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Obstacles to Overcome

Chapter 32

Calling Elizabeth every night, as he had planned, became an almost impossible task for Darcy. Well, calling her wasn't the problem, it was talking to her that turned out to be difficult. Or the line was busy, or she was outside the house and it took ages for her to reach the phone or someone would invariably pick up the other extension and interrupt their chats. It was frustrating and at times annoying. In three days they only managed to converse once, and only because Elizabeth's mother wasn't home and didn't demand that she end the conversation right away. After thinking the matter over for some time, he found a solution that would make his days away from her less frustrating. He only hoped that Elizabeth wouldn't find it overbearing.

By Wednesday Darcy was restless. He woke up very early, it was still dark, and went directly to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, startling the only maid that was up and about.

"Mr. Darcy! Señor!" she turned on hearing noises, "Good morning, sir, should I serve your breakfast in the morning room?"

"Good morning. Thank you, Maria, I shall drink my coffee here."

Pemberley was a well oiled machine that Mrs. Reynolds ran to perfection. There was always a servant awake by five just in case it was needed and everyone was instructed that if anything unusual happened in the household, it should be reported to the housekeeper immediately. If the master showed up in the kitchen before 6, looking tired and sleepless, this was certainly a task for Mrs. Margaret Reynolds.

Dutifully, Maria placed a steamy cup of coffee in front of Darcy. Coffee with: toast, cookies, fruit, cake, bagels, butter and jelly. Darcy observed how the maid neatly placed the things around him before leaving. If he knew his staff well, Margaret would be there in five minutes.

"Good morning, William." the housekeeper entered the kitchen.

Darcy smiled up at her. She was still in her robe. "Good morning."

She looked at his breakfast. Something was missing. "Do you want some eggs?"

"No, just coffee." Why was that they always tried to stuff him like a turkey for Christmas?

Five minutes later, she placed a plate with scrambled eggs in front of him.

"Why do you ask if you are going to do it all the same?" he sighed in resignation.

"Eat." Margaret sat by his side with a cup of tea. "Now, what are you doing up so early?"

"I couldn't sleep any longer." Darcy said with his eyes fixed on his cup.

Margaret knew him too well to believe it was just that. She saw him return from Hertfordshire with a whole new attitude about him, with a happiness in his eyes that she had not seen in a long time. Though he didn't say a word, she knew that a major change had occurred in his life. Darcy was extremely silent and reserved, sometimes too much for his own good, but she sensed that her taciturn master was in need of a chat. And he would have one, even if she would have to extract the words with forceps.

"And how is that contract in St Albans going?" she asked him.

"Fine." He didn't raise his eyes.

"And you managed to see that nice girl that was here in November? She was from Hertfordshire, wasn't she?"

"Yes."

"What was her name?" Her tone was innocent.

"Elizabeth."

Margaret knew perfectly well who she was. "Yes, lovely girl. Did you see her?"

"Yes." By now Darcy was aware of what his housekeeper was trying to do.

"And, how was she?"

His smile reached his eyes. "Fine."

"When are you marrying her?" she asked him teasingly.

"Margaret, please!" Darcy laughed, "Isn't a bit early for that? We only had two dates!"

"So you are dating her."

"I am." He grinned broadly.

"Good. I can't take care of you forever, so it's time that you find a good woman to replace me."

"No one can replace you." He smiled charmingly.

"You flattering liar." Margaret's eyes watered with tears. She had known him since he was a child, a lanky boy of barely four; she had seen him suffer and laugh and grow up into this fine, excellent man. But she had never seen him in love. She was so proud of him. "Now, I'll call Sam and tell him that you are training earlier today. That way you'll be able to be in Hertfordshire after lunch."

"Who says I'm going to Hertfordshire?" he laughed.

She ignored him and walked towards the phone. She knew him too well as to think that he would stay in Pemberley for much longer. "Exercise that big black horse of yours and then go see your girl."

"You know I can't go."

She was already dialling. "I won't expect you for lunch."

Darcy kissed her cheek and parted to the stables.

The practice was very intense that morning. Darcy pushed Tuareg and himself to their limits and, too jittery to stop, he worked for more than an hour with the new horse they were training.

He went to the house and took a long shower, but even when his entire body was sore because of the exercise, he wasn't able to relax. He sat in his study for half an hour, staring out of the window and biting his knuckles, wondering if he should go or not. He grabbed the keys to his car and left for Hertfordshire at full speed.

~ * ~
p> Liddy was having a very bad day. In fact, her bad days had been a constant during the past weeks. She was turning more rebellious, more headstrong and difficult to control with every day that passed. Every practice was a fight and though Liddy was dealing well with obstacles, Elizabeth was having so much trouble controlling her that she wondered if she was really worth the effort.

"Try to hold her a little tighter, Lizzy, she's out of control." Thomas told her.

"I don't know what is wrong with her today, she ..." Elizabeth struggled to slow down the speed, taking Liddy to a slow trot around the arena. But then, the entrance of Darcy's Mercedes made her oblivious to anything else but him.

Thomas turned around and realized the reason for Elizabeth's distraction. "Well, it seems that your new boyfriend is back before you expected."

"Dad, he is not my boyfriend," she hissed as Darcy parked the car. Yet.

"Mr. Darcy." Thomas greeted him with a smile. "What a surprise."

"Mr. Bennet." Darcy shook his hand. His expression softened when he turned to Elizabeth. "Hello, Elizabeth."

"Hi," she smiled warmly, "I didn't know you were coming."

"Neither did I." His smile broadened.

"Well, young man," Thomas said cheerfully, "it seems that your unexpected visit has surprised us all. Lizzy has to exercise this mare for a few more minutes, if you don't mind."

Elizabeth's eyes widened. How was she going to concentrate on the mare with Darcy watching every move?

The practice began anew but with a very distracted Elizabeth. Her uneasiness was transmitted to the mare and Liddy used this to her best advantage. Only Elizabeth's skillfulness maintained her on the saddle.

"Difficult, isn't she?" Thomas asked the younger man.

Darcy wasn't sure who he was talking about: Elizabeth or the mare. "Yes, quite."

"Spirited and independent."

"It happens when they are so young," he replied quietly.

"She has quite an explosive temper, I assure you."

No answer.

"The most stubborn creature I've ever seen. She can give you a hard time if you don't know how to handle her." Thomas insisted with an even voice while his eyes followed his daughter trotting around the arena.

"Yes, but usually love, respect and a good deal of patience can turn the fieriest creature into a wonderful companion." Darcy's eyes remained on the woman he loved.

Thomas considered Darcy's words in silence. "We've seen a lot of you lately, Mr. Darcy."

"Yes, sir."

"And I suppose that we would continue to see you around in the future." Mr. Bennet said evenly.

"Yes, sir."

"I see."

Darcy's attention turned to Elizabeth. She was good, very good, and though she still had many things to learn and to correct, she was tenacious and that was what counted. She only needed to concentrate, stay calm and not allow his presence, her father's, and everything around her to disturb her and she would make it.

"Sir, do you mind if I ..." Darcy gestured the arena.

"No, go ahead," Thomas dismissed him with a wave of his hand, "someone must tell her what she is doing wrong and she never pays attention to what I say. She is too proud and stubborn to listen to her own father's advice. Perhaps she will listen to yours. You showed you can deal with me, young man, let's see if you can deal with her.

Darcy entered the pen and asked Elizabeth to stop. That was enough as to make her feel apprehensive. She had been observing him and her father conversing and for their expressions, she could guess that they were talking about her. Her father could be very difficult sometimes and she feared that one of his ironic comments might jeopardize her incipient relationship with William Darcy.

But also, as Thomas said, Elizabeth was proud and while she was relieved that their 'little chat' was over, her courage rose when she saw Darcy coming into the arena. Dating him was one thing but being instructed by him was an entirely different matter.

"She's looking great," Darcy secured the reins. The mare was sweaty, more than she should for the temperature that day and there was a foamy layer of saliva all around the mouth, evidence of her struggles against the bit. If this was the state of the mare, he could almost imagine what the state of Elizabeth's hands would be.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "But she is behaving awfully. Did you see how difficult it is to hold her? Look, I have a blister in my hand."

Darcy took her hand and observed it closer. Just what he thought. This was not a training session, it was a battle of wills. "We'll take care of that later."

His voice was so smooth that she blushed from head to toe. She should really learn how to control that.

Smiling, he moved closer to her leg, placing one hand on her knee and the other on her lower back. He pushed her forward on the saddle, correcting her position. "You must be pretty strong if you are able to hold a horse with this temperament. I should be more careful in the future."

"There's no need to be afraid of me, Mr. Darcy, I promise I won't hurt you." she replied playfully.

The little minx. He had not expected such an answer. "Do you have another bit?"

"Do you think she needs a change?"

"Perhaps a different one would help you to hold her today. I wouldn't wish another blister on those lovely hands."

Her smile broadened when she realized that he was trying to help her train the mare without her noticing it. Had he offered to do that when he entered the pen, she would have been offended. But he was doing it so nicely that now she would do anything he asked. England's hottest horseman, the nation's top rider would be her instructor. This was not only a unique opportunity to learn and improve, but refusing him would be childish and very stupid. Any other horse trainer would kill to have his advice.

"I have another in the stables."

"I'll go for it."

Phil showed him the way to the saddle room and Darcy returned with a bit that was more appropriate for his purpose. They changed it and Elizabeth resumed her practice, now under Darcy's guidance. He gave her a few indications as to how to control the mare, corrected her posture in the saddle and, most of all, he enjoyed this opportunity to work with her. Under Darcy's very professional supervision, the session ended up being very positive, for horse and rider. Elizabeth learned new tricks plus a couple of exercises for her to practice in his absence that would help her to correct some of Liddy's problems.

"Work her with side reins for some time; she needs to correct the position of the head." Darcy held Liddy while Elizabeth descended.

"Mounted?"

"No, from the ground. I would suggest you not to jump her until that problem is fixed. It will take some time, but her movements will be more supple and effortless." They walked arm in arm out of the training pen.

"All right." Elizabeth smiled up at him. "What made you come so unexpectedly?"

"You."

She was surprised by his candour, but most of all, touched by his gesture. "You came all this way only to see me?"

He nodded smilingly.

He drove for more than two hours only to see her? "Do you always act so impulsively?"

"No, only when I'm thinking of you."

Those were the kind of comments that she didn't know how to handle. He was showing her that he cared for her with every gesture and every word and sometimes she wished that she would be able to respond with the same openness. They reached the stables and Darcy began to unsaddle the mare. Elizabeth was thankful for the distraction.

"You are a very good teacher, you could be a great instructor."

"Do you think so?" he asked over his shoulder as he removed the saddle.

"Yes," she smiled at the sight. William Darcy, her stable boy. "And incredibly patient too. Liddy almost made me lose my temper a couple of times."

"I noticed that," he said in good humour, "and I'm sure that Liddy is very much aware of that, too. She's taunting you, trying to see how far she can get but fortunately you are more stubborn than her."

Elizabeth gasped and slapped his arm. "I am not stubborn!"

"Where shall I leave this?" he grinned and showed her the saddle, now in his hands.

"Over there," she pointed. Phil came from nowhere and took Liddy to her stall. It was too cold to bathe her so Elizabeth told him to brush her coat and cover her with a rug. "Do you really think I'm stubborn?"

"All right, you are not." She looked absolutely adorable with that pout on her face.

Elizabeth realized that he said this only to prevent an argument and arguing with him for doing that would only prove his point. She walked to him and put her arms around his waist. "Thank you for helping me today. It's amazing how much easier it is when someone with your experience points out the errors and sees what's wrong."

"At your service; I'm very glad to be of use." he embraced her too.

"I remember the first time you helped me out. You were so nice and I became angry with you for interfering in my practice. I almost did the same today when I saw you coming into the pen."

"Yes, I know." Darcy chuckled. "But I couldn't allow you to continue doing it wrong."

"I'm sorry," she looked down, "It's just that I became so nervous with you watching me and Liddy ..."

Darcy placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face up. "You shouldn't be nervous around me, Elizabeth, there's no reason for that."

"I know," she sighed. "But sometimes I don't even know why you are here after I treated you so badly. When I remember the things I said to you I ..."

He turned serious. "You taught me a very hard lesson back in Kent, the hardest lesson I have received in my life but one I needed badly. I know I am a better person because of you, Elizabeth."

"Oh, Will, it's over, you already apologized and now that I look back, it wasn't that bad."

"It was; you were right in everything you said. But you don't have any idea of what you do to me, Elizabeth, I never felt this way in my life."

Perhaps it was because he looked genuinely upset because of what happened before and she felt the need to comfort him, or maybe it was her own love for him that made her kiss him, but she felt that she had to do it. In only a second her arms were wrapped around his neck and her mouth pressed to his, assuring him that everything was forgiven and forgotten. And he was more than grateful for this spontaneous demonstration of affection. He kissed her endlessly, holding her tight, losing himself on her lips. Slowly, if only to keep his ardour in check, he broke the kiss.

"Now, show me that blister. I said I would take care of it."

"It's not serious." She showed him her hand.

Darcy brought her palm to his lips and kissed it. "You should use gloves. You'll ruin your hands."

"I know, but I don't feel comfortable with them."

"I used to think the same way. Look," he showed his hand, "I started using gloves two years ago because of this, but now it's too late to fix it."

Elizabeth observed his fingers carefully. He had the problem that most of the riders had with their hands. Callousness, scars and even a slight deformation on certain phalanges produced by the constant tension and friction of the reins. She traced his knuckles with her finger and looked up at him.

"I'll use them, I promise."

He gave her a soft kiss. "I should be going now. As much I would love to stay a little longer, with you, I must return home."

"So early?"

"I have a practice with Col. Forster tomorrow morning. I'll be back for the weekend, so think about what you want to do, all right?"

She couldn't let him go just like that. "I'll make you a cup of coffee."

He hesitated. "No, thank you ... I wouldn't wish to be a bother."

She rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand, dragging him towards the house. They went directly to the kitchen where Elizabeth fixed him a large cup of coffee and a sandwich, which made him realize how hungry he was. They enjoyed their domestic interaction until Darcy announced that he needed to be going.

"Elizabeth," he picked up a plastic bag from the back seat of the Mercedes, "I bought you something."

A mobile, and one of the expensive ones, with a camera, like the one she saw at the store and that she was dying to buy. Though she would love to have this, she could not keep it.

"Oh, William, this is great but ... you shouldn't ... I can't ... I can't accept it." She returned him the bag.

Darcy gave it back to her. "No, please, Elizabeth ... it's just that it's so difficult to talk to you on the phone."

"I don't know, William."

"Please," he insisted, "it's not a big deal, really, we have half a dozen of these at home. This way we'll be able to talk without interruptions."

She wondered if she should keep it or not. Kitty would turn nuts when she learned about it, she had been asking for a mobile for weeks and she only received negative replies from her father and from Phil. But Elizabeth also knew that they could not go on like this, with her asking for permission whenever she needed the phone or with her mom picking up the other extension to listen to her conversations with Darcy.

"All right, thank you," she sighed, finally taking the bag in her hand. In one way, he was right, this was the best solution to their communicational problems.

"You're welcome," he grinned. "I'll call you at night, then."

The goodbye kiss was violent. Not in the terms of physical roughness, it remained tender and gentle but surfaced emotions that neither had ever felt. It was full of unspoken 'I love yous' and unsaid 'I'll miss yous' as true love overflowed within them for the first time.

They never thought that separation could be so hard.

Chapter 33

"Hi," Elizabeth smiled dreamily as she answered her mobile. It could only be him.

"Did I wake you up? You sound sleepy," Darcy asked softly.

"No, yes, I came to bed earlier, just to wait for you to call and I was dozing off. Are you in bed too?"

"Almost." He adjusted a pile of pillows and slid inside the covers. "Just came out of the shower. My entire body is aching."

Elizabeth tried to imagine what his wet aching body would look like. She had noticed that he was fit and firm when she embraced him; he really felt good, and she began to fantasize about him in bed in silk pyjama bottoms or perhaps wearing nothing at all ... she preferred to change the subject. "Tough practice?"

"I had a fall. Just imagine how tough it was."

"But ... are you all right?"

Darcy noticed the alarm in her voice and spoke lightly, trying to calm her. "Nothing serious; shoulder, elbow and mostly pride beaten, but nothing to be worried about."

"Poor darling," she smiled, "Is Georgiana home?"

"No, she's in Manchester. She would never come to Pemberley on a weekday."

That meant that he was alone in the house. Surely it was awful to feel ill while alone, with no one to comfort him. She had always had her family, her mother, her dad, and if she was ill or something hurt, she just needed to call them and they would be there, taking care of her. But he was on his own. His staff was there in case he needed something but they wouldn't hold his hand until he fell asleep, check if he was feverish during the night or rub his tummy if it ached. Her heart wrenched when she though that his life had been this way for a very long time.

"I would like to know what Tuareg feels when he throws you out of the saddle. I'm sure he thinks 'at last I got rid of this guy'." she tried to sound playful and cheer the conversation up.

"It wasn't Tuareg," he chuckled. "I'm working with another horse too, a backup horse just in case anything happens. He's good, but too young and very difficult."

"Like Liddy?"

"Sort of, though half a ton heavier."

"What's his name?"

"Backup." he stretched his body.

"Your backup horse is named Backup?" Elizabeth laughed.

"Another sample of Richard's creativity." he grinned.

"And who named Tuareg?"

"I did."

"It's a beautiful name." she smiled.

"You are beautiful, Elizabeth."

The hoarseness in his voice made her entire body warm up. She wondered how it would feel to be held in his arms when he whispered those words into her ear.

For a while, he was silent, wishing she were there with him, in his bed, that he was telling her these same words after loving her all night. "I'll let you rest." He smiled on the other end. "I'll be there on Saturday. Be good."

"Good night, Will. Take care," she said in a sweet, loving voice.

"Good night, my love, sweet dreams." He waited for her to hang up and did the same.

Elizabeth left the mobile on the nightstand and slid into the covers. She remained looking at the ceiling for a long while. Did he say 'my love'?

~ * ~

Almost a week had passed since Darcy last saw Elizabeth. Though they agreed they would see each other during the weekend, he couldn't help it and was there one day sooner than planned. His performance during the last week of training had been satisfactory, so was Tuareg's so he decided to give himself and his horse a break. The Lincoln show would keep him away for four days and he used these days off to spend some time with Elizabeth. The night of his arrival they dined on their own and on the following day, together with Jane and Charles. They went to the movies and then both couples parted in different directions. Jane and Charles had developed a great fondness for dancing while Darcy and Elizabeth preferred a more tranquil setting.

Saturday, they spent the entire day together. Darcy went for Elizabeth mid morning, and they agreed to go to Whipsnade Animal Park. For the first time since the beginning of their relationship, they were just themselves, totally relaxed and completely at ease with the other. He let go of his reserve, she left behind her nervousness around him and though they never talked about their future, after this incredible day, they somehow sensed they had one, together.

But things changed a bit on the way back. Darcy had turned pensive and silent. Elizabeth knew very well that he wasn't talkative, she was learning to understand him, but after so much closeness during the day, his sudden detachment puzzled her. He looked pensive or perhaps he was just tired? The day had been long and full of emotions. The best day they spent together so far. A smiled formed on her lips as she recalled when he sat her on his lap as she ate her second hot dog. He said some wicked silliness in her ear and then tickled her and she started giggling so hard that she almost choked on her food. Oh God how she loved him!

It was at that precise moment when she realized that she loved him. Yes, she loved him and suddenly she felt overwhelmed by this knowledge. Until now, she had been infatuated, obsessed, crazy about him; but now, she was in love, absolutely and madly in love with him. And that made her feel scared because she wasn't sure of what he felt. He had told her she was beautiful, that he was crazy about her, that he cared for her, but he never told her that he loved her. She couldn't expect him to declare it after dating for two weeks, but knowing that she loved him so intensely and not being sure of what he truly felt scared her to death.

"Tired?" he glanced in her direction and caught her looking at him. Her legs were curled under her body and her head resting on the back of the seat. His chest was full of love for this woman.

She nodded and smiled.

"Come here." Darcy removed one hand from the wheel and raised his arm, so Elizabeth could snuggle under it. He kissed her hair and held her until they reached her house.

Once at Longbourn, Darcy parked the car in front of her house. As always, they remained there, saying their good nights, exchanging some very tender kisses until the cold inside the car told them it was time to leave. This time wasn't different. After turning the engine off, he leaned in to kiss her.

The kiss began soft, then grew in intensity, but with that usual gentleness that always left her wanting more. Elizabeth knew he could be more passionate. He had given her some glimpses of this before, little samples of something she knew he was holding back; that he had never let go completely. But now they were in the privacy of the car and she couldn't understand what was keeping him from releasing them. She wanted to savour his passion and feel his desire for her. But no, he continued with his sweet torture that made her burn with lust until he pulled back just enough to look into her eyes. And it was then that he said it.

"I love you, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth was too dumbfounded to respond. Her heart was pounding loudly while his words echoed in her head. She couldn't utter a word and stared at him, eyes wide, as he recaptured her lips for another deliciously tender kiss.

"Come, I'll walk you to the door." he stroked her cheek.

The only thing she could do was to nod at him. As if floating on air, she walked beside him, with his arm around her shoulder, until they reached the door. He loved her. William Darcy loved her. He loved her. She still couldn't believe it. She was about to open the door when he took her hand and turned her to him.

"Just one more thing."

He took her face in both his hands. For a second, he looked at her, at her lovely and surprised face that he absolutely adored, loving her even more for being fresh, so transparent. Yes, there was one more thing he wanted to do and he would not leave without doing it.

The darkness in his eyes was one she had never seen. Elizabeth's heart was fluttering and her stomach shrinking when he stepped closer and leaned down. Oh dear, and he kissed her. Long, deep, slow, enveloping her trembling body in his powerful embrace, holding her against him, searching and finding, tasting her completely until he consumed everything she had to give.

She thought she was about to faint until she remembered how to breathe. She was so acutely aware of him and his mouth and his body that she thought the world didn't exist beyond him and this kiss. Her body was reacting violently to his touch, tingling and trembling and she could only cling to him and try to respond with all the passion she had. This was the love kiss she didn't know that existed, the kiss that he had been holding back and that, in the little frame of mind she still possessed, she was grateful that he waited until now to give.

"Good night." He parted from a very flushed and breathless Elizabeth.

Smiling at her still astonished face, he opened the door for her and turned her around, gently pushing her inside the house and closing the door behind her. Like a zombie, she crossed the hall, climbed the stairs, passing in front of her family without saying a word until she reached her room.

"What happened to that girl?" Fanny Bennet asked from the sofa.

Thomas Bennet raised an eyebrow from behind his newspaper. "She went on a date with William Darcy."

Chapter 34

"Lizzy," Thomas called his daughter, "would you come here for a second? I need to talk to you."

"Yes dad." She followed him into his study.

Thomas closed the door behind her and sat in his armchair, asking her to sit in a chair close to him. "You are doing a very good job with the horses, Elizabeth; I am very proud of you."

"Thank you, Dad." Elizabeth studied him. She doubted that he had asked her to come here to talk about her work at Longbourn.

"You and this Darcy fellow are seeing each other a lot lately, aren't you?"

So this was the matter her father wanted to discuss. "Yes, Dad, we are."

"Lizzy." Thomas suddenly felt very old and very foolish, talking to his twenty-one year old daughter about her boyfriend. "I always thought you were a very clever girl, very wise for someone your age."

Elizabeth nodded. For her father's countenance, she was sure she would like to hear what followed.

"But I also know that sometimes, girls are impressed by things such as mobile phones and expensive cars; I know it's not your case ...anyway," he cleared his throat, "I don't think this man is appropriate for you."

Elizabeth felt her heart breaking. "Dad, you don't know him. He ..."

"Sweetheart, listen to me. This man belongs to a different world. He is rich, he is part of a group of privileged people that moves in circles where you will never fit in. I don't want you to get hurt, I don't want him toying with your feelings or using you as entertainment."

Tears began to fill Elizabeth's eyes. "You are completely wrong about him, Dad; he is doing nothing of the kind, he loves me."

Thomas saw her grief but he had to talk to her before it was too late. "He loves you; that's what he says. But what does he think about your family? I noticed he never comes into the house, that he never speaks to us. He picks you up and takes you to God knows where."

"Dad, you are misjudging him, you don't have any idea of what sort of man William is."

He noticed the courage in his daughter's eyes but that didn't stop him. "Or perhaps it's you who are ashamed of us? I know we are not perfect, Lizzy, but we are your family."

"You are completely wrong. I am not ..."

"Perhaps you are afraid that he would find out that you are the daughter of a gambler. Or are you planning not to tell him about that at all?"

Elizabeth was indignant by her father's words. "William already knows about what happened if that is your concern."

Thomas sat back on his seat and looked at Elizabeth with astonished eyes. "He knows?"

"Yes. He learned about that a long time ago." She was angry, very angry and when Elizabeth became this angry, she never measured the impact that her words would have on the recipient. "And for your information, William was the one who paid George, not Uncle Joe. The day George took Liddy away, I was at William's house. And do you know what he did?" Thomas could only shake his head. "He went after George; he found him, dealt with some Mob chief and paid your debt. He even hired the trailer that brought Liddy back home."

Her father's speechlessness encouraged to go on. "And if he is not coming in, it's because I don't ask him in, and do you know why?" Elizabeth didn't wait for an answer. "Because he is driving two hours down from Derbyshire only to see me a for couple of hours and then goes back, and I wouldn't even think of losing those precious moments sharing him with anyone else. If that's not proof enough of his affection, I don't know what is."

Thomas had learned many hard lessons in these past months, but this was the toughest one. "I'm sorry, Lizzy, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

Elizabeth realized she had been too harsh with him but she just couldn't hold back and allow him to abuse the man she loved. "It's all right, Dad, I was carried away. You were only concerned about me. Forget about it."

He saw his daughter look down and chew her lip. "Come here," he patted his knee. Elizabeth moved her chair closer. "I'm really sorry, I never meant to say those things but I don't want to see you hurt, that's all."

"It's all right." She sniffed.

"You really love him, don't you?" Thomas smiled.

"Yes."

He dried her cheek with his thumb. "From what I've seen, he seems very much in love with you too. A very decided man, very patient if he has to deal with this temper of yours."

She smiled faintly.

Thomas knew that the next question would embarrass her but he preferred to ask this now before it was too late. "Lizzy, I know you are a very responsible girl but you haven't had a boyfriend since school and you are seeing a grown up man and well, I hope you are taking care of the ... details."

Elizabeth flushed instantly. Her father was asking her if she was using protection with a man she had not even slept with. "Dad, I ... we ... you don't have to worry about that."

"I'm glad to hear it. Forgive me, but after what happened to Kitty, I just wanted to be sure that you won't make the same mistake."

"I will not." She looked down.

"When is he coming to see you?"

"Friday. He is competing in Lincoln and he won't be able to come until after the show."

"Lincoln's Derby?"

Elizabeth nodded. "Both in field trials and showjumping."

"That's nationally ranked. Perhaps we'll be able to see him on TV."

"Yes, perhaps. But I don't think they'll transmit it live."

Thomas smiled. "Why don't you invite him to dine with us? I think it's time we all get better acquainted with this Mr. Darcy of yours."

Elizabeth beamed. "I'll call him. I'm sure he'll like it."

"Come, kiss your father." he pointed at his cheek.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly.

"Lizzy," he called to her before she left, "tell Jane to invite Charles, too. Your mother will be more entertained with two boyfriends at the table. That way she'll divide her attention and there are less chances that she scares any of them off. But seeing how this young man looks at you, I know that not even Fanny Bennet would be able to do that."

"All right."

Thomas observed his daughter walk out of the room and sighed heavily. His little girl was a grown up and soon this man would take her away. No, he already had.

~ * ~

The uneasiness that Darcy was feeling in the pit of his stomach increased with every mile he drove towards Longbourn. Being the formal and structured man he was, he knew that dining with Elizabeth's family was a big step for them. It meant that he was accepted into the house that their relationship was now 'official' and that, from now on, he would have to share many moments with people that he had once slighted.

He had been dating Elizabeth for only two weeks now and he never thought that they would become this close in such a short time. He loved her, and though he had not heard her say that she loved him, there was no doubt that she had strong feelings for him, too. That made him feel confident and happy but he somehow sensed that the family issue was still a dark shadow between them. Elizabeth's family was very important to her and the fact that she had only invited him in once worried him enough as to make him think that she still may have a certain reserve about his conduct. This only made him feel even more ashamed of the comments he made about them in the past and for hurting the woman he loved in such a cruel way.

"You are deadly serious tonight, Darcy; scared of the old man?" Charles asked him from the passenger seat.

"Charles, you may be used to arriving half an hour late for an invitation to dinner but that's not my style," he replied dryly.

Bingley chuckled; this was really a novelty. His friend was nervous. "Come on, William, this is not the Olympics, it's just the first dinner with your girlfriend's family. Nothing to be worried about. I've been in this situation dozens of times."

"Dozens?" Darcy looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"All right, not dozens, but a couple of times. It's odd but it seems that I am the kind of man that girls introduce to their parents on the second date. Don't worry, nothing serious will happen. Just eat what you are served and tell Fanny it's delicious, even if it's the worst crap that you have ever tasted in your life. That will make everyone happy."

"Eat and praise. I'll keep that in mind." He smiled at his friend.

"Relax, Will. They are very nice people. Mary is kind of weird, Fanny can be a little tactless sometimes but she cooks really well, so just enjoy it."

Darcy took a deep breath and tried to calm down.

~ * ~

If Darcy was nervous, Elizabeth was hysterical. She wanted everything to be perfect, to show him that her family could behave, but it seemed that today they were not at all conspiring to prove exactly the contrary. The house was in chaos. While she tried to fix her hair in the way Jane suggested, she could hear Kitty and Phil arguing about some nonsense, Mary complaining because of the noise and Fanny crying over the dessert. She prayed that at least her father had some sense and behaved in front of Darcy.

There was another reason for Elizabeth's nervousness, one that was more important than anything else. She had not seen Darcy since he told her that he loved her, five days, nineteen hours and thirty five minutes ago and she was still cursing herself for being incapable of answering him. The man was surely thinking that she was some kind of idiot who had never been kissed in her life. At least she was able to say something accordingly the other night when he phoned her. He called the night after the show and made a wicked comment about both being in bed. Something about cuddling or snuggling or being well covered or that he would like to uncover her or whatever that she wasn't able to hear clearly because she was blushing inside her ears. At least she answered something she didn't remember (she was quite light-headed at the time) but that made him laugh. Anyway, this would not happen again. Tonight she would show him who Elizabeth Bennet was (an idiot who had never been kissed in her life).

The door-bell rang and she almost jumped out of her skin. She dropped the hair dryer, and slid her feet inside her shoes. She checked herself in the mirror one more time before leaving. Two seconds later she came back for her earrings.

When she entered the hall, she saw Darcy standing with her father, Phil, Kitty and her mother, all of them looking at a box that Kitty was opening. Darcy brought a present for her pregnant sister. Elizabeth sighed. She loved him.

"Lizzy!" Fanny interrupted her dreamy observation of her handsome boyfriend. "Come, look what William brought! One of those things you use to listen to the baby from another room, what is it called?"

"Baby monitor." Kitty replied. "Thank you so much, William."

"You are welcome." he smiled at Kitty and looked up at Elizabeth. Their eyes met and suddenly nervousness, anxiety and everything else dissolved with the sight of his loving smile.

Elizabeth walked to him and put her arm around his waist as he kissed her cheek. "Hi."

"Hi." He rubbed her back, his eyes twinkling in happiness.

They moved to the living room and Elizabeth felt her entire body tingling with the 'you are looking beautiful' he whispered in her ear.

~ * ~

Note: The sitting arrangement at dinner is the following
On each end of the table: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
To Mrs. Bennet's right: Mary, Charles and Jane.
To Mrs. Bennet's left: Kitty, Phil, Darcy and Elizabeth.

Fanny Bennet had many flaws but she knew how to entertain her guests. Three absolutely delicious courses, exquisite wine, and a well set table. Even Darcy said that the turkey was remarkably well cooked.

With four riders, a trainer, an apprentice and a vet at the table, the conversation was mostly about horses, jumping and training techniques, and some very funny anecdotes about falls and shows. Darcy and Charles talked some about their experience in Brussels and, under Kitty's insistence, Darcy told them how they filmed the commercial. Thomas compared the professionalism of the showjumping world of today to the old times, which led to an explanation about sponsorships and contracts. Jane mentioned her intention to improve her knowledge about horse orthopaedics and Charles immediately offered to get her in contact with the top veterinarian, Winston Durham, who not only attended his horses and Pemberley's, but was an eminence in equine sport injuries.

If Elizabeth adored her man until this day, her feelings were going beyond now. Though Darcy was not one to overflow with mirth, she could tell that he was comfortable, he smiled a lot and if he was bothered by some of her mother's silly remarks, nobody noticed it.

"William," Fanny addressed him, "is all your family involved in the horse business?"

"On the Fitzwilliam side, most of them. Matlock and Pemberley stables are associated and we also work together with Rosings in the breeding program. As for the Darcys, I have a cousin who is a professional polo player, but the rest of them have nothing to do with this industry, at least not professionally," was Darcy's response.

Mrs. Bennet's antennas perked up. "Rosings stables, in Kent?"

"Yes, my Aunt Catherine owns them."

"Lady Catherine de Bourgh is your aunt?"

"Yes."

Fanny's eyes went from Darcy to Elizabeth. "Lizzy worked there in August."

Elizabeth sank in her chair. As for Darcy, he looked as if nothing had happened. "I know, I was there too."

"Lizzy, you didn't tell us you saw William there." Fanny addressed her daughter.

"No? I thought I did." Elizabeth said quietly. She exchanged glances with Jane.

"I see." A knowing smile grew slowly in Fanny's lips. "I bet that it was there where your relationship blossomed."

Elizabeth took her glass and drank a long gulp of wine.

But Darcy did answer that. "It didn't exactly blossom at Rosings but it was the foundation of what we have now."

Fortunately, Fanny returned to the previous topic, well, perhaps not exactly to that one but she used it as a platform for the next one.

"It is really boring when all the family is involved in the same business. Horses are everything I hear in this house but fortunately Mary has a different vocation."

Elizabeth looked at her mother. She wouldn't say that being the cashier of a grocery store was exactly a 'vocation'. Oh no, she was referring her >other vocation.

Fanny continued, proud as a peacock. "Did you know she is a writer?" Her question was directed to the top riders of the Midlands, who were sitting on opposite sides of the table.

Darcy's eyes went from Mary to Charles, who looked at Jane, who raised her eyebrows at Elizabeth who bit her lip and looked down. Kitty giggled and Phil kicked her under the table. Thomas observed the whole scene with a patient smile. No one said a word except for Mary.

"Oh, Mother, I am not a writer." Mary tried for her most modest face, though she looked exceedingly proud of herself. "I haven't written anything serious yet. Just trying."

Having noticed the others' reactions, Darcy preferred not to ask more about the subject. Though he knew that it wouldn't be polite to ignore that comment, especially when Mary looked so anxious to discuss it. He mumbled a 'really?' and returned to his meal.

"Oh yes," Charles interjected, "science fiction, Jane told me." Then he made a slight jolt in his seat when Jane pinched his leg under the table. He turned to her and mouthed a 'what?' that produced a fulminating glare from his girlfriend.

"Well," Mary continued, "as Charles said, William, I am writing a science fiction novel. I am still struggling to find the appropriate title."

The silence at the table was deafening. Darcy didn't have a clue of what was going on and didn't dare to ask. But as he was being addressed directly, he couldn't be rude and pretend that he didn't hear the comment. He had to say something.

"I can well imagine."

"You don't know how difficult it is." Mary rolled her eyes dramatically. "The creative instant is so ephemeral."

Kitty snorted very ungraciously.

Darcy didn't answer and returned to his meal after a brief smile. From the corner of his eye he could see Elizabeth chewing her lip.

But Mary insisted. "Perhaps you and Charles can help me. After all, you two have seen the world."

The gentlemen exchanged looks, the girls paled. Mary was asking for advice for her (erotic) science fiction novel.

"I think that titling a story is a very personal experience, I ..." Charles hurried to answer.

"Yes," Darcy quickly added, "I am not a science fiction reader. My only experience on the matter is from my childhood, when I watched Star Trek on TV, so I don't think I can be of much help."

It seems that he said the magical words, because, on hearing her favourite series mentioned, Mary brightened and focused her attention on him. Thomas silenced his chuckle behind the napkin.

Elizabeth eyes widened. "Mary, I don't think you should ..."

But Mary was already giving him a brief recount of the plot. Kitty and Phil were giggling and Fanny, chin resting on her fist, was following it with interest. As for Darcy, he listened to the ridiculous tale with his usual expressionless face.

"That's ... interesting," Darcy said once she finished. He glanced at Charles, who just couldn't look up.

"Do you think so?" Mary asked hopefully.

This was the oddest situation he had faced in his life. What to say without being offensive? "Yes, quite interesting."

"I thought of 'Invasion of Epsylon 7' as a title, what do you think?"

"Well ..." Darcy sat back on his chair. That made even less sense than the story itself. He thought for a while and an idea came to his head. He just prayed that he didn't sound stupid. "I think is fine, but, what do you think of 'The conquest ..."

Oh no, Elizabeth thought, not the black holes.

" ... of the seventh moon'?" finished Darcy.

Mary's eyes brightened in excitement and blinked quickly, many, many times. It was perfect.

Elizabeth turned to her boyfriend in astonishment. This man was like a Mary Poppins' bag. She never knew what would come out of it. Darcy looked at her and shrugged.

"But Org is a planet," Kitty complained.

"I can change it." Mary replied dismissingly. There was someone at this table who understood what art was. "I suppose you don't happen to have contacts with publishing companies or ..."

At this point, Elizabeth was beyond embarrassment. She looked at her father with pleading eyes. Thomas only smiled and patted her hand.

"I fear I don't," Darcy said evenly, "but I'm sure you'll find some very good sites on the Internet where you would be able to discuss and even publish your story."

The look in Mary's eyes could be described as adoration, admiration, love, lust, worshiping, veneration, whatever. Fortunately, and before she could say anything else, Fanny asked her to help her with the dessert. As soon as they were out of sight (and hearing) Thomas said to Darcy.

"Young man, your self control is admirable."

"Thank you sir, though I never thought I would need it so badly tonight." Or with the wrong daughter.

They all erupted in laughter

~ * ~

Thank God the evening ended without another literary discussion. After dinner, they all moved to the living room, Mary took her leave (fortunately), Kitty was tired and went to bed, so the remaining family conversed until the guests announced their departure. They thanked their hosts and the girls accompanied their boyfriends to Darcy's car.

Darcy was very satisfied with the outcome of the evening. In spite of the novel discussion and some of Fanny's remarks, he did enjoy himself tonight. He was in very high spirits when he left and just to know that he would be able to stay the whole week in London, so close to Elizabeth, made him feel even happier.

Elizabeth put her arm around Darcy's waist as he embraced her shoulder. "Did you have a good time?"

"Yes." He hugged her tightly against him. "Very agreeable."

They stopped by his door and Elizabeth slid her arms around his waist, under his jacket. "I think I was going to die when Mary mentioned her novel. I sincerely don't know how you managed to remain serious."

"Years of practice," he grinned, "I can't deny that she is very creative. I would never be able to come up with something so ludicrous."

"I liked the title you suggested, I didn't know you had this hidden talent." She smiled up at him.

Darcy rested his back on the car and brought Elizabeth along with him so she was leaning on his chest. His hands were moving up and down her back, getting lower every time, and came to rest just above her bottom.

"I have many hidden talents." he whispered before kissing her lips.

Elizabeth sighed at her boyfriend's newly developed liveliness. He was being wicked, seductive, and she just adored him for this unexpected but welcomed change. Her own reply surprised her.

"I am anxious to discover them."

If it weren't for Charles and Jane making out not far away, Darcy would have shown her one of his hidden talents but he preferred to wait for a more appropriate occasion. "You will, I assure you."

Elizabeth smiled impertinently. It would be better to stop this before it went out of hand, but she couldn't help saying, "If they are as good as your titling abilities ..."

Darcy's hand was now cupping her butt, gently pressing her to him. His voice was hoarse in her ear when he spoke. "I'll show you some other time."

Suddenly, Elizabeth felt uncomfortable with this game. She liked this, but it was going too fast for her. They were in view of the house, she was leaning on him and, well, she just wasn't comfortable with this. But also, she didn't want to ruin this delicious intimacy that was growing between them so she didn't extract herself from his embrace. She only separated her hips from his and smiled tensely at him before looking away.

Darcy immediately noticed her discomfort and realized that his forwardness had gone too far. She was right, this was not the right place or time for this. He moved his hands up to her shoulders, giving her the space she needed. He raised her chin and smoothed her hair behind her ear. Elizabeth returned his smile, grateful that he wasn't upset with her physical reticence.

"Surely you can find better titles than I," she said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Well," he was happy that he didn't lose her trust, and continued with renewed playfulness, "at least I came out with something better than 'Spaceshafts'."

She pushed herself out of his embrace. "How do you know about that?"

"I'll see you tomorrow." he laughed.

He gave her another good-bye kiss, church tongue(*) this time, and told Charles to un-glue himself from Jane's mouth. In only a minute, they were on the way to London.

(*) I borrowed this from The Wedding Singer.

Chapter 35

Elizabeth was anxiously waiting for Darcy to arrive. He had called her that same morning, saying that he was delayed in London picking up something and that he would not be able to be there after lunch as promised but that he would make it before tea time to help her with Liddy. She was conversing with Phil and her father near the training pen when a shiny, brand new Mercedes-Benz, CLK Class, in the colour of a ripe cherry entered Longbourn. It could only be Darcy, only that that wasn't his car.

As she expected, it was Darcy who emerged from the car. She walked to him and, without even saying hello, she asked,

"What's this?"

"A car." he kissed her cheek but she didn't even notice it.

"Wow, William, it's amazing." Phil was already there, staring at the car with fascinated eyes.

"Thank you, Phil." Darcy left the driver's door open and gestured to him to sit inside the car, something that Phil did immediately.

"I's new!" So this was the 'something' he was going to pick up? A new car? And he didn't tell her?

"I know," he smiled. He then turned to Thomas and shook his hand. "Mr. Bennet."

"Well, son, you certainly know how to travel in style," said Thomas.

"Thank you, sir."

"But your other car was new!" cried Elizabeth.

"Yes," he replied calmly.

"Then why are you driving this one?" she asked.

"I liked the colour." he glanced at the car. "Much livelier than the other one."

"You bought it just because you liked the colour?" For some reason, Elizabeth was becoming indignant. No one bought a car that surely cost a fortune just because he liked the colour. That was snobbish, presumptuous, and so out of her reach.

"I didn't buy it." he grinned. He loved it when she did this.

Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. She hated it when he did this. "No? Then what are you doing with this car?"

"They gave it to me."

"Oh, really?" she calmed down a little, "someone gave you a car, just like that. May I ask who?"

"Mercedes-Benz."

His sponsor. At that moment, she recalled that phrase in the magazine.

'... and recently renewed his sponsorship with Mercedes-Benz in what is considered the highest contract ever signed in the equestrian world.'

God, she was stupid, and quarrelsome, and he was the most patient, considerate, gorgeous man in the world.

She bit her lip and smiled while running her hand over the shiny car. "It's very nice. The colour suits you."

Darcy lamented that her father was right there beside them, because he would have loved to kiss that remorseful pout away. "Thank you."

And then, recalling the conversation of their first date, she bent to look inside the car. "I suppose that you know what that light is for."

"I don't have the slightest idea."

~ * ~

Darcy was not only respected in the show jumping circle because of his skills as a rider or his knowledge as a breeder. He was also known as good observer and an excellent trainer. The chemistry he had with the horses was incredible. He could not only tell if a horse was good or bad with just a quick look but he could detect very easily when something was wrong and what was causing it and, most of all, how to correct it. Years of experience and his sharp eye had given him this talent.

It was not uncommon that top trainers would ask the advice of top riders. If they wanted to produce horses able to compete at national and international levels, they would work together with a premium rider if they wanted to obtain the best results. Darcy's knowledge and experience in competition was vast and he didn't have any problem in sharing it. He had helped trainers in the past -he was still doing it with certain frequency- and he was absolutely delighted to be helping Elizabeth now.

Liddy had improved since their last practice and finding out what was wrong with her took him only a few minutes. In her enthusiasm to take her mare to the competing ring (and perhaps, under some pressure from her parents), Elizabeth had moved too fast with her. This was very understandable in her case; she was good but she was young and inexperienced in the training field and her own expertise in shows was very limited. One thing that horses need to learn before stepping into the ring is how to behave because once a vice was installed, it took months to be corrected. The other important thing is that they must enjoy what they are doing. And neither was occurring with Liddy. Jumping, competing, travelling, all needs a certain attitude to be done successfully. Horse and rider should build a partnership, be a team. It's a matter discipline, of trust, of maturity to understand what is happening and to be able to overcome the difficulties of the trial.

As much as Elizabeth didn't like it or considered it boring, she would have to go back in the manual and thoroughly teach her mare some manners, because Liddy had developed quite an attitude at this point. Her reactions were unpredictable and therefore she had turned unreliable, even dangerous, for herself and for Elizabeth. Liddy should also learn that this could be fun too, so they returned to the basic movements. No haste, just discipline. Each step forward would be taken at the appropriate time.

"That was good, Elizabeth, enough for today," Darcy told her. "Walk her around the arena. Loose reins. Let her relax."

Elizabeth doubted but did as she was told. As if by miracle, Liddy didn't use the lack of pressure on her bit to rebel from Elizabeth's command. She lowered her head and walked around the arena with long, relaxed steps.

"I saw you doing this with Tuareg. I never thought it would work with her." Elizabeth was amazed by her mare's response. How did he manage to do it? "Do you think I'll be able to jump her on the following class?"

"One step at the time, I told you." he smiled, waving his hand, asking her to bring the mare out of the arena.

"You sound like Jane," Elizabeth protested.

Darcy raised his eyebrow. "Jane?"

"Never mind." Elizabeth descended the horse and they walked together towards the stables. This was a very good practice, so she couldn't complain about the outcome.

"I'll take care of her." Phil came running to attend the mare. To Elizabeth's annoyance, he looked at Darcy for instructions.

Noticing it, Darcy raised his eyebrows at her in inquiry. Elizabeth gave her brother-in-law a fulminating glare before telling him to rinse Liddy's legs and tie her up until she dried.

"It's good to go back to the riding lessons," Elizabeth told Darcy as they walked into the saddle room, "I think I learned more in these two practices than I had in the couple of years I've been training horses."

"We all need to learn, Elizabeth. Sometimes we are so immersed in what we are doing that we don't realize what we're doing wrong. I take classes twice a month."

"You?" she hung the bridle.

"With Colonel Forster. There is always something we must fix. We usually work in correcting bad habits that Tuareg and I develop with time. Even Sam points out when I'm doing something wrong .And that happens more often than you think. Problems are much easier to detect when you look from the outside."

"I guess you are right. I remember when you were practicing at Netherfield. You were all so professional. I loved to watch you, how you worked so consciously, how you listened so carefully to what the Colonel told you."

He scratched the back of his head, "I recall that time very well. There were times when I found it particularly difficult to concentrate."

She arched an amused eyebrow. "Why?"

Darcy walked closer to her and placed his hands on her waist. "Well ... you were a major distraction at the time."

"Really?" she smiled proudly.

"Yes."

"Prey tell me, in which way did I manage to distract you?" she grinned as he lowered his head to kiss her neck.

His thoughts were too improper to be voiced aloud. His reply, though, had an obviously wicked connotation. "Ah ... I would rather not tell you."

When she caught the implications of that answer, she gasped aloud and poked him in the ribs, very hard. Darcy laughed and stepped back to avoid her but she was faster and in the struggle to escape her second poking (just because he laughed), he stumbled and fell back over the pile of hay that was behind him, dragging Elizabeth over him.

They both giggled at the situation but neither of them moved, too comfortable with the position in which they now were in to change it.

"Now that I know your weak point I will use it to my advantage." she smiled down at him.

Darcy took Elizabeth's face in his hands and lowered it to his. "You are my weak point, Elizabeth," he whispered before kissing her.

The kiss he gave her began gentle and soft, but soon increased in passion. Slowly, he rolled her onto her back and deepened the kiss as she parted her lips under his. His hand left her face and almost feathery, travelled down her body until it rested on her waist. She was exquisitely sweet and warm, so deliciously soft that he wanted to lose himself in her.

Elizabeth had never felt this way in her life. "Oh, William," she sighed under his lips, "I love you so much."

Darcy raised his head and looked at her. He knew that she cared for him but to hear her say that she loved him, it was all he had ever wished for. He kissed her again, this time more hungrily, unleashing sentiments that had been repressed for too long.

But what Darcy didn't know was that Elizabeth, while actively responsive to his advances, was becoming increasingly nervous with them. Her experience with the opposite sex was not as vast as he would imagine and this intimacy was unsettling her. And when Elizabeth Bennet was nervous, she babbled. She managed to control herself when he rested his leg over hers and released a soft gasp when he slid his hand inside her shirt. But when he started to draw circles around her navel, she couldn't hold back anymore.

"I've never loved anyone before, no one." She said under her breath. His leg was moving sensuously up and down hers and his lips, now nibbling her earlobe were making her crazy. "I never had a real boyfriend, not like this."

"Never?" he murmured smilingly against the tender skin of her throat. God, she was delicious.

"Never," she managed before inhaling sharply. Oh God, his hand was moving upwards!

"No?" he traced the lower contour of her breast. His knee pushed hers apart and his leg came to rest in between hers.

"N-no."

Elizabeth's nervousness was now growing exponentially. The pressure of his thigh against her hip, his fingertips teasing her nipple, his lips burning her skin, it was an explosive combination. She was hot and cold and so bloody nervous that she continued to talk, revealing things that perhaps she wasn't ready to tell him, and that, perhaps, he wasn't ready to hear. "No one has ever made me feel this way, no one has touched me like this ..."

"No one?" he was flattered and proud and so completely pleased with the knowledge.

"No, never, I ... you ... I ... I never ..." She arched her neck back and gave in to his caresses.

Darcy was rejoicing himself with the soft, velvety and deliciously supple skin of her breast when he processed the last piece of information. She said that she never had a real boyfriend, that he was the first one to reach this far. So, if he was the was the first one to do all these almost innocent things -for heaven's sake, he had not even leaned his hips on hers yet-, that could only mean that no one had ventured further on, leading him to the astonishing conclusion that she was a ...

He stopped in his tracks and raised his head, his forehead wrinkling as he examined her face. Hundreds of images came to his mind: her expression at Hunsford when he asked her to accompany to a hotel, her reaction to his double intended comments, her uneasiness on the previous night, her adorably flushed expression right now. Everything confirmed it. Good God, she was.

Darcy removed his hand from its present location and his leg from in between hers. As for his eyes, they just reflected how surprised he was.

"Elizabeth," was the only thing he could say.

By now, Elizabeth had realized everything she had said and knew to which conclusion he had arrived. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable and very, very silly. She had planned to tell him when the appropriate time came, probably when the sex matter was suggested or became imminent but to have him discovering it like this, without even telling him, it was, well, embarrassing.

Elizabeth sat up and attempted to stand when a strong arm circled her waist and pulled her onto her back again.

"You," he cupped her cheek and spoke seriously, looking directly into her eyes, "are the most wonderful, incredible and unique woman in the world. I love you."

Her tense mouth relaxed into a smile. "I love you, too."

He hugged her tightly and kissed her forehead, her nose and her lips before releasing her and pulling her up to her feet. Smilingly, they removed the hay from their clothes and walked towards to the house.

~ * ~

Elizabeth sat on her bed that night and embraced her legs. She was still amazed by how Darcy reacted to the news. As her embarrassment about the situation dissipated, she began to value him even more for his qualities. The way he handled the situation was simply wonderful. He made her feel comfortable, giving her the time she needed to get used to him, but most of all, she was grateful that he was taking things slowly. That spoke of his sensibility and respect for her. Could this be the same man that almost attacked her in August? She smiled. He was.

Her thoughts drifted to the events of this afternoon. Smiling, she recalled when she fixed him a coffee in the kitchen before he departed for London. She was waiting for the water to boil, with her back to him, feeling so embarrassed that she couldn't even look at him. And he just stood there, leaning against the counter, with his arms crossed over his chest, observing her with that gorgeous, super sexy half smile of his. He made her so nervous, looking at her with those intense eyes, knowing she was a virgin that she wanted to punch him. And she did, on his arm. Not too hard, but she punched him. And what did he do? He laughed; soft, light, sexy chuckles. Did she say sexy again? He held her face in his hands, kissed her forehead and embraced her. He embraced her and rubbed her back until she wasn't embarrassed any more. Then he kissed her, passionately enough to show her that he wasn't intimidated by her innocence or her obvious discomfort that he knew about it. And that, that made her feel that everything was all right.

The kettle boiled, a hungry Phil came in, and the three of them conversed in the kitchen until Darcy left.

All this made her think about what she really wanted in life. Her career came first, if they accepted her in any of the universities she applied to, but she also knew that she wanted him. If she remained chaste until this age, and not because of lack of propositions or advances, it was because she didn't want to be with someone she didn't really love. And she loved William Darcy, more than she ever thought she would. But everything was happening too fast for her. It scared her. Darcy had the ability, the power to make her speechless, to melt her with just a look or make her shudder with a caress. She knew she wanted him to be the first, the only one; but she didn't know if she was ready to take that step right now.

Tired, she slipped into bed and closed her eyes, falling asleep with the memories of his tender lips.

~ * ~

Darcy drove pensively all the way to his flat in London. Elizabeth was a virgin. This was really unexpected. In all his previous relationships, if he could call them that, he didn't have to worry about the sex issue. He was used to dating experienced women, girls that didn't have any problem -in fact, they were willing- to take him to bed right away. He had to admit that he was surprised and more than pleased with this situation.

Elizabeth was everything he expected and wanted in a woman. Lovely, smart, beautiful, brave, charming, sexy, strong, and so incredibly alive that she had knocked him off his senses. He loved her. He had been in love with her for longer than he could remember. He wanted all of her: he wanted to marry her, and he wanted to be with this ... young woman for the rest of his life. But, how was he going to deal with this sex matter?

As much as he wanted to have a complete relationship with her, he sensed that he couldn't have everything now. Emotionally, they were getting closer every day but physically, things weren't progressing at the same pace. It was obvious that Elizabeth was not ready to have sex with him. Perhaps she didn't know him well enough to take that step. Anyway, he didn't want a girlfriend with whom he could sleep with every time they saw each other. Elizabeth's virtue was too important for him to just take it and then go home and wait till the next weekend. He wanted more than that and Elizabeth wasn't ready for that either.

Marrying a virgin was the dream, the fantasy of every old fashioned man. Darcy was undoubtedly old fashioned. Being her boyfriend under these circumstances would be a hard test for his self-control but he knew he was up to it. The fact that Elizabeth was temptation embodied didn't help much but he was proud that he was given the chance to assume such a responsibility and honored for finding a woman such as her.

Darcy smiled in the darkness. He fell in love with a 21 year old virgin.

chapter 36

Darcy was about to cross Fenchurch Street when his mobile rang. He grinned as he checked the caller ID. It was Elizabeth.

"Hi, love." He smiled.

"Hello, where are you?" She could hear the noises coming from the street on the mobile.

"On my way to a meeting with executives from Mercedes. We are analyzing the possibility to compete at the Johannesburg Horse Trial."

Elizabeth gulped. Major event. A circuit of 7 shows in 10 days; show jumping, cross country and field trials. This was as important as the World Championship. "It's an incredible show."

"I know, but it would be a long trip for the horses. There are four other British riders that are interesting in attending, plus Charles and I would make six, enough to rent a private airplane for us and the horses and to form a solid team. My only concern is how Tuareg and Sonata will react to the trip by plane, I will have to stay away for two weeks and ..." ...I would miss you terribly, he said to himself.

"I think you should go." Oh, God, I will miss you terribly.

"Yes, I know. Let's see what comes out from this meeting. It will all depend on what the sponsors have to offer. The expenses are astronomic, the plane alone costs ..."

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows when she heard the sound of tires screeching. Someone cursed. "Will?" she asked, alarmed, "William? Are you all right?" She heard Darcy clearly mutter a 'bloody bastard' before speaking to her again.

"Where was I?"

"What happened?"

"Nothing, I crossed with a red light. The idiot almost ran over me." He smiled guiltily.

"Then, must I suppose that I am distracting you again, Mr. Darcy?"

"You are much more than a distraction, Miss Bennet."

She smiled broadly. "I don't want you to get killed for talking to me. Anyway I didn't call you for that."

"And why did you call?" This time he stopped when he reached the other end of the street and turned his attention to her completely.

"Jane found an apartment to rent. She just signed the lease and she wants to paint it before moving; do you want to come and help us?"

"Sure, when?"

"Tomorrow. Charles is coming too."

"You can count me in. Charles is useless in a house. I'll see if I have any tools at my flat, in case we need to repair something."

"And do you know how to use them?" she asked impertinently. It was very difficult to imagine the top rider of the Midlands Equestrian team with a spanner in his hand.

He chuckled. "Elizabeth, Charles is the lawyer. I didn't study engineering just because my father asked. I did it because I like it."

Could she be any sillier? He had told her that he studied that, he even told her that he liked to fix things. "Are you coming today?"

"I'm sorry, I can't. I must dine with Annie, Max and Richard because of this trip. I'll come for you tomorrow morning and then we will go to Jane's. Is that all right?"

"So you are going to Johannesburg, then." she regretted her tone as soon as the words came out of her mouth.

Darcy could almost see her pouting on the other end. "I think I will."

"All right," Elizabeth exhaled dramatically. She could hear him chuckling on the other end, "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good bye, my love." he smiled.

"Bye."

~ * ~

Elizabeth rose early on the following morning. Together with Jane and her mother, they rummaged in the attic and closets for things Jane could take to her new apartment. Dishes, pans, old pots, bed sheets, towels; anything that would help her settle in at her new home.

"Elizabeth!" Kitty called her from downstairs, "there's a guy on the phone for you!"

She walked to the phone with a frown. If it wasn't Darcy, who else could it be? She took the call and her knees began to shake. It was from Aberystwyth.

"Well?" Jane inquired when she hung up.

"Th-they want to make an appointment."

"Oh, Lizzy!" she hugged her sister. "That is fabulous; you obtained excellent grades so there won't be a problem!"

Elizabeth smiled shakily as her dizziness disappeared. "Yes, I think so. Oh, Jane, I waited so long for this and now that it's finally happening I'm not sure if ..."

"What?"

"I don't know, it's in Wales, what am I going to do about William? What if he objects?"

"Lizzy, it's your future, your career. William has no right to object. Do you think he will?"

Elizabeth shook her head.

"Then, what are you worrying about?"

"I'm being silly, aren't I?"

"Very silly. You should know William better than that now. Come," Jane put her arm around her sister's shoulder, "Charles is coming in a couple of minutes; let's finish with this."

~ * ~

Darcy arrived at Longbourn and saw Elizabeth waiting for him at the porch.

"Hello, my love," he smiled as he exited the car.

He put his hands on her waist and was about to kiss her when she pulled away. "Anything wrong?"

"They called me from Aberystwyth."

Darcy blinked twice, and seemed a little startled. He then smiled. "Really? That's ... great"

Elizabeth noticed his expression and always too quick to react, continued with an angry, "You don't like it."

"What?" he raised his eyebrows.

"You don't like that I might be going to Wales."

"I ... no ... I'm just ..."

"Just what? Angry?"

"Angry? Why should I be ..."

"Oh, come on, you are angry because they called me from Aberystwyth. Will you deny that?"

"No! I mean, yes, I'm just surprised, I ..."

No, he wasn't angry, he was shocked and ... disturbed. His girlfriend, the woman he had been in love with for months and who had finally accepted him a few weeks ago was moving to Wales to study. How was he going to deal with that?

She stared at him for ten seconds. He didn't look angry, merely confused. "I'm sorry, Will, I'm jumping to conclusions."

"It's all right." he smiled but not too effusively. He opened the door of the car for her and they departed for Jane's flat. "Now, tell me what they told you."

As Elizabeth told him about the interview, Darcy's mind began to reel but in a different direction. Aberystwyth was in Wales. That wasn't such a big deal now that he thought about it. She applied to other universities too so there would surely be other choices (not Reading, please, let it be Nottingham or Sheffield). But, if she finally went to Aberystwyth or Reading, he could rent an apartment if necessary and stay with her for a couple of days a week. The thing that was really bothering him was an entirely different matter. Universities were full of young men eager to interact with the girls; Elizabeth was beautiful and sexy and college was definitely a place where virgins lost their virginal status.

Fitzwilliam Darcy could appear perfect in front of his girlfriend's eyes but he wasn't. Like anyone else, he had faults, though, unfortunately for both, his worst flaws ones were not yet of Elizabeth's understanding. His sometimes irrational possessiveness was one of them. Apart from his difficulty in opening up and his tendency to stay locked within himself, Darcy was (very) possessive with the people he loved, slightly overbearing and very, very territorial. So, while Elizabeth talked enthusiastically about her career, her plans and all that she wanted to do, the only thing that was in the mind of her handsome boyfriend was how to get an engagement ring around her finger before she left for the university. Thank God classes began in September.

During the ride towards Jane's flat, they also talked about Elizabeth's other concern: how to pay for her tuition. As much as Darcy would have liked to do it, offering to pay for it was something that he couldn't do right now. Later, perhaps, when they were engaged, but not now. So he only gave her a few suggestions about how to afford it, they discussed student loans, scholarships, possible jobs, etc. Obviously, he offered to help her in everything she needed but the 'don't worry, I'll take care of that' that he so much wanted to say was never voiced aloud.

~ * ~

When Darcy and Elizabeth arrived at Jane's new flat, the painting began. Charles' didn't have any idea of where or how to begin and though Darcy's expertise on the matter wasn't extraordinary, but he at least knew the essentials of house maintenance and painting. He readied the paint, repaired the walls where needed and they all began painting the living room in the pastel yellow Jane chose.

"Don't you have anything to cover your head?" Darcy asked Elizabeth, roller in hand. "You'll ruin your hair."

"No, I don't." she was kneeling by his side, doing the lower section.

"Here, use this." he removed the cap he was wearing and placed it over her head. It was too large for her. Darcy bent and adjusted the back of the cap so it would fit her.

"Oakham Whiskey?" she removed it to look at the inscription. That is one very expensive brand. "Where did you get this from?"

Charles spoke first. "They sponsor the Midlands. Darcy owns part of it. That's where Hurst gets most of his supply of liquor."

"I inherited it from my mother," Darcy said quietly.

The painting continued. A while later, Darcy declared that he was hot and removed his sweatshirt, continuing to paint clad in an old white T-shirt and his faded jeans. In the undressing process, the T-shirt came almost up to his shoulders and Elizabeth had the opportunity to see a good part of his very fit upper body. With a few pounds less, he would be considered thin, but his well-defined abs and muscled back were a sight that would make any woman hold her breath.

After a brief pause for lunch, the couples were in full painting mode for the rest of the afternoon while listening to music on the radio that Elizabeth brought from home. They were in high spirits, Elizabeth was humming almost every song they played, sometimes Jane sang along, too, and Darcy, much to his girlfriend's surprise, accompanied the rhythm of the music with an almost imperceptible sway of his hips. And to think she once believed him a stuck-up snob!

But then, the first chords of 'Rock around the Clock' by Bill Haley and the Comets began to play and Elizabeth's astonishment reached the top when Darcy dropped his head back with an 'ohhhh, this is the best'. Charles elbowed Jane and pointed at his friend, who was already extending his hand to Elizabeth, inviting her to dance with him.

Not being a skilful dancer to that kind of music, Elizabeth first giggled and said no, but Darcy, ignoring her complaint, took her hand and showed her the basic movements. With his hand firmly holding hers, he made her spin, sway and taught her how to dance rock n' roll right there in the living room. It took only a few seconds for Jane and Charles to join them on the improvised dance floor and the couples, careful not to step on the paint and create the biggest mess in the apartment, danced their souls away.

When the following song came, a slow, love song, Darcy put his hand on Elizabeth's waist and pulled her close him.

"Rock and Roll. Another of your hidden talents, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth's body moved slowly against his.

Darcy lowered his lips to her ear, tickling her with his breath. "Just one of them, Miss Bennet."

That was enough to make thousands of butterflies twirl inside her stomach. She slid her arms up and linked her fingers behind his neck. Darcy tightened his hold round her waist and joined his lips to hers for a romantic, sensuous kiss.

Once the living room was painted, they ordered pizzas and both couples enjoyed a well deserved rest. There was no furniture in the house so they dined on the floor. While they ate, they opened one of the bottles of champagne that Darcy and Elizabeth brought to toast for Jane's new house.

"Well, Jane," Darcy raised his glass. "Congratulations on your new home. I wish you all the happiness in your new life here."

Jane beamed with joy. "Thank you, Will."

"Oh, Janie, congratulations." Charles hugged her and kissed her.

After clearing the pizza cartons, the couples remained there, conversing. Darcy was sitting on the floor, leaning back on his extended arms, with his legs extended and crossed in front of him. His girlfriend was laying on the floor across him, one leg bent and the other resting on top of it, her head on his thigh and her foot moving to the rhythm of the music. Jane and Charles were in similar position, only that it was Charles who was the one resting comfortably on the floor with his head leaning on Jane's legs. They were halfway through the second bottle of champagne and in an alcohol enhanced good mood.

"When are you leaving for Johannesburg?" Jane asked the men. "In three weeks," said Charles.

Elizabeth was already pouting. Darcy smiled down at her expression and stroked her hair fondly.

"Is the whole team going?"

"The Midlands? Oh no, just us, with the other British riders," Darcy replied. "Ted and Louisa aren't going."

"What a pity," said Jane as Darcy refilled her cup with champagne. "You all worked so well together."

"We'll probably dissolve the team," Charles replied from his comfortable position. "Louisa and Ted aren't on good terms now so I don't think they will compete together any more. They'll probably do it against each other from now on."

"Oh, Charles," Jane touched his hair, "you didn't tell me anything. Do you think they'll break up?"

"Probably." he shrugged, not even worried about that matter.

"That's awful." Jane frowned. "They looked so happy together."

Only his angel could think that the Hursts were a happy couple. "If Ted doesn't resolve this little problem of his, they will surely divorce." Charles said and began to giggle.

Darcy tried to remain serious, but failed. By now Jane and Elizabeth were not only intrigued about Hurst's 'problem' but why these two were acting this way. Unable to hold back any longer, Darcy began to giggle and turned away from Bingley, who broke into laughter at his friend's mirth. Elizabeth, now that her pillow was shaking, had to sit up.

"What?" Jane asked.

"Oh, Charles, I can't believe you said that." Darcy wiped his eyes.

Elizabeth was amazed by the sight. Darcy actually cried when he laughed. "What is going on?" she asked her boyfriend. He bent over and laughed.

"Well?" Jane insisted.

Charles composed himself a little and sat up beside Jane, opposite to Darcy. "It seems that Ted has this ... intestinal problem and Louisa doesn't want to ..." he couldn't hold back any longer and laughed.

"He ...?" Jane raised her eyebrows.

"Farts when he sleeps." Darcy finished the sentence.

The girls began to laugh too.

"How do you know that?" Elizabeth asked.

"We were in France," began Charles, "jumping the Nations league and there was some kind of problem with our reservations so there were only two rooms left in the hotel when we arrived. The girls took one and we took the other. Just imagine the situation," he said in a tone that added suspense to the whole tale. "Darcy, the neat freak, in the same room with Hurst and me ..."

"Jane, I warn you," Darcy interrupted his friend, "Charles can turn a bedroom upside down in exactly five seconds."

"I already know that." she waved him off, ignoring Charles expression.

"Anyway," Charles continued, "William had this displeased face all the time, you two know how he can be when he acts typical arsy Darcy and didn't say a word to either of us until we went to bed. Everything was fine but when I turned the lights off ..."

"In the darkness, you can't see Charles' mess," added Darcy.

"A few minutes later, we heard the first explosion."

Elizabeth looked at him with big astonished eyes.

"How did you know it was him?" Jane playfully asked Charles.

Charles and Darcy looked at each other and then back at Jane. The sly thing couldn't think that it could be one of them.

"I turned on the light, Jane," said Darcy, "and saw Charles looking at me with the same expression you two have now. Then came the second one."

"Actually, it was more like a stampede of noises," said Charles and mimicked the sound.

"And?" asked Elizabeth.

"Ask 'invincible' where he slept that night." Charles told her.

"So?" Elizabeth inquired.

"In the bathroom," Darcy announced.

"In the bathroom!" laughed Elizabeth. "But you surely froze in there!"

"I took some blankets, Hurst's clothes and improvised a bed. But Bingley is the hero here," he laughed. "He slept in the same room with Ted!"

After finishing the bottle, Darcy and Elizabeth took their leave. Jane and Charles accompanied them to the car and returned to the apartment arm in arm, tired and satisfied with the results of the day.

"Alone, at last." Charles locked the door behind him and turned to Jane. "I thought that those two would never leave."

"Oh, Charles," cried Jane, "they have been of such great help. William practically painted the living room by himself."

"Well," Charles walked towards her as his eyes swept her figure up and down, "I worked too. Perhaps I'm not as good with the roller as Darcy but there are some things I'm proficient at, aren't I?"

Jane knew that smile too well. She headed towards the kitchen while unbuttoning her shirt. "And there is one in particular in which you are the master."

Grinning, Charles sprinted after her and caught her near the stove. And it began right there. A shag against the counter, a severe test for the new furniture. Then they tried a second one in the living room, soft and gentle under the single bulb hanging from the ceiling and the last one happened in the bedroom. Sleeping bags not always offered the best comfort during lovemaking but a couple so much in love would never notice it.

~ * ~

"Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?" Elizabeth asked Darcy as he turned off the engine.

"No, thanks. I promised I would come early to help you with Liddy and it would be better if I get some sleep."

She pouted, though she understood his reasons. He still had an hour of driving ahead. "So it's good night, then."

Darcy slid his hand behind her neck. "So it would seem."

He intended his goodbye kiss to be gentle and brief but it soon turned into exactly the opposite. Perhaps it was the champagne or maybe it was the passion in Elizabeth's response but as he allowed the kiss to grown in length and intensity, he forgot altogether why he wanted to keep it chaste. He couldn't stop his hands from caressing her body, his tongue from exploring her mouth. Still, he was careful, very careful to not go too far, not too fast. Every step forward was taken cautiously and as slowly as his ardour allowed him, he became acquainted with every inch of his girlfriend's body.

For Elizabeth, the sensation was new and unique. Darcy could be at the same time tender, then hungry and passionate, only to return to his original gentleness. He tasted delicious, his scent was intoxicating and he was so firm and soft to the touch that she wanted to curl herself around him. And boy, he knew what he was doing. He seemed to know exactly what she wanted, how and where to touch and to arouse, to kiss, how to make her warm and wet and make her whole body shake with a whispered word in her ear. Until now, Elizabeth had dated boys, not men. Darcy wasn't clumsy or hasty like those teenagers that would throw themselves over a girl until they were stopped by a slap. He was an experienced and an undeniably talented lover, acting like a real man, showing her how to be a woman.

Darcy knew he was going too far but he wanted to know how she felt and show her a little of what she did to him. Knowing he should stop, he moved his hand inside her blouse, cupping her full, firm breast with his palm. His own body reacted to the sensation. His voice was hoarse in her ear when he spoke.

"You are so beautiful, Elizabeth. So, so beautiful."

Elizabeth shuddered when he voiced aloud what his hand was discovering. She tightened her hold on his hair, arching her body to him as he became even more aroused and demanding in his kisses and caresses.

And Darcy, well, he wanted all of her. As she lost her inhibitions and accepted every new caress, it became more difficult to hold back and repress his desires, his needs. With his body now commanded by his testosterone, he began to fight against his resolution of a virginal bride and Elizabeth's reserve about lovemaking. And that was a battle he was about to lose.

For a couple of minutes, things really warmed up in the car. Without realizing how or when, he extracted his hand from her blouse and directed it to her knee, pulling her leg over his. There was no room for her on his lap, the wheel didn't allow much space for the two of them, so he manoeuvred until she was on her back, half lying on her seat and the console, trapped between the backrest and the gear stick. His body covered hers, his mouth was hungry, he was aroused and wanting and his movements became dangerously sexual.

Elizabeth was trembling, shuddering and the tension between her thighs was so close to pain and to pleasure that she became scared. Her shirt was open down to her stomach, Darcy was suffocating her, but not because of the weight of his body, but because of his voracity. He had always been in control, she had always known that he would stop, but now, he wasn't. She could feel the pressure of his arousal on her pelvis, his lips hot on her skin as he lost the control of his actions, she began to lose control of herself. She couldn't think, she couldn't breathe, she was trembling, panting, shuddering and while one side of her wanted this to last forever, the other wanted to stop and run away.

It took Darcy a couple of seconds to notice the change in her mood. She had stopped kissing him and while she was not resisting him, he could tell that her attitude had changed. The hands that been in his hair and back, were now on his shoulders in a defensive position. Perhaps, he had gone too far and she wasn't comfortable anymore with what was going on. He cursed himself for letting this happen. He eased his pressure on her body and paused to regain his breath.

"Do you want me to stop?"

She nodded. She was so agitated and warm and so unable to control the reactions of her own body that she didn't trust her voice. The pulsing between her thighs told her that something had happened and she still couldn't understand when or how it happened.

Darcy realized he had pressed too much but, deep inside, he did not regret it. This was their limit now and he should be careful to respect it in the future.

"I'm sorry." he raised his head to look at her.

Elizabeth shook her head. "It's all right. I ... it's that I ..."

"It's OK." Darcy smiled as he caressed her hair. He gave her a brief kiss and removed his body from over hers. "I'll walk you to the door."

"No, stay, I can go on my own." The cold of the night would help her to lower her temperature.

"Are you sure?" he reached out to button her blouse. The sight of her laced bra was an extremely tempting sight for him but he doubted that her father would think the same.

Elizabeth giggled. He was so helpful. She kissed him then, loving him so much for understanding her, for being patient, for overlooking her insecurities and respecting her pace.

"What?" Elizabeth asked when she obtained no reply to her kiss.

"There is a limit to what a man can resist." Darcy smiled faintly. For him, the round was over. There was no point in torturing himself any further.

She touched his face gently. "Is this your limit?"

"No, it's yours, and I want to respect it. If I go on, I don't know if I would be able to stop."

"I'm sorry." she smiled guiltily.

"What for?"

"For doing this to you, for making you suffer."

He spoke very gently, twisting a lock of her hair around his finger. "I don't mind waiting. Anyway," he smiled rakishly, "this is the sweetest torture I've been inflicted in my entire life."

Elizabeth laughed. "So I'm torturing you."

"Mercilessly." He pulled her into one last goodbye kiss.

Elizabeth descended from the car and walked towards the house. Darcy's eyes followed her until she was safely inside.

The door closed and he rested his head on the steering wheel. His body was still tense and his frustration evident in his voice when he said, "How am I going to survive this?"

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