It took several months for Petra and the boys to determine the extent of Ambassador Solenksy's involvement with Yushenkov. As Elizabeth convalesced in a high security military medical facility, she told them all she had learned and handed over the items Jack had taken off the assailants at Pemberley at Christmas time. They were KGB pins, helping link the attacks at Pemberley to the Braska incident, just more proof added to the already large body of evidence showing that Solensky was hiring former KGB operatives to help him keep capitalism from Russian soil. And the majority of the money pouring in to fund Solenksy's endeavors came from Yushenkov. After hours of surveillance and tracking, fact checking and cross-referencing, it became apparent that Solensky had been interfering with any capitalistic venture that crossed his desk for the past ten years. In the recent past it seemed he had become more desperate to stop the flow of American dollars into the strapped Russian economy, hoping to push the country back toward a Communist state. Several smaller companies having dealt with Solensky had lost their representatives to mysterious "accidents". Petra took all of this up her chain of command and an elaborate web was woven in hopes of catching Solensky before anyone else had to die. Finally, as Solensky got more and more reckless and more and more secure in his diplomatic immunity, he was caught red-handed trying to assassinate the CEO of a major steel manufacturing company.
During this period, William was adrift in a sea of joy and pain. Half his time was spent with Georgiana and Christopher, while the other half was consumed with finding Elizabeth, thus leaving no time for work. Due to Solensky's interference, the company had not been able to pull off the Russian expansion and had lost millions in the process, and with William completely enmeshed in personal trials, Richard sought out another family member to help get the company back on track. His younger brother, Andy, who had been teaching at MIT, was called in to take the helm while William was indisposed. Andy was a genius with numbers, and he was soon able to set everything right, finding ways to expand the company elsewhere and recoup the money lost on the Russian venture. Andy would call William weekly to update him on the company's progress, and William began to rely on him heavily.
Georgiana and Christopher were pulling through remarkably well. Georgiana's initial shock and heartbreak at learning that her husband had not been anything she had thought him to be was subsiding and being replaced with a new found confidence and strength that she drew from being back home and surrounded by the love of her family. Christopher was also coming out of his shell, and had firmly bonded with William and Richard. After some much needed healing time, Richard and William sat down to discuss what should be done in regards to Christopher and his inheritance.
"He's a kind, good natured boy, Will."
"He is, very much like his mother, thank the good Lord."
"Have you given any thought about his future?"
"I have. There was a time when I would have tried to stick to Wickham, even if it meant destroying his son. I hated him so much for what he did to Georgie. But I can't now, Richard. That boy is sweet and dear, and if I treat him as anything less than my nephew and the rightful heir to my place in the family, I will be making another George Wickham out of him."
"I don't know that we have to look at it so drastically. Your son will be first in line, obviously."
William answered that with a dark look.
"Some day you are going to need to move on, Will. Lizzy wouldn't have wanted you to just give up on life."
William looked hard at Richard, as if trying to reach into his mind.
"You swear to me that you don't know where she is?"
"I swear on Grandmother's grave I don't know where she is. Petra won't tell me because she knows that you could get it out of me."
William ground his teeth in frustration. All of his attempts at finding Elizabeth had ended in failure. He was running out of hope, but he seemed to have an endless supply of depression on the matter. As he saw it, only Petra could ease his suffering, and she was cruelly holding on to the only thing in the world that could make him whole, though he couldn't be mad at her because he knew she was doing it out of love for Elizabeth.
Richard saw William's mood turning black, so he swung the conversation back around to Christopher.
"So, have you made any arrangements to change your will?"
"Yes, I'm having it drawn up this week. We need to do right by that boy, give him a chance to be a good man and not hold the sins of his father against him."
Richard nodded and pulled an envelop from his pocket. He handed it to William, who opened it and smiled.
"So, you're finally going to do it."
"Yeah. With Solensky taken care of, and Wickham being deported next month for trial in Russia, she's going to retire. She told me that she wouldn't marry me until this was over and Lizzy was taken care of. I'd like you to be my best man, Will."
"I would be honored, Richard."
"Good. It will only be you, me, Petra and the preacher, on the beach in Fiji. I know Georgie has expressed a fear of traveling just yet, or I'd have her and Chris come, too."
"No, you're right. I can't even get her to go into the city. She needs a little more time."
"I'm glad your coming. It wouldn't be the same without you."
William clasped his cousin's hand warmly. Maybe the island sun would do him some good.
Elizabeth sat at the table of her small studio apartment, going through her mail. Not that there was much. A few bills, a little bit of junk mail, a plain envelope with no return address and no postmark. She laid everything else aside and studied the envelope. She recognized the handwriting as Petra's. She smiled as she opened it and read the card inside.
You are cordially invited to the wedding of
Richard Fitzwilliam and Petra Villanova
May 3rd at 3:00 p.m.
On the beach at the Adolphus Hotel
We love you, please be there
Tomorrow was May 3rd. She rushed to the window and looked down the street. She could see no signs of Petra or Richard, but she knew that one of them had hand delivered this dear piece of parchment. She would be there, wild horses could not keep her away.
A brilliantly clear sky and gorgeous weather presided over the marriage of Richard and Petra. It was a simple ceremony, just the two of them, the preacher and William. Elizabeth stood behind a pillar of the hotel veranda and watched as the two tied the knot. People milled around her, going about their business, yet she was unaware of anything but this connection to the life she once had. From her hiding place she could just make out Petra and part of Richard as he put the ring on her finger. She smiled as they kissed to seal the deal, and headed back toward the hotel, hand in hand. She pulled herself back behind the pillar. She couldn't risk talking to them, any number of people could be watching them at this very moment. So she pulled the flower from her hair and melted into the crowd, waiting for just the right time to slip flower to Petra to let her know she had been there.
The happy trio moved back toward the hotel to indulge in some post-wedding libation. As they reached the veranda, chatting happily, Petra felt someone bump her arm and something slip into her hand. She looked around quickly, hoping to catch sight of the offender. Richard and William noticed her sudden distraction and followed her gaze. And there she was. The curve of her hip, the color of her hair, the slope of her shoulder. William only saw flashes of her retreating form as she wove her way through the people, but he knew her. He took off at a run, pushing people aside as fast as he could, trying not to loose sight of her.
"William," Richard yelled after him.
Petra put her hand on Richard's arm and smiled. "Let him go."
He looked at her, incredulous.
"You did this?"
"You're getting a soft spot, Petra."
She leaned in and kissed him. "Tell anyone and I'll kill you."
William lost sight of her for a second at the entrance of the hotel. His heart skipped a beat as he panned the street in desperate search for any sign of her. There she was, headed toward town. Good Lord, had everyone on the whole island decided to walk in this one street today? He tore off after her again, his large form cutting a swath through the horde of humanity.
Elizabeth stopped at a street vendor to buy some flowers. While she was paying the merchant she noticed a commotion out of the corner of her eye. A large man was pushing through the crowd of people, coming in her direction. She didn't know if he was after her or not, but she wasn't about to take any chances. She slipped away from the flower cart and picked up the pace toward home. If there had been a decent alley to duck into, she would have done it, but the few that were there were all dead ends and the last thing she wanted to do was get caught unarmed in an alley. She would run for home, and if he followed her all the way, she would at least have her gun ready when he got there. Up the stairs and through her apartment door, she threw her things on the table and rushed to a trunk under the window to find her gun. It had been so long since she had thought about that damn thing, she didn't even know if it was loaded. Good Lord, she had gotten soft. She dug through the trunk and found nothing. Where had she put it? She knew it had been there. She was frantic and unarmed as the door opened behind her and the large man stepped through.
The man was just inside the door, doubled over, trying to catch his breath. Slowly he raised his head and looked at her.
A numbness crawled through her, taking away her ability to stand or speak, and she slowly slid to the floor. He stumbled across the room, his own legs tired from the extended run, and fell down before her. She reached out tentatively, touching his cheek, ensuring he was solid flesh and not the hallucination of an overactive imagination. He grabbed her waist and pulled her onto his lap.
"Hello," she whispered into his ear as she wrapped her arms around him and they melted into each other.
An hour later, William lay next to her sleeping form, running his hand down the curve of her naked back. For the first time in two years he was happy. He had been a zombie since she left, a pretender walking amongst the living. And now, he could feel the life breathed back into his soul. His eyes drifted across the room, taking in his surroundings. He smiled, noticing all the little touches that showed her personality. Finally she had a home of her own. His shirt, laying on a chair near the bed, caught his eye. A small corner of paper was sticking out from the front pocket. Petra's letter, he had forgotten about it. She had given it to him before the wedding and told him not to open it until later. Slipping from the bed he retrieved the note and sat on the chair to read it.
By now you have seen her. So I present you with a choice. You can go back to your usual life with the knowledge that she is alive and well, but there can be no more contact between you. She will be relocated and you will return home as expected. Or, you can leave your billions of dollars and prestige and stay with her. I have the press release in my possession detailing your "death". Andy is more than ready to take over the business, and Richard and I will take care of Georgie and Christopher. All I need is a word from you and everything will be taken care of.
I know you are right now thinking of a way around this, William. Some way you can bring her home. You can't. She will never be safe while she is with a man who is so much in the public eye. This is the only way, and it sucks, I know. But I've never given anyone the easy way out, and I'm not about to start with you. If you want to be with her it is going to require a sacrifice on your part. God knows she's sacrificed for you.
I will wait until 7:00 p.m. for your call.
What's it going to be William? Love or money.
He held the letter in his hand, letting the words settle in his mind. Once again he had been given a life altering ultimatum. His discussion with Mrs. Reynolds two years ago came back to him. She had admonished him to remember his duty to his family and she had feared that Elizabeth had come to take him away. How could he have known that her insight would have proved to be so accurate? He had a duty to his bloodline, to Georgie and Christopher, to the company. Could he turn his back on that responsibility? Could he be so self serving as to leave it all behind just to be with Elizabeth? He looked back at her sleeping form and saw her as more than a beautiful temptation. She was the other half of his soul. He ran his hands through his hair as he warred with himself.
Richard lay on the bed, watching his new wife walk toward him from the bathroom, naked. God, he loved her, everything about her. It was so like her not to tease him with sexy lingerie, but to hit him full-force with the beauty of her naked body. He grabbed her as she reached the edge of the bed, and pulled her to him, burning her with his kisses. It was then that her cell phone rang, and they both froze for an instant. She reached over to the nightstand and grabbed it, checking the Caller ID. She looked at him and nodded.
She listened to the other end as Richard watched her face, hoping for a sign. She was silent for a moment then hung up and looked at her husband, her face breaking into a huge smile.
"He chooses love."