Starting with this chapter, you will find references to musical performances by our two starring musicians. For as many of these as possible, I have provided links to iTunes in the footnotes to the chapter.

While writing the story I found several pianists who captured different aspects of William’s performing persona, and he is represented here by Van Cliburn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Murray Perahia, among others.

For any professional musicians who may have found their way here, I realize that an artist of William’s stature would be expected to have a wider and more adventurous repertoire than I will be describing. However, William’s soul lives in the music of Chopin, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff, so I’ve often chosen to portray him that way when he performs for us. If you like, imagine that he plays a more diverse repertoire when we’re not there to see it.

Elizabeth is personified for me by one voice, that of Broadway star Christiane Noll. Many of the songs referenced in future chapters come from her CD, “A Broadway Love Story.” Unfortunately, it is not available on iTunes, nor are there sample tracks on Amazon; however, you can purchase a new or used CD on Amazon.com, or buy a signed copy on Christiane Noll’s website. Sometimes I have been able to provide a link to a Youtube video of Ms. Noll performing, or to a recording by another singer on iTunes, to fill the blanks.

I don’t profit in any way from sales of any of the music referenced in the story; however, it’s been a joy, in the years since I started posting AUS, to hear from readers who discovered new musical artists or styles through the story.

 

Dinner was finished at last. William jumped to his feet with the alacrity of a convict making a jailbreak.

“Where are you going?” Caroline called out, scrambling from her chair to follow him. “I thought that horrid Bennet woman would never stop talking, but we’re free of her now. Why don’t we go for a nice stroll in the courtyard?” She placed a proprietary hand on his arm.

He backed away, safely out of reach. “I’m supposed to play for the guests soon. Excuse me.”

Shrieks issued from a nearby table; Kitty and Lydia were whooping with laughter at something, probably understood only by them. Charlotte Lucas rose from the table, accompanied by the man seated beside her. She smiled at William and deftly steered her companion in his direction.

“Hi, William” she said. “How was dinner at your table?”

“A bit quieter than yours, though not much.”

She chuckled. “Mrs. Bennet does like to talk, but she means well. She’s always been kind to me. William, have you met Roger Stonefield?”

“We met earlier,” Roger said.

William recognized Roger as one of the members of Charles’s jazz group, though he could never have supplied the name. He nodded and buried his hands in his pockets.

“I understand you play a mean jazz piano,” Roger said.

“Charles and I formed a jazz quartet while we were at Juilliard.”

“He told us about it. Maybe tomorrow at the reception you could sit in for our keyboard player for a song or two. You’ve met Bill Collins, right?”

William nodded grudgingly.

“Oh, great idea!” Charlotte said. “I bet the guests would get a kick out of that.”

“So would Bill, I think,” Roger remarked with a sly grin. “From what I’ve seen, I think he’d rather flirt with Elizabeth than play the piano.”

“Unfortunately for him, the feeling is not mutual.” Charlotte replied.

Roger chuckled. “Poor Bill. He isn’t exactly a chick magnet.” With a shrug, he turned to William. “Let me tell you about the set list for tomorrow; we can figure out where to slot you in.”

After a few minutes of jazz-musician shop talk, Charlotte and Roger excused themselves and headed toward the terrace. William absently watched a small dance band setting up in the front of the room until Charles materialized beside him. “Will? I need to talk to you.”

William turned to face his friend. “What’s wrong?”

“Why did you say those things at dinner, about Elizabeth’s career?’

“I complimented her talent. What was wrong with that?’

“No you didn’t. You said she was wasting her talent.”

“I said nothing of the kind.” William couldn’t understand why Charles seemed so agitated. “But she could have done more, and I wanted her to know that. I think highly of her abilities.”

“But not of her judgment, since you disapprove of her career choices.”

“She must agree with me; after all, she’s giving Broadway up to become a teacher.”

“Suppose someone said you were a fool to pursue a classical music career. Wouldn’t you resent that?”

William shrugged. “It would be ridiculous for anyone to say that. I’ve been successful. But Elizabeth hasn’t.”

“As you pointed out bluntly to her mother.” Charles shook his head. “You really don’t see anything wrong with what you said?”

“No, I don’t,” William replied, though doubt was creeping in.

“Well, I hope you didn’t offend Lizzy.” Charles glanced across the room to the table where Jane and Mr. Bingley were still seated. “Oh oh. Father looks annoyed and Jane looks upset; I’d better get over there.” He sprinted away.catnip ball

Caroline was across the room, deep in conversation with Louisa, but William had noticed that she seemed to be tracking his movements. If he continued to stand alone, he had no doubt that she would materialize at his side, a prowling cat pouncing on a catnip ball. It was time to move or suffer the consequences. He strode into the hallway and reclaimed the armchair he had occupied before dinner.

He considered what he should play for the guests. It should be something short and familiar, for the sake of people like Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, who would be unable to sit still for anything longer than the Minute Waltz. But it was also a chance to demonstrate his artistry. Why that mattered, he tried not to consider, but he could no longer delude himself. Just admit it. You want to impress her.

She was a mystery: by turns sarcastic, silent, and friendly. Their conversation in the car had gone well, yet she had ignored him since then. Perhaps she simply preferred to use her time to talk to her family and friends, whom she saw only rarely. And as for her friendly demeanor with Bill Collins, he worked at the conservatory where she hoped to get a job. If only she knew who could genuinely help her to make a good impression on Catherine de Bourgh! Perhaps he would have a chance to tell her soon.

Also, Elizabeth was his fan. While some fans were aggressive and talkative, like the woman at JFK airport that morning, his presence intimidated others into nervous silence. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? She didn’t seem easily intimidated, but hero worship sometimes manifested itself in odd ways.

William rested his head on the high back of the chair and closed his eyes. He had almost drifted into a light sleep when two female voices disturbed the peace of the hallway.

“Imagine the money the Bingleys spent on this dinner. My sweet Jane has certainly done well for herself, hasn’t she?”

“Yes, Francie, she sure has. But she’s always been a clever girl.”

William stole a glance down the hall and saw Mrs. Bennet and her sister, Mrs. Phillips.

“I was thrilled when I found out she was dating a rich man,” Mrs. Bennet crowed. “I told her to hang onto him, no matter what. Annoying habits are easy to overlook if you have loads of money to distract you.”

“You’ve taught her well.”

“And now Jane will be rich. She’ll see that we’re all taken of. And Charles is sure to have some wealthy friends he can introduce to the other girls.”

“Like William Darcy,” Mrs. Phillips answered. William could almost hear her rubbing her hands together with glee.

“Exactly! They say his family is loaded. I’d love for one of the girls to catch him. But I think he’s got something going on with Charles’s sister, Caroline. She’s always watching him and whispering to him.” Mrs. Bennet lowered her voice, but not enough to keep William from hearing her. “And I saw her put her hand on his knee at dinner. Twice!”

Mrs. Phillips giggled. “Really? Well, who can blame her; he’s a handsome one. But so is Charles. Jane’s a lucky girl.”

“You should see the house he bought her! He paid almost four million dollars. And the house is just fabulous. Do you know that it has—”

Mrs. Phillips interrupted. “I want to powder my nose. Tell me the rest in the ladies’ room.”

Their voices faded, and William stood up, glowering. He hated gossip about himself and his family. Even worse was Mrs. Bennet’s rapacious attitude toward Charles’s money. Her remark about Jane echoed in his ears, confirming his worst fears: “She’s a smart girl. I taught her well.”

New voices echoed in the hallway. He turned and saw Elizabeth and Bill Collins approaching. Bill had a music book in his hand, and Elizabeth’s eyes crackled with excitement. “Hello, William,” she said. “Ready to entertain the masses?”

He was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of her greeting, grateful for this proof that Charles’s warnings had been unnecessary. He smiled at her. “What are you going to sing?”

“A Gershwin song.” Her lips twitched. “I picked it with you in mind.”

“I’m flattered.”

Her eyes danced with merriment. “Yes. Well, are you going back in?”

He accompanied her back into the Terrace Room and stood beside her for a moment, hoping to continue their conversation. His hopes were dashed when Bill whispered something to her, darting a glance in William’s direction. Elizabeth turned to Bill, her back to William, and spoke in a low tone.

grand piano William left her side and went to the piano. He played some arpeggios, followed by a series of chords, and then several scales. The piano was well in tune and had a fine tone, with a good balance of warmth and brilliance.

Charles approached, smiling broadly. “Ready?”

“I was just making sure the piano was in good condition. But, please, let Elizabeth go first.” He took a seat at the table closest to the piano, turning his chair to face the makeshift stage area.

Bill, oozing self-importance, installed himself at the piano. Elizabeth stood close behind him, studying the music over his shoulder and chatting enthusiastically. She rested a hand on Bill’s shoulder to steady herself as she pointed to something in the middle of the page, and William felt a twinge of—envy? He shook his head involuntarily. He was a solo artist, and proud of that fact. Orchestras accompanied him; he didn’t accompany others.

But he imagined himself shoving Bill off the piano seat onto the floor, taking his place, and playing the introduction to a slow, sultry love song. Maybe something like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”3

In his imagination, Elizabeth stood behind him, her arms twining around his neck. As she began to sing the words of love and desire in her achingly beautiful voice, she slipped his jacket off his shoulders and removed his tie. Next, she unbuttoned his shirt slowly, her movements seductive, as she continued to sing. When her delicate hands slipped inside his shirt and began to caress his bare chest, he abandoned any pretense of playing the piano. He spun around and pulled her onto his lap, capturing her lips in a searing kiss. She gasped at his boldness, but answered his passion with her own, burying her hands in his hair as she pressed her soft body urgently against his and—

At that moment, her eyes met his, and he looked away, humiliated by the possibility that she had divined his thoughts. He couldn’t remember his libido ever running amok as it had today, not even in his teens. He knew dozens of women more beautiful and more sophisticated than Elizabeth, women of refinement who treated him with respect and interest, who catered to his feelings and wishes. How had this one dark-haired, green-eyed girl tied him in knots so quickly?

His reverie was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Caroline standing beside his chair, yet another pout shaping her bright red lips.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

When he didn’t respond to her repeated question, she shrugged and claimed the chair next to his. “Oh, look,” she trilled. “It’s that girl with the fine eyes. What is she going to do?”

It seemed safest to ignore her sarcasm. “She’s going to sing. Don’t you remember? Charles mentioned it at dinner.”

“I hoped he was joking.” She folded her arms over her chest and huffed, “Just what I want, a concert. I was hoping the band would start soon so you and I could dance the night away.”

“I’m going to perform, too.”

“Well, yes, of course, darling, but that’s different. You’re a world-renowned artist, not some pathetic little amateur.”

His eyes narrowed. “Elizabeth is very talented.”

“But you said it yourself at dinner,” Caroline said in a loud voice. “She’s been a complete failure on Broadway.”

He glanced sharply at Elizabeth, but she showed no sign of having heard. “That’s not what I said.”

Charles stepped to the front of the room and called out, “Could I have your attention for a moment, please?”

The guests gradually fell silent. Some took seats at the tables while others stood in small clusters around the room. William heard a commotion in the back of the room and turned, along with other guests, to identify its source. He saw Kitty and Lydia scurrying out the door, each holding two drinks.

“Jane and I want to thank you for being with us this weekend,” Charles said. “It means so much to have our families and friends with us. We hope you’ll enjoy the dancing that’s about to start, but first, two of the accomplished musicians in our ranks have agreed to perform. First, we have my lovely future sister-in-law, Elizabeth Bennet.”

Elizabeth acknowledged the scattered applause with a smile. “I hope Jane and Charles will forgive me, but I’m not going to sing a gooey love song. I have something different planned. A tribute, you might say. As you know, we have a celebrity in our midst tonight, the world-famous concert pianist, Mr. William Darcy.”

He accepted the recognition with a calm half-smile and a dignified nod. This sort of thing happened regularly.

“He was kind enough to offer me some career guidance earlier this evening. And of course when someone of his stature gives you advice, it is wise to take heed.”

Her eyes bored into his, and his heart sank when he saw them blazing with anger. “This song is for you, William, to show you that I’m giving your advice all the consideration it deserves.” She gave the other audience members a conspiratorial wink.

In answer to her nod, Bill Collins began to play. She assumed a haughty, affected posture, and in an exaggerated operatic style, she sang:

Away with the music of Broadway
Be off with your Irving Berlin.
Oh, I’d give no quarter to Kern or Cole Porter,
And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin.

How can I be civil
When hearing this drivel?
It’s only for night-clubbing souses.
Oh give me the free ’n easy
Waltz that is Viennes-y
And go tell the band
If they want a hand
The waltz must be Strauss’s

Ya ya ya
Give me oom pah pah …

When I want a melody
Lilting through the house
Then I want a melody
By Strauss
It laughs, it sings
The world is in rhyme
Swinging to three-quarter time

Let the Danube flow along
And The Fledermaus!
Keep the wine and give me song
By Strauss
By Jove, By Jing!
By Strauss is the thing
So I say to ha cha cha
Heraus!
Just give me an oom pah pah
By Strauss!1

Throughout the song, Elizabeth parodied a pretentious operatic diva. She was an accomplished comic actress as well as a fine singer, and she put on a show that had the party guests chuckling throughout her performance.

Caroline leaned over to William and whispered, “Who does that little nobody think she is, making fun of classical musicians? Though it’s no surprise that she has no appreciation for culture.”

He stared at the parquet floor tiles beneath his feet, unable to meet Elizabeth’s cold stare. That she was angry with him was bad enough, but in addition, she was publicly mocking him.

When the song ended, he finally managed to look up. She accepted the enthusiastic applause with practiced grace. Then she moved toward the crowd, joining a circle including Charlotte and several members of Golden Gate Jazz. Bill Collins followed anxiously in her wake, like an awkward duckling waddling after its mother. Laughter rang out from the group. Laughter aimed at me.

Charles returned to the front of the room. He shot an amused but rueful glance at William, and then said, “Thank you, Lizzy! Thanks also to Bill Collins, her accompanist. And now, my best man and best friend, William Darcy.”

William scarcely heard the guests’ applause, too emotionally and physically off balance to register such details. Elizabeth’s back was to him as she stood with the jazz ensemble members; she didn’t even want to watch him play. A dull ache throbbed in his chest.

But the moment his fingers touched the keys, his surroundings faded away. As always, the piano was a balm to his soul, his refuge from pain and trouble, and his primary means of speaking from his heart. Tonight there was so much that he wanted to say, even if no one understood.

He had chosen to play a ballade by Chopin.2 Its dark and somber moments suited his mood, and the last section in particular displayed the pianist’s technique to great advantage. The piece began with a mournful melody and gradually built to a crescendo. Next, a more cheerful melody, yet one that still expressed intense longing, alternated with the original theme of loneliness and regret. The music ebbed and flowed between contemplative moments and passages of furious passion as his fingers flew over the keys. He poured all of the day’s disappointments and frustrations into the music, finding solace as always.

 

As soon as William began to play, Elizabeth moved to one side of the room and stood alone, studying him. She was transported back to the first time she had seen him play, ten years before, when she was sixteen and had first fallen under the spell of his artistry.

His connection with the instrument was as intense as she remembered, perhaps even more so. He poured out his feelings with overwhelming passion, allowing the listeners to eavesdrop on an intimate moment. His remoteness and reserve fell away and he laid his soul bare for all to see. She stood, mesmerized, finding it difficult to breathe.

Much too soon, the gloomy final chord echoed through the room, the pain in the music unresolved. William sat motionless at the piano for a moment, and then slowly, almost reluctantly removed his hands from the keys and rose to his feet to the enthusiastic applause of the party guests. After a moment of stunned silence, she brushed a few tears from her cheeks and joined in the applause. Their eyes met, and she prepared herself for the unsettling impact of his intense stare. But he looked away after only a moment, his eyes dark and hooded.

He must be angry about my song. Too bad. He deserved it after what he said to me. But she winced as she thought of her sarcastic “dedication,” which had exposed him to ridicule in front of the other guests. Yeah, Lizzy, that’s just great. Turn an artistic genius into your personal scratching post in front of a room full of people.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned to see Jane standing behind her. “Lizzy, may I talk to you for a moment?” Jane’s eyes were solemn.

Elizabeth nodded, and the sisters stepped into a quiet corner.

“What possessed you to treat William that way?” Jane asked.

“I know, I shouldn’t have. All I intended to do was to sing the song—just sing it, not say anything. But I got up there, and I guess I got carried away.”

“Lizzy, I know he’s made you angry, but you promised you’d be polite to him. Please, for my sake?”

Elizabeth sighed and looked at the ground. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“He’s the one you should apologize to.”

Elizabeth met Jane’s steadfast gaze. “You’re right, and I will. And I’m sorry if I caused you and Charles any embarrassment.”

“Actually, Charles thought it was hilarious. As far as he’s concerned, William deserved it. And the other guests probably didn’t understand the implications. It’s William I’m concerned about. He looked absolutely miserable while you were singing.”

“I’ll go and talk to him right now.”

“Thank you.” Jane hugged Elizabeth and then hurried off to join her mother, who was speaking rapidly and in a loud voice to Mrs. Bingley.

With a deep breath, Elizabeth took a determined step in William’s direction, but her progress was impeded by a hand on her arm.

“Elizabeth?” Bill Collins stood at her side, an eager light in his eyes.

“Yes, Bill?” She forced a smile onto her face.

“Please, come here for a moment.” He led her back to the area where the members of Golden Gate Jazz had congregated. “Elizabeth, we have a question for you. Now, we do of course realize that you may need to think about the matter, and certainly we won’t rush you, but we want you to know how thrilled we would be if you agreed to do this for us. And be assured that we’ll understand if you say no, because—”

Roger Stonefield interrupted Bill’s soliloquy. “If you get the job here in San Francisco, we wondered if you’d consider joining us as our vocalist. We loved your performance—fantastic voice, and you’re great with an audience—and according to Bill, you’ve sung quite a bit of jazz.”

“I don’t know yet if I’m moving back here or not,” she answered, “but if I do, I’d love to get together and talk about possibilities.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Bill beamed at her. “It will be such an honor to perform with you! I simply can’t wait for our first gig …”

His voice faded into the background as she glanced around the room, searching without success for a tall head of dark, wavy hair.

 

garden William sat alone on a stone bench in the courtyard. Small lamps glowed along the path, buried amidst the lush landscaping. A gentle breeze wafted against his cheek, the damp night air carrying the scent of a eucalyptus tree and the sounds of muffled laughter and conversation. He leaned forward, elbows balanced on his knees, and closed his eyes.

Exhaustion closed in around him, thickening the air until his head swam and he thought he might tip forward and fall off the bench. He had been awake for most of the past 24 hours, but the turbulent emotions of the day had exacted a far greater toll. He felt himself beginning to crumble under a crushing weight of loneliness.

Ordinarily he didn’t mind solitude. It was an old acquaintance, comfortable in its familiarity. He had grown up as the only child in a house of adults, and for most of his adult life he had traveled constantly, usually alone. Even in a room full of people, he preferred the protection afforded by his impenetrable wall of reserve. But tonight, something was different.

He sat up, running his hands through his hair. Maybe it’s the wedding, and wondering if I’ll find my perfect match before … before it’s too late.

And what if Elizabeth is ‘the one’?

The thought startled him. He could think of at least fifty excellent reasons why it was impossible, absurd, even laughable. Starting with the Bennet Family. For example, Lydia Bennet, loud-mouthed, tacky Hooter’s Girl. I can see her now, lounging on the terrace at Pemberley, gulping down rum, laughing like a hyena, and fondling the gardener.

The rest of the family wasn’t much better. Kitty was nothing but a watered-down version of Lydia. Mr. Bennet was unobjectionable on his own, but he seemed content to take refuge in ironic remarks instead of controlling his wife and daughters. And Mrs. Bennet, with her shrill voice, her uninformed opinions, and her ignorance of proper behavior, was a walking disaster. Wouldn’t Gran enjoy taking her to tea at the Plaza! I’m sure Gran’s friends would love to hear all about Placido Flamingo, the famous operatic tenor.

Besides, he hadn’t even known Elizabeth for a day yet. It was much too soon to be thinking of anything so serious.

No, he was simply in lust. She had walked up to him outside the church looking like a goddess and had given his deprived system a shock. And why wouldn’t I want her? Any man would want to see those beautiful eyes grow dark with passion, to feel that luscious body writhing beneath his …

It was happening again. He grabbed the reins of his self-control and yanked his thoughts down another path. Think about her song. Remember the insulting performance she gave, for the express purpose of mocking me. His ideal woman would be sensitive to his feelings. She would respect and support him. And she would never expose him to public ridicule.

But he had to admit, she had performed well. The song provided a fine showcase for an agile soprano voice, and Elizabeth had sung it effortlessly while investing it with character and humor. And despite the disrespect it showed and the level of discomfort she had caused him, he couldn’t help but admire her wit and spirit.

A reluctant smile flitted across his face. So it’s a little more than lust. She’s smart and talented, and she sparkles. But then he remembered the freezing disdain in her eyes before she began to sing. It didn’t matter if he liked her. She obviously hated him.

Heaving a sigh, he closed his eyes again. In his imagination, Elizabeth approached him, a warm smile lighting her face, and took a seat beside him on the bench. He saw himself slide an arm around her shoulders and felt himself warmed by her presence. She turned to him, her eyes glowing, and stroked his cheek tenderly; he answered by touching his lips gently to hers. As she moaned softly, he wrapped her in his arms, prolonging the sweet kiss, and her arms stole around his neck. She rested her head on his shoulder, pressing soft kisses along his throat and—

He had to put a stop to these fantasies. She was never going to be in his arms, or anyplace else he had imagined her that day. And that was for the best.

 

moon and cloudsElizabeth slipped out the glass doors from the Terrace Room to the shadowy courtyard. She needed time and space to think.

What is it about William Darcy that makes me this way? She wasn’t usually upset by the remarks of egotistical boors, nor did she enjoy inflicting emotional distress on others. Yet every time William opened his mouth, she seemed to end up hurt, angry, or both, and plotting retribution. And you got your revenge. Mission accomplished.

She had promised to be polite to him, yet every time they had any sort of contact, dangerous sparks flew. The only solution was to keep as much space between them as possible for the rest of the weekend, dealing with him only when the wedding events required it.

This sensible plan had one gaping flaw. As she had told Charlotte, she was intrigued by fleeting glimpses of a different man, the one who had poured his heart into his music a short time ago. That man, she longed to know better. He seemed to speak a language her heart understood. Yet every time he emerged, he vanished again almost immediately, replaced by a haughty aristocrat who considered her beneath his notice.

She briefly considered Charlotte’s theory of his baffling behavior. Charlotte possessed rare insight into men and their motivations, but in this case she had lost her mind. William could have any woman he wanted: a model, a movie star, an heiress, or anyone else who suited his passing whims. Yeah, sure, Lizzy, he’s going to walk past those glamorous women and fall at your feet.

Besides, even if Elizabeth had somehow captured his interest, he barely knew her. Any attraction he felt after an acquaintance of a few hours had to be related to her body, not her mind. The last thing she needed was a lust-crazed man trying to scratch an itch.

So it was best to keep him at a distance. She shoved away a wave of regret and squared her shoulders. Enough introspection. Time to get back to the party. She turned onto a pathway that would take her back to the Terrace Room.

garden A figure sat hunched forward on a stone bench ahead of her. At first she paid no attention, but her feet froze when she recognized William. She turned instinctively to follow another path, but something about the slump of his shoulders stopped her. Instead, she took a tentative step in his direction.

“William?” she said softly, but he didn’t respond. She walked closer, stopping beside him, and touched his shoulder.

He flinched and peered up at her. “Elizabeth?” After a moment, he began to struggle to his feet, but she placed her hand on his shoulder again, gently restraining him.

“No, don’t get up,” she said softly. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

He nodded slowly, still eyeing her with doubt. “I’m just resting. I’m … tired.”

“It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has. You must be tired too.”

“Yes, I am, but I’m used to surviving on very little sleep.”

“So am I.” His voice was so soft she had to strain to hear him. “But this day has been exhausting.”

They fell silent, both staring at the path in front of them.

Just when Elizabeth thought she couldn’t bear the awkward atmosphere anymore, William asked, “Would you like to sit down?” He slid over on the bench, looking up at her expectantly.

She hesitated, but she couldn’t resist the plea that streamed from his eyes, visible even in the dim light. She sat beside him, staring into the darkness, their shoulders almost touching. So much for keeping your distance.

“Your playing was incredible,” she said softly. “But of course it always is.”

“Always? Then you’ve seen me in concert more than once?”

“Oh, yes. In fact, when you played tonight I was remembering the first time I saw you perform.”

“When was that?”

“At Interlochen, ten years ago. You came up for a few weeks during the summer. I went to every recital and concert you gave. I even attended one of your master classes, despite the fact that I wasn’t a piano major.” She hoped it was too dark for him to see her blush.

“Did we meet?”

“Sort of. I waited in line for an hour to get your autograph.” Oh, great. I’ve just classified myself in the ranks of ‘giggling fans.’

She stole a glance at him, expecting to see derision on his face. Instead, he was smiling. His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners, and dimples adorned his cheeks. He looked boyish and charming, and her heart skipped a beat.

“Hmmm.” He pressed his lips together, nodding. “Ten years ago. I would have been twenty then. That was about a year after I graduated from Juilliard.”

“I’m surprised you were able to finish your degree so young.”

“I started at Juilliard when I was fifteen. I’d been in their pre-college program for a while, so the faculty knew me. And by then I was giving recitals periodically, and I had appeared with some orchestras.”

“What about the academic side of it? At fifteen, you had a few years of high school yet to go.”

He hesitated. “I skipped a grade in elementary school, and I had been taking accelerated courses. When Juilliard offered me admission, I was near the end of my junior year, but I was taking mostly college-level courses. I had a tutor over the summer and finished my senior year that way.”

She stared at him. He was a genius in more than just musical terms. His eyes dropped to the path beneath his feet, and she saw him lick his lips. Belatedly realizing that her scrutiny had embarrassed him, she looked away and searched for something to say. “You must not have gotten to play much baseball that summer.”

She had intended her remark as a gentle tease, but he took it seriously. He shrugged. “I wasn’t allowed to participate in sports.”

“Why not? Did your parents chain you to the piano?”

He stared at the ground for a long moment before answering. “I didn’t need to be chained, but, yes, practicing took up most of my time.”

“It must have been strange to start college at fifteen, so much younger than the other freshmen.”

“I’m used to being different from other people.”

She had never considered this darker aspect of his talent and fame. “You must get lonely sometimes,” she said softly.

“Sometimes,” he echoed, in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

Music floated out to them from the Terrace Room. “I guess the band is starting,” she said.

He sat up straight and sighed. “I didn’t mean to keep you out here. I’m sure you’d rather be inside with your friends.”

There was some truth in his statement, but she had promised Jane that she would apologize. “Actually, I don’t think I’m quite ready to go in. Unless you’d rather be alone.”

“No. Please, stay.”

She nodded. “It’s such a lovely evening. A bit chilly, though, for this sleeveless dress.” She rubbed her bare arms to warm them.

He shrugged off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. “Better?” he asked.

His shy half-smile touched her heart. She returned the smile and pulled the lapels of the jacket together, enveloping herself in it.

They sat together quietly, and this time the silence felt more comfortable. It seemed like a bizarre dream, to be sitting beside William Darcy in the moonlight, wearing his jacket. Why not? Things like this happen every day.

To other people.

William broke the silence. “Elizabeth?”

“Yes?”

“If I offended you earlier with my remarks about your career, I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention. I think you’re very talented, and I … I apologize.” His remorseful gaze held hers.

“I was angry, but I got the chance to work off my anger, didn’t I?” She flashed a mechanical smile and then bit her lip. “I need to apologize too. I shouldn’t have said what I did before the song. That was unfair to you.”

“I didn’t like it,” he said glumly, “but I suppose in a sense I earned it.” He paused, pressing his lips together. “I know you heard what I said to Charles this afternoon, before I met you. I owe you an apology for that too. I don’t like having women forced on me; it happens too often. I was trying to discourage him.”

She nodded. “Jane mentioned that she and Charles decided to play matchmaker. I didn’t ask them to do it.”

“This isn’t the first time Charles has tried to fix me up with someone. I sometimes wonder what he thinks of me, considering the horrid women he picks.”

She stared at him. “Why, thank you,” she said, her diction crisp and precise.

He studied her for a moment, frowning, and then he winced. “Oh, God, I’ve done it again. I meant that he usually picks horrid women, but not this time. I don’t think you’re horrid, not at all.”

“Just not at your social level.”

He sighed. “I never intended for you to hear that.”

“But it’s true. I’m just an ordinary grad student living in an apartment the size of a broom closet in a rundown neighborhood, while you must have either a mansion on the Upper East Side or a penthouse with incredible views of the park.”

He stared at his shoes in silence.

“Well, which is it?”

“A house on the Upper East Side. Not really a mansion, though. A townhouse.”

“How many stories?”

“Six.”

“Sounds mansion-y to me. Do you know how much the subway costs?”

After a pause, he shook his head slowly.

“You’ve never been on the subway, have you?”

“Not that I can recall,” he answered, a steely note entering his voice. “May I ask where you’re going with all these questions?”

“Just pointing out that what you said to Charles was right. Not everything you said, but we are from entirely different worlds.”

“I suppose so. But maybe—”

He stopped speaking abruptly. She looked at him, eyebrows raised. He shook his head sadly. “Never mind,” he said, looking away from her.

moon and clouds Silence fell between them again. She gazed up at the moon, which was mostly obscured by clouds. The band in the Terrace Room finished a song, and she heard the faint applause of the party guests.

“I have a suggestion,” she said firmly. “We’ve both behaved pretty badly today. Let’s put that behind us and make a fresh start.”

He nodded. “I’d like that.”

She stood up and offered her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Darcy. I’m Elizabeth Bennet.”

He rose as well, a tentative smile on his face. “The pleasure, Ms. Bennet, is mine.” He took her hand and pressed it gently, looking deep into her eyes.

I could drown in those eyes … Whoa, let’s not go overboard here. She drew her hand from his grasp and sat back down.

He resumed his seat beside her. “Incidentally, I noticed that your apology didn’t extend to the song itself.”

“You bet it didn’t,” she said with a mischievous grin. “You deserved the song, just not the public dedication.”

A reluctant smile curled his lips. “In the interests of a fresh start, I’ll agree with that. And I admit, it was well done. But, you know, you proved my point with the vocal pyrotechnics. Your classical training showed.”

She pursed her lips and glared at him in mock annoyance. “You just don’t know when to quit, do you?”

He quirked an eyebrow at her, his grin smug. “Why should I quit when I’m right and you know it?”

Her feigned anger was fast becoming genuine, but then she saw a flash of merriment in his eyes. Well, wonder of wonders, the man has a sense of humor!

“It’s supposed to be a beautiful day for the wedding tomorrow,” she said. “Does Charles have you fully scheduled starting at dawn?”

“Not so far. In fact, I’m hoping to go running in the morning, maybe down by the Marina.”

“You’re a runner?” She hadn’t imagined him having any life outside concert halls, as though between performances he lurked backstage like a young, handsome Phantom of the Opera.

“It’s good cardiovascular exercise, it’s something I can do almost anywhere, and it requires very little equipment. With all the traveling I do, that’s essential.”

“Do you run in the park when you’re at home?”

He nodded. “My house is half a block off Fifth Avenue, so the park is close by. Do you run?”

“I get my exercise mostly from dance classes.”

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot that you’re a dancer as well as a singer.”

“Don’t you remember? I’m the under-employed chorus girl.”

He grimaced. “Elizabeth—”

“Sorry. Fresh start and all that. It was a momentary lapse.”

“I knew very little about you when I said that,” he said earnestly. “I was wrong. You’re so much more than that.”

They fell silent again. The band began to play a slow song which she quickly identified as “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”3 She began to hum along.

“Go ahead, sing it for me.”

She shook her head. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea of giving him a private performance of a love song in a shadowy garden. “The key they’re playing it in isn’t good for me,” she lied.

“Then dance with me.” He stood up and extended his hand.

“You mean you want to go back inside?”

“No. Dance with me here.”

“Here? In the courtyard?”

He smiled. “Why not?”

After a moment of hesitation, she nodded her assent and rose to her feet. He stepped closer, taking her hand and drawing her toward him. His jacket began to slip from her shoulders, so she removed it and placed it on the bench.

“Will you be warm enough without it?” he asked as they began to move together to the music.

“I’m fine.” His presence enveloped her in gentle warmth, at once comforting and exciting. When he reached up to brush a tendril of hair away from her face, his touch vibrated through ever fiber in her body. If this is a dream, I hope nobody wakes me.

 

“I love this song,” Elizabeth said softly.

William smiled but didn’t answer. They had been dancing in silence, a silence more profound than words. For his part, he would have been happy with any song the band played, as long as it gave him the opportunity to hold her in his arms, but the sentiments of this one suited him perfectly.

She sighed. “So you’re not talking?”

“I’m sorry. I was enjoying the music. Are you sure you won’t sing it for me?”

She smiled and shook her head, and he decided that it was probably just as well. The night had taken on a surreal quality as his fantasies merged with reality. She had approached him on the heels of his fantasy of kissing her as they sat together on the bench. At first, he had thought her another figment of his imagination, but instead the real Elizabeth had shared his bench … and his solitude. And now the band played the song he had earlier imagined her singing for him as he accompanied her. He thought of the heated ending of that fantasy, and a wave of desire flashed through his body.

I wonder what she’d do if I kissed her right now? Probably punch me in the jaw, or worse yet, give me a knee in the …

He closed his eyes, resting his cheek against her hair, and drew her closer. He could no longer remember all the reasons why she was the wrong woman for him. He only knew how right she felt in his arms.

The music stopped, followed by scattered applause and the soft hum of voices, but he continued to move slowly in time to the music that was no longer playing.

“William?”

His eyes remained closed. “Shhhh.”

“But the music stopped.”

“No, it didn’t,” he murmured, gazing at her through half-lidded eyes. “Can’t you hear it?” Closing his eyes again, he began to hum the tune. He smoothed her hair away from her cheek and felt her tremble.

“Are you cold?” he whispered. Because I’d be happy to warm you up. She breathed a gentle sigh and her body melted against his, her head nestling on his shoulder.

He was beyond thought, overwhelmed by pure sensation. The pressure of her soft body against his was driving him mad. Her hair felt like silk against his fingers. In his mind, they were transported to his hotel room, just a few floors above the shadowy courtyard. He saw himself lift her into his arms and carry her to the bed, and he shuddered with desire, moaning deep in his throat.

“William?” She looked up at him, concern etched on her features.

He gazed down at her, passion flooding his veins, and whispered her name. She glowed in the moonlight, cool and beautiful, and he ached to possess her. His fingers brushed her cheek, and his eyes dropped to her lips, lingering there until at last reason and caution were overwhelmed by desire. He cradled her head in his hands and lowered his face to hers.

“William, darling! There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

His mind fogged by potent desire, he turned slowly, only to find Caroline Bingley standing behind him. Her lips were twisted in a homicidal rictus, her eyes filled with cold fury as she glared at Elizabeth.

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1 “By Strauss,” music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Performed by Christiane Noll, The Ira Gershwin Album (CD available on Amazon.com and on Christiane Noll’s website). Not available on iTunes; you can listen to a sample from Maureen McGovern’s recording.

2 Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23, CT 2, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Essential Chopin, 1995, Decca Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

3 This wasn’t a performance by William or Elizabeth, but if you’re not familiar with “Bewitched, Bothered,and Bewildered” and would like to hear it, you can view a Youtube video with the lyrics and and a recording by the great Ella Fitzgerald. The song was written for the Rodgers & Hart musical, Pal Joey, and the lyrics were controversial due to some not-entirely-subtle sexual references. Many singers add, remove, or change the lyrics, and in fact the version linked above includes some changes. There are many other recordings of the song, the most recent one by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.

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