Darcy lay propped up on his elbow, his balled fist pressing against his mouth. He looked longingly at the curvy form of his fiancée as she slept peacefully (at least for now) beside him. He marveled that even dressed in a pair of loose fitting sweatpants and a short-sleeved t-shirt, she enticed him with her allure. Except that he knew she was trying neither to entice nor to allure him. She slept peacefully because she trusted him. What would she think if she knew that every evening before he crawled into bed beside her, he had to stare at himself in the mirror and remind himself that he had already waited five years, so he could wait just a little bit longer? Every night was a sweet torture for him, but he would gladly go through more in order to make her feel comfortable and safe within his embrace.
He turned quickly and picked up his glasses from beside the bed and put them on, new prescription and everything. One of his Christmas presents to her had been a new prescription for himself, and he had taken to wearing them around the hotel suite and now their new home, inwardly elated at the soft gazes she sent him, hoping slightly that over time as she healed, she might want him as much as he desired her.
He would do anything for her, including the small gesture of wearing glasses that he had always thought made him look, well, like a geek.
The slope of her chest rose and fell with each of her soft breaths, now heightened by his enhanced vision, and he sighed. Every passing day it became more and more difficult. He spent a great deal of time lying on his stomach to hide the evidence of her effect upon him. He found himself wanting—desperately—just to stroke the sliver of bare skin on her abdomen, to kiss her smooth neck where her hairline created a longer silky peak on one side. He desired to hear her moan in pleasure as he stripped off those plum-colored pants, slowly revealing every inch of her flesh that he had craved for so long. He wanted to slowly enter her as she lay smiling in anticipation in his arms.
She awakened and looked at him in sleepy surprise, smiling. “What are you doing up?” she asked. “Oh, did I wake you yet again?” Worry creased her still blonde brow. “I’m sorry—I don’t even remember my nightmare this time.”
He smiled back. It was too soon, he reminded himself. After two months, there were still scars on her back and she found it difficult to move her right shoulder because it had been dislocated. Although she might not have been having a nightmare, there were plenty of times when she still moaned and thrashed around in her sleep, begging her attacker to stop. Darcy said, “No, no nightmare. Are you alright, darling?” She nodded and curled up against him. Darcy held her chastely and ran his fingers through her growing bush of short but thick hair, playing slightly with her fair roots.
As he had done on other nights, he whispered endearments to her, telling her how strong she was and how much he adored her. He loved the feel of her small hands moving up and down against his back. He longed to have her hands on his bare skin, but he always slept with a shirt on and would do so until—well, until. Soon, he heard her even breathing and thought she had fallen back asleep.
The hand picked and world-renowned therapist who worked with both of them advised him in private to wait for her to make the first move. She needed time to emotionally heal before she would feel comfortable again to even kiss him in more than a chaste or gentle manner. However painful his abstinence—and, sometimes, it was actually physically painful, it was nothing in the face of his commitment to do everything in his power to protect her for the rest of their lives, to keep her and Mabel safe as they slept. So what if he wasn’t doing much sleeping himself these days?
He told himself that it didn’t matter that he sorely missed their passionate embraces on the doormat in front of her New York apartment, where once she had actually pushed him up against the door while he had groaned in pleasure. “You’re very strong for a small woman,” he had laughed, his heart pounding and his breath coming very fast. “And what are you going to do about it?” she had taunted in return. He had grabbed her and picked her up so that her feet dangled off the ground. Whispering huskily, “I don’t know, you make me feel helpless,” they had kissed until a strolling beat policeman stopped to ask if there was a problem.
There was also the night just before the attack, when they had felt like teenage truants as she had called him at midnight and asked him to come over, but to be quiet. She had met him at the door and before he could even speak, she stripped off his leather jacket and had pushed him onto couch, lying herself on top of him. They had giggled, giddy knowing that their daughter and Charlotte were sleeping nearby. They had made out until she had fallen asleep in his embrace and sadly he had tucked her into her bed, kissing her lingeringly before he let himself out, promising himself that soon—soon—he would ask her again to marry him.
His embrace. Now, as he pulled his sleeping fiancée toward him, he rested his head against hers and he could hear her quietly murmur his name. He was so afraid that he would somehow cross an invisible barrier and make the nightmares come back, but even worse. She was so precious to him; his heart almost broke every time he saw her and the scars that she tried to cover up with clothing and make up. “You’re my life, Elizabeth. I didn’t know I was dead until you brought me to life,” he thought.
As if she had somehow heard him, Elizabeth stirred slightly and surprised Darcy by intertwining her fingers with his. She yawned slightly as she looked groggily him. “Are you staring at my dreadful hair again?” she teased.
Darcy smiled slightly. “I’m staring at a strong, beautiful woman—whose hair looks quite adorable.”
She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips.
“Really,” he said in answer to her unspoken disbelief.
Her lips parted and she looked sweetly vulnerable as if she desperately needed to be reassured. Hesitantly, Darcy licked his lips and dipped his head toward her. The feel of her lips as he pressed his mouth to hers sent a slight shiver through him. He closed his eyes tightly as he felt his arousal grow with speed that could only be described as instant. But he knew he was much further down that road than she. He swallowed as she moaned and arched her body into his. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips and she pulled away slightly.
She snuggled against him and exhaled.
“Thank you,” she whispered as he gently began to stroke her back.
Darcy furrowed his brow. “For what?”
“Waiting,” she sighed. “I know it’s hard for you, but I always wanted to wait until I was married.”
The irreverent thought crossed his mind, “Why? What for?” But he merely shook his head at his own suffering—would she have had mercy upon him if she only knew how much this was costing him? She would never know because he would never complain. He grinned, recalling ruefully how Charlotte loved to call her the “Virgin Mary.” She was so different from every other woman he had ever met and, although sometimes he would have to leave her embrace in the middle of the night to release the physical pain she would cause him, he understood. This was important to her. Wickham and his drugs had taken this away from her, but she wasn’t going to let him. She was going to live by her principles with a quiet strength, and he simply adored her for it. “I love you,” he whispered as he kissed her again, his tongue flicking against the corner of her mouth until her lips parted and she deepened the kiss. “I love you so much, my Elizabeth.”
Charles Bingley was tipsy. Well, to be honest, he had convinced himself that he was only tipsy since it was eleven o’clock in the morning when his flight took off. For two and a half months he had been in Prague, first as a tourist and then filming some script that his agent assured him would make him a contender for another Oscar. As if one wasn’t enough. When he had finally touched down on American soil, he had called Jane even though she had left a message for him several weeks before. He thought it would be easy. He was CB. He would walk into New York, sweep her off her feet, and make passionate and hopefully sober love to her.
Because now he realized that’s what it was – love. It wasn’t fluffy and the happily ever after kind. It was tinged with something sinister, but he couldn’t think of another way to describe his emotions, even to himself. This had to be love, right?
Of course, he hadn’t planned on finding her married. Who in their right mind marries after dating for weeks, barely months?
After learning this news, it was only just a matter of time before he went on the worst bender he had had since Darcy had straightened him out the last time about three years ago. After that, Bingley had stuck to drinking only enough alcohol to get buzzed, no more benders that wiped out entire days.
This time was different. The money-grasping, crazy woman whom he had somehow managed to fall in love with had gone and grabbed some other millionaire. How did this happen? He thought she cared for him. He thought she would wait.
After his conversation with Jane, Bingley went to a bar at eleven in the morning and did not come out again until the bouncers had told him it was closing time. He asked if he could sleep there on the floor, but they said no, he really had to go home. So, he went to his Manhattan loft, raided the fridge, and drank from the copious stores of liquor he had on hand there. But not liking to drink alone, and unable to persuade his security detail to drink with him, Bingley went out at ten the following morning to find another bar. His publicist had been called but the most she could persuade CB to do was to go to a secluded corner in the bar. It would not be so apparent to everyone who entered that one of the biggest movie stars in the world was trying to drown his brain in martinis.
Thus began the cycle and even when Darcy had eventually insisted over the phone that he come back to California and had even ordered Charles’ personal assistant to book him a ticket and get him on the first flight out, Charles didn’t see any reason to stop his new “lifestyle”.
He knew Darcy would be there to meet him. He usually was unless work got in the way, but even then if CB had been gone for several months, his old friend could always be relied upon. Darce would pat him on the back, ask him all about the latest production and the hot girls on the film crew (Charles had a particular weakness for camerawomen but he would democratically pursue anyone with appropriate equipment), and then they would hide from Caroline at some hole in the wall diner where they could catch up. Of course, what he didn’t expect when he walked off the airplane at LAX this time, oddly sober though with a massive hangover, was for Darcy to grimace at him and then darkly ask him what he was thinking when he let
Jane Bennet lock her niece up in a bedroom room while Jane and Charles did god-knows-what.
Charles, naturally, had been wondering the same thing himself for a few months, and, as a consequence, didn’t have a satisfactory answer.
The movie star casually wondered if his friend had a headache, since he was wearing glasses that kind of made him look like he should be working in a bioengineering lab.
Darcy’s jaw was set and when they finally arrived at the limo that would take them to wherever they wanted to go, Darcy shoved his friend into the back seat before sliding in himself and soundly punching his best friend in the nose.
Charles’s bodyguards seemed oblivious to this altercation, which made Charles wonder if Darcy had informed them in advance that he would be attacking his friend on what one could argue was an “affair of honor,” though why Darcy was taking up the saber was beyond him.
“What the hell are you thinking?” Charles spat, blood dripping from his nose and mouth. “Look, I was high at the time, and I’ve asked Jane about it and she said that Mabel was perfectly fine and happy. What else do you want me to do?”
“How could you do that to a four-year-old, to my daughter?”
“Wai-wait, what?” Charles said as he accepted an ice pack his bemused looking bodyguard was handing to him.
“Mabel Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennet, my daughter.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? Since when have you had a daughter? And you just met Elizabeth at the end of October.”
Darcy sighed and rested his head briefly in his hands.
“I first met Elizabeth, my fiancée, by the way, in September 2004 at a frat party at B.U., when she was a first year at W—,”
Charles did a double take. “Are you trying to tell me that Elizabeth is the Elizabeth from the break up?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” Darcy growled, eyeing his friend, “and you better start thinking of at least one good reason why I should ever let you near me and mine ever again.”
Charles blinked. He had taken off his now broken sunglasses after Darcy had punched him and the sunlight alone was too much for his hangover. “Look, you’re being a little overprotective here. I know what with G and the fact that you’ve been looking for Elizabeth for so long makes you want to be an avenging angel or something, but it really is a bit much.” He grabbed a bottle of water from the minibar and downed it greedily, hoping that it might help just a bit. “Wow, you’re a father. Are you sure?”
Darcy felt like shoving his friend up against the side of the limo, but thought better of it. CB was clearly suffering from a hangover and that bloody nose looked as if it might soon be joined by an unpleasant bruise, perhaps even a black eye.
“Of course I’m sure. I didn’t tell Elizabeth until I was sure. It was staring me in the face so clearly I can’t believe it took me weeks to put everything together,” Darcy responded, thinking back on how he had almost screwed everything up irrevocably.
“Well, Mabel does resemble you. I recall thinking that in a casting call, she could definitely be cast as your daughter—I mean, if either of you were actors,” Charles said conversationally, this time glancing at his bodyguard who was handing him a packet of aspirin that he accepted gratefully. If he didn’t think that he deserved the bloody nose, he would have fired bodyguard as soon as his hangover cleared up .
“Even if she wasn’t biologically mine, she would still be Elizabeth’s daughter and I would claim her on just that basis,” Darcy responded. “So, where’s that one good reason, Charles, that I should ever let you near my family again?”
“Darcy, you have to believe me, I never intentionally meant to hurt anyone. It’s not an excuse, I know, that I was high. Before I knew what was happening, Jane was naked and the child was nowhere in sight.”
“Oh good god,” Darcy groaned. He was reluctantly familiar with Charles’s sexual habits, especially when spurred by a special cocktail of drugs that a “doctor” (license suspended) created just for him—guaranteed safety and potency for those times that Charles like to make “special” with a woman. “You mean to tell me that you fucked your girlfriend while my daughter was locked in her room for several hours?”
“Well, honestly, I don’t know how long it was. And I’m sure Jane let her out as soon as I left.”
Darcy could only shake his head. He couldn’t believe this. Anger washed over him and before he knew what he was saying, he said savagely, “I suppose this would be the same Jane Bennet who walked out of a Starbucks while her boyfriend raped Elizabeth in the bathroom?”
“That was Elizabeth?” Charles choked out, “and Jane was dating that monster?”
“Yes,” Darcy said sullenly. “George had planned to rape Elizabeth the night we met, but fortunately I got in the way. He managed to succeed this time before I or the police could get to her.”
Charles sat silently, taking this all in. “Thank god she’s married,” he said to himself, thinking what a lucky escape he had had.
“I tried to get back together with Jane about—” he paused “—two weeks ago. But she’s gone and married some guy named Alexander.” He spit out the name. “Better him than me.”
“You will recall that I warned you about Jane—apparently, you didn’t believe me. If you had, you wouldn’t have ended up in her apartment with my daughter locked in her room.”
“God, I can’t believe that the mystery Starbucks victim is Elizabeth. And that Mabel is your daughter. I didn’t even know you and she—”
Darcy looked at his friend darkly. “If her drink hadn’t been spiked, we wouldn’t have.”
“Darcy, you have to believe me, I never would have except that I was crazy about Jane. She’s the most beautiful woman, and you know, I am familiar with a lot of beautiful women—but I thought she was the one, finally. She seemed so sweet, like she really cared about me. I know you said she was only interested in me primarily because of my money and fame, but if a man can’t use those to get the woman he wants—” he sighed, guilt washing over him.
He dared not admit to Darcy that he thought he had heard the child crying in her room during his assignation with Jane. He was afraid Darcy might kill him if he divulged that bit of information. Speaking obliquely, he said, “The entire thing with Mabel just freaked me out. Jane was talking about marriage all during the sex, I don’t even know if she got me to propose; I was so out of it, it was just,” he shuddered, “surreal.”
Charles took a deep breath. “That’s why I broke up with her right after, as soon as I came down from the high. I couldn’t take what we had done. It took me months to get over and I kept remembering the good times, thinking I was love with her, as crazy as she is. But it’s over now. I’m officially taking myself off the market for a year to get everything straight after Jane Bennet, Broadway starlet.”
“You should have told me what she did. Elizabeth and I should have been warned that she would treat Mabel that way,” Darcy said, his unyielding glare boring through Charles.
“I-I—didn’t think she would ever really hurt Mae. She hasn’t done anything to Mabel, has she?”
Darcy hesitated as he wondered whether Charles was truly over Jane. After all, marriage had never stood in Charles’s way when it came to romancing a woman who had his fancy. Darcy knew that even with his next words, Charles might try pursuing Jane again—and that would mean the end of their friendship. Darcy did not plan to let Jane come anywhere near his daughter ever again. “Yes, Charles, she did hurt Mabel. My daughter told me her aunt slapped her and said something bad would happen if she revealed any of it. That was after neglecting to give her dinner while she went and took a shower.”
Charles, who had started wolfing down the sandwich his bodyguard had just handed him, nearly choked. “Oh, my god.”
Appetite suddenly gone, he put the sandwich down. “Darcy, I am so sorry.” Heart pounding as he realized this was the most important moment in his life, Charles said, “I hope you can forgive me for not telling you when it happened. I would understand if you want to cut me high and dry, but I swear, I would never again—. I think I’m going to give up alcohol as well. Do you think I could really be anonymous in an AA meeting?”
Darcy’s expression softened and he began to laugh despite himself. “Probably not, but maybe a stint in Betty Ford or someplace like it.” Darcy sobered. “Maybe I’ve been trying too hard to be a good friend, but a good friend recognizes when someone needs more help than you can give him. Seriously, man, it’s time.” Darcy paused, his eyes clouding. “And until you’re completely sober and have proved to me that you will never even accidentally do something like this again, you will not come anywhere near Elizabeth and Mabel – even G. You can’t come near the house, or call anything but my cell. Nothing. I won’t have you put any of them in danger, Charles, not even for the sake of our friendship.”
“And you haven’t seen me ever since I found out she was married,” Charles thought darkly, thanking the powers that be that Darcy had forgiven him, or at least was willing to possibly do so in the future.