Place du Tertre, the River


of contents:


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7.1

Chapter 7.2

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 11b

Chapter 11c

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Place du Tertre, the River


A modern Pride and Prejudice version, set in the Netherlands. 


The story is NC-17, R rated.


Marjolein 2003-2004 All rights reserved M.Houwer

Place du Tertre, the River,       chapter ten   


<b>Chapter 10</b>

By the end of the afternoon, abundant and persistent hunger pangs told Elizabeth she needed to search for some food. Although Jane convinced her she couldn't hold her food, Elizabeth insisted she should at least eat some clear soup.

"You stay here, and I'll make you some."

"Like I would run away," Jane faintly replied. "This bed is way too comfortable anyway. I feel I could spend the rest of my life here."

"Hmmm, I guess not the bed but the house perhaps?" Elizabeth teasingly said to her sister. "Charles is nice enough, isn't he?"

"Don't be silly." Jane denied it a bit too fiercely, making her grab her head immediately. "Ouch," she groaned before softly continuing, "Yes, Charles is nice, and my boss. <I>Just</I> my boss."

"He was quite concerned about you. Are you sure he is <i>just</i> your boss?"

"Lizzy, please don't tease me. He is my boss and as he is so … he can't be more." Again Jane groaned a bit from her headache.

"I'm sorry sweetie, I didn't want to tease you. Perhaps I'm seeing things that aren't there and he is only concerned and no more. Now, you lie down and I will bring you some soup." Elizabeth fluffed up the head pillow and put another glass of fresh water on the nightstand before she went in search of Charles.

She found him together with William in one of the front rooms, which was fixed up as a study, and heard that both Charles's sisters had left early in the afternoon to go shopping in Breefoort.

"I expect them to eat out," Charles said. "We can order something if you want to."

Elizabeth, who was actually in the mood to <I>do</I> something after such a quiet afternoon, suggested, "When I washed the bowls this afternoon, I saw that Mrs. White has flour, sugar , enough milk and eggs. I can make pancakes."

"I haven't eaten pancakes in years," William interrupted.

"Yes, that would be nice," Charles added with a beaming smile. "I love pancakes."

"Then you'll have to come down and eat in the kitchen. They are best right from the stove onto the plate." Elizabeth beamed back at Charles, happy to be able to pay him back at least a bit for the shelter he gave her and her sister. "Give me a few minutes to mix the ingredients and then you're welcome to eat."

She quickly made her way to the kitchen where she easily found the equipment to make the batter. Soon she tuned Mrs. White's little radio to her favorite radio station and sang along with the <i>Back to the Seventies Show</i>. She danced to Donna Summer's <I>Love to Love You Baby</I>, simultaneously whisking the mix to the subtle sound of the percussion hidden for attentive ears beneath the infectious voice of the singer. "Hmmmmm … Love to Love You…" She put the bowl on the counter, and while rocking her hips provocatively to the music, opened the fridge to collect butter and bacon. "… Love to Love you baby, hmmmmm…"

William leaned, arms folded, against the doorpost, and smilingly looked at the dancing Elizabeth. As it was already dark, the lights were on in the half-subterranean kitchen. But somehow at that moment, the atmosphere was much brighter than the other evenings when William had gone downstairs to the kitchen on an hour he didn't consider it necessary to bother Mrs. White. His eyes followed the movements Elizabeth's body made, and he wondered if he had seen her this cheery before. His mood was lifted by her pleasing voice singing along with the radio, he couldn't help but move slightly with the rhythm… until she turned and noticed she wasn't alone. The sexy tone altered halfway in a catching laugh.

"Hi," Elizabeth nervously said. She stopped dancing and turned to the counter to put everything she needed together.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." William smiled and approached her. "Anything I can do?"

"Do you like pancakes with apples? You could pare some. Here's a corer." Elizabeth handed him the utensil and together they ended the preparations.

Charles arrived and set the table. The men took their places while Elizabeth cooked pancake after pancake. The conversation went from easy and pleasant to cheerfulness, and William told Charles how he had caught a singing Elizabeth unawares. "You should have seen her face turn beet red," William teased.

"Hey you, do you want another pancake or not?" Elizabeth pointed her spatula at William with a quasi-threatening look.

"Yes, Ma'am." William obediently answered. "Don't worry, your singing is lovely."

"Yeah, right." Elizabeth turned and made the same throaty noises she did right before she discovered William was watching her, although she didn't dare to utter them as flirtatiously as before.

"Hey, I mean it." William smiled.

"Careful, Will," Charles joked. "Otherwise, you'll have to make you own pancakes."

"Shouldn't be a problem."

"And I should believe that?" Elizabeth turned away from the stove, with the pan in her hands. "Can you turn over the pancake with just a flick of the pan?" She showed own prowess and after a nice flip, she caught the cake upside down in the skillet.

"Sure." William hoped he sounded convincing.

"Okay, you can make my pancakes then. I haven't eaten any so far," Elizabeth challenged.

William rose and let Elizabeth willingly put an apron on him. Sure, he could cook something as simple as a pancake. Elizabeth took her place at the kitchen table and together with Charles they cast amused glances toward the man at the stove.

"Okay, watch this." William turned to them and held the panhandle with two hands. "One, two, three…" At the first two counts he slightly moved the pan up and down. At the third count it appeared that he had held in the first two times because with a firm swing he flung the pancake in the air. To his audience's great amusement, he not only had underestimated his strength, but the height of the ceiling as well. With a "plop" the half-baked batter attached to the surface. Charles and Elizabeth both screamed with laughter. That wasn't the end of the comedy show though. When William looked in amazement at the ceiling and the pancake, the partly cooked batter slowly came off and fell … right on his face.

Tears from laughing rolled down her cheeks as Elizabeth quickly stood up and closed the distance to William. "I can't believe it," she laughed. "Even in the absolute cheapest slap-stick comedy they don't let this happen, but you managed to get it right on your face." She gently drew William towards the sink. "Here, let me clean it off." William put the pan back on the stove when Elizabeth wet a face cloth. The bigger pieces could be picked out his hair easily. For the smaller dough spots she used the cloth.

William's hands hung in mid-air as Elizabeth's one hand held his shoulder and the other covered with the cloth rubbed his face, firm but gentle. Slowly his arms went down until his hands found a place to rest on her waist. The question of whether this was inappropriate hadn't even reached his brain, when his thumbs pointed towards Elizabeth's belly button and he slightly spread his fingers. What a slim waist she had, slim but not bony. A pleasant feeling of warmth and familiar intimacy reached his consciousness. Nothing was wrong with his bold hands, they belonged right there where they were lying now. <I>Why didn't I dance with her at the party? I could have held her like this the entire evening.</I>

Elizabeth continued her ministrations, gently wiping off the batter from William's face. She felt his hands closing on her waist, his fingers brushing towards her hips in a tender movement. As if a sunbeam suddenly descended on her, warmth spread through her entire body. Although there wasn't any visible spot on his mouth, the face cloth automatically moved towards William's lips. Barely touching it, Elizabeth's index finger, hidden in moist cotton, followed the line of his upper lip. Slowly her eyes moved from the scarcely opened mouth to his brilliantly beaming, golden brown eyes. Gazes locked and the grip on Elizabeth's waist deepened ever so lightly. For him it felt like deja-vu. Had they done this before?

Suddenly, for a split second, he stood in a sun-soaked, yellow surrounding. An invisible power gently pushed his head forward. Someone … something pulled on his mouth with her lips as the ultimate goal to reach.

"Charles, where are you?" The loud, clapping noise with which Caroline slammed one of the back doors shut and her question, which had the right construction but lacked any intonation of a typical query, abruptly broke the spell.

In the blink of an eye, William was in the kitchen again. He released his hold on Elizabeth's waist. "The faucet is leaking." With a firm turn, he closed it thoroughly, only to watch Elizabeth immediately turn it back on to rinse out the cloth. "I'll make you another pancake," William offered.

"You'd better use the spatula to turn it this time." Elizabeth laughed while she whisked the mixture again and William put some butter in the pan.

"The broth is boiling." William lowered the burner.

Charles couldn't possibly fathom what just happened before his eyes between William and Elizabeth. However, he sensed that the earlier easy-going atmosphere transformed into another, indescribable sentiment, and with the slam of the door it vanished, suddenly making many mundane chores at the counter and stove necessary to be done immediately. With an audible sigh he rose, opened the kitchen door to the basement hall, and called in the direction of stairs to the main floor. "Caroline, we're here."

"You won't believe this," Caroline snorted. Her spike heels ticked crossly on the bluestone stairs leading to the basement. "Some idiot hung a dead animal on the cullis. I wanted to show Louisa the stables. We were scared to death. What kind of savage does this? The poor rabbit."

Caroline barged into the kitchen and in her wake was Louisa, who fanned herself with an exaggerated air. On seeing William with an apron on cooking something for himself at the stove, Caroline abruptly stopped. Louisa didn't, bumping into her sister causing her to inelegantly stumble into the kitchen.

Biting her lip in order not to laugh, Elizabeth put the tray she had found for Jane's broth down on the counter and turned to Caroline. "I'm…."

William interrupted her. "If I remember correctly, we ate at a nice restaurant not so long ago and you had no objections to the rabbit on your plate," he answered with extreme calm while facing Caroline, keeping one eye on his pancake as much as he could.

"That was different," Caroline snapped.

"How do you think that animal came to be on your plate?" William smiled lightly. "It's rather hypocritical to enjoy a good piece of game in a restaurant and imagine the meat has no further history than lying in a sealed styrofoam tray."

Caroline's mouth was already open for a reply, but she slowly closed it after William's calm remark.

In Elizabeth's view, the word hypocritical was rather harsh and she couldn't help but feel sorry for the hurt look in Caroline's eyes. "I hung the rabbit there," Elizabeth admitted. Surprised by the reaction, she decided to ignore the short but very dirty look Caroline sent her. "I suppose I shouldn't have hung it where it was so easy to see. Sorry it scared you." William stepped aside so Elizabeth had the chance to get the soup from the little pot on the stove. Their hips touched, sending sparks up her spine.

"Your pancake is ready to turn." William lifted the pan from the stove.

"Here." Elizabeth fetched a pan lid from one of the cupboards. "You can use this. Slide the pancake onto it and then put it up side down with the lid on the pan."

"Thank you." William took the lid from her. "It won't take long now."

On hearing this, Charles offered, "Let me bring the soup to Jane, so you can quietly eat your meal." At Elizabeth's nod he quickly took the tray from her.

Caroline was astonished to see all the busyness at the counter. "William, I'm sorry you have to cook." Dropping heavily onto one of the kitchen chairs, underlining her mood with an exaggerated sigh, she continued, "I can't imagine that this would happen at Pemberley?"

"Why not?" William didn't bother to turn from the stove.

"Pemberley is such a large estate. Surely there would be staff all the time. If I remember correctly, you have several cooks, not to mention the other kitchen help, and now we're only talking about dinner. When was it we had that lovely gathering with your relatives from France? Do you remember Louisa? We had that ten-course dinner that night." Caroline shifted her look to her sister who nodded affirmative.

"I think it was late August." Louisa also took a place at the kitchen table. She pushed away Charles's plate, sticky with molasses-drenched leftovers, with a disgusted look.

"I'm surprised you don't remember we hired extra staff that evening." William lifted the pancake slightly with the spatula to check if the bottom was done. He shook the pan to loosen it from its base and let it swiftly glide on the plate Elizabeth had ready. "Next one with apple?" He shortly glanced at her to see her reaction.

An engaging smile played round the corners of his mouth; one that Caroline wasn't likely to perceive because after Elizabeth's approving nod for the apple pancake, William turned to the others and with this little movement, his expression swung 180 degrees. In a serious tone he continued, "I owe it to my ancestors to keep Pemberley well-maintained. The house and the gardens are a result of many generations and it's my duty to ensure it remains that way, and improve where possible."

Elizabeth silently took her place at the kitchen table and listened to the interesting conversation.

"You've certainly improved it, buying antiques that suit the house whenever you can. Oh, Elizabeth, you should see the house," Caroline said. "It's a living fairy tale."

"It is beautifully situated on a little hill. The light-colored façade has a neoclassical design and the entrance hall alone would take anyone's breath away." Louisa's words complemented her sister's.

"Every lady of that house must have felt like a princess." Caroline's eyes went heavenwards giving the impression she'd like to be that princess someday. "Imagine the parties one could give in the large rooms."

"I don't consider my house something out of a little story." William turned towards the stove again to make sure Elizabeth's pancake wasn't burning. "As far as I know, there have never been titled persons in our immediate family and certainly not royalty. Besides, running a house like Pemberley is not always a party. You might even call it work."

"Of course, you're right. It's a huge responsibility." Then Caroline's eye fell on a little grease spot on William's pullover. "I'm sure your guests would never have to cook their own meals. What happened to your clothes?"

"We had a little accident." William winked at Elizabeth which did not go unnoticed by the two sisters.

"I'm so sorry William, I'll have it cleaned this week," Caroline frowned. "I'll also talk with Charles. If Mrs. White has a day off there must be someone else here to replace her. It's ridiculous that you had to cook your own meal."

"I didn't, Elizabeth made pancakes and they were delicious."

Instead of granting Elizabeth an appreciating look, Caroline sneered, "Perhaps you're used to cooking your own dinner. I'm definitely sure William has more important things to do."

Wondering what could be the real reason Caroline was so catty towards her, Elizabeth acted as if she didn't notice and cheerfully replied, "I wonder if William is as good at those more important things as he is at cooking pancakes, because this one tastes really good."

William gave Elizabeth a soft smile. "Thank you. It was my pleasure to return the favor. I should do this more often." Although he knew very well Caroline would reject it, William turned to her, "Would you like one Caroline? I think there's batter left for another." As expected, Caroline, and after her, Louisa, turned him down. While repeating the offer to have someone clean the pullover or if necessary even replace it with a new one, and insisting William should leave it in Caroline's room, the two sisters left the kitchen.

<center>* ~* ~* </center>

In the meantime, Charles climbed to the second level with the tray. Halfway up the second flight of stairs he remembered the dumbwaiter next to the kitchen. It was an old one and probably installed when the house was built. It still functioned perfectly and Mrs. White used it to transport dishes with food and other things from the kitchen to the little closet next to the dining room on the main floor. The little square shaft also reached to all four levels including the attic. It would have been easier if Charles had placed the tray in the elevator and walked upstairs without it, but as his offer to bring Jane the soup was spontaneous, he hadn't thought about it. Clumsily holding the tray in one hand, he carefully knocked on Jane's door.

Jane's eyes dilated in surprise at seeing Charles in her room. She greeted him faintly, automatically raising her hand to her hair.

"Here is soup for the patient." Charles kicked the door closed with his foot and cringed when he heard the clapping noise and feared the impact on Jane's head. "Sorry, I'm afraid I'm not good at this."

"Don't say that." Jane smiled and tried to sit up.

Charles put the tray on a side table and approached her. "Here let me help you." He plumped up the pillow. "This isn't enough. Here let's put this one from the couch behind it." Quickly, he grabbed two little square pillows and placed them behind the big one from the bed making it easier for Jane to sit up. Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, he carefully let her lean back.

Partly uncomfortable and awkward, but simultaneously feeling her skin tingle everywhere he touched it through her nightdress, Jane joked, "I'm not breakable, you know."

"Is it okay? Do you want another pillow? Wait, you will need a bed-table to put the tray on. Let me fetch mine out of my room."

Before actually hearing what he said, Jane watched his retreating back. Soon he came back with a pine bed-table, placing it carefully over Jane's lap. "Does it stand firmly enough? It's a very handy one, I use it often when my bed is way too comfortable to leave and I have work to do."

Jane smiled at seeing him bustle about. "Thank you, Charles, it's wonderful. Please don't go through all this trouble for me."

"Of course I will." Suddenly Charles stopped, eyed Jane profoundly and sat himself on the bed side. "You scared me to death this morning," he continued in a low voice.

"I'm sorry." Jane watched how Charles fumbled with the bed-table pretending to check to see if it stood firmly enough. "Thank you for your help. You were wonderful this morning." She bashfully smiled and continued, "And you're wonderful for having me in your house. Sorry for all the inconvenience I'm causing you."

Charles immediately dismissed it. "Please stop apologizing. I'm glad to have you here. Besides, I owe you. It was my horse that quarreled with yours and…"

"Yours? Caroline's you mean?" Jane questioned casually.

"Caroline's, it doesn't matter. If it wasn't for that horse…"

"It was a silly accident Charles, don't blame yourself."

"I do. Besides …" Charles hesitated a little. "I took you to my house as a selfish act." Jane raised an eyebrow. "I couldn't stand to be uncertain about your well-being. If you're feeling any better I want to know immediately, and that's easier to find out when you're close." His hand hesitantly moved from the table to her fingers, and he tentatively brushed them with his knuckles. They both followed the movement meticulously without saying a word until Jane broke the silence. "Perhaps something of that broth you brought me might help me feel better?"

"Of course." Charles stood up and brought the tray from the side table to the bed. "Here you are. Now be a good girl and eat it."

When he sat on the bed again, Jane had to laugh. "You are not going to watch me eat it are you?" Suddenly she felt uncomfortable again. Every hair that was not in the exact, correct position as she would have liked it to be, seemed to prick up on her head, telling her she looked awful.

"Promise me you'll eat it then." Charles's pleading eyes melted Jane's heart. On her almost invisible nod, he rose to leave her alone. But before he went downstairs he turned towards the bed again, ignored the little warning voice in the back of his head, bent forward and kissed Jane softly on her brow.

Jane found herself alone in the room again with a huge bowl of broth she had absolutely no desire to eat. Staring into the liquid, she tried to read the answer to the question that was teasing her. Was it the accident that morning that had deprived her of any appetite or was something else the reason she had no desire to finish it?

<center>* ~* ~* </center>

It was the same muddled feelings of doubt that caused Jane to refuse Elizabeth's suggestion to come downstairs for the evening. "I feel a lot better than this morning, but I really think it's best to stay here," she explained when Elizabeth came to pick up the tray.

Elizabeth went downstairs on her own, bringing the leftovers of her sister's meal to the kitchen, then washing the dishes. Not that there was much to clean, because the men left the kitchen as neat as a pin. At least Elizabeth automatically expected it to be the result of Charles and William, for she couldn't imagine Caroline and Louisa dirtying their manicured hands on downstairs household chores.

Except for Jane, the others were all present when Elizabeth entered the Chinese Room. Originally, Netherfield's main floor had been split into several sleeping rooms as well as the entry hall with the staircase, the room at the front, which was the study now, and two rooms on the south side. One had been an anteroom for guests and making music and the other had been the drawing room. During a renovation at the beginning of the twentieth century, those two chambers were conjoined to one large room. It was called the Chinese Room because the original, painted, Chinese patterned leather still covered some of the walls as it had since the day the house was built. Charles spent the evenings there and used it like a large living room. Modern equipment was cleverly hidden in antique furniture, allowing the possibility of a breath of ancient grandeur combined with modern comfort.

Charles suggested they could play <i>Settlers Of Catan</i>, the popular board game, and both William and Elizabeth agreed. The eagerness with which they did caused Caroline to hesitantly agree to join the party as well. Although not very fond of party games, she decided, nevertheless, that she simply could not be absent from this merry little pastime, and persuaded Louisa to join as well.

They decided to play <i>Catan</i> together with the <i>Cities and Knights Expansion Set</i> as it would not only lengthen the duration of the game, but also make it less dependent on the dice and more on the strategic decisions of the players. It didn't take long before William had a few cities. Elizabeth noticed he not only knew how to use his own cards, but had a particularly useful skill.

"Do you have a sudden clairvoyance?" Elizabeth asked with raised eyebrows. "You know everything we have in our hand, it's amazing."

William looked at the board, seemingly deep in thought over what to do next. "If I want to trade, I need to know what I can ask for from whom, right? You need stone because I expect you want to build a road towards the mountain there, and as you have at least two cards of grain and as the others are all out of it, I ask your grain for my stone."

Elizabeth blinked in surprise. Indeed, she had a grain card and, yes, he was completely right; she wanted to build a road at the exact place at which he pointed. Lifting her cards a bit and keeping them close to her eyes, she gazed intensely at them before she raised her eyes just over the edge to send William a mischievous glance. "I'm not so sure I want to trade my grain with you."

Unmoved, William shrugged and picked up the dice pretending to give them to Elizabeth for her turn. "Then not. You need it, not me." He lied. He needed Elizabeth's grain card but it was the last thing he would admit and squaring his shoulders a bit he feigned disinterestedness and turned away from her.

"First, who says I need it. Secondly, even if I needed it I would certainly not trade it with you," Elizabeth challenged and she rotated one of her knights on the board so that the image on the little round disk was upright from her point of view. At doing so, her little finger barely touched one of William's pieces but he could see she pushed his inactive knight that was lying close, a few millimeters away. He got her hint that she was well aware he needed her grain card to activate that knight, become the strongest player on the board and win a round from the barbarians.

"I might as well trade my grain with Charles when it's my turn." Elizabeth smiled at the other side of the table were Charles suddenly cheered up on seeing he could indeed use the grain as well. If he could activate his knight with the grain, the barbarian's could conquer the board for the first time it would mean William would lose a city.

"Of course you realize I will not forget this." William teasingly said, put the dice Elizabeth had touched seconds before on the right place again and smiled at the pleasant thought he had found a player with skills equal to his.

"Don't worry, I'll help remind you before <I>and</I> after I've played you off the board." Elizabeth took the dice from William who had nothing else to do with his turn without the grain. "Imagine, you used the grain to make batter for pancakes," she teased and glanced toward the ceiling.

Caroline could not see the playful banter between Elizabeth and William for the harmless challenges that go together with party games, but she immediately recognized what Elizabeth was referring to. "Charles, I said it before in the kitchen. If Mrs. White is taking a leave, I insist you hire someone else. It is ridiculous that we have our guests cooking for us."

She was the only one who was oblivious to the sudden change of mood because she had no idea her statement had a whole other meaning of cattiness with respect to Elizabeth's remarks. Neither did she notice the annoyed look in William's eyes when she smiled at him. "I am sure this would never happen at Pemberley. I'm sure there's always someone to take care of your sister, Georgiana." Absent-mindedly, she took the dice from Elizabeth. "Actually, how is your sister doing?"

"She is fine, thank you," William answered shortly. "She's in Switzerland this year."

"Of course, I almost forgot. It's for her education, right?" Caroline forgot to throw her dice.

"Yes, it is a practical year." William looked at his cards.

"Oh, how I would love to see her again, soon." Caroline turned towards her sister. "Don't you agree with me, Louisa. She is such a pleasant girl."

"Oh, yes. I imagine you must miss her William."

"I do," William answered politely. "That reminds me, Caroline, I must ask a favor of you."

"Certainly," Caroline said self-assuredly as though a request from William was a common occurrence.

"Next week, we will have one of our business relations from Great Britain over and he mentioned he'll be bringing his wife and daughter. Since Georgiana is not at home, could you entertain them?"

"Naturally." Caroline beamed from ear to ear. "When can I come to Pemberley?"

"Actually, we have some meetings up north and it would be more convenient if they stayed here." William glanced at Charles. "I expect Mr. King advanced his visit because he has high hopes of the deal."

"Oh, is it Mr. King and his family?" To Elizabeth's utter amazement, Caroline left the table and fetched a little book from one of the drawers in the closet. "Here, I have it." Caroline searched through the pages. "We received that lovely Chinese lacquer box from him at Christmas two years ago. It will do perfectly on the little side table there." Carefully, Caroline collected the little black box from the closet.

"You actually keep a book of which gifts you receive and from whom?" Elizabeth asked, surprised.

"Yes, Caroline does it. She always puts a gift from one of our relatives or clients somewhere in the room when they visit us." Charles explained.

"I suppose you've never entertained business relations?" Louisa asked.

At Elizabeth's negative shake, Caroline continued, "Louisa, don't forget not everybody entertains important guests."

"Of course not." Louisa turned back from the table and watched Caroline place the box on the side table. "You must be friendly, but not overly nice. You must be able to detect what their interests are so you can converse on a topic they enjoy."

"Of course, you must know a great deal about many different topics to not only have a conversation but one on a certain level as well," Caroline added.

"I think Elizabeth knows what you mean. Shall we continue the game?" Charles laid the dice on the table at Caroline's place to indicate it was her turn. His sister, however, remained standing, prefering to continue focusing the attention on the fact William asked her for a favor. "William, I'm sure you're conscious about how important it is to entertain your business relations or their family for that matter? One should be welcoming, taking them to the finest restaurants and of course showing them the best shops we have to offer. They must feel they are your best friends."

"Yes, I know," William casually said. "People behind a business who take care of those social obligations are very important."

"They must be indeed if you have made your entire education how to deal with them." Elizabeth smiled.

"Well, what do you expect?" Caroline joined them again at the table. Methodically organizing the cards in her hand she raised her chin a little and continued, "The continuation of an entire company might be at stake, it's self-evident one prepares thoroughly for such meetings. But I expect you never have had to deal with them?"

Elizabeth wasn't completely sure, but she really thought she saw William's lips twitching a tiny bit. "As a matter of fact, I have had some meetings with business relations, but I've never <I>pretended</I> to make them feel they were my best friends. Staying polite and friendly should be enough and if something does grow into a friendship, it will happen spontaneously. In the end, they will feel if it's true or not. Honesty is the best policy."

She looked intensely at her cards when she spoke but she could feel William looking at her, smiling widely.

"Caroline, it's your turn to play," Charles urged his sister. "You have a week to organize where to take Mrs. King and her daughter, and where to put their gift. Let's continue the game, first things first."

Play continued, and after a long, strenuous battle, William won the game … one point ahead of Elizabeth.


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