Chapter One

                                                            First Impressions

 

            It was a Wednesday, when Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy first met, and it wasn’t exactly the stuff of romantic fairytales.

             “See you later!” Elizabeth awkwardly acknowledged the barista’s goodbye as she struggled to balance the brown bag dangling from her right hand, the satchel digging into her left shoulder, her coffee and IPhone 4; over which her mother was still speaking, with opening the door. The handle slipped from her grasp but she managed to wedge one foot into the gap before the door shut again.

            When she was shoving it open, someone barrelled through the gap. A gesturing fist struck Elizabeth in her left shoulder, the satchel smacking into her cup, making her spill mocha over her new suede boots. The man didn’t glance in her direction even as she let out an curse; instead he made a beeline for the counter, still speaking loudly into his phone.  She turned to confront him for her ruined boots, when she received a text from her sister Kitty. Lizzy where do u keep keys? Can’t get in. Office phone keeps ringin’. Help!!!

            Her mother was in the middle of her rant about Elizabeth and her sisters’ love lives, and so Elizabeth sent a text back. Keep calm K. C u soon x

K came back, closely followed by OMG huge news. NP Let. Hot guy new tenant. Liddy told me. Mum freakin’ cos you ain’t talkin’ 2 her.

            Elizabeth lifted the phone, and nearly get deafened “Can you hear me? Lizzy!!! Hello!!!”

            She winced, pulling the phone away again. “Well I could hear you,” her phone beeped with another message, this time from one of her informants. BL, I’ve left a stack of info on desk. Photos, names, dates. Thx 4 beer. C U l8. TH.

            She smelt Todd Hartley long before she heard him moving about in the second floor apartment. The musty smell was ingrained within his pores, but he was an useful informant so she had learnt to live with it. She continued on her way up to her detective agency.

            Kitty was sitting on the floor, and texting on her bedazzled phone. She only acknowledged her when she saw the state of Elizabeth’s boots. “Lizzy! Those boots were the one cool thing you own.”

            “It wasn’t me.” Elizabeth reached into her pocket for her keys. “A total arse bumped into me outside Costa’s.” She huffed “Eighty quid down the drain!”

            “You should sue him.” Kitty commented. “Get Lottie to arrest his ass.”

            Elizabeth laughed “I reckon you’ve been watching a bit too much Brooklyn 99,” she shoved the door open.

            “Actually forget suing him. You need to sue your cleaner!” Kitty clasped one hand over her nose.

            “It’s an informant.” Elizabeth grabbed the air freshener she kept in the desk, and sprayed it throughout the room. “Open the window.”

            “Already on it,” Kitty coughed. “Why do you let him in? He reeks!!”

            “Yeah but he gets info from people I can’t,” Elizabeth dropped the air freshener back into the drawer, “After he leaves each time, give the room a spraying, and you’ll be fine.”

            “Right,” Kitty flicked on the computer. “So I don’t have to deal with crazy or smelly people do I?”

            “No. Just let the answer machine get it, and then write me a post it.” Elizabeth picked up her coffee and headed into her office.

She had just settled into her chair, when Kitty said “Liddy what’s up?”

Sighing Elizabeth reached for the file on her desk. She spread out the dozens of photographs he had taken. Most of the faces were familiar, but then she saw a blonde, who despite ample curves, didn’t fit with Todd’s usual circle.

She set the photo aside, making a note to ask Todd if he knew her, and then began to sift through the rest of the information. It wasn’t long before she had forgotten about the man who had ruined her boots.

 

 

 

William Darcy climbed the narrow stairs. It wasn’t until the second floor that he smelled it. It rolled out from under the bottom of the door, and filled the staircases, coating the inside of his nostrils and making his stomach roll. The only thing that kept his feet moving upstairs was Georgiana.  He narrowly avoided the figure who came barrelling towards the stairs, pressing himself as far into the paint as he could manage.

            “Sorry mate.” The figure muttered, and then was gone, rushing out of sight. William rechecked the scrap of paper that held the name of the agency and then continued on his way.

            The door of E Bennet Investigations creaked, as he pushed it open, and he found himself in a small office, with just one desk. Behind the desk was a door stencilled E. Bennet. A brunette was rummaging through the drawers. “Where is it?” she muttered, completely unaware of his entrance. “Damnit Kit.”

            “Excuse me?” William allowed the annoyance he felt at being reduced to coming to such a place to colour his voice.

Her head shot up, and rather than the deference he expected, he saw frustration glinting in her eyes. “Yes?” her eyes flickered over him before she smiled, and he had the strangest feeling that he was being weighed, and found wanting.

            “William Darcy. I have an appointment with E. Bennet,” he shook off the brief sense of insecurity, and refocused his attention on his reason for being there.

            “Regarding?”

            “It’s a private matter.” He had no intention of telling a secretary.

            “Oh well, I’m afraid E. Bennet is busy.” She continued to search the desk, for the Miller family’s contact details.

            “That’s not acceptable.” He tightened his hold on the scrap of paper, in his frustration. “I need his help now,”

            “I’m sorry, but all of our investigators are out at the moment.”  She didn’t bend. “You’re welcome to wait, or you can try the investigators in Meryton.”

            The thought of returning to the other agency made his skin crawl. “Very well,” he turned on his heel to investigate the bookcase. His eyes were drawn to an collection of Blackstone’s police manuals, with cracked spines.

            He ran one finger along the second shelf, noting that it was mostly romantic fiction, but then saw Great Expectations. In an attempt to distract himself from the images that had been running on a loop, he took a seat. His hopes of losing himself in the familiar tale were answered as when he looked up again, it was to see that someone had placed a cup of coffee at his elbow.

            He glanced across to the desk, to thank the brunette and was surprised to see that a teenager sat there, she was painting her nails.

            “Is E Bennet back?” he set the book down on the empty seat.

            “They’re waiting for you.” The amusement in her voice surprised him but he disregarded it as he levered himself to his feet.

             “Mr Ben…” his voice trailed off when he was confronted by the brunette from earlier in the day. She was adjusting a picture frame, but turned around as soon as she heard his entrance. 

                “Hello.” She crossed the room to offer him her hand “We weren’t introduced earlier. I’m Elizabeth Bennet.”

               “You’re E. Bennet?” he asked, as he shook her hand.
               “Yes,”
               “Why didn’t you say something?” he was annoyed that she was wasting his time when Georgiana was in very real danger.
               “I did.” Elizabeth informed him “I told you that E Bennet was busy. I was in the process of reuniting a teenage boy with his sister. I’m not to blame for you assuming that I was a man.” She stood and poured herself a glass of water. “Would you like a drink before we discuss your case?” she offered before she took a long sip.
              “No thank you,”
              “Okay.” She seized her iPad, “Take a seat, and tell me how I can help you today,”
“What is your success rate in closing cases?” he wanted to know that he was putting his faith in the right person.
             She sighed, and he could see annoyance in the way that her fingers clenched around her tablet. “I have three cases that remain unsolved, but I have located every missing person I have been hired to find.” Setting the tablet down, she focused her full attention on him for the first time. The concern and empathy shone out of her, when she asked “Is that what you want me to do? Locate someone that you have lost?”
            “Yes. It’s my sister Georgiana.” He swallowed hard, “I’m willing to pay you double your going rate.”
             “That won’t be necessary. I’ll give you a list of our fees when you leave, and will expect the full payment when I find your sister.”
            “Thank you.”
            Elizabeth picked her tablet back up, “Do you mind if I record this, so that I have a permanent record of the details of your case? It will not be viewed outside of this office.”
           “No I have no objection to that.”
            Holding the tablet so that it was facing her, she pressed the buttons to begin the video, “It’s 24th May 2013. The client is William Darcy, and the missing person is Georgiana Darcy.” She slipped the iPad onto the waiting stand which was facing him. He stared blankly at the camera, wondering what he should say. “Where does Georgiana go to school?” she prompted.
            “St Swithuns, a boarding school in Winchester.”
            “Is there anyone that she might have confided in there, if she was worried about anything?” Elizabeth wondered.
            “Georgiana doesn’t keep secrets from me.” William bristled at the thought.
            “It’s difficult for a teenage girl to discuss certain things with her elder brother.” Elizabeth told him. “You don’t really strike me as being a Twilight fan, or being able to discuss periods and nail polish.”
           “I’m more of a Hunger Games type of bloke,” he couldn’t hold back the half smile. “She only really talks about one girl, Anne Mackay. Anne didn’t know anything when I spoke to her.”
          “What happened when she went missing?”
          “She was going on a school trip to Port Solent, three days ago but I got a phone call from the school, concerned that she hadn’t come back from a weekend with her cousin George,”
         “What did George say when you got in touch?” she knew that it would have been the first thing that she would have done.
         He shook his head “First of all you should know that George isn’t our cousin. He used to be a friend of the family, and my dad was his honorary godfather.”
         “When was the last time that you spoke to him?”
         “The last time was seven months after my father’s funeral.” He shifted again “Is it necessary for me to be on camera?”
         “No,” the instant that the words were out of her mouth, he was striding over to look at the picture she had been adjusting.
          He was surprised to see that it was a framed quotation, Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life- Bob Marley. His snap judgement of Elizabeth hadn’t really factored in her being an admirer of the reggae superstar. “When did you last speak to Georgiana directly?”
          “It was at the beginning of the month. She checks in with me every couple of weeks.” He glanced at the bookcase. “I brought a printout of the email that she sent.”
“Did you speak to her by phone, or in person?” she knew how easy it was to fake an email.
         “She came home for the weekend, three weeks ago. She seemed the same as usual.” He brushed one hand over his eyes, feeling a lot older than twenty seven.
          Elizabeth felt a stab of pity, as she saw his hand shake. “Have you eaten a meal since hearing from the school?” he shook his head. “Let’s go, you can tell me more about Georgiana over burgers.”
         “All right, as long it’s not McDonalds. I hate that place.” He waited as she grabbed her coat from the coat stand behind the door.
          “Everyone with any sense over the age of fourteen does.” Elizabeth slipped into her jacket, before retrieving her tablet.
          “Georgiana still loves McDonalds.”
          “How old is she?” William was relieved that the smell on the second floor had dissipated somewhat.
          William dug into his pocket for his wallet, retrieving the small photo he held there. “She’s fifteen, but acts younger and looks older.” He watched as her eyes widened at the sight of his sister’s face. “What is it?”
          “I need to make a call.” Elizabeth pressed speed dial three.
          “Hey BL,” Todd slurred. “What’s up?”
          “I need you to meet me at Dali’s.” Elizabeth bestowed a soft smile of thanks on William as he held open the front door for her.
          “K. See you soon.” Todd hung up, without another word. William found himself lengthening his own strides to keep up with Elizabeth’s swift steps, as they headed down the street.
           “My C.I will be here soon.” She answered the anxious look on William’s face. “If it is your sister, then we’ll take it from there. If it isn’t, then I’ll need some more information to get some decent leads.” She bypassed the line of people waiting to get into what, to William looked like a non-descript place, and pushed open the door. A blast of heat, chatter escaped.
           William’s eyes darted around, landing on the mural of various famous faces from the fifties and sixties. He recognised the Beatles and Audrey Hepburn, before his attention was drawn back to Elizabeth. “What do we do until then?” she had commandeered a booth right by the window, and was taking her jacket off.
           “We have something to eat.” Elizabeth picked up a menu, and handed it to him the instant he was seated.
           “Don’t you want to look?” a glance over the burgers section alone had his brain racing; there were at least two dozen to choose from.
        A waitress called out “Usual Liz?”
        “Yeah cheers Aura.”
        “It’s already on!” the man’s voice came from the kitchen.
        “Thanks Harvey!” Elizabeth glanced over at William to see that he was still studying the menu intently. She took the opportunity to take him in. She noted the arrogance he wore as armour, hiding the love he held for his sister, the pride in his appearance which was revealed in his groomed exterior, and the wealth shown by his tailored clothes. “So have you made your choice?”
         “Yeah, I’ll have the pulled pork burger, with onion rings.” He decided.
         “Good choice.” The waitress scribbled the order down, and then turned back to Elizabeth. “How is Lottie doing? It’s been a while since she phoned me back.”
          “She’s been working overtime. But, maybe we can organise a girls’ night out for Saturday?”
           “That’ll be great.” Aura went to deal with customer, dropping William’s order form off at the grill on her way.
           “You’re friends with the waitress?” William grasped for something to say, as silence descended.
          “I’ve been friends with her since primary school.” Her burger arrived, the platter overflowing with fries which were covered by lashings of cheese. Elizabeth grabbed the mayonnaise, squeezing a dollop onto the side of her plate, before dipping one fry into it and biting down. Her eyes flickered shut the moment that the potato hit her tongue, and she let out a sound of contentment.
          “They’re as good as they look then?” Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed as she opened her eyes again. It was then that he saw the truth of her reputation as one of the prettiest women in Meryton.
        “Harvey’s a wizard when it comes to burgers.”
         “He’s got magic fingers,” Aura laughed when she set the pulled pork burger down before William. “Enjoy,”
          William cut his burger in half. “Okay I get why there was such a queue now,” he confessed when he had taken his first bite. Elizabeth beamed at him, and he couldn’t help but smile back.
           She felt her phone vibrate and fished it out to see I’m right outside. Come on BL. “I’ll be back soon. My C.I. is outside.” William nodded, through the mouthful of food and watched as Elizabeth left the café. Through the window he could see her chatting with the skeletal man William had encountered at her offices.