely not!”
“Thank god,” he mused.
“You really don’t think I would even think of seeing Collins in the office?” she inquired.
“No.” He hesitated, “But stranger things have happened.”
He merely shook his head, thinking of Darcy.
They trudged on in silence. Elizabeth wondered idly if she had ever been in a more awkward situation. First, Charles dumped Jane. Jane blamed her –unfairly!— for Darcy’s role in the break-up. On her way to go meet the idiot who seemed to be ruining everyone’s life through his mere existence she runs into the one man who thinks Darcy and she are secretly engaged. Life frankly couldn’t get any worse.
Sighing, Elizabeth tried again. “How did the meeting with Grendel Films go?”
“Alright. I assumed Arthur would have told you, as it is your account.”
“He did,” she said matter-of-factly. Her one safe topic of conversation had just dried up. Now what was she supposed to say? “Look, Hayworth,” she began, “this is going to be –“ she searched for words.
“Clandestinely meeting a lover then?’ he asked, half-joking, hoping that that wasn’t what she was actually planning on doing.
She glared at him. This was not what she needed.
“Fine, I’ll back off. I’ll just take a leisurely walk through the park and leave you to whatever it is you’re doing.” He prayed that she wasn’t actually going to meet her lover. The thought of it made him sick, especially if it was that Darcy who was far too good looking for Hayworth’s comfort.
Elizabeth smiled gratefully up at him. “Thanks, Alexander,” she said quietly. Seeing his hunched form walking away from her, she felt compelled to call after him and ask him to get coffee maybe next week. It couldn’t hurt, she reasoned, it was the least she could do. And yet, she stopped herself and shook her head in wonderment.
When she reached the park she was startled to find Darcy already there, sitting on the same bench as before, his face drawn and tired looking. She had never seen him in such disarray. As soon as he saw her, he couldn’t take his eyes from her. Elizabeth knew he must be finding fault in her appearance, but frankly at this moment she didn’t care.
She was emotionally run down, but she had to get this unpleasantness over with. All she wanted to do was curl up with Mabel and sleep half the day away and this sorry excuse for humanity was the only thing standing in her way.
“Elizabeth,” he said as he got to his feet, watching her intently, “I thought I’d never see you again!” Elizabeth looked up at him in confusion and wondered whether he had lost his mind.
Before she could respond, however, he had taken several steps forward and had captured her small form in his arms.
“It is you,” he whispered, his eyes full of wonder as he gently claimed her mouth. Despite her anger, Elizabeth felt her eyes fluttering shut and losing herself in the moment, his comforting smell overwhelming her. His lips were so soft, so comforting, and she found tears swelling in her eyes. She hadn’t let anyone kiss her since that night back in college. She could never let her guard down around men, never trust herself after that party to feel or to properly judge. As he drew away, she felt stunned and empty, the years of longing bristling beneath the surface.
“Darcy,” she whispered hesitantly, half a question. She couldn’t understand; she was confused. What had just happened? Embarrassed, she looked away at the children playing near them. On any other day, Mabel would have been among them. Mabel.
She looked up startled as her angry and stunned mind slowly began to process what he said. It is you. What did that even mean?
Darcy was looking steadily at her before saying quite suddenly, “God, I have struggled for so long,” he said passionately as she turned again toward him. “But my feelings for your cannot be repressed. You must let me tell you how deeply I love you; how much I’ve missed you. I didn’t know how much I had missed you until now,” his voice tearing with emotion. “I knew I needed you. It was so painfully obvious to everyone, but how did I ever survive all these years?”
Elizabeth was stunned and could only stare wide-eyed at Darcy.
“All those weeks ago,” he continued, hurrying on, “when I saw you again at the theatre, I couldn’t take my eyes from you. At that horrible club I thought – I don’t know what I thought. I was watching your sister and trying to figure out what the hell she wanted from Charles. I was so confused, darling. There you were, so familiar and yet a stranger. And then when that friend of yours,” his face clouded as recollections of Charlotte’s drunken behavior at the club flitted across him mind, “said you were out to get laid, I was convinced that you were no different than all of the other girls I had known before I first met you.”
He raked his hand through his hair, his blue eyes penetrating. “I’m so sorry. But I couldn’t stop thinking about you, even then. Then you walked into the theatre, with our little girl, and she took my breath away. I couldn’t think. It was like you and your daughter had been created for me. You were so like the Elizabeth I knew, my beautiful Elizabeth, the only woman I had ever told about my mother – and you named Mabel for her.” He kissed her briefly then and Elizabeth thought she might genuinely faint either from his confusing words or the feel of him holding her. It felt so familiar, as if this had happened sometime before. She searched her memory but found nothing.
“But how could I know for sure?” he continued. “I was so ashamed of myself, for the possibility – oh my god. I still can’t believe it. And then it happened all over again. For the first time in years I found myself falling for a woman, and not just any woman but the mother of my child. Of course, I tried to talk myself out of it. I tried to persuade myself you couldn’t possibly be my Elizabeth, that it was wishful thinking.” He was almost laughing now, “Yet you kept on haunting me. And now I know why. It was you all those years ago who broke my heart. Say you’ll marry me and I’ll carry you and our daughter away.”
“Ou-our daughter?” she stammered.
“Yes, Mabel.” He was looking down smugly at her.
“What the hell are you talking about?” she growled, the silence following her soft words ringing in her ears.
“September sixteenth, Phi — —‘s Septemberfest party,” he said quietly. “Your hair was longer then and curled, you must have highlighted it so that it looked lighter than it does now. You were wearing jeans and a dark blue tank top with some kind of sequins on it.” Elizabeth stared at him. “I just saw you there at the party, and I just had to talk to you, to get you away from it all … I think I loved you even then.”
“How do you fucking know that?” Elizabeth whispered with daggers in her eyes.
“I was there.”
She groaned and looked away. “I thought you went to Princeton,” she said, grasping at straws. She could feel his hands gently brushing against her hair, her hair falling from the loose bun, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Not yet. It was all happening too fast.
“I did. George, my childhood friend, attended B.U. I was really worried about you when I figured out,” his voice hitched and took a calming breath. “When I figured out what he did to you. I hadn’t seen him in years until –”
Elizabeth shivered and finally pulled away. “What happened? I, I never remembered much of anything,” she asked slowly.
“After you left, he came back into the room. The bastard was drunk and complaining how I had stolen you after he had gone through all the trouble of spiking your beer.”
His voice was cold, aloof, distant, as if he were reliving the pain of those memories. “Then, then –“ He couldn’t bare to look at her. He stepped away from her and stared unseeingly at the playing children. “He laughed at me. Said I had been fooled by the little whore he had all lined up for himself. It was a game you two played, he said. You were drug buddies, playing with god knows what substance to increase your passion. You had just traded him for me in your pleasures.”
Darcy turned back to her, a small smile playing on his lips. “I beat the shit out of him, of course. I knew what he couldn’t have known. The liveliness of your eyes, your innocence, the passion that I thought had been for me, that I thought had been real.” He hesitated. “Your virginity.”
She turned and looked into his eyes, the eyes that had been haunting her for five years. “No wonder I can remember so little,” she dead-panned before turning away again. She was shell-shocked. How could this be happening to her? Jane had said she had been drugged, but she had always had a sneaking suspicion that whatever had happened, she had not been raped. There were no nightmares, only teasing dreams of eyes that had stared passionately and adoringly at her.
“When should we tell Mabel?” His voice, rough with emotion, broke through her thoughts.
“Tell Mabel what?” she snapped. He had moved behind her and his arms were now encircling her waist possessively. An anger began to rise within her soul. How dare he touch her after what he had said? He had – taken her virginity when she was drugged. How the hell could he not tell the difference between a woman enflamed with desire and prompted to lust through a drug? How could he just throw this on her and then expect her to just marry him after all of these weeks where he had hardly said a word to her? She turned to face him and fixed him with a very determined glare.
“That we’re getting married, of course.” He looked slightly offended.
She raised her eyebrows. “I beg your pardon? I never said ‘yes.’” Not now, she thought. She couldn’t deal with this now, not after everything.
“That’s obviously your answer.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Why else would you have called me? Clearly you figured it out and arranged this private tete-a-tete,” Darcy seethed. “I mean, Christ, Elizabeth! How much more obvious could it have been after all that your mother said at Serendipity? How could you not have seen me in Mabel’s face every single time you looked at her?”
“I called you,” Elizabeth clarified, ignoring the second part of his speech, “because I discovered my sister crying and eating raw cookie dough while watching a Charles Bingley film. When I asked her about it, she said he’d broken up with her because she was only dating him because he was a movie star. Where the hell would he get that idea from if not from you?!”
Darcy stared at her.
“And then,” she continued, her anger finally boiling to the surface, “she accused me of somehow being involved with giving him such an idea since we’re apparently an item!” She breathed, “Clearly it was you. Caroline doesn’t have enough sense to put two and two together, what with her designer shoes and desire to try and get you to look at her. You cannot possibly deny that you did this to Jane.”
With smug assurance he then replied calmly, “I have no wish of denying that I did everything in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I am glad that I succeeded.”
“How could you possibly be glad over such a thing? What did she ever do to you?”
“She’s just like every other love-struck fan who wants to forward her career. I mean, good god, how much more obvious can she possibly get? She doesn’t even show a remote amount of affection when they’re together!
“Just because you are clearly used to sluts who throw themselves at you and think it’s the norm, doesn’t mean that everyone is the same!
He stood, frozen. Cold anger began to seethe through him. “What would I know of sluts throwing themselves at me when the only woman I have ever cared about in my life was you?”
She stared at him. “And how do I know it wasn’t you who spiked my drink as I can’t remember an effing thing about that night? And clearly you like your women loose if you would take advantage of a drugged eighteen year old. If you couldn’t get them throwing themselves at you willingly, you just go and employ drugs to do the trick.” A voice in the back of her head said that this was beneath her but in her passionate fury she didn’t give a damn.
“Clearly you remember something of that night since you knew that my mother’s name was Mabel and my sister, our daughter’s aunt, was named Georgiana Mabel for her. You know I would never hurt you. I was loving and caring to you, and have been proving this to you ever since that day when I met Mabel. How could you even insinuate such a thing?” he demanded as he stepped forward. Instinctively, she took a step back only to have him grasp her shoulders gently.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she seethed. “You behaved like a stalker at the club, called me ‘tolerable’ and a woman ‘on the prowl’ behind my back,” he looked genuinely shocked when he realized he had been overheard, but Elizabeth didn’t stop. “You stare at me accusingly all the time, are proud, arrogant,” she took a deep breath, “and you’d make a horrible father.” She gazed up at him and saw the hurt in his eyes.
A hush fell across them and Elizabeth could only feel her heartbeat and his cool, beautiful eyes looking at her intently. She lifted her chin briefly, staring at his lips that had kissed her so tenderly. Desperately, she wanted to feel them again on her skin; her entire body strained for that simple sensation. Darcy leaned forward, as if to kiss her again, but thought better of it.
“Thank you for explaining my faults so fully to me. But perhaps some of these errors would have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honest confession of my initial doubts about a relationship between us. You were an unknown woman whose own friend called a ‘slut’ with a child born out of wedlock! What was I supposed to initially think? And yet there you were, always haunting me, always proving your intelligence and your worth. I thought my intentions were perfectly clear when I took you and Mabel out for dinner, twice, when I walked you back to your apartment and watched as you put our little girl to sleep. Do you have any idea how much I longed in that moment to know for certain I was her father so that I could have a right to stay the night with you and not be forced to leave your side?” He gazed down at her. “And now I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am her father and this is how you treat me although Charlotte said weeks ago that you had been dreaming of me and my ‘fine eyes’ for years.”
Elizabeth stood frozen in his arms, anger beginning to course through her.
“I have nothing more to say, Darcy,” she said coldly. “You know my feelings.” She looked over his shoulder and was startled to see Richard approaching them with a smile on his face. And then she saw who was with him.
She groaned. “What is Fitzwilliam doing here?” she asked, astonished.
“I couldn’t wait any longer,” Richard cried out, “I simply had to see the blushing bride for myself.”
Hayworth looked shocked. All of the color had drained from his face and he couldn’t take his eyes from her. Elizabeth simply stared at Richard and then at Darcy. “What the hell did you tell him, Darcy?” she yelled as she disengaged herself from him.
“You had absolutely no right.” She turned away from the men and began marching back toward her apartment.
Richard looked confused and briefly turned toward his cousin. “What happened?” he asked suspiciously.
“I’m confused,” Hayworth commented, his heart leaping into his throat.
“Not now, Richard,” Darcy intoned before running after Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth, don’t walk away from me,” he demanded. Not again, his heart murmured.
“It’s a free country and you have no claim over me or my daughter,” she threw over her shoulder. “You’ll never see her again.” Tears were running down her face and she tried not to choke on the air in her lungs. How could the one man she hated most in the world, who had abandoned her all those years ago and then had tried to force himself unceremoniously back into her life, be the father of her child and the man who had haunted her dreams for over five years? How could fate be this cruel?
“Mabel needs her father,” he called.
In an instant Elizabeth turned around and approached him. “It’s your word against mine and, frankly, I’ve done a pretty good job on my own so far.”
“Then I demand a paternity test.”
“You don’t even like Mabel. You ignore her and stutter whenever she asks you a question.”
“She’s my daughter.”
“She’s what?” Hayworth said in surprise. He and Richard had followed the angry couple, both dying of curiosity for completely different reasons.
Elizabeth ignored him. “You did nothing to ensure that you would ever see me again after that night, let alone your child.”
“I put my number in your pocket.”
“How kind of you considering I was drugged. And no, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. I waited and waited for you.”
“I never found it.”
“Whose fault is that?” He spat angrily, the hurt of all those years simmering in his cold eyes.
“How do you even remotely expect us to get married if we can’t have a conversation without arguing about something?” she spat as she turned on her heel.
“Elizabeth,” he pleaded one last time. “I love you.”
She hailed a taxi and slid into it, slamming the door in his face. Lowering the window briefly, she looked up into his blue eyes, so much like her daughter’s, and shivered. “How do you expect me to believe that?”