“You need to teach me how to handle my hair,” Elizabeth said, inspecting herself in the car’s vanity mirror. “It never behaves this well for me.”

“I’d be happy to teach you. I’ve volunteered often enough,” Jane said. “I’d love to see you do more to show off how beautiful you are.”

“Who would notice me, with you around?”

Jane looked angelic as always, in a pale blue slip dress that showed off her slender build and her lightly tanned arms and shoulders. Her chin-length blonde hair feathered gently around her face, every strand falling precisely into place.

“Lizzy, don’t say that! You look gorgeous. I’m so glad we found that dress. It’s perfect on you.”

Elizabeth smoothed the champagne-colored skirt of her conservatively-cut knee-length sheath. Ordinarily she gave her appearance little thought, but tonight she knew that she looked—not gorgeous, which was merely Jane’s loving exaggeration, but certainly pretty.

Yeah, but why do you care? Hoping to impress a certain concert pianist?

It was a preposterous idea. She didn’t care what that insufferable boor thought of her.

“Go over the guest list for me,” Elizabeth said. “Especially Charles’s family.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Bingley will be there, of course. And there’s Charles’s sister, Caroline.”

“Younger or older?”

“She’s about two years older than Charles. His other sister, Louisa, and her husband will be there too.”

“What are his sisters like?”

“Louisa is married; that’s all I know. Charles rarely mentions her; I don’t think they’re close. Caroline is very involved in the family business. In fact, she seems to care about it more than Charles does.”

“So they both work for their father?”

“Yes. Caroline was working at headquarters until maybe six weeks ago; since then she’s been up here in the San Francisco branch office, along with Charles.”

A traffic light ahead turned yellow. Elizabeth would have hurried to beat the red light, had she been driving, but Jane slowed the car to a smooth, careful stop. A car to their left flew through the intersection just as the light turned red, to the accompaniment of the angry blare of horns.

“Is there something else Charles would rather be doing?” Elizabeth asked, smoothing her dress again.

“He loves music, and he has a lot of talent. But his father always disapproved of him ‘wasting his time’—those are Mr. Bingley’s words, not mine—on music.”

“Yet he let Charles go to Juilliard. That doesn’t make sense.”

“Charles paid his tuition out of a small trust fund from his grandparents. Mr. Bingley controls the trust, but he finally agreed to it. He said that failure would teach Charles a lesson.”

“How awful! Is that why Charles left Juilliard, because he was failing?”

“He was doing fine. But after two years, Mr. Bingley changed his mind and insisted that Charles drop out. So he went back to LA and got a business degree.”

“Poor guy,” Elizabeth said, shaking her head. “Well, at least he has his jazz ensemble.”

Jane smiled. “He loves that jazz group. Most of the guys will be at the rehearsal dinner, including the one who helped arrange your job interview next week.”

“He’s also the one who’s going to be my accompanist at the wedding, isn’t he?”

Jane nodded. “Right. Bill Collins.”

“Short for William?”

“Yes.”

“I’m adrift in a sea of Williams! I hope I don’t get them confused.”

Jane burst out laughing. “Oh, Lizzy, wait till you see Bill! You have nothing to worry about on that score.”

“So there won’t be two tall, dark, and handsome men stalking around acting haughty all night?” Elizabeth pretended to pout.

“Not exactly,” Jane answered, laughing. “By the way, I should warn you that Bill doesn’t always make the best first impression. But he’s been kind and helpful, so please give him the benefit of the doubt.”

“I’ll be nice to him. I owe him a big ‘thank you’ for arranging the job interview.”

“And, Lizzy, speaking of being nice …”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I’ll be polite to William, I promise.”

“I know you’re upset about the things he said. But he didn’t know you were listening.”

“And that makes it okay?” Elizabeth sniffed.

“Of course not. But Charles and I may be to blame. We decided to do some matchmaking, and it may have made William uncomfortable. Charles warned me that William doesn’t like to discuss his personal life.”

“Why would William Darcy, of all people, need a matchmaker?” Elizabeth stared at Jane in disbelief. “I bet he has to fight the women off.”

“You’d think so. But Charles says William is lonely, though he doesn’t necessarily admit it. Apparently he’s kind of shy.”

“He hasn’t been shy about bad-mouthing us. More likely he doesn’t think anybody’s good enough for him, and especially not an ‘under-employed chorus girl’ like me. You know, we common people aren’t at his ‘social level’.”

“I wonder if he realizes that you overheard him? If so, I’m sure he’s embarrassed.”

“I doubt anything I said had the slightest impact on the great William Darcy.”

“Lizzy, he’s a man, not an icon. He has feelings just like everyone else.”

“I think he mostly has an ego the size of the Pacific Ocean.”

“But can’t you see how a prominent person like William would get used to being constantly flattered and admired? Over time I can see how he would have developed some pride.”

“Pride is one thing. Arrogance is another.” Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. Nothing Jane said was going to sway her on this point.

“Won’t you give him another chance? Charles is very fond of him, so he must have some good qualities.”

“Sorry, Jane. He’s smug and conceited. Besides, he’s already made it clear that he thinks I’m unworthy of his notice. But don’t worry. I’ll be nice to him this weekend for your sake. I don’t want you worrying about your maid of honor breaking the best man’s nose with a well-timed right hook.”

Jane smiled at Elizabeth’s choice of words. “And you won’t take any verbal jabs at him either? No matter what?”

“I’ll keep my inner smart-ass quiet for the weekend, no matter how hard I have to bite my tongue.”

It wasn’t going to be easy. Elizabeth’s sense of the absurd usually helped her to laugh off insults and smile at awkward situations, but William was proving to be an exception.

church exterior Jane slowed the car in front of a brick building, its facade dominated by a large rose window. “This is the church,” she said. She drove on, pulling into a nearby parking garage. As the sisters walked through the garage, Elizabeth noticed a bright red BMW Z3 parked near the exit. Two of them in one day. Weird.

 

“Where is she?” Charles asked, checking his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. He paced back and forth across the front of the church, small beads of perspiration forming on his forehead.

“Charles, it’s twenty past six. The rehearsal isn’t until six thirty. Sit down before you wear a trench into the floor.” William was finding his duties as best man a bigger challenge than he had anticipated.

Charles sat down beside William and began drumming his fingers on the back of the pew in front of them. “I thought Jane would be here by now.”

“This is probably the first time in your life you’ve been on time. You’re just used to being the last person to arrive.”

Charles checked his watch again. “Where did the minister go? He was here a minute ago.”

William restrained himself from rolling his eyes. “He’s in his office. He’ll be ready as soon as everyone is here.”

church interior Charles resumed his restless pacing, and William decided they needed a diversion. Perhaps the hushed atmosphere in the church was making things worse.

“Let’s wait for Jane outside,” William suggested. “That way you’ll see her as soon as possible.”

“But what if she goes in another entrance? Then we’ll miss her.”

Patience, William admonished himself, running his hands through his hair. “All right, then, I’ll go outside and serve as the lookout, and you can stay in here.”

“Okay, good. No, wait. Maybe I should be the one to go outside.”

“Fine. You go ahead, and I’ll stay here. You could probably use the fresh air.”

“Okay, then, I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

With a rueful smile, William watched Charles trot up the center aisle and out of the church. Well, there’s one advantage of bachelorhood. No pre-wedding jitters. But he couldn’t imagine panicking on the eve of his own wedding, not if he were marrying the right woman.

The right woman. William believed that his perfect match existed somewhere in the world: his partner, his other half, even his soulmate, though that term sounded foolish to him. The idea of her, whoever she was, had recently assumed almost mythic importance. Perhaps turning 30 last year had emphasized the passage of time, making him wonder when, if ever, she would appear.

In the meantime, he had ample opportunities for female companionship. His status as a respected concert artist, his family’s wealth, and his good looks generated what his cousin Richard only half-jokingly called “The William Darcy Magnetic Field.”

William’s ability to exert this inexorable pull on women was all the more maddening to his cousin because it involved no conscious effort. He wore aloofness like a shield, hoping to ward off unwanted attention. Richard had once grumbled, “Will, you drive me nuts. You don’t even pretend to give a damn, and it just makes them work harder to catch you.”

During William’s late teens, under the influence of Richard’s example, he had occasionally accepted an offer for a night of no-strings-attached sex. But he had quickly developed a distaste for the sort of superficial connections on which his cousin thrived. The activity satisfied his youthful libido, but left him feeling empty afterwards.

William’s social life since then had followed a precise pattern. He identified, to use his grandmother’s old-fashioned phrase, a “suitable woman” to join him at charity events, concerts, and dinners—and, occasionally, breakfast the next morning. He sought women who wanted a relationship of friendship and convenience, with no expectation of anything more. It was a practical approach, and it protected him from the many women determined to snag the title of Mrs. William Darcy and brandish it like an Olympic medal.

But it was a lonely life, and his profession increased his isolation. The more successful he became, the more time he spent traveling the world alone. It had been more than a year since his last relationship with a woman. And it’s been even longer since I’ve had—hold on, I’m in church. If I’m not careful, I may be struck by lightning.

The church doors swung open, and Jane entered the building, flanked by a triumphant but fidgety Charles.

“Hi, William,” Jane said with a warm smile. “I’m guessing you’ve had your hands full keeping my fiancé from bouncing off the walls.”

He smiled. “He’ll be fine once the pomp and circumstance is over.”

Footsteps echoed through the church, and the minister appeared by the altar. “Hello, Reverend Wallace,” Charles called out. “We’re still waiting for some of the wedding party to get here.”

“That’s all right. It’s not quite six thirty yet. But if I could speak to you and Ms. Bennet while we wait, we could go over some details. Oh, and didn’t you say the maid of honor is going to sing? We need to decide where she’ll stand. ”

Jane turned to William. “Would you please go and get Lizzy? She’s outside watching for our family.”

He nodded and strode up the aisle with a degree of alacrity that he preferred not to analyze.

The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow over the buildings, but a damp breeze cooled his cheeks. He scanned the block, but saw no sign of Elizabeth. Perhaps she had slipped into the church through a side entrance.

As he turned toward the church, he saw a woman approaching from the parking garage. Something about her seemed familiar; perhaps this was yet another Bennet sister. As she came closer, he stared at her with growing interest. His eyes traveled slowly up her body, starting with a pair of marvelously toned legs that were enhanced by high-heeled sandals. He then drank in her gently curving hips. And as she approached him, he detected a subtle hint of lush cleavage.

She stopped directly in front of him, and although her eyes were hidden by sunglasses, she seemed to be staring at him. Her delicate complexion and her small, straight nose looked familiar, but it was her hair that arrested his attention. He ached to bury his hands in the mass of dark curls cascading over her shoulders, to feel its texture. And then he would kiss her, to see if her lips were as soft as they appeared.

The sudden burst of desire, provoked by a stranger, shocked him. I guess it really has been too long since I’ve had—

He nearly gasped when the woman removed her sunglasses. A pair of bright green eyes regarded him with curiosity.

“Hello, William,” Elizabeth said in a neutral tone.

He stared at her, open-mouthed.

“William?” she repeated, raising her voice slightly.

His mouth snapped shut and he swallowed hard. “I’m sorry,” he said, mortified to hear his voice trembling. “I didn’t … you … that is, your … your hair is different.” He hated sounding like an idiot.

She nodded gravely, the corners of her mouth twitching. “Yes, it is.”

“And you … you aren’t … that is to say … you look …” He took a deep breath and struggled to compose himself. “How old are you?”

She raised one eyebrow. “I’m 26. Why do you ask?”

“When I saw you at the airport, I thought … that is, you seemed less …” Less mature, less sexy, less breathtakingly gorgeous? The first complete sentence he thought of spilled out in a rush. “You look older now than you did earlier today.”

A faint frown line appeared between her eyebrows. She opened her mouth, closed it again, paused, and then finally spoke. “Why aren’t you inside the church?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, of course. You’re needed inside. When I first came out, you weren’t here.”

“I went back to Jane’s car for my coat. It’s getting chilly.”

He considered apologizing for the remarks she had overheard earlier, but he was too rattled to manage a decent apology. Instead, he opened the heavy oak door to the church and motioned her ahead of him. As she passed though the doorway, the outline of her shapely derriere made him want to groan. You’re going back into the church. Control yourself.

 

stained glassElizabeth stole a glance at William, who was studying the stained glass windows. She could sum him up succinctly in just a few words. Looks: 10. Personality: zero, or maybe even a negative score. After less than two minutes of additional contact, she was ready to deliver that right hook she had threatened in the car. If only she hadn’t promised to behave herself.

“Liz!” A woman’s voice echoed in the church. Only one person called her by that nickname.

“Char! Here you are, finally!” Elizabeth ran to Charlotte Lucas, hugging her tightly. “Jane and I missed you this afternoon. If you’d come over earlier, you could have gone shopping with us.”

“And been forced to play Fashion Mistake? Not a chance. You look fantastic, by the way. I assume Jane did your hair?”

“Obviously. You look great; I think you’re even taller than the last time I saw you.” Charlotte, whose high heels added to her six-foot height, always made Elizabeth feel like a Lilliputian.

William stood nearby, obviously eavesdropping on their conversation. Elizabeth turned to him, determined to keep her promise to be polite. “Charlotte, this is William Darcy, Charles’s best man. William, this is my friend Charlotte Lucas; she’s Jane’s other bridesmaid.”

Charlotte and William shook hands. “It’s a pleasure. I’ve followed your career since I was in high school. In fact, one of my friends used to play your recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto day and night.” Charlotte shot a teasing glance at Elizabeth.

“I do apologize,” William said solemnly, but Elizabeth saw a spark of mischief in his eyes. “How do you know Jane?”

“Through Liz. We were high school roommates at Interlochen.”

“You attended Interlochen Arts Academy?” William asked Elizabeth, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes, that’s right.” She understood the reason for his surprise. Boarding school usually implied a privileged upbringing. Elizabeth had relied on financial aid, with some help from her grandparents.

“Liz was a singer, and a good dancer too. I was into visual arts.”

William nodded. “My foundation supports the school, and I make a visit every summer during the Arts Camp.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said. William glanced at her sharply and seemed about to ask a question, but instead Charlotte continued her story.

“After Interlochen, I went to UC Berkeley. Jane was already there, and Liz introduced us. Jane and I shared an apartment for a few years.”

“Char refuses to live with anyone whose last name isn’t Bennet,” Elizabeth teased. “And since I don’t have any brothers, it’s put quite a damper on her love life.”

Charlotte smirked. “My love life is fine, thank you very much. I just don’t invite them to move in. Who wants a man underfoot 24 hours a day anyway?”

William smiled. “Are you still at Berkeley?”

“Yes. I’m finishing a Ph.D. in art history. I hope to defend my dissertation early next year.”

William nodded, clearly impressed. “Do you plan to teach?”

“Probably. Or maybe look for a post-doc.”

Judith Leyster self-portrait “What is your dissertation topic?”

“Female painters of the 17th century in the Netherlands.”

“Like Judith Leyster and Maria van Oosterwyck?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Charlotte answered, her eyes widening. “You’ve heard of them?”

“A few years ago my grandmother and I attended an exhibit of the work of Dutch painters from that period,” William said. “Several of Gran’s ancestors were Dutch, and she took an interest in the paintings. It’s a shame Leyster’s work was attributed to male painters for so long.”

“Not to mention that she and the other women were excluded from the painter’s guild. Typical, though. Boys always want to keep the girls out of their clubhouse.”

William’s only response was a tight smile.

“Sorry. I know guys hate remarks like that. But I’m so immersed in these women’s lives, I get carried away sometimes.”

“I understand. Your work is important to you.” This time William’s smile was genuine. “I could recommend some arts foundations that might be interested in funding your research. My family’s foundation supports for music programs, but I have contacts in other organizations.”

Elizabeth stared at him in shock. Where did William ‘I’m So Superior’ Darcy go, and who is this charming man with the killer smile? There was something poignant about the way the smile transformed his usually solemn face, and for a moment she longed to see that smile directed at her. Then she remembered his rudeness and arrogance; he would never smile at her, and she didn’t care.

“Thank you! I’d appreciate any help you could give me.” Charlotte touched William’s arm. “I wish I were the maid of honor instead of Liz, considering what a charming best man Charles has.”

William licked his lips and glanced in Elizabeth’s direction. She understood the significance of his look. He was undoubtedly wishing the same thing.

She stood by, feeling utterly superfluous as William and Charlotte discussed various art museums they had visited around the world. It made sense that William was so obviously drawn to Charlotte. Her dark hair was cut short, its spiky style flattering her attractive face. She wore a severe but elegant gray pantsuit, accessorized by an unusual choker and earrings made of silver and onyx. She looked and acted like a person of William’s “social level.”

“So, Liz, how is school going? Is the semester almost over?”

Charlotte’s question pulled Elizabeth out of her discontented reverie. “Almost. In fact, it was hard to get away right now. Lots of exams and papers.”

“You’re attending college in New York?” William asked.

Elizabeth stifled her instinctive angry response. Oh, that’s right. An underemployed chorus girl couldn’t possibly have a degree in anything, except maybe dancing on tables.

Charlotte laughed. “Not quite. She’s teaching while she finishes her master’s degree. Jane said you have an interview at Pacific Conservatory on Monday?”

“Yes, for a job starting in the fall,” Elizabeth replied. “I’d mostly be teaching classes in musical theater and performance technique. You know, belting out show tunes, stuff like that.”

Elizabeth stifled a snicker when William winced. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but another voice rang out from behind them.

“Ah, you must be Miss Elizabeth Bennet!”

A man of average height and slender build approached, an ingratiating smile creasing his slightly pink face. A tight ponytail pulled his hair back, revealing a high, shiny forehead. “Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. “I am William Collins.”

“Of course; it’s nice to meet you. And, yes, I’m Elizabeth.”

Collins engulfed her outstretched hand in a moist grip. “It is such a great pleasure to meet you at last.”

“I understand I have you to thank for my interview at the conservatory,” she said, withdrawing her hand and surreptitiously wiping it on the back of her coat.

“It was my pleasure. I can already tell that we’re going to be good friends. In fact, I was discussing you with Charles the other day, reviewing the various things Jane has told me that convince me that we’re unusually compatible. I’d love to discuss it with you over dinner.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure if she should laugh or retch. Before she had a chance to do either, Bill Collins peered up at William through his thick glasses. In a hushed, reverent voice, he said, “My goodness, Mr. Darcy, I can’t tell you what a thrill this is. I’m a keyboard player myself, and to meet you—such an immense honor.”

William squared his shoulders and stepped backwards, as though he feared that the man might try to embrace him. Elizabeth had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.

Bill Collins continued, oblivious to William’s reaction. “My employer, the esteemed Dean of Pacific Conservatory, Dr. Catherine de Bourgh, has nothing but the highest praise for you. Of course you’re acquainted with her. Everyone who matters in the music world knows Dr. de Bourgh. Elizabeth, when you meet her at your interview on Monday, you should mention that your brother-in-law is a close friend of Mr. Darcy’s.”

“I’d rather get the job based on my qualifications,” Elizabeth said tartly. She continued in a gentler tone. “But thank you for the advice.”

“And I’m so thrilled to be able to accompany your solo at the wedding tomorrow,” Bill gushed. “Jane has told me what a lovely voice you have, and I simply can’t wait to hear you sing. I can’t tell you how honored I was when Jane asked me to assist you, especially given the esteemed musicians in attendance at the wedding.” Bill nodded in William’s direction. “I was surprised, Mr. Darcy, that you were not asked to do the honors.”

“I am not an accompanist,” William responded in a haughty tone.

“Of course not,” Elizabeth remarked with false cheer. “William prefers to work alone.”

“What are you singing at the wedding, Liz?” Charlotte asked.

“‘Ave Maria.’ It’s Jane’s favorite.”

William raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t think you sang the classical repertoire.”

Right, because I’m not a real musician. “Most of my singing is in musical theater and jazz, but I’ve had some classical training,” she answered in as neutral a tone as she could manage. “Still, it only goes so far; you won’t hear me singing Wagner or anything like that.”

“I’m sure you’re a first-rate performer in whatever milieu you choose,” Bill effused, beaming at her. “Ah, and here’s Jim! Over here, Jim! Come and meet Elizabeth Bennet and her friends!”

Jim Pennington, one of Charles’s groomsmen, joined the group. Bill’s long-winded introduction revealed that Jim was the bass player in Golden Gate Jazz, the ensemble in which both Charles and Bill played. Elizabeth was about to ask him some questions about the group when Rev. Wallace reappeared with Charles and Jane.

“Is the bride’s father here?” Rev. Wallace asked.

Jane shook her head. “My parents are running late. I don’t want to keep you waiting, so let’s go ahead. I can fill Dad in when he gets here.”

“I would be honored to stand in for your esteemed father until he arrives,” Bill said, extending his arm with exaggerated gallantry.

 

William thought the rehearsal would never end. That ridiculous bore, Collins, kept asking absurd questions, apparently forgetting that he wasn’t actually giving the bride away. As for William, he seemed to have no control over the direction of his gaze. His eyes rarely strayed from Elizabeth.

But he was more concerned about the direction of his thoughts. In his imagination, he abandoned his place beside Charles and approached Elizabeth. She greeted him with a warm smile, and he drew her into his arms, feeling the warmth and softness of her body against his. He lowered his head, tasting her soft lips. Her arms twined around his neck, and she pressed herself against him, moaning. Fire raced through his body, and his hand slid up her torso until it reached—

organ pipes Stop! I’m supposed to be rehearsing for the wedding, not fantasizing about the maid of honor. He was mortified to feel stirrings which, if allowed to continue, would put him in an awkward situation. He exhaled a loud breath, gritted his teeth, and forced his eyes away from Elizabeth.

Just as the rehearsal ended, a shrill voice echoed through the church. “Jane! Jane! We’re here!” A middle-aged woman with short bleached-blonde hair came puffing up the aisle, the echo of her clattering footsteps filling the church.

“My parents are here,” Jane explained to Rev. Wallace. “This is my mother, Frances Bennet.”

“I’m so sorry we’re late, Jane, dear,” Mrs. Bennet panted, enfolding her daughter in a hug.

“It’s fine, Mom. Was traffic bad?”

“What? Oh, no, traffic was fine. Lydia was out visiting some friends, and the dear girl just lost track of time, and of course we couldn’t leave without her. Jane, my love, you look beautiful! Doesn’t she, Charles?”

“She certainly does, as always.”

Mrs. Bennet reached out to Charles, who embraced her with composure that William knew he couldn’t have equaled. Then she scanned the room with anxious eyes. “Where are your parents?”

“They’re going to meet us at the hotel. They should be here—”

Mrs. Bennet interrupted. “Lizzy! There you are!”

“Hello, Mom.” Elizabeth went to her mother and hugged her.

“You look very nice, dear. You can be so attractive when you want to be. Not half as lovely as Jane, of course, but you’re a pretty girl when you make the effort.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together and looked away. William felt a pang of sympathy; he also felt the injustice of the comparison. Jane was undeniably beautiful, but she lacked Elizabeth’s energy, her sparkle. Not to mention her body, his baser instincts added. He was trying to devise a response that would compliment Elizabeth without sounding foolish when Charles spoke up.

“All of your daughters are beautiful, Mrs. Bennet. And I’m so lucky that one of them is going to spend her life with me.” He kissed Jane gently.

“Oh, Charles, you are such a dear. Isn’t he, Andrew?”

A man of average height, his dark hair sprinkled liberally with gray, made his way up the aisle as he answered. “I didn’t hear what you said, Francie, but after thirty years of marriage, I know my best bet is to agree.”

William’s lips twitched. He could see where Elizabeth got her sense of humor.

Mr. Bennet’s eyes landed on Elizabeth, and he immediately came to her side and embraced her. “It’s wonderful to see you, Lizzy.”

“Hi, Dad,” Elizabeth whispered. “I’ve missed you.”

Greetings and introductions proceeded, slowed considerably by Bill Collins’s long speeches and Mrs. Bennet’s rapid-fire babbling.

“Oh, Mr. Darcy, I’ve been so looking forward to this! To have a celebrity at my little girl’s wedding! And for her husband to have such a prominent best man! My friends can’t wait to see you at the wedding tomorrow; I’ve told them all that you’ll be there! You will play at the reception, won’t you? You simply must! I’ve promised all my friends that they’ll hear you play.”

William stepped away and folded his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennet,” he said stiffly, “but Charles and I decided that I won’t be performing. I seldom play at private parties.”

“Although Mr. Darcy is not to play tomorrow,” Bill Collins observed, “I consider it a great honor to serve as Elizabeth’s accompanist at the wedding.”

“That’s very nice of you, Mr. Collins,” Mrs. Bennet answered. “I’m glad that at least some of Charles’s musician friends don’t consider themselves too important to play for my daughter’s wedding.” She glared at William and sniffed.

“Mom, where are Kitty and Lydia?” Elizabeth asked.

Mrs. Bennet craned her neck, surveying the church. “Where are those girls? Andrew, do you know where they’ve gone?”

“Last I saw them, they were in the parking garage ogling a sports car. A red BMW.”

“The Z3!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “I saw it too. Great car!”

William smiled. “It’s mine.”

“Yours?” Elizabeth asked.

“I rented it for the weekend.”

“Somehow I never imagined you behind the wheel of a sports car,” Elizabeth remarked.

Charles laughed. “That just goes to show that you don’t know Will. He’s the original speed demon.”

“Charles, stop exaggerating.”

“I bet it’s fun to drive,” Elizabeth said.

William heard a wistful note in her voice. “It is. You’re welcome to try it out this weekend, if you can drive a stick shift.”

“Oh, I’d love that!” For a delicious moment her eyes smiled into William’s, and warmth spread through his body.

“Jane, look at the time,” Charles said in an agitated tone. “We need to get over to the hotel. My parents will be arriving soon.”

“Of course,” Jane said, “let’s get going. Lizzy, are you ready?”

“I can’t. Bill and I still have to run through ‘Ave Maria.’”

“But we really have to get going,” Charles said. He frowned briefly and then glanced at Bill Collins. “Bill, could you give Lizzy a ride to the hotel?”

“I wish I could,” Bill answered, his eyes like a basset hound’s, “but Jim drove me, and his bass is in the back seat, and the trunk is full of music books and amplifiers and cables and other equipment. Please accept my deepest apologies.”

“I’d wait for you, Liz,” Charlotte said, “but I have to get to the bridal shop to pick up my dress before they close.”

“I have an idea,” Jane said. “Charles, I’ll ride with you and leave my car for Lizzy.”

“That won’t work. I rode with William, and he has a two-seater.”

“Charles, why don’t you ride over with Jane?” William suggested. “I can wait and give Elizabeth a ride.”

“Perfect! Thanks, Will.” Charles took Jane’s arm and led her toward the church doors. “Let’s all get out of here so Lizzy and Bill can have some peace and quiet.”

Slowly, the sanctuary emptied, until no one remained but Lizzy, Bill Collins, Jim Pennington, and William. Bill shot a smug look at William, sat down at the piano, and played a few fast scales.

It’s like he’s challenging me to a duel. William snickered. Perhaps I’m supposed to push him off the bench and play the same scales, except faster.

Elizabeth stood beside the piano. She nodded to Bill, who began to play the introduction to “Ave Maria.”

William’s heart stuttered when she began to sing. Her voice was sweet and clear, and she invested the plaintive melody with deep emotion. Her face, transfixed with joy, was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. He recalled the Sirens of Greek mythology, whose beautiful voices lured sailors to jump off their ships and swim towards the Sirens’ island, or to steer their ships too close to the rocks. The result in either case was disaster.

Is that what she means to me? Disaster? We come from different worlds. Too different. I need to remember that. He imagined Mrs. Bennet parading her tacky friends through his elegant New York house and insisting that he play for them, like a trained seal.

Too soon, the final chords of the accompaniment echoed through the church. William walked slowly toward the piano, where Elizabeth and Bill were discussing the timing of one section of the song. “Are you ready to go?” he asked her, pointedly ignoring Bill.

“Oh, but wouldn’t you like to go through it once or twice more?” Bill asked. “I want to make sure I perform perfectly for you.”

She shook her head. “No, I think it went fine. You did a wonderful job; thank you so much.”

Bill glanced smugly at William, and then answered Elizabeth. “It was my pleasure. I do apologize for being unable to drive you over to the dinner; I hope you understand and can forgive me.”

“No problem,” William responded smoothly, delivering a smug glance of his own. “I’m handling it.” En garde.

 

BMW Z3“I love this car,” Elizabeth sighed.

“Are you a sports car fanatic?” William asked, intrigued.

“I suppose so, in theory at least. I’ve never actually ridden in one, but I’ve always imagined it.” Her eyes shone as she gazed at the car.

He smiled. “That’s about to change. Shall I leave the top down?”

“Oh, yes, please!”

“Are you sure? Your hair may suffer from the wind.”

“I don’t care. I want the full experience.”

It occurred to him that, for the other women he knew, their hair would take priority. And most of them were far too jaded to get excited about anything. His eyes caressed her warmly. “In that case …” He held out the car keys.

Her eyes widened. “You were serious about letting me drive?”

He nodded. “Absolutely.”

She stared at the keys for a moment, frowning. “There’s just one thing.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve driven a stick, but it’s been a long time. And this is a six-speed; I’ve never driven one of those. So maybe …”

“Are you losing your nerve?” He quirked an eyebrow. She answered his challenge with an impudent smile and snatched the keys from his hand. He chuckled and opened the driver’s door for her.

William felt a blend of relief and excitement. He was flirting with her, and she seemed to be flirting back. Their shared interest in the sports car had allowed him to relax. It was the same in his profession. As long as he could talk about music, he was confident and articulate, but in other types of conversations he found it much more difficult to speak.

When Elizabeth sat down in the driver’s seat, her dress rode up, revealing several inches of her smooth, toned thighs. His eyes locked on the provocative sight, and his imagination screeched into overdrive. He saw himself pulling her out of the car and setting her on its hood. He yanked her into his arms, raining hot kisses down her throat. She flung her arms around his neck, writhing against him as—

Damn!

By sheer force of will, he had stopped himself from fantasizing about her in the church, but this time it was even more difficult to slam the brakes on his vivid imagination. He walked awkwardly around the car and slid gingerly into the passenger’s seat.

 

Elizabeth smiled at William as he sat down beside her. She was intrigued by the flirtatious sports car enthusiast who had replaced the grim man at the wedding rehearsal. But instead of returning the smile, he looked away, staring straight ahead. His posture was oddly stiff, his arms crossed over his lap, and she saw the muscles of his jaw working. Oh, no. Mr. Hyde is back. Thank goodness the hotel isn’t too far away.

The car lurched a few times as she experimented with the unfamiliar six-speed transmission, but soon they were moving smoothly down the road. She glanced at him, noting that he looked more relaxed now. What was his problem before? He was that nervous about my driving? It was his idea!

“A stick shift in San Francisco can be pretty scary,” she observed after a few minutes of awkward silence.

He nodded. “You have to plan ahead on some of the hills. You’re doing well for someone who hasn’t driven a stick in a while.”

“It’s a great car. How fast have you driven it?”

“Not too fast so far. I’m planning to take it out for a drive early Sunday morning before my flight and see what it can do.”

Another awkward silence followed, broken at last when he said, “Your solo was beautiful.”

“Thank you. But it’s such a wonderful composition, it practically sings itself. I really can’t take the credit.”

“I’m surprised you settled for Broadway music, when you obviously have the talent for an operatic career.”

“Settled?” she repeated, shooting a cool glance at him.

“Not all singers are good enough for opera, and those who aren’t have little choice but to pursue Broadway or popular music. But with your talent, you could have done so much more.”

“Thank you,” she snapped. She clutched the steering wheel, stifling the indignant tirade that threatened to spill from her lips.

“My mother was an opera singer,” he said, his voice warm with nostalgia. “In Italy. That’s where I was born. But when she and my father and I moved back to the United States, she had to give it up.”

Ritz CarltonBy the time Elizabeth pulled the car under the Ritz-Carlton’s large white portico, she had practically ground her teeth down to stumps. She leapt from the car and checked her appearance quickly in her compact mirror. “My hair!” she gasped. “But you did warn me.” Jane’s handiwork had been blown into a tangled mass by the wind.

William wore an intense expression she couldn’t identify. “You look fine to me,” he murmured in a deep voice.

She shrugged. “Well, thanks for letting me drive the car. That’s one fantasy come to life for me.”

She saw his eyes flare at her words, but neither knew nor cared why. “I’m going to the ladies’ room to try to rescue my hair,” she said in a breezy tone. “I’m sure I’ll see you at dinner.”

 

William watched her walk away, her hips swaying gracefully, and he finally released the groan he had stifled ever since she had preceded him into the church before the rehearsal. I can’t believe she mentioned fantasies coming to life. He could only hope that she would never guess the kind of fantasies he had been having all day.

Plainly stated, Elizabeth Bennet captivated him. He admired her talent. Her intelligence and quick wit intrigued him. As for her physical assets … He shook his head with a rueful smile.

Their ride together in the car had gone well, once his initial embarrassment over his fantasies had subsided. He had even found an opportunity to compliment her talent, hoping to soften the sting of his earlier remarks. The remainder of the weekend would be much more pleasant, now that her opinion of him had improved.

And then what?

He didn’t know. He only knew that he was looking forward to the rest of the evening. Humming “Ave Maria” under his breath, he pocketed the valet parking claim check and strode into the hotel, an uncharacteristic spring in his step.

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