New York City during the winter holiday season can make even a Scrooge smile, Elizabeth reflected, happily aware of Darcy’s hand enclosing hers as they walked through the briskly chilly streets. She couldn’t keep a happy smile from playing on her lips as she glanced over to him and Mabel, who was firmly planted on his shoulders and pointing out the more spectacular Christmas decorations. It had been two and a half blissful weeks since Darcy had surprised her by taking her ice skating on their first date. They had laughed happily together as she had often lost her balance and fell because then, as now, she couldn’t seem to focus on anything but the feel of his hand around hers.
She was utterly and completely lost, and she knew it.
Everything about him drew her in—the somber set of his sensual lips when he was thinking, the sparkle in his blue eyes when he looked at her and Mabel, the soft curve of his neck beneath her fingers as she lovingly caressed it when he kissed her goodbye. Every time they parted, she didn’t want to let him go, and would smile at him sadly as she watched him walk away.
Now she knew. She was certain. Soon—very soon—she would tell him: she never wanted to be separated again. She wanted to feel the pressure of his lips against her skin as he made love to her, desired to fall asleep in his arms and wake up to the sensation of his feather-light caresses, her head nestled against him. She wished to inhale his scent on her clothes when she went to work every day, to have Mabel run into their room and call him “Daddy!” whenever he swooped their daughter into her arms.
She was in love with him and needed to spend every day with him for the rest of their lives.
Soon, she promised herself. Soon.
Now she had arrived at this moment, Elizabeth did not know whether to be amazed at just how quickly she had fallen for him, or to be surprised at why it had taken her long. One moment she had been cautiously walking into his hotel suite, and the next she was tumbling into his arms in ice skates and just knew. How had she been so blind to his warmth and kindness? How could she ever have thought him mean-spirited and cold?
She shook her head. Thank the stars she had awakened and smelled the mocha latte.
Mabel squealed happily as Darcy pointed out a Starbucks and asked if the ladies would like a cookie before they made it to the park.
“Don’t you think it’s a little early to get her addicted to coffee?” Elizabeth teased as she looked up into the smiling eyes of Mabel, winking at her.
“Well, a little hot chocolate couldn’t hurt, and you did tell me you were a Starbucks addict.”
Elizabeth harrumphed before leaning in and lightly kissing his smiling mouth. “I did say that, didn’t I?” she bantered happily back.
“Yes, Miss Bennet, I believe you did.”
“Starbucks it is then.”
“Cookie!” Mabel said happily as Darcy lifted her from his shoulders. “Can I have a rainbow one?”
Darcy laughed and looked at her mother. Elizabeth smiled and nodded. “Of course, Maple Leaf,” he responded as he swung her down to the pavement. Darcy sighed happily as he affectionately tapped Mabel’s nose with his index finger. He had been elated when on their fourth date Elizabeth had asked him if he wanted to go to the park with her and Mabel after work, and he had happily agreed by kissing her soundly on her doorstep. They hadn’t told Mabel yet that her “Prince Fitz” was her father, but he was hoping that in time Elizabeth would feel comfortable enough. He secretly wished to tell his daughter the same day he and Elizabeth told her they were getting married, but it was too soon for that. He planned to patiently continue his strategy to gain Elizabeth’s trust and love, and he wouldn’t rush her. Not this time. She and Mabel were too precious to ever risk losing again.
As the family—for that’s what both Darcy and Elizabeth thought of themselves as, although neither had the courage to voice this opinion—walked across the street, Jane Bennet sat down in the coffee shop, waiting for her boyfriend to arrive. She had managed to swipe one of her favorite cushy chairs and sipped at her nonfat chai tea while staring at the clock on her cell phone. Why was he always late? she wondered to herself.
As the door opened, she glanced eagerly at it, and her features instantly darkened at the sight of the happy trio. Both Elizabeth and Darcy were too focused on Mabel to notice anyone else in the shop as they quickly made their way to the line. Darcy picked up Mabel so that she could press her small hands against the glass pastry-case filled with assorted sweets.
“Ooh, that one, Prince Fitz!” she cried happily as she chose her cookie.
“Alright,” Darcy laughed in response before kissing the top of her head. “That one it is.” Releasing her small hand, took out a pair of glasses that had been hiding in his shirt pocket before putting them carefully on.
“I didn’t know you wore glasses!” Elizabeth explained as she took hold of Mabel’s other hand. She was often astounded how in tune she and Darcy would become. When one would need to release their hold on Mabel, the other would just sense it and immediately be there.
Darcy blushed. “Ah, yes. I usually wear contacts but I had a bit of a headache this morning, so I thought I wouldn’t put them in.”
“You look quite scholarly,” she teased as she inspected this new side of her boyfriend.
His face fell. “Oh.” He turned quickly to the menu on the wall, his eyes squinting slightly through his old glasses as he tried to read the slightly blurry words. I need a new prescription, he thought to himself.
“I meant that in a good way,” Elizabeth responded, before leaning in and whispering “I think they’re sexy” Into his ear.
Darcy’s eyes brightened and he turned toward her. “Really?”
“Most definitely,” she responded before turning her attention to Mabel, who was trying to grab a pale pink izze. Mabel could never resist the color pink. It was becoming a bit of a problem as she was so curious by nature. “Mabel, leave that. We’ll get you a hot chocolate instead.”
“But it’s pink,” Mabel whined.
“Yes, it is, but you didn’t like it last time I bought it for you,” she explained patiently to her daughter. “I had to drink it.”
“You’ve taken her to Starbucks before?” Darcy inquired.
“Y-yes, it’s a bit of a tradition on cold days before we go to the park.” Elizabeth blushed under his intense gaze. He really was too gorgeous for his own good especially with those glasses. Maybe she could persuade him to always wear them around their home once they were—Elizabeth froze that thought. He hadn’t asked her again. Soon, though, she hoped.
After placing their orders, Elizabeth took Mabel to find a seat as Darcy waited for their drinks. He looked at Elizabeth’s retreating form and forgot to breathe. Impossibly, she seemed to grow more beautiful and graceful to him. He smiled at his own besotted thoughts and wondered what she would think if she knew the effect she had upon him just walking across a room, her body swaying in her dress coat and boots, the edge of her purple dress poking out.
He thought he didn’t deserve her and doubted he ever would, but he hoped that soon she would be his.
Soon, he promised himself. Be patient.
He closed his eyes briefly as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” gently played through the café. The song exactly described how he felt about his Elizabeth and their little Mabel. For five long years his life had been devoid of any light, and now that she was back all he could feel was the sunshine of her smile and the spark of her eyes when they turned on him, whether in affection or annoyance.
“Soon,” he whispered to himself, but “soon” could never quite be soon enough.
Searching for his girlfriend and daughter, he frowned slightly as he saw them sitting with a disgruntled Jane Bennet. He looked at the actress and saw that she was thin—too thin. She had lost weight since he had seen her less than a month ago, almost as if she had become sick. His uncle, who had a flair for the dramatic, would say she looked “gaunt and haggard.” There were dark circles under eyes and her cheekbones protruded against her wan skin. Had the woman stopped eating entirely, he wondered, feeling slightly guilty that perhaps she was pining for Charles.
Taking a deep breath, he balanced the three cups in his hands and made his way over to the Bennet women.
“Cocoa!” Mabel cried happily as she leapt up off of Elizabeth’s lap and embraced her father’s legs. “I love you, Prince Fitz!” she cried happily and he looked at her adoringly.
“So all it takes is cocoa?” he teased. “Well, I love you, too, little one. Careful, don’t spill.”
Setting down their drinks carefully, he kneeled down and looked his daughter directly in the eyes. Smiling softly, he touched her dark curls before repeating, “I love you, too, Princess Mabel.” He noticed Elizabeth smiling at the two of them over Mabel’s shoulder.
Elizabeth quickly got up and dragged an extra chair for Darcy over to their little table before inspecting the coffee cups and discovering her own. Taking a long drag from it, she sighed happily before whispering, “Hmm, apple cider.” Looking at her daughter who was now happily settled in her father’s lap with her hot chocolate, she turned to her sister who was looking at her with barely veiled hostility. “Jane, you remember Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
She looked at the man again and nodded briefly. “I got a Christmas card from CB this week,” she said darkly.
Darcy was too startled to reply.
Jane added, “I tore it up with my boyfriend. We had a good laugh.”
Darcy’s eyes darkened as his face took on a mask-like appearance—a face Elizabeth had not seen for weeks. Perhaps she had been a little too optimistic to hope that there wouldn’t be a confrontation.
“Really? You will forgive me if I don’t mention that to Charles,” he said in a civil tone that could nonetheless have flash frozen hot coffee.
Jane lowered her eyes at his cold gaze. Elizabeth felt almost sorry for her sister’s discomposure—but not quite. She said with just a hint of irony, “Anyway, Jane’s waiting for said boyfriend, and I thought I’d say hello since we haven’t spoken since Thanksgiving,” she explained. “I heard from Lydia yesterday,” she said to Jane.
“Really?” Jane replied in a dead voice.
“Yeah, she said you had a boyfriend and that he was a model.”
Jane snorted. “What does she know about it? I wouldn’t let her within ten feet of him.”
Elizabeth and Darcy looked confused. Mabel, thank goodness, was blissfully unaware. Ever since her mommy and Aunt Jane had had a fight, she had been a bit scared of her aunt. Aunt Janey never smiled at her anymore. But since she happy to be with her mother and Fitz-Fitz, the little girl blissfully ate her cookie.
“Why is that?” Elizabeth inquired.
“Come on,” Jane put in, eyeing Elizabeth’s cupcake and wondering if she should get one. No, she thought. Her boyfriend’s interest had been waning and she had put herself on a diet to try and recapture his attention. She couldn’t afford the cupcake. “You saw how she salivated over all of Charles’ nudity shots. It seems all of my sisters were determined to have him for herself.”
Darcy turned his attention to his coffee and Elizabeth tried not to roll her eyes. How she would love to tell Jane that Lydia was gay, but it wasn’t her information to tell. Their conversations were important to her and she would never betray a confidence, especially not to someone who was as vindictive as Jane appeared to be.
“I thought you were happy with you boyfriend,” Elizabeth pointed out.
“I am,” Jane responded a little too quickly. “He should be here by now.”
“Perhaps he got caught in the subway,” Darcy responded. “We heard before we left the apartment about a crash at the Bloomingdale stop that has people trapped. The worst thing that could happen this time of year.”
Jane frowned but thought that her boyfriend would not have been riding that line. Then again, she didn’t know what he was doing these days. Jane made no reply to Darcy.
Mabel, who now finished her cookie, looked up at her mother. “Can we go to the play ‘round, Mommy?” she asked and both of her parents smiled at her.
“Of course,” Elizabeth responded, thankful for an excuse to leave her sister. Well, at least Jane wasn’t yelling at her, but this cold fury was almost as hard to take.
As the three of them got up to leave and Darcy put Mabel on his shoulders again, Jane grabbed Elizabeth’s wrist to have a private word.
“I always knew you were a liar as well as a backstabbing bitch,” Jane said bitterly. She would have said more but at that moment spied her boyfriend finally arriving at the back door.
The handsome blond man looked at Elizabeth for several seconds before remembering to greet his girlfriend. Hurrying forward, he plastered a smile onto his features. “Hi, beautiful,” Calvin said as he dipped in to briefly kiss Jane. Jane let go Elizabeth’s wrist.
“Hi,” she whispered. “Have you met my sister Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth turned and smiled politely. “Hello,” she said, looking intently at the man before her. There was something about him that seemed familiar to her and an ice cold feeling briefly washed over her. She shook her head and tried to ignore it. Charlotte would say her spidey sense was in full gear. Perhaps it was. She really didn’t like the look of this model.
Looking again at her sister, she smiled sadly at her. “Goodbye, Jane,” she whispered, knowing that this would probably be the last time they met. She couldn’t do this anymore, wouldn’t let Jane punish her for something she had never done. And she wouldn’t have anyone that toxic near her little girl ever again.
As she rushed out the door, Jane’s boyfriend stared after her. He caught a glance of Darcy holding a little girl who had curly brown hair much like Darcy’s.
Jane saw where he was looking and smirked. “Yeah, I know. I didn’t notice it before today, but I would swear that Darcy’s the father. Nice to know that my sister is dating a guy who date raped her. They deserve each other,” she added bitterly.
He looked down at her and smiled, but Jane didn’t see the malicious glint in his eyes. Ah, he thought, so that’s how it is.