William awoke abruptly, blinking in confusion at his surroundings. As his mind cleared, he remembered. He was at home, in his bed; he had returned from San Francisco the night before. He wondered why his heart was thudding in his chest, but then he remembered his dream. Elizabeth. Again.

He peered at his alarm clock, rubbing his eyes until he could read the numbers. He could feel the beginnings of his usual morning headache. It reminded him that he’d been putting off making an appointment with Dr. Rosemont for over a month. But he was too busy this week, preparing to leave for Boston.

He sat up, stretched his arms, and arched his back, a soft groan of pleasure rumbling deep in his chest. After a quick call to the kitchen, he ambled through his dressing room and into the bathroom.

William's whirlpool tub for two It was a luxurious retreat, renovated to his precise specifications a few years ago. A whirlpool tub sat in the corner next to the door. It was large enough for two, but on the few occasions when he had used it to soothe tired muscles after a long run, he had been alone. He opened the glass doors to his shower and turned on the water, which streamed from several nozzles at varying heights.

William's oversized glass showerThe shower doors fogged up from the heat and he sighed in pure sensual pleasure as the sharp jets of hot water pelted his skin. Like the tub, the shower was large enough for two, but, also like the tub, he had never shared it. Nor had he ever had company in his extra-long king-sized bed—if his dream last night didn’t count, and sadly it didn’t.

He wiped the steam from the shower door and peered over at the tub, imagining her reclining there amid a cloud of bubbles, her hair spilling around her shoulders. She raised a hand and beckoned to him, the image so compelling that he almost opened the shower door.

He shook his head ruefully and grabbed a bar of soap. From a young age, William had possessed the ability to conjure up vivid worlds in his mind. It was one of his greatest strengths as a musician. He left the concert hall behind, transporting himself to another time or place, taking his audience along on his sensory and emotional journey. The last few days, though, had exposed the troublesome side of his imagination, with enticing images of Elizabeth popping into his head at inopportune moments.

After his shower, he retrieved an oversized bath towel from a heated towel bar, inspecting himself in the mirror. Although he was satisfied with his lean, toned body, the pale, wan face staring back displeased him. He needed a vacation or, lacking that, some sleep that wasn’t interrupted by vivid and disturbing dreams.

William's black glass sink A few minutes later, wrapped in a thick terrycloth robe, he crossed the center hall to his sitting room. A breakfast tray sat on an antique mahogany table, holding his standing order of freshly-squeezed pulp-free orange juice, coffee, and a cinnamon raisin bagel, lightly toasted and spread with an almost invisible layer of low-fat cream cheese. He gulped down the juice and poured a cup of coffee from the thermal carafe, inhaling the delicious hazelnut scent on the rising steam.

Darcy townhouse gardenCoffee cup and bagel in hand, William wandered back to his bedroom. He crossed the room and stepped out onto his spacious balcony, which overlooked the patio and garden at the rear of the house. As he munched his bagel and sipped his coffee, a misty rain began to fall, cutting short his time on the patio.

It was only eight o’clock, and Richard was not due until ten. William retrieved a book from his bedside table and crossed the center hallway to his sitting room. He loaded a CD into his stereo, and the sound of John Coltrane’s virtuoso saxophone poured out through the speakers. He sank into the soft leather upholstery of his favorite armchair and propped his bare feet on the matching ottoman, soaking in the music.

William reached for his book, a history of Napoleon’s military campaign in Russia, but was distracted by one of the framed photographs displayed on the bookcase nearest his chair. It had been taken on the beach near Pemberley many years ago. He reached for the photo, studying himself at age four, wearing swim trunks and a solemn expression. His mother knelt behind him in the sand with her arms wrapped tightly around him, her smile luminous.

He studied the picture, noting her dark hair tossed about by the wind, and in a flash of insight made a connection. Elizabeth reminds me of her in some ways. There was little physical resemblance between them; rather, it was their personalities. They were both strong-willed, outspoken, and intelligent. In addition, they had vocal talent in common, along with a joy of performing that shone on their faces and infused their voices with rare beauty and energy.

He replaced the photo on the shelf with a sigh. He needed to stop thinking about Elizabeth. He continued to doubt that any potential existed for a long-term relationship. Besides, he was confident that she would be offered the teaching position at Pacific Conservatory and would soon be moving to San Francisco.

I should call her this week. He wanted to ensure that she had received the peace offering he had sent before leaving San Francisco. Although the points he had made over coffee on Saturday morning were logical, after replaying the conversation he had become uneasy about her reaction.

His final day in San Francisco had been somber. Charles had eventually decided to move back to Los Angeles; he was now making preparations for the move with a heavy heart but firm resolve. William knew that he was partially responsible for Charles’s current unhappiness, but he felt confident that his friend would be spared much greater pain in the future.

William’s eyes grew heavy. He set his empty coffee cup on the table beside him and closed his eyes, letting the jazz music envelop him.

 

A quiet “Ahem” caused William to open his eyes. He looked up to find his housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, standing beside his chair.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, William, but it’s 9:45.”

He rose to his feet, belting his robe securely around him. “Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. I’m having trouble getting started this morning.”

“You looked so peaceful, I hated to disturb you,” she replied with an indulgent smile. “You’ve been working too hard lately, and I’m sure you’re tired after your stressful weekend. But if you keep Richard waiting, you know you’ll never hear the end of it.” She shook her head slowly, her eyes disapproving but with a hint of a twinkle.

“You’re right about that,” he replied, grinning. “Is Gran at home?”

“Mrs. Darcy left a few minutes ago for the Opera Guild board meeting, and after that she has plans for lunch. And her bridge group is meeting here later this afternoon. She asked me to tell you that she’ll see you at dinner tonight.”

His grandmother led an active social life, so he was not surprised that her day was fully scheduled. She and his sister Georgiana each had a large bedroom with private bath on the fifth floor of the Darcy townhouse; their bedrooms were separated by a shared sitting room. William occupied the entire third floor of the house. This arrangement gave them each a modicum of privacy, yet still allowed them to spend time together in the common areas on the first and second floors.

Mrs. Reynolds picked up his breakfast tray. “I’d better get back downstairs.”

“Thank you again. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’ll be down soon.”

They went their separate ways, Mrs. Reynolds to the kitchen, and William to brush his teeth.

Darcy townhouse staircaseFifteen minutes later, he emerged into the hallway, dressed in a crisp white cotton shirt and dark blue trousers. He ignored the elevator, which he almost never used, and trotted down the staircase to the first floor, his shoes clattering on the steps. When he stepped onto the gleaming marble floor of the house’s center hall, he was met by his secretary, Sonya Lawrence.

“Good grief, I thought we were about to be overrun by a herd of wild animals,” she said, smirking. “I was wondering where I’d put my elephant gun.”

“Good morning to you, too.”

Darcy townhouse staircase “You’re as noisy on these stairs now as when you were eleven.”

“At least I never tried to slide down the banister like Richard did.”

“Ah, yes, the day he broke his arm. I’ve heard the story from Mrs. Reynolds. You can always count on Richard for excitement.”

“Speaking of Richard, is he here yet?”

“Just barely,” a hoarse baritone voice replied. William turned and saw his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam standing behind him. Richard’s eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were rumpled.

“Out late again last night?” William smirked.

“You should try it some time,” Richard shot back. “I didn’t have time to shower or change; had to come straight here.”

“I’m flattered … I think.”

“You should be. I wouldn’t try so hard to be on time for most people, but I know I’m dealing with Mr. German Train. So how was the wedding? Were you really the best man, or only in the top five?”

William ignored Richard’s joke. “Unfortunately, it was called off at the last minute.”

“Oh, no! What happened?” Sonya asked.

“It’s a long story. Basically, there were some misunderstandings that couldn’t be resolved.”

“Poor Charles,” she said. “He must be devastated.”

Richard shrugged. “That’s too bad. But I hope you had some fun anyway, Will; at the very least, boinked the maid of honor.”

“Oh, very nice, Richard.” Sonya glared at him.

William was too mortified to reply. Richard’s crude remark was entirely too close to William’s fantasies of Elizabeth.

Mrs. Reynolds bustled down the stairs towards them. “Good morning, Richard.”

“The jury is still out on that, Mrs. R.”

“If you wouldn’t tomcat around so much, you’d be in better shape in the morning,” she scolded.

“What can I say? Women find me irresistible. It’s a curse, but I don’t want to disappoint them. With the number of single women in Manhattan, my dance card overfloweth.”

Mrs. Reynolds shook her head and turned to William, her eyes warming. “I left some coffee in your office. And some blueberry muffins, fresh out of the oven; I thought they might help to perk you up.”

He smiled his thanks. It reminded him of arriving home from school as a boy. His first stop had usually been the kitchen, where Mrs. Reynolds waited with an affectionate greeting, a warm plate of cookies, and a glass of milk.

“Hey, what about me?” Richard grumbled. “I could use some perking up too.”

Mrs. Reynolds stared at him, pursing her lips. “You’re playing too hard, not working too hard like William, so don’t expect any sympathy. But your tea is up there waiting for you.”

“Bless you, Mrs. R.,” Richard groaned. “You’re a lifesaver.”

William smiled to himself. His cousin’s seemingly contradictory tastes were a source of endless amusement. After a hard night of partying, a Bloody Mary might have seemed a more appropriate beverage to some people; however, Richard was a devotee of a specific mixture of green and herbal teas.

“Shall we get this show on the road?” Richard asked, gesturing toward the steps. “I need to get home and shower and change before my lunch meeting with the people from the Philharmonic.”

Richard and Sonya followed William up the steps to the second floor and into his office. They seated themselves at the conference table, and Sonya distributed copies of William’s schedule for the next four weeks.

“Would some decent lighting be too much to ask?” Richard grumbled. “This room is like a cave unless it’s sunny outside. I don’t know why you don’t take down that damned chandelier and replace it with something that actually, you know, gives off some light.”

William glanced up at the large chandelier hanging in the center of the carved mahogany ceiling far above their heads. “It’s been here since the house was built, Richard. It’s part of our heritage.”

“I know, I know. And our great-grandfather bought this table. And the drapes have probably been hanging there since the Crusades. Will, you’re starting to sound like Gran. If she had her way we’d still be using oil lamps. Though I guess I shouldn’t knock it; maybe then I’d be able to read this damn schedule.”

William smiled ruefully. Preservation of the family legacy, particularly as it concerned the Darcy family home, was a passion for their grandmother, one she had done her best to instill in the rest of the family with mixed results. He reached over and turned on a lamp beside the table. “There. That should help your bloodshot eyes.”

“And what about the lamp?” Richard grumbled. “I assume it dates back to the Norman Conquests?”

“Not to interrupt this fascinating stroll through Darcy family history, but maybe we could get this meeting started?” Sonya said with a superior air. “Some of us actually work for a living, Richard, though I know you’re not familiar with that concept.”

“Ouch!” Richard yelped, clutching his chest in mock agony. “That really hurt.”

Sonya executed an exaggerated eye roll and then briefly reviewed William’s schedule, after which they discussed final logistics for his upcoming recital in Boston.

William considered himself extremely fortunate to have Richard and Sonya assisting him with his career. Richard was William’s agent and manager, an arrangement that William had proposed a decade ago when his career had begun to explode. He had preferred to take a chance on Richard, despite his lack of experience in representing artists, rather than to allow a stranger to manage his career. Richard had shown a surprising aptitude for, and enjoyment of, the work.

It was only a part-time job, which suited Richard since it left him free to pursue his active social life. He had no need to work at all: his trust fund provided plenty of money to support him in idleness. But William knew that Richard enjoyed the sense of purpose and accomplishment that came from the work. Not that he’d ever admit it.

William’s mother and grandmother had hired Sonya almost twenty years ago to help them launch the Darcy Arts Trust, a charitable foundation supporting the musical arts. She still held this position, working closely with the Darcys; in addition, she assisted William with the day-to-day details of his life. A cool, elegant blonde, she looked a decade younger than her 45 years.

“I’d like to take Georgie to Pemberley after school is out,” William said. “Do I have a block of free time when we could spend a week there?”

Sonya pulled out a wire-bound appointment book and flipped to the months of June and July, scanning the pages. “We had two weeks blocked out in July, but, remember, you agreed to schedule your summer residency at Interlochen during that time.”

“What about June?”

“Mostly booked. You’ve got the LA trip, the Juilliard recital, and the recording sessions in Chicago for your new CD. But it looks like you could get to Pemberley for five days or so right before you go to Interlochen.”

“All right, I’ll talk to Georgie about it after school today and let you know tomorrow. I want to invite Charles Bingley to join us.”

“You look like you need a vacation now, not in July,” Richard said. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I haven’t been sleeping well the past few days. Jet lag.” William deftly changed the subject. “Let’s discuss the meeting with the Philharmonic.”

“Oh, yes.” Richard handed him a set of contracts and began to highlight some key points.

William was usually attentive in the weekly meetings, but today his mind wandered to Elizabeth. He wondered what she was doing at that moment, and remembered that her interview with Catherine would start soon. Don’t let her intimidate you, Lizzy. He smiled at the thought, doubtful that anything could intimidate Elizabeth Bennet, not even Catherine de Bourgh.

 

Elizabeth sat in the reception area outside Dr. de Bourgh’s office at Pacific Conservatory, drumming her fingers on the arm of the sofa and trying to relax. She had been sitting for over half an hour awaiting the start of her job interview.

To distract herself, she inspected a flower arrangement on the coffee table. It reminded her of the flowers that had arrived for her yesterday: twelve perfect roses in a deep shade of lavender. The card had read, “Please accept my apology. I’ll call you in New York. William.”

lavender rose Well, at least he recognizes that he has something to apologize for. But he still said all of those things. The flowers were beautiful, and the thoughtful gesture had surprised her. But she had no intention of going to dinner, or anywhere else, with him. Furthermore, the arrival of the flowers had required explanations that she would have preferred to avoid. She had told Jane that William had sent the flowers in apology for a quarrel resulting from their differing loyalties. Jane had accepted the vague explanation, too absorbed in her unhappiness to probe further.

“Elizabeth! It’s delightful to see you again!”

She looked up to see Bill Collins approaching. “Good morning, Bill,” she said, smiling.

“You look ravishing.” He eyed her gray suit with its pencil skirt that skimmed the tops of her knees. Elizabeth had saved for weeks to buy the suit for job interviews, and she was grateful that it had escaped the shampoo disaster in her suitcase. Her hair was pulled back at her neckline and gathered into a large tortoiseshell clip. A schoolmarm-ish hairstyle, I’m sure Charlotte would say.

“Thank you,” she answered. “You look very nice yourself.” She saw a flush of color at Bill’s neck.

“I’m so very, very sorry about the cancellation of your sister’s wedding.” He sat next to her on the sofa and patted her hand.

“Thank you.” Elizabeth sighed at the reminder. Jane had shown tremendous courage and grace under pressure all weekend; however, she was deeply unhappy. The sisters’ farewell this morning had been affectionate and tearful, and Elizabeth hated to leave Jane at such a time. It gave her another reason to want this job: she could be close to Jane again, and could keep an eye on her as she resumed her life without Charles.

“Hasn’t Dr. de Bourgh called you in for your interview yet? It was supposed to be at 8:00, wasn’t it? 8:00 on Monday morning; I’m certain that’s what we arranged.”

“Yes, that’s right. Her secretary said she was busy.”

“Well, yes. No doubt on a very important phone call, probably to New York, or maybe London. As you know, she’s very prominent in the world of—oh, good morning, Dr. de Bourgh!”

snow leopard Bill straightened up, almost saluting. Elizabeth stood as a tiny woman stalked toward them. She wore a severe black pantsuit, accented with a leopard print scarf. A jeweled snow leopard held the scarf in place, and large diamond studs flashed in her ears. Her silver-gray hair was cut short and arranged in a spiky style, and she wore large rings on several of her fingers. Her nails were short, lacquered in a deep shade of bronze. Her face was lined beneath her artfully applied make-up. Elizabeth guessed her to be in her early 60’s.

Despite Dr. de Bourgh’s diminutive frame, the room crackled with energy from her mere presence, and her golden eyes blazed with fierce purpose. Elizabeth sensed that Catherine de Bourgh could be a formidable ally—or foe.

Dr. de Bourgh eyed Bill, raising a perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “Collins, I can’t remember the last time I saw you wearing a business suit on campus unless we had an important meeting. Why are you so dressed up today?” Her voice was deep and slightly husky, and she spoke forcefully, lending importance to every word.

Bill glanced involuntarily at Elizabeth. “Well, you see, I—that is, it seemed …” His voice trailed off, his hands flapping at his sides.

Bill Collins, speechless. This is an impressive woman indeed! Elizabeth braced herself as Dr. de Bourgh’s appraising stare settled on her.

“You are Elizabeth Bennet, I presume?”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Dr. de Bourgh.” Elizabeth was astonished by the strength of the woman’s brisk handshake.

“Let’s get on with this interview, since you’re so far behind schedule. I’m expecting a call from Itzhak Perlman, making arrangements for us to meet for lunch later this month when I’m in New York.”

Elizabeth was caught off guard by Dr. de Bourgh’s brusque reference to the tardy start of the interview. You’d think I was the one at fault! She also suspected that the name-dropping reference to the famous violinist had been intended to impress her. Dad will enjoy hearing about this.

“Dr. de Bourgh, I’d be happy to rearrange the schedule for the rest of Elizabeth’s interviews while the two of you talk,” Bill said, having regained his composure. Elizabeth was scheduled to meet with several faculty members in the course of the morning.

“Yes, yes, very well, Collins. Please do that.”

“Excuse me,” Elizabeth interjected, “but I don’t have much flexibility in my schedule. My flight to New York leaves a little after 2:00.”

“Well, certainly you can switch to a later flight if necessary,” Dr. de Bourgh said. “At least, if you’re interested in this job.”

“I am interested, very much so, but my ticket is non-refundable.”

“I never purchase non-refundable tickets. And this is the reason. I am far too busy to accept so little flexibility. I recommend that you do the same in the future.”

“That’s so wise of you, Dr. de Bourgh,” Bill said, clasping his hands in front of him, “and I’m sure that Elizabeth—”

“Collins, I thought you were going to work on revising her schedule. Please do so.”

“Yes, of course, Dr. de Bourgh. I’m so very sorry. I’ll get on it at once.” Bill scurried away.

“Now, Ms. Bennet, come with me.”

Elizabeth followed Dr. de Bourgh down the hall to her office, noting the gold nameplate on the door, engraved in bold letters: “Catherine de Bourgh, Dean.” The office was richly decorated with a thick Oriental rug, an ornate walnut desk, and an eclectic assortment of musical instruments.

Elizabeth took a seat in front of the desk, examining a wall of photos of Dr. de Bourgh with a procession of famous people. The older woman sat down in her black leather desk chair, set a pair of reading glasses on her nose, and picked up a file from the center of her immaculate desk. She extracted Elizabeth’s resume from the file and perused it briefly.

“So,” she barked, “you chose to study musical theater instead of classical music.”

Elizabeth nearly laughed aloud. Why is everybody criticizing my career choices lately? “Yes, that’s right.” She wasn’t in the mood to justify her decision.

Dr. de Bourgh looked up, her glasses perched low on her nose, her eyebrows raised, and waited. Under other circumstances, Elizabeth would have relished a staring contest, but she wanted this job.

“I enjoy singing, dancing, and acting. Musical theater gave me a chance to do all of those things.”

“And opera would not have afforded you the opportunity to act?”

“Of course, but in general Puccini and Mozart don’t include too many intricate dance routines in their operas.”

Dr. de Bourgh stared at her in stony silence, and Elizabeth silently cursed herself, determined to hold her tongue.

“Your Broadway experience is quite limited,” Dr. de Bourgh remarked.

“I spent about a year in the Broadway production of Rent. And six months in the national tour of Les Miz. After that I decided I wanted to teach.”

“Yes, I can see that. It’s right here on your resume. Which, I might add, is light on credentials.”

Elizabeth considered responding to this criticism, but she sensed that anything she said would only antagonize Dr. de Bourgh further, though what she’d done to cause this combative behavior she couldn’t imagine.

“Now, do you understand the nature of the position we have available, Ms. Bennet?”

“Yes, I think so. I would teach voice lessons to students preparing for musical theater careers. I would also teach some courses related to Broadway music and possibly some general music classes.”

“That is correct. Also, we have a continuing education division, and I would expect you to teach some evening courses in that program. And we have an active summer music program in which you might be asked to teach, for additional salary, of course.”

Elizabeth nodded. “That sounds fine.”

“You have very little teaching experience.”

“I’ve been teaching for two years, classes similar to those you want me to teach. And I recently won a university-wide teaching award at Pace University. It’s not on the resume I sent you because it happened just a few weeks ago.”

“Hmm.” Dr. de Bourgh stared at Elizabeth over her reading glasses again. She glanced at the resume in front of her one more time and then looked back up, frowning.

“Ms. Bennet, I’ll be blunt. You have neither the education nor the experience that would make you a strong candidate for this position. However, I need someone to teach musical theater classes, and the stronger candidates rarely express any interest in doing so.”

Elizabeth nodded. She knew that her qualifications were weak. If she got the job only because nobody else wanted it, she didn’t mind. She’d still have the job.

As though reading her mind, Dr. de Bourgh continued, glaring at her. “But if I were to decide to hire you, you would be judged solely on your performance at our institution, not on the influence of friends you may be so fortunate as to have.”

The cause for Dr. de Bourgh’s attitude became clear. Bill Collins, with good intentions but clumsy execution, must have gone overboard in praising her. “Of course. I’d expect nothing else. And I’ll do a good job if you hire me.”

Bill popped his head into the room. “I beg your pardon, Dr. de Bourgh—so sorry to interrupt—but I have the revised schedule prepared. How much more time do you need with Elizabeth?”

“We’re finished,” the tiny woman announced, rising abruptly to her feet and removing her reading glasses. She nodded at Elizabeth, unsmiling. “Thank you for coming in, Ms. Bennet. I’ll be seeking input from the faculty members with whom you meet, and I will attend your audition performance later this morning.”

“Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Elizabeth followed Bill out into the hall, shaking her head. Dr. de Bourgh didn’t seem to possess even a shred of warmth. But if Elizabeth hoped to stay in San Francisco, she needed a job. And Jane needed her. There were worse things in the world than a prickly, demanding boss.

 

William sat up in bed, his heart pounding, and realized what had happened. Again. The room was dark. A glance at the clock confirmed that it was only 4:00 am, well before dawn.

Is that four or five nights in a row? Let’s see. It’s Tuesday night … Wednesday morning. Five, then. Visions of Elizabeth had become a regular feature of his nights, to his increasing concern. He had made love to her in a variety of settings, most recently on the beach near Pemberley. He could no longer pretend that his fascination with her would subside in the familiar atmosphere of home; he needed to take action.

Staying away and trying to forget her wasn’t working. The only answer was to see her. If he spent time with her, it would break the spell. She couldn’t be as intriguing, as intelligent, or as desirable as she had become in his imagination. A good plan, except for one problem: he didn’t know her telephone number. Jane would know it, and Charles would know how to reach Jane, but he couldn’t imagine making such an awkward request when Charles’s wounds were still fresh.

Sonya could help. She treated every request for information as a personal challenge, and could probably locate Elizabeth on a Tibetan mountaintop if necessary. A Lower East Side phone number would be child’s play by comparison. But Sonya knew him too well; she considered herself to be his secretary and his surrogate older sister in equal parts. She would guess his feelings, and he wasn’t prepared to deal with her knowing looks and probing questions.

He wandered across the hall to his sitting room and to the piano in the far corner. He turned on the lamp beside it and stroked its smooth rosewood case. His grandmother had custom-ordered the piano from Steinway for his thirtieth birthday, and it was his most precious possession. He sat down and caressed the cool polished keys.

William spent a portion of many nights sitting at his piano, seeking peace when sleep eluded him. One touch of the keys, and his worries were swept away by his connection with the instrument. In some ways it was as intimate as lovemaking, with his piano a beloved mistress whose embrace never failed to soothe his troubled spirit.piano

He began to play, and the instrument sang a poignant, introspective melody under his fingers. This particular Chopin Nocturne1 had been one of his mother’s favorite pieces; she had often stood beside the piano while he played it, tears shimmering in her eyes. Even now, whenever he played the Nocturne, he played it for her.

As the sound of the final notes faded away, he lifted his hands reluctantly from the keys, turned off the lamp beside the piano, and returned to bed. He drifted to sleep, and this time when he dreamed of the beach, he saw a frail little boy walking beside his mother, his hand held tightly in her grasp.

 

“That’s right, I’m holding for Charlotte Lucas,” Sonya said. She held the phone pressed between her neck and her shoulder while she filed some contracts in the cabinet beside her desk.

William caught himself fidgeting with a paper clip. He dropped it on the desk and forced himself to stand still. Sonya was on the phone with the secretary of the Art History department at University of California at Berkeley, where Charlotte was completing her Ph.D.

Sonya covered the mouthpiece with her hand and glared at him. “Would you get out of here and let me do my job? I’ll transfer the call into your office when I reach her. You’re driving me nuts.”

He shook his head and frowned at her. “Aren’t secretaries supposed to respect their bosses?”

“Not when you’ve known the boss since before his voice changed.”

“Everywhere else I’m treated with respect, even adoration, but here in my own house—”

“That’s the problem. You get way too much adoration for your own good. Even here in your own house.”

“That’s absurd.”

“Oh? Mrs. Reynolds fawns over you, and you’ve got Georgie wrapped around your little finger, and even your grandmother to some extent. Somebody needs to cut you down to size. Not that I can handle such a massive job by myself—” Sonya removed her hand from the mouthpiece. “Yes? Oh, she isn’t? Do you have a number where we could reach her? It’s rather urgent.”

After a brief pause, she glanced up at William. “The secretary doesn’t want to give out Ms. Lucas’s cell phone number.”

He strolled over to Sonya, grabbed the phone from her hand, and spoke in his most confident tone. “Hello. My name is William Darcy. I’m a professional musician, a concert pianist … yes, that’s right, I was in Newsweek recently … thank you. I’m calling because I’m executive director of the Darcy Arts Trust. I met Ms. Lucas last weekend, and we discussed some possible sources of grant funding for her research. I was hoping to reach her at home this evening …. Thank you.” He motioned to Sonya for a pen and some paper, and wrote a number.

“She was happy to help,” William remarked after he had thanked the secretary and said goodbye. He slipped his hands into his pockets, a smug grin on his face.

Sonya rolled her eyes. “Please tell me she didn’t mention that ‘Classical Music’s Sex Symbol’ tripe from the Newsweek article.”

He shrugged. “It got me the phone number.”

“I don’t get it. I know you promised this Charlotte Lucas some contact names at foundations that might fund her work, but I could have just e-mailed them to her.”

“I prefer to handle it myself.”

“The personal touch, eh?” She raised her eyebrows. “So, will I be sending her flowers every day on your behalf, like Richard does on the rare occasions when he’s trying to impress a woman?”

“There’s nothing romantic about my interest in Charlotte Lucas.”

“Uh huh.” Sonya stood up, eyeing him with a suspicious frown. “Well, I’m going home, if you don’t need anything else.”

“That’s fine. Good night.”

As soon as she was gone, he strode into his office, shut the door, and placed the call. He was pleased when Charlotte answered the phone on the second ring.

“Hello, Charlotte. This is William Darcy.”

“William! What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.”

“I imagine not. I hope you don’t mind my tracking you down.”

“Not at all. What can I do for you?”

“I’m glad you phrased it that way, because I have a favor to ask.”

“Yes?”

“I need Elizabeth’s phone number.”

His request was met with silence.

“Charlotte?”

He was about to speak her name again when she said, “I don’t know if I should give it to you.”

“Why not?”

Charlotte chuckled. “Because every time you talk to her, you jam your foot a little further into your mouth.”

William sighed. “I said some things on Saturday morning that I wish I had saved for a better time. I’d like to apologize.”

“The way I hear it, you already ‘said it with flowers.’”

He smiled. “Ah, then she got the roses. Did she like them?”

“You should be asking her that question, not me.”

“I will, if you give me her phone number.”

“Touché.” She paused. “Why did you choose lavender roses? It’s an unusual color.”2

“No special reason. I saw them at the shop and they seemed right.”

“Okay. Here’s her number. Got a pencil?”

He grabbed a gold fountain pen from his desk and copied the number as she dictated it.

“May I give you some advice?” Charlotte’s matter-of-fact tone was tinged with kindness.

“Go ahead.”

“Stop talking and start listening. There’s a lot more to Liz than meets the eye, and that’s saying something. But you’ll never find out what an amazing person she is if you keep insulting her every time you see her. Relax, and let her do the talking for a while.”

He was offended by the suggestion that he had done nothing but insult Elizabeth all weekend. We got along fine quite a lot of the time … didn’t we?

“William? Are you still there?”

“I’m here.”

“Also, be gentle with her. She’s not as tough as she pretends to be.”

“All right, I’ll consider what you’ve said. Thanks for the number.”

“No problem. Good luck.”

As he hung up the phone, his eyes fell on the portrait of his parents above the fireplace. His mother looked distant and remote, in sharp contrast to her ebullient expression in the photograph taken at Pemberley. But it was his father who dominated the portrait and, in fact, the entire office. Edmund’s large antique globe rested on a stand in the corner. His collection of antique maps, to which William periodically made an addition, hung on the walls. And in the center of it all, Edmund, imperious and unyielding, stared at his son from the portrait.

William sighed and returned his attention to the task at hand. He looked at Elizabeth’s New York phone number, written below Charlotte’s on the sheet of paper. Come on. Just pick up the phone. You can do this.

With a deep breath, he lifted the receiver, preparing to dial. But before he had tapped the first digit, he heard a knock at his office door.

He glanced at his watch and saw that it was precisely 7:00. “Come in.”

Mrs. Reynolds opened the door. “Dinner is ready, William.”

“Thank you.”

He hung up the phone with a sigh and followed her into the hall. His grandmother demanded prompt attendance at dinner; the phone call would have to wait.

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1 Nocturne in C# minor (1830) by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Claudio Arrau on Chopin: The Complete Nocturnes, The Complete Impromptus, Phillips, 1997. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

2 Look up the meaning of lavender roses if you’re wondering why Charlotte asked the question.

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