When G—as everyone except her aunt and uncle called Georgiana— awoke on Christmas Eve, she happily stretched her arms above her head as she looked at the view through the penthouse window. A light snow fell like powered sugar over the city . It made her think of Starbucks and lattes. She loved East Coast Christmases with their snow and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Not that they had an open fire in the penthouse. At least she didn’t think they did.
She bounded from the bed and quickly threw on jeans and black sweater. A quick glance in the mirror and she shook the dark brown curls cascading down her back with a pat here and there.
She knew she could probably have a Starbucks latte delivered to the penthouse. The hotel kept people on staff just to fulfill such eccentric requests for its more valued clients, but G relished the excuse to get up and go outside. Glancing at the clock, she saw that it was already half-past ten. Her brother Liam—Liam being G’s special pet name for Fitzwilliam—ever the early riser, had probably been up for hours, she mused as she pulled on a black, (environmentally appropriate yet fashionably chic) fake fur-lined vest and grabbed mittens off the dresser.
The living room, dominated by a large and sadly impersonal Christmas tree, was—naturally—empty. Everything was as it had been the night before except that her brother’s coat was no longer hanging by the door. He must have gone somewhere. Her always perfectly poised brother had become so erratic. His trip to New York for a week had turned instead into weeks, and something had changed in him. It was subtle at first. G couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew something was going on.
She shrugged and made her way to the elevator.
G noticed with a giggle that the desk clerk was acting even more deferential than usual this morning at the sight of her. The hotel staff had been tripping over themselves to accommodate her and her brother. She understood that given Liam’s wealth and social position, not to mention his love of penthouse suites, he would be a top priority customer, but she had never seen anything like it. She wondered if a desire to be waited upon hand and foot had played any role in why Liam had decided to stay in a hotel instead of following his accustomed routine of bunking in Charles Bingley’s huge loft.
When her brother had picked her up from boarding school a few days ago, she had been surprised that they would spend their holiday in New York, but surprise turned to astonishment when she learned they would not be staying with Charley.
She always found it rather disturbing that her fellow students saw Charles Bingley the movie star as drop dead gorgeous and had posters of him up on their walls, Charles was just Charley to her. When he visited her earlier that autumn, the usually mockingly cynical students had stampeded to get a glimpse of him, and now everyone wanted to be her friend. The adoration of celebrity was weird and twisted, but she knew it was also the way of the world. It was actually kind of funny that the Hollywood A-lister was her brother’s best friend.
“Is CB staying with us?” she had asked, unconsciously using the pop culture moniker for their childhood friend. Darcy’s brow had furrowed as he responded that Charles had returned to L.A. to be with his family.
“I thought he always avoided Carrie and Louisa like the plague around Christmas?”
Liam made no response. Even more amazing, G learned that her brother had been living out of this hotel suite for over two months and was planning to stay indefinitely.
Combined with this mystery of Charles’s sudden absence was the other of who was this girlfriend that G had heard about only once during a phone call less than a week ago. Consequently, she thought it could not be serious. Also, neither Richard nor Charles had called her up to get her to tease her brother about it. All these unusual occurrences made her wonder if Liam was undergoing some major change in his life.
When she arrived at Starbucks in the taxi that the bellboy had called for her (her personal bodyguards, Jaime and Jésus, who were really more like stepbrothers to her, following at a discreet distance and in their own car), G was surprised to find it almost empty. She would have expected a crowd on the day before Christmas as people fueled up for their last minute shopping. Apparently, the news of a sexual assault in a Starbucks bathroom was having an impact on customers. Ordering her latte and sending a cheeky grin back to Jésus who had a weakness for Starbucks cupcakes, she nonetheless felt a bit uneasy and left quickly, hopping into another taxi for her short ride back.
As she entered the hotel lobby a flurry of activity caught her eye as bellhops arranged a small mountain of suitcases and packages for transport up to a hotel room. G was struck by the sight of a little girl with shining blue eyes and long curly hair who looked on as her Powerpuff Girls suitcase was put firmly in place along with two large plastic bags which appeared to be filled with unwrapped Christmas presents. Something familiar about that child. . .
G started when she realized that the girl looked nearly identical to herself at that age. At just that moment, the child looked up at G and smiled before pulling on the hand of the man whom Georgiana assumed was her tall, well-dressed father.
“Liam?” Georgiana said, in total surprise. He did not hear her immediately because he was speaking in low tones to the hotel manager.
“Of course, Mr. Darcy,” the manager said quietly. “I will alert all the staff and it will never happen again.”
“Thank you,” he responded politely but with that steely edge still in his voice. “I appreciate the conscientious service you extend to me and I want to make sure Ms. Bennet and her daughter feel just as comfortable.”
“Mr. Darcy, please let me assure you again how we much we enjoy having you here with your family and please inform us of anything else we can do to make your stay as pleasant as possible,” the manager said. Darcy nodded curtly and turned quickly for fear that the manager might start genuflecting.
Seeing his sister, “G,” he greeted her as he scooped up the little girl, whose bright blue eyes and dark brown curls made the child look like a family member. In fact, if G didn’t know her brother so well, she would swear that the child was his daughter. She would have said sister, but that was impossible as their parents had died too many years ago. Then again, she could not imagine her brother ever permitting the possibility that he might have a child unless he were married. He had always been too old-fashioned, like their parents.
But Richard perhaps? What had her cousin been up to?
“Wow,” G said, “who’s the mini-me?”
Her brother grinned at the movie reference. “Do you mean a mini me, or a mini you?” he inquired.
“She looks like a mini Darcy! Or a mini Fitzwilliam, I should say. She looks like a mini Mom almost!” she laughed.
Her brother became quiet. “Yes, I had not thought of that. She does rather look like Mom.” Both the Darcy siblings had taken after their mother’s side of the family. Darcy found it ironic that he and Georgiana looked more like Fitzwilliams than his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam, who took after a great-grandmother, according to his aunt. Their father George Darcy had a lighter coloring of red hair and brown eyes in contrast to their mother’s dark Fitzwilliam curls and blue-grey eyes.
Neither G nor her brother realized that the elevator behind them had quietly popped open and a woman had stepped out who overheard their conversation
Mabel asked, “Mommy, what’s a mini Darcy?”
Darcy smiled as he saw Elizabeth. “Good morning, darling. One Princess Mabel delivered safely and happily as promised.”
Georgiana started. Did her brother just call the little girl Mabel? And did he refer to someone as “darling”? Her mind started doing mental back flips and really didn’t like this particular form of exercise. Why would Richard name his child after their mother? And why would the child’s mother be here and why would Fitzwilliam be delivering her and not Richard himself?
Was Richard even still in the City or had he flown back to Cali?
Turning, G saw a pale, petite woman, with circles under her eyes and short dark hair. Most astonishing were the bruises and scratches clearly visible on her arm and neck as if she had been recently attacked. Could this possibly be her brother’s girlfriend whom Liam had warned her had been assaulted? Why would Fitzwilliam date Richard’s ex and who had assaulted her?
The woman smiled as Darcy gently kissed her cheek. “Thank you for bringing her,” she said.
G was dying of curiosity. “So, is the mini-me a mini of Richard? That would explain why she looks so much like a Fitzwilliam. Though why he would name a daughter after Mother is beyond me. Last summer he wouldn’t stop going on and on about how all his children would be given variants of his name. He even had a list—Richelle for a girl, Rikki, Richie, Dixon, for some reason…”
G was babbling. She always babbled when she was rather nervous.
Her brother and the woman looked at her, utterly confused and a little amused.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy interrupted. “Have you met my slightly nervous sister Georgiana?”
“G, this is Elizabeth,” he glanced at her, “the Elizabeth, actually, my girlfriend.”
G was startled. The Elizabeth—of the break up? Before she knew what she was doing, G had pushed her Starbucks cup into her brother’s free hand and had embraced Elizabeth with all the force she dared considering the state of her bruised arms. “I am so happy to meet you. I didn’t know you were here. I—wow—the Elizabeth. Liam is too quiet for his own good, so he never really talked about you much, at least to me. But Richard and Charles would constantly mention you. Did you know that Liam hired a private investigator to find you at one point? He never gave up, and here you are and—” She gave a hopeful look at Mabel. “And wow, who is this?”
Darcy glanced at the cup before shoving it in his coat pocket. He didn’t want Elizabeth to see it. It might bring back unwanted memories. As soon as he got a moment alone with his sister, he should probably tell her about the temporary ban of Starbucks and coffee products around Elizabeth.
Darcy glanced behind his sister and saw her two bodyguards who were unobtrusively watching them. Yes, bodyguards, he reminded himself. G wasn’t the only member of his family who now needed to be protected from the likes of Wickham.
He laughed for joy at his sister’s obvious pleasure in finally meeting the woman whose memory had haunted him for years. And here she stood, not a ghost after all. He quickly looked over at his stunned girlfriend and noticed that she was smiling, although a little more hesitantly than his effusive sister. He wouldn’t answer G’s final question. He knew what he wanted to say—he wanted to shout “This is my daughter” across the skyline of New York, but it was ultimately Elizabeth’s decision to make such a disclosure.
“Tell me absolutely everything,” G continued as she pulled away and led everyone into the elevator. “I know so little. It’s rather unfair, is it not, when a brother goes to visit an old friend—” her voice faltered a little and Elizabeth knew she must be thinking of Wickham. Placing her hand gently on G’s arm, she smiled slightly.
Darcy smiled at Elizabeth’s reassurance. She was perfect for them—for all of them. This just proved, again, that he just had to have her in his life, forever.
He was taken out of his brief reverie by Elizabeth smiling up at him teasingly and saying, “From what I hear, he came back completely in love and with no idea of who I was.”
“Y-yes,” G continued, “precisely. Of course, I had no idea. How old was I, Liam? Twelve? Eleven even?”
“Thirteen, I believe.”
“That horrible year. I was obsessed with black and baby blue, of all combinations,” she added conspiratorially to her new friend. “I don’t think he’s gone out with a single girl since. Caroline tried, of course. Poor Charles always got so embarrassed. Do you know CB?”
The four (well, five, if you counted Jaime who escorted them to the door) exited the elevator into the penthouse where Mabel gasped in pleasure. “Mommy, mommy, it is a castle like Prince Fitz said!”
“Yes, it is,” she laughed as she pulled Mabel onto her lap. She was now sitting on the sofa and staring at the Christmas tree. The bellhops quietly unloaded the luggage and Darcy took her suitcases and Mabel’s unwrapped presents into the master bedroom. Georgiana smiled at her brother’s arrangements. She could tell just by looking at him how completely in love he was with the small woman before him.
Although G would never have admitted it aloud, she was slightly surprised at Elizabeth’s bizarre haircut. From the little Richard had gleaned from her brother, the Elizabeth had long blonde hair. What would possess her to cut it all off and dye it brown—though, G had to admit, a lovely rich chocolaty shade.
“Where should we put Mae?” Darcy asked as he stepped out of the bedroom.
Elizabeth hesitated. “Normally I’d say with me, but with the nightmares—”
A look of pain crossed over Darcy’s face, G noticed, and she wondered exactly what had happened to Elizabeth.
“She could share my room, if you don’t mind,” G offered. “Or she could have it to herself and I’ll take the couch. Either way.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said softly and Darcy beamed at his sister.
Mabel, of course, was too excited to stay in her mother’s arms, and rushed off after her Prince Fitz into her new room. Elizabeth laughed at her boundless energy.
Georgiana hesitated slightly, before saying in a whisper, “Elizabeth, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but—well, if you ever need to talk about—” she left the bruising and the assault unsaid, but she saw that her brother’s girlfriend understood. “You see, I know what it’s like, and believe me, even though it doesn’t seem like it, it does get better. But if you need to cry or shout or scream or need someone to hold you back while you throw around glass vases,” she smiled slightly, remembering that particular outlet for all of her pent-up emotions, “I will understand.”
Elizabeth bowed her head.
“So, do you know Charles?” G asked again, changing the subject.
Elizabeth looked up. “Yes, I do, in fact. I met him early last month at a club with my sister and friend.” Elizabeth smiled mischievously and added, “Fitzwilliam was there as well. And he was in rather a bad mood, I think.”
G rolled her eyes. “What did he do?”
Elizabeth smiled almost imperceptibly. “First off, he started listening in to my private conversation with the bartender for some unfathomable reason.”
Fitzwilliam was now leaning against the doorway, watching his sister and girlfriend talk while Mabel played happily with her stuffed dragon behind him. “It’s not every day you’re dragged to a club, see a beautiful and oddly familiar woman, who then tells the bartender that she never drinks,” he explained in mock defense, but there was a sparkle in his eyes.
“He also stared at the girl Charles was dancing with in an almost stalkerish kind of way.”
“Ah,” Georgiana put in, “the Broadway starlet. I heard about her. Charles has been all torn up but apparently she was psycho.”
Clearly, Elizabeth thought, G didn’t know that Jane was her sister. Not that she didn’t agree with her.
“Then,” she continued hastily, “when Charles tried to get him to dance with a particular woman, he insulted her within her own hearing saying that she was ‘on the prowl,’ though she clearly was not, and said she was only ‘tolerable’ to look at.” By this point she was laughing as she remembered how much she had despised him that night.
“You heard that?” he asked, incredulous.
“I was right down the bar, drinking a coca-cola. How could I not hear especially since I was the woman under discussion?” she teased.
“No wonder you hated me,” he remarked, a bit sadly.
“Especially considering all of the odd questions and the staring that became a regular habit of yours.”
His face fell, and she instantly regretted her words. She didn’t want to hurt him with memories she had long since forgiven. She looked over at G, who immediately understood that Elizabeth wanted to be alone with her brother. Pushing her way past Fitzwilliam, G went into her shared room with Mabel and closed the door behind her.
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said softly.
Darcy hesitated before he slowly walked toward her. “You have nothing to apologize for. What you said was true.”
She looked down before quickly grasping his hand.
“Fitzwilliam,” she said softly, hesitating for only a moment.
He looked over at her before sitting down beside her.
“Do you want your present now or tomorrow?”
He looked at her thoughtfully. “Now, I think.”
“Okay,” she took a deep breath. “I was planning on telling you this last week, but since—well—” she hesitated, her thoughts clearly on Wickham and the attack. He remembered that her friend Charlotte had called her the Virgin Mary. He hated how Wickham had tried to rip that innocence away, to leave her feeling defiled and dirty. But despite the monster’s intent, he could not truly touch Elizabeth’s strength and purity. Darcy cupped her face in his hands and stared at her face as if she were the ninth wonder of the world—and realized that for him, she was.
Elizabeth took a deep breath, as she wondered what he was thinking but feeling bathed in the warmth of his gaze. She said, “Tomorrow I thought we could tell Mabel that you’re her father. And, as a formality, I’ll agree to a paternity test.”
His breath hitched and he smiled. Smoothing her hair gently with his hand, he luxuriated in the feel of it, and leaning his forehead against hers he whispered, “Thank you. I cannot imagine anything more perfect…”
She smiled but interrupted him by adding nervously, “I thought you would feel that way, but I would understand if you want to wait until after we get the results.”
Speaking more harshly than he intended, Darcy said, “No, I don’t want to wait. She’s my daughter…” He caught himself, bowed his head for a second and looked upward at her again. “A paternity test is a good idea for legal reasons, but I don’t need it to know that she’s our daughter. I don’t need it to know the truth of how much I love her… and how much I love her mother. I have every intention of spending the rest of my life with both of you.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Well, I called it a formality.” She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. “And, and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
He started before a wide grin spread over his face. “Are you sure, Elizabeth? Are you really certain?” Darcy was too afraid to believe it quite yet.
She blushed. “I wouldn’t have said it unless I meant it. I’ve known since you took me ice skating—so long ago.” A faraway look crossed over her face as she thought of earlier that month. It seemed another lifetime almost.
“Will you—Elizabeth,” he took her face in his hands. “Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?” His bright blue eyes held her dark brown ones.
Elizabeth reached up and touched the tears that were slipping down his face. Leaning forward, she kissed him gently before answering, “Yes, I will.”
In that moment, when only the two of them seemed to exist in the world, Georgiana who had been peeking through a crack in the door grabbed her camera and took a picture of what, she was certain, was the happiest moment in her life.