Driving around aimlessly lost its appeal when rush hour hit and it became much less aimless driving than aimless parking on the street with intermittent creeping forward. Every other recourse exhausted, Lizzie finally pulled out her phone.
Two rings and it was time to face the harsh light of reality.
“Charlotte, hi,” she said. “I, uh, I think I just accidentally slept with Darcy.”
A Few Hours Earlier
Lizzie Bennet did not believe in luck. She never had. As a believer in both personal responsibility and a reasonably orderly universe, she didn’t approve of the idea that random chance held much sway over anything important.
Recently, though, she was beginning to believe pretty strongly in luck of the very bad kind. Mostly because she seemed to be replete with it. “Recently” being an interval starting right around the time she walked into the lobby of Pemberley Entertainment Incorporated and noticed that the open, airy space spattered with charming classical decor also contained a wall of portraits of its notable executives. One of those executives was staring down at her with an extremely familiar look. A few months ago she would have called it haughty detachment. Arrogant aloofness. Snide, beady-eyed, snobby judginess. Now, though, it just looked like reserve tinged with vague discomfort.
After all, Lizzie knew William Darcy a lot better than she had a few months ago.
Said improved knowledge was one of the many reasons she felt like every hair on her body was standing on end at the realization that he could be in the building. She wanted to turn around and walk right back outside. Unfortunately, Dr. Gardiner was standing right there, expecting to oversee Lizzie as she started the next phase of her independent study project, which she couldn’t exactly do if Lizzie unceremoniously fled the business at which she was supposed to be shadowing. Avenue of escape: blocked.
She was overreacting. He probably wasn’t even around. No reason for her heart to feel like it was having palpitations. After all, he seemed to spend most of his time in LA overseeing his aunt’s consulting firm. She hadn’t even realized this was the home office of his famed media empire inheritance until she walked in the door. Clearly, it wasn’t at the top of his list of priorities. Even if it was, what were the chances random visiting grad students would be brought anywhere near important top-level executives?
Lizzie had just finished fortifying herself with this impeccable logic when the receptionist decided to ruin her day.
“You must be Ms. Bennet,” she said, voice perfectly pitched with practiced cheer. “We’re all ready for you! Now, usually, there would be an HR representative handling this, but today you’ll actually be escorted by our senior executive assistant.”
Lizzie felt her polite smile turning into a rictus.
“She’s very involved in all of the student and internship programs here and thought that your project sounded very interesting.”
Okay, senior executive assistant. That still didn’t mean that he would be around. Just… his PA. Who was likely never far from him because that was kind of part and parcel to the whole assistant thing.
Said assistant turned out to be Mrs. Reynolds, a sharply dressed woman in her fifties with a warm smile that belied the severe, businesslike aura she exuded. After introductions she kept up a constant stream of information as she began to lead them through the winding corridors.
“Though we’ve expanded substantially, Pemberley has always been a family company. Many of our employees have worked here their whole careers and then brought their children into the company as well for internships and that sort of thing.
“I’ve worked here for- well, let’s just say probably longer than you’ve been alive, Ms. Bennet. I started out as one of the CEO’s secretaries, and now I work with his son.”
At this, Lizzie couldn’t help herself.
“Is he around?” she blurted out. Mrs. Reynolds turned to stare at her.
“Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Reynolds’ gaze had taken on a decidedly appraising glint. “No. He’s not scheduled to be in today. He’s been traveling quite a lot recently.”
Relief flooded Lizzie, though it wasn’t alone. There was also an edge of disappointment that she had no desire to examine.
“That’s too bad, Lizzie,” Dr. Gardiner offered, making Lizzie deeply regret mentioning her time at Netherfield to her favorite professor. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen him, hasn’t it?”
“Do you know Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Reynolds asked, interest officially piqued.
“We’ve met,” Lizzie said carefully. “Over the summer. Friend of a friend type thing.”
Mrs. Reynolds’ face shone with excitement at the very idea.
“How wonderful. I think I can see why you were so curious about him being here.” At this she turned, grinning, to Dr. Gardiner, her tone confiding. “I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He was the sweetest, shyest little thing you ever saw, but he’s grown into quite the young man. Kind, thoughtful, and handsome too.”
At the last, she sent Lizzie a Look. Lizzie wished she’d go back to talking over her head as if she were a five-year-old.
“Lizzie didn’t mention that,” Dr. Gardiner offered with a small smile. “But we shouldn’t put her on the spot.”
“No,” Lizzie said, determined to maintain some kind of dignity. “He is. He’s very handsome.”
Satisfied, Mrs. Reynolds returned to the tour, which drastically improved once Lizzie was no longer being grilled about how hot Darcy was. That didn’t stop her from expecting to see him pop up from around every corner though, or the rush of tangled emotion every time he didn’t.
Mrs. Reynolds’ total adoration for Darcy proved to be a widespread condition, and it didn’t even seem faked. Especially among the older employees. They all genuinely liked him, and not in a kinda-have-to-or-get-fired way, but as a person. It was weird, to say the least. Darcy hadn’t exactly covered himself with glory in the eyes of the Hertford community when he was staying at Netherfield.
Pemberley was like walking into some bizarre alternate universe where he was likable and personable and… human.
Dr. Gardiner excused herself for an appointment after they’d visited most of the main departments, promising to speak to Lizzie later about her preliminary notes. Notes that she couldn’t actually take until she’d had time to sit and go over the company’s operational documents. Mrs. Reynolds seemed to feel that she needed to tour every inch of the building before that, however. Lizzie did have to admit it was one of the most elegant offices she’d ever seen. She hoped, for Darcy’s sake, that Ricky Collins never visited.
She’d begun to suspect that Mrs. Reynolds was finally winding down when bad luck decided to make another bid for her attention. As if she’d fretted him into life, Darcy appeared out of a door at the end of the hall, bowtie and all, staring down at a very official-looking file folder. His gaze barely flickered up, and he headed straight for them.
“Mrs. Reynolds, could you please make sure a memo goes out to IT-“ Lizzie could practically hear the brakes screeching in his mind as his eyes fell on her.
“Lizzie,” he said, voice thick with astonishment, his eyes widening in that deer-in-the-headlights way they had when he’d looked up to notice the camera on back at Collins & Collins. Both times. Not that she’d spent any confusing evenings reviewing that footage, inexplicably drawn to study his expressions or anything. That would be weird. And maybe a little creepy.
She managed a mumbled ‘hello’ before Mrs. Reynolds, casting a few looks between them, took charge.
“What was that memo, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy blinked and Lizzie was pretty sure he’d entirely forgotten what he’d been talking about.
“Uh, IT,” he finally managed, clearing his throat and closing the folder absently. “Please let them know to install the upgraded bookkeeping software on all of the internal networks, not just Accounting.”
“Of course, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds said smoothly. “I’m nearly finished showing Ms. Bennet around. I wanted her to have a good idea of how things run here before she starts her graduate study project. She mentioned that you knew each other, but I didn’t think you would be in today to greet her.”
“I came back early.” He spoke to Mrs. Reynolds, but his eyes never left Lizzie’s face. Lizzie, on the other hand, suddenly realized how deeply fascinating the strap of her bag was. Of course, he chose that moment to address her directly.
“How’ve you been, Lizzie?”
“Good. Fine.” She stared in the general vicinity of his shoulder. Meeting his eyes seemed like a bad idea. The thought of what she might see there — what she might feel — made her chest tight.
“And your family?”
He paused, nodding absently. His lashes fluttered as he looked around, searching for another topic.
“And Charlotte? Is she still getting along at Collins & Collins?”
“She’s doing well.”
“And- and your sisters?”
Lizzie felt that they were pretty clearly included in the “family” question, but couldn’t bring herself to mention it. How in the world had she gone so long without seeing how shy he was? His social awkwardness wasn’t even the least bit subtle.
“They were good the last time I talked to them. All limbs attached and everything.”
Mrs. Reynolds either took pity on them or got tired of the inanity of their conversation.
“Well, I’ll show Ms. Bennet to your personal executive lounge once we’ve finished the tour,” she said with all the assured authority of someone who had spent decades managing the lives of recalcitrant rich men. “I’m sure you’ll want to catch up.”
Lizzie had never been a quiet person, not as a child and certainly not as an adult, but she didn’t make a sound as Mrs. Reynolds herded her away. Her brain was busy imploding.
Considering how she’d felt about Darcy, there was a certain irony to be appreciated. She made him out to be the worst person in the world and, now, she was pretty sure he thought the same of her.
She’d spent months insulting him — practically slandering him — to the entire internet, then topped that by publicly rejecting him so viciously that he fled hundreds of miles. Only to show up at his office like a looky-loo in what really couldn’t seem like anything else but a, frankly cruel, attempt to rub it in. Well, at least he probably wasn’t that upset about the rejection anymore. Lizzie honestly couldn’t blame him at this point if he was celebrating his escape and laughing at how stupid he’d been to think he loved someone like her.
Mrs. Reynolds chattered on excitedly as she continued to lead Lizzie through the building, but Lizzie didn’t hear a word or see a thing. She wished that she had when Mrs. Reynolds led her to the promised executive lounge to wait for Darcy. Her lack of attention meant she couldn’t even plot an escape route. Not that she would really run. No, Lizzie Bennet was no coward and if Darcy showed up and wanted to resume the Most Awkward Conversation Ever, then she’d go ahead and oblige him.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said to the empty room.
It was a nice room, at least, kind of homey. Big overstuffed chairs and soft carpet. It also had one of those huge solid wood desks that looked like it’d been carved whole straight out of a tree trunk. The presence of a Very Serious desk in a lounge was questionable, but perfectly Darcy.
Lizzie dropped her bag on a couch and wandered towards the bookshelf before accepting that if she spied any Russian literature she was going to have a Mom-worthy panic. Instead, she redirected herself towards a coffee table from which a copy of Wallpaper* stared up at her. It figured.
She didn’t realize she was smiling until she turned at the sound of the opening door and Darcy stopped in his tracks. Lizzie schooled her features into her best neutrally pleasant expression.
He looked less bewildered than he had in the hall, blue eyes gleaming far more… purposefully. Her stomach fluttered.
“If I had known you were coming, I’d have arranged to show you around myself,” he said stepping into the room and softly closing the door behind him. The memory of the last time they were alone in a room together this way reared up in her mind and Lizzie’s heart beat rapidly.
“No, it’s fine. Mrs. Reynolds was great.”
“Did you see everything you were interested in? Talk to the New Media department head? I know that’s your primary field of study.” His curiosity was painfully genuine and Lizzie couldn’t take it.
“Look, Darcy, I had no idea that this was your company. I walked in and there was your picture on the wall.” Her voice came out desperate, but she didn’t modulate it. She was desperate for him to know that she wasn’t intentionally trying to screw with him. “I thought you only worked in LA. If I had known-“
“Then you wouldn’t have come,” he finished for her, voice flat. “Of course.”
He’d been moving towards her, but he stopped just out of arm’s reach, jaw tight, making the sharp plans of his face seem more severe. His lips pressed into a firm line.
“I won’t take up any more of your time, then. Mrs. Reynolds will help you with everything you need for your project for as long as you need it.”'
He moved aside then, expression implacable, an obvious dismissal. One that Lizzie couldn’t pretend she didn’t deserve, but when she meant to pass him on the way to the door, she stopped in front of him instead.
“Darcy, I am so sorry,” she said. This close, she could smell the faintest hint of his aftershave. She had to tilt her head back to meet his eyes, but it was important that he understood. In the moment, it felt oddly like the most important thing in the world. “I didn’t mean to hurt you or make you uncomfortable or cause yet more big, awkward, dramatic scenes. I know you must think that I’m the most cruel person in the world but- I just, I’m really sorry.“
“I don’t think you’re cruel!” The level of indignation in it surprised her. And annoyed her. Just a bit. “You’re one of the most passionately caring people I’ve ever met.”
His voice was deepened by emotion and his tone brooked no argument.
“Oh,” Lizzie said.
There had been more, she was sure, but Darcy was looking down at her and she seemed to be frozen in place by the force of his words. Except if she was frozen she wouldn’t be moving inexorably forward, especially when there was nothing forward but a solid (and enticingly warm) six plus feet of Darcy.
Lizzie had absolutely no idea who kissed whom. She did know that it escalated quickly.
There was stumbling and grasping, then somehow she was sitting on the desk, though the change in position was of far less concern to Lizzie at the time than her mission to completely ruin Darcy’s perfectly combed hair. Her skirt rucked up around her thighs as he moved closer, pressing their bodies together. Darcy’s knees thumped loudly against the desk before Lizzie cradled him between her legs. His mouth was still hot over hers, his kisses meticulously thorough in a way that sent heat flashing across her skin.
His belt buckle was jabbing her in the stomach, so she undid it and enjoyed the sound of it slipping through the loops before she tossed it away. Darcy somehow moved even closer, laws of space and mass be damned, and Lizzie leaned back as he pressed forward. She gasped when something poked her in the back, and Darcy mumbled an apology against her throat as he swept the offending object away. It hit the carpet with a thud and he brought his large warm hand to rest on the small of her back. Goosebumps rose on her skin where he stroked it through the thin fabric of her blouse.
They were coming up quickly on the point of no return, the juncture at which there would be no excuses, going whoops, or pretending — even poorly — that this hadn’t happened. The point where any thinking person would know better than to screw William Darcy on a desk. A stuttering sigh escaped from Darcy’s throat as Lizzie ground against him, and she was deathly tired of thinking. Lately, with Darcy, it only resulted in confusion anyway.
There was nothing confusing about how easily the buttons of his shirt gave way or the feeling of soft skin and hard muscle as she ran her hands along his extremely charismatic shoulders. The way Darcy slipped his hand up along her inner thigh and under her skirt offered perfect clarity. And by the time he climbed up on the desk with her, when she was still quivering with aftershocks, all thought period had been reduced to more and yes and there.
Confusion was for later.
“Later” came a few seconds after Darcy did, when he rolled away from Lizzie with a heavy sigh of contentment and the brief absence of contact restored her senses. Said senses quickly revealed that she was lying on the floor of a plush business lounge beside a very pantsless William Darcy and quite probably suffering from rug burn on her ass.
The promised confusion quickly turned into panic when she began her search for her undergarments and could only find half of them. Around then, Darcy recovered from his post-orgasmic stupor, which really could only make a bad situation worse. Lizzie shoved her feet into her shoes.
“Lizzie-“ he began, but there was no way she was letting him get any further.
“So,” she said loudly enough that if no one had heard them before — unlikely, a little voice said, which she immediately silenced — they certainly heard her now. “I’m going to get going. Project and everything. To do.”
“Lizzie, please, we need to-“
Any articles of clothing left behind would have to be counted as a loss.
“Good company you have. Nice. Professional.”
“If you would just-“
“So, uh, thanks for everything,” she called behind her as she fled through the door.
“You thanked him?”
“I was a little at a loss for words, Charlotte,” Lizzie said as she took the steps two at a time on her way up to the room Dr. Gardiner had generously allowed her. The professor had grown up in the neighborhood and she and her sister still intermittently shared their childhood home when needed.
“Not to mention at a loss for underwear,” Lizzie continued.
She groaned as she let herself collapse onto the bed.
“Oh God, I sound like Lydia. I am not the Bennet sister who misplaces her underwear!
“That’s it. I’ll just have to hide here. Forever. I’m sure Dr. Gardiner and her sister won’t mind if I take over their old family home. Maybe she’ll adopt me.”
Charlotte somehow managed to communicate an eyeroll over the phone, which was impressive even for a since-fetuses bestie.
“Lizzie, you have to talk to him. If nothing else, I’m pretty sure you didn’t finish your project today. Especially since you spent half of it not working.”
Lizzie had the presence of mind remaining to kick off her shoes before curling up into a miserable ball on her borrowed comforter.
“Yeah, that’ll go over great. ‘Oh, hello, Darcy, guy who I viciously rejected in front of thousands a few weeks ago. I know I just showed up unexpected at your place of business, then ran off with barely a coherent word after we had amazing sex on your desk, but how do you feel about me hanging around for a bit? Got an independent study to finish and all!’”
There was a pause and Lizzie hoped momentarily that her flawless logic had conquered her exceptionally (and annoyingly) reasonable best friend. She was basically batting zero today though, so when Charlotte ventured to speak again, Lizzie couldn’t really count herself surprised.
“Did you just say ‘amazing’?”
“Charlotte, is that seriously the part of that statement you’re focusing on?!”
“I don’t know,” Charlotte replied. “It strikes me as a pretty important data point.”
Lizzie opened her mouth, but no actual words came out, so Charlotte continued, her voice lowered even though Lizzie knew there was no way Charlotte would be having this conversation where anyone could possibly overhear.
“He kept the bowtie on, didn’t he?”
She briefly considering denying it, but saw no point. She was already in too deep.
“It was bizarrely hot.”
“The desk sounds uncomfortable though.” Charlotte sounded rather suspiciously like she was taking mental notes. Possibly for blackmail. But then, Lizzie had always been paranoid.
“We didn’t stay on the desk the whole time. There was… travel,” Lizzie admitted.
“Way to go, Darcy,” Charlotte said with a chuckle that Lizzie didn’t think was at all necessary. “I guess there’s two things he’s good for.”
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway filtered to Lizzie’s ears. Since Lizzie had already rushed past the professor's sister on her way in, it had to be Dr. Gardiner. Dr. Gardiner who had extended Lizzie every courtesy and every opportunity to help her finish her degree. Which Lizzie had stupidly imperiled in the eleventh hour over an absurd hook-up with a robot newsie. A robot newsie with a sweet smile and nice hands, but all the same.
“Charlotte, this is serious,” she said quietly.
“Of course it is.” The teasing drained from Charlotte’s voice and Lizzie clutched the phone tighter. “Lizzie, do you… have feelings for him?”
That was the one question she didn’t want to answer, didn’t even want to consider in all honesty, which was one of the many reasons she’d called Charlotte. Because Charlotte would ask what Lizzie was too afraid to ask herself.
“Maybe,” Lizzie said, “No. I don’t know.”
And that was the worst part. Lizzie had always been proud of her self-awareness in the face of a ridiculous family and a ridiculous life in a ridiculous world. William Darcy made a stranger of her and it was terrifying.
She sighed. “I just boned the guy in his office, so obviously I don’t hate him.”
“Sure about that?” Charlotte asked. “Stranger things have happened.”
“Very sure, trust me. It was a lot easier when I did.”
The door had opened and closed downstairs five minutes ago, and Lizzie realized that she’d be verging on rude if she didn’t go down and greet Dr. Gardiner. She sat up just in time to hear footsteps coming up the stairs.
“It’s not something you’re going to be able to hide from,” Charlotte said.
“I know, but-“ A soft knock on the door informed Lizzie that she’d crossed over into rude, or at least antisocial enough to be worrisome.
“Hold on for a second,” Lizzie said as she got up to swing the door open.
“Charlotte, I’m going to have to call you back.”
From the hallway, Darcy stared at her. Lizzie stared back. Then, he thrust a small, brown, paper bag towards her.
“You- this is yours,” he said.
Assuming that he hadn’t come to offer her an impromptu drug deal, Lizzie accepted the bag and looked inside. Pale pink and stenciled daisies. Ah, there was her bra.
“Thanks,” she said, then cursed herself for evidently being unable to say anything else to him. “For bringing it back.”
A thought occurred to her.
“How did you know where-“
“I didn’t,” he said, looking down at the floor and pursing his lips. It made the slightest hint of a dimple appear on his right cheek. “Mrs. Reynolds told me you’d been there with your professor, so I looked her up. I thought she might know where you were staying. Luckily... well.”
He’d given up his study of the floor and had progressed to intense consideration of the walls, then seemed to realize that made it look as if he were trying to peer into her bedroom and snapped his gaze forward again. He'd changed clothes, which she knew because nothing was hanging wrong and she was certain that she had popped one of the buttons on his pants, amongst other things. He was wearing suspenders this time. Extra insurance, maybe.
Lizzie would have broken the oppressive silence herself if only she could think of anything remotely appropriate to say. Or better yet, had any idea of what she wanted to say to him.
He cleared his throat.
“Lizzie, I wasn’t looking for you just to return your… garment.”
“Yeah, I worked that out.” When she smiled, she realized that she was laughing at both of them.
“I wanted to invite you to dinner tonight,” Darcy continued.
Now that was a surprise, and she wasn’t sure if it was a welcome one. For all the tenuousness of their current relationship, some sort of weird obligation-driven pity date was the last thing she wanted from him.
“You don’t owe me anything, okay?” She hoped she didn’t sound as wounded as she felt. “I wasn’t trying to trap you into wining and dining me or whatever.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said, raising a hand towards her before arresting it in mid-air then lowering it again. He took a breath, his expression hopeful.
“I understand it’s not the usual order of things, but I’d intended to ask before we, uh, skipped ahead. I’d also like you to meet my sister, Gigi.”
Lizzie could feel the panic rising again. Panic and what she could now recognize as anticipation. The same way she’d felt when she’d walked into Pemberley and saw his picture on the wall, the way she’d felt as she peered around every corner until he appeared. Because she’d been looking for him, not only scared, but excited. For him.
“Darcy, I-I don’t-“
“Lizzie,” he said, raising his hand again, and this time he managed the courage to take hers. She didn’t pull it away. “I know that this has been a confusing day, especially in light of our previous dealings. There’s much I regret about them, for my part, and even more I need to apologize for. At length.
“But I can't bring myself to regret what happened today. I still- I feel the same way I did at Halloween. If your feelings haven’t changed, I understand and I’ll never mention this — any of it — again. We can consider it forgotten.”
He’d gotten way better at these speeches in the intervening months. Lizzie bit her lip to stop herself from saying anything before she’d decided on the right thing. She was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a do-over. His palm was growing damp against hers and somehow it was that which steadied her, that which made it all clear.
“Of all the interactions we’ve had since we met,” she said, grinning up at him, “do you honestly think that would be the one I wanted to forget?”
This time, his dimples were in full force as he gave her a bright smile.
“I’ll admit that for that for the sake of my pride, I’d hoped otherwise.”
“I’d be happy to have dinner with you tonight,” she said.
“Good! Great.” She thought he might jump for joy. She thought she might join him.
“I look forward to it,” he said and, wow, she might actually need him to stay just a little bit bashful because that was one hell of a gaze to have to deal with at full-intensity.
He blinked, studying her face.
“Uh, not that I want you to think- I do mean just dinner.”
Lizzie ran her thumb along the back of his hand, still clasped firmly in hers.
“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she said with a smirk. "We might just get lucky."