"So, how was Chicago?" Jane asks as soon as Lizzie gets settled in the car. Checking in the rearview mirror, Jane pulls into airport traffic and starts for home.
"It was…" Lizzie grips her scarf tight around her neck. "Nice."
Jane glances at Lizzie, perplexed. "Nice? Did you find a place?"
Lizzie frowns, looking out the window. "Yes?"
"Oh… okay," Jane give Lizzie a concerned look. "Is that a yes, you did; or yes, maybe there is a habitable space in the city?"
This snaps Lizzie out of it, and she takes in a deep breath. "No, sorry. I did find a place, kinda run down but close to the El and a park, so… yes. I did."
"Good!" Jane smiles. "Did you sign the lease already?"
"I brought the paperwork back with me. I need to… review a couple things before I submit it."
"Don't wait too long, you know how quickly those places go," Jane leans over and pats Lizzie on the knee. She fights hard not to move away. It seems like her entire body is still buzzing, like she's hypersensitive to all contact.
The rest of their ride is relatively quiet, thankfully.
Once Lizzie gets home, she goes straight to her room. Dropping her bags, she tugs off her jacket and face plants on her bed, falling into a restless sleep.
"Are you okay?" Lydia peers at her closely.
"You've been really quiet the past two days. I just… thought you'd be more excited, with a new job and a new city and everything…"
The way her sister says the last part sounds strained to Lizzie. She looks over at Lydia, really looks at her, and feels her heart drop. Slouching next to Lydia on the couch, Lizzie reaches out and wraps her arms around her sister.
"It's just a big change," Lizzie whispers. "I'm not quite sure I'm ready to leave home or leave you yet."
Lydia pulls back, eyebrows drawn together. "Leave me?"
"I feel like I'm just getting to know how awesome you are. Going away makes it seem like I'll miss out somehow."
Lydia bites her lip and looks down, her voice gravelly. "I know I was really rude after you told us about getting the job. I just…" She looks up and it breaks Lizzie's heart all over again. "I just really don't want you to go."
Tugging her sister close, she and Lydia collapse in a pile of tears that eventually turn into laughter at their sentimentality.
"God, we're so sappy." Lydia sighs later, her head resting on Lizzie's shoulder as they stare mindlessly at the TV.
Lizzie pats Lydia on the knee and curls up closer. "Yeah, I'm okay with that."
Lizzie spends much of the next week in a weird state of limbo, prone to lapsing into silence and staring at nothing. She gets a couple phone calls and one or two visitors, but for the most part, she spends her time packing and getting rid of old clothing.
It's not until a few days later when Charlotte shows up for an impromptu visit home that anything remotely exciting happens. Within two minutes of excited hugs and saying hello, her best friend makes a most alarming discovery.
"Elizabeth Bennet... Is that a hickey!?" Charlotte reaches out and pushes Lizzie's hair aside, examining the nearly faded bruise along her neck. Curse of the pale-skinned, it has stubbornly persisted on her neck for almost ten days.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh my God it is. What the hell did you do in Chicago?"
"I want answers. Right now." Charlotte cracks her neck and stretches her shoulders. "Don't think I won't body slam you for information."
Lizzie surveys her best friend, knowing Charlotte isn't joking. Last time they wrestled, Lizzie nearly broke her nose and Charlotte got a giant bruise on her thigh. They don't fight clean.
"When I was in Chicago… Darcy showed up."
"HOLY… Why didn't you say anything!?"
"I'm telling you now!"
"No, like… when it happened."
"There was a lot going on."
Charlotte's eyes drift to the love-bite. "Oh, I bet there was."
"Fine. Please, continue."
Lizzie relays the first encounter in the lobby and the dinner with Emma Woodhouse.
"Shut the front door! You had dinner with Emma freaking Woodhouse?"
"AND her family."
"What's she like?"
"Very down-to-earth, clever, very dry wit. I liked her… for the most part."
"How'd you even form coherent sentences?"
"I didn't!" Lizzie sighs. "I was a complete train wreck. I'm pretty sure I made a fool out of myself. Actually, I did."
"Emma assumed Will and I were together. I mentioned Gigi and she said something like, 'How serious are you two?'"
"It gets worse. I said something in passable English and then couldn't say anything else. Later, we all went to the ladies room."
"And she straight up asked me what my intentions were towards Will, because 'He's the best man I'll ever meet' and if I break his heart she'll hunt me down and make my life miserable."
"She didn't say that."
"Well, not the last part. But she definitely said the former. Like, she cornered me in the bathroom. Her sister almost had to intervene."
"Wow. That's intense."
"Yeah. I don't get why everyone thinks I'm the one always doing the damage here. He's just as guilty!"
"Lizzie —" Charlotte frowns, reaching out for Lizzie's hand.
"Anyway, I met him the next evening for a walk and we got dinner."
"Sounds pretty tame."
"Oh, it was lovely. It's just that… one of the directors from Pemberley called, offering me a job."
"He apologized for taking so long, just that they'd been waiting on my diploma."
"Yeah but… I mean, I just went back into the restaurant. And… I didn't handle it well. I yelled some things, freaked, and stormed out."
"In true Lizzie fashion."
Lizzie huffs at Charlotte, frowning. "Anyway… he came to my hotel and found my room."
'It was odd."
"So then what?"
"Well, I… opened the door," Lizzie flushes, looking anywhere but at Charlotte. "We uh… well. Let's just say things escalated quickly…" Lizzie stares at the ground, trying to summarize this in a PG manner.
She's already changed into pajama shorts and a hoodie and is scrubbing her face clean when she hears a knock on the door. Glancing at her watch, Lizzie frowns at the late hour. She peaks through the peephole at the door, surprised at what she sees. How did he figure out what room she's in?
Opening the door hesitantly, Darcy is standing on the other side, his eyes combing over her body. She crosses her arms, self-conscious of her attire and pale legs.
They watch each other for a moment until Lizzie finally breaks the silence. "Uh…"
Instead of giving her a chance to say anything, he takes two steps, places his hands on her cheeks and leans down, kissing her squarely on the mouth. She hesitates, thrown by the contact, barely responding to the brush of his lips against hers. Surprised, she pushes him away, uncrossing her arms and pressing against his chest.
When he pulls back, she can feel his breath on her eyelashes, his pupils large. Waiting a beat, she makes a split-second decision, choosing her aching heart over her cautious mind for once. Pushing up on her toes, she slides her hands around his neck and returns his kiss with equal ardor.
It's not pretty. It's desperate and wanting and frustrated.
His hands trail around her waist, pulling her tightly against him. She feels the absolute tension in his body along the entire length of his form, thrumming with unspent energy. Her fingers scrape along his neck, eliciting a sound from the back of his throat. She grins against his lips, followed by a gasp as his hands move down and grip her ass.
Somehow the door slams shut, but they don't notice. His scarf is the first to go, and his jacket shortly thereafter. Pressing her against the wall, he unzips her hoodie and tugs it off, pressing hot kisses along her jaw and down her neck. Her calves start quivering from the strain and she drops to her feet, breaking contact briefly before reaching up as he lifts her closer. Legs hooking around his hips, the enhanced contact is almost too much.
His hands glide up her legs to her hips, his thumbs catching on the jut of bone, before moving beneath her tank top, palms flat against her ribs. He's everywhere, all at once, and it's overwhelming, yet not enough. She's never felt this exact kind of intensity with anyone else before, can't quite get all she wants.
She starts unbuttoning in his shirt, pulling it out of his jeans before halting his hands long enough to get the fabric over his shoulders and completely off. Feeling more than seeing, her hands roam over the varying planes of his back, nails scraping against the smooth skin, sighing against his lips as he rocks against her.
Biting his lip, she runs her tongue against it before breaking off to whisper kisses along his jaw, her skin tingling at the sound he makes when she hits a sensitive spot along his throat. Grunting slightly, his hand caresses her cheek, bringing her attention back to his face. He smoothes her hair out of the way and kisses her again, harder, creating an almost a burning type sensation.
Somehow he removes her tank top, leaving her clad only her bra and shorts. She loses all sense of time, uncertain how long he keeps her pressed against that wall, making every single part of her body come alive. When he pulls away, taking her with him, she tightens her grasp on his arms, but doesn't stop kissing him until he drops to the bed. It's enough movement to break her contact and concentration.
"Woah, wow. What…" Leaning back, she's finally able to breathe. "What is going on?"
He stares at her for a second, dazed from arousal and lack of oxygen. His fingers her spine, causing her back to arch.
"I…" he swallows against the huskiness in his voice, brushing her hair out of her face, "I want you."
Lizzie squirms a bit in his lap, producing a coy smile. "I can tell."
He leans forward and latches on to her neck, immediately making her lose her train of thought. She wraps her arms around his shoulders, rising up on her knees, giving him more purchase. He place kisses down the center of her chest, nipping along her abdomen, gripping her hips tightly.
Just as he reaches her waistband, she eases back down and reaches for his belt, undoing the strap. His hands grasp her thighs, then move under the cotton of her tiny shorts, tripping along the elastic of her underwear.
She can't figure out what it is, the look in his eyes, or the way he reaches up to kiss her, but it jerks her out of the moment fast.
"Okay, wow. We need… whew. To stop. Yes, stop." Lizzie pushes off his lap and slowly works at standing. She's mildly embarrassed that her legs feel like jello as she leans against the console behind her.
"I… we can't… I'm not that kinda girl." She points to the bed and Darcy, hoping that he understands the implications behind her words.
Still a little dazed, he doesn't seem to be recovering as quickly. Granted, she did kind of climb all over his body.
"I'm not that kind of man, either," Darcy replies, working his jaw as he continues to watch her. He slides closer to the edge of the bed, slowly. Regulating his breathing, she feels his eyes on her as she moves across the room and picks up her hoodie, pushing her arms inside and zipping it up part way.
When she turns to face him, Darcy is standing motionless, quiet. He takes a couple steps closer and stops. He seems fixated on one of the many freckles that dot her torso, this one along her clavicle. Just as he reaches out, she takes a step back, shaking her head.
"No. Will. We need to —" she shakes her head. "I can't do this."
Suddenly his playfulness is gone and he straightens up, intimidating in his stature. He watches her for a second, confused.
"You can't… or you won't?" His voice is low and tinged with disappointment.
Lizzie can't bear his gaze much longer and looks away. If she's going to survive this with any dignity left, she's going to have to sell it. She takes a breath and prepares for the pain.
He's silent for a moment, watching her closely. He reaches out and cups her cheek, angling her focus on his face. "Look me in the eyes and tell me that."
She pulls out of his grasp and takes another step backward, this time bumping into the desk. "Darcy… you should go."
Instead of moving, or succumbing to his frustration, he simply remains. The only movement is the way he continues to clench and unclench his fists. She spares him a glance, observing the way he stares out at the city, clearly hurt.
"You…" his voice breaks, ragged. "You kissed me back."
"Yes, I did." No sense in arguing the truth.
"Then… what do you mean can't?"
"Just... nothing. I'm handling it."
"Lizzie, what's really going on here?"
"Please…" She stops when he turns and pulls out the chair next to her, sitting down patiently. He looks up at her expectantly, like he's waiting for a story. When she says nothing, he tries another approach.
"Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"I don't…" Lizzie fades off; the knowing expression on his face telling her that she's been caught.
"Look, it's not that I don't appreciate what you did regarding George, but this is one of those things that you can't just throw a checkbook at it and wish it away."
His eyebrows pull together in dismay. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I don't agree with your methods!" Lizzie blurts, shaking her head. "I saw the videos. I know Gigi's involvement and what you did. I know, trust me, I know that you didn't want her to get hurt again, but maybe it was a way for her to heal. By refusing to let her help, you took away her ability to have closure on her own terms."
"I was trying to protect her!" He pushes away, standing. "I've spent most my life with George, standing idly by as he's done one malicious thing after another. By the time he finished with my sister, I didn't care what he did, so long as he was gone. Lydia had to pay the consequences of my impetuousness. I needed to ensure it was done right this time."
"Which I understand, but just because you thought it was the best course of action, doesn't mean it actually was. Yes, the situation has been resolved, but have you actually talked to Gigi about it?"
Will places his hands on his hips and looks away, mouth clamped shut. He clears his throat and looks back to Lizzie. "No. I... tend to isolate myself... when things get to be too much."
"So you threw yourself into work and the merger," Lizzie nods, "I understand that, it's a default mechanism. Doesn't mean it's the best option."
"No," he murmurs, fixing his gaze on the bedspread. "It doesn't."
"You should talk with her, have a genuine conversation as adults." Lizzie suggests softly, feeling out of her element. There may only be 8 feet between them, but she feels the gulf expanding with every passing moment.
After a solid minute, Darcy finally looks back up at her, a curious look on his face. "You said you were 'handling it'. What do you mean by that? Handling what?"
Shaking her head, Lizzie attempts to shut him down. "Nope. I'm not going there, Will. Don't press me on this."
She knows she's in trouble when he gets this stubborn set to his jaw, like he's picked up the scent of something he won't drop.
"See, that might work for Charlotte or your sisters, but it won't work on me," he points at his chest and looks down, remembering that he's still shirtless.
Lizzie bites her lip and starts running through her options. She could just ask him to leave, but that wouldn't solve the greater issue. Or... she could be as vague as possible and somehow appease his interest.
"There's nothing to say, really. I... was..." Lizzie looks up, searching for a safe approach. She starts speaking rapidly, like ripping off a bandaid. "I was contacted by some lawyers instructing me that my videos were under review and that I could be subject to a lawsuit. In the meantime an injunction was filed against me, preventing me from posting any more videos. A couple other things happened, and since then, I've complied."
"Lawyers? Whose lawyers?"
"I can't say."
"Because you don't know or because you're legally bound?"
"I uh…" Lizzie raises her eyebrows, hesitating. "Because I am bound."
"Have you spoken to anyone about this? Consulted your own attorney?"
Releasing a mirthless laugh, Lizzie shakes her head. "Unlike you, I don't have a legal team at my beck and call. I mentioned something to Dr. Gardiner, but I didn't go into specifics. As my advisor, she could also be liable, and... I refuse to let her be linked in anyway. So no, I haven't told anyone about this."
He sighs, exasperated. "How long has this been going on?"
"Uhhh, I don't know, almost a month? It happened around the time I filmed a video with Lydia."
"The only two people that would pursue anything against you would be Caroline or Catherine and considering you were contacted around the time that the Domino App wrapped it's beta run..."
Shit. His deduction skills are astounding. Shaking her head, Lizzie walks closer to him. "Will, whatever you think —"
He looks at her, face flushing in anger. "I know exactly what's going on. Those were Catherine's lawyers. She found out about the videos and is threatening to sue you. She's —"
"She's right!" Lizzie nearly shouts, matching with equal fervency. "I used her name and imitated her in my videos without her permission. Though nothing I said was untrue, I grossly exaggerated real situations and didn't portray her in the best light."
"You don't understand," Will places his hands on her shoulders, "this isn't about you. This is about Pemberley and Woodhouse. She's been opposed to the merger from the start because it'll decrease her stake in the company as a major shareholder. She's using you as leverage."
"Leverage?" Lizzie pulls away, confused. "What? That's..."
"It's brilliant. I can't believe she would stoop to this. It has to be her lawyers." Walking to the door, Will picks up his jacket and pulls out his phone. Trying to overcome her shock, Lizzie runs over and snatches it from his grasp.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm calling my chief legal counsel. Catherine can't do this to you."
"Yes," Lizzie ducks from his reach and holds the phone behind her. "She can. And I'm going to let her."
Still reaching around her trying to get his phone, he grits out, "That's ridiculous. You can fight this."
"You don't get it."
"Fine," he stops struggling with her and straightens to his full height, "explain it to me."
Lizzie frowns, not enjoying the way he uses his sheer size to make a statement. "Catherine told me point-blank at a conference that Charlotte would lose her job and all references if I did anything. I... look, she can mess around with my career all she wants, but Charlotte is off the table. I refuse to risk it."
"Which I acknowledged and told her that if she fired Charlotte, we'd file a countersuit for wrongful termination," she forces out. "Please don't do this. I already refused her other terms, so just let it go."
"What other terms did she have!?"
Lizzie closes her mouth, shaking her head and looking away.
Will reaches out, placing a hand on her hip, the other hand nudging her jaw toward him. This type of contact, while not unwelcome, muddles her brain. "What else was there?"
She rakes her fingers through her hair, sighing in irritation. "I... can't work at Pemberley and... I can't have contact with you or your sister... anyone associated with your family, really."
"Up until five hours ago, I had nothing left to lose. What was a non-existent job and two people I had little chance of seeing again to me? I was willing to take a job in the middle of nowhere as long as Charlotte didn't lose her job and it got Catherine off my back."
He flinches at her words as though they have an actual physical impact. Pulling his hands away, he looks back down, chin tucking. "That's why you called, isn't it?"
She doesn't answer, just continues to watch him work it out.
"You thought... you thought I didn't care – you... you took the job out here -"
"Hold on, let me be clear. I didn't take this job as a consolation. I've wanted it for a while. They made me a great offer and it's a very good position. I'm lucky to have it."
"But... if my company had contacted you sooner?"
Lizzie shrugs, "I'm not sure, I'd already met with Catherine, so there's that."
"Why were you so angry when Dave called earlier?"
Looking at him she's genuinely surprised by this. "Would you be okay with someone handing you a job just because the boss pulled some strings? No. If I get a job, I want to earn it."
"That's what I figured, but I also hoped you'd have thought better of me and known I'd never do such a thing."
Still holding the cell phone, Lizzie tosses it on the bed, feeling chastened and losing steam. "No, you're right. I... shouldn't have assumed such a thing, I'm sorry."
Will nods, tucking his hands into his pockets, also appearing to deflate. "It seems we both have things we still need to work on."
"Doesn't everyone?" Lizzie crosses her arms, growing self-conscious once again. He hums in reply, equally unsure. Starting from his chest, she slowly works her gaze upward until she's looking at him directly.
Seconds pass in silence, full of words unsaid. And like a switch, something changes. Her tongue darts out, moistens her lips. His eyes seem to darken, causing her skin to prickle.
"I -" he clears his throat. "I should probably —"
"Stay," she whispers before reaching up for a kiss. The contact is soft and tentative, completely unlike their earlier exchange. She grips his neck, pulling him closer as he wraps his hands around her, tingling warmth spreading throughout her body. As the kiss deepens, her head starts to fog and the world fades away.
When they part, chests heaving, she keeps her eyes closed as he presses his forehead against hers. He brings his hand up, running it over her hair and tracing the edge of her jaw, causing a hitch in her breathing.
Everything is falling apart and all she can think about is him and the way he feels, solid and strong.
"What are we doing?" she repeats from earlier, almost afraid to know the answer. She opens her eyes at the same time as him, blurred at a close proximity.
"I don't know," he admits, stealing another kiss. "But..." he reaches up, slowly unzipping her sweatshirt again. "I do know that —"
She swallows up his words with her mouth, feeling him breathe the sentiment into her, knowing that if he'd said those three words, this would be too real.
And she's not ready yet.
Instead, she lets him peel off her sweatshirt, pull back the covers, and crawl into bed with her.
"YOU HAD SEX WITH DARCY!"
Lizzie stands and covers Charlotte's mouth with both hands, completely mortified.
"What is wrong with you!? NO." Not quite. Lizzie growls. "Nooooo. Seriously? My sister is right. there. Are you trying to end the world?"
Mouth still covered, Charlotte shakes her head.
"Promise to keep it down?"
Charlotte nods. Lizzie removes her hands, wiping the slobber on her shorts. "Real mature."
"You'd do the same. "
"Wooooooow. I mean. Wow. You and Darcy. In Chicago. CHICAGO. What does this mean?"
"Wait. I'm not finished."
"You don't need to tell me —"
"Ew gross. We spent the rest of the night talking," mostly. Lizzie flushes.
"Back to my story. So, a day after I got back…"
Lizzie answers a knock on the front door. It's a tall gentleman, well dressed in a finely cut suit and expensive shoes. She prepares to get served.
"I'm Chester Worthington the Third, Chief Counsel for Pemberley Digital."
Lizzie frowns. "Listen, whatever Darcy told you, it was a mistake. There's nothing wrong."
"Mr. Darcy didn't tell me anything other that you might be in need my services and to offer them should you be in agreement."
She looks at him warily, uncertain. "He didn't tell you a single thing?"
"No. Only that you are a dear friend."
"I can't afford you."
"No charge, Ms. Bennet. My family has been employed by the Darcys for nearly two-hundred years. If William Darcy tells me his friend needs help, I owe him to see what I can do."
"I don't… know what to say."
"How about we go to that coffee shop up the street and you tell me why he thinks you might need my help. Then we'll go from there."
Feeling like a metaphorical door has been opened, she looks at this angel in an Armani suit and nods. This time, Darcy may have opened the door, but he's letting her figure out how to get through it.
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Why did you need a lawyer?" Charlotte's lips thin, concerned.
"Let's just say that you should be careful what you put on the internet."
"Hey," Lizzie grabs Charlotte's hands, smiling. "Mr. Worthington took care of it, that's all that matters. I think I'm going to invite him to Thanksgiving… Maybe Christmas too."
"Probably not the best idea. Don't think I'm going to forget about this legal thing."
"Let's save it for a rainy day then."
Nodding in compromise, Charlotte takes a breath. "So… your mysterious legal trouble is wrapped up in one tiny, neat bow. Which is great, but you still have a job in Chicago. Now what?"
"I've been talking about it a lot with Will. Trying to come up with a fair arrangement."
"Talking about it? When?"
Lizzie pauses, remembering a minor detail. "We talk a lot… on the phone."
Scrunching up her face, Charlotte's head tilts to the side. "About what?"
"Well, stuff… I guess?"
Lizzie sits back against the wall near her bed, smiling at the sound of his voice.
"So… how'd the talk with Gigi go?"
"Pretty good, actually. She understood why it was so important for me to handle George on my own terms. But she was still a little angry about the way I went about. Kept talking about respect and being a grown woman."
"Yes, so… we're having dinner tomorrow night, just to… set some boundaries."
Lizzie grins. "Good luck with that."
"Doing well. So much has happened lately, I think she's actually enjoying all the crazy."
"Yes, Bing said much of the same."
"He still comes to dinner. Mom tries to ply him with scary looking jello."
"That will never be okay…."
"I wish I could see you." Darcy murmurs into the phone. "I have an unappealing view of the back of Mrs. Reynolds right now."
"I thought she was wonderful."
"Yes, she's perfectly agreeable. However she's old enough to be my grandmother and she keeps bending over to dig items out of a bottom drawer."
"Did you read the book I sent you?"
"I'm half-way through it."
"Good. Let me know what you think about chapter twelve. It's… just call me. Try not to cry."
"Thanks for ruining it."
"Catherine's lawyers agreed to drop the suit."
"I figured as much. There's a reason I sent Chester. He terrifies them."
"You didn't have to, really."
"I will do anything for those I care about," Darcy states. "You should know that by now."
"Yeah, I'm trying."
"Have you thought about Dave's suggestion?" Darcy's voice is tight.
"Yes. It's all I think about. I just don't understand the logistics."
"Your primary office will be at Pemberley, so you'll live here in San Francisco. Once a month, you'll fly to Chicago to work with the Woodhouse team to ensure continuity among projects. Eventually you'll go to London as well."
"Yes," she can almost hear him smile. "A chance for travel and adventure."
"So you'll think about it?"
"We closed the deal! Pemberley-Woodhouse is official!"
"You sound excited! Why is it so loud over there?"
"A bunch of overworked lawyers and directors are opening up bottles of champagne."
"Oh, nerd fun."
"Yes. I wish you could be here. Everyone is thrilled."
Lizzie fiddles with the end of her shoelace. "I wish I could be there too."
"I have a surprise for you." Will's voice is taunting on the other line.
"I have a surprise for you too."
"That's not fair."
"Neither is life," she replies. "I'll tell you my surprise if you tell me yours."
"How about you wait two more days and tell me then?"
"That's it?!" Charlotte gapes. They go to the living room and put on their shoes. "You'll see? What is that supposed to mean? Did he say anything yesterday?"
"No, completely normal last night. I have no idea what's going on." Lizzie pokes her head down the hall. "Lydia, you coming? I told Jane we'd meet her and Bing at the coffee shop in five minutes."
"Yeah, yeah," Lydia exits her room, applying lipgloss as she approaches Lizzie. She narrows her eyes once she reaches Lizzie and smirks mischievously.
"What?" Lizzie asks, suspicious.
Lydia keeps walking to the front door, still grinning. "Nothing."
Glancing at Charlotte, who shrugs, they follow Lydia out the door. Lydia picks up the conversation as they walk to the coffee shop, talking about her weekend plans with Mary.
Upon arriving, Lydia grabs them a couch while they wait in line for Jane to show up. Lizzie, focused on ordering for her sisters, doesn't notice when Charlotte steps aside for a much taller, manlier figure.
"Hey, do you think Jane will want a sc —" Lizzie turns, completely shocked at seeing Darcy standing beside her instead of Charlotte.
"Hi," he smiles at her, waiting for reality to hit.
"Hi? What…" Her face splits into a wide grin as her skin heats up. Her heart clenches in this new and uncomfortable way at the sight of him, making her press her hand against her chest in an attempt to calm the thundering beat.
Completely distracted, she misses how Charlotte reaches around and pays for them. He grabs her hand and pulls her to the side, never letting it go.
"This is… quite the surprise," Lizzie finally says, overcoming her initial shock.
"Good or bad?" His genuine concern makes her smile even wider.
"Only the very best."
"Good, I'm glad. I was worried when you didn't say anything."
"Wonder of wonders, you were able to render her speechless," Charlotte interrupts, handing Lizzie her drink. "I have two hands and four drinks to carry. Help a girl out."
Lizzie, releases Darcy's hand to carry the other drink, looking back to make sure he follows them to the couches. Bing and Jane are sitting in an oversized chair while Lydia is propped up on the armrest, eyes glued to Lizzie and Darcy's every movement. Charlotte takes a seat, leaving Lizzie to sit in the middle between her and Will.
"So," Lydia starts, eyes narrowing at Will. "Are you going to own up to putting that beautiful love bite on my sister's neck? Glad you finally took my advice."
Mid sip, Lizzie chokes on her tea and proceeds to cough for nearly a minute. Darcy doesn't answer, concerned over Lizzie's inability to breathe.
Finally, Lizzie glares at her sister. "Lydia! What the hell?"
"Dude. Don't act like you were an angel in Chicago. I know things."
Lizzie immediately thinks back to all the times her sister popped up with random and eerily correct information in the past. She leans back; surprised that Darcy's arm is propped against the couch, causing her to rest against him in a way she could get used to.
Jane, bless her soul, decides to rescue Lizzie from her obvious distress. "When did you get into town, Darcy?"
"Earlier this afternoon. That's why Bing couldn't meet you for lunch, he was picking me up at the airport."
"Oh," Jane nods. "Was this a spur of the moment trip?"
Lizzie feels Darcy's thumb trace the skin along her neck, causing her skin to tingle.
"No, I was planning this for about a week. My company closed on a pretty large deal and I wanted to get away."
"That's right," Charlotte says from Lizzie's left. Will is still rubbing his thumb along her skin, making it hard for her to focus on Charlotte's words. "Lizzie uh… told me about that earlier. Congratulations."
Will smiles, nodding. "Yes, it's been a challenge the past couple months. But we made it through relatively unscathed."
"I thought Emma wanted the merger," Lizzie turns to look at him, pulling away slightly at their close proximity.
Will frowns briefly. "She wasn't the problem. I think you're familiar with a particular barrier we had to overcome."
Reading between the lines, Lizzie nods. "Ah, right. Yes. That barrier."
"Okay, as fun as this is," Lydia interrupts, bored with the small talk. "Let's cut to the chase. Lizzie, are you still going to Chicago?"
"Sometimes," I want to throttle you. Lizzie shakes her head. "So not the time for this."
"Are you?" Will asks softly. She turns and looks at everyone sitting around her, watching carefully. Sighing, she rolls her eyes.
Returning her gaze to Will, her lip picks up in the corner as she shakes her head. "Nope. I got a better offer somewhere else." Cheers go up around her at the news.
"You're taking our job?" he whispers as he grabs onto her hands.
"Yes I —" he cuts her off, giving her a quick kiss.
"I'm…" he smiles, then looks around, abashed at his public display. "Sorry. That was forward of me."
Lizzie rolls her eyes again and reaches up, cupping his cheek. "No. Not forward at all." She kisses him again, ignoring Lydia's catcall.
The rest of the afternoon is spent idling away with good conversation, loved ones, and full-bodied laughter. When they all stand to go, Darcy reaches out his hand to help her up, eyes full of warmth she's never seen before.
"Yes," she says more to herself, than to him. "I most certainly am."