"That cheese is twenty-one dollars a pound. Do you know how many orphans you could feed for less than the price of a cup of coffee a day?" She braced her hands on her hips.
Darcy knew she'd like the cheese once she tried it, but if he pointed that out she'd lose that adorable look of badly suppressed outrage as she side-eyed the cheese a couple of times while they walked down the dairy aisle. Maybe he'd put some caviar in the cart today just to see if she could bear it. He was more than willing to admit that winding her up was a nearly irresistible impulse. Her face was so mobile, so beautifully expressive that he sometimes found himself watching her instead of movies or TV programs, or where he was driving, which was a bit of a problem.
She appeared to reach a détente with the Bleu de Bocage and really, she was making an effort not to critique every item he selected. Occasional lapses were to be expected. At least she'd stopped fighting him about who'd pay, though it had taken nearly a full year to wear down her resistance. She'd also agreed to shop at the Whole Foods near his house instead of a Ralph's or the Smart and Final near her old apartment in Venice. William Darcy just wasn't a bulk buyer.
He let her choose most of the staples and generally only added impulse buys, extras, fancy cheese, French chocolates that he peeled the price stickers off of when she wasn't looking—things she would not buy for herself. He was a tiny bit worried that money would always prove a wedge between them, a source of friction, but only a tiny bit.
He stood silently behind the shopping cart and watched her twirl the end of her hair while reading the side of a container of yogurt. She always read the nutritional information. A silent thrill skipped across his skin when he remembered waking up that morning with that same dark red hair trapped beneath his cheek, like stands of silk floss velcroed to his stubble. PDA was not his style, but he was tempted to brush his fingers lightly across the nape of her neck, where she was especially ticklish, where her skin was so soft it undid him. He gripped the green push bar on the cart and tried to exchange a blandly pleasant look with a middle-aged woman who only wanted to reach past him to grab some kefir, but judging by her reaction he failed. She flushed and almost walked into a passing shopper behind her.
Lizzie put a container of yogurt in the cart and checked it off her list without looking up at him.
"Stop that," she admonished.
"What?" he said as innocently as possible.
"Stop smoldering at strangers." There was no heat to her warning.
"I promise you. I was not smoldering at a stranger."
She shook her head and he followed her towards the bread. The bread always took a while, but that was fine. She was wearing a lovely sage green dress—it was fitted without being crass and it was a pleasure to just stand and look at her, knowing that she was his. She'd probably argue if he claimed her out loud and would maintain that she belonged only to herself, but he belonged to her. Why couldn't she also to belong to him? That's the way it should be. They claimed each other, while still remaining very much their own people. Being claimed, loved, didn't make one less. Quite the contrary.
He'd had his mother's four-carat princess cut diamond and platinum ring resized for Lizzie, but it would have to remain hidden in the safe in his office until the time was right. She wasn't ready yet. No matter. He hoped that she would be, if he was patient and continued to learn how to be good for her, how to accept help, how to see her as more than someone he just needed to manage and care for. She was wonderful for him, he felt more, laughed more, and could be persuaded not to wear ties from time to time. She was teaching him how to laugh at himself gently. He liked himself more when he was with her. Everything was lighter, easier, even something as simple as breathing.
They didn't really need to do their own shopping; they had organic produce delivered twice a week and if left to his own devices Darcy would have had the store's personal shopper do the legwork and the groceries would just show up at his house, or his housekeeper would manage the whole thing and food would magically appear when he wanted it.
But a serious long-term relationship is a waltz of compromise. One cannot have everything one's own way. So once a week he went shopping with Lizzie and did not take offense at her occasional verbal sallies over expensive cheese. He also kept mum about any monies he might be donating to organizations that aid needy children. He didn't see why he couldn't eat delicious French cheese and feed orphans at the same time.
As they were passing the fish counter, he stopped and asked about caviar. Lizzie was examining some salmon, but had clearly heard him. She bumped his arm with her own, saying only, "I like the red kind better, especially if we have blini."
He bit back a smile. "Mrs. Danvers will make some. I'll call and see if she needs anything." He told the woman behind the counter that he'd take two tins of the red caviar and nestled them in the small top part of the cart next to the cheese, the place where a child might sit. He could easily imagine their child, their children. Dark haired, sharp eyed, and happy.
Lizzie said, "I will never get past her name being the same as the creepy housekeeper in Rebecca. Even though your Mrs. Danvers is lovely and would never try to gaslight me, or shove me out a window."
Darcy took out his phone and dialed his housekeeper.
Lizzie said, "I'll go grab some crème fraîche."
He was so fixated on the smooth, pale muscles of her calves flexing and contracting as she walked away that Mrs. Danvers had to say hello and repeat his name twice. She said she'd text him a list and sounded amused. She sounded amused whenever Darcy shopped for his own groceries. It certainly wasn't something he'd done before Lizzie.
While he waited for the text message and for Lizzie to return he checked his email, but was startled when a small, sticky hand slipped into his. Darcy looked down. There was a small blond boy, somewhere between the ages of four and eight years old, clinging to him. He wasn’t terribly good at gauging the ages of children.
As much as he longed to meet his own future children, his children who might, if he were lucky, have their mother's eyes—he hadn't the foggiest how to talk to one.
"Hello, young man. Do you need assistance?" He cringed. His tone was much too formal.
The boy looked up at Darcy and started. "You're not my daddy."
"No, I most certainly am not."
The boy blinked up at him and then pulled his little hand back and cradled it against his chest. Darcy looked around wildly hoping the boy's father was nearby, but no one seemed to be searching for a child.
Lizzie returned with a tub of crème fraîche and immediately understood the situation. She crouched down so that she was on the boy's level. Smart. Why hadn't he thought of that instead of looming?
"Hey, there. My name is Lizzie. Are you lost? Do you need some help finding your mom or your dad?"
"My dad." The boy nodded, pale and shaky, but when Lizzie held out her hand, the boy took it readily. She told Darcy she'd be back in a few minutes and headed toward the customer service desk.
He was spending a fair amount of time watching her walk away from him today, watching the sway of her hips and the way the hem of her dress flicked against the back of her thighs. He was utterly besotted, but these days he didn't mind at all.
Once she was out of sight, he inspected Mrs. Danvers's list. He only needed to get buckwheat flour and some fresh chives, but he waited for Lizzie to return so she wouldn't have to look for him.
"Did you find the father?" he asked her.
"Yes. Poor guy was nearly frantic, but they're fine now." Lizzie bit back a smile.
"What?" He trailed his fingers down her forearm.
"You looked so terrified of that kid. You don't have much experience with children do you?"
"No. I was at boarding school and then college when Gigi was that age. I didn't begin spending time with her until our parents died. She was almost ten." He pointed the cart toward the baking aisle and Lizzie fell into step just behind him.
"So you're not opposed to children on principle?" She sounded worried, like she might be bracing herself for disappointment.
"Opposed? No, not at all." He looked over his shoulder, waited until he caught her eye and added, "Especially not if they're yours."
A very satisfying crimson spread across her cheeks and she dropped her eyes for a moment. They were standing off to one side of the aisle and people were perfectly able to get by them. When she looked up her eyes were liquid with some deep emotion. She started to take a step toward him and then stopped, glancing around. He'd trained her not to be affectionate with him in public spaces and maybe that had been a mistake even though it made him uncomfortable and he thought it was odd and off-putting to share something so private with strangers.
But to hell with that. He cradled her face in his hands and kissed her, right in front of the eighteen different kinds of sugar that Whole Foods stocks. He put everything he was feeling into it, because he often had trouble explaining with words. He couldn't help but self-edit, paring his phrases down to practically nothing.
He broke the kiss and drank in the slight unfocussed look in her eyes, the unconscious sweep of her tongue along her lower lip. He noted that two teenaged girls were surreptitiously gawking at them and he let his hands drop from Lizzie's face.
Lizzie cleared her throat. "Go get in line. I'll just grab a few more things and we can head home."
The pointed way she said, 'home' almost had him reaching for her again, but he nodded and went the long way to the check out lines, stopping by the flowers and snatching up roses in every color, except yellow. He wasn't fond of yellow roses, and neither was Lizzie. It was important to know those details—her favorite flowers, the name of the perfume she wore, what kind of caviar she preferred, where she was ticklish, which novels she loved best, what vegetables she disliked.
She caught up to him brandishing a bundle of chives and the last few items on her list. She shook her head at the profusion of roses, but said nothing. She was learning to accept adoration gracefully. She understood that actions were far easier than words for him, if the words were at all emotional. He could speak intelligently about profit and loss statements all day. With Lizzie there was no loss, though he hesitated to call what she gave him a profit. It was far more than that, far better, and the very dearest thing in his life.
On the car ride home she said, "You're always buying things you think I will like. Don't you every just buy anything for yourself?"
"Well… " He really wasn't sure how to explain the gift he'd been hiding "for a rainy day" on the top shelf of his closet. It was quite far above her line of sight, but perhaps this was the perfect moment.
At home he convinced Lizzie to let Mrs. Danvers deal with the shopping and nearly dragged her upstairs and sat her on the edge of the bed.
"I do have something for you, but really it's for me."
"William Darcy! Are you blushing? What the hell did you buy? Please tell me it's not, like, a riding crop, because…"
"No. No." He retrieved the white box, tied with a monogrammed ribbon, and handed it to her. Once again words failed him. They all sounded wildly inappropriate anyway, though why it would be inappropriate to tell the woman you loved that you thought she'd look hot in expensive silk underwear—well, he just didn't know. He was simply built that way.
She noted the name on the box: Le Perla, and laughed. "Oh, I see." She pulled open the ribbon and draped it around her neck like a Twyla Tharp scarf, though ideally with less neck snapping. Under the tissue paper she trailed her fingers along the deep red silk. There was no lace, nothing see-through, nothing really all that scandalous. He'd never bought a woman under garments before, but it hadn't been as mortifying an experience as he'd expected. It had probably helped that the salesman had been very gay and very polite.
She raised an eyebrow, but smiled at him and took the box into the bathroom. He went to sit down, but decided not to at the last second. He walked across the room with no purpose and then wasn't sure what to do with his hands. He felt like he'd never seen them before and they seemed to be awkward no matter where he put them. He folded them behind his back—out of the way.
Lizzie opened the door and leaned seductively in the doorway, one arm raised above her head.
"That's not what I expected." He frowned at her outfit. She was wearing an ancient t-shirt so thin it was almost transparent and an equally ancient pair of running pants.
She doubled over laughing, wiping away tears, when she said, "Your face! That was priceless."
He flopped onto the bed and it was rare he did something so undignified as flopping.
She crawled next to him and kissed him on the nose. "I'm sorry. I couldn’t' resist. And…"
He raised himself with his arms bent, leaning on them. "What?"
She flapped a hand and wouldn't meet his eye. She wasn't exactly blushing, but she did look a bit pink all over.
"Tell me you weren't you shy. You're not usually shy." He ran his fingers through her hair, wondering if he'd ever be able to adequately express how much he loved her. "It's not like I haven't seen you both in and out of your underwear before."
She nodded and bit her lower lip for a moment. "If you look underneath. You might find what you're looking for."
He swung her to her feet so quickly he had to steady her for a moment. She was standing in the V of his legs with a curious little half smile in place. He hooked his fingers into the waistband of her pants and slid them down very, very slowly, which had the desired effect. She shivered. He did the same thing with her t-shirt and then there she was, better than he'd imagined. He'd actually had to stop imagining in the store for obvious reasons, but now he didn't have to. He gripped her hips, running his thumbs over the arc of her hipbones. noting the incredibly fine grain of her skin.
"Well…" she said.
He tilted his face up and said, "Pardon. I was distracted."
"I suppose that's a compliment."
"Oh. Lizzie. I didn't—"
"I'm only teasing. They're beautiful. I don't even think I've ever had clothes to wear on the outside that were so lovely. Thank you." She kissed him and then moved back a few inches and looked him up and down. "I think you might be overdressed."
He raised an eyebrow as if to say, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?'
Just as slowly as he'd peeled her clothes off, she husked him down to nothing, except his socks. His heart did something anatomically improbable when she sank down onto her knees to remove them. He didn't ask her to do it often and more often than not she volunteered, but he'd never make her kneel before him—though he was perfectly happy to kneel before her. He almost pulled her up and into his arms, but something in her expression stopped him. She looked… words were failing him more than usual and he was grateful he wouldn't be expected to be coherent for the rest of the afternoon, at least he hoped it would be for the rest of the afternoon. But she looked beautiful and determined and very much like she wanted nothing more in the world than to take him into her mouth. Which she did, sending a jolt of pleasure so intense up his spine he was surprised the top of his head was still intact.
He threaded his fingers into her hair, cradling her head, but just resting them there, anchoring himself down upon the ground, because otherwise he might just float away, hovering on the thermals of a bliss so potent it seemed to fill up the entire room.
As happened sometimes when his brain disengaged in this way, words came easily and quickly and they poured from his lips. He told her she was beautiful using the entire thesaurus entry to say so. As heat pooled just underneath his skin, threatening to burst right through it, his language deteriorated into coarseness. There was long string of fucks interspersed with other words he generally never used in front of Lizzie, or really anyone. Judging by her enthusiasm, her fingers digging into his hips, she approved.
"Lizzie, wait. I want… come here." He gently tugged her head back and she released him with a sharp pop, which made her giggle. Her lips were red, swollen and irresistible, almost the same deep red of her new undergarments.
She was fluent in Darcy though and immediately crawled up and over him, letting him flip her onto her back. He trailed his finger along the top edge of her bra and said, "It seems a shame to take them off so soon after you put them on."
"Yes. I'm sure you're devastated." She moved to get up. "I can put my clothes back on, if you'd prefer."
"I would not and you will not."
"Bossy." She pulled his face to hers, nipped at his lower lip and for quiet some time there was no space or oxygen to waste on words.
Without any finesse he yanked her underwear off, but decided to leave the bra on a bit longer. He slid his fingers along her sex, gratified by the heat and slickness. Perhaps it was selfish, but he was deeply glad that it wouldn't take her long to catch up with him. He was not feeling at all patient.
She arched her back and he tugged the claret silk of her demi-cup aside, exposing one plump raspberry colored nipple. He drew close enough to breathe against it, but waited until she grew so frustrated she arched up into his mouth. It was wonderful the way she broke down his walls and even though she breached his defenses, he felt safe with her.
"Will. Don't make me wait any longer." She twisted her arms behind her back and unhooked the bra. She looked uncertain about tossing it aside though, so he did it for her, throwing it off the bottom of the bed.
He slipped between her thighs and nudged himself against her, still teasing. She smirked at him, but let him have his fun this time. They both knew dallying would only make it better later. There was a time and a place for tearing off one's clothes and plunging in, but that wasn't at all what he wanted this afternoon. He wanted to make love to her, a phrase he'd learned not to use aloud because she cringed and laughed and complained that the phrase was eternally stuck in the nineteen-seventies. But he was in love and very few acts surpassed this one in expression of said emotion. Better she was in love with him. He could see it in her eyes, the set of her mouth, the way she watched him—even when he was just pouring coffee into a cup or tying his shoes.
At a certain point he suspected he might be torturing himself more than her, so he pushed and entered her, still moving at a glacial pace, glacial, but it was hardly cold. The heat between them was so intense that you could probably strip wallpaper with it.
After when they lay in each others arms, still trying to catch their breath, he traced the circumference of her ring finger mindlessly.
"What are you doing? Measuring?" Words dripping with sarcasm.
"No, I already did that." The words just slipped out.
"You what?" She sat up and turned to him in shock.
He thought very carefully before saying, "I am prepared and I have particular hopes, but there are no foregone conclusions. I am not assuming anything. I don't know what you ultimately want, nor how you'll feel in six months, or six years."
"You can't know how you'll feel in six months or years either."
"Oh, I think I can, Lizzie. I'm long past the point of no return."
She picked at something invisible on the duvet and seemed to be mulling, she leaned forwards a bit and her hair tumbled across her profile, concealing her.
"Did I frighten you?" He wanted to sweep her hair over her shoulder because he could no longer see her expression, had no clue what she was thinking, but perhaps she needed privacy for a moment. He didn't begrudge her that.
"No," she said at last. "No. I'm not frightened. You just caught me off guard."
"Have you thought about it?"
"Yes and no. I've tried not to think about it too much, but I can't help but wonder what will happen—where this is headed. How could I not be curious?"
"Why would you try not to think about our future?" He could no longer resist and tucked her hair back over her shoulder.
She shook her head. "These things don't always work out and I wasn't sure…"
"Elizabeth Bennet, what do you take me for? Do you really think I'd move you into my home on a whim? The only other woman I've permitted to live her, or even stay overnight is my sister." In his vehemence he sat up and pulled her to face him.
"Oh." She was surprised—his intentions, intentions that he'd thought were so transparent, were apparently opaque to her.
"Oh?" He prompted, trying not to laugh at her confusion.
She nodded and that appeared to be all she had to say. It seemed wise not to push her, but rather to let her grow accustomed to the notion that he planned to keep her right where she was for the rest of her life. Even when he'd actively resented his own affections for her, he'd never wanted anything temporary, casual, or fleeting from her. That was part of what had scared him so much at the start, what he'd fought against like an animal in trap, that it was a permanent affliction.
She touched his chin and smiled, a sliver of a smile, but genuine. "Don't look so disappointed. I'm not going anywhere. And anyway if I tried to leave you—my mother would tie me up and drag me back here."
This time he couldn't hold back his laugh. "I'd never thought I'd be grateful to your mother, but really I should be. Without her you wouldn't be here, nor would you be who you are."
She nodded her approval. "Very diplomatic, but don't you wish—"
"You don't even know what I was going to say."
"It doesn't matter. I know it sounds trite, but truly I wouldn't change a hair on your head."
She opened her mouth to argue, but something in his expression must have stopped her. "Well, I am pretty wonderful."
He snorted and had nothing to add.
"Do you really know my ring size?" She held out her left hand and wiggled her ring finger.
"Five. Four and a half fit, but seemed a little too tight."
She gave him a furrowed brow look that clearly asked how.
"You sleep very soundly. I borrowed a set of ring sizers." Thankfully she seemed to find that amusing rather than creepy. It hadn't even occurred to him that it might be creepy.
She curled up on her side facing him and he followed suit. The afternoon sunlight picked out the red in her hair.
"Thanks for the fancy underwear."
What could he say to that? My pleasure? Definitely not. Thank you for accepting my gift gracefully? Well, that was certainly backhanded. It's just the beginning? Much too threatening. So he said, "You're welcome." And then proceeded to show her exactly what he meant by that.