Elizabeth Bennet struggled to grab hold of the ties of what she thought of as her tanning-only-when-alone bikini top, with no success. She huffed. Lifting her head, she looked around at the Smiths’ private stretch of beach. Nobody was in sight—not even a sailboat or jet ski was in the water—and that was the only angle from which anyone could see her, except from the Smiths’ house, which she knew was empty. She looked around for her towel. It was on the chair, just out of reach, of course.
This had better be quick, just in case a jogger comes along on the beach.
As she started pushing up from the lounger, she remembered the tall bush that she had replaced for the Smiths last week, leaving a considerable gap in the privacy hedge. Even though Georgiana had said she and the Reynoldses were going out to dinner, and even though she knew that they should be long gone by now, Elizabeth glanced up at the Darcys’ house.
Elizabeth gasped. A stranger stood at the window in the office! The man backed away from the window and quickly disappeared from view. She snatched up her towel and held it against her upper body. Grabbing her cell phone, she speed dialed Georgiana’s cell as she hurried into the house. It rang three times before Georgiana picked up.
“Hi Lizzy! What’s up?”
In a rushed tone, Elizabeth asked, “Georgie, are you still at dinner?”
“Yes, we’re at—”
“I just saw a man in your house,” Elizabeth interrupted. “I’m calling the police—”
“No, Lizzy, wait! It’s my brother, Will. He had a conference call scheduled, so he couldn’t come out with us.”
A wave of relief passed over Elizabeth. “Good thing I called you first, then!” She chuckled. “He’s a couple of days early, isn’t he?”
As Georgiana explained finding her brother at the pool when the two young ladies had returned from Key Largo earlier in the day, the scene that had just occurred at Elizabeth’s poolside repeated itself in her mind. Elizabeth groaned. “I think I gave him quite a show. I was half off the lounge chair before I noticed him at the office window.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I was lying on my stomach... Oh, Georgie! Not only am I wearing that bikini I showed you—”
“Oooo, the yellow one with the polka dots? The one your younger sister gave you to ‘catch men’?” Georgiana giggled.
“Yes, that one!” Elizabeth blushed from her toes to her scalp. “Well, I had a bad feeling about untying the bikini top without you here to help me tie it again, but I did it anyway. Turns out, I was right. It was too awkward, so I just got up. That’s when I saw your brother looking out the window!”
At first, the only response was Georgiana’s laughter. “Don’t worry, Lizzy—I know for a fact that Will appreciates fine art.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “That sounds like something your cousin Richie would say.” She sighed. Not much I can do about it now. “Ah, well. C’est la vie. Enjoy dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow, Georgie.”
Will turned over and looked around, feeling a little disoriented. Everything was white-white: white marble floors, white walls, and white bedding. The high ceilings were covered in very light natural wood. All the furniture was white wicker or the same wood as the ceiling. The decor might have been considered inhospitable; for some reason, here it worked. The atmosphere was airy, cool, and welcoming.
Finally remembering where he was—his house in the Florida Keys—he thought back over what brought him here two days earlier than expected. After having been disgusted by the most recent predatory behavior of a particular social-climbing shrew who showed up at his office yesterday morning uninvited, unannounced, and decidedly unwelcome, he chose to avoid seeing her at last evening’s charity auction and left New York City early.
Unwilling to waste any more time mulling over that subject again, Will closed his eyes and reviewed the very pleasant dreams he had enjoyed during the night, instead. After several minutes, his eyes snapped open, and he sighed. I hate to admit it, but Richard was right. It really has been way too long since I’ve had a date if an accidental glimpse of a half-naked girl affected me like this!
Turning his head, he glanced at the clock and quickly bolted upright. It was almost noon! Gads, how long has it been since I’ve slept in? It must be at least six years—yes, it was the last time I was here.
A sheer curtain billowing in the breeze caught his attention. Crossing the room, he pulled the curtain behind a tie-hook on the side of the sliding glass door. He was greeted with a breathtaking view of the pure white sand of his private beach and the clear blue sea beyond it. The cloudless sky was broken only by a triangle of white from a sailboat in the distance.
Stepping through the door onto the second floor balcony, Will inhaled the heady scent of the orchids blooming all around his house. The sounds of the waves lapping at the shore and the caw of a single seagull were almost hypnotizing.
All this he had taken for granted as a child and a younger man, but after being surrounded by steel, concrete, smog, and noise for so long, it made him feel as if he had stumbled onto a piece of heaven on earth.
Maybe this vacation wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
After showering, Will opened the door to the hallway and hesitated.
When did Georgiana or the Reynoldses start listening to that kind of music?
Curious, he made his way down the staircase and followed the sound. At the door to the living room, Will stopped in his tracks. Dressed in one-piece bathing suits and shorts, Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds were belly dancing! Another woman stood behind Georgiana guiding his sister’s arms and instructing her how to move properly. Judging by their uncoordinated, jerky movements, it was obvious that both his sister and Mrs. Reynolds were beginners.
The teacher said something that Will couldn’t hear, and a miracle occurred. Georgiana laughed! Will attempted to keep his shock from showing on his face in case Georgiana looked over at him. The girl standing before him, giggling happily, barely resembled the one he had sent on ahead of him to the Keys.
His sister had increasingly withdrawn into herself since her horrid experience with a man named George Wickham. Aware that if Will had known about the relationship, he would have made sure it ended immediately, Wickham had convinced Georgiana to surprise him with the news later. Will remembered quite vividly his panic when he saw Mrs. Reynolds’s 911 text message come up on his cell phone, interrupting a business meeting. He had been thankful that he had been in California, not too far from Las Vegas, or he might not have been able to find Georgiana and Wickham before they married. After Wickham’s reaction to Will’s arrival at their hotel, and Wickham’s ridicule of Georgiana as she tried to defend her lover, Georgiana had become extremely depressed.
But now, Georgiana’s joy radiated from every pore. He wondered what had happened to bring about this change in the six weeks she had been here.
The sound of Georgiana’s voice snapped him out of his memories. “Can you show us one more time what this is supposed to look like?”
The instructor agreed and, after a few moments, she stepped out from behind Georgie and Mrs. Reynolds.
Will gasped quietly. It was the bikini girl from next door; the dark-haired goddess who had kept him company in his dreams all night!
Today, she wore a low-cut, black and white tankini. The splash of red at the center of each tropical flower in the fabric’s design was placed perfectly to draw the eye to the lady’s attractively generous curves. The top half of the tankini ended an inch or two above a matching bikini bottom, revealing a glimpse of bronzed skin stretched across her tiny waist. Wrapped low on her hips was a sheer skirt bearing the same design. As she moved with much more grace than her students, one shapely leg peeked through the slit running down one side.
With a flip of her hand, the dancer swept the length of her wavy dark hair over her shoulder to her back as she crossed to the CD player to reset the song, and then faced the other two ladies. When the music began, Will found it impossible to look away. As those long legs stretched, her hips swayed, abdomen rolled, and arms weaved intricate patterns with amazing ease. An arch of her back flowed provocatively into an entire body shimmy that made his mouth go dry. She was absolutely intoxicating.
Georgiana’s voice calling out his name snapped him out of his trance. The instructor stopped dancing and turned to look at him. Thinking of when he got caught spying the day before, he expected her expression to become angry; instead, she blushed. Curious.
“We had the music on low so we wouldn’t wake you, Will.” Mrs. Reynolds turned scarlet.
Georgiana said, “We thought we’d have a lesson before Mr. Reynolds came back from the village.”
Will tore his eyes away from the teacher and shook his head. “I couldn’t hear it from my room.” He smiled. “Since when have you been taking belly dancing lessons?”
Georgiana replied, “I finally talked Lizzy into teaching us. Lizzy?” She turned and waved her over. “Come meet my brother, Will.”
Lizzy? The girl Georgiana hasn’t stopped talking about since she’s come to the Keys?
Elizabeth walked toward him with her hand extended. Will took it. Her grip was firm as she shook his hand. “Elizabeth Bennet. It’s nice to finally meet you, Mr. Darcy.”
Her name sounded very familiar, but he couldn’t place it. “Will,” he said abruptly.
“Okay... Will.” Elizabeth smiled. “You can call me Elizabeth or Lizzy, if you’d like.”
He nodded, unable to look away from Elizabeth’s brilliant green eyes. “You dance very well. I thought you were a professional instructor.”
“Thank you.” She blushed. “I dance for the exercise and usually don’t perform for strangers, but I couldn’t resist Georgiana’s begging any longer.” She broke their shared gaze, glancing down at their hands.
His eyes widened—he still hadn’t let go of her hand. He pulled his hand away quickly. What was wrong with him? “I’ve, uh... heard a lot about you from Georgie and Mrs. Reynolds.”
The music and air conditioning system shut down. A few seconds later, the lights on the CD player turned back on.
“What happened?” Georgiana asked.
“Once in a while, there’s an island-wide power spike,” Elizabeth answered. “Your air conditioning system is very sensitive. It needs to be reset.”
Mrs. Reynolds said, “Mr. Reynolds knows how to fix it, but he probably won’t be home for a while.”
Elizabeth turned to Will. “Do you know how to do it?”
He shook his head. “It’s been years since I’ve been here—I don’t even know where the controls are—but I’m sure I can figure it out.”
“I’ll show you all how to do it, just in case Mr. Reynolds isn’t around next time, either.” Elizabeth walked toward the main entrance and opened a closet door. Along the wall were both the control panel for the air conditioner and the fuse box for the house. She showed them all the steps necessary to reset the cooling system.
“Elizabeth, I’m confused. How did you know how do that? Do the Smiths have the same system?” Will asked.
“Mr. Gonzales showed me a couple of years ago.”
“My property manager?” Will furrowed his brow. Since he hadn’t used the house in years, Will had done what most of the homeowners on the island do—rented the house to vacationers when it was not in use by the family. Mr. Gonzales kept an eye on the house, hired landscapers, and took care of repairs. Mrs. Gonzales cleaned the house. “Why would Gonzales show you how to reset my cooling system?”
“Well, it was easier to show me how to do it than it would have been to describe the steps over the phone if it happened that the system went out.”
Will shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I feel like I’ve come in on the middle of a conversation. I’m missing something. Aren’t you a relative of the Smiths?”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “OH! I thought you knew... the copy of the letter of recommendation you sent to the Smiths last year had your signature...” She hesitated a few beats, waiting for any sign of his understanding, but there was none. She continued, “For the past three years, when the Gonzales family goes to Mexico for two months to visit their daughter during the off season, you’ve hired me to house-sit.”
“Ah, so you are an employee?” Will cleared his throat as his back stiffened. “I do remember my assistant telling me that Mr. Smith called...”
Will raised an eyebrow and nodded.
“I grew up with Charlotte—which is how you found me.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together as if she were trying not to smile at his surprise. “By the way, I know your cousin Richie, too. When I worked for the Smiths last winter, he was staying here.”
Will’s eyes tightened with suspicion. The tension in the air was almost palpable. Out of the corner of his eye, Will saw Georgiana shift uncomfortably.
“I didn’t realize you were staying at the Smiths’ home in that capacity,” Will stated in a voice full of disdain.
Both of Elizabeth’s eyebrows raised high on her forehead.
Mrs. Reynolds stepped forward and placed a hand on Will’s arm. “Why don’t you two continue with the lesson, and I’ll get Will’s breakfast?”
Elizabeth smiled warmly at Mrs. Reynolds and then at Georgiana. “Actually, I’ll be going. If you’d like to hang out later, Georgie, let me know.”
Elizabeth grabbed her purse and shoes, and Georgiana walked her to the front door.
Mrs. Reynolds gestured toward the kitchen. Her severe expression spoke volumes.
Will waited until they were both in the kitchen to speak again. “What’s wrong?”
“Why would you be so rude to that nice girl, William?”
“I have my reasons—you’ll understand after I speak to Richard.” He grabbed an apple from a basket on the counter and headed toward the stairs.
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