OK. I could not resist - here's the date. Hope you enjoy! Jacqui
AB, need your help. Please call.
Upon reflection, Darcy acknowledged that the text to his sister sounded far more urgent than it actually was. He also had to acknowledge that he should have expected the reaction he received; namely, she didn't believe him. He'd been on a grand total of two dates in the same number of years, both of which had been set up by her.
Of course, he'd left out the part where a drunk George Wickham had stormed into Longbourn Coffee House to demand his son. He'd left Carter out of it entirely, as a matter of fact. All he said was, "I have a date. Which of these ties am I allowed to wear?"
"Depends," she'd said briskly. "Who's the date with? Someone important, or is this a bullshit business quote-unquote date with Caroline Bingley who you won't flat-out tell no because you're chicken?"
Darcy paused a beat. "I'm not chicken. She knows I'm not interested."
"No, she doesn't. Anyway, if it's Caroline, wear sweats and a stained t-shirt, please."
"It's not Caroline. It's a real, important date."
"Well, you directed me to that coffee house this morning," he replied, flipping through the suits hanging in the hotel closet.
"So . . . what? Ooh, did you meet Lydia? Isn't she great? She's not really your type though."
"I didn't meet Lydia, she wasn't in," he said, remembering the color in Lizzy's cheeks. It made his own blush a little.
"Ah – you must have met Jane, then," surmised Georgiana. "She's so dang sweet. And holy cow – probably the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen, and her peanut butter cookies? To die for. She's not your type either, but she'll let you down easy."
"I didn't realize I had a type," mused Darcy. "Is any of what you packed suitable for a date?"
"William," said Georgiana patiently. "Who. Is the date. With?"
"Lizzy," he replied, as though she ought to have known all along. "So – what? I wore the black shirt with the white tie this morning."
His sister guffawed. "You do not have a date with Lizzy Bennet."
"I do," said Darcy. "I have a very real, very important date with Lizzy Bennet, on which I can not act like a donkey, and I need you to help me dress for it so that I can at least try to disarm her with my looks. And it's not looking good right now, frankly – I don't have any undershirts!"
Georgiana was unmoved by his frustration. "I can't believe it. How did this happen?"
"It's very simple, AB – I walked into the store, bought some coffee, and asked if she'd like to have dinner tonight. Because you are ditching me for your friends. And you made fun of me for never going out. And none of these shirts are dark enough to cover up this Superman logo."
"You really, for realsies, have a date with Lizzy Bennet?"
"Yes, for realsies. Why? Is she so untouchable?"
"No, she just doesn't put up with any bull. You're kind of alike that way, I guess." She paused a moment, and then said, "What Superman logo?"
"The Superman logo on the Superman t-shirt you bought me for Christmas, because I am apparently some kind of Superman who cannot dress himself."
Georgiana laughed in his ear. "Oh, William . . . you are a mess, aren't you? Why are you so nervous?"
He sighed. He honestly didn't know. "I don't want to act any more awkward in front of her than I already have."
"So, it's a little bit less simple than walking in and asking for dinner." He could hear the smile in her voice.
"Yes, a little. Stop laughing at me."
She didn't. "I'm coming home – well, to the hotel. I'll just be a little late meeting my friends. Actually, since you are so particular about the undershirt business, let's just meet at the department store up the block. You can buy something shiny and new."
When all was said and done, Georgiana had Darcy outfitted nicely in a white button-down shirt with a deep green tie, light gray vest, and dark blue jeans. His sleeves were rolled up to just below his elbows, and the green complimented his coloring nicely.
"Don't be nervous," she said, holding his upper arms. "You look great, and all you have to do is relax and be yourself."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "I'm socially awkward and she already knows it."
"Don't make sweeping generalizations about her sister, and you're cool." She straightened his tie. "I mean, probably. She does like to tease."
"That's comforting," he replied, taking one more glance in the mirror.
"William." He turned at the sound of his sister's voice. There was a look of pleading on her face. "Relax, okay? You have nothing to worry about. Maybe you'll be a little awkward and Lizzy will tease you a little, but that's just how she is. You kind of have to accept that if you want to spend time with her."
He let out a breath. "Why is this personal stuff is so out of my element, Ana?"
"I don't know, William. You didn't have the best examples, maybe. Or maybe you're just naturally shy. But honestly . . . you just don't put yourself out there. You don't practice."
"That doesn't help me now. This isn't a practice date, it's a real date with someone I really like."
Georgiana smiled at him. "Who better to practice with?"
He sighed and nodded, and withdrew his phone from his pocket to check the time. It was a quarter to eight.
"Put that thing on silent," she reminded him. "No work or other BS tonight, okay? Nothing's worse."
He slipped the phone back into his pocket. "I'm not quite that bad," he said. Then he smiled and kissed her cheek, and with promises of information later on, he left the hotel.
Lizzy was exiting the coffee house as he approached. He saw her step out and turn to lock the door. Then, to his horror, he saw Bill Collins approach. He was, aside from being a blatant ass-kiss, one of the best agents on his staff. Darcy was more than a half a block away and could only hope that Collins would just confirm that the shop was closed, and walk away. In the other direction. Into a black hole, preferably.
Unfortunately, he and Lizzy stood discussing something. Collins appeared to be as simpering as ever, and Lizzy – well, Lizzy wasn't facing Darcy, so he wasn't sure. But he liked the back of her bright blue dress.
"I understand it's very difficult for local independent businesses to compete in such a tight market," Collins was saying, with a smile. "I can see the stress lines in your face each time we meet."
Darcy stepped next to Lizzy. He forced himself not to stare, but she looked utterly lovely. Her hair hung loose down her back in big waves, and it was tucked behind her right ear. The bright blue of her sleeveless dress showed off the freckles on her shoulders, and the skirt fell right at her knees. He took a brief look at her bright red polished toes, peeking out of her high heeled shoes, and then swiftly up at his agent. "Bill," he said by way of greeting.
"Oh – Darcy! Hello!" Collins put his hand on Darcy's upper arm. "May I present Miss Elizabeth Bennet – we've been discussing her building. It is the epitome of prime real estate!"
"Yes, I know Lizzy," he said evenly. "We met this morning. She makes an excellent cup of coffee." He looked over at Lizzy's clearly agitated face. "I didn't know you were acquainted with any of my staff."
Lizzy put on her own best fake smile. "Actually, Darcy, Mr. Collins and I are less acquainted and more hunter-and-hunted. He's tried several times now to get me to put my building on the market, and I've told him several times now that I am not interested. I didn't realize you worked for the same company."
Darcy could tell that his date was already in jeopardy, and it hadn't even begun yet. He turned to Collins, who he could speak to without fumbling words. "What's the interest in this particular building?"
Collins' face took on a confused look. "Well, Darcy . . . I mean . . . it's a downtown building. Why would there not be interest in it?"
"But Miss Bennet has clearly stated she's not interested in selling." He turned to Lizzy. "Yes?"
"Yes," she replied tersely.
He raised his eyebrows at Collins.
"Particularly," continued Lizzy, "because the world does not need another goddamned Starbucks. And because this is a beautiful old building, even if it doesn't have any official historic significance. And because people live in it, including me. And because it's belonged to my family since it was built."
Darcy could hear the anger in her voice; it was more intense than this morning. He knew Collins wasn't good at taking no for an answer, and for the most part, that served him – prime real estate was, in fact, their business. But from a personal standpoint, he didn't want Lizzy angry at him before he'd had a chance to see if she'd like him, and from a business perspective, he couldn't support harassment. He turned to Lizzy. "Would you give Mr. Collins and me a moment?"
"Sure." She flicked her eyes aside, wanting him to get on with it.
Darcy led Collins a few steps away. "Bill, you need to let this one go."
He gaped at Darcy a moment. "Darcy, have you any idea of the potential of this building? I don't mean the building itself – the space? Knock it down, put a proper restaurant in at street level and build condos! Do you have any idea how much this is worth?"
He leveled a significant stare at Collins. "I know my own business, Mr. Collins." His voice was dark.
He backed off a little. "Of course you do – of course, Darcy. But honestly, the market is just starting to turn in our favor. We need to take advantage of any opportunity like this one."
"Bill, it's not an opportunity if the owner doesn't want to sell," he reasoned. "Not to mention the fact that we can't go on buying up old buildings and putting local shops out of business when we are a local business, and we market ourselves that way."
Collins sighed. "Darcy, I've been working on this for months."
"I understand. I need you to let this one go, though. She's not interested, and we don't need bad press." Darcy knew Collins wouldn't fight with him, not much anyway.
Collins let out a long breath, and nodded. "All right." He looked around at the dwindling traffic a little, and then back at Darcy. "All right. Can I buy you a drink?"
"Sorry, Bill," he replied, a little nervous. "I have plans this evening. With Lizzy."
"Oh." His eyebrows raised, Collins turned toward Lizzy, whose arms were crossed. "Oh," said Collins. "I see; I am so sorry, I didn't realize-"
"It's all right, Bill," he said, stepping closer to Lizzy again. "I appreciate your work, but it looks like this one's off limits. Okay?"
"Yes, of course - I apologize, Miss Bennet; it looks like we don't have a deal after all," he said. "Of course, I never meant to offend – I'm just very persistent."
"Of course," Lizzy deadpanned, still not impressed.
"Enjoy your dinner," Collins said, and Darcy swore he bowed a little as he said it. "Darcy, I'll see you at the office tomorrow."
"Have a good evening," he replied as Collins walked away.
Darcy watched him go, and then turned toward Lizzy. His eyes were closed, and he let out a long, deep breath. "I am so sorry." He opened his eyes, only to be met with hers – the beautiful, round eyes he'd found intoxicating that morning were no less so this evening.
"How did you do that?" she asked.
"He's been on my case for months. How can you just make him go away like that?"
"Well . . ." Darcy colored a little, and then reached into his pocket for his wallet and extracted a business card.
H. F. Darcy
Pemberley Enterprises, Inc.
She lifted her eyebrows, and then took the card. "Oh. This is you?"
"Yes," he replied. "My grandfather started the company when he came back from war without a left hand."
Lizzy fingered the card curiously, and then looked up at Darcy. "Listen, I'm sure he's good at his job. I just don't want to sell. This has always been the Longbourn Building; I'd be heartbroken if it were ever anything else. Or worse - if it were destroyed." Then she laughed a little, slipping the card into her purse. "Honestly, for making him go away - I could kiss you."
His cheeks flushed a bright pink and he smiled at her. "I really wouldn't mind."
She chuckled. "Let's save it for later?" He nodded and was sure his cheeks turned even pinker. "You look really nice, by the way. I like that green on you."
"Oh - thank you," he said, looking down at himself. He'd forgotten how important it had been not an hour ago to make sure his clothes were just right, and now he realized she probably wouldn't have minded if he hadn't changed. "Ana picked it out for me. You, um . . . you look. . . ."
She chuckled again when he was lost for words. "Tolerable?"
"Stunning," he said. He hadn't meant to; he was trying to come up with something in between 'nice' and 'stunning'. He watched her blush and enjoyed the spectacle.
"Oh. Thanks," she said, a little uneasy.
He shook his head ruefully, and looked down at his shoes. "Sorry. As you might remember from this morning, I don't really have a filter. I mean, I just admitted to you that I didn't dress myself, which was kind of stupid. Ana reminds me of that almost every day. But I really do think you look stunning."
"Well," she said, taking pity on him, "I suppose it's okay as long as it's genuine," she said. "Look, um . . . in the interest of full disclosure, your sister came by the shop this afternoon and told me how nervous you are."
"Oh." Darcy nodded, and made mental note to throttle his sister later. "Um. That doesn't make me less nervous."
"I know," she replied. "But I thought maybe . . . if we just didn't pretend we're not nervous . . . you'd be a little less awkward and I'd be a little less eager to jump in and finish your sentences with sassy words."
He smiled at her. "Maybe that'll help. Do you want to go across the street?"
"Yes!" she declared. "I am actually really starving."
He gestured, and she led the way. The steakhouse was just across the street from Longbourn Coffee House, and down a few doors. He held the door for her and she breezed inside, and he enjoyed the back of her dress again. The hostess seated them almost right away, given that it was a later hour during the week.
"Do you mind if I order the wine?" he asked, and when she shook her head, he turned to the waiter to make his request. Once the waiter had gone, he turned to her and smiled. "It's one of my favorite bottles - I hope you like it. I'm sorry; I should've asked - do you like red wine?"
She laughed a little. "I do - coffee connoisseurs usually enjoy fine wine as well. There are some of the same complexities in good coffee that exist in a good bottle of wine."
"I've often heard that," said Darcy. "I confess, I know I like a darker roast, but beyond that I'm not very educated on coffee's nuances."
"I'd be happy to to teach you," said Lizzy, the color in her cheeks rising again. "After dinner, we can go back across the street. I don't honestly know what I have for dessert, but I'm sure there's something, and I can roast you your own batch of coffee."
"That sounds fantastic."
He was content to let her do most of the talking during the appetizer. She talked about the history of the Longbourn Building and about her family - her four sisters and her parents, and her aunt and uncle who managed the residences above the coffee house.
"Did you like having so many sisters?" he asked. "Ana and I just have each other. I can't imagine what it would have been like with three more siblings in the house."
She smiled and blushed. "Now? Yes - I like all my sisters. Back when we were kids? Forget it," she rolled her eyes with a smile. "Too much estrogen, seriously. And we lived upstairs, you know? Not too much space back then."
"There's more now?" he asked.
"My dad and uncle worked on remodeling the interior of the building when Jane went to college," she said. "By the time Lydia was out of high school all of the apartments were done."
Their conversation paused naturally then, as their dinners were served to them. Once the waiter was gone, Darcy picked up his fork and turned to her. "Speaking of Lydia," he said, "what's her story? Ana seems very fond of her."
"Well," said Lizzy, "I mean . . . it's not really my story to tell. I guess the Cliff's notes version of it is - she got involved with a man whose intentions he misrepresented and she misinterpreted. There was some . . . unpleasantness with some DEA officers, which led to some legal troubles, which led to Lydia pulling away from us almost entirely. Not a great couple of years." She looked up at Darcy, whose eyes were just so concerned she had to smile. "I think she and Ana helped each other, honestly. They'd talk for long hours - Ana still comes in when Lydia's done with her shift. They'll talk for hours."
"Sounds like they're good friends," he said.
"I think so," she replied, and then looked at his barely-touched plate. "I still can't believe you ordered the fish in a steak house."
He blushed. "I actually really like this place," he said quietly. He considered telling her that he had fond memories of eating lunch there with his father, before his mother had died.
She saved him having to choose a reply by surmising, "I see - can't have steak all the time. It's really bad for you." She took a bite of her dinner then - the filet - and closed her eyes as she chewed. "But this is soo good."
He smiled, recalling Carter's similar comment from that morning. "That's what Carter said this morning," he said. "He was pretty impressed with your breakfast selection."
"Can't ever go wrong with chocolate," she replied. "That chocolate chip muffin is one of my favorites."
Darcy smiled at her. Lizzy sipped her wine, resting against the back of the chair with her hand in her lap. "Um . . . Lizzy," he began, and hoped like hell what he wanted to say would come out right, "if I didn't say so before, thanks for the chance to start over."
She smiled and leaned in. "You and I certainly ran the gamut this morning, didn't we?" she mused as she set her wine down next to her plate. "Kind of makes me wonder if I'm always that way with people."
Darcy tilted his head a little. "To be fair, we did touch on some very personal things – I don't think that's normal for this soon in a relationship." Immediately realizing that what he'd just said could be taken the wrong way, he stammered, "I mean – you know – in general terms. We just met . . . I didn't mean that you and I . . . that this implies . . . oh, Christ." He picked up his wine and took a long sip.
But she just laughed at him. "I know what you meant," she replied. "Are you always this unsure of yourself?"
"Socially only," he replied. "I sometimes surprise myself with how utterly cool-headed and confident I am at work, no matter how difficult the situation is. So that's a comfort – I won't be able to build a family, but Pemberley will be an empire by the time I'm fifty." He took another long drink of his wine again, and then looked over at Lizzy, who looked like she wanted to burst out laughing. "What?"
"That was super-awkward first date commentary and I don't think you even know it."
He looked down at his plate uncomfortably and knew his cheeks were on fire again. He heard her let out a breath.
"Look, um . . . William? Darcy? I never even asked you which you prefer . . . just relax, okay? I mean, I'm not really sure what you're this nervous about."
Then he felt her hand on his – it was soft and gentle, and she was squeezing just a little. He looked down at her hand and had to repress the urge to take it into both of his own and hold it tighter.
But then she removed it, and when his eyes followed to hers he knew she'd misinterpreted his longing look for one of irritation. "This is going to be awkward."
"I am going to tell you something I need you to not repeat. Ever."
"Oh. . . kay. . ."
Darcy closed his eyes, let out a long breath, and said, "Ana tells me I have bitchy resting face and she isn't wrong." He could tell, when he opened his eyes, that she wanted to laugh again. He was grateful that she didn't. "I often have difficulty expressing myself. I didn't want you to move your hand, I wanted to hold it tighter."
She colored and slipped her hand back over to rest on top of his.
He held her eyes for a long moment. "William," he said quietly. "Please, call me William."
She smiled. "William." Then her brow crinkled a little and she tilted her head. "Your card doesn't say William - it says H. F. Darcy. What's that stand for?"
"It's Henry Fitzwilliam," he replied. "Honestly, I've always hated it."
He shrugged. "It's my dad's name, and his father's name, and . . . several additional generations," he replied. "When I was a child, I wanted to be called Simon."
She chuckled and squeezed his hand, letting it go so she could take up her fork again. "Why Simon?" she asked.
His hand felt cold; he put it in his lap. "I couldn't tell you," he admitted. He contemplated her for a long moment while she stabbed an asparagus spear with her fork and then ate it. "So . . . what's your story, Lizzy Bennet? Why coffee?"
She blushed. "Life-long obsession," she confessed, setting down her fork. "My dad, he always started his day with a cup of coffee - all by himself, no one around but him. I always thought it was about the coffee; I didn't realize it was about starting your day with a clear head and some solitude. Anyway, one morning - I think I was about eight - I snuck into the kitchen and he let me take a sip of his coffee, thinking that I wouldn't like it, but I did." She shrugged her shoulders and cut another slice of steak. "That morning, with my dad, all warm and cozy in the kitchen, actually having a conversation with him - I felt so grown up. . . . I knew that what I wanted to do for a living was re-create that feeling for other people."
Darcy smiled at her. "That's really inspiring," he said quietly.
Lizzy laughed. "My dad said it was stupid," she said. "He fought it tooth and nail for a ridiculously long time. Said I'd be better off working at Starbucks through college and then managing one of their stores. But, lucky for me, he taught me to be stubborn."
"That's always helpful when you have a goal in mind," said Darcy, no longer interested in his dinner.
"I doubted myself many times," she admitted. "It's really not an easy market."
Darcy nodded. "Several years ago there was a lot of pressure from the board of directors to merge with one of the bigger real estate corporations. I felt about the same way you feel about selling the Longbourn building."
She smiled at him and sat back in her seat. "You must be a little stubborn yourself."
He laughed at that. "Ana could tell you stories."
Her smiled deepened, and to his delight, the sparkle from this morning had returned. She sighed after a moment and reached for her wine. "I am so full . . . those potatoes are almost better than my grandma's."
He reached for his own wine and drained the glass, wondering what it was like to have a grandma who made mashed potatoes. He wanted to ask, but knew it wouldn't come out quite right. Instead he leaned in and set his elbows on the table. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. This is one of my favorite places in the city."
"Really? Why's that?" she asked.
He reddened, but for her genuinely interested expression, he was willing to be a little vulnerable. "Well . . . I used to come here with my dad. I was really kind of little for a place like this, but I was a quiet kid, so no one minded. He worked a lot, so . . ." He trailed off and shrugged, looking away briefly. "Some of my favorite memories of him are here."
"Thank you for sharing it with me," she said, and she reached across the table again.
He smiled when their fingers connected. Their eyes locked, and when Darcy could feel his ears burning he couldn't help speaking again. "There's . . . another place in the city I'm very fond of - um . . . the falls, just south of here. The park is beautiful; it feels like you're miles away. Maybe this weekend, I could show you all my favorite places there."
"That sounds like fun," she said.
Her response made his heart thump happily in his chest, and a thrill shot through his arm when her thumb caressed the back of his hand gently. "You promised coffee."
"I did. Let's go have some."
Darcy walked through the door of his hotel room at one thirty in the morning, his lips still tingling with the feeling of having kissed Lizzy; the rest of his body and mind alive with the energy it had given him. He knew he wouldn't sleep much that night, if at all. The scene kept replaying itself in his head.
It had been, without a doubt, a patented first date kiss. The difference was, for the first time in his life, it wasn't awkward.
She'd taken him to the back of the store, where the roasters were, and explained the process to him. He listened intently, but watched her even more so. Her eyes were so bright, explaining processes that she had begun perfecting in high school in her parents' kitchen; she was truly passionate about what she did and Darcy knew that whatever happened, he'd always admire Lizzy Bennet.
Then she'd set her smaller roaster to work, roasting him his own personal batch, and while they waited she brewed just enough of her favorite decaf blend for the two of them to enjoy a cup, sitting together in her tiny office.
When the beans were done, were cooled and then ground, she packed them in a bag labeled "Darcy's Blend." She made sure he had filters and knew how to brew it just right. And then they were saying goodnight and Darcy could not stop smiling. She teased him; he colored. And then, without thinking, he slid his left hand against her right cheek softly, and laid a gentle kiss on her lips.
He hesitated to pull away; she kissed him back.
They settled on Sunday to see the falls. He kissed her hand before he turned to leave, and made sure she'd locked the door securely behind him before he walked the two blocks to the hotel.
Ana had been waiting for him. She'd fallen asleep on the couch. He set his keys and wallet down, and put the coffee next to the maker. Then he sat down next to Ana and shook her gently.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes. "You're back," she said groggily. "How'd it go?"
Darcy smiled. "I was awkward, she teased me," he replied. "It was fantastic."
Ana's eyes softened and she reached over to hug her brother. "Yay!"
He lingered in the embrace of his sister for a moment, and suddenly remembered the details of what had gone on that morning. He'd need to tell her, but it could wait for tomorrow. For the time being, he was content to send her to bed with the promise of a cup of custom Longbourn coffee in the morning, and all the details of his date with Lizzy Bennet.