“Fifty miles an hour on the freeway,” William grumbled to himself. “What a waste of a great car.”

BMW Z3He half expected the engine of the red BMW Z3 roadster to groan in embarrassment at being seen by the other sports cars zipping past in the left-hand lanes. But in the aftermath of his dizzy spell at the airport, he couldn’t risk going any faster.

He rarely drove a car. At home in New York, the Darcys’ household staff included a driver, and William’s performing trips usually took him to large cities best navigated with in a hired limo. But the word “California” summoned up the irresistible image of a convertible zipping down a sun-soaked freeway. Richard deserved the credit, or the blame, for this association.

BMW Z3 William had been a timid nine-year-old when his aunt and uncle, the Fitzwilliams, moved from San Francisco to New York with their son, whose confident swagger and worldly attitude had dazzled his cousin. William had especially enjoyed Richard’s tall tales of life in California, many of which involved joyriding in fast cars. The stories were probably invented; thirteen-year-old Richard had been too young to drive. But by the time William recognized this contradiction, his itch to cruise California in a hot car was deeply entrenched.

Some might think it silly to gratify such a frivolous whim—his grandmother headed that list—but he allowed himself this harmless vice. By now, his secretary knew the owner of every exotic car rental agency from San Diego to San Francisco.

Had he known that he’d have to rein in the engine rumbling under the hood, he might have asked Sonya to arrange for a limo instead. But the weekend had just begun, and he was already feeling better. Fresh air and sunshine, and maybe some rest; that’s all I need.

Half an hour ago he hadn’t been so optimistic. As he had leaned over the luggage conveyor to retrieve his suitcase, the world had dissolved into near blackness. He had needed every ounce of his concentration to stay on his feet while he searched for a place to sit and rest.

He had been curt with the fan who had approached him at the worst possible moment, but it would have been unthinkable to confess his weakness by saying, “Pardon me, but if I don’t sit down I’m probably going to fall in a heap at your feet.” Besides, what is this, “Accost William Darcy” Day? He had barely recovered from his encounter with Linda the Webmistress and her photographically-challenged spouse.

And they weren’t the only ones who had recognized him; so had the girl with the green eyes. During his struggle to regain his equilibrium, her eyes had flashed in his direction, their former good humor replaced by chilly disdain.

He shrugged. It didn’t matter; she was a stranger, someone he would never see her again. He steered the Z3 onto Highway 101 and pressed the gas pedal. The car leapt forward like a thoroughbred bolting toward the finish line, and for the first time that day he began to relax.

 

Terrace restaurant William arrived at the Ritz-Carlton’s Terrace Restaurant at precisely one o’clock. He felt like the living embodiment of the expression, “a new man.” A short nap, a shower, and a change of clothes had wiped away the last remnants of his terrible morning.

The maitre d’ showed him to a table shaded by a canopy of trees. He stretched his long legs and alternated between perusing the menu and gazing absently at the fountain in the center of the terrace. Its gentle splashing sounds underscored the soft hum of voices from nearby tables.

Several minutes later, he sat sipping a glass of iced tea and devouring a small loaf of warm sourdough bread. He glanced at his watch; as he looked up, he saw Charles Bingley striding briskly across the terrace, wearing a broad grin.

“Will! God, it’s good to see you!”

“Hello, Charles.”

Charles ignored William’s outstretched hand and instead enveloped him in a bear hug. William shifted on his feet and tentatively thumped Charles on the back.

“Sorry I was late,” Charles said as they sat down. “I really tried to get here on time.”

“I know.” William grinned at his friend. “When you’re doing a million things at once, it’s hard to be on time for any of them. I expected you to be at least fifteen minutes late, so in a sense you’re right on time.”

“Okay, Mr. Punctuality-is-next-to-Godliness.”

The waiter arrived to take their order. Once he had collected the menus and departed, Charles asked, “How was the trip?”

“One disaster after another.”

“What happened?”

William performed a mental edit of his tribulations and then answered, “Mostly things that aren’t very interesting. But I had to deal with three fans.”

“Ah, the life of a classical-music sex symbol.”

“Not this again.”

“Deny it all you want,” Charles said, smirking. “But you know it’s true, and not just because Newsweek called you that. Women who don’t even know how to spell ‘concerto’ take one look at you, and suddenly they’re big-time classical music fans. They buy your recordings and nag their husbands and boyfriends into taking them to your concerts. And then they hang around your dressing room door afterwards, hoping to meet The Man Himself.”

“You are so full of it.” But Charles wasn’t that far from the truth. Such superficial admiration couldn’t compare to the appreciation of a true classical music aficionado. But William was revered by that audience too. Besides, as Richard was fond of pointing out, symphony orchestras didn’t make that distinction when William’s guest appearances attracted sellout crowds.

Charles snickered. “You think I’m full of it? And that’s why you were overrun by fans this morning? Come on, let’s hear the juicy details. I’m so jealous it’s pathetic.”

“Don’t be. One was a woman old enough to be my mother who wouldn’t stop talking about computers. She wanted a photo for my web site. She claimed to be my Webmistress, which conjured up some lurid images.”

“My techno-phobic pal,” Charles said, chuckling. “The only guy I know who doesn’t have e-mail.”

“Yes, I do.” William delivered this news with a smug smile.

“Since when?”

“A few years ago. But I almost never give out the address.”

“Here’s the real test. How often do you check your e-mail?” Charles asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“That’s Sonya’s job.”

“Why am I not surprised? But I want to hear about the Webmistress. She wanted a photo?”

“Yes. And there I was, barely awake, with coffee stains on my shirt.”

Charles laughed. “You and your wardrobe obsession!” He raised his eyebrows and contined. “Look, is there something you’ve never told me about yourself? You’re entirely too well groomed for a straight guy.”

William shook his head, eyeing Charles’s wrinkled khaki shirt. “Just because I haven’t perfected the California beach bum look—”

“Don’t knock it. Women find it irresistible. Which brings me back to your adoring fans. Let’s hear about the others.”

William grimaced. “As I was about to leave the airport, a woman came over for an autograph. I turned her down, and I was rather abrupt.”

“What did she look like?”

“Blonde. Pretty. Why do you ask?”

“Wow. So many women to choose from, you can afford to blow off cute blondes.”

“Look, Charles—”

“And what about fan number three? What did she do?”

“Nothing in particular.” William developed a sudden interest in studying his glass of iced tea.

“Aha! And did you make a date with Ms. ‘Nothing In Particular’ for Saturday night, after the wedding?”

“Of course not. I don’t get romantically involved with fans. You know that.”

Charles rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know that. Everyone who knows you knows that. Hell, our waiter probably knows that. They chase you all over creation, and you can’t run away fast enough. I think you’re nuts.”

“I’m sorry if it punctures your fantasies, but I am not constantly propositioned by groupies. That might happen to rock stars, but not to me. When I’m approached, it’s usually just for an autograph or a photo.”

“Bullshit. I bet you meet plenty of female fans who want something a lot more personal than an autograph.”

“‘Plenty’ is a strong word.” William studied a tiny gray bird hopping toward him, nibbling breadcrumbs fallen from a nearby table.

“There’s a non-denial denial if ever I heard one.” Charles leaned across the table. “C’mon, throw me a bone.”

“Taking advantage of my fans that way would be undignified. And ungentlemanly.”

Charles rolled his eyes. “My God, Will, could you possibly be any more stuffy?”

William glared at Charles, but before he could compose a suitably sharp retort, Charles laughed. “I’m just giving you a hard time. But, seriously, it must drive you crazy to know that you could have a different woman every night if you wanted, and then not do anything about it.”

“That’s not what I want. You should understand; you’re the one who’s getting married.”

Charles’s face softened. “Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for true love.”

“Tell me about her. All I know so far is her name.”

“Jane is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

William had heard those words from Charles many times before, about many different women. “Of course she is.”

“No, I mean it. Tall, slender, blonde, blue eyes. A real California girl.”

“What does she do?”

“She’s a lawyer. But forget all the stereotypes. She’s kind and sweet and sincere. And we have tons in common. We like to run marathons and play tennis, and I’m going to teach her to surf on our honeymoon.”

“How did you meet?”

“At a 10K race in early February. We’ve been together ever since.”

“Then you haven’t known each other for long.”

“I knew as soon as I met her that she was the one.”

William frowned. Charles’s impulsive streak often landed him in trouble. “Is she with a large law firm?”

“No, she has her own small practice. Of course she’ll have to shut it down eventually, when we move to LA.”

“You’re going back there?”

“Father insists. He wanted us to move back right after the honeymoon, but I got him to give us six months.” Charles brightened as he continued. “I figure I’ll keep delaying it a few months at a time, and we’ll be able to stay here for at least a year.”

“Does Jane get along well with your parents?”

Charles hesitated. “They’ve only met her once; we went down for a weekend in April. But I’m sure they’ll love her once they get to know her better.”

In other words, no. “And her family?”

“They live in Cupertino. Her father is a computer engineer. Big family; Jane is the oldest of five girls.”

“So you two come from very different backgrounds.”

Charles shrugged. “I don’t care about that.”

“I assume your parents care.”

“Yeah,” Charles said with a sigh. “Father keeps insisting that Jane wants me for my money.”

“Is that a possibility?”

“Of course not! Why does everyone say that? Jane loves me.”

“I’m remembering some of the girls who chased you, and almost caught you, when we were at Juilliard.”

“That was years ago!” Charles shook his head. “I was young and gullible back then.”

“I’m also thinking of my own experiences. I’ve nearly given up on meeting a woman who’s interested in me for more than my name and my bank balance.”

“Like I told you, Jane has her own law practice. It’s not like she’s been sitting around waiting for a rich husband to show up.”

William smiled at his friend’s naïveté. “Almost any woman would find you a good catch. Even though the women in my family’s social circle have resources of their own, they’re always looking for more.”

“Father is obsessed with the idea that Jane’s a fortune hunter. He even wanted her to sign a pre-nuptial agreement.”

“That seems sensible.”

Charles stared at William. “You’re kidding. You want me to go to the woman I love and start planning the divorce, when we’re not even married yet?”

“But look at the statistics on failed marriages.”

“Jane and I aren’t a statistic, we’re two people in love. I don’t want to even suggest that I think it won’t last.”

“Then she hasn’t signed an agreement?”

“Nope.”

“I’m surprised your father agreed to forego the pre-nup.”

“He didn’t,” Charles murmured in a conspiratorial tone, leaning forward.

“I don’t understand.”

“He gave me a pre-nup and told me to get Jane to sign it. Our lawyer in LA thinks the San Francisco lawyer has the signed copy, and vice versa. By the time Father finds out, the wedding will be over and it’ll be too late.”

“But you can’t do that,” William replied, shaking his head.

Charles lifted his chin. “The hell I can’t.”

“There’s a family business at stake here. You could lose it if the marriage fails.”

“It isn’t going to fail, so it’s a moot point.” Charles sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Their lunches arrived, and they ate in silence. William appreciated Charles’s happy-go-lucky nature, though it was entirely different from his own, and he had never felt any compulsion to change. But Charles had never quite grown up. He fell in love easily and often unwisely, and got his heart broken with predictable regularity. His deception regarding the pre-nup was a disaster waiting to happen.

Charles finally broke the oppressive silence, introducing a safer topic. “What kind of car did you rent?”

“A Z3.” William swallowed a bite of his salmon.

“Good choice. By the way, Jane feels bad that we didn’t meet you at the airport. She’s worried about being a good hostess.”

“Did you explain about the car?”

“No, I didn’t think she’d understand sports car lust.”

William chuckled. “Well put.”

“She also wasn’t happy that you’re staying here at the Ritz instead of at the house with me.”

“It seemed best, with your family staying at the house.”

“In other words, you don’t want to be forced into close quarters with Caroline.”

“I’m sorry, Charles.”

“Don’t be. I’m the one who should apologize, for having such a pushy sister.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“It’s too bad, because as it turns out I have plenty of room at the house. At the last minute my parents decided to stay here at the hotel. Caroline doesn’t know it’s going to be just the two of us.”

“You didn’t tell her?”

“Are you kidding?” Charles’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “I can’t wait to see her reaction when she finds out you’ve outsmarted her.”

William smiled. “You’re a good man.”

The waiter returned and cleared away the plates. Both men refused dessert and coffee. William, over Charles’s protests, charged the lunch to his room.

“Got any plans this afternoon?” Charles asked.

“No. What did you have in mind?”

“Come over to the house. Jane went to meet her sister at the airport. She said they’d probably go out to lunch and do some shopping, so we’ll have the place to ourselves. I’ve got a fridge full of beer—Anchor Steam, a local brew. I know you’re a wine snob, but trust me, you’ll love this stuff. We can sit on the patio and enjoy the calm before the storm.”

“Fine with me. And since we’ll be back here later for the rehearsal dinner, why don’t you leave your car here and we’ll take mine?”

Charles grinned. “You want to put the Z3 through its paces, huh? In that case, let’s take the long way back to the house.”

William smiled as he led the way out of the restaurant. Eat your heart out, Richard. You made up the stories, but I get to experience it for real.

 

Elizabeth leaned back on her elbows and surveyed the scene. The weather all blue skies and sunshine on this afternoon in May, matched her breezy mood, as did the location she and Jane had selected for their impromptu picnic.

Palace of Fine ArtsThe Palace of Fine Arts was all that remained of the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915. The elaborate central rotunda with colonnades housed, not an art museum as the name suggested, but the Exploratorium, a hands-on science center.

Palace of Fine Arts As a child, Elizabeth had loved visiting the grounds to feed the ducks and swans swimming in the lagoon, and to search for turtles sunning themselves on its banks. Today she and Jane reclined on the gently sloping lawn overlooking the lagoon, the remnants of their lunch spread out between them.

“What a beautiful day!” Jane collected their sandwich wrappers and folded them carefully into fourths. “And the grounds here are so pretty. I can’t remember the last time I came here.”

“You take it for granted because you’ve always lived nearby.”

Jane nodded. “I love the Bay Area, so I’ve never wanted to leave. And, lucky for me, Charles loves it too.”

“How long has he lived here?”

“About two years. His parents want us to move to Los Angeles, but we’ve agreed that we’re staying here.”

“Well, of course you’re staying! For one thing, there’s your law practice.”

“Right. I’d hate to have to give it up now, when I’m finally starting to get establishedl.” Jane fell silent, staring at her flawlessly manicured fingernails.

“Is something wrong?”

Jane looked up, biting her lip. “Actually, Lizzy, I need your advice on something. I almost mentioned it on the phone, but I decided I was probably making too much of it.”

“Of course. What is it?”

Jane hesitated. “Oh, on second thought, it’s nothing. Forget about it.” She stood up, brushing a few blades of grass off her tan slacks. “Let’s go feed our leftover bread to the ducks.”

“Sit back down this instant and tell me what’s wrong. It must be important or you wouldn’t have brought it up.”

Jane sat down next to Elizabeth and sighed, closing her eyes. “Okay, but remember, this is probably just a case of pre-wedding jitters.”

“Stop stalling and start talking.”

“I told you about going to LA to meet Charles’s parents.”

“You said you went, but you never really told me much about it.”

“It was …” Jane shook her head and sighed again. “Charles was different that weekend.”

“Different how?”

“Usually he seems confident and happy, and I love that about him. But that weekend at his parents’ house, he seemed scared. And passive.”

“Give me an example.”

“Well, okay. Charles and I had just bought our house, right before we went to see his parents. The idea was to choose a home where we could raise a family. But that weekend, his father talked as though we’d be living in LA after the wedding. So finally I mentioned the house and my law practice and our plans.”

Elizabeth nodded, her eyes fixed on Jane. “What happened then?”

“Mr. Bingley was upset. He insisted that we move to LA after the wedding. And he told me that I had to stop practicing law, since as Charles’s wife I would have other responsibilities.”

“He just started ordering you around, even though you’d just met?” Elizabeth stared at Jane in disbelief. “What did Charles say?”

“Nothing. He just looked at his father, and then at me, and stammered a bit. Later, he had a private talk with his father and worked everything out. But at the time he just sat there looking nervous.”

“I can’t believe he didn’t stand up for you. Did things at least calm down a little after that?”

“Not really. Mr. Bingley started asking questions about our family. How much money Dad makes, what Mom did before she met Dad, how much our house was worth, and things like that. I thought the questions were …” Jane paused.

“Nosy? Rude? Obnoxious?” Elizabeth spat out the words.

“Well, Lizzy, they do need to be careful. He said that several women have gone after Charles for his money in the past.”

What? That monster called you a golddigger?”

“He’s not a monster, just a concerned father. And I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”

Elizabeth’s stomach churned. “I hope Charles put a stop to the interrogation.”

Jane sighed and shook her head. “It looked like he wanted to, but maybe he thought it was best to get it over with.”

“Sounds like he’s terrified of his father.”

“It did seem that way. I’m glad his parents don’t live nearby; if they did, I’m afraid it would become a problem.”

“Did you ever ask Charles why he didn’t speak up?”

“Yes. In fact, we had a fight about it after we got home, and I broke the engagement.”

“You never told me that!”

“We were only broken up for one day. Then Charles came to see me, and he assured me that everything was worked out; we were staying in San Francisco. And the Bingleys must have decided I wasn’t a fortune hunter, because they never even asked me to sign a pre-nup. It seemed like everything was fine again, and I decided to put it behind me. But now …” Jane paused and bit her lip.

A gust of wind sent one of their napkins skimming across the lawn. Elizabeth lunged and grabbed it before it could escape. “Tell me.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling Charles is keeping things from me. He’s been nervous and fidgety all week. It could just be pre-wedding jitters, but I overheard him on the phone with his father a few nights ago. Charles was saying, ‘Don’t mention it to Jane.’”

“Did you find out what he meant?”

“I wasn’t going to say anything at first; after all, I’d been eavesdropping, even if it wasn’t intentional. But finally I told him what I’d heard and asked what his father wasn’t supposed to tell me.”

“And?”

“He seemed flustered, but he said he’d asked his father not to make a big deal out of their decision to stay at the Ritz. You see, I think we should be providing hospitality for close family members, not sending them to hotels.” Jane pressed her lips together, and then her expression cleared. “At the time it seemed like he might not have told me everything, but …” She hesitated, but then continued with a tentative smile. “No, I’m sure he was telling the truth.”

“You don’t sound sure.” Elizabeth retorted, more sharply than she had intended. She continued, but in a gentler tone. “If you’re not sure about marrying him, it’s not too late to change your mind.”

“Oh, heavens, no, I’m not saying that. It would be different if he hadn’t worked things out with his father. But he did, and we’ll be fine.” This time, Jane’s smile looked genuine. “It helped to talk to you about it. I feel better now.”

“Good.” The conversation had had the opposite effect on Elizabeth. It sounded like Jane was marrying into a seriously dysfunctional family. Then again, the Bennets aren’t exactly The Brady Bunch.1

Palace of Fine Arts A trio of children stood at the edge of the lagoon feeding the ducks, who quacked their urgent demands for a second helping. The warm afternoon sun baked into Elizabeth’s winter-pale skin. Her eyelids drooped as her early morning began to take its toll. She started slightly when Jane spoke.

“Lizzy, what are you wearing to the rehearsal dinner?”

“My navy flowered dress.”

“That long, loose dress with the high neck?” Jane frowned. “The one you wore last Christmas Eve?”

“Isn’t it fancy enough?”

“Not really. The Bingleys are holding the dinner in a private room at the Ritz. There’s going to be live music and everything, almost a mini-reception. I’m sorry; I thought I told you.”

“Hmmm.” Elizabeth’s budget hadn’t allowed for a new dress, so she had conveniently forgotten this information.

“Besides, you’ve got a fabulous body and you always insist on hiding it.” Jane directed a narrowed glance at Elizabeth’s loose-fitting blouse and long skirt.

“What are you saying? I should walk into the rehearsal dinner wearing a bikini?”

“Of course not. But you could show off your assets and still look classy.”

It was a familiar refrain. “Right. I can’t wait to show off my ‘assets’.” Elizabeth snapped. “So I can get hit on by a bunch of horny men who want to get me into bed and then move on to the next conquest.”

“Not all men are like that.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Come on,” Jane said in a lighter tone. “Let’s go shopping and buy you a fabulous new dress for tonight.”

“No. You are not going to win this argument by taking me to a store and embarrassing me into buying some nightmare in spandex. Besides, I can’t afford a new dress.”

“I’m buying.”

“No, Jane. You know how I feel about taking money from you.”

“This is different. This is your gift for being my maid of honor. Please, Lizzy. We could go to Union Square. It’ll be fun. Besides, wouldn’t you like to knock William Darcy right off his feet tonight?”

Elizabeth snickered. “I’d rather do it by punching him in his arrogant nose.”

“Lizzy!”

“Okay, I take it back.”

“Besides, if Mom thinks you aren’t dressed up enough, you’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Wow. You’re really bringing out the heavy artillery.”

“And we can play Fashion Mistake if you want,” Jane added in a wheedling tone.

Elizabeth had invented the Fashion Mistake game as a teenager. They each picked a disastrous outfit for the other to try on. She chuckled, recalling the fashion mistakes—or more appropriately, cataclysms—she had inflicted on Jane in the past.

Jane smiled at her, eyebrows raised. “So? Are we going shopping?”

“We’re going shopping.” Elizabeth stood up and brushed off her skirt. “But nothing too expensive.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll find something absolutely gorgeous on sale.”

“Just one warning,” Elizabeth said as they walked toward the car. “If you think we’re buying a slinky red mini-dress that’s cut down to my navel, you can forget it.”

“As if I’d try. I know how stubborn you are. But I don’t think you should rule out a slinky black mini-dress. You’d look amazing, and I bet William Darcy would love it.”

Unbidden, a pair of intense brown eyes flashed intoElizabeth’s mind. She shook her head quickly, dismissing the image. “As if I care about William Darcy,” she said blithely.

 

“We’re just a block from the house now,” Jane said, excitement rising in her voice.

The shopping expedition had been a success. Elizabeth had calculated that a few extra shifts at the restaurant would be enough to pay Jane back for her new dress and shoes. She couldn’t accept charity from Jane, not even in the guise of a bridesmaid’s gift.

“Well, what do you think?” Jane pulled her car into the driveway of a three-level Victorian house.

“Oh, Jane, it’s beautiful!”

“I didn’t think we should spend so much, but Charles insisted. And it’s a wonderful house.” She sighed. “And speaking of Charles, his car isn’t here. He and William must be out somewhere together.”

Elizabeth pointed to a red BMW parked by the curb. “Ooh, hot car! Does it belong to Charles?”

“No, and I don’t recognize it, either. One of our neighbors must have a visitor.”

“Maybe it’s a surprise wedding present from Charles,” Elizabeth said, her eyes twinkling.

Jane wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “He does want to buy me a new car, but I don’t need one. Besides, a two-seater isn’t practical.”

“Life isn’t only about practicality. That car would be so much fun to drive! And what do you mean you don’t need a new car?”

“I love my Honda.” Jane patted the dashboard fondly.

“But you’ve had it forever.”

“It never breaks down, it gets good gas mileage, and it’s in decent shape. A few dents and scratches, and the upholstery’s a little faded, but that’s all.”

“And here I thought all lawyers were rich and drove fancy cars. Not my thrifty sister.”

Once inside the house, Elizabeth found herself in a spacious kitchen with granite countertops, mahogany cabinets, and stainless steel appliances. It was nearly as large as her entire apartment in New York. “This is gorgeous!”

“Did you see the Sub-Zero refrigerator?” Jane sounded like a small child on Christmas morning.

“It’s wonderful, all of it. At least you aren’t being ultra-thrifty here.”

“Actually, I wanted to buy something more modest, but Charles insisted.” Jane glanced around her and smiled. “And I admit, I love it.”

Jane led Elizabeth through the rest of the house. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows, tinting the rooms with a warm glow. Jane’s taste was evident everywhere: serene and unpretentious, yet utterly chic.

“Why don’t you go and see the back yard?” Jane suggested. “There’s a nice little garden, and I’m working on expanding it. I’ll join you soon, after I pack a few things for tonight.”

“Okay.”

Elizabeth trotted down the stairs and stepped through the French doors to the patio. Voices floated up from the yard below.

“All I’m saying, Charles, is that you should be careful. You’ve only known her for three months.”

“Will, we’ve covered this already. She’s not marrying me for my money, and we’re going to stay married. Drop it.”

Jane had mentioned Charles’s plans to have lunch with William Darcy. Apparently they had returned here after lunch. As if insulting Jane at the airport wasn’t enough, now he was trying to interfere with the wedding!

“I hope you know what you’re doing.” William sounded dubious.

“I do. I love her.” Charles’s voice was warm and enthusiastic, and Elizabeth liked him instantly. “Wait till you meet her. I know you’ll love her too. And I’m looking forward to meeting Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth?”

“Jane’s sister, the maid of honor. She lives in New York. Jane and I thought that if the two of you hit it off at the wedding, maybe when you got home you could call her and—”

“Stop right there. Please tell me that you’re not trying to turn this wedding into a blind date for me.”

“But Jane thought you might really like Elizabeth. She sounds like a lot of fun, and I hear she’s a big admirer of yours.”

“Oh, wonderful, a giggling fan hanging on my arm.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Don’t worry, Mr. Darcy. I’d rather curl up with a rattlesnake than hang on your arm.

“I said admirer, not fan. In fact, Elizabeth is a performer, like you.”

“Oh?” William packed a gallon of arrogance into that one syllable.

“Elizabeth is an actress and a singer.”

“Singer? What kind of singer?”

“Musical theater, Broadway, that sort of thing. So Jane and I thought, with both of you being musicians—”

William snorted. “The ability to warble a show tune doesn’t impress me. If she sang opera, I’d call her a musician.”

Elizabeth stifled an indignant gasp.

“That’s an elitist attitude,” Charles said, “especially coming from you. After all, you’ve sullied your classical-musician fingers by playing jazz.”

“Jazz is my hobby, not my profession,” William said in a haughty tone. “Besides, it requires skill and virtuosity. Any high school student who’s not tone deaf can sing the average Broadway song.”

“Why would you say that? I think it takes a lot of talent to succeed in musical theater.”

“And is she successful?”

Charles hesitated. “From what I understand she’s done okay, though you know how competitive it is. But, in addition, she’s—”

“Not successful, then. Where does she live?”

“Somewhere on the Lower East Side, Jane said.”

“And you thought she’d be a suitable woman for me? Charles, be realistic. I have to make public appearances and attend charity events. An under-employed chorus girl from the Lower East Side hardly sounds like she’d fit in at my social level.”

Elizabeth swallowed hard, her jaw clenched. It took every shred of self-control she possessed to resist storming into the yard to tell William Darcy what he could do with his precious “social level.”

“Will, why are you being so negative when you haven’t even met her?”

“Neither have you, so I don’t see why you’re convinced she’d be good for me. She doesn’t sound at all like my type.”

“All right, if you insist on being stubborn, I quit as your matchmaker. But please be nice to her for the weekend, okay?”

Elizabeth missed William’s answer, distracted by footsteps behind her. She turned and saw Jane approaching, a tote bag over her shoulder.

“Lizzy, why are you standing up here?” Jane asked as she stepped onto the patio. “I thought you’d be down in the garden.”

“Shhhh! Not so loud!” Elizabeth whispered, but it was too late.

“Jane? Sweetheart, is that you?” Charles trotted up the steps to the patio. “Come on, Will. Come up and meet my girl.”

 

William stood at the foot of the steps and studied Jane. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t place her. Then Charles’s earlier words drifted through his head: “Jane went to meet her sister at the airport.” The pieces of the puzzle fell into place with a sickening thud.

She hadn’t approached him for an autograph; she had been trying to introduce herself. Then he remembered Jane’s companion at the airport, and his embarrassment turned to mortification. She was standing beside Jane, hostility blazing in her eyes. Her green eyes.

He dragged himself up the steps, wishing for the San Andreas Fault to open and swallow him. That seemed the only possible escape from humiliation. By the time he reached the patio, he had managed to don an aloof expression.

Charles, one arm around the waist of each of the sisters, beamed at him. “Will, come here and meet these lovely ladies. This is my fiancée, Jane Bennet.”

William was relieved to see compassion in Jane’s eyes. She offered her hand, which he accepted. “Ms. Bennet—”

“Please call me Jane.”

He nodded. “Jane. Please accept my apology.”

“There’s no need for an apology. You just misunderstood what I wanted.”

“Wait a minute,” Charles said, frowning. “What’s all this about?”

“William and I spoke briefly at the airport, but he didn’t know who I was. He thought he was being approached for an autograph.”

Charles laughed heartily. “Jane is the pretty blonde fan from the airport?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said, shooting an insolent glance at William. “Mr. Darcy was the perfect gentleman, wasn’t he, Jane?”

Jane winced and stepped forward. “William, this is my sister, Elizabeth.”

He nodded. “Hello.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like an awkward 14-year-old.

“Hello,” she snapped, her eyes two cold, glittering emeralds.

William struggled to find something to say.

“Lizzy is the maid of honor,” Jane said, filling the awkward silence.

Elizabeth glared at him, an imperious challenge in her eyes, and he sensed that she was daring him to speak.

“Then … um … I suppose we’ll be seeing a lot of each other this weekend.” William nearly groaned. He sounded utterly inane.

“I suppose so,” she replied, smiling brightly. “But I promise not to ask for your autograph, and I’ll do my best not to giggle or hang on your arm.”

For a moment, her cheerful tone lulled him into believing that she intended the remark as a good-natured tease, but his relief was short-lived. Although her lips wore a smile, her eyes were cold. He looked away, his expression a dispassionate mask.

Elizabeth turned to Jane. “I think we’re in the guys’ way. I bet they were having a wonderful conversation about all sorts of things. Why don’t we go to the condo for a while?”

“All right, if that’s what you want,” Jane said.

“Charles, it’s wonderful to meet you at last,” Elizabeth said, smiling warmly.

“Same here, Elizabeth, but I wish you two were staying here tonight instead of at the condo.”

“The condo?” William said.

“Jane owns a place near Buena Vista Park,” Charles said. “She hasn’t sold it yet, so she and Lizzy are staying there tonight. Unless I can change their minds.”

Jane shook her head, smiling. “You know it’s bad luck if you see me before the wedding. How would we handle that if we both stayed here?”

“I’d happily wear a blindfold for a good cause,” Charles said cheerfully. He pulled Jane into his arms for a kiss.

William glanced at Elizabeth, who wore a wistful expression as she watched her sister. She must have sensed his gaze, because her eyes met his and her expression hardened.

Charles escorted Jane and Elizabeth to their car, leaving William alone on the patio. He was grateful for some time to think. He reminded himself of Elizabeth’s occupation, her youth, and her Lower East Side address. A pair of exquisite green eyes changed none of that. Besides, she was by no means a beauty like her sister. She was pretty, but she lacked the elegance and sophistication of the women he encountered socially. Furthermore, her sarcastic tongue and quick temper were unattractive traits.

He would be polite to her, but no more than that, for the rest of the weekend. Then he would return to New York, separated from her by a wide gulf of wealth and privilege. Back in familiar surroundings, it would be easy to stop thinking about her. He was quite certain of that.

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1 The Brady Bunch: a 1970s comedy series on American TV about a blended family with six children.

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