Interior of Crissy Field Center Elizabeth flipped William’s cell phone shut and slipped it in the pocket of her denim jacket. She inhaled deeply, smelling the “new building” scents of fresh paint and varnish1. The walls of Crissy Field Center were painted a warm shade of goldenrod. Soft voices echoed through the hallway, which was sparsely populated by other visitors.

She considered entering the small bookstore while waiting for William; however, instead she approached a bulletin board listing a series of upcoming environmental education programs. Soon, she heard William’s deep voice behind her.

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”

She turned and found him standing close behind her, wearing a royal blue polo shirt and gray sweatpants. He had tamed his hair somewhat, though a few damp curls still strayed onto his forehead. Wish I could look that good when when I’m sweaty and disheveled!

“No problem.” she replied. “I just got off the phone with Jane.”

“Can you stay for coffee?”

“Yes. A quick one, anyway.”

He smiled. “I’m glad. How is Jane?”

Elizabeth considered her words carefully. “She’s unhappy, of course, but Jane is strong.”

“It certainly seemed that way last night in the lounge.”

She was glad to learn that even William had noticed Jane’s dignity under pressure. “Jane and my aunt and uncle are making calls about the cancellation of the wedding, but she says they don’t need my help. I can’t stay too long, though. I need to be back before my parents arrive, and I may have to wait a while for the bus.”

“No need for that. I’ll give you a ride.”

“But it’s out of your way. I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”

“It’s no inconvenience.” William’s tone brooked no disagreement. He placed his hand on the small of Elizabeth’s back, leading her toward the café.

She was nonplussed by his sudden self-assurance. It contrasted sharply with his awkward demeanor last night and even a short time ago.

“What about Charles?” she asked. “You still need to call him, don’t you?”

“I changed my mind. He’s probably still asleep. That’s the best thing for him right now.”

View from Crissy Field CenterThey placed their orders at the counter and then carried their coffee and bagels to a table offering a panoramic view of the marsh and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Very nice,” William said. “This was a large land reclamation project, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. Crissy Field was an old military airfield fallen into disuse. Two years ago they re-created the marsh and opened it to the bay again. I guess the birds and animals are beginning to rediscover it.”

heron in the marsh “So I see.” He pointed at a heron standing at attention by the water’s edge. “Before I forget, do you still have my cell phone?”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” She retrieved it from her pocket and handed it to him. “I know most New Yorkers go into withdrawal if their phones aren’t handy. They ought to just have them surgically attached to their ears.”

He chuckled softly. “Actually, I hate my cell phone. I’m always looking for excuses not to carry it. It drives my secretary insane when I don’t have it with me.”

Silence fell between them, and grew awkward as time passed. Eventually, Elizabeth felt the need to say something.

“I thought Mr. Bingley was horrid to you last night, especially what he said about your father. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, but he was rude to all of us.”

“I mean, seriously, what father wouldn’t be thrilled to have a son who’s as talented and successful as you are?”

William stared intently into his coffee cup, his hands wrapped around it as though he were trying to warm himself. She appeared to have touched a nerve. Impulsively, she reached across the table and covered one of his hands with hers. When he didn’t respond, she withdrew her hand and retreated into embarrassed silence.

Finally, he looked up at her, his eyes full of raw emotion. He opened his mouth and seemed about to speak. Then a neutral mask descended as though he had pulled down a window shade. He sat back in his chair, his eyes scanning the room.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said in a dismissive tone. “Mr. Bingley never met my father, and he doesn’t know anything about my family’s private matters. He was just striking out blindly because he was angry.”

Elizabeth shrugged. She had no hope of unraveling the mystery that was William Darcy—at least, not over breakfast. “All I know is, after last night I can see why Charles would be scared of his father.”

“Mr. Bingley amassed a huge fortune in a short time; he started with nothing. You can’t do that without being forceful and controlling.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say it, but he’s a horrid, hateful man. How dare he insult my sister, and issue ultimatums?”

“He was rude, of course. But what he asked Charles and Jane to do was reasonable.”

“His orders, you mean.”

“He insisted on a pre-nup. That’s essential. He has to protect his family’s assets in case something goes wrong.”

“Jane would never—” Elizabeth began, leaning forward in her chair, but William interrupted.

“Money makes people do strange things. Suppose they did get a divorce, and Jane believed that she was the wronged party. She might be tempted to punish Charles, financially speaking.”

Her grip tightened around her coffee cup. “Jane would never behave that way.”

“Perhaps not on her own, but she might be influenced by your  … by others who would see the situation differently.”

She stared at him in silent indignation while he continued.

“The other thing Mr. Bingley wants is for Charles to move to Los Angeles. Mr. Bingley is in his late 60’s, and he needs to train his successor.”

“And Jane’s law practice doesn’t matter?” She set her coffee cup on the table emphatically, setting the liquid sloshing in the cup.

“Compared to a multi-million dollar business?” He shrugged. “Certainly Jane must have realized that in return for the privileges of marrying a wealthy man, she’d have to make a few small sacrifices.”

“And giving up her career and leaving her family seem like small sacrifices to you?”

William sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he said, his voice calm and matter-of-fact. “You have no idea of the obligations that come with wealth and social position.”

“And what about Charles’s obligation to the woman he loves?”

“He had an obligation to tell her the truth, and he didn’t, so of course she’s angry. But shouldn’t he be able to count on Jane in spite of that?”

“Count on her to do what?” Elizabeth gritted her teeth. His imperturbable tone was even more infuriating than his words. “To tolerate being lied to and patronized?”

“He ought to be able to count on her loyalty and her unconditional love.” William leaned forward in his chair. “Aren’t people in love supposed to stand by each other, no matter what? ‘For better or worse’?”

“But they have to be able to trust each other.”

“Speaking of that, I understand that she refused to sign the pre-nup.”

“So you think all she wanted from him was his money?” Her voice was tight with fury. “How dare you?”

“I don’t claim to know what Jane wanted. But if she didn’t care about the money, why not sign the pre-nup?”

Elizabeth wanted to defend Jane, but she was too angry to find the words. What happened to the sweet, gentle man who kissed me on the beach? And who is this arrogant jerk sitting in his chair?

He leaned back, his fingers steepled, and spoke in the pedantic tone of a teacher lecturing a recalcitrant child. “Her refusal to sign makes it look like she was only interested in the money. Whether it’s true or not, that will make things even more difficult with the Bingleys.”

“I can’t believe you’re suggesting that any part of this is Jane’s fault. She didn’t do anything wrong. She simply refused to live the rest her life under the thumb of a nasty, bitter old man whose son doesn’t have the guts to stand up to him!” Elizabeth glared at him.

He lifted his chin in a haughty gesture that had her grinding her teeth. His tone was serenely self-assured. “As I said before, your upbringing didn’t give you the opportunity to understand what it’s like to be born into a wealthy family. Most people only see the perks, but there are major obligations.”

An angry retort nearly flew out of Elizabeth’s mouth, but then it occurred to her that perhaps if William grasped Jane’s perspective, he could help Charles and the Bingleys to understand. She swallowed her anger and said as calmly as she could, “Everyone has family obligations, not just rich people.”

“I understand why you’re upset. Of course you’re loyal to Jane. That’s to be expected, and I admire you for it.”

His indulgent smile and condescending tone left her momentarily speechless. And he was giving her permission to be loyal to her sister! How charming.

“But you’re a smart, strong woman, and once you’ve had time to think about what I’ve said, I’m sure you’ll be able to get past blind loyalty and see the situation objectively.”

Elizabeth shoved back her chair and jumped to her feet. She had no intention of being patronized any further. Her hands gripped the edge of the table as she skewered William with a cold stare. “I’m flattered by your confidence in me,” she said in a tone that she hoped was as arrogant as his. “But I have to go now. My parents will be arriving soon to commiserate with my sister over the fortune she just lost.”

“There’s no need for sarcasm,” he said haughtily.

“I beg your pardon, but I think there is,” she snapped. “Thanks for the coffee.” She grabbed her denim jacket from the chair.

“Wait. I said I’d drive you home.” He rose to his feet.

“No, thanks.” she retorted. “The walk to the bus stop will help me to clear my head. Stay and finish your breakfast.”

“Elizabeth!” He called after her as she left the table, but she ignored him.

As she practically ran from the building, her footsteps echoing in the hallway, her face felt hot and her hands formed into fists. The nerve of that arrogant, insufferable jerk! And to think that I dreamed about him! And let him kiss me! Well, as always, I’m a WONDERFUL judge of men. She could feel his eyes on her, but she didn’t look back.

 

Elizabeth was still fuming when she arrived back at Jane’s condo. She now regretted holding her tongue toward the end of the conversation. William wasn’t interested in understanding Jane’s point of view; he simply wanted to look down his nose at her. And at me, because I’m not a rich snob like he is. She wondered again why he had kissed her, since he found her lack of social sophistication such a failing. It’s just as I thought last night. I’m good enough for some idle flirtation and a kiss or two. And maybe for “dinner or a concert,” followed by an hour or two in bed. Not the whole night, though; I’m unworthy.

Jane’s living room was filled with the cacophony of four voices speaking at once. Jane, Madeline, Edward, and Charlotte sat in separate corners of the room, speaking into their cell phones.

Charlotte set down her phone and joined Elizabeth in the center of the living room.

“Hi, Liz.”

“Hi, Char. How was the rest of your night?”

Charlotte’s smile was wicked. “Very satisfying. And what have you been up to?”

“What do you mean? Just taking a walk and getting a cup of coffee.”

Charlotte grabbed Elizabeth’s arm and dragged her down the hall to her bedroom.

“Okay, first off, I’m proud of you,” Charlotte said. “You’re wearing something sassy for a change; that top looks great on you. But you wouldn’t wear something like that just for an innocent morning walk.”

Elizabeth frowned into the mirror, pulling her hair into a pony tail. “I spilled shampoo on my clothes, so I had to borrow something from Jane. This was all she had. Stop making everything into a big deal.”

“So, then, you didn’t see William Darcy this morning?”

Charlotte laughed as Elizabeth’s eyes darted toward her in surprise. “Aha! I knew it.”

“You scare me sometimes, Char. Did he leave invisible radioactive particles on me, and you have some weird sensor that recognizes them?”

“Totally unnecessary. You’re all worked up. You can’t leave your hair alone, you’re twisting the buttons on your jacket, and if you don’t stop grinding your teeth you’re going to wear them down to little stumps. There’s only one person in San Francisco who makes you behave that way. What did he do now?”

“I went to find him on his morning run, because Jane wanted to know how Charles was doing. At first he was … nice.” An unwelcome memory of William’s warm mouth brushing hers flooded her mind. She caught herself touching her tongue to her lips. “But then he turned back into his true self—patronizing and unbelievably arrogant—and he said some terrible things about Jane.”

Elizabeth briefly described their argument, but omitted the events preceding it. Charlotte listened intently, a frown creasing her brow. “That poor guy,” she remarked.

“Poor guy? Excuse me? Did you listen to what I said?”

“Yeah, I did. I feel sorry for him because I doubt the chef at the Ritz-Carlton has Sautéed Foot on the menu, and that seems to be William’s favorite dish.”

“I can’t believe you’re making a joke out of this.”

“Oh, relax. Sure, he crossed the line with his remarks. I bet you’re making it sound worse than it actually was, but he had no right to suggest that Jane might be a gold-digger.”

“And his idea that she should give up her law practice and let Mr. Bingley push her around for the next 50 years?”

“I get what you’re saying, but William is Charles’s best friend. He’s supposed to be on Charles’s side, just like you’re supposed to be on Jane’s. You know, it was inevitable that you two would fight about this.”

“And his patronizing crap about how I’m too stupid to understand his world?”

“Did he actually call you stupid?”

Elizabeth sighed loudly. “No, but he might as well have.”

“He has an absolute genius for saying things in the worst possible way, doesn’t he?”

“When you walk around looking down your nose at everyone, you’re likely to say arrogant things.”

Charlotte hesitated. “But if you think about it—and you’re not going to like this, but hear me out—he does have a point. How could we understand what it’s like to grow up as the heir to the throne in an extremely wealthy family?”

“Big deal. He doesn’t understand how I grew up either. Besides, it doesn’t give him the right to be so smug and so sure that he’s right about everything.”

“And of course you would never be forceful in expressing your own opinions,” Charlotte teased.

“That’s different. Jane’s doing the right thing. I know it.”

Charlotte stared at her, eyebrows raised.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Okay, okay. Point taken. But I still want to punch him in his egotistical nose.” Yet even as Elizabeth said these words, an image of their kiss floated back into her mind. She forcefully shoved it aside, furious with herself.

“His nose may be egotistical, but it’s awfully handsome.” Charlotte said, smirking. “So do the world a favor and don’t break it.”

Elizabeth and Charlotte laughed together, and Elizabeth felt herself relax. Her respite, though, was brief. The doorbell rang, and soon afterwards she heard Mrs. Bennet’s high-pitched voice in the living room. Smiling ruefully at Charlotte, she said, “I think we’d better get out there.”

 

The Gardiners, as expected, were of tremendous assistance in calming Mrs. Bennet’s frenzied reaction to the cancellation of the wedding. In addition, Mr. Bennet, to whom Jane had spoken earlier, had told his wife the basic facts of the case on the way to San Francisco in order to save Jane from having to hear her mother’s first and most volatile reactions. Mrs. Bennet was now moaning quietly while Madeline sat beside her on the sofa, holding a Kleenex box with weary solicitude.

“Really, Francie, it’s not the end of the world,” Edward reassured his sister from his perch on a stool at the breakfast bar. He exchanged a long-suffering glance with Mr. Bennet.

“It is, for Jane. This was her one chance to marry a rich man, and it’s gone, all gone. Why didn’t she just agree to whatever he wanted? I would have expected that kind of stubbornness from Lizzy. But Jane, my sweet, obedient girl? I just don’t understand.”

Jane had already attempted several times to explain the situation; however, Mrs. Bennet seemed to prefer not to understand. “Mom, I know it’s confusing and upsetting. But I did what I had to do.”

“But you were going to be so rich, so important! Why didn’t you just sign the pre-nocturnal thingie?”

“Mom, it wasn’t just the pre-nup,” Elizabeth interjected. “There were other issues. Charles was lying to Jane.”

“I wouldn’t mind being lied to now and then if I could live in a $3 million house. Honesty in a man is overrated,” Mrs. Bennet sniffed.

“I must say, Jane, I think your mother’s right about that,” Mr. Bennet said genially. “When she asks me if her new dress makes her look fat, telling the truth never enters my mind.”

“Andrew!” Mrs. Bennet wailed, while Elizabeth covered her mouth to hide her smile.

“Francie, he’s just teasing,” Madeline said.

“And I had such hopes that the Bingleys would take an interest in Lydia, you know, with her being down in LA. Perhaps they would have invited her to stay sometimes, or to be a guest at their country club. I’m sure they know lots of rich young men who would love to meet her.”

Charlotte and Elizabeth glanced at each other, both fighting back smirks.

“Well, I must say,” Mrs. Bennet continued, “at least you won’t have that dreadful Mr. Bingley for a father-in-law. What an awful man! But, oh, dear, the Bingley family fortune! The house in Pacific Heights! Gone. All gone. I simply can’t stand it!” Mrs. Bennet burst into tears, and Madeline patted her hand gently.

Elizabeth left her seat at the dining table and approached her mother. “Mom, you’re making this even harder on Jane. Please, can’t you try to calm down just a bit?”

“Calm? How can anyone be calm at a time like this? It’s a disaster. When I think how happy we all were at the dinner table last night. Mr. Bingley was so interested in dear Lydia’s acting career. And so was Mr. Darcy.”

“Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. “What did you tell William Darcy about Lydia?”

“Oh, just about her latest acting role, and her new job. He said that he had noticed Lydia the minute she walked into the room last night. And of course he would. Lydia is so lively and attractive that young men can’t help but notice her. In fact, for a moment I thought that perhaps—but, no, she’s probably a bit too young for him.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. William and Lydia? Yeah, that would happen.

“But now that I think of it,” Mrs. Bennet continued, raising her eyebrows significantly, “he also took quite an interest in your singing career, Lizzy.”

“Oh?” Elizabeth darted a glance in Jane’s direction.

“Mom, Lizzy doesn’t want to hear about this right now,” Jane interjected hastily.

“Of course she does. A famous man shows interest in her career, and you think she wouldn’t want to hear about it?”

“What did he say?” Elizabeth asked, though she could guess the answer.

“He said that you should have pursued opera.” Mrs. Bennet sighed. “Some of your teachers tried to tell you that too, but would you listen to them?”

“I know about that,” Elizabeth replied, ignoring her mother’s reproof. “He said something to me too.”

“And he pointed out that you’d failed on Broadway. But he said it was too late to change directions now.”

“He said I was a failure?” Elizabeth practically shrieked the final word.

“Lizzy, he didn’t mean it that way,” Jane said quietly, touching her sister’s arm.

“He most certainly did!” Mrs. Bennet lifted her chin anc crossed her arms over her chest.

Elizabeth looked at Jane. “Did he say it or not?” she asked, her diction precise.

“Not in those exact words, no.”

“But he said it. In front of my family. Who else was at the table?”

“Lizzy … ”

“Who else?”

Jane sighed. “Charles, the Bingleys, and Caroline.”

“Wonderful,” Elizabeth hissed. Then she remembered Mr. Bingley’s insulting speech to her in the courtyard: “I will not be criticized by a failed, no-talent actress.” She had wondered how Mr. Bingley knew anything about her career, and now she understood. He was merely repeating what William had said. William, who had stood by her side last night offering silent support. William, who had kissed her so gently, and looked at her with such warmth. William, who had been condescending and arrogant over coffee just a short time ago. William, who was apparently so bored, or so desperate for female companionship, that he would waste his time on a failure.

“That reminds me!” Mrs. Bennet sounded cheerful for the first time since her arrival. “Did you know that William Darcy is having an affair with Caroline Bingley?”

“No, he’s not,” Elizabeth said, pressing her lips together.

“Of course he is. You didn’t see them together at the dinner table. Very cozy, if you ask me. She had her hand on his knee under the table, and on who knows what else.” Mrs. Bennet wagged her eyebrows.

“Mom!” Elizabeth gasped, shocked.

“Now, Francie—” Mr. Bennet began, but Mrs. Bennet babbled on breathlessly.

“And I heard Caroline tell her sister that she and William were going to spend Saturday night alone together. She said they’d have the house in Pacific Heights all to themselves after the wedding, since Jane and Charles were staying at the Ritz.” Mrs. Bennet paused, her face clouding over. “Oh! The wedding! The house! Oh, dear!”

While Mrs. Bennet resumed her piteous wailing, Elizabeth joined Charlotte in the kitchen, her face grim. “If I’m ever tempted to get within fifty yards of William Darcy for any reason, please, just shoot me. I’ll suffer a lot less that way.”

“Is this about what he said about your career, or about the Caroline Bingley stuff? Because I’m pretty sure that the only way he would ever spend a night with Caroline is in her dreams.”

“Why should I care about that? He and Caroline can go at it in the hotel lobby for all I care. They deserve each other. I never want to see either of them again as long as I live.”

 

William pulled under the portico of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, surrendering his car to the parking attendant. He checked his watch as he strode toward the elevators. It was later than he thought, and he wondered if Charles would be awake.

Ritz-Carlton To his surprise, his suite was unoccupied. Charles’s suit jacket was still draped over a chair, and the blanket with which William had quietly covered him the night before lay in a heap on the floor, but Charles was missing.

William next checked the Club Floor lounge, thinking that perhaps Charles had gone there in search of coffee. But Charles wasn’t there, and the concierge on duty hadn’t seen him. A smile touched William’s lips as he glanced at the red armchair in which Elizabeth had sat the night before. She had been lovely, her skin glowing in the firelight, her face girlish in repose.

He returned to his suite, showered and changed, and then decided to wait for Charles in the living room. He would certainly be back, if only to retrieve his jacket.

William could see now that he should have softened his remarks this morning to avoid offending Elizabeth. But it had been strangely exhilarating to sit across the table from her and debate with her, despite, or perhaps because of, her flushed cheeks and blazing eyes. And in the long run, he wasn’t worried about her anger. Once the events of yesterday retreated further into the past, she would be able to view the situation with more objectivity than she could be expected to achieve now.

Besides, he had seen evidence that Elizabeth’s wrath, though fierce, was short-lived. She had been angry and sarcastic the previous evening when she sang her song, yet a short time later she had stood in his arms as they danced, her head resting contentedly on his shoulder. And this morning on the beach … William smiled at the memory of their kiss. She was momentarily angry, but a sincere apology, followed by a romantic dinner in New York, would put them on the right track again.

But the track to what destination? Charles’s situation offered a vivid demonstration of what happened when a man got involved with a woman who didn’t understand his world. William’s parents had offered another such example. His mother had never adjusted to what was expected of her as Mrs. Darcy.

Edmund Darcy and Anna Forlini had met in Rome while Edmund, still in mid mid-twenties, was helping to manage Darcy Industries’ European operations. Edmund, his experience with women limited to the daughters of other wealthy New York families, was dazzled by Anna’s dark beauty and her collection of bohemian friends. He found himself swept along on a romantic tide and, much to his parents’ dismay, he impulsively married her just a few months after they met. William was born a year later, his arrival briefly interrupting Anna’s burgeoning operatic career.

Before William was two, Edmund was called back to New York following the sudden death of his father. Almost overnight, Edmund’s romantic impulses were embalmed under the weight of responsibility. Anna never recovered from Edmund’s insistence that she abandon the operatic stage, an unseemly occupation for the wife of a prominent Manhattan business leader. Edmund expected his wife to manage their social lives while he managed the Darcy empire; however, Anna hated the life of a Manhattan socialite. They were soon estranged, and before long Edmund was rarely seen at the Darcy townhouse except when his presence was required for the sake of appearances.

William suspected that he was the only reason Anna had not divorced Edmund and returned to Italy. His father would never have permitted the Darcy heir to be taken out of the United States, and Anna would never have left her son.

A muffled knock roused William from his reverie. When he opened the door, he found Charles and Caroline standing together in the hallway. Charles’s features were haggard and his eyes bloodshot. Caroline, though, was bright-eyed and chipper. William stood aside to allow them to enter, wishing he could admit Charles but leave Caroline in the hall.

“Where have you been, Charles? You were gone when I got back from my run.”

“You were running, William? How wonderful,” Caroline cooed. “I do love a man who takes good care of his body.”

William exhaled a gust of air as Caroline’s avid gaze devoured him.“So, Charles? What’s going on?”

Caroline began to speak, but William shot her a warning glance. He hadn’t expected it to work, but to his surprise she fell silent.

“I went to see Father,” Charles said, his voice strained.

“And?”

“I proposed the compromise that Jane suggested.”

“Which was?”

“I would take a leave of absence from the company for a year and get a job somewhere else.”

“Do you really think that’s best?” It sounded to William like a way for Jane to have her cake and eat it too. She could stay in San Francisco without cutting ties to the elder Bingleys … and their money.

“It doesn’t matter, because he turned me down flat. Wouldn’t even listen. It was almost as though he already knew what I was going to say.”

“He was terribly overbearing,” Caroline said, patting Charles on the shoulder. “I felt so sorry for you, and I was surprised that you were able to tolerate it. But you’re so much more accepting of his insults than I could ever be.”

William frowned at Caroline. What is she up to now? “Why don’t we all sit down?” he suggested, motioning towards the living room of the suite. He carefully selected a chair instead of the sofa to prevent Caroline from sitting beside him.

Charles collapsed onto the sofa, pulled out his cell phone, and began to dial. “I need to try to reach Jane again. Her line has been busy for ages.”

“Yes, they’re making calls about the cancellation of the wedding,” William said.

“How do you know that?” Charles asked, frowning.

“I meant, that’s probably why the line is busy.” William wasn’t ready to admit that he had seen Elizabeth that morning, especially not in front of Caroline.

“I’ll try a few more times, but then I’m just going to go over there uninvited,” Charles declared. “I need to talk to her.”

“About what?” William asked.

“I should have listened to her last night. But I was upset about the blow-up with Father, and feeling so guilty about lying to everyone that I couldn’t think straight.”

“What did she say last night? You haven’t told me much about what happened.”

“I’m sorry, Will. I’ll tell you later, but right now I have to reach Jane. I hate to have to choose between Jane and Father, but obviously I can’t please them both, not if Father won’t even listen to my suggestions. And if I do have to choose … then I choose Jane. She makes me happy.”

“Good for you, Charles! I knew love would conquer all in the end,” Caroline gushed.

“What do you intend to do?” William asked.

“I’m going to see Jane. And if she’ll still have me, I’m going to marry her. No pre-nup. No moving to LA. I hope Father will still want me to work for him under those conditions, but if not … well, there are other companies and other jobs.” Charles’s voice wavered slightly.

“You’re so brave, Charles. It’s inspiring, isn’t it, William?” Caroline chirped.

“Why is this of so much interest to you?” William asked her.

“Why, what a question, darling!” Caroline exclaimed. “I love my brother, and obviously Jane makes him happy.” She smiled at Charles.

“And it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that if he marries Jane and is disinherited, that means fewer heirs with whom to split the family fortune?”

“Why, what a terrible accusation! How could you think I’d be so selfish.”

William stood up and went to the bar, pouring himself a glass of ice water. He walked back to the sitting area and stood glaring down at Caroline, towering over her. “I find it curious that you’re so much in favor of this marriage, when last night at dinner you were telling me how tacky the Bennets were, and how Charles could do much better than Jane.”

Caroline jumped to her feet. “My goodness, darling, you are in a grumpy mood this morning. You must be tired and sore from your run. Sit down and I’ll rub your shoulders. Wouldn’t that feel nice?”

“No,” William snapped.

“Oh, of course it would, darling,” Caroline said, taking his hand. “Now, sit down and I’ll make you feel all better.”

William yanked his hand away from Caroline’s and turned on her, cold distaste in his eyes. “Basta!” he shouted.

“What did you call me?” she asked, her eyes wide with alarm.

“That’s Italian for ‘Enough!’” Charles chimed in from his seat on the couch.

“I’ll thank you to stop … taking liberties with my person,” William sputtered.

Caroline blinked and stared at him, one hand to her chest, but then her expression cleared, replaced by a bright smile. “‘Taking liberties with your person’?” she laughed. “My goodness, darling, how formal you are all of a sudden!”

William turned to Charles. “I apologize. But I can’t let it go on any longer.”

“No need to apologize; she’s earned it. Carry on. I’m going to call Jane again.” Charles grabbed his cell phone and rose to his feet. He clutched the arm of the sofa briefly, wincing, but then seemed to get his bearings. He took a few steps away, staring at the phone.

William turned back to Caroline. “I’ll be blunt so there’s no misunderstanding. I don’t want you mauling me.”

“Mauling you? Why, what a terrible thing to say!”

“Maybe so, but it’s the truth. All last evening, you had your hands all over me.”

“What if I did, darling? You didn’t seem to mind,” Caroline purred.

“You’re mistaken,” William said, his eyes glacial. “I tolerated it for Charles’s sake, because I didn’t want to cause unpleasantness at the rehearsal dinner. But I will not tolerate it any longer.”

“I can’t see why you’re overreacting this way. My goodness, it’s a sad day when two dear friends can’t link arms or share an innocent kiss.”

“Charles is my friend. You are my friend’s sister. We are acquaintances, not ‘dear friends.’ I’m tired of you acting as though we’re closer than that, and giving other people the wrong impression.”

“But, darling—”

“I am not your darling. My name is ‘William,’ and in future that is what you will call me,” he proclaimed, squaring his shoulders.

“My goodness, you’re sexy when you’re arrogant,” she replied, raising her eyebrows and licking her lips. “Come on, now, darling—”

“I meant it, Caroline.” William’s face was stern.

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal, dar—William.”

“Because ‘darling’ is a term that’s used between lovers. We are not lovers, we have never been lovers, and we will never be lovers.”

“You should never say ‘never.’ One never knows about these things.”

“I’m not attracted to you. I can’t think of any clearer way to put it. I’m sorry to be blunt, but I want you to understand how serious I am. I hope I’ve made myself clear.” William glared at her through narrowed eyes..

“Yes, you have. But I still consider you a dear friend, despite the shabby way you’re treating me right now.”

“It wasn’t my intention to treat you badly. I just wanted to make sure we understood each other.”

Charles rejoinedthem. From the glum look on his face, he must have gotten another busy signal on Jane’s line. “ I’m out of here,” he announced. “I’m going to go see her and hope she doesn’t kick me out before I have a chance to explain.”

“Wait, Charles.” William said. “We should discuss this first, before you do anything rash.”

“Sorry, Will, but it can’t wait. I need to get over there. I have to fix this.”

William followed him to the door, speaking emphatically. “This will just take a few minutes, Charles. I think it’s vital that you hear me out. Jane will still be there when we’re done.”

Charles stopped, his hand on the doorknob. He turned back and stared at William for a moment, and then spoke. “Okay, You’ve got five minutes. I guess you deserve that for putting up with me last night.”

William glanced at Caroline, who was standing nearby wearing a combative expression. “Could you please excuse us? I want to talk to Charles privately.”

She eyed William defiantly. “Charles is my brother, and even if you don’t think so, I love him. I’m staying.”

Charles turned to his sister. “I think Will is right. This will go faster if he can speak his piece uninterrupted. So if you’d just—”

“But I won’t interrupt, I promise!”

“Please, Caroline,” Charles said.

She stared at him with mournful eyes. “So this is the thanks I get for supporting you and wanting the best for you,” she sniffed.

“I appreciate your support, but I need to talk to Will right now. Why don’t you go and see Father? Maybe you can calm him down.”

“Oh, all right.” She jumped to her feet and adopted her trademark pout. “I must say, the two of you have been terribly rude to me today.”

Caroline flung a reproachful glance at William and stalked into the hall, closing the door behind her. He shook his head, and the two men returned to the living area of the suite and sat down.

“Charles, be careful about taking Caroline’s advice.”

“Don’t worry. She hasn’t influenced me. I made this decision on my own.”

“Well, still, be careful. I think she’s trying to drive a wedge between you and your father for her own benefit.”

Charles shook his head slowly. “Will, you’re too suspicious and cynical. I know Caroline can be a bit self-absorbed, but do you really think my own sister would try do something that rotten?”

William shrugged. “Just be careful, okay?”

“I will, I promise. Now, let’s get this over with, whatever it is. I want to go see Jane before it gets any later.”

Okay. I only get one chance to do this right. “First of all, you’ve known Jane for only a few months. Aren’t you blowing her importance to you out of proportion, in choosing her over your family?”

“I don’t think there’s a minimum time requirement to know when you’ve met the right woman. I’m certain Jane is the one.”

“Shall I remind you of some of the other times you’ve told me that?”

“But I didn’t understand what it felt like to be in love, really in love, back then. It’s different with Jane.”

William shrugged; Charles clearly wouldn’t listen to reason on this point. “Second, are you sure you want Mrs. Bennet for a mother-in-law? I’ll grant you, Jane and Lizzy … Elizabeth … turned out well, but their mother is dreadful. And those sisters! If you stay here in San Francisco I’m sure the Bennets will be on your doorstep constantly.”

“I don’t care. I’m marrying Jane, not her family.”

“You’re not naïve enough to believe that. Aren’t family issues a large part of the problem between you and Jane right now?” William hated to be so blunt, but Charles needed to acknowledge the facts.

Charles opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again, frowning.

William nodded. Perhaps he was finally getting through. He leaned forward in his chair, intent on pressing his advantage. “And has it occurred to you that you’ve never had to support yourself? You’ve lived your life with almost unlimited financial resources. You have no experience with paying bills, or living on a budget. If your father disinherits you, you’ll be on your own.”

Charles sighed, slumping back against the sofa cushions. He was silent for a moment and then sat forward again, his face brightening. “But it’s not as though we’ll be destitute. Jane has her law practice. I have business experience and contacts; I’ll find a job somewhere. And I’d rather have Jane than the money.”

William hesitated before continuing. “There’s something else. I’m sorry to say this, but I’m not convinced that Jane’s feelings for you are anywhere near as strong as yours are for her.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Jane loves me.” Charles jumped to his feet, swaying only slightly this time.

William noted the hurt expression on his friend’s face, but he forced himself to proceed. “Does she? I’d like to think so, but I’ve seen evidence to the contrary. And don’t you think you should be absolutely certain of her feelings before you give up your family, your job, and your income for her?”

Charles sat back down. “What’s your evidence?” His arms were folded across his chest and his mouth was set in a defiant line.

“Don’t you find it strange that she was so unemotional last night while breaking up with you?”

“But that’s just Jane. She doesn’t show emotion in public.”

“What was she like when you talked privately?”

“She had tears in her eyes … a little bit, a couple of times.” Charles thought for a minute. Then he shook his head. “No, Will. She loves me. I know she does.”

“There’s something else. I didn’t want to say this in front of Caroline, but I saw Elizabeth Bennet this morning during my run.”

Charles raised his eyebrows in surprise.

William continued, “She said Jane was somewhat upset but would be fine. Jane and some of their family are calmly making calls to cancel the wedding; that’s why her phone is busy. So even Elizabeth thinks that Jane wasn’t much affected by what happened.”

“You must have misunderstood. I’m sure Jane is devastated this morning, just like I am.”

“Not according to her sister. I’m not saying that Jane doesn’t care about you at some level, but she doesn’t seem like someone who falls deeply in love. She doesn’t seem like someone for whom you should sacrifice everything else.”

Charles sat staring at the wall, his shoulders slumped. With a reluctant sigh, William kept going.

“I also overheard a conversation between Mrs. Bennet and Jane’s aunt—Mrs. Phillips, isn’t it?—last night. Mrs. Bennet was eagerly anticipating the day when some of your money started heading in her direction. She said she encouraged Jane to marry you because of your money, and that she raised Jane to look for a rich man.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. Jane said she didn’t mind if I walked away from the money,” Charles muttered, frowning. “You must have heard wrong, or there’s some other mistake.”

William shook his head confidently. “No. There’s no mistake. Look, I hate to have to tell you these things, but you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Maybe she thought there would still be some money left over, perhaps some trust funds your father can’t touch. Or perhaps she thinks he’ll change his mind eventually.”

Charles bent over, elbows on his knees, his head buried in his hands. “This can’t be true. Not my Jane.”

“And are you certain that you’re ready to walk away from your family? Forget the money for a minute. I know your father is difficult, but isn’t he still important to you?”

Charles looked up, his eyes brimming with pain, but he didn’t speak.

“And obviously you’re important to him. He wants to give you his business, the work of his entire life. That’s a remarkable gift.”

“The problem is, even though I hate to disappoint him, I don’t want it. You should understand that; after all, you’re not running Darcy Industries.”

William had tried to avoid mentioning his own situation, but it seemed that he had no choice. “That’s right. I’m not. And that’s exactly why I’m giving you this advice.”

“But didn’t that work out for the best for you? You have the musical career you wanted. You’re not stuck behind a desk.”

“Yes, and I could never have given up my music; it means too much to me. But maybe I could have done both. It might not have worked out, but I was never even given the chance to try. I wish—” William stopped abruptly. He hadn’t intended to reveal so much.

Charles looked up at him. “I knew your father didn’t want you to become a musician, but I never knew you had regrets about this.”

“Regardless of the way he expresses it, your father cares deeply about sharing his life’s work with you. You don’t know how lucky you are to be able to say that. And I hate to see you throwing it away for a woman, especially one who doesn’t seem committed to you.”

“What should I do?” Charles asked in a hushed tone, his shoulders slumped in defeat.

“If I were you, I’d go to Los Angeles and train to run the business. You can always change your mind later if it doesn’t work out, but at least you’ll know you made an honest effort. You won’t ever wonder what might have been.”

“And Jane?”

“After things have cooled down, you could call her, maybe arrange to come up to San Francisco on weekends and spend some time getting to know each other better.”

“Oh, c’mon. She’ll never speak to me again if I move to LA.”

William raised one eyebrow. “That sounds pretty inflexible to me. Shouldn’t she want what’s best for you if she loves you? Shouldn’t she be willing to stand by you, and not insist on staying in San Francisco just because it suits her?”

Charles sighed, his posture slumped. He looked defeated.

“And there’s one more thing. If you decide that you do want to run the company, I think you should consider whether or not she’s the right sort of wife for you. She doesn’t understand your world, and neither does her family. That could make for a disastrous marriage. You might make her absolutely miserable by forcing her into a position she’s not equipped to handle.”

Charles buried his head in his hands again. “I’m so confused, and so tired. I don’t know what to do.”

“Why don’t I drive you home, and you can rest for a while. Then later we can talk more, if you want. Once you’ve gotten some rest, you’ll know what to do.”

 

Caroline Bingley had made a useful discovery on Friday night during her visit to William’s suite. It was possible to balance the door so that it was open just a crack. If she listened carefully at the door, she could follow conversations in the living room. While she hadn’t heard every word that night, she had heard everything that really mattered. Specifically, she had heard the compromise that Jane had proposed to Charles.

A one-year leave of absence for Charles! Why should he get to goof off for a year and then come back and take over? And Daddy was actually considering it when I first told him about it! Despite all of Mr. Bingley’s bluster, he feared losing the son for whom he had built an empire.

Charles is like the Prodigal Son. It doesn’t matter what he does, Daddy falls over himself to kill the fatted calf and throw a party. Meanwhile, I do everything Daddy asks, and what do I get? Nothing. I have to grab everything for myself.

Caroline had hurried back to her parents’ suite with her news and had manipulated her father into thinking that the leave of absence was an irresponsible, childish request. And Daddy performed SO beautifully when Charles arrived this morning to pitch the idea. She chortled to herself when she remembered her father’s apoplectic reaction and Charles’s deer-in-the-headlights befuddlement, magnified by his hangover.

She was in eavesdropping mode again, listening to William’s conversation with Charles. And, damn it, William’s convincing him not to defy Daddy.

Her plan had been born three weeks ago, when she learned that Jane had never seen the pre-nuptial agreement. After an initial bout of panic which she quickly stifled, she had seized this tantalizing opportunity to gain the upper hand among the Bingley siblings. Caroline congratulated herself for her foresight. It was only by carefully cultivating a friendship with Jane, meeting her periodically for “just-us-girls” lunches, that Caroline had discovered this tasty tidbit.

Instead of going immediately to her father to report Charles’s subterfuge, she had held onto the information. By waiting until the night before the wedding to blow the whistle, she had created chaos beyond her wildest dreams. Never had she imagined that her hapless brother might be disinherited as a result of the conflict. She had merely intended to demonstrate his unfitness to run the company, in the hopes that her father would hand her the mantle of succession.

Men think they’re so smart. But they’re all balls and bluster, no brains, so easy to manipulate with a few words of praise and a pat on the head. Except for William, but I’ll get him under control eventually.

Caroline had two main ambitions in life. One was to run her father’s business; the other was to marry William Darcy. She was not in love with him; she had never been in love with any man. But William had several points in his favor. First, he was wealthy, which Caroline considered a non-negotiable requirement in a husband. Second, his family was socially prominent. Third, he was famous and knew other famous people. And fourth, he was insanely attractive. While Caroline did not consider this an absolute necessity in a husband, it was a pleasant fringe benefit.

This fourth factor, Caroline knew, was a two-edged sword. She sometimes failed to keep her physical atraction to William under control, and this failure had led directly to the humiliating lecture he had given her just now. She had promised herself that she would be careful to allow William to pursue her, instead of being the pursuer herself. But yesterday he started panting after that slutty chorus girl and barely noticed that I existed. Fine eyes, indeed.

She heard William suggest that he drive Charles back to the house. That’s good. I’ll check in with Daddy and then go over there. Maybe I can undo William’s influence. Or, if not, maybe at least I can get William out of this snit he’s in.

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1 Note to those familiar with San Francisco: This part of the story is set in 2001, which is why in “story time” Crissy Field Center is newly opened.

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