“An Unexpected Harvest”

Chapter 2 

Saturday, December 11th

“I can’t believe you’re making me do this,” Elizabeth grumbled.

“Making you do what?” Jane asked with a laugh. “Go out and have fun?”

The two sisters were sprawled at opposite ends of the couch in Longbourn’s living room, burrowed under quilts. They’d spent much of the blustery winter day inside, only venturing out for a quick trip to the grocery store.

Elizabeth suppressed a smile. “I shouldn’t be held to anything I said last night. You purposely waited until we were at the end of our second bottle of wine before you mentioned this barn dance thing. My slight inebriation at the time should negate anything I agreed to.”

“It’ll be fun! Charlie goes every year, he says it’s always a good time and the food is fantastic.”

“But how can a barn dance be a good time? Will there be hay all over the place? Are we sharing the dance floor with sheep and cows?” Elizabeth glanced outside to the lazily falling snow, barely discernible in the waning sunlight. “Do you even know if this barn is heated?”

“For crying out loud, Lizzy! You’re like the fun police. When did you become such a snob?”

“I’m not a snob. I love to have fun as much as the next person, I just prefer to have it in places that are made for fun, and not in places that serve as shelters for large, smelly animals.”

Jane shook her head. “Of course, I forgot; you and your uppity city friends only go to the swankiest bars and clubs, right?”

“I wouldn’t call a single one of my friends uppity, unless our aversion to barn dances somehow puts us in that category. Plus, I’m not going to know a single person there.”

“I won’t know many people either. But Charlie knows everyone, and he promised to introduce me around.” Jane sat up and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “You said you felt better now that your little hangover is gone, right?”

Elizabeth rubbed her forehead. “I think it might be coming back—”

“Nice try. It’s settled. You remember the conversation we had about going to the DeBourghs’ party, and that’s binding enough for me. Suck it up.” Jane’s voice softened. “And I really want you to meet Charlie.”

“You really like him, huh?”

Jane nodded. “He’s very sweet.”

Elizabeth studied her sister’s expression. “You’ve been out with him how many times?”

“Um, four. Or five. Plus he’s been here for dinner twice. Why?”

“I’m just curious. Has anything…happened?”

“You mean sex?”

Elizabeth giggled. “I was thinking more along the lines of kissing, but since you’re throwing the S-bomb out there…spill it.”

“Sadly, there’s nothing to spill.”

“Nothing?”

“Nada.”

“He hasn’t even kissed you?”

Jane frowned. “He hasn’t even tried. Maybe this crush is all one sided. Maybe he’s not interested in me like that.”

“Who pays when you go out?”

“Him. I offer, but he just shakes his head and gives me the most adorable grin…” Jane paused and shook her head. “I don’t know what to think. Though he did stroke my hand once, at dinner. But I guess it could have been accidental.”

“Or it could have been intentional.” Elizabeth grimaced. “Ugh. Are we really dissecting accidental versus premeditated hand stroking?”

Jane sighed. “We’re pathetic.”

“He’s definitely sending you mixed signals. He’s put no moves on you, yet pays for everything? What about when he was here for dinner, did he just eat and leave?”

“No, he stayed for a while. We drank a bottle of wine, I had the fireplace lit… It was nice. After dinner we just sat in here and talked.”

“And still nothing?”

“Nope.”

“Hm.”

“Yeah, hm. Maybe it’s a lost cause.”

Elizabeth didn’t want to discourage her sister, but she was puzzled. Jane was smart, beautiful, outgoing, eternally optimistic and single. Could it be that Charlie is old-fashioned? Or just cautious? Perhaps he’s taken a vow of chastity, or is simply blind as a bat

“Are you sure he’s straight? And single?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes. The first time I met Charlie’s sister, she told me how thrilled she was that he was seeing someone.” Jane’s brows furrowed. “Although, she may have been jumping the gun a bit. Anyway, to me that implies straight and single.”

And possibly uninterested. Elizabeth kept that thought to herself; the last thing she wanted to do was knock Jane from her perch atop her ever-present fluffy, white cloud.

“Well, like I always say… Nothing puts romance in the air quite like a barn dance.”

***

Will stood against a wall at the DeBourghs’ party, watching the influx of guests as they dusted snow from their coats. There were at least forty people milling about, and he knew many more would arrive soon.

He’d already talked to quite a few people, mostly friends coming up to shake his hand or give him a hearty slap on the back, and they’d all asked the same questions: Where’ve you been? How’s the farm? He’d given his usual stock answers. I’ve been busy. The farm is great.

But when they asked about his father—and they always did—he had to tweak his stock answer a bit. Some days are good, some days are shitty was not the most well-mannered response, especially when the person inquiring was an acquaintance of his mother’s and the reigning queen of the Women’s Service League. He’s doing well, he’d said instead. His spirits are good.

Some days it was true, some days it wasn’t.

The Darcy family had resided in Stockbridge for several generations. The older gentlemen in town liked to regale Will with colorful stories of his grandfather Preston Darcy, who’d been a bit of a character. Will’s father was also well-liked, but Will knew that most of the old-timers didn’t have the respect for his father that they’d had for his grandfather. Once the most productive farm in Berkshire County and beyond, Pemberley had seen some tough times under his father’s care—hence the answers Will gave when asked where he’s been. I’ve been busy was a polite way of saying I’ve been busting my ass, trying to make Pemberley what it used to be. 

Even though his social life had been lacking lately—something George and Charles reminded him of frequently—it wasn’t due to lack of interest. He enjoyed going out, socializing and seeing friends, but didn’t have the time and rarely had the energy. Charles was a good friend and sometimes forced his hand, showing up on his doorstep—just as he had last night—and dragging him out for a beer.

He was glad to find out about the DeBourghs’ party, and his attention was diverted then by none other than Anne DeBourgh as she waved to him from across the room. She was surrounded by a few of her friends, and they all turned to look at him before looking back to her and whispering.

He didn’t know her very well, and even that was being generous. She was attractive in a Barbie Doll sort of way, if you were into that type. He wasn’t, and so he waved back and turned his gaze elsewhere.

He spotted Charles walking toward him with a beer in each hand. His friend had been watching the door diligently, waiting for Jane Bennet to arrive. Will had yet to meet her, and had heard more about her from Caroline than he had from Charles.

Will took the offered beer and glanced at his friend. “So when are you going to tell me more about this girl, anyway?”

“I’ve already told you about her.”

“You’ve said she’s pretty and nice and that you’ve gone out a few times. That’s it.”

Charles leaned against the wall next to Will, but kept his eyes focused on the door. “She grew up here, went to college in Boston, and then moved to California. Her mother died when she was little and her father died a couple of years ago. He left her and her sisters that massive house in West Stockbridge and a ton of money. She wanted to open a B&B, so she bought the house from her sisters and left California. That’s it.”

“Okay, she’s a rich girl from West Stock. Big deal. That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”

Charles’s voice dropped. “I like her.”

Will chuckled, but stopped when Charles shot him a quelling look. “I’m not laughing at you, buddy. Chill out. But you could try to be a little happier about liking her. You say it like it’s a confession. Or a death sentence.”

“I am happy about it. She’s sweet, and very smart, and very…I don’t know. Open and engaging—”

Will’s eyebrows rose. “Oh yeah?”

“You know what I mean, wise ass.”

“I’m just giving you shit.” Will examined his friend’s impassive expression. “And you said she’s beautiful, which is a bonus, right?”

Charles grinned and his eyes brightened. “She’s stunning, and doesn’t even seem to realize it. And she’s an unbelievable cook.” His smile grew when Will laughed. “She’s the whole package.”

Charles straightened suddenly, and Will followed his gaze. An attractive blonde woman had just entered, obviously the Jane Bennet; if Charles had been a dog, his ears would have perked up. “Is that her?”

Charles nodded, his gaze unwavering. “Yup.”

“Don’t you think you should go greet her?”

“I will, I will. Give me a minute to pull it together.”

Will guffawed. “Are you actually nervous?”

“A little. I don’t want to mess this up.”

“Which explains why your relationship is moving slightly slower than a snail on my farm.”

“Fuck off,” Charles retorted, his words belying the grin he was trying to suppress.

Will watched with amusement as the tips of his friend’s ears turned pink, and he knew he’d reached the limit for giving him a hard time. Charles had his reasons for moving slowly and cautiously; Will had teased him enough.

Charles lightly tapped his beer bottle against Will’s. “At least I have a relationship.”

Will laughed. “Touché. You and my mother can join forces and—” He paused when his eyes fell on the dark-haired woman who’d entered behind Jane Bennet. “Whoa. Is that her sister?”

Charles shrugged. “Probably.”

“Wow.”

“No. No way. Don’t even think about it. Find some other amusement tonight.” Charles’s eyes traveled over the crowd. “Look, Anne and her friends are staring at you. You could have your pick there.”

“Perfect. I’ll just go and offer myself up to the highest bidder. And why can’t I think about it? I can think about it if I want to. She’s gorgeous.”

“Yeah, she is.” Charles chuckled, his eyes on Jane once again. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bennet sisters.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready. You want to come with?”

“Nah, I’ll just stay here and…think about it.” Will grinned and nodded toward the door. “She looks a little lost, you better get over there. I’ll find you later.”

“All right. Later.”

Will saw the way Jane lit up the moment she spotted Charles walking toward her, and his gaze slid to the woman he assumed was her sister.

Damn.

If he had a type, she was it. Not too tall, generous curves, lush dark hair, full lips… She looked a bit uncomfortable standing alongside Jane, who was now engrossed in conversation with Charles. She scanned the crowd, and when their eyes met he noted an almost imperceptible roll of hers before she looked away.

He grinned. This could be fun.

***

Okay, so it’s not a barn. Not the kind I was expecting, anyway. Elizabeth and Jane had just walked into the party and for a moment, Elizabeth was hesitant to take off her coat; the short walk from the car to the door had chilled her to the bone. Eventually, she relinquished it to the woman waiting patiently next to the coat room.

“See?” Jane whispered, as if reading her mind. “How many barns have coat rooms?”

“Don’t kid yourself, there’s a cow in there. It’s actually a stall.”

Jane giggled. “Come on, look at this place. It’s beautiful.”

Elizabeth had to agree. The “barn” was massive, easily holding the fifty or so people socializing inside. Everywhere she turned there was wood; the walls, the post and beam ceiling, and the wide-plank floors. It was rustic and warm, especially with the large, four-sided stone fireplace in the center.

A full bar was situated at one end of the room, and at the other, a large buffet table was laden with steaming silver chafing dishes. Plush pieces of furniture and multicolored rugs were scattered throughout. A large portion of the floor had been left open, presumably for dancing, and a three-piece band was setting up. More guests filled the lofts at either end, accessible by black wrought iron spiral staircases. Tasteful Christmas decorations and soft white fairy lights completed the look.

“It’s nice, you’re right,” Elizabeth acknowledged.

“You’re surprised, aren’t you? You didn’t expect this.”

“I didn’t. I had no idea what we’d be walking into.”

Elizabeth glanced around the room, trying to figure out which man could be Charlie. As she observed the other guests, she realized she’d overdressed in her deep green cashmere dress and tall brown boots. Most guests were not dressed up at all—unless one considered jeans dressy. And she’d never seen so much plaid or flannel in her life; she swore that every man present was wearing one or the other or a combination of both.

“Do you see Charlie anywhere?” she asked, feeling a bit self-conscious that they were standing in a room full of strangers.

“No. He could be up at the bar.”

They moved a bit further into the room as the band began to play. It was an upbeat, country-sounding tune and before Elizabeth knew it, people were lined up on the small dance floor, kicking up their heels and twirling about in perfect time.

“Oh Lord, they’re line dancing. People actually do that?”

Jane’s eyes widened. “Yes, everywhere! Two of the places Charlie and I have gone to have line dancing. Lots of people do it.” She watched the dancers for a moment. “It looks like fun. Maybe we can try it later?”

“Um, no. I’ll just live vicariously through you.”

“Party pooper.”

“And proud of it, if it stops me from doing that. Not my thing.”

Jane suddenly latched onto Elizabeth’s wrist. “He’s coming. See him? The tall blonde in the navy blue shirt.”

Elizabeth quickly looked him over. “He’s cute.”

“Cute? He’s gorgeous. Wait ’til you see his eyes, I swear, I could—”

“I know. You could drown in them, right?”

Jane’s cheeks pinked. “Exactly.”

Finally he was standing before them, and Elizabeth had to admit, he was very handsome and had amazingly vivid blue eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled.

“Hey, Jane. It’s nice to see you.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Charlie.”

“You found the place okay? No problems?”

“None. Um, this is my sister, Elizabeth. Lizzy, this is Charlie Bingley.”

Elizabeth extended her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Charlie.”

He grasped her hand firmly. “You too, Elizabeth. Jane says you’ll be staying in town for a while?”

“Yes, through the holidays.”

“Great.” He gestured toward the people around them. “So this is it, the big party. I’ll introduce you to…”

Elizabeth tuned them out, letting her sister chat with Charlie while she surveyed the room again. Her eyes lit on a dark-haired man standing far across the room from her. He was leaning against the wall, holding a beer, and appeared to be staring at her. Probably because he’s never seen a woman in anything but blue jeans before. With a roll of her eyes, she looked away. 

“Can I get you ladies something from the bar?” Charlie asked.

“We can go with you,” Jane offered.

“I’m happy to go. Why don’t you warm up by the fire? It’s cold near the door. What would you like?”

“I’ll have a glass of chardonnay please. Lizzy?”

“Pinot Noir if they have it, please.”

“Coming right up.”

Charles disappeared into the crowd, and Elizabeth turned to Jane. “I think he had a good idea. Let’s get closer to the fireplace.”

They managed to secure some space near the massive stone hearth, and it wasn’t long before Charles rejoined them.

“So,” Elizabeth said, “you’re helping my sister turn Longbourn into the most beautiful bed and breakfast in Berkshire County, right?”

Charles grinned. “It won’t be difficult to do, it’s a gorgeous house.” His eyes flickered over to Jane. “She just needs to make up her mind on a few things before we get started. It shouldn’t be too long now.”

Jane’s eyes widened at his gentle teasing. “I’m working on it, I swear.”

“How long have you been in the construction business?” Elizabeth asked.

He shrugged. “Forever? I took over my father’s business after he died. That was almost seven years ago. But I started working with him when I was around twelve. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

“Then you must be good at it.”

“I think my reputation speaks for itself. What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I’m the creative director for an advertising firm in Boston.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“It is. Do you get to Boston much?”

He shook his head. “No reason to. Last time I was there was for a Red Sox game with my father, so it was a long time ago.”

“Is Caroline coming tonight?” Jane asked.

He glanced around the room. “She is, but she’s always late. She’ll show up eventually. I came with Will, he’s around here somewhere.”

“Oh good, I’d like to meet him.”

“Who’s Will?” Elizabeth asked.

“Charlie’s bestie,” Jane answered, laughing a bit.

Charles rolled his eyes. “Yes, he’s my bestie. We’ve known each other since we were kids. His family owns Pemberley Farm.”

The band launched into another song, and Elizabeth watched with amusement as Jane took Charlie’s beer out of his hand and placed it and her wine glass on the stone hearth and then led him to the dance floor.

Elizabeth remained near the fireplace, sipping her wine and people watching. She wasn’t in her element and felt awkward standing alone, entirely unknown to everyone except her sister and Charlie. And she couldn’t strike up a conversation with a random stranger; she’d never been comfortable talking to people she didn’t know, and could never fathom how some—like Jane—were able to do it so effortlessly.

Her eyes went back to Jane and Charlie. He seemed like a nice guy, but for Elizabeth, the jury was still out. By the time they rejoined her, she’d finished her wine and Charlie offered to get them a fresh round of drinks. She watched as he made his way to the bar, reminding herself to withhold judgment until she got to know him better.

***

Will finally managed to escape from Anne DeBourgh, who’d monopolized his attention for the last fifteen minutes, and spotted Charles on his way to the bar.

“Hey.”

“There you are. Go introduce yourself to Jane and Elizabeth, they’re over by the fireplace. I’ll grab you a beer.”

Will worked his way through the crowd and approached Jane from behind. Because the sisters were near the corner of the fireplace, he couldn’t see Elizabeth but could clearly hear her voice.

“I don’t want to ask anyone to dance and I don’t care if I look like a wallflower. I don’t know a soul here, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

“They don’t bite, you know. Maybe Charlie’s friend Will is into dancing, you could always ask—”

“No! The last thing I want to do is dance with a farmer who probably has dirt under his fingernails and cow shit on his boots.”

Will’s mouth dropped open in surprise—and amusement. He hung back, deciding it would be an unfortunate time to barge into their conversation. He was a bit disappointed, though. Beautiful on the outside, bitchy on the inside. 

“But Charlie says Will is a great guy, he—”

“Are you trying to fix me up with him?”

“No! Why would I fix you up with someone I’ve never met?” Jane’s voice lowered. “And if I was going to do any fixing up, don’t you think I’d take pity on myself and try to hook up with Charlie first?”

It fell silent, and then both women began laughing. Will grinned at this revelation, and decided to have another talk with Charles about being a little more energetic in his pursuit of Jane.

“When did you become so full of yourself?” Jane said. “I just thought you might want to dance, that’s all.”

“I don’t, especially with someone who can’t find a girl to dance with on his own.”

“All right, fine. But for crying out loud, loosen up and be nice.

Thinking again that this was probably not the ideal moment to introduce himself, Will went back toward the bar. He’d heard enough, anyway; Jane’s sister was a little bit conceited and obviously didn’t want to be here.

He made it to the bar just as Charles was getting their drinks. “Did you meet Jane and Elizabeth?”

“Um, no, I never made it over there. I thought you’d need help with the drinks.”

The men walked back to the fireplace, and the conversation between the sisters stopped.

“Jane and Elizabeth, this is Will Darcy,” Charles said as he handed the sisters their glasses. “Will, this is Jane and Elizabeth Bennet.”

Will smiled. “Nice to meet you both.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you too,” Jane said. “Charlie says the farm keeps you pretty busy.”

“It does, but no one misses this party. It’s sort of the official start to the holiday season.”

“It’s wonderful, and what a beautiful place. We were thinking about getting something to eat, is anyone else hungry?”

“I could eat,” Charles answered.

They all made their way to the buffet table and loaded up their plates with an assortment of foods, and returned to the fireplace. Jane and Elizabeth sat on the hearth, while Charles and Will stood nearby. There was little conversation at first, as everyone was content to enjoy their meal.

Charles began to chat quietly with Jane about the plans for Longbourn, so Will took the opportunity to attempt a conversation with Elizabeth—even though she’d made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him or anyone else in the room.

“Charles said you grew up in West Stockbridge. I have a couple of friends who went to West Stock High, maybe you know them?”

“My sisters and I actually went to the Berkshire School. I don’t know many people who went to West Stock.”

A private school. Of course. “So you stuck with your own kind?”

Her brows furrowed. “Well, my closest friends were my classmates, so in that respect I guess I did.”

“Makes sense. Where do you live now?”

“Boston.”

“Oh, you’re a city girl.”

“I’d like to think I’m a little of both.” She shrugged one shoulder lightly as she looked up at him. “You can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl, right?”

“I don’t know, is that really true?” He quickly glanced at her attire, and when his eyes returned to hers, he noticed their deep green color. “You look distinctly city-like.”

“Why, because I’m not wearing denim or flannel? I guess I didn’t get the memo.” Her gaze traveled over him and she smirked. “But I see you did.”

He bit back a grin. “Oh, we farmers love our flannel.  You definitely won’t see much cashmere here.”

“Because it’s a barn dance?”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “No, because it’s eighteen degrees out. It’s not very practical. And if there’s one thing we country folk are, it’s practical.”

“I’ll have you know that quality cashmere is much warmer than wool.” Her voice held a slightly condescending tone. “And flannel too, of course.”

He shook his head. “Damn. I should have worn my cashmere sweater after all.”

~~*~~

Elizabeth had immediately realized that Will Darcy was the man who’d been staring at her earlier, and she studied him for a moment. Is he teasing me? 

“What do you do in Boston?”

“I work for an advertising firm.”

“So you work for a firm whose main function is to positively promote other businesses, right? ”

“There’s more to it than that, but you’re close enough.” Good guess, Farmer Darcy.

“It’s sort of like putting your best foot forward, right?”

“Exactly. Putting the client’s best foot forward would be a better definition. Making them relevant, successful, important and irresistible to their target market. There’s a lot to it.”

“Sounds like it.”  

“And you’re a farmer?”

“Yes. I guess you could say I promote growth, the difference being my clients thrive in the dirt.”

“So you don’t have cows or chickens or sheep or anything like that? Just vegetables and things?”

“Just vegetables and things, though we call them crops in this neck of the woods. We also have a couple of horses, some chickens, a few goats, and a cat named Toto.” He nodded toward her plate. “Finished?”

She stood and handed it to him and watched him walk away. He was back in a moment, and she looked at him curiously. “Your cat is named Toto?”

“Yes.”

“But…Toto is a dog.”

He shrugged. “Not on my farm. He’s a cat who happens to be one hell of a mouser.”

They were interrupted when a woman with dark red hair and a glass of wine in hand came up behind Charlie and wrapped an arm around his waist.

“Here you are! I can’t believe I’m just finding you now! It’s really crowded.” She gave Charlie and Will a kiss on the cheek and then smiled at Jane. “Hi! It’s so nice to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Caroline. This is my sister Elizabeth. Lizzy, this is Charlie’s sister Caroline.”

Caroline extended her hand, grasping Elizabeth’s and smiling broadly. “It’s so nice to meet you! Jane mentioned you were coming to visit.”

“It’s nice to meet you too.” Elizabeth smiled at the pretty woman, who was now closely eying her outfit.

“I love your dress! Cashmere, right? Oh, it’s just beautiful. The color is fabulous on you.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“We don’t have a whole lot of occasions to doll ourselves up around here,” Caroline continued. “Weddings and funerals, that’s about it.” She turned to Will. “Did you save me a dance or is your card full?”

He laughed. “I think I have a few slots open.”

“Anne and her entourage haven’t nailed you down yet? The most eligible bachelor in Stockbridge?”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. Seriously?

Charles laughed. “They’re trying.”

“Shut up, Charlie.” That earned Will a pointed look from his friend, and he grinned at Caroline. “I’ll dance with you. That’ll keep them away.”

“What does that mean? I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.”

“It is.” Will draped his arm around her shoulders. “You can be very intimidating, but in a good way.”

“Mm-hmm.” She turned her attention back to Elizabeth. “Are you excited about your sister’s plans for Longbourn?”

“Yes. I’m happy the house is staying in our family.”

“She keeps inviting me over to see it, but I just haven’t had the time. It’s a crazy time of year for me with work.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I own my own business. Cee Bee Soaps.”

“Did you say soaps?”

“Yes. Organic, all-natural and strictly vegan, of course. I’m working on some butters and scrubs too.”

“That sounds…interesting.” 

“I love the Spa Bar you gave me,” Jane interjected. “It smells so good.”

“I knew you’d like it, it’s my most popular bar.” Caroline looked at Elizabeth. “Anyway, this is my busiest time of year, along with Valentine’s Day. What do you do?”

“I work for an advertising firm in Boston,” Elizabeth answered.

Caroline’s eyes widened. “Oh, you do? How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Well, live in the city, for one. I mean I love to visit, it’s so much fun, but I don’t think I could live there. And I’m just not cut out for a desk job. I need to be able to use my hands and be creative.”

“Amen to that,” said Will, and lightly tapped his beer against Caroline’s wine glass.

“But Lizzy is creative,” Jane chimed in. “She might work in an office all day, but she’s the creative director for the firm. She’s full of wonderful ideas.”

Elizabeth smiled half-heartedly at her sister’s defense. “Thanks, Jane. It’s true, creativity isn’t just about working with your hands. And working in an office isn’t that horrible. I work with some great people.”

“I don’t know,” Will said. “I need to be outside. I always say, if I don’t have dirt under my nails at the end of the day, it hasn’t been a productive one.”

Elizabeth’s eyes flew to his, but he took a sip of his beer and looked away.

“I’ll be sure to give you a few of my products, you’ll love them,” Caroline said. “You’ll never buy regular soap again.”

“Oh, sure. Okay.” Elizabeth mustered up a smile, suddenly feeling like the outcast of the group. They’re pitying me, the poor nine-to-five desk jockey.  

The band began playing a popular country song, and Caroline quickly set her wine down and grabbed Will’s hand. “Let’s go!”

“All right, hang on.” He took another quick sip of his beer and placed the bottle on the hearth before following Caroline to the dance floor.

Charlie and Jane were right behind them, and Elizabeth took the opportunity to observe them again. Charlie seemed more relaxed now and she smiled, feeling relieved for Jane when he placed a hand on her hip and kept it there.

Her eyes slid to Caroline and Will. They were playfully flirtatious, and it was obvious they knew each other well. They casually held each other’s hips and danced closely, leaning in toward each other now and again to talk over the music. He took her hand and twirled her under his arm while he sang, making them both laugh.

She glanced around the room and noticed several pairs of female eyes were on them as well, and she thought back to what Caroline said about Will being the most eligible bachelor in Stockbridge. They were certainly being watched with frank interest. The farmer and the soap-maker. A match made in heaven.

A little bit later, after Caroline had wandered away from their small group, Charlie encouraged Will to take Elizabeth onto the dance floor.
“She hasn’t danced once! We can’t have that.”

Elizabeth felt Will’s eyes on her and waved her hand dismissively. “It’s fine, I don’t mind. I’m not much of a dancer.”

“She’s being a wallflower,” Jane teased.

“Come on, Darcy, take her for a spin on the floor,” Charlie encouraged, nudging Will with his elbow.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No, it’s fine. I don’t want to dance. Really.”

Will leaned toward her and spoke quietly, his eyes on hers. “I would have asked you, but I was afraid I’d step on your toes. I wouldn’t want to get any cow shit on your boots.” He stood straight again and turned to Charles and Jane. “Anyone ready for another drink?”

***

Thanks for reading! Chapter 3 will be posted on February 5th!