Chapter One

In the fading light of the setting winter sun, William Darcy sat at the desk of his spacious corner office, head leaned forward, fingers massaging his temples, praying for the phone to ring and bring some excuse to back out of his plans for the evening. Minutes passed, no saving ring came, and his eyes were torturously drawn back to his leather bound appointment book, where he read again the inscription for that evening.

Friday, eight p.m., Desani's. Damn.

He had just that afternoon confided in Charles that he finally had a break in his contract negotiations with a leading Russian oil refinery. It was his hope to jump into the fast growing Russian oil market and bring D and F Utilities to Eastern Europe, thus pumping some much needed money into the struggling Russian economy while getting on the ground floor of a hopefully very lucrative side venture. So far, it was a nightmare dealing with all the red tape and various ministers of various departments who each needed their own contracts and "fees paid for services rendered". Just this week his staff had finished the last round of contract rewrites and he had a good three days of peace and quiet while the Russians looked over his newest offerings before it all started again. He was really looking forward to the time off. How stupid of him to tell Charles he was free. Now he was roped into an evening of pretentious cuisine and Caroline Bingley. Oh joy, oh bliss.

Desani's, exclusivism at its finest, featured a chic menu of the haute-cuisine of the moment; tapas. And Caroline Bingley loved nothing as much as she loved the word exclusive. Charles had invited William to dinner tonight to celebrate the illustrious return of the grand dame herself from her month long vacation in some tropical clime. She had requested that Charles and his wife of three years, Jane, meet her at Desani's for dinner and to catch up on old times. And wouldn't Charles be a dear and invite sweet William to round out the party, hmmm? So, call he did, knowing that William was too much of a gentleman to decline. And so he was, and here he sat, praying to the great phone god to save his eternal soul from the fiery hell of Caroline Bingley's attentions.

Nothing.

Damn.

Eight fifteen found the group of four intimately situated around the best table in the house, overlooking a room that screamed ATMOSPHERE with Fosse hands. William looked over the rim of his glass of scotch at Charles and his beautiful wife. That man had luck in his genes. Happily married to an intelligent woman very much in love with him, successful in business thanks as much to who he knew as to what he knew, and in possession of a best friend on whom to throw his harpie-like sister when she became a nuisance. Trouble rolled off Charles Bingley's back like water from a duck's. It must have been passed down from his great great grandfather, Bingley McShamus, who began his early adult life in the custody of Inveraray Jail in Scotland for having a bit of trouble with sticky fingers. After a month of incarceration, McShamus decided that he wanted a fresh start. And so, with a spoon and a bit of elbow grease, three weeks later he found himself free and on a boat to America. Ellis Island greeted him as a new man, Shawn Bingley. Finding employment at a leather goods shop, he put his back into his work and within three years had a shop of his own. After five years he was proud owner of three more shops. Now, after more than one hundred years, the Bingley family owned the largest chain of specialty imports in the country. Shawn's original leather goods shops had been expanded by his son to include specialty items, and each son there after had added to the inventory and franchise until it encompassed the entire nation. Charles himself, after taking over for his father eight years ago, had signed a deal to have a Bingley's Emporium in every upscale shopping center in the country. His business had tripled over the last five years. At the age of thirty he was one of the richest men in the country.

"William, Charles tells me you have been working far too hard. You must clear your schedule for a few days and let me pamper you a bit. You look positively worn." Caroline's simpering broke through William's reverie. A noncommittal smile was all the answer Caroline received. But she was not one to be put off. Her mouth opened again to pressure him for some sort of commitment, when the chirping of a cell phone cut her off. Caroline's disapproving eyes hovered on Jane's sheepish face, as she reached into her purse to retrieve the offending object. "Sorry." Jane turned her shoulder away from the group and answered the call.

"Hello, Jane Bingley."

"Janeybird."

Jane gasped, loudly. "Lizzy?"

"Yes, its me. Alive and kicking."

Tears instantly welled up in Jane's eyes and she had to choke back the sobs "Oh, Oh!" was all she could get out.

"Where are you right now, Janie?"

"I'm at Desani's," she squeaked.

"Okay," was the reply followed by a click.

"Hello, hello, Lizzy!" Jane was frantic. She turned her troubled eyes to Charles who gleaned some of what happened from her end of the conversation.

"Lizzy?"

"Yes, but she's gone. I'll wait a minute to see if she calls back."

Charles explained to William and Caroline that Jane had not heard from her sister in three years, because of the nature of Elizabeth Bennet's job.

"What does she do, Jane?" William enquired politely. Jane's distraction was evident, and after a few hems and haws Charles answered for her. "We really aren't sure. Something with computers." William was a bit shocked that her own sister wouldn't know what she did for a living, and Caroline could barely feign interest in the topic at hand. That was until two minutes later when Jane was accosted by a mop of sable curls piled on top of a heavy wool coat and thick knitted scarf. If Jane could have squealed with delight, she would have, but her voice left her in a wash of tears.

"Oh, God, Lizzy! OH, God!"

"Its okay, Jane. I'm here, I'm alright. I'm here for awhile this time."

Jane pulled back from their fierce embrace to look at her prodigal sister. "Really?"

"Yes, here for a few months at least. This is it." Elizabeth look earnestly at Jane trying to convey the message to her that their time together was precious.

"This is it? The last of it?" Jane whispered.

"Yes, the end. But, another time for all that, alright? Right now, I'd like to meet your husband, please."

Jane smiled and proudly introduced the two people she loved most in the world to each other. Charles threw propriety to the winds and grabbed Elizabeth up in a bear hug.

"Welcome home, Elizabeth."

"I'm glad to finally meet the man that makes my sister happy."

"And I'm glad to finally have the hole in her heart filled. You've been greatly missed."

"Thank you, the feeling is shared, let me assure you."

William coughed softly to remind the mutual admiration society that other people existed at the table. Jane made the appropriate introductions, and Elizabeth greeted William and Caroline with a polite smile and "how do you do", but her heart wasn't in it. She was too wrapped up in seeing her sister after so long an absence. After a few more minutes of pleasantries, Elizabeth made motions to leave, stating she had to go to her new apartment and see if she was in need of anything for the night, and most of all to clean up after the excruciatingly long flight. She set her purse on the table and took out a pen and paper to scribble down her new address for Jane. They made plans to see each other the next morning, and Elizabeth made her excuses and left. Jane promptly excused herself to the restroom to put her face back together after the tearful reunion.

"Well, you definitely got the best out of that gene pool, Charles." Caroline's voice dripped acerbically.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Charles bristled.

"It means that your sister-in-law looks a bit like Sasquatch. Maybe she's been in the wilderness for the last three years."

"All I care is that Jane's happy. She can look like Medusa for all I care."

Not far off, don't you agree, William."

"I'm not really sure, it was hard to get a good look at her. I'm more concerned that she's been gone for three years with no contact. Seems a bit shady to me. You don't know where she's been, you don't know what she does for a living. She could be in all kinds of trouble, and just here looking for a free handout. Watch out for her, Charles."

"William, I promise its nothing like that."

"Just be mindful, okay, she sounds unreliable to me. I'm not impressed."

"From all Jane has told me she really is quite remarkable. I think you'd like her if you gave her a chance. I'm sure I'm going to like her immensely."

"I think I'll take a pass."

The two men's eyes turned at a low chuckle coming from behind them. Elizabeth stood there, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "I've forgotten my purse. Would you mind, Charles?" He handed it to her, his faced blanched with the thought that she had heard William's harsh criticisms. She thanked him and patted his arm, not bothering to give Mr. Darcy a second glance, and left the same way she had come in.