The Perfect Gift

On the path to love, will Elizabeth ever catch up?

In this sweet modern variation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy has been his usual prideful/arrogant self and Elizabeth Bennet would rather have gum stuck to her shoe than be stuck in a room with him.

When the turmoil of having a pre-teen sibling reach puberty knocks Darcy off his pedestal, his only saving grace will be the one woman who confounds him, teases him, torments him, and intrigues him. They say love is blind, but is it totally insensible as well?

Follow along as Elizabeth’s journey to happily-ever-after is filled with obstacles, roadblocks, and her own obliviousness to Darcy’s growing affections. Will she ever find her way?

The Perfect Gift is appropriate for all readers. This story can be read in about an hour and is just over 100 pages in length.

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Chapter One

 “He is a first-class jerk.” Furious, Elizabeth Bennet tossed her hairbrush onto the bathroom vanity with such force, the basket of cotton balls launched from the surface to land on the tile floor, spewing its contents from one end of the room to the other.

“Now, Lizzy.” Jane Bennet sought peace, her constant inclination. “Be nice.”

“I am nice. He’s not.” Exasperated, Elizabeth bent to clean up the mess.

“I’m sure there has been a misunderstanding that would be easily cleared up if only you would talk to him,” pressed Elizabeth’s eldest sister.

“It’s pretty hard to believe he meant anything other than what came out of his mouth, Jane. Will Darcy said I wasn’t pretty and that he could barely tolerate me.” Elizabeth huffed as she dropped the cotton into the trash. “Then, at Charlotte’s party and every other time we have been in the same room, he has stood against a wall and stared all night, glaring upon Meryton’s populace like Zeus looking down on his minions from Mt. Olympus. He’s anti-social, anti-fun, anti-friendly, and anti-Bennet.”

“I don’t think the Greeks had minions, Lizzy. He is pure Brit, like Charlie.” A dreamy vagueness settled over Elizabeth’s sister as she mentioned the man she was currently dating.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “My point is, Jane Marie Bennet, if you would come back to earth for a minute…” Waiting until Jane’s eyes regained focus, Elizabeth continued, “Will Darcy hates me, so why would he say he needed to speak with me? Me?” She poked her chest. “It makes no sense.”

“Elizabeth Rose Bennet! He most certainly does not hate you. In fact, if you ask my opinion—”

“Which I did not.” Elizabeth retrieved her brush and began pulling it through her long, gold-highlighted auburn curls, no longer looking at Jane.

“No, you did not. However, pulling rank, I urge you to rethink your position.” Jane, the epitome of calmness and reason, stepped behind her sister and pulled the brush from her hand. “Charlie, the most amiable man of my acquaintance, would not have as his closest friend someone who was awful.”

“Charlie Bingley’s sister is pure evil,” Elizabeth immediately insisted, validating her position.

“Caroline…is a little challenging, but…we choose our friends, not our relatives.”

“You get my meaning.” Elizabeth turned to look her sister in the eye. “I agree that Charlie is wonderfully brilliant. After all, he likes you.” The mental image of the couple brought a smile to her face. Both were tall, slender, with fair hair, blue eyes, and perpetual smiles displaying perfectly straight, white teeth. They could be an advertisement for The Joy of Young Adulthood and Esthetic Dentistry.

Glancing back at the mirror, Elizabeth noted her hair was temporarily tamed and none of the green salad she had just eaten was lodged between her own straight teeth. She was ready to face the dragon.

An hour earlier, Darcy had sent a text asking to speak with her privately. In the six weeks since the Bingley siblings and their friend had settled in the coastal community of Meryton, the attraction between Charlie and Jane had thrust Darcy and Elizabeth into each other’s company fairly regularly. Certainly, Darcy and Elizabeth had their share of the conversation on these occasions, which typically started well only to rapidly skid into an argument or a fiery debate. They were both possessed of strong personalities with no inclination to budge, at least with one another.

“Be nice, Lizzy. That’s all I ask.” Jane gave her the stink-eye before walking from the room. Of course, Jane’s worst “mean” expression still looked lovely.

Elizabeth pondered the situation as she quickly gathered her hair into a messy bun. At first glance, Will Darcy’s looks had left her tongue-tied and slightly overheated. Well over six-feet-tall, his broad shoulders, slim hips, and strong arms bespoke hours of athletic activity, while his dark wavy hair touching his collar softened a chiseled jaw. However, it was his eyes that captured her own. They were a deep, dark blue framed by heavy, black lashes. Stunning!

She had pretended to ignore him as she sat at the end of one of the long tables in the restaurant after they walked inside. When she caught, in her peripheral vision, another woman wiping her chin, Elizabeth realized she was not the only one who found the man drool-worthy.

The pizza parlor had been noisy with children pouring quarters into the mini-arcade and orders being called over the loudspeaker. Jane had been in line to purchase beverage refills when the Bingley party approached. It was adoration at first sight.

After a short discussion, Jane had pointed to the table, her brow raised. While Charlie’s head had nodded like a bobblehead doll, the young lady with him, who they later discovered was his sister, Caroline, had pulled back in resistance. Clinging tightly to the tall man’s arm, she pursed her lips in a sour expression that Elizabeth now knew she wore quite frequently.

As Jane had returned with her soda and an ice water, a heated discussion took place between the three still at the counter. Into a brief lull in the noise, Will Darcy’s reply to Charlie’s plea to join the angel and her attractive companion was heard.

“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not pretty enough for me.” The tall man was looking right at her.

 Disgusting individual! How dare he use that rich baritone to be critical of her. Certainly, she knew she could never be as beautiful as Jane. Few females on planet Earth would ever be as gorgeous inside or out as Elizabeth’s sister. But, to say it so publicly demonstrated poor manners and an ugliness in a man who had, until that infinitesimal second in time, been particularly gorgeous in Elizabeth’s estimation. Now? She would rather touch a snake (she shuddered) than spend one second in his company.

Unfortunately, because Charlie and Jane started going out, they ran into each other three to four times each week, much to Elizabeth’s chagrin. With Charlie and Jane paired off and Caroline hanging onto Darcy, Elizabeth felt like a third wheel. It made an uncomfortable situation even more unpalatable.

“He’s here.” Jane peeked around the doorway. “I’m off to work so you will have your privacy.” Poking her index finger at Elizabeth’s chest, Jane reiterated, “Be nice.”

“I’ll try.” And, she would. Elizabeth was not made for meanness. She dearly loved to laugh and, in all honesty, Darcy’s efforts to avoid Caroline’s grasping talons had been a source of cheap entertainment since that very first meeting. Elizabeth sighed, muttering, “Let’s get this over with.”

***

Darcy cleared his throat for the third time. Elizabeth took pity on him, finally, and poured him a glass of cool water. Setting it on the table, she reseated herself across from him. He was wearing his nervousness like the t-shirt that fit snuggly over his…

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “You wanted to talk to me? Okay, talk.” He had been in their apartment for almost five minutes and had said nothing after his initial greeting. His anxiety was making her crazy. When he started tapping his fingers on the hard wood surface of the table, she reached over and grabbed his hand. “Stop. Speak.”

Pulling his fingers out from under hers, he wiped his palms on his pants legs and cleared his throat, again. Then, he began. “My sister, Gianna, is soon to be thirteen. I share guardianship of her with my cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, who is two years older than me. He has an older brother and no sisters. His mother works about sixty hours a week as a defense attorney and is rarely at home. My other aunt, Catherine de Bourgh, is not approachable.” He drank from the glass. “Gianna and I lost our parents in a boating accident when she was eight-years-old. I was fresh out of college and completely unprepared for the responsibility, but we have muddled through as best as we can.”

Taking pity on the lost expression in his eyes, Elizabeth interjected. “I am sorry for your loss, Darcy. How can I help you?”

He smiled. “Thank you for asking. It makes it easier.” Exhaling rapidly, he blurted, “Gianna is growing up and I am horrified at the natural changes taking place with her body. She is developing…well,” he rubbed his hands over his legs repeatedly. Finally, he stopped and continued. “Gianna asked to borrow one of my razors this morning. I had not thought…well, I did not want to think of what this transition into a young lady would entail for a single brother who is ill-equipped to guide her through this period.”

“Ah.” Elizabeth automatically knew what he was up against. She had three younger sisters who had gone through puberty. “Speaking of periods…”

“Yes, well, that is a problem, you see…what if she should need something from the store? I would do anything for her, sacrifice for her, and give her my all. I love her more than I have words for, yet…the idea of going to a market and walking down that particular aisle is…” He gulped. “Daunting, to say the least.”

Elizabeth’s instinct was to chuckle at his discomfort. No, it was much more than that. Over the seven years since she had need of those products, she had spied men who appeared frozen in abject terror while perusing the products offered in that particular section of a supermarket.

“I realize, too, that she will need additional undergarments and clothing appropriate for this growth. Like other girls her age, make-up and other…” he threw up his hands. “Oh, I don’t know, girl stuff, I guess. I have no clue what she will want or need. What will be necessary and what she will desire. But you, Elizabeth, you are already…” His hand moved the length of her from the tabletop to the tip of her head. “You are grown and you have enough sisters to know what she needs and wants. Will you help me? Please?”

For the first time in six weeks, Elizabeth looked at him with a combination of pity and compassion. Imagining them orphaned at such a young age was heartbreaking. Imagining him trudging down the aisle with an ignorant pre-teen in tow while she struggled with these changes made her feel his agony in her own heart. However, the idea of building a relationship with a Darcy, enough to share personal information with Gianna, was slightly undesirable. What if she was like her brother—arrogant and prideful? Disdainful of poor souls who hadn’t attended an Ivy League school or been educated abroad?

“What about Caroline Bingley?” Elizabeth offered. “She, too, has been through adolescence and you are on much friendlier terms with her than with me. Undoubtedly, she knows your sister already. Why not ask her?”

“No!” Darcy didn’t pause before replying. “By Gianna’s own words, Caroline intimidates her. My sister is shy and reticent by nature and finds it a challenge to get close to anyone other than myself and Richard. Besides, I do not want my sister to dress in imitation of Caroline. Rather than attracting attention to certain aspects of her body, I think modesty would appeal to Gianna and, as her brother, I would certainly be more comfortable with her looking like a thirteen-year-old rather than a teenager trying to look like an adult.”

Elizabeth looked down at her button-down, short-sleeved top and jeans. There was nothing wrong with her clothing choices. Ire flashed from the deepest part of her soul. “You think I look like a thirteen-year-old?”

“No!” Darcy raised both palms to her. “Not at all. Elizabeth, you and your sister both dress attractively without flaunting your assets. This is how I want my sister to look when in company. At home? She can continue to wear my old sweatshirts and her pajama bottoms and have her hair in a braid. I could care less when we are in private. But, her clothing is too tight and the bottoms of her pants are moving up her legs. She has stopped using our pool and I am aware it is because her swimming suit no longer adequately covers her. School will be starting in six weeks, and I see her anxiety growing as that day looms closer.”

“Okay. To be clear, you are tasking me with befriending your sister so she is comfortable enough with me to go shopping for the most personal items known to womankind. Am I correct?”

“Yes.” His hands were flat on the table, his shoulders slightly slumped, with a pleading look in his eyes. It softened them, and her decision was made.

“Fine. I’ll do it.” Elizabeth had done much the same with Mary and Kitty, her younger sisters. The last born, Lydia, had tagged along so she was fully prepared by the time puberty hit. With Jane’s help, even if the sister was like the brother, this couldn’t be much of a task.

No sooner were the words out of her mouth his phone chimed, indicating an incoming text.

“It’s from Gianna.” His face paled as he looked at his screen. He swallowed. “Oh, Lord. It’s started. She’s in the restroom and…”

Bounding from her seat, Elizabeth ran to her bathroom and grabbed the bag underneath the sink. When she returned to her living room, he was standing, the phone in his hand at his side. “What do I do?”

“Don’t worry, Darcy.” Elizabeth grabbed her purse with the same hand carrying her bag and gestured him out the door with her other. Locking the door behind them, she headed to the passenger seat of his car. “Give me your phone and I’ll text her that we are on our way.”

Snapping her seatbelt, Elizabeth looked at the man trying to put the keys into the ignition with minimal success. Placing her hand on his arm, she calmed him. “We have this. She will be well.”

After a few attempts with words of thanks, they sped off to rescue the damsel in distress.

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