[Note: This is a modern take on Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting.]
Liz Bennet surveyed the room. The Regency Gala at the Gardiner East Hotel and Convention Centre had been sold out for weeks. The decor had arrived and been installed according to plan, the musicians were taking a break between songs as the many of the people in attendance lined up for the next dance, and the wait staff looked authentic in their breeches and wigs. All in all, it appeared that Meryton Assemblies, Inc. had pulled off another grand affair.
Liz jumped as the napkin on the table beside her started to dance its way across the table accompanied by a loud buzzing sound. She slapped her hand on top of the offending cloth. Lifting the object beneath the cloth she immediately recognized it as Chuck Bingley’s cell phone.
She shook her head. It was just like him to leave something important lying around. How many times this week had they all spent valuable time searching for the man’s keys? Coffee cups had shown up in the strangest of places, still half-filled, probably placed there so that he could safely gesture while speaking and promptly forgotten. And once, she had seen him exit the front of the hotel and walk to the right for several paces, turn about, rub his neck and then snap his fingers as if finally remembering where he had parked his car before heading in the opposite direction. He was a charming man, intelligent in his own right, but daft when it came to remembering some details and given to impulsivity.
She flipped the phone over. Although he had been dancing with Jane for twenty minutes, the screen was still on, and it was still open to the last text conversation he was having as he sat talking with her, her sister Jane, and their friend and business partner Charlotte Lucas. It was another annoying trait of his. He could not seem to keep his mind on just one thing at a time. He had to be multitasking–always. It had been irksome enough that she had considered calling Matlock Enterprises and requesting a new consultant. She had only refrained because Jane seemed quite smitten with the hapless fellow, and it seemed the sentiments were reciprocated.
Curiosity getting the better of her, she scrolled up the screen to see what had been so important that he deemed it necessary to interrupt their conversation numerous times to answer his messages.
Will: I see your angel is here.
Chuck: Yeah, she’s here. Gorgeous!
Chuck: Her sister is here, too. You should come over and meet her. Your type.
Will: Where? Right or left of your angel?
Chuck: Right. Cute, eh?
Chuck: Tolerable? Are you blind man?
Will: No, just not interested.
Chuck: Just come meet her. She’s great.
Will: Maybe later. Trying to avoid the crowds. You know me.
Chuck: Yeah, William the Great Kill Joy!
Will: Very funny, Charles.
Will: Got the proposal. Just delivered. Need your signature.
The phone vibrated again.
Will: Chuck, you there? Need your signature before you leave.
Lizzy stared at the phone. She had a feeling that it would vibrate again soon if no response was sent to this Will person. As she considered whether or not to respond, the phone once again vibrated.
Will: Chuck? Please?
Liz began to type her response.
Liz: Chuck is unavailable as he is actually having fun at this party. Will make sure he gets your message.
Will: This isn’t Chuck? Do I have the wrong number?
Liz: No, this is Chuck’s phone. He just isn’t available to answer it.
Liz: Left it on the table when he went to dance.
Will: So then to whom am I speaking?
Liz: To whom? Rather formal for a text message, do you not think? 😉
Will: Very funny. Now TO WHOM do I have the pleasure of speaking? 🙂
Liz thought for a minute, but not longer before responding.
Liz: The tolerable sister.
She chewed her lip and her stomach flipped as she waited for his response.
Will: Um? You read that?
Liz: Yep. Still afraid to meet me?
Will: I’m not afraid to meet you. I don’t like crowds.
Will: Very mature.
Liz: Says the big man who is afraid of crowds and merely tolerable women.
Will: Okay, where are you?
Liz: Sure you want to venture into the frightening jungle of humanity?
Liz: Still at the table where Chuck and his angel were sitting.
Will: Can’t be. I only see a woman in a red dress. Tolerable was wearing blue.
Liz: LOL Think you have me confused with a friend.
Liz: Not saying more until you get here. Turning phone off.
Will: Chuck will not be able to sign back in. Can’t remember his password.
Liz: Then get here quickly or the phone is turning off.
Will: Demanding, aren’t you?
Liz: So I have been told. 2 minutes.
Liz placed the phone face down on the table. Her heart raced as it always did before she was about to have it out with a contractor that was not meeting her very exacting standards. She thought that perhaps there were support groups for people like her. Neither Jane nor Charlotte understood the adrenaline rush that accompanied the thrill of triumphing over one’s fear of confrontation.
She watched as a very attractive man began to approach her table and her heart began racing for a whole new reason. She had assumed that whomever had been so hasty to dismiss a woman as tolerable must be attractive, but-wow-attractive did not even begin to describe this guy. Swallowing the lump that was beginning to form in her throat, she stood and extended her hand. “Elizabeth Bennet, Meryton Assemblies, Inc.”
He smiled and took her hand. “Will Darcy, Matlock Enterprises.”
Oh, dear. Will Darcy? Major backer for tonight Regency Gala? Perhaps not the best person to be taunting. But, there was no turning back now, she had already set her course. She just prayed it would not end in disaster. “Welcome, Mr Darcy. I trust you have enjoyed your evening thus far?”
He raised an eyebrow and a slight smirk crossed his lips. “It has been tolerable, Ms Bennet.”
Liz could not help the smile that suffused her face. Relief that he did not seem put off by her less than ladylike text exchange and rather forward insistence that he meet her flooded her body. “Please, you must call me Elizabeth or Liz…most people call me Liz. Since my sister Jane is also a Ms Bennet, it can get confusing if we do not go by first names.”
“Ah, so Chuck’s angel does have a name. Frighteningly hard to get a straight answer from him sometimes.”
Liz laughed. “So I have noticed. Nearly called and asked to have him replaced this week. Great guy–incredibly talented, but I have to admit the absent minded professor thing does grate.”
“I understand fully. It was a rather pleasant week having him out of the office.” Darcy motioned for her to take her seat as he unbuttoned his tailcoat and removed it before sitting down himself. “Now, Liz, I believe you were going to tell me who the lady in the blue dress was?”
“Yes, the lady in the blue dress. As I am sure you are aware, Meryton Assemblies, Inc. is a controlled by a partnership of three women, Jane Bennet, Elizabeth Bennet, and Charlotte Lucas. Seeing as Jane is Chuck’s angel, and I am Elizabeth Bennet, that leaves Charlotte Lucas to be the tolerable lady in the blue dress.” She paused and rested an elbow on the table. “Now, for my question. It seems Chuck thinks that I am your type, and I am curious to know exactly what is your type, Mr Darcy?”
“Will. Please call me, Will.”
“Okay. Will what is your type?”
“Do I really have to answer that? You should not know that if you were not reading private text messages.”
“Afraid you will have to answer that, or I will turn the phone off. And I would not have had the opportunity to read those messages had the phone been off or had your business partner not left it carelessly lying around. ”
“I will admit to Chuck’s part in this incident, but I do not believe that excuses you from reading the texts.”
Liz’s cheeks grew rosy, and she smiled. “No, I suppose it doesn’t excuse my curiosity.”
“No, it doesn’t. Now, may I have the phone?” Will extended his hand and waited for her to place the phone in it.
“Why would I give it to you? You have not answered my question.”
“Well, for one thing, it is issued to Chuck by Matlock Enterprises, and for another, I propose a compromise. I will spend the rest of the evening with you and let you know at the end if you are indeed my type or not. I do not make this promise lightly. I am a man of my word.”
“Write it down.”
“I have no paper and the napkins are made of cloth.”
Liz slid her hand into a well-concealed pocket on her ball gown. Pulling out her phone, she texted her number to Will’s number that was displayed on Chuck’s phone. “Text me your promise.”
Having received the text, she handed him the phone. “I do hope you are prepared for a boring evening.”
“Boring? You? I do not believe that. Would you care to dance?”
“Can’t.” Liz extended her leg and pulled her gown tight about it. “Knee brace,” she explained. “It seems I am incapable of dancing in regency fashion. My aunt insisted I take lessons, and I did until I tripped over my own feet and ended up in the doctor’s office being fitted for this brace. I have to wear it until after the MRI that they have ordered for me next week.”
A small laugh escaped Will before he was able to catch it.
“Oh, do not feel badly about laughing at my predicament. It is humorous.”
“I am sorry. Does it hurt?”
“It is throbbing at the moment. I really need to go ice it.”
“So, let’s leave–unless you are needed here, of course.”
“No, I do the set up and first half of the event, the second half and clean up are all Charlotte’s.” Noting the furrow of his brow, she added, “Jane is the face of the company. She does the schmoozing– making sure everyone is having a good time, promotions, that sort of thing.”
“So, you won’t be missed?”
“Nope. My job is done. I had planned to go upstairs to our apartment, get comfy and watch movies until Charlotte and Jane finished up down here. We could go to the commons room on the penthouse floor and watch a movie while I ice my knee.”
“Sure. But wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your own apartment?” Will pulled the chair out for her and offered his hand to assist her in standing.
Liz cocked an eyebrow and looked him in the eye. “Men are not allowed in our apartment. It is a clause in the contract.”
“That is an odd clause. But I only meant to ask after your comfort; I assure you there were no ulterior motives.”
“I can attempt to explain the clause, but please, let’s wait until we are in the elevator as I do not need to share that information with everyone.”
“You will need to change to ice your knee, won’t you?” Liz nodded. “While you are doing that, do you mind if I go down to my room and change into sweats and a t-shirt as well?”
“You’re staying here?”
“Yep. My sister has friends over for a sleepover tonight. I have no desire to partake in the frivolities of nineteen year olds, particularly when one of them seems to have a crush on me. It is very uncomfortable.”
Liz patted him on the shoulder. “Oh, poor thing has women falling at his feet,” she teased.
“I’ll introduce you to Chuck’s sister Cari some time. Have you seen the movie Mean Girls? I swear she would not have to act to be in that movie. Catty does not begin to describe her.” Will rubbed his temples as if trying to erase the thoughts. “I am pretty sure she is only using Georgiana’s friendship as a way to get near me. I know that sounds conceited, but I am only stating what I have observed. She only hangs out with Georgie when she thinks that there is a chance that I might be present. She never once attended a party when Georgie had her own place.”
“And your sister lives with you now because of the identity theft?” Liz asked softly. “My mother keeps up with all the latest gossip shows, and uses it as fodder for her lectures on what my sisters and I should and should not do.” There was an apology in her tone of voice.
“I’m sure your mother means well. Identity theft can be a tricky thing to recover from. It has been almost a year, and even with the culprit being captured, we are still working to recover what was lost.”
Liz nodded. “Your floor. I’ll wait here. There is a code to get into the private penthouse area.”
“I won’t be long. You sure you don’t want to come sit in my room. I have a suite with a living area. Nothing improper.”
“Nope. Part of my contract. I am not allowed to be in any apartment with a man without a proper chaperone.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Hurry, I will explain eventually.”
He did hurry. Not more than ten minutes later, he joined her again in the elevator. “So this clause in your contract?”
Her face turned a lovely shade of red. “My father calls it a chastity clause. He is determined that there will be no more illegitimate grandchildren. My youngest sister Lydia got pregnant on a summer trip to Quebec. She was just sixteen at the time. Mom and Dad have been helping to raise Chloe while Lydia finishes school. Dad kind of snapped when it happened. Things tightened up drastically for all of us–he has five daughters and a granddaughter. When he decided to retire from Meryton and sign it over to Jane, Charlotte and me, he placed a clause in our contract that if one of us should become pregnant outside of marriage or act in a way that could result in such a pregnancy, even if it is just perceived that we have acted in such a way, the other voting members which include both he and my uncle may vote to have us removed from the partnership.”
Will’s brow furrowed and he nodded as he pondered what he had heard. “Makes sense.”
Liz looked at him in surprise. “Makes sense? I do not believe I have ever met anyone who has ever said that when they heard about that clause.”
“Have you heard of Ian Fitzwilliam?”
Liz nodded. “He use to be the head of your company, right?”
“Yeah, he was the heir to the estate, so to speak, until he became tangled up in some nastiness brought on by his rather free lifestyle in his youth. There were several paternity suits and a bucket of money that went in to clearing it all up. He was asked to step aside to an advisory position since his image did not aide in building confidence in our brand. Nearly lost his wife over it even though the claims were proven false. He has exiled himself to the country to keep his family together. None of that would have happened had he followed your father’s clause. My father always taught me that a fortune may come from hard work or dumb luck, but both can be lost by mere stupidity. So, I don’t have a clause holding me under good regulation. I hold myself to it.”
“So, you don’t….you know…” Liz stammered. Her cheeks were flaming, but she needed to know. If she was saving herself, she wanted a man that was saving himself as well.
“No, I don’t. Plan to be a virgin on my wedding night.” He gave her an appraising look. “No matter how tempting the company I keep.”
The elevator dinged as it stopped at the penthouse level. With slightly trembling fingers, Liz punched in the code…twice….getting it correct the second time and rolling her eyes at the taunt that she was only slightly better than Chuck at remembering codes.
Quickly she showed him where the common room was and then raced as fast as a person with a knee brace could to her apartment to change. She took as little time as possible. She did not wish to miss a moment of time spent with Will. She desperately hoped that she would prove to be his type.
“Lots of Jane Austen productions here, I see.” He held up two box sets as she entered the room.
“All part of the research. The Regency Gala had to be accurate, but it also had to be what people would be expecting. Besides, my Aunt Lucy is a bit of a Janeite.” She settled herself onto the couch and propped her leg on the coffee table. Placing the bag of ice on her knee, she said, “Your choice.”
“Let’s see. Emma or Mansfield Park?”
“Not Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy?” she asked cheekily.
“No, Miss Elizabeth. I have had quite my fill of that Colin Firth fellow. He makes it difficult for us real Darcy’s to live up to his portrayal.”
“I have the Matthew Macfadyen version, as well.”
“Even worse. No, as a Darcy, I prefer not to be reminded of where I fall short. Surely being a Bennet, you must feel some of the same.”
“No, I don’t fall short of the roles portrayed, but occasionally, I find they fall short of me. I dare say, if you hang out with me long enough, I may be able to say the same of you compared to Mr Firth or Mr Macfadyen. In fact, I dare say Firth’s Darcy wouldn’t give two minute’s thought to what I wished to see, and Macfadyen’s would be too willing to ponder for hours what would make me the happiest creature on earth. You have already narrowed it down to two and have requested my input though I choose not to give it.”
“Well, then, Miss Elizabeth. The 1999 version of Mansfield Park it is. Not sure I would stand up to comparison to Mr Knightley.” He laughed as he took the disc from the package and placed it in the palyer.
Liz pulled out her phone and typed in a message letting her sister know where she was. “So you think you can stand up to Edmund Bertram, do you?”
“Yep, nothing remarkable about him.”
“But he is so sweet and supportive,” Liz said with a sigh. She laughed as he palmed his forehead. “In my opinion, you should have gone with Sense and Sensibility if you truly want to stand out from the hero of the movie. Edward Ferris is sweet, but a little weak for my liking.”
Will grabbed a pillow from one of the easy chairs and placed it under her foot.
“Thanks. There are snacks in the cupboard and soda or water in the fridge. Sorry, no alcohol…another part of the clause…it is only allowed at social functions and family meals and the occasional sports event.”
“No problem. I don’t imbibe very often either. Grandfather was an alcoholic–an ugly alcoholic. Not something I wish to risk. You want water or soda?”
“Water, and a bag of chips–just plain.” He tossed her two bags of chips and carried over two water bottles. He placed his phone and Chuck’s phone on the coffee table between them and settled in next to her as she pushed play on the remote. She grabbed her phone and started typing holding it so that he could not see what she was saying. Grabbing his phone, he did the same, and hit send just as his phone dinged letting him know a message had been received. A few seconds later, hers also peeped which was followed by furious typing.
Will: Definitely my type. Want to go out to dinner with me tomorrow?
Liz: Definitely my favourite Darcy.
Liz: Yes. A thousand times yes.