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He had been offensive, hadn't he? Or could she explain his words differently? With a shock, she suddenly grasped the import of what the baroness had said: he was engaged to his own cousin. Was that still legal? It sounded frightfully outdated, a couple of centuries out of date. Surely, he couldn't be that dishonourable! Or was he? Cheating on two women? ...

And Very Impolitic Too

Chapter 10 - part 1
A black widow's bull...

Being unexpectedly confronted with this formidable lady, all dressed in black, veiled hat and cane included, Elly wasn't granted the time to dwell on her sudden feeling of loss when Darcy left her alone by the river.

Though it was clear with whom she was dealing, Elly thought the attitude and body language of the woman so irritating that she replied, "Indeed, I am Elly van Benthem, Madam. Have we had the pleasure of meeting before?"

"No, we have not, but surely you ought to know who I am, Miss van Benthem. I am Baroness Terborgh". Gesturing at a woman in her early thirties standing next to her, she continued, "This is my daughter, Freule Anneke Terborgh."

One brow raised, Elly nodded to both women; the Baroness had no inclination to shake hands, and Elly didn't feel like taking the initiative. Taking her in from head to feet, Elly couldn't help noticing that, dressed as she was, Anneke was a typical exponent of her class: a pleated skirt with a short Burberry trench coat, feet stuck in patent leathers with a copper finished heel, and, of course, a pearl chain around her neck. An amber coloured diadem kept her mouse-coloured hair out of her plain face. Could someone look more dull and unattractive, despite the cost of her outfit? Elly wondered, looking furtively at her own casual, inexpensive H&M outfit.

Her ladyship cast her a superior glance and seemed to wait for an awe-filled reaction on Elly's part. However, at the derisive, stately tone with which the woman chose to address her, Elly remained perfectly blank and unimpressed.

"Ought to know you?" she finally replied with faux-innocence. "Hmm... well, I'm sorry to say I didn't, milady, until my friend Charlotte Lucas, Willem Colijn's wife, was kind enough to inform me about you."

With contempt in her voice, the Baroness continued, "I know you though, Miss van Benthem. I watch the television once in a while and through that medium I became acquainted with your pert opinions during the debates for the last elections. I assure you, you did not earn my good opinion by calling my party leader dishonest, a twister and what not! Does the term respect mean anything at all to you or your party? Nowadays some politicians, particularly those belonging to the left-wing, have no idea what the word propriety entails."

When pronouncing the term left-wing, the expression on Catharina Terborgh's face was one of sheer disgust.

Elly had to stifle her laughter. Gosh, perhaps I totally misunderstood William. If this... this black widow is an example of his family, he must have meant his family's ill-breeding might put me off instead of mine him! Glancing at the daughter, Elly noticed she was totally unmoved, if not utterly bored, by her mother's words and didn't give a sign at all of agreeing or not.

"I'm sorry, milady, if I've offended you through your party leader. If certain opinions are contrary to yours, let me remind you that we have freedom of speech. So, I won't deny you your democratic right to whatever you wish to call pert, though I wouldn't have chosen that term. I do recall my words didn't just appear out of thin air, they were well argued and-"

"Enough of that." Her ladyship rudely cut her off. "I noticed you had a discussion with my nephew, Mr. Darcy. I wasn't aware you were acquainted with my daughter's fiancé."

"Your dau... daughter's fiancé?" Elly stammered. She was stunned, she couldn't believe her ears, and for a moment, she was speechless. Judging by the look on her face, Anneke didn't know what her mother was speaking of either.

"Mama, please!" she finally uttered, a blush colouring her face.

Hmm... she can talk, Elly thought, and apparently her mother has embarrassed her.

"Silence, Anneke, I do not recall having asked you anything." Catharina Terborgh cast her daughter a furious glance. Turning to Elly again, she continued, "If you think, Miss van Benthem, that the tête-à-tête you've just had with my nephew could possibly alter the marital plans his mother and I planned for our children when they were in their cradle, you are quite mistaken."

How could she believe one conversation on a river bank could alter marital plans? This woman is quite mad! Elly realised. Does she have any idea in which century she lives? I bet she hasn't left her estate for decades. The Swinging Sixties probably escaped her notice entirely. Poor Anneke!

For the first time in her life, Elly appreciated her mother's worth. Admittedly, Mrs. van Benthem was not an ideal mother -- far from it -- but she was warm and caring, and acted with the best intentions for her daughters' happiness. Granted, she was a little foolish and panicky; a hypochondriac who often complained about nerves, and was scared to death of any illnesses, so much so, her GP had a separate drawer for her substantial medical file, containing results - all negative -- from tests she'd insisted be taken through the years.

Elly chuckled inwardly. The times her father had rolled his eyes when having to listen to his wife's lamentations about doctor's visits were countless. Her daughters, for their part, positively hated it when she sang out loud and danced, if you could call it that, to the hits of the sixties while working in the yard. Nevertheless, she overwhelmingly preferred her mother's behaviour compared to the disgusting arrogance the woman in front of her exhibited.

Elly solemnly promised to never be annoyed by her mother's foolish and sometimes embarrassing behaviour ever again, all the while knowing the promise would last until the next time she set eyes on her mother.

"Well, what have you to say to that? Are you listening to me, young lady?" The baroness's shrill voice awakened her from her musings.

"Whatever I had to discuss with your nephew is our business, not yours."

"It is my business! I'm his only aunt, and I am responsible for his welfare."

Elly had great trouble maintaining her composure, barely withholding a snort. She couldn't decide whether to be amused, annoyed, or both.

"I've read the article in that nonsensical tabloid about your encounter with my nephew and I just have to warn you, stay away from him. He will not and cannot be yours ever. As if it isn't bad enough my nephew Frits votes Labour, the very thought that its representatives might have drawn the attraction of my nephew Fitzwilliam... I couldn't bear it."

Shaking her head in disbelief, Elly pondered, What do you know!? She knew perfectly well William and I were acquainted and pretended otherwise! Miss High- and-Mighty even admits reading the tabloids! Bet she doesn't want that piece of information to spread in her aristocratic circles. Silly woman.

"What you could or could not bear, is none of my concern, madam. Why bother reading such nonsense if you attach little value to them? I fully agree, by the way, they're full of crap. Fortunately, we live in a democracy, and regardless of family traditions, adult individuals are free to make their own choices be they about political parties, matters of the heart, career or whatever. Be that as it may, I have a lunch appointment with my friend Charlotte, so you must excuse me. Goodbye. Nice to have met you, Anneke." She nodded at the daughter, still silently standing behind her mother.

"This is not to be borne, I'm not finished yet. So, by qualifying the magazine as crap, you mean to say you're not having an affair with my nephew? That the article is a complete falsehood?"

"Whether I am or not, I feel no obligation nor inclination to inform you about my private life. Feel free to ask your nephew if you believe he'll give you an answer. I consider our discussion closed."

Here Elly took a deep breath to calm her agitated condition so as to not lose control. She should have turned and walked away immediately, but before she even attempted to leave, the baroness lifted her cane and pressed it firmly against Elly's arm to impede her departure.

"I will decide when a discussion is closed or not! Listen to me, you are nothing but a farmer's daughter, a social climber who'd do anything to make a career. God knows how you managed to stand for a winnable seat: threw all your feminine assets into the fray, did you?"

Oh my God, William said something similar to his friend Charles in the café, Elly pondered with horror. What are those people thinking? He about the opposite sex, and his aunt about her own? Elly was appalled.

"And what about your horrible accent? Do you really think my nephew could have you accompany him to official events, have you introduced to the Queen at the opening of the new parliamentary year? Do you not understand that a connection with you will disgrace him in the eyes of his family and friends, not to mention his political party? Don't you realise you'd ruin his career, shaming him in front of his relations? And poor Pemberley! Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? Never!" the Baroness ranted on tirelessly.

The shades of Pemberley... polluted? What the fuck is Pemberley? Didn't William mention that name too? What is the woman talking about? Angrily pushing the baroness's cane away, Elly was now fuming inwardly. Never in her life had she been so openly insulted.

Elly put an end to it. "What a pity for William, milady, that his circles are so intolerant and narrow-minded that he's even limited in his choice of a life companion. However, if he were to choose me despite all of that, I can only say-" Here Elly stopped. "No, I won't say what I'd planned to, it would be too contrary to how I've been raised. Let me just tell you that I will only act in a way that will ensure my own happiness, regardless of what you may think of it. As for my accent, I assure you, my English is a lot better than an average Englishman's Dutch, and I'm sure no one across the North Sea would be so shallow as to hold a foreign accent against me."

Elly was now deeply angry. Normally, she'd see the humour of it, but so shortly after her row with Darcy she didn't feel like laughing. The woman provoked her to the extreme. Taking in a deep breath and lifting her chin, she cast a defying glance at the Baroness which didn't leave any doubt about her whole-hearted disgust and contempt. She noticed that Anneke looked away, nervously giggling.

"William! Ha! On a first name basis already, are you? Apparently you're determined to draw him in with your arts and allurements. I promise you, you will not have it your way. I know what to do." To stress her intention, she fiercely struck her cane against the ground, causing her hat to shift forward on her head and move her ample bosom up and down.

"If I were to draw him in, I most certainly wouldn't admit it. As far as I'm concerned you may think and do whatever you please. I don't care. And now I really must go. Goodbye."

Without another word, Elly turned her back on the two women and headed straight to the parsonage, her speedy walk perfectly reflecting her agitated state of mind,.

~ * ~

When Elly finally hit the road at dusk, she heaved a deep sigh. It was great to visit Charlotte, but that husband... and the horrid patroness of that husband! How Charlotte could deal with them was beyond her. Poor girl, having to keep up with such a moron, and a busybody of a local dignitary.

She tried to erase the encounter with the baroness from her mind, and instead, focus on the conversation with William... try to make sense of it. He had said she willingly twisted his words. Had she? She wasn't aware...

He had been offensive, hadn't he? Or could she explain his words differently? With a shock, she suddenly grasped the import of what the baroness had said: he was engaged to his own cousin. Was that still legal? It sounded frightfully outdated, a couple of centuries out of date. Surely, he couldn't be that dishonourable! Or was he? Cheating on two women? Asking her to become his girlfriend while already being engaged? She couldn't believe it, she didn't want to believe it. Although... he had cheated on a person before. In a different way, true, but still. In Wiekamp's case, he had been deceitful. Imagine if she'd said yes, she might have given up her career, followed him, and then... be dumped after a couple of months, if not sooner.

Her eyes fixed on the road, Elly inadvertently thought back to the night before, and her heart started to beat violently against her chest, while a pleasurable warmth, starting in her underbelly, quickly spread through her entire body. Their lovemaking had felt so incredibly satisfying.

She contemplated how they had hurriedly undressed each other, and how his fingers opened her bra and got rid of her panties almost in one movement. It vaguely occurred to her at the time that he knew his way around female underwear. The feeling it had caused was best described as... jealousy, apart from it being utterly exciting. On how many women had he practised his skills?

Indeed, physically she was on fire for him. She wished for his strong body to be all over her again, his sensitive fingers caressing her skin. She could still feel and taste his tongue in her mouth, dancing a dance of desire with hers. She yearned for his mouth kissing her breasts, his teeth softly nibbling her nipples, one by one. The thought of him inside her, made her shiver with pleasure.

Distracted, she made an unexpected movement and had to tug the wheel while the sound of a horn awakened her from her musings.

Focus, Elly, focus! Don't jeopardise people's lives, including your own ! she scolded herself.

But again her thoughts wandered. Never in her life had she had such an intense sexual experience with a man. Not that she was that experienced, but the few she'd had been intimate were rather disappointing, if not boring. Not that she had an aversion to it, every time she had been aroused... but it didn't give her the thrill, the fulfilment she imagined it should.

Often enough, conversation with her girlfriends turned toward sexual experiences, and just as often, she couldn't understand what the girls were raving about. She had never been able to share their enthusiasm; she had never been satisfied by a man like her friends claimed to be. She had been quite frustrated about it. However, she could now safely say that never before had she known such heights of pleasure, such passion.

Elly momentarily looked heavenward when realising their bodies reacted totally contrary to their minds. How was that possible? It seemed as though it were impossible for them to exchange two words without misunderstanding one another or be offended, whereas their bodies had played a love match in complete harmony. If only Catharina Terborgh knew! Elly pondered amused.

Suddenly, a deep frown creased her shapely brows. She couldn't deny it any longer, physically she was on fire for him, and every fibre in her body longed for him. But it was not to be. She would never tolerate disrespect. And his pride, his abominable pride! How could a person possibly think himself better, to believe her relations were beneath his station for the mere reason that he was born rich?

And if indeed he was engaged to his cousin, he wasn't worth her attention at all. How utterly despicable! She decided to try to forget him, leave the questions unanswered, to see this as an ultra-short fling, a one night stand bathed in luxury which was, in itself, new and therefore interesting. She would cherish the memory of that night, file it on the hard drive of her brain where no one else could gain access, and from time to time open the file to enjoy the sweet memory.

Knowing she would miss him very much, and that she might come to regret it eventually, Elly resolutely decided to go on with her life without him.

~ * ~

"Hello?"

Still distracted by all that had happened during the weekend, Elly was casually browsing her pile up of e-mails and letters from the previous week at her office at the Binnenhof, when the phone rang.

Her PA informed her that a Ms. Georgiana Darcy was waiting for her at the reception. "She has no appointment, Elly, but she says it's urgent. Will you receive her?"

Elly was shocked by this unexpected call. "No, um... I mean, tell reception I will come down and receive her in the hall."

"Very well, Elly, I will."

Putting the receiver down, Elly anxiously wondered what Georgiana was doing there, and what could possibly be so urgent. Obviously, it had to do with her brother, but she would never have thought him the type to use his sister to help solve his personal problems. Or was there something wrong with him? Her heart began beating fast against her chest when she went down the escalator and saw the lovely Georgiana waiting for her in the hall.

Judging by Georgiana's cheerful demeanour, Elly was certain there was nothing wrong, and she heaved a sigh of relief. She noticed Georgiana looked very trendy in her leather jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, her blonde hair hanging loose on her shoulders from under a fashionable cap. Her over-sized, environmentally conscious -- and very expensive -- Freitag bag, undoubtedly containing her sheet music, was slung casually over her shoulder.

Elly loved Georgiana's look; the young woman had great fashion sense. I wonder what her brother thinks of her casual, hip clothes, Elly thought amused.

The women greeted each other warmly, and Elly offered her a cup of coffee, which Georgiana politely turned down, since she was expected at the conservatory within a quarter of an hour. After having chatted for a couple of minutes about the concert and the ball, Georgiana seemed to be about to end the conversation. "I sincerely hope to see you soon again, Elly. I really enjoyed your company." She hesitated and added, "Hmm... Elly, would you appreciate it if I'd let you know about my performances?" she finally asked shyly. "I know you're frightfully busy. Sorry... I shouldn't have asked..."

"Oh, no! I mean, yes, please do. I love to hear you play. You know how impressed I was the other day."

"Cool! That's settled then. The next recital will be in the Gemeentemuseum, a so-called luncheon concert." Rolling her eyes, Georgiana cast her a meaningful look. "Typically The Hague, you know. I have to warn you, the audience is generally rather posh and pretentious." She giggled. "Anyway, I'll e-mail you the programme. Hope to see you there, if you can make it!"

After a short hesitation, Georgiana pressed a kiss on Elly's cheek. The gesture moved Elly, and she watched her turn and walk in the direction of the revolving door of the main hall.

How different they are, she pondered. Darcy so proud and self-assured, his sister modest and kind. But surely, her invitation for a concert couldn't have been her urgent business... could it?

As if reading Elly's mind, Georgiana, slapping her forehead, turned and walked back to her. "Gosh, Elly, I'm such an idiot, I forgot the reason why I came in the first place. I have something for you." Pulling a letter from her purse, she explained, "It's from William, he asked me to give it to you in person."

"A letter from William for me?" Elly was taken aback.

"Yes, and he insisted I hand it to you instead of sending it through the mail. He didn't know your exact address, and he dared not send it to Parliament, scared it would never reach you. He presumed his letter might get lost amongst all the thousands of fan letters you receive."

Both girls laughed at this. "I'd never thought your brother to be a flatterer, Georgiana!" Elly said grinning.

"Oh no, he isn't, not at all. In this case, though, I suppose, he just wanted to make sure you received it." She winked. "I bet he hopes for a swift reply! By the way, I have to tell you he'd much rather give it to you himself, but he couldn't possibly stay longer because of his work, and he's already on the plane home. He just wanted to make sure you'd get it."

"I bet he did," Elly muttered under her breath.

When she was back in her office, Elly held the cream coloured envelope in her hand for a while, staring at it blankly. She felt the expensive hand made paper with her fingertips and brought it to her nose to inhale the scent. Elly loved the smell of paper. As long as she could remember she had to sniff at a book, a magazine or a letter before opening it! She couldn't help it, but if paper didn't smell right, she had an immediate dislike against its contents, whether justified or not.

The letter smelled good. It had the refined scent of a sophisticated male. Through the scent of the paper itself, she was absolutely certain she could smell his cologne.

Would she have thought the same if she hadn't been acquainted with the owner, with his Dior cologne? Wasn't it just associative thinking? she wondered with a soft laugh. She ran her eyes over the handwriting -- elegant, almost artistic, and quite powerful. It was definitely the handwriting of a strong personality, and a well-educated one as well.

To Ms. Elly van Benthem from William Darcy was written on the envelope.

It had the Darcy family crest embossed on it in black and white on the left top corner, with the name and address underneath Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pemberley, Lambton, Derbyshire, plus a postal code. The crest had a horse's head, two crossed sabres, and the French fleur-de-lys. Underneath it all, she read d'Arcy

Hmm ... interesting, she thought, that's French too. He must have French ancestors, but he cannot possibly be related to the French kings of the Ancien Régime, or can he? Her curiosity was piqued sufficiently, though, to make a mental note to ask Georgiana next time they met.

She imagined the handsome author of the letter sitting at the desk in his hotel suite, thinking things over, not able to grasp why a simple girl like her could possibly refuse someone of his rank. I wish he was a little less delectable in bed, it would be so much easier to forget all about him, she pondered, sighing with frustration.

Ultimately, she mustered up the courage, opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. To her surprise, a small, nicely shaped, green piece of glass fell on her desk. A beach stone! Elly glanced at it quizzically. Picking it up, she admired its emerald-like sparkle in the morning light. What in the world is the meaning of this?

With trembling hands, her heart pounding like mad in her chest, Elly unfolded the letter and started to read...

chapter 10 part 2
The impact of the written word

The Hague, 15 April 2007

A bright shining star amongst the colourless masses, dressed in their grey pinstriped suits...

This thought went through my head, dear Elly, while strolling along the beach of Scheveningen when my eye was caught by this little piece of polished green glass. It was lying amongst the typical North Sea shells of indistinct colour; a little gem distinguishing itself from the sea of rustling greys. I couldn't help it; I saw it as a symbol for your presence in this tedious world of politics and endless meetings and deliberations. My imagination got a little carried away and I had but one wish at the time: to have it set in a gold chain to place around your neck...

Don't let this alarm you though, it won't happen; as you can see I didn't even keep it as a souvenir.

For a moment, Elly stared dreamily at the letter without reading on. He's more romantic than I thought, she pondered, and eagerly plunged into it again.

Almost from the very beginning of our acquaintance, you've been on my mind constantly, Elly. It didn't take long before I started construing your teasing and your little digs as flirtatious, and I was so presumptuous to think this flirtatious attitude was meant to draw my attention. Despite your teasing and your obvious objections to my person, I felt comfortable in your presence, totally at ease; a thing that hardly ever happens to me when I'm amongst strangers. I even loved dancing for the first time in my life! Soon I thought I was in danger of falling in love with you, and indeed it happened. You became utterly and completely irresistible to me, and I'm sure, you remember what this led to in the end. I admit it, contrary to my usual disposition, I acted on impulse, and not for a moment do I even regret it.

Elly snorted. Danger! What is so dangerous about falling in love? Ah, of course, the danger of falling in love with a person of inferior birth, how could I forget? Arrogant fool! And, yes, William, I do remember where it all led. And I can tell you here and now, damn it, though you'll never hear it from me, you're the most scrumptious lover I've ever had.

Putting the letter down on her desk for a moment, regret began to well up inside her, but she pushed it away immediately. His pride, his abominable pride! His judgmental attitude, his lack of scruples; traits of which Jane, Charles and George had become victim respectively.

Picking it up again, Elly read on.

My proposal wasn't only utterly clumsy, but ill timed as well. I wholeheartedly admit it. I don't know what came over me -- perhaps the fact I had to leave so soon, I couldn't bear being separated from you. I don't know...

When I mentioned the probable reaction of my family and friends, I meant to say that everybody I know would think me too hasty... I suppose I cannot deny that the selfish bloke you undoubtedly think I am emerged as well. My late parents, particularly my father, were wonderful, loving people. They taught me the importance of values such as honesty, justice and honour. However, they had this - in your eyes - hopelessly old-fashioned notion also that, in order to turn me into a good estate master, I should believe in the superiority of my class.

His late parents? Elly let the letter rest in her lap. I'd forgotten all about that. Wiekamp told me at the conference.

She stared through the window of her room at the Binnenhof, looking out over the Hofvijver, the court's pond. She unconsciously followed two herons that were, undoubtedly in search of some leftovers at the herring stand next to the pond. She wondered how long ago William's parents died, and figured it might explain why he seemed older than his years. Does Georgiana see him as a father figure? Does he consider his sister as a daughter? Elly shivered. What a horrid idea to have to miss one's parents at such a young age.

I don't want to justify myself, but I hope you will believe me that I never, at least not consciously, meant to say anything degrading, anything hurtful about you, your family or your position, but I realise, to my regret, I did so implicitly. I hope you can forgive me.

I also hope you will believe me if I say that the thing I was worried about most was that some differences in our mutual circumstances would be difficult to overcome. You see, apart from being an MP of a country that is still considered a world leader, I have the responsibility for a rather large estate. And that function generates obligations you're not used to, and might not like.

Insufferable presumption! What does he know about my life, what does he know about eventual obligations I wouldn't like? And the idea of mentioning your own function in one breath with world politics! It's almost laughable. Elly was irritated. Typically British too, the UK is part of the EU, but until now they don't think European. If he would, he wouldn't see my position, or my country for that matter, any different from his.

Apart from the political situation, England is so different from Holland in other respects as well. We're a country of tradition, where protocol is important. Certainly in my circles, one does not go to parliament or have an audience with the queen after having parked one's bike in front of Westminster Palace and Buckingham Palace respectively... So, I can imagine it might be difficult for you to adjust, to give up a part of your freedom.

Admittedly, I'm a traditionalist. I have a thorough distrust of certain developments in society that might undermine the old-fashioned values I care about. Perhaps it's true also that I'm a chauvinist (certainly a male chauvinist in your eyes). Still, I wouldn't want the strictures of the English life I was born into, kill that beautiful part of you that made me fall in love in the first place.

Hmm...however sweet this last part may sound, it's all so bloody patronising! Sheesh, as if he's talking to a child! I'm a member of parliament for crying out loud, I've seen the world, I'm well educated... God, that man can be so...so...infuriating! Elly frowned, not sure what to think anymore.

However naïve after one night of perfect bliss, I felt rather confident. I expected a favourable reply. A fine example of wishful thinking, I suppose.

A favourable reply!Elly couldn't help snorting. Even though the bliss had been mutual, and, truth be told, she had shown very little restraint indeed, she was astonished by his arrogance - or was it indeed naïveté - to think she would just give up everything like that! Even though England wasn't the end of the world, he ought to understand that one cannot give up the life one's leading from one day to another? Family, friends, career, the lovely spot where she lived and felt at home...

Despite your blunt refusal to build up a true relationship with me, I'm not entirely desperate. After all, you said yourself you enjoyed my company; you didn't deny you had feelings for me. So, allow me to cherish a sparkle of hope. My aunt, of all people, gave me hope. Yes, Elly, she gave me all the gory details of the conversation she had with you after I had left you on the riverbank.

Dear Elly, even if you never wish to set eyes on me again, my honour demands that I at least attempt to defend myself against the two offences you've accused me of.

Obviously I don't know what George Wiekamp told you, but I'm quite sure his account has been far from the truth, not surprising considering his position in your party, but loathsome to me all the same.

As a student, Wiekamp obtained a trainee post at the campaign manager's office of my party in London. At the time, I was chairman of the campaign's fundraising committee, and Wiekamp was assigned as my assistant.

At first, I thought his company pleasant, we got along quite well, and he seemed a hard worker. I felt he'd make an excellent PR man and would be able to help the party collecting funds for the next elections.

No news here, Elly thought, that's exactly what George told me too. Her curiosity was piqued though, and with even more eagerness she read on.

Elly, believe me, I've never been so terribly mistaken in a person as I was in Wiekamp. Despite promises from important third parties supportive to our ideas, very few kept them. That astonished us, particularly since some had been very generous in the past.

It took us a while to sort things out, but in the end we had cause to suspect George Wiekamp. I won't get into the ghastly details. Let me just limit myself to reveal he had committed fraud, and had found a way by means of the internet and false identities to divert a pretty sum to his own bank account.

To avoid a scandal, we hushed the affair up. We dismissed Wiekamp without giving him a certificate of competence, trusting he would never open his mouth, as we had enough proof against him to put him behind bars. In the end, I forgot, or at least didn't want to think about it any longer, until our paths crossed again in The Hague.

Again Elly had to put the letter down. This couldn't be true, this was a nightmare. An employee of her party a fraud? A criminal? Elly grew warm and cold at the same time. With trembling hands, she reluctantly picked up the letter again, afraid to read more.

At the time, Georgiana was only fifteen years of age and was following a pre-admittance course at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague to prepare for her official entrance exam. Being her guardian, I didn't want her to live on her own. On recommendation, I put her in the care of a Mrs. de Jong who had a pension in Scheveningen. It proved to be another one of my terrible, unforgivable mistakes.

Her guardian? There you go! Elly thought, his parents must be dead for at least four, maybe five, years.

I later learned, Mrs. de Jong had been a special "friend" of Wiekamp's, and she assisted him in re-acquainting himself with my sister. He'd once met Georgiana in London while still a trainee, you see.

Now, dear Elly, what I'm going to reveal to you is a very sad truth and extremely painful to me. Please, prepare yourself. Until now, apart from the parties involved, only my cousin Frits has been informed of this. I trust your discretion.

Elly closed her eyes for a while, as if she didn't dare read on. She was frightened to be confronted with a terrible truth, and even more frightened of how it may prove her assumptions were completely inappropriate and prejudicial.

You see, Mrs. de Jong's pension appeared to be a cover for a criminal organization trafficking drugs and women, the latter particularly from the former Eastern bloc. Though not directly involved, Wiekamp knew all about Mrs. de Jong's illegal actions and, due to their relationship, profited from it. As long as his wallet could afford it, she provided him with cocaine and XTC to satisfy his drug addiction, and women to his heart's content, another one of his addictions.

Elly gasped, she couldn't believe her eyes. This was worse than she could have ever imagined. Vaguely she remembered the case, but obviously had no idea Wiekamp had been involved in any way.

How I found out about this, you wonder? Quite coincidentally, actually.

I wanted to surprise my sister, and went to see her unexpectedly. When Mrs. de Jong opened the door for me, she was positively startled which immediately made me suspicious. All sorts of alarms started ringing in my head. I pushed her aside and without invitation ran up the stairs to Georgiana's room. -- and there I found her in bed, stoned, without clothes, in the arms of Wiekamp, a camcorder on a tripod rolling.

I felt it all -- revulsion, nausea, grief, but most of all hatred, hatred against the man who did that to my sister, hatred towards myself having so misjudged the person I hired, hatred to having exposed, however unwillingly, the dearest person in the world to a bunch of ruthless criminals. My intentions were murderous, I assure you, but instead of gratifying those tendencies, I grabbed him, and punched him as hard as I could. I can still remember the cracking sound of his nose breaking. It was music to my ears! Immediately afterwards, I called the police who later told me Mrs. de Jong was under suspicion and they had been shadowing the house for a while.

My first worry was Georgiana, of course, and I didn't notice Wiekamp had secretly disappeared. Mrs. de Jong was arrested and the criminal organization was rounded up, but Mr. Smooth Operator got off the hook... again! Georgiana refused to file a complaint against him, and I consented. It was a mistake, for which I'm now severely punished. After all it cost me your good opinion.

Elly took a deep intake of breath. She was in shock. Good lord, to need such revenge! What a cold-blooded beast to have seduced the only sister of his enemy, an enemy who actually gave him a chance the first time!

Elly, I can honestly state I've never hated anybody so profoundly, so intensely as I do that man. It took Georgiana a fair number of therapy sessions to finally get over what had happened to her. I cannot tell you how happy I am that she, thanks to her talent, and thanks to the kind, intelligent, understanding boy she's been dating recently, turned out fine. She has learned to trust people again, has learned to enjoy life again and has re-found her drive to work hard to explore every aspect of her musical talent.

The events in relation to Wiekamp, I admit, made me biased towards Holland, towards The Hague. The city held too many bad memories. I even tried to persuade Georgiana to come back to England with me, but she wouldn't. She's perfectly happy with her teachers at the conservatory of The Hague and also thought it too much honour for Wiekamp to give that up. Justifiably so, I might add.

I bought her a modest house to live in, and we never heard of Wiekamp again, until this conference, where I had to watch him talk and laugh with you, Elly. I was so angry, furious. And afraid. Yes, afraid he might hurt you as he had hurt Georgiana, even though I'd only known you for a couple of hours. A sort of protectiveness, if not possessiveness came over me, feelings I had to repress but, in the end could not and would not.

As for Charles Bingley and your sister, I was worried he'd have to endure another disappointment. He's such a kind, modest person but emotionally immature. He falls in love very easily and has been hurt numerous times. He's my best friend and I wanted to protect him against a woman whom I didn't think had any feelings for him. She was pleasant, but no more to him than to any other person she talked to. And I'm a little cynical towards people who smile so much. Let's call it the Wiekamp effect. I apologise if I've misjudged your sister, you know her better than I do. Remember though, my only motive to temper his enthusiasm was to protect him against yet another disappointment. And this is all I have to say about this matter. I can only ask you to forgive me. However, if there's true love between two people, no cynical Brit will ever be able to stop them getting together in the end. Mark my words.

Last but not least, what I said about you, in the pub, before I had even met you, was a terrible thing to do -- a totally uncalled-for joke. I most humbly ask you to forgive me, even though it was unpardonable. Based on only one traumatic experience, my opinion of the Dutch wasn't favourable, and that day I had no inclination to listen to Charles raving about a couple of Dutch girls. However, I don't think any man ever has changed his mind so swiftly! As for my feelings for you, I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, but I was in the middle before I knew I had begun.

Despite all the sadness, Elly had to smile at this.

I will give this letter to Georgiana who will find some opportunity of putting it in your hands one of these days.

I will only add that I'll carry your smile as you slept with me forever.

Yours,
William

Even if Elly had no idea what to expect at all when receiving this letter, this was beyond her wildest imagination. Frantically, she went through it again and again. Astonishment, apprehension, and even horror overwhelmed her. She didn't want to believe a word of it, but she knew he had told her the truth, and nothing but the truth.

She sat behind her desk, numb, feeling like an ass, cursing her big mouth, and being embarrassed about her bruised ego... because that's what it had been essentially, that's why she had such reservations against the man. He had insulted her even before they had met, and he had expressed himself most ungenerously, unfairly about Janneke. However moving the end of his letter, however plausible his explanation about his actions to protect his friends, and however wise his conclusion that true love would conquer all, she couldn't immediately accept all he had written to her. She needed to put everything into perspective first, before...before. Before what? She already knew the answer to that question...

But what about Wiekamp? That matter was more difficult to deal with. She had never been so ashamed, and so furious at the same time; to have taken this creep seriously was the worst mistake of her life... so far. A fraud, a criminal, within the inner circle of her party to boot! She knew she would have to discuss this with Berend. But first things first. There was no time to lose...

After having checked her agenda, Elly opened her address book, took the phone off the hook, and dialled the number she needed.

"KLM, reisinformatie, Mieke de Bruin, waarmee kan ik u van dienst zijn?"1)

~ * ~

William Darcy sat behind his desk, a deep frown creasing his forehead. He had a hard time concentrating on the business at hand, a speech for the next party conference in which he was to announce his candidacy for the leadership of the party. But the only thing he was actually doing, was scratching meaningless doodles on his memo pad. Meaningless indeed: tiny hearts, little houses, fine eyes with long lashes, curved lines morphing into a pair of breasts...

As soon as he realised his unconscious activity, he crumpled the piece of paper and put it in the pocket of his jacket.

His thoughts remained on his letter, and he wondered whether Elly would have read it by now, whether she'd believe his motives and whether it made her think better of him.

Inadvertently, his thoughts went back to the night in his hotel suite...again. How enjoyable it had been! A deep sigh escaped from his throat.

Goodness, Darcy, how British you are! He reprimanded himself. Enjoyable! What an understatement!

Indeed, it definitely was not the appropriate term to cover his feelings that night. Words were hard to find to express the deep, heated, overwhelming emotions that had taken control of his person when he held Elly in his arms. Leaning back in his chair, he looked at the ceiling, a faint smile curling his lips. God, never in his life had he been so bewitched by a woman!

He reviewed with fondness what had happened in the bed of his hotel suite that night, and revelled at the thought of their naked bodies entwined, their urgent hands caressing wherever they could touch, getting acquainted with each and every inch of one another's skin.

A shiver slipped down his spine. Eyes closed, he could still feel her fingertips softly stroking his back and buttocks, one of her feet gliding along his calf, while his impatient manhood pressed against her soft, moist, mysterious depth, anxious to explore and explore and explore again. He had been as close to her as a man could be to a woman...

He licked his lips at the memory of them travelling from one breast to the other. Their tongues licking and tasting, their teeth biting lips, ear lobes, nipples, ever so tenderly... hearts pounding faster, heated skin beaded with sweat, moans escaping from throats, thrusting, thrusting and then... delicious exhaustion after delirious ecstasy, panting, whispering endearments against each other's lips... kisses, and kisses and more kisses... not letting go of each other... falling asleep in each other's arms, sated.

The memories of that night made him blush beet red and, due to a certain restlessness in the nether parts of his body, he shifted a little so as to sit more comfortably in his chair.

He had never had a sensual experience like that before, and he refused to call it sex. It had been so much more. On his part, he knew it must be love: they had made love with a big L. He wanted her again, he wanted her now, he wanted her always. Why didn't Elly realise that it was love as well? Would he ever get the chance to make her see that? The letter perhaps? Or was he grasping at straws?

William sighed, and for the zillionth time he attempted to focus on his speech, hoping he could put Elly out of his mind for at least a couple of hours.

~ * ~

"Good morning, Mr. Darcy's office, Jennifer Reynolds speaking, how may I help you?"

"Good morning, Mrs. Reynolds, this is Elly van Benthem, I..."

"Good heavens, Elly van Benthem, I've heard so much about you!" Jennifer interrupted, enthusiastically. "How are you? What can I do for you?"

Did William confide in his secretary? Looks like it! Elly worried.

"Well, actually I'd like to surprise Mr Darcy. I'm in London, close to Westminster Palace, and I was wondering if he's in his office. I'm not at all sure if he'd appreciate it, but I'll find out soon enough. If I can meet up with him, that is."

"You're in London, and he doesn't even know? I'm sure he'll be thrilled to see you, Ms. van Benthem. Since he's been back he's not in such a good mood, you know, quite the contrary, and I have a hunch why..." Jennifer replied, sounding as if she was sharing a secret.

Elly chuckled. Jennifer Reynolds sounded so spontaneous and kind. She liked her instantly, and was anxious to meet her.

"But never mind that. Mr. Darcy, William, is in his office. He's working on a speech at the moment. He will be here for at least another hour, and has no appointments. So, you could see him right now."

"Terrific, I only need five minutes to get there. Please, not a word to him. I want to take him by surprise."

As soon as Jennifer saw Elly enter her room, she was so thrilled she almost cried out her name. With a huge grin on her face, Elly wisely put a finger to her mouth to keep things quiet.

She received a conspiratorial nod from the pretty, middle-aged woman in her fashionable outfit who gestured she could pass through to William's office. Elly couldn't help thinking she looked rather un-British, but realised immediately that she was guilty of stereotyping -- something she promised herself to avoid in the future.

"Go ahead, love, surprise him," the woman whispered, smiling. "We will be properly introduced later, there's no hurry there. I can't wait to chat a little in Dutch with you!"

"Of course! My sister told me you spoke Dutch with her. Wat leuk! Tot straks dan maar."

"Ja, ja, ga nu maar." Jennifer chuckled.

Knocking, but without waiting for an invitation to enter, Elly opened the door to his office, and stuck her head around it. "Mr Darcy, I presume?"

True to his British background, Darcy managed to hide his surprise. Pushing his chair backwards, he stood up with some dignity and replied with a decisively overdone stiff upper lip, one brow raised, "Good morning to you too, Mrs van Benthem. I wasn't aware we had an appointment, but please, do come in..."

The faint smile curling his lips, the sparkle in his dark eyes, and his arms reaching out to her, were exactly the encouragement Elly needed to run up to him, and throw herself right into his arms.

They were both so absorbed in each other they didn't notice a most delighted Jennifer who discreetly closed the door, recalling her thoughts when William was about to leave for Holland. He's found himself a Dutch girl after all, what do you know! I've always known I had telepathic gifts, she pondered proudly, fondly looking at the door, behind which two young people were probably most agreeably engaged...

The End

"Royal Dutch Airlines, travel information service, Mieke de Bruin, can I help you?"
"[...] How nice! See you later then."
"Yes, yes, off you go now."


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