Today’s Advent treat is a Darcy and Elizabeth Christmas short story I’ve been working on for a few years. Every autumn I’d dust it off and write some more, but never enough to publish it in time for Christmas. This year I decided put a conclusion on it and to post it for our readers. It’s still not ready for publication – there’s another scene I want to write to add some depth – but it’s a complete story and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I’m posting the first part today, the second part next Monday, and the final part on Christmas Eve. No need to worry – there are no cliff-hangers, just Christmas miracles.
This is a modern story set near Woods Hole, MA. It doesn’t include the characters from my Woods Hole stories, but I think of it as taking place in the same seaside universe.
Pride, Prejudice and Snow
It was one of those perfect snowfalls, clouds of puffy flakes drifting slowly down, melting as soon as they hit the salty pavement, but the ones that landed on the purple fleece of Elizabeth’s coat kept their intricate shape. She paused to examine them, marveling at the delicate lace of each snowflake. The snow seemed to bring a deep silence with it, as if hiding the world beyond her immediate reach. The white flakes danced between the lines of colorful Christmas lights bedecking the old Victorian sea captain’s houses.
She drew in a breath of crispy cold air, feeling the chill down her throat, transforming into the warm air she gave back to the cold night in puffs of cloudy vapor. When she was little, she and Shelly would pretend to be dragons on days like this, breathing out fog instead of flames, trying to blow on the snowdrops to make them melt in midair. Elizabeth had never accomplished it, but Shelly was an expert at it, or at least she claimed to be.
Light spilled out from Jane and Charlie’s house. The tinkling sound of hand bells playing Silent Night brought an involuntary smile to Elizabeth’s face as she hurried down the lane and climbed the slippery steps to their house. She shook the snow off her coat by the door bedecked with an oyster shell wreath, stamping her boots on the doormat before letting herself in. She did not want to interrupt the performance by ringing the doorbell.
Sudden warmth and the clash of applause were an abrupt change from the silent, snowy world outside. Elizabeth hung her coat and scarf on the rack below the long wooden banister wrapped in pine garland. The scent of bayberry and balsam mingled with the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked treats. She hoped Jane had made peanut butter blossoms, her favorite.
The long dining room table, festooned with decorated with greenery and holly, was laden as always with a vast assortment of appetizers, cookies, bars, tartlets, cakes, and all imaginable delights. Elizabeth barely found room to put the plate of fresh-baked biscotti she had brought.
“Lizzy!” Jane exclaimed with delight. “You made it. I was starting to think you weren’t coming because of the snow.”
Elizabeth hugged her sister. “You know I wouldn’t miss your Christmas party for the world. It was so beautiful outside I decided to walk.”
Jane reached around her to snag a biscotti. “Chocolate chocolate chip?”
“With dried cranberries. I know my job.”
A crash came from the kitchen, followed by a child’s cry of dismay. Jane made a face, and Elizabeth followed her to the source of the crisis. Half a dozen children crowded around the old wooden kitchen table, now littered with cookies of all shapes, bowls of colored frosting and enough sprinkles to open an ice-cream parlor, not to mention edible glitter, nonpareils and sanding sugar. There seemed to be as much frosting on the children as the cookies. Maggie was holding two halves of a gingerbread cookie, staring with it with all the dismay of a four year old whose prize artwork has been destroyed. “It fell,” the girl said in a quavering voice. “It was the bestest cookie I’ve ever made.”
Jane set a fresh cookie in front of her. “Here’s another one that can be even better.”
Maggie scorned the peace offering and looked imploringly at Elizabeth. “It’ll never be as good. I worked so hard on it.”
Elizabeth laughed and pulled up the sleeves of her red angora sweater. “Sounds like it’s time for a little Aunt Lizzy magic, don’t you think?” She took the cookie halves and placed them on a plate, along with spoonfuls of red, green and blue frosting. Expertly mixing the colors until they approximated the color of the gingerbread, she used her fingertip to spread the frosting like glue between the two parts, then edged them together.
“I can still see the line,” Maggie announced in dismay.
“I’m not done yet.” Elizabeth made a dress out of green frosting, running a fork down it lightly to simulate folds of fabric. With her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth, she carefully lined up cinnamon balls across the break. “See, she needed a Christmas dress with a belt. It matches her eyes.” At least she hoped the globs of green frosting on the cookie’s face were supposed to be her eyes, even if they were dangerously close to the top of her head.
“It’s beautiful,” Maggie breathed. “Make me another, Aunt Lizzy!”
“A little later, punkin. I’ve barely had time to say hello to your mother yet.” Elizabeth licked frosting from her finger, then fought her way through the children to the sink. As she ran warm water over her hands she could see the crowd in the large living room. She mentally noted several friends she should greet before Maggie reclaimed her. Then she spotted a familiar shape standing confidently by the fireplace, one arm resting on the mantle, a wineglass in the other hand, and her heart sank.
She dried her hands and caught Jane’s arm. “What’s he doing here?” she hissed. “You said he was going to be in Japan all winter.”
“He changed his plans. Some problem with his sister, I think, and he just got back a couple of days ago. I didn’t realize Charlie had invited him until he showed up.” There was a pleading note to Jane’s voice.
“Don’t worry, I’ll behave myself. It was just a surprise.” An unpleasant one, spoiling her joyous Christmas spirit. Maybe she should just stay in the kitchen and decorate cookies with Maggie. It sounded better than making small talk while fantasizing about using her self-defense skills to mash Will Darcy into a bloody pulp. She’d go for his knee first. He wouldn’t expect that. Men always expected women to go for the groin, but a good hard kick to the knee would hobble them. Then she’d break his nose with a good palm strike. She shook her head with amusement, thinking that Jane would die of mortification if she knew what her sister was thinking.
“He’s really not a bad guy,” Jane said anxiously. “Lots of guys outgrow being jerks. Maybe he’s perfectly nice now.”
A good hard hand-slap to his ear could rupture his eardrum. Or maybe she should break his other knee first. “Right,” she said with deep irony. “Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.”
Elizabeth squared her shoulders and went out into the living room. Carols were playing softly, providing a backdrop for the buzz of conversation and clinking of glasses. At the drinks table, she helped herself to ginger ale. If she had to deal with Will Darcy, she’d better stay stone sober. There was, however, no reason to avoid Christmas cookies, so she took two of Jane’s peanut butter blossoms wrapped in a napkin.
She had just taken a sweet chewy bite from one when Charlie materialized beside her, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Hey, Lizzy,” he said in a fake cowboy drawl.
“Hey, Charlie. Those cows treatin’ you all right?” It was their running joke, made all the funnier because Jane didn’t understand it at all.
“Ain’t the cows, it’s the pokes.” He switched back to his natural light tenor. “It’s going to be Christmas soon. Peace on earth, goodwill to men. And women, too, I suppose. Right?”
“Are you trying to con me out of my peanut butter blossom? Because I’ll tell you right now, boy, it ain’t gonna work,” she teased.
He put on an injured look. “Do I look like an idiot? You’d have me in a headlock in a minute.”
“If that long, buddy.”
“So repeat after me. ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to, um, people.’”
“Peace on earth, goodwill to, um, people.”
His arm pressed on her shoulder to draw her around. Face to face with Will Darcy. Elizabeth’s feet rooted to the floor.
“Now, you two,” Charlie said in the same tone he used for Maggie when she was misbehaving. “It’s Christmastime. Peace on earth. High school was a long time ago. Would it kill you to have a civil conversation?”
Elizabeth reflected that it wouldn’t kill her, but she just might kill Will Darcy. “Actually, probably not, because by the time I’m done killing you, Charlie, and we’ve dealt with the ambulance and the police and Jane’s bailed me out of jail, I imagine Will won’t be here anymore.”
To her surprise, Will chuckled. “Can I help?”
Charlie took a step back in mock terror, then spoke seriously. “Remember, it’s Christmas. Okay? Can you just try?”
“It’s not good enough that Will and I just agreed on something for the first time in our lives? He offered to help me kill you. Now there’s Christmas spirit for you,” said Elizabeth sweetly.
Charlie shook a finger at her and disappeared into the crowd.
Will said, “He always was afraid of you.”
She bit back the desire to say that he was the one who should be afraid of her. Charlie was right. It was Christmas. On the remote chance that Will Darcy might have changed and seen the error of his ways, she would treat him like anybody else. “Well, Merry Christmas, Will.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Having thus exhausted all the possible conversation topics she could think of, after a minute of uncomfortable silence, she said deliberately, “And a happy New Year.”
He smiled. Elizabeth had forgotten how devastating his smile was. Back in high school it would make her weak at the knees, even though he was dating her best friend and therefore strictly off limits. “You have green frosting on your chin,” he said.
“I do?” She reached up to clean it off, but with ginger ale in one hand and cookies in the other, all she could do was rub it with the back of her hand.
“You’re just smearing it. Here.” Will flicked a finger against her chin. “There, it’s gone.”
Her skin tingled where he had touched her. “Thanks. It was a remnant of my artwork in the kitchen.”
“I saw you helping Maggie. You still stick your tongue out of the corner of your mouth when you’re concentrating.”
“It goes with the frosting,” she said lightly. “Nice to know you’re bowled over by my appearance.”
He flashed that smile again. “You look lovely.”
“You look like you should be in Japan.”
His expression darkened. “I’d planned to be, but something came up and I had to come home.” There was a certain harsh finality to his tone.
Elizabeth smiled. She had known the temporary peace couldn’t last, and Will Darcy would go back to his old nasty self. But she’d done her duty and talked to him, and Charlie would just have to live with that. “How fascinating,” she teased. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe my date is waiting for me.”
His eyebrows furrowed. “Who’s your date?”
“Why, Maggie, of course. I promised to decorate cookies with her.”
“I’d better tag along, then. You need someone to keep an eye out for frosting on your face.”
“And to eat the cookies,” said Elizabeth with great solemnity.
She hesitated for a moment, but could not resist the temptation and held the cookie out to him. With a raised eyebrow, he took the bait and bit into the crumbly peanut butter cookie with its chocolate kiss in the center. Elizabeth shook her head with mock sadness. “Some men will do anything to get a woman to give them a kiss.”
His eyes promised revenge as he followed her back to the kitchen. Most of the children had deserted the cookie-decorating table, but Maggie was still hard at work, smears of frosting decorating her arms.
“Uncle Will!” she squealed. “Look what I made!” She gave him a bear hug around his legs. Elizabeth stifled a giggle when Will tried to unobtrusively brush frosting off his tidy jeans.
“See, here’s the cookie I made. Aunt Lizzy helped me fix it.”
Will held up to cookie in front of him and examined it with great care. “Let me guess. You did the dress and you let Aunt Lizzy do the face.”
Maggie shrieked in delight. “We did it together, silly!”
Elizabeth eyed him. “I did the face during my Jackson Pollock period.”
“I can see that. Very artistic.”
Elizabeth was finding Will’s flirtation too appealing. She needed to remember who he was and what he had done. Frowning, she checked over the remaining undecorated cookies, picked out a heart-shaped one and began to draw fine lines of frosting across it with a toothpick.
“You need to do one, too, Uncle Will,” Maggie insisted. “But we’re out of gingerbread men.”
“How about that nice fat star, then?” Will asked. He took it from Maggie and sat down at the table, lining up decorations in front of him and picking out a few with apparent care. He dabbed on a spot of yellow frosting in the center.
Elizabeth engaged Maggie in helping her decorate, and in short order the cookie heart took on the appearance of an extremely lopsided rainbow. With Maggie’s encouragement, she piled an improbable number of non-pareils on top. “Those are the rain. It’s raining really, really hard,” said Maggie.
Will was bent over his cookie, drawing painstaking concentric circles and decorating each with a randomly located single gold ball or a non-pareil.
Tongue firmly in cheek, Elizabeth said, “It’s a masterpiece in progress.” Trust Will Darcy to turn cookie-decorating into an engineering task. He had no idea how a child’s mind worked.
Will ignored her and dusted the cookie lightly with colored sugar, then held it out to Maggie. “There you go, Mags. Can you tell what it is?”
“Of course I can. I’m not a baby. It’s the solar system.”
“That’s my girl,” Will said proudly. “Not many four-year-olds could recognize that.”
“I didn’t recognize it and I’m well past four,” Elizabeth said with unplanned sharpness.
Will’s eyes ran down her body in its form-fitting sweater and skirt. “I’ll say.”
Her insides began to burn and she looked away hastily. She knew better than to give in to Will Darcy’s sexy charm. “Okay, Maggie, it must be about your bedtime. I think you and I need to wash our hands, princess.”
Will hoisted Maggie and held her up while she washed and dried her hands, then Elizabeth took her turn.
“Uncle Will, you have to kiss me. That’s mistletoe.” Maggie pointed above the kitchen sink.
“It must be my lucky day. I get to kiss my favorite girl.” Will set her on the ground and very solemnly kissed her cheek. “There you go. Do I get a kiss, too?”
“You have to kiss Aunt Lizzy, too.”
“No, he doesn’t. Only one kiss per mistletoe,” Elizabeth improvised, her cheeks hot. She remembered how she had fantasized about kissing Will back in high school.
“I’ve never heard that rule,” Will said. “Have you, Maggie?”
“It’s an old English custom.” Elizabeth glared at him.
“But we’re Americans,” Maggie chirped. “We can have our own customs.”
There was no point in fighting it. When Maggie had her mind set on something, she was as unshakeable as a bulldog. Protesting more would just make it worse. It wouldn’t kill her to let Will Darcy kiss her. Maybe he’d be smart enough to kiss her cheek as well. “Whatever,” she said, making a point of sounding unenthusiastic.
Will gave her a steady look, then placed one finger under her chin to tip her face up towards him. The shock of that slight touch was enough to throw Elizabeth off balance, and she watched helplessly as his face slowly drew nearer. Then his warm lips pressed against hers.
A shock of heat raced through her, creating an inexplicable gnawing ache within her. She reminded herself fiercely that this was Will Darcy, for heaven’s sake. How could she let him arouse her after all she knew about him? Her body was a traitor, but it wouldn’t listen to reason.
Will didn’t hurry the kiss, but he didn’t try to push it further. It didn’t matter. His relatively chaste kiss was already affecting Elizabeth far too much. The intimacy was terrifying, and she craved it so badly.
He drew away slowly, his eyes dark and his expression serious. “Merry Christmas,” he said softly.
Elizabeth tried to hide her discomfort with impertinence. “Didn’t we already cover that?”
“So we did.”
Maggie, tired of being ignored, tugged at her arm. “Will you tell me a bedtime story?”
“Of course.” Especially if it would get her away from Will. “Say goodnight to your Uncle Will.”
Maggie hugged his legs, then followed Elizabeth through the living room where the crowd was beginning to thin. Elizabeth hoped the noise wouldn’t keep Maggie awake long. Not that she was in any hurry to return to the party. With any luck, Will would be gone by the time she was done with Maggie. And she wouldn’t be disappointed when he was. She wouldn’t.
Maggie dawdled over putting on her pajamas, then insisted on a second story and a song, so it was almost an hour later before Elizabeth returned downstairs. Most of the guests had left, but Will was still chatting with Charlie and Jane. Apparently he hadn’t fled the moment she was out of sight. He caught her eye as she came in the room, and she had the feeling he had been watching for her. Did he think that one kiss under the mistletoe gave him some sort of rights where she was concerned? That would be typical of him. Even if it had been a rather amazing kiss.
Pushing that thought away, she marched in. “Maggie should be asleep soon,” she announced to no one in particular. “I’d better be going now.”
Jane said, “Can’t you stay a while? I’ve hardly had a chance to talk to you.”
Elizabeth was not about to sign up for a cozy foursome that included Will Darcy. “I’d love to, but it’s been a long day and I still have a lot to do. Maybe we can talk over the weekend.”
“In the five minutes between your classes?” Jane teased. “I’ll pack up some peanut butter blossoms for you to take home. Do you want some cookies, Will? We’re going to be drowning in them for weeks as it is.”
“Thanks,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to deprive Elizabeth of her peanut butter blossoms. I hear some women will do anything for a kiss – at least when it’s surrounded by a peanut butter cookie.”
Charlie roused himself to ask if she’d like a ride home. “The snow is starting to stick, you know.”
“I’d rather walk, thanks. I love the snow. It’s like walking through an impressionist painting.” Elizabeth took her coat from the closet and slipped her arms into it.
“Suit yourself, if you like to freeze.” Charlie shrugged. “If I spot an ice statue on Main Street tomorrow, I’ll know who it is.”
Will rose to his feet, giving the brief impression of towering over the rest of them. “I’ll walk with you. That way I can reassure Charlie that you got home safely.”
She gave him a disbelieving look. One kiss, and he thought she’d take him home with her? He could think again. “Thanks, but no.”
“It’s dark out, and you shouldn’t be walking alone.”
Elizabeth turned her sweetest smile on Will, knowing how much it would annoy him. “Will, this is Falmouth, not Manhattan. The streets aren’t exactly crawling with criminals.”
Will’s lips were tight. Apparently he didn’t like getting no for an answer. “It’s not a good idea for a woman to be walking alone after dark.”
“He’s right, Lizzy,” Jane chimed in. “I’d feel better if he was with you.”
“I can take care of myself. I teach self-defense for a living, after all.”
“And if someone comes from behind you with a gun?” said Will harshly. “Can you handle that?”
“If someone came from behind me with a gun, you couldn’t keep me safe even if you were glued to my side. And I do have a few tricks of my own.”
“For the sake of Jane’s peace of mind, then.” Will’s frustration was obvious. “If it helps, I’ll promise not to say a single word to you the entire time. I’ll even walk five paces behind so you won’t even have to see me.”
Jane laid a hand on Will’s arm. “It’s no use. There’s no convincing Lizzy when her mind is made up.”
“Don’t I know it,” he muttered. “Just forget it.”
I hope you enjoyed Jane and Charlie’s Christmas party! Do you like peanut butter blossoms or do you have a different favorite Christmas cookie? I’d love to hear what you think of the story so far. Is it worth finishing? I’m still working on the final section, so I’m open to inspiration!