Jane could see Charles’s hands shaking as he tried to unlock the door to William’s suite. He finally aligned the key card correctly, and the lock clicked open.

William's suiteThe suite was sumptuously decorated in rich shades of gold and blue. As Jane glanced around the living room, she wondered with painful irony how closely it resembled the suite that she and Charles had reserved for their wedding night, but that she would probably never see. She raised her eyes to meet Charles’s imploring gaze and took a deep, measured breath, praying for the courage to do what she knew she had to do.

Before she could say anything, Charles took both her hands in his. With great remorse, he said, “I’m so sorry. I know I should have told you the truth. I was afraid I’d lose you.”

She shook her head sadly. “But, Charles, your dishonesty shows a total lack of respect for me.”

“That’s not true, sweetheart! I just hated to think about the pre-nup. I knew we’d never need one.”

She pulled her hands out of his grasp. “Have you forgotten that I’m an attorney? And not just any attorney, but one who specializes in family law? Your father was absolutely right to insist on a pre-nup to protect his company’s assets, and I don’t blame him for being angry.”

“Then you’ll sign it?” he asked, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

“I’m sure I would, if I had time to read it first, and to ask a friend of mine who has written quite a few of these agreements to take a quick look at it. Pre-nups aren’t my specialty, and considering how much your father dislikes me, I wouldn’t feel safe signing anything he gave me without some advice.” She paused; she hadn’t meant to be so blunt. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be unkind.”

“I understand. Father has given you good reason to mistrust him.”

“But he expects me to sign it tonight. And I’m afraid I can’t do that. Besides, we have much bigger problems.”

He winced. “You mean the business about moving to LA. Again, I’m so sorry. But I wanted you to be happy.”

“And the way to make me happy was to agree with your father that we’d move there soon, and then lie to me? We agreed that we were happy in San Francisco, and that we wanted to stay here. We even bought a house.”

“I thought we’d be able to stay for at least a few years, and after that I thought you’d understand. If I’m going to run the company some day, of course I need to live in LA.”

“But do you want to run the company? From what I’ve seen, you’re miserable in your job.”

“I wouldn’t say miserable, exactly.”

“But I think you are,” Jane said gently. “You’re always looking for reasons to get out of the office, and you’re usually so tense when you get home from work.”

Charles sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Okay, you’re right. I hate my job. But what am I supposed to do?”

She took his hand in both of hers and looked intently into his eyes, speaking as persuasively as she could. “Let Caroline take your place. She loves the business and desperately wants to run it. You’d be happier, and so would she.”

“Father insists that as his son, I have to take responsibility.”

“I’m sure he’d adjust eventually, and you’d be free to follow your own dreams. I’ve been thinking about this ever since we went to LA last month.”

Charles was silent for a moment, but then he shook his head. “No, he’d never consider it. Come on, sweetheart, just agree to Father’s terms and everything will work out fine. Plenty of people hate their jobs, and at least I’ll have you to come home to. And you’ll like LA. The weather’s great, and we can go to the beach whenever we want. We won’t really have to live with them. We’ll get our own place, and we’ll make our own choices.”

“I’m sorry to have to say this, but I don’t believe you. You say we’d make our own choices, but we already did; we chose to stay in San Francisco. I think your father would make all our choices for us.”

“I admit that Father’s strong-willed. But he’s the head of the family, and he’s smart. He built his company from nothing. He’s accomplished things that most men only dream of, and he deserves my loyalty.”

“Loyalty, yes. But do you owe him your free will? You’re 32 years old. Shouldn’t you be allowed to make decisions for yourself?”

“So if you had a disagreement with your parents, you’d just walk away from them?”

Jane’s voice rose in pitch, and she fought back tears. “This is more than a disagreement. Your father controls your every action. From what little you’ve told me, and from what I’ve heard from Caroline, he watches every decision you make and second-guesses everything. He might as well be doing the job himself. It’s no wonder you hate it there. He makes you feel incompetent.”

He pressed his lips together tightly, his face flushed. “I’m not under his control,” he muttered. He crossed the room and stood looking out a window, his back to her.

“When we were in LA last month, you turned into a pale, quiet shadow. You let your father say terrible things to me, and you did it again out in the courtyard just now. You never intervened, never defended me, never even tried to help me to explain things to him. You just stood there and said nothing.” Tears ran down her cheeks. “I lost so much respect for you that weekend in LA.”

He covered the distance between them quickly and drew her into his arms. “I know, sweetheart. But I thought we had put that behind us.”

Her eyes brimmed with tears. This was even harder than she had feared. “Charles, I can’t spend my life with a man I don’t respect. And right now, I don’t respect you.” Tears continued to flow down her cheeks, and she tried to stifle her sobs. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but—”

A loud knock at the door interrupted her. “Ignore it,” he whispered. “They’ll go away.”

“Charles, Jane, it’s me,” Caroline trilled through the door. “Daddy sent me over with a copy of the pre-nup.”

Charles answered the door, and Caroline bustled into the room, blithely ignoring the tense atmosphere as she handed several sheets of paper to Jane. “Here’s the pre-nup. Be sure you read it carefully. There are some conditions that you’ll probably need to think very hard about. I had no idea Daddy had asked the lawyers to write it that way.” Caroline stood between Jane and Charles, looking back and forth expectantly, as though she were a spectator at Wimbledon wondering who had the tennis ball. An awkward silence fell over the trio.

“Thank you for bringing this, and I appreciate the warning. But could you excuse us now? We’re in the middle of an important conversation.” Jane spoke politely but firmly.

Caroline turned to leave, remarking, “I just wanted you to know that I’m rooting for you two lovebirds! I’m so sorry that this happened. I feel as though it’s all my fault, for accidentally discovering what had happened.”

Charles closed the door behind his sister and drew Jane into his arms. “Sweetheart, I promise, we’ll work everything out after the honeymoon. Father is just really angry with me right now. And he has a right to be. I lied to both of you.”

“Yes, but—”

“If we agree to his conditions now, and show him respect, he’ll have cooled down by the time we get back from the honeymoon. Maybe he’ll even let us stay in San Francisco for a while.”

“Charles, no,—”

“Come on, sweetheart, sign the pre-nup, and I’ll see if the Bridal Suite is available tonight. How about a nice warm bath for two, some champagne and strawberries … and I’ll devote myself to making everything up to you. Doesn’t that sound perfect?” He trailed a path of kisses along her neck in an attempt to coax the tension out of her body.

Jane pulled reluctantly out of his arms. “You don’t understand what I’m trying to say. You lied to me, and you won’t stand up for me, or for us, or even for yourself. I love you, but I don’t respect you anymore, and I can’t marry you. We have to call off the wedding.”

“But you know I can’t live without you!”

She grasped his forearms and gazed intently into his eyes, making one final attempt to reach him. “Then go with me to your father right now. Let’s tell him that I’ll sign the pre-nup tomorrow before the wedding, but not tonight, because I need more time to review it.”

“All right, if it means I won’t lose you, I can do that. He might even understand why you need the extra time.”

She took a deep breath. “And let’s tell him that you need to take a leave of absence from the company for a year or two. Caroline can take over for you, and you can look for a different sort of job and try to figure out what you’d really like to be doing. And then if you decide that you want to work for your father, we’ll move to LA.”

Charles blanched at the suggestion. “He would never agree to that.”

“We’ll never know until we try.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I can’t do that. He’d be terribly upset by the suggestion that I don’t want to work with him. Things would just get worse after that.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

“He could cut me off without a penny, like he threatened to do earlier.”

“But we don’t need the money. I have my law practice, and you have an MBA plus your experience working for your father. You must have lots of contacts, so I’m sure you’d have no trouble finding a good job.”

He thought for a moment, but then shook his head. “I’m sorry. I just … I can’t do it.”

“You won’t even suggest this to him?”

“No. I’m sorry, sweetheart.” His voice was clogged with emotion. “I can’t disappoint him that way.”

Jane wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. “Then I have to say goodbye.”

“No, I can’t let you do that!”

Her heart broke as she watched a tear roll slowly down his cheek. She longed to kiss it away, but instead she squared her shoulders. “I guess everyone was right. We rushed into this marriage without knowing each other well enough.”

He stepped toward her and took her in his arms. “I love you. That’s all I need to know.”

The tears she had conquered began to swim in her eyes again. She stroked his cheek and kissed him gently. “And I love you. But as things are, I can’t be with you.”

“Please, Jane, don’t do this.” The pain in his eyes reproached her. “It’s not like you to be so inflexible.”

She stepped away him. “Is that what you thought? That I’m so pliable that over time I’d learn to bend to your father’s will? I avoid unpleasantness, it’s true. And I’m willing to do quite a lot to make the people I love happy. But I respect myself too much to let someone else control my life. And I can’t respect others who let that happen either. So I have to say goodbye.”

 

Club floor lounge In contrast to the stormy atmosphere in William’s suite, all was peaceful and serene in the Club Floor lounge. It was a quiet retreat for well-heeled guests occupying the luxurious rooms and suites on the hotel’s exclusive Club floor. On this evening, the lights in the room had been turned down low, and a fire crackled in the ornate fireplace, creating a cozy atmosphere.

The lounge had only two occupants. William sat on a gold damask sofa. He had chosen to sit there hoping that Elizabeth would share it with him, but she had selected the red overstuffed armchair across from him instead. She had removed her shoes and was curled up in the chair, her eyes closed.

He sipped his coffee, a contemplative smile on his face as he watched her sleep. Oddly enough, despite his long day and his exhaustion earlier in the evening, he was alert and awake now. He felt as though he were standing guard over Elizabeth while she slept, and it pleased him on some deep, primal level.

Although it was late, the city was not entirely asleep. A truck backfired in the street nearby. Elizabeth stirred and opened her eyes. She blinked and yawned, smiling self-consciously when she saw William watching her.

“Did I fall asleep?” she murmured, her voice husky, her eyes still only half open. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly. “This has been a long day.”

She rubbed her neck and stretched her arms, sighing. “And it’s not over yet. No word from Jane and Charles?”

“Nothing. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad one.”

“I hope they can work things out, but I just don’t know.”

William took a deep breath. There was something he’d been waiting to say. “Elizabeth?”

She looked at him, eyebrows raised, and silently waited for him to continue.

“About what happened earlier.”

“You mean—”

“When we were out in the courtyard together. I should apologize.”

She glanced down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. “Why? You didn’t do anything I didn’t want to happen.”

A hint of a smile touched his lips at her admission. “I wasn’t apologizing for … for anything that happened when we were alone. My only regret on that score is that we didn’t get the chance to finish what we started.”

“We finished our dance,” she said with a ghost of a smile.

“That’s not what I meant, and I think you know it,” he answered, his voice deep and caressing.

For a moment their eyes locked, and William felt the now-familiar wave of desire that Elizabeth so easily provoked in him. Had she been sitting beside him, he would have reached for her, gathered her into his arms, and tasted her enticing lips at last. But the distance between them felt too large to bridge, especially after she looked away from him, staring at her hands again.

He continued with his apology. “What I meant was that I’m sorry Caroline Bingley was rude to you.”

“That wasn’t your fault.”

“Indirectly, it was. Caroline and I have known each other for a long time, and she—well, if you’ll forgive the immodesty, she’s attracted to me.”

“From what I’ve seen, that’s quite an understatement.” Elizabeth paused and then asked, “So are you two … um …”

William shuddered. “Absolutely not. There’s nothing between us, except in Caroline’s imagination. But she’s always been difficult to discourage, and today that’s been particularly true for some reason.”

“Maybe the wedding atmosphere encouraged her.”

“Actually, I think it was for another reason.” His “fine eyes” remark, voiced unintentionally, had alerted Caroline to his interest in Elizabeth. “I suppose if I were openly confrontational, I could get my point across, but I haven’t wanted to embarrass Charles that way, especially not during the wedding festivities. But I’ve reached the end of my patience with her.”

“I’ve dealt with guys who didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer, but I get the feeling that Caroline would make them look like amateurs.”

“She was rude to you because she saw us … dancing … together. She was trying to protect what she imagines, for some unfathomable reason, to be her turf. So I’m the reason she was rude to you.”

“Don’t worry about it. You can’t help it if you’re irresistible.” She colored and quickly added, “To her, I mean.”

Her little slip pleased him. “I wanted you to understand about her, and to know that she’s not part of my life.”

“I suppose she came looking for you to tell you about the pre-nuptial agreement?”

He nodded reluctantly. It annoyed him that Caroline had manipulated him into talking to Charles at a time when she could “accidentally” bring Mr. Bingley out to overhear the conversation.

Elizabeth glanced at a clock in the corner. “Goodness, it’s late. With everything that’s happened, are you still planning on going for a run in the morning?”

“I hope so. I try not to miss two days in a row, and I didn’t get any exercise today. But after a late night like this, I probably won’t go out too early. How early will the fog burn off down by the bay?”

“It’s hard to predict weather conditions here. But on warm days at this time of year the fog usually burns off pretty early, at least in that part of town. You might get to see the Golden Gate Bridge fogged in, though.”

“I’d like to see that.” William had only seen this particular phenomenon in photographs.

“It’s an amazing sight. And you know where you should go to run? Crissy Field in the Presidio. It’s down by the waterfront. They converted an old Army airfield into a recreational area. I haven’t been there yet but I’ve heard it’s really nice . There’s just one thing.”

“Yes?”

“Driving around there confuses me, so I usually take the bus. But I guess you wouldn’t even consider leaving the Z3 at the hotel,” she teased, an impudent light in her eyes.

He grinned smugly. “Oh, I think I can find my way around. I have an excellent sense of direction.”

“Then I’d recommend parking at Crissy Field. From there you can head west along Golden Gate Promenade toward Fort Point, or you can go east toward Marina Green. Either way you’ll be right along the bay, and the views are gorgeous.”

“Thank you. I’ve always wanted to go down there to run when I’ve been in town, but it’s just never worked out.”

“I’m not a runner, but I love going for walks, especially here at home.”

Noting the enthusiasm in her voice, he asked, “Do you prefer San Francisco to New York?”

“I like New York, but San Francisco is in my blood and I can always feel it calling me back.”

“I understand that you have a job interview for a teaching position at Pacific Conservatory starting in the fall.”

“Yes, but my chances aren’t good. It’s only because of Bill Collins that I got an interview at all.”

“You probably don’t know this, but Catherine de Bourgh, the dean, is—”

They heard a door shut with a loud “thump”, and then Charles’s voice in the hallway. “Jane, please don’t leave!”

Elizabeth and William exchanged a worried glance and both stood up. As they did, Jane walked into the lounge.

“Are you ready to go, Lizzy?” Jane asked. Her voice was calm; however, Elizabeth saw the tears in her eyes.

Charles rushed into the lounge. “Jane, wait.”

Jane turned to Charles. “We’ve already been through this.”

“You can’t end it like this! I love you! We’ll work out the rest, I promise.”

Jane paused for a long moment, facing Elizabeth, her back to Charles and William. Elizabeth saw the agony in Jane’s eyes; however, Jane composed herself before she turned back to Charles.

“Are you saying that you’ve changed your mind and you’re willing to try to negotiate a compromise with your father?”

“I wish I could, but as I told you, he’d never agree. We have no choice but to agree to his terms.”

“Then I’m sorry, Charles, but I can’t marry you.” Jane turned to Elizabeth. “Please, can we go now?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth answered, grabbing her purse. She exchanged a brief look with William and hurried after Jane, who was already out the door of the lounge.

An elevator arrived, and they stepped on board. As soon as the elevator doors closed, tears began to run down Jane’s cheeks. “Lizzy, please, get me out of here,” she sobbed.

Elizabeth embraced her weeping sister, her own eyes wet with tears. “I’m here, Jane. I’ll take care of you.”

 

“The manager didn’t leave you a complimentary bottle of scotch? What kind of dump is this?” Charles was ransacking the bar area of William’s suite, in search of a liquid remedy for his pain.

William sighed. “Why don’t we sit down and talk about it.”

“I don’t want to talk. I want to get drunk. Very drunk.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Alcohol is—”

“Alcohol is the only thing that’s going to make me feel better right now. So do I have to leave here and go down to the bar, or are you going to call room service and order a bottle of scotch and two glasses?”

“Charles, really—”

“Okay, fine. Have it your way. See you later.” Charles turned toward the door.

“All right, you win. I’m calling them now.” Getting drunk was only going to make Charles feel worse, but if he was determined to do it, he would be safer here in the suite than roaming around on his own.

Charles collapsed in a chair, burying his head in his hands. “Oh, God, Will, I’ve made such a mess of my life.”

“You’ve made some mistakes, but your father is a difficult man to deal with.”

“According to Jane, the problem is me, not my father.” Charles’s face was a tortured mask. “She said that I was weak and pathetic, that I don’t deserve any respect.”

William frowned. That didn’t sound like the warm, gentle Jane he had encountered earlier in the day. Still, he had seen with his own eyes how chilly and distant she had been when she returned to the lounge. It seemed strange that a woman who had just broken an engagement with a man she supposedly loved would be so calm and unemotional, and he began to wonder about Jane’s true nature. “What did she say about the pre-nup?” he asked.

“Refused to sign it.”

William raised his eyebrows. He thought back to Mrs. Bennet’s conversation with Mrs. Phillips:“Jane’s a lucky girl.” “No, she’s a smart girl. I taught her well.” Still, if money were her primary interest, wouldn’t she have signed the pre-nup and become Mrs. Bingley, thus gaining entry into her in-laws’ lavish lifestyle? William wasn’t sure what to think.

A waiter arrived with the bottle of scotch, and William poured two drinks. He wasn’t particularly fond of scotch and didn’t intend to drink much, but he suspected that Charles would take offense if he didn’t at least pretend to share the bottle. He dropped into a chair, kicked off his shoes, and stretched his long legs, fighting fatigue. “What was Jane talking about when she mentioned negotiating with your father?”

Charles drained his glass in one gulp and reached for the bottle. “I told you, I don’t want to talk. I want to drink. After all, this is my bachelor party.”

William sighed and settled back into his chair. It was going to be a long night.

 

Elizabeth crept out of Jane’s bedroom with a sigh of relief. It had been a long, painful evening for both of them. Jane had described her conversation with Charles, at last surrendering to the agonized sobs she had managed to choke back until then. Elizabeth had managed to coax her into lying down, and despite Jane’s insistence that she would be unable to sleep, she had finally drifted off, clutching her pillow.

The spare bedroom was just across the hall. Elizabeth dropped her new dress at the foot of the bed and unzipped a side pocket of her suitcase, rooting through until she found the knee-length tee shirt in which she slept. She pulled it on and tiptoed into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Once there, she inspected her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had survived the evening surprisingly well. She reached up and captured a curl, twirling it around her fingers and recalling the gentle touch of William’s hands in her hair.

I wonder what would have happened if Caroline hadn’t shown up right then? She shivered, remembering the heat in William’s eyes in the lounge when he had told her that he regretted not finishing what they had started. She ran a finger along her lips, wondering what his mouth would have felt like on hers.

The phone rang, and she jumped, startled. She dashed to the kitchen to answer it, hoping that the sound had not awakened Jane.

“Hello?”

“It’s Charlotte.” Her friend spoke in a rough whisper.

“Oh, hi, Char.”

“Sorry to call so late.”

“It’s okay. I was still up. Did you score a hat trick?”

Charlotte’s laugh was low and throaty. “You might say that.”

“Well, at least somebody had fun.”

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be gloating at a time like this. What happened?”

“Jane canceled the wedding.”

“Oh, no, Liz, I’m so sorry.”

Elizabeth felt tears coming to her eyes again. “She’s devastated, of course.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Elizabeth thought for a moment. “Yes. Come over in the morning and bring your cell phone. We have a lot of calls to make to let everybody know the wedding is off.”

“I’ll be there. How is your mother taking it?”

“We decided not to tell her till the morning. We couldn’t handle another messy scene tonight, not even over the phone.”

“Any chance Jane will change her mind by morning?”

“I don’t think so,” Elizabeth replied. “Not unless Charles reconsiders his position. That’s what I’m hoping for. He wasn’t willing to stand up to his father at all. Maybe after a night of thinking about losing her, he’ll change his mind. I don’t think he really believed she’d call off the wedding.”

“I’m so sorry about all of this. I know she’s crazy about him in spite of everything, though she deserves a man with some cojoñes.”

“Yes, she does. I just hope he figures it out and grows some.”

“Well, I’ll let you get some sleep. Just call me on my cell if you need anything.”

“Okay, Char. Good night.”

Elizabeth hung up the phone and tiptoed down the hall to her bedroom. Fatigue overtook her quickly, and she fell asleep thinking about a pair of intense brown eyes.

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