Elizabeth unlocked her apartment door, gasping for breath. The elevator was broken again, and it had been a long climb to the fifth floor. She hefted her bulging backpack off her shoulder; it thudded to the floor. The pack was full of final exams that needed to be graded by the end of the week. And it’s already Wednesday night. I need to get busy. She decided to change into her pajamas, fix some tea, and get to work. Her roommate, Sally, was bartending tonight, so she would have no distractions.

While the kettle heated on the stove, she examined her CD collection and removed a scratched, cracked CD case from the rack. A younger William Darcy, resplendent in white tie and tails and seated at a piano, stared earnestly up at her from the cover. She had always thought it a somber photo of him, but now as she looked closer she saw a quiet smile in his eyes and around the corners of his mouth. She recognized the expression; he had worn it the night of the rehearsal dinner as they sat together in the lounge, waiting for Jane and Charles.

She shook her head ruefully, still examining the photo. He’s even better looking now than when this was taken. Too bad the man inside isn’t as attractive as the packaging. She inserted the disk into the CD player sitting on a rickety tray table. As she returned to the kitchen to pour her tea, the dark, ominous opening of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2 filled the tiny apartment.

The message light was blinking on the answering machine. She pushed “play” and heard Charlotte’s voice.

“Liz, it’s Char. I’ll try to call again before my evening class, but if I can’t, it’ll have to wait till later tonight. If you’re not going to be home, call me some time after midnight your time. I want to give you a heads-up about something.”

A beep sounded between messages, and then a deep voice resonated through the small speaker. Her stomach clenched and she inhaled sharply as she recognized the voice.

“Hello, Elizabeth? It’s William. Darcy. I … I wanted to … I have something I need to ask you. I’ll try again later. Goodbye.”

She had been expecting him to call, but she hadn’t been fully prepared to hear his voice, especially not while his CD played in the living room, so soon after her close inspection of his photo.

He had been in her thoughts far too often since their argument Saturday morning. In daylight, she remembered his high-handed behavior at the café with sharp resentment. After dark, though, other memories seeped into her mind: their intimate dance in the courtyard, the pressure of his hand as they walked on the beach, the warmth of his gaze before he kissed her, the soft warmth of his lips. William’s gentle, romantic side had touched her heart, while the arrogant man in the café had roused her ire. Damn him! He won’t let me like him, but I can’t hate him either.

A knot had formed in her stomach—the result, she decided, of overexposure to William Darcy. She hurried to the CD player to turn it off. But before she had the chance, a poignant melody cried out from his piano, freezing her in place. The passionate yearning in his music pierced her heart and her eyes filled with reluctant tears. She was transported back to the previous Friday evening when she had watched him play, spellbound. How does he do this to me?

She punched the “stop” button on the CD player. She had to calm down if she hoped to be able to concentrate on grading the final exams.

I know what I need. Bubble baths were one of her favorite treats, and while she didn’t have time for a long one tonight, a brief but luxurious soak in the tub sounded like an excellent plan. It would relax her, and then she could get to work.

While the tub was filling, she went to the bedroom to undress. By the time she returned, the tub was over half full, and the jasmine and vanilla scent of her bath oil filled the air. She piled her hair on top of her head, secured it with a large clip, and stepped into the tub. She leaned back, resting her head on a folded towel while the warm, scented water enveloped her body.

Her mind drifted to Charlotte’s phone message. Wonder what she wanted to tell me that she wasn’t willing to say on an answering machine tape. Must be something private that she didn’t want Sally to hear. Maybe some new development in her love life. But, no, Char wouldn’t consider that important enough to warrant a phone call.

Charlotte didn’t get overwrought about sex and romance; she could share her body with a man without involving her heart. Elizabeth sometimes wished she could do the same, but she couldn’t; the idea of casual sex seemed so empty and meaningless.

Elizabeth’s problem wasn’t a lack of opportunity. Her lip curled in disgust as she thought of several first dates with men who seemed charming initially, but whose primary goal was to get her out of her clothes after the obligatory dinner, play, or concert. Although she ordinarily considered herself a keen observer of human behavior, she seemed to lack her usual powers of discernment when it came to the men she knew. Either that, or there’s something about me that makes otherwise nice men act like animals.

And when I fall in love, it’s even worse. In her first, and only, experience with love, a man’s abundant charm had concealed a different person underneath. Since then, she had resolved to protect her bruised heart until she met a man so obviously right for her that even she would be unable to miss the signs.

Since coming to New York, Elizabeth had built an active life revolving around her music, her studies, and her diverse group of male and female friends. She had been happy and fulfilled … until William Darcy had walked into her life, insulting her, infuriating her, and fascinating her. Why him? Why couldn’t I just feel a nice, uncomplicated dislike for the man? Why is he making me long for something that I’ve done without for such a long time?

She recalled her strange dream in San Francisco. William as a knight, rescuing the princess. That’s a laugh! But at least I had one thing right; I put him in black armor, not silver. She attempted to stifle the wave of heat she felt when she remembered him removing the armor.

But he’s the last man I’d want to be with. Even though he’s handsome and sexy, with those dark eyes, or that it felt so good to be in his arms, or that his lips were so soft and gentle ….

The phone rang. She was grateful for the interruption of her thoughts, which were headed in a dangerous direction. It was probably Charlotte, who had said she would try to call again. She scrambled out of the tub, water droplets flying, and wrapped a towel around herself as she ran. She stubbed her toe on the door jamb, grunted in pain, and hopped the rest of the way to the phone.

“Hello?” she panted.

“Elizabeth?” It was a man’s voice, one she didn’t immediately recognize.

“Who’s calling?”

“This is William Darcy.”

Sir William from her dream flashed through her mind, and again her traitorous body responded to the undeniably enticing image. Furious with herself for her lack of self-control, and annoyed that his call had yanked her from her warm bath, her voice was harsh as she replied, “What do you want?”

There was a pause on the line, and when he finally spoke he sounded uneasy. “Well … I, um … how are you?”

“I’m fine,” she snapped. She had no intention of chatting with him while dripping all over the kitchen floor, wearing nothing but a towel.

“Um … well, good. I’m glad to hear it.” After another long pause, he continued, “How was your job interview?”

“It was fine.”

“Good. That’s … good. I’m glad.” William’s voice trailed off and silence fell again.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. For this she had raced from the tub? “Well, if there’s nothing else, I have to go. Goodbye, William.”

Elizabeth hung up the phone before he could respond, sticking out her tongue at it. As she expected, it rang again almost immediately. She turned off the answering machine before it could pick up the call. As the phone rang repeatedly, she imagined his indignation, and a tight smile curved her lips. I bet he’s furious that I had the gall to hang up before the great William Darcy was ready to end the conversation. Serves him right.

 

Elizabeth glanced at the clock on the wall in her office. It said it was noon exactly, but the clock was fifteen minutes slow. The whole morning was gone? She sighed. But at least the pile of exams on her desk had dwindled to almost nothing.

Her shoulders and neck ached from leaning over her desk, and the students’ words had begun to swim in front of her tired eyes. She stretched and massaged her neck, but it didn’t help much. It was time for a break. Her small office had no window, and the stuffy atmosphere and beige walls had begun to make her feel like a caged animal.

Just outside the main doors of the building, she paused to decide where to walk. On such a beautiful spring day in Manhattan, City Hall Park would be a good destination: not too far, yet still far enough for a break and a bit of exercise.

A Mercedes sedan pulled up at the curb, but she barely noticed it, too busy fumbling in her purse for her sunglasses.

“Elizabeth?

The deep, familiar voice froze her in place. She turned and saw William striding toward her, a sheaf of roses in his arms.

“William? What are you doing here?”

He held out the flowers. “I brought you these.”

She looked into his dark eyes and saw the plea there. With a sigh, she took the flowers from him. They were beautiful: a dozen roses in an unusual shade of coral. She had a weakness for men bearing flowers, especially since she received them so rarely, but she had no intention of letting his gesture soften her feelings. The cost of a dozen roses was small change for a rich man.

coral rose “They’re lovely. Thank you. But, you know, florists deliver all over town. You could have saved yourself the trouble.”

He looked embarrassed. “I … I needed to talk to you.”

“We talked last night,” she replied airily.

“I know. But I didn’t get a chance to say what I called to say, and when I called again I couldn’t get through.”

“Oh, really? I wonder if the phone was out of order.” She had to fight the smirk that threatened to appear on her face. “Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to talk now. I’m just taking a quick walk to clear my head, and then it’s back to work for me.”

“I could walk with you,” he suggested.

“Oh, I don’t … that is … well, all right.” She cursed her usually quick tongue for deserting her. “But I’d rather not carry the roses the whole way.”

“Allen can keep them till we get back.”

William took the flowers back to the Mercedes. Then he rejoined Elizabeth, who led the way to the park.

“How did you know where to find me?” she asked.

“I spoke with your roommate this morning. She said you were at school. So I called the university and found out where your office was.”

Thanks a bunch, Sally. “Well, you certainly went to a lot of trouble to find me.”

“Did you get the flowers I sent you in San Francisco?”

“The lavender roses? Yes, I did. Thank you.”

“Did you like them?”

“They were beautiful,” Elizabeth admitted reluctantly. “Tell your secretary I loved the color.”

“My secretary had nothing to do with it,” William answered in an injured tone. “I chose them myself. But about the note that came with them …” She felt his intense gaze resting on her.

“What about it?”

“I’m hoping that you’ve accepted my apology.”

“Well, that depends. Exactly what were you apologizing for?”

“For our conversation in the café.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific than that.”

He sighed. “I was careless about your feelings. You were upset about the wedding being canceled, and I made it worse with the things I said. I should have kept those thoughts to myself.”

“But you meant them, didn’t you? And you still do.” They reached an intersection and paused to wait for the light to change.

“I told you my honest view of the situation, Elizabeth. Honesty is important to me.”

“So you still think Jane was wrong not to stand by Charles, no matter what.”

“I believe that if you truly love someone, you should accept them as they are. You shouldn’t make your love contingent on their behavior. You shouldn’t try to change them into something they’re not.”

Elizabeth was caught off guard by the depth of feeling in his voice. He seemed to have taken Charles’s situation to heart, and she felt her defenses begin to soften. Loyalty toward his best friend was commendable, even if he was taking it too far.

“I guess I’m being idealistic,” he continued in a subdued tone. “I know that’s not the way most people love.”

The light changed, and they crossed the street and continued toward the park.

“So you didn’t really expect Jane to love Charles in that way,” Elizabeth suggested in an offhand manner. She felt like a prowling cat, waiting to pounce at his first misstep.

“I don’t think that sort of love can develop in just a few months, and that’s all the time they’ve known each other.”

The speed of Jane and Charles’s courtship had bothered Elizabeth too, so she couldn’t really argue. “So you don’t believe in love at first sight.”

“I …” He paused, looking at her in apparent confusion, and then spoke softly. “No, I don’t. Not at first sight, or in a few days—I mean, weeks.”

“Me neither. But I do believe that Jane and Charles were in love.”

“Hasty marriages are risky in any case.”

“You have some definite ideas about love. I assume you’re speaking from experience?”

“No,” William answered, his voice somber.

“You’ve never been in love?”

“I thought I was once, when I was about fourteen.”

“And since then you haven’t found anyone worthy of your attention?”

“That’s not the issue,” William objected. “I … I haven’t found the right person yet.”

“Yes, well, that can be difficult sometimes.” Especially for arrogant know-it-alls. “I’m surprised you speak with such authority on the subject, when you don’t have any experience.”

“But I’ve observed the relationships of others, sometimes from a close vantage point. A good observer can form a well-informed opinion without first-hand experience.”

“Do you mean in general, or in this specific case?”

“Both. I don’t need to break my leg to know that it would hurt. And I don’t need to drink poison to know that it’ll make me sick.” His eyes challenged her to respond.

“Those are extreme examples. You need to walk barefoot in the grass to know how it feels; someone else’s description isn’t that helpful. And when it comes to something as complex as love, if you’ve never experienced it, you can’t understand what it’s like.”

“So you consider yourself more of an authority. Have you ever been in love?”

Elizabeth glanced up and saw William’s dark eyes boring into hers. “Yes,” she said. Anxious to change the subject, she recalled his other primary complaint about Jane’s behavior and went on the attack. “And I suppose you still think Jane was after Charles’s money?”

“I didn’t say that. I said that it could appear that way since she didn’t sign the pre-nup.”

“And of course people who don’t have money are always interested in getting some, above all else.”

City Hall Park They reached the park, and by unspoken agreement began to circle it. William nodded. “Sadly, that’s often the case. And for that matter, people who have money are usually interested in getting more.”

A chorus of car horns erupted nearby as a car blocked an intersection. Elizabeth paused, waiting for the noise to stop. Then she remarked, “That’s a cynical view.”

“I suppose so.” He sighed. “But I’ve met too many people who see a wealthy man as a walking bank account, nothing more. You haven’t experienced it because—”

She stopped walking and whirled to face him. “I know, I know. I couldn’t possibly understand your life because I’m not rich. But I know plenty about being sought after for superficial reasons and not because of who I am inside. You don’t have to be rich to experience that.” Her voice quavered as she fought to maintain her composure.

He touched her arm in a soft caress. “Elizabeth, I’m sorry,” he said gently.

City Hall Park The tenderness in his expression brought stinging tears to her eyes. The last thing she wanted to do was to cry in front of him. She began to walk again, still circling the perimeter of the park, and summoned righteous indignation to distract herself.

“Evidently from what you said Saturday, you believe that rich families are the only ones in which people have responsibilities to one another.”

“No, of course I don’t—”

“You said that the rest of us don’t understand those sorts of obligations.”

William lifted his chin. “You seem to enjoy putting the worst possible spin on every word I say.”

“It’s not exactly hard. You do it pretty well all by yourself. For example, I understand that you told a table full of party guests last Friday what an utter failure I was on Broadway.”

He stopped walking abruptly and turned to her, a stricken look on his face. “Elizabeth, I never intended—”

“Aren’t you afraid that being with a failure like me will ruin your reputation?’

“I never said that you were a failure. I—”

“Oh. So I’m putting the worst possible spin on that, too?”

“Yes, you are. I said … as I recall, I said that you hadn’t had the kind of success you probably hoped for. Isn’t that true?”

“How nice, another dose of your unflinching honesty.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Yes, William, it is true, as my mother is only too happy to remind me every time she sees me. But what on earth made you decide to announce it to her, and to everyone else at the table?”

“I was trying to tell your mother how much I respected your talent.”

“Obviously they don’t send you rich boys to charm school, because that’s the strangest compliment I’ve ever heard.”

He shook his head. “I know I didn’t express my thoughts well over the weekend. I … I tend to be uncomfortable around strangers.”

“I don’t understand. You must be around strangers all the time in your line of work.”

“It’s different when I’m performing. Then I’m with people who are knowledgeable about music, so it’s easy to find something to discuss.”

“And of course nobody at the rehearsal dinner would have wanted to discuss music with you.”

William’s mouth opened, but then it snapped shut and he simply stared at her.

“Well, it all makes sense now. You had only had two topics to choose from: music, or criticizing the state of my career.”

“What are you saying? Would you have preferred that I flatter your parents by congratulating them on your amazing success?” he asked, his voice tight. “As though I believed you weren’t capable of more? Wouldn’t that have been even more insulting?”

Elizabeth shook her head and remained silent. It astonished her that he didn’t comprehend how patronizing his comments at dinner had been. William fell silent as well, and they began walking again, both staring straight ahead.

He took a deep breath, and when he spoke again, the tension had left his voice. “I realize that what I said was misinterpreted, and I’m sorry for that. Let me take you to dinner and make it up to you. I promise I’ll be better company.”

She glanced at him. His beseeching half-smile was devastating, but beneath it she could read the arrogant assumption that his invitation would be accepted. “Take me to dinner?” she replied in a deliberately casual tone.

“Yes. I’m leaving for Boston later today, but I’ll be back Sunday night. How about Monday? Around 7:00? We can make a fresh start.”

Elizabeth laughed contemptuously. “We already did that, last Friday night, remember? And by Saturday morning you were insulting me again. So, no thank you, I’m not interested in having dinner with you on Monday, or ever, for that matter. I still have a sour stomach from my breakfast with you last Saturday.”

She stopped walking, glaring at him. He stopped as well, frowning, his mouth open.

“Why would you want to have dinner with me, anyway? I’m not on your social level, as you pointed out. I’m a failure on Broadway, nothing but an ‘under-employed chorus girl.’ I have a gold-digging sister who doesn’t live up to the William Darcy Doctrine on the right way to love. And I’m incapable of understanding your world. What I don’t understand is why you’d want to waste your time on someone so unworthy of you.” Elizabeth’s stomach was churning. For the second time in their conversation, she felt hot tears springing to her eyes.

He continued to stare in silence.

“What, no smug retort, William? No patronizing speech? Have I silenced the oracle?”

“I … I had no idea you were this upset.” He jammed his hands into his trouser pockets and stared at his shoes.

“Then you haven’t been paying attention. Maybe I’m different from the other people you know, but I don’t enjoy being patronized, and I don’t admire arrogance. Perhaps I’m the first person to tell you this, but you don’t have all the answers. Just because you’re an incredible musical artist doesn’t mean that you know the first thing about being a decent human being!”

She noted his wounded expression with surprise. She had expected to offend and anger him, but she had never imagined that she had the power to hurt him. “I have to go now,” she said abruptly.

“Elizabeth, wait—”

“Goodbye, William.”

She hurried away. A backward glance showed him standing where she had left him, watching her. She took a shaky breath and kept walking, the tears she had suppressed now rolling down her cheeks unchecked.

 

William sat in the first class lounge at Penn Station later that afternoon, waiting to board his train to Boston. He preferred to take the train on shorter trips up and down the Eastern seaboard as a break from air travel. Ordinarily he found train trips relaxing, but today he knew that nothing would calm him.

His initial hurt feelings at Elizabeth’s harsh words had evolved into anger. She put words in my mouth and wouldn’t let me defend myself. And then she presumed to criticize my behavior? He supposed that he should be grateful to her, in a way. He had been ambivalent about getting involved with her; at least she had saved him the trouble of making up his mind.

The more he thought about their most recent argument, the more indignant he became. He had humbled himself and had apologized, and she had laughed at him! A man they called “Classical Music’s Sex Symbol” didn’t need to tolerate that kind of treatment. Richard was always telling him he could have any woman he wanted. Maybe it was time to find out.

It occurred to him, not for the first time, that his attraction to Elizabeth might simply be a consequence of his recent months of celibacy. His dreams about her were probably a sign of how badly his body craved sex, not anything to do with Elizabeth herself. Certainly she was attractive, but he met women just as beautiful and desirable every day. I’ll probably meet plenty of beautiful women this weekend, any of whom would be thrilled to have a late supper, and breakfast the next morning, with William Darcy. If Elizabeth doesn’t want me, it’s her loss.

He heard the boarding announcement for his train and stood up, nodding savagely to himself. I’ll get Elizabeth Bennet out of my system this weekend. It’s time to get on with my life.

 

When William arrived home from Boston late Sunday afternoon, he made only a perfunctory response to Mrs. Reynolds’s warm greeting. He surprised her further by asking that his dinner be brought to his sitting room.

“But you’ll go and say hello to Mrs. Darcy and Georgiana first, won’t you?” Mrs. Reynolds suggested. “They were expecting you to join them for dinner. They’re out in the garden.”

He shook his head emphatically. “I’ll see them later. I—I’m tired and I need some rest. Please apologize to Gran and Georgie for me.”

She watched him climb the stairs at an uncharacteristically slow pace. His shoulders were slumped, and she had seen the lines of strain and worry on his face. She shook her head, wondering what was wrong.

Above all, it was unlike William to closet himself away from his grandmother and Georgiana. Mrs. Reynolds could remember countless evenings when William, obviously exhausted from his travels, had listened patiently to Mrs. Darcy’s account of her recent activities while simultaneously helping Georgie with her homework.

Marcia Reynolds went in search of her husband, Allen, the family’s driver. Perhaps he had picked up some clues during the drive home from Penn Station. She was determined to find out what was wrong with William, and to help him in any way she could.

 

William dropped wearily into the leather armchair in his sitting room, relieved to be alone at last. He was completely exhausted in mind and body, yet he couldn’t stop his mind from repeating, parrot-like, the question that had tormented him all the way home from Boston on the train. What am I going to do?

His plan to emancipate himself from the spell cast over him by Elizabeth Bennet had been a miserable and mortifying failure. Instead, three days later, he knew with frightening certainty that his recent feelings were not simply a sign that he needed a woman—at least, not just any woman. Rather, the responses Elizabeth ignited in his body—and, he realized now, his heart—were for her, and her alone.

The weekend had begun well enough. His recital on Friday night had been well attended and enthusiastically received. At the reception afterwards, he had seen Paula Martinson, a woman he had dated a few years ago. Like most of his relationships with women, it had been based on friendship, companionship, and convenience, not romance. Eventually, Paula had begun a serious relationship with an investment banker and had moved to Boston to be with him.

William had heard from mutual friends that Paula was engaged, but when he congratulated her, she explained that the engagement had just ended. She invited him back to her apartment and, with the frankness he had always appreciated, explained that she needed a night in the arms of a sympathetic friend. William, who decided he needed the same thing, willingly accompanied her to her apartment.

Once they were alone, though, he found that he couldn’t go through with it. He stood in her living room, exchanging awkward glances with her and mostly staring into the distance. Paula finally took the initiative, drawing him into her arms and kissing him. He felt nothing at first, not even the slightest spark of desire. Then his imagination conjured up a vision of Elizabeth, her soft lips pressed against his, her body warm and yielding in his arms, and he became instantly and powerfully aroused.

When Paula untied William’s bow tie and began to unbutton his vest, he was forced to make a decision. He could allow his imagination free rein, entering a fantasy world in which he was making love to Elizabeth. But it would be unfair to Paula to use her in that way. Gently but firmly, he extricated himself from her embrace, led her to the sofa, and explained that the problem was with him, not with her.

To his great relief, she simply took his hand, saying, “Don’t worry about it. I could tell something was wrong from the moment we got here. Just answer one question for me.”

“Yes?”

“Forgive the indelicate remark, but I couldn’t help noticing that the flesh is willing, so I assume it must be the spirit that’s weak?”

William felt himself flush with embarrassment.

Paula continued. “And even though it’s been a few years, we’ve done this before. Several times, in fact. So I doubt you’re worried that I might not respect you in the morning.”

A ghost of a smile touched William’s lips. “No, that’s not the problem.”

“You’re in love, aren’t you?”

William shook his head emphatically. “Of course not.”

“I think you are, and you’re thinking about her. But I know you’d rather die than admit something that private.” Paula squeezed his hand. “And if the gossip mill is right and you’re unattached right now, I’m guessing you haven’t told her how you feel.”

He couldn’t meet her frank gaze, so he inspected his patent leather shoes in silence.

“I hope it works out for you, Will. You deserve someone special. Now, would you like some more wine? We can just sit and talk for a while.”

He shook his head. “Thank you, but I think I’d better go.”

“Okay,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll call you a cab.”

He noticed, for the first time, the sadness in her smile. “Are you okay? If you need someone to talk to, I’ll stay.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Sexually frustrated, but fine.”

Back at the hotel, he had lain awake for the rest of the night, searching for answers. He was heartily ashamed of himself for even considering using Paula as a surrogate for Elizabeth. It would have been empty and meaningless. But I suppose that describes my relationships with women: convenient, but they haven’t meant anything.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, had invaded his thoughts and dreams until he had no peace. Never had he wanted so desperately for a woman to like him, to find him attractive. And never had any woman despised him so completely. It was a cruel irony that the one woman he longed to impress was also the one who found nothing impressive about him.

He thought of her dismissive farewell in the park. She could scarcely have made it clearer that she never wanted to see him again. His winced as he thought of her harshest reproof: “You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being.” 2

William heard a knock at his sitting room door. It was Mrs. Reynolds, delivering his dinner.

“Here you go, William. I made all your favorites. Shall I set it up at the table here?”

“No, leave everything covered for now. I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat. You’ve been driving yourself too hard.”

“I’ll eat. But I want to rest for a while first.”

Mrs. Reynolds set the tray on the table and approached his chair. “Are you feeling all right?” He saw her hand twitch, as though she was tempted to feel his forehead for a fever, something she had done frequently when he was a boy.

“I’m fine. Just tired. It was a long weekend.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help, all you have to do is ask. But you know that.”

I wish I could introduce her to Elizabeth. Mrs. Reynolds would give me a great character reference. “Thank you, but all I need is some rest.”

“All right, then. I’ll take this back to the kitchen and keep it warm. When you’re ready to eat, call me and I’ll bring it right up. I’ll be expecting to hear from you before long.”

He smiled in spite of himself. This was her way of letting him know that she would make sure he ate his dinner. “Thanks, Mrs. Reynolds. You take good care of me.”

“I try,” she remarked over her shoulder as she left the room.

 

In his dreams, William was on the beach near Pemberley again. He sat alone as evening approached, toes buried in the sand, arms wrapped around his knees. He was waiting for someone, but the beach was deserted. He stared at the waves crashing against the rocks, leaving foamy surf behind, and wondered how long he would have to wait.

After a few minutes, movement in the distance caught his eye. It was a woman, strolling along the edge of the water, the waves splashing at her ankles. Her dark curls cascaded down her back, wafting gently in the breeze. As she came closer, he recognized her as Elizabeth. Her skin glowed in the fading sunlight, and her bikini displayed a stunning body. Best of all, though, her green eyes shone with vitality, a life force that he longed to absorb into himself.

As he watched, her eyes softened and her lips curved into a tender smile. But then he noticed a man approaching from the opposite direction on the beach, and he realized that her eyes were fixed on the approaching stranger.

The pair met, and the man wrapped Elizabeth in his arms, kissing her passionately, his hands roving over her body. White-hot jealousy arced through William as she pressed herself against the man, her hands stroking his back and shoulders.

“Elizabeth?” he called out frantically.

She turned and stared at him. “William? What are you doing here?”

“I was waiting for you. I thought you were coming to meet me.”

“Why would I want to be with you? You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being.”

Beach at dusk “But I need you. I’m alone.”

“Yes, and you always will be alone. You deserve to be alone. Goodbye, William.”

Elizabeth and the man walked down the beach together whispering and laughing, his arm wrapped around her waist. Soon they were gone, and William sat on the beach, a solitary figure, as the sun set and darkness descended.

 

By Thursday morning it was obvious to everyone in the Darcy household that something was wrong with William. He was by nature a private man, and his loved ones were accustomed to his unexplained moods. Since returning from Boston, though, he had been unusually glum and uncommunicative.

Each of the female residents of the house tried, in her own way, to raise his spirits. Mrs. Reynolds toiled in the kitchen, lovingly preparing all of his favorite foods, but although he thanked her gravely for her kindness, he ate little. His grandmother tried to draw him out by asking a variety of questions about his recent travels, but his answers were as brief and subdued as politeness would allow. Georgiana told him funny stories from school. She also played the piano for him, something that never failed to excite his pride in her accomplishments. But although he praised her afterwards, his remarks were vague and his manner distracted.

Sonya made light of the others’ worries, remarking, “Let’s just be glad he’s going to LA for the weekend. We won’t have to deal with him, and maybe he’ll come back in a better mood.” In truth, she was concerned about him too, but for the present she chose to watch and wait.

Richard, for his part, did what he could to get William out of the house. On Wednesday, he tried without success to entice William to join him for an evening of club-hopping. The following morning as they ran together in Central Park, Richard regaled him with tales of the previous night’s debauchery.

“I’m telling you, Will, you missed a great night.”

“You know I’m not comfortable making small talk in bars. And I’m not interested in picking up a woman for a one-night stand.”

“I know, I know. But I’ve never understood why.”

“You know that I need to be careful about these things. I’m a public figure, and I don’t need lurid stories floating around about my exploits.”

Richard shrugged. “All I know is, you’re missing out on a lot of fun. It kills me the way you’re squandering the William Darcy Magnetic Field. You could have a different woman in your bed every night, but instead you sit at home alone and brood.”

Richard was surprised to see pain slash across William’s features. “Okay, Will, enough beating around the bush. What happened in Boston?”

“Nothing,” William replied. He increased the length of his strides, pulling ahead of Richard.

“All right, then, before that,” Richard had to raise his voice to be heard as he struggled to catch up with William, whose longer legs gave him an advantage. “You’ve been on edge ever since you got back from San Francisco. What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay, old man, have it your way. I know better than to try to get you to talk when you don’t want to. I hope your trip to LA cheers you up. Are you going to see Chuckles?” This was Richard’s nickname for Charles Bingley.

“No, he’s going to be in Chicago on business.”

“Too bad. All the same, get some sun and fresh air. Maybe you should go to the beach and check out some girls in bikinis.”

Richard saw William flinch at the mention of the beach. He didn’t understand, but he decided that silence was the best choice for the rest of their run.

 

William’s arrival home from Los Angeles the following Monday was reminiscent of his return from Boston the week before. He proceeded directly to the third floor and shut himself in his sitting room without speaking to anyone.

The weekend in Los Angeles had been sheer misery. He was accustomed to being alone in his travels and ordinarily didn’t mind the solitude, but on this trip he had felt painfully lonely. Partway through the weekend, his imagination had conjured up a companion: Elizabeth. She was not the angry, disdainful Elizabeth of his reality, but rather the warm, loving woman of his earliest fantasies. She walked beside him down hotel corridors, talking and laughing, her hand entwined with his. She sat in the audience at his concerts applauding his performances, pride shining in her eyes. And she lay in his arms each night, caressing him and whispering endearments after they made passionate love.

He knew that he had placed her on a pedestal, gifting her with impossible perfection and superhuman desirability. But without the fantasy, loneliness became a crushing weight on his shoulders.

The worst part of his torment was that it was his own fault. He understood that now. He had driven her away. Just as she had told him so contemptuously in his dream, he deserved to be alone. “You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being.” Those words echoed in his head, an accusatory refrain that gave him no peace.

He paced back and forth in his sitting room, running his hands through his hair. It had been just under three weeks since he had met Elizabeth, and he had spent most of that time riding an emotional roller coaster. Worse than that. A whole emotional theme park, and apparently I’ve been trying to get on as many rides as possible.

Without conscious direction, his feet propelled him toward his piano. Almost before he knew what was happening, his fingers struck the keys, playing the powerful opening octaves of one of Rachmaninoff’s darkest preludes.1

After the final chord faded away, he slid the bench back from the piano. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and buried his head in his hands.

 

(click here to see a larger image of
the Darcy family townhouse)

Darcy townhouse The following morning, William exited Central Park onto Fifth Avenue and headed uptown, exhausted from his run. He had run much farther than usual today in a vain attempt to exorcise his demons. He walked up Fifth Avenue, oblivious to his surroundings, and was almost surprised when he found himself, still gasping from the exertion of his run, standing across the street from his family’s townhouse on East Sixty-Seventh Street. The familiar wrought iron railing swam before his eyes as a dizzy spell threatened to overtake him, so he moved toward the house with grim purpose. He couldn’t risk falling into a heap out here on the pavement.

As he climbed the stairs, Sonya emerged from her second-floor office. “The paperwork related to the latest group of grant awardees is still on your desk. When can we get together to handle it?”

William’s dizziness was growing worse, but he refused to let Sonya know. He grasped the handrail to avoid losing his balance and summoned all his strength to keep himself upright. “I need to take a shower, and then I have some other things to do. I’ll see to it after lunch.” This, he thought, would give him time to rest for a while and recover his equilibrium.

Staircase at Darcy townhouse “There won’t be enough time after lunch. We have the 1:30 meeting at Lincoln Center about next week’s recital, and I have another meeting afterwards to nail down some details about the reception. Why don’t you take your shower and then come right back down here, and we’ll handle it before lunch.”

He struggled to clear his head, afraid that he might lose consciousness and fall down the stairs. “Sonya, I said I’d see to it after lunch,” he insisted in an obstinate tone, his breathing labored. “Excuse me.” He began to climb the stairs to the third floor, his steps tentative.

“I asked you to sign these papers before you left for LA last Thursday, and you put me off then too. They need to go in today’s mail. What’s the matter with you lately?”

“Nothing is the matter with me!” he bellowed, his powerful voice echoing through the house. “I wish you would all stop asking me that question! I said I’d sign the papers after lunch, and I will!” Gripping the handrail tightly, he finished his climb to the third floor and tottered down the hall to his bedroom. He slammed the door behind him and collapsed onto the bed, trying to catch his breath and stop his head from spinning.

Mrs. Reynolds emerged from the breakfast room on the other side of the second-floor landing, a polishing cloth in her hand. She exchanged a shocked look with Sonya and then shook her head.

 

William’s dizziness had finally abated, and he stood alone in his two-person shower, lathering his body and staring out through the glass at his two-person whirlpool tub. It was empty, as always, and even in his imagination he could conjure up nothing but a succession of days, months, and years in which the tub would sit empty, in pristine condition.

He showered, shaved, and dressed quickly, and then studied his haggard face in the mirror. This has gone on for long enough.

He was thoroughly ashamed of himself for shouting at Sonya, who had only been trying to get him to pay attention to an important business matter. He was angry at only one person—himself—and had taken it out on her.

He descended the staircase to the second floor and popped his head into Sonya’s office, which adjoined his larger one. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

She nodded. “Apology accepted. Just don’t do it again.”

“I won’t. At least, not today.”

She grinned and nodded. “Why don’t we have Mrs. Reynolds bring us lunch in your office. We can go over the papers while we eat.”

William had planned to have lunch alone upstairs, but time alone only encouraged him to brood and wallow in self-pity. This was as good a time as any to make a fresh start. “All right, that sounds good.”

Sonya called Mrs. Reynolds to order lunch while William went into his office. He looked around the room. Richard was right. It’s like a cave in here. He opened the drapes to admit some light and turned on several lamps. He switched on the chandelier as well, smiling as he remembered Richard’s complaints about its weak light. His efforts were succeeding: he could feel his mood brightening along with the room.

He retrieved the stack of papers Sonya had left on his desk, sat at the conference table, and began to review them. Sonya joined him, and they made it through the papers just as Mrs. Reynolds arrived, accompanied by Serena, the part-time maid who assisted her, both bearing trays heavily laden with food.

“Good grief, Marcia, you’re just feeding two of us, not the entire city!” Sonya exclaimed. “But everything looks delicious.”

Mrs. Reynolds glanced at William. “I wanted to make sure the two of you got enough to eat,” she explained. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything else.” As she turned to go, he saw her look at Sonya, raising her eyebrows.

After Mrs. Reynolds had departed, William turned to Sonya. “Okay, what’s going on?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, feigning innocence. “Doesn’t the food look good?”

“‘Dumb’ doesn’t play on you, Sonya. You and Mrs. Reynolds are up to something. I assume she heard me yelling earlier?”

She nodded reluctantly. “She’s worried about you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Are you, William? I don’t think so.”

“And you base that conclusion on what evidence?”

“The way you’ve been acting lately. I mean, you’ve always been difficult. You have your share of artistic temperament and then some. What do you call a male diva? A divo, maybe?”

“Do you have a point, or are you just needling me on general principles?”

“What I mean is, when you don’t get your way about something that matters to you, you can be demanding and rather cold.”

“Why, thank you.”

She continued as though she hadn’t heard his interruption. “But in all the time I’ve known you, you’ve never lost your temper the way you did earlier. Not even over that nasty business with George Wickham.”

“I said I was sorry for yelling at you.” It seemed like he’d done nothing but apologize to women for the last three weeks.

“I’m not looking for another apology. I’m not angry. I’m concerned because you haven’t been yourself lately. You’ve been unusually moody. Granted, you’ve always been emotional, just like your mother, though you try to to suppress it like your father did. But lately—”

“Sonya—”

“Just let me finish. I can tell that something bad has happened, and you’re having trouble dealing with it. It’s eating you alive, and you need to talk to someone.”

William was tempted to do just that. He rarely confided in anyone. He did his best to present himself as strong, self-sufficient, and dependable, even to his loved ones. He was able to let down his guard to some extent with Richard, but even then he felt the need to keep his deepest emotions hidden, fearing that his cousin would laugh at him.

He shook his head. “I’ve had something on my mind, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You know you can trust me, don’t you? Nothing you say will ever leave this room.”

“I know.”

“And I know that you almost never share your feelings with anyone, but you’ve confided in me before when you needed someone to talk to.”

That was true, though it had been many years ago. Sonya had supported 15-year-old William through his grief when his mother had died in a car accident. He had found himself able to open up to her while hiding his pain from the rest of the world. Three years later, she had again helped him deal with the death of a parent when his father had died of a heart attack.

“Thank you, but I don’t think—”

“Is it a woman?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Just a feeling.”

Sonya’s “feelings” were eerily accurate as usual. William didn’t want to lie, but he also couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth. Instead, he turned his attention to the food, dipping a spoon into a steaming bowl of Mrs. Reynolds’s soup. “This is delicious. You should try some.”

“Don’t change the subject. Okay, you didn’t deny that it’s a woman. So I’m right about that.”

“And have a sandwich. The bread is still warm; it must be fresh from of the oven.”

“And considering how unhappy you’ve been, I assume that this woman didn’t take one look at you, leap into your arms, and cry, ‘Take me, I’m yours!’”

He set down his turkey sandwich, painful emotion flaring in his heart and his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she continued in a gentler tone. “But I’m going to drag it out of you eventually, so why don’t you just tell me what’s going on.”

A long silence ensued while William stared at his parents’ portrait. I truly am their son. I have my mother’s emotions and my father’s coldness. I have my mother’s sensitivity, overwhelmed by my father’s arrogance. Elizabeth was right about me.

He swallowed hard. “Yes. It’s a woman.”

“When did you meet her? In Boston?”

“In San Francisco.”

“Is it Charlotte Lucas, that woman I tracked down at Berkeley?”

“No. Charlotte’s friend.”

“What’s her name?”

“Elizabeth.” It felt good to say it aloud at last.

“How did you meet?”

“She was the maid of honor at Charles’s wedding, the bride’s sister.”

“And she doesn’t share your feelings?”

“No. She doesn’t think much of me.”

“Why not?”

He exhaled loudly. “Because I’m arrogant, patronizing, and rude. Not that any of this comes as a surprise to you.”

Sonya’s lips twitched. “No, it doesn’t. But you’re a lot of other things too.”

“Conceited, egotistical, and insensitive?”

“Wow. She landed on you hard.”

William leaned back in his chair, his head tilted back as he stared up at the ceiling. He was mortified to be making these admissions, and even more mortified to feel tears threatening to fill his eyes. He glanced at his parents’ portrait again and heard his father’s disapproving voice in his head: “Only weaklings cry.” He had been no more than four years old the first time he had heard that admonition, but he had quickly learned that crying was unacceptable. He hadn’t cried since his mother’s death fifteen years ago, and even then he had done so only in private.

He took a deep breath and sat forward again, his eyes reluctantly meeting Sonya’s sympathetic gaze. “We’d better eat. We have to leave for Lincoln Center soon.”

“Fine. We can eat while we finish this conversation.”

“What about the grant paperwork?”

“That was just an excuse to get a chance to talk to you.”

“I should have known.”

“But I’m too clever for you, as always. So, go on. Tell me more.”

“What’s the point? Elizabeth doesn’t want anything to do with me. End of story.” He dropped his half-eaten sandwich onto the plate, his appetite gone.

“William Darcy, that doesn’t sound like you. You worked hard to build a successful musical career. And you did that despite losing your biggest supporter when you were still young, and despite your father’s attempts to stop you. It’s not like you to give up in the face of an obstacle.”

“But what can I do? She doesn’t want to see me, and I don’t want to harass her.”

“Your problem is that you’re used to women throwing themselves at you. So you can’t comprehend the idea of having to—well, it’s an old-fashioned word, but you’ve never had to court a woman. I bet that’s why you made a bad impression on her.”

He sighed. “I did take a lot for granted.”

“And I can guess the rest. You were mostly among strangers in San Francisco. I can just see you standing in a corner somewhere feeling awkward and pasting that cold look on your face, the one that makes everyone think you consider yourself too exalted to speak to them.”

He grimaced. “I might have done a bit of that.”

“And then, when you had to talk to them, overcompensating by showing off your expertise on a variety of subjects.”

William shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “You know me entirely too well.”

“You’re spoiled. You’ve been raised in an atmosphere of almost unlimited wealth, and you’ve been doted on by a house full of women for most of your life. Nobody ever talks back to you—besides Richard and me, that is—and you’ve developed a bit of a swelled head. Actually, make that more than a bit.”

“If this is supposed to be making me feel better, it isn’t.”

“I’m not saying that you’re a bad person. I’m fond of you. I don’t say so very often, but I hope you know it. And I know how kind and generous you can be. Brad would never have been able to go to Princeton without your support. And without Princeton, he’d never be heading for Harvard Law in the fall.”

William couldn’t help but smile at the reminder of Sonya’s brilliant son. “He deserved the help.”

“You have such a warm, generous heart. You’re affectionate and loyal to the people you love. But outside of that small circle, you think of yourself first, and everyone else second, and you’re too quick to look down your nose at strangers. As long as you want to marry one of the army of fawning women who’d be only too happy to make your every wish their command, that’s fine.”

William shuddered. “No, thank you.”

“Exactly. I think you realize that you need a woman who will be your equal partner, who will challenge you. And in that case, you’re going to have to learn to think of her first.”

“It’s too late with Elizabeth.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Either way, give what I’ve said some thought. At least the next time you meet someone like her, maybe you’ll make a better impression.”

She was probably right. It was over with Elizabeth, but perhaps, as Sonya had said, the next time he was attracted to a woman he wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Yes, but what if Elizabeth was ‘the one,’ and I’ve lost my chance at happiness?

His appetite vanished. He left Sonya finishing her lunch and excused himself to go upstairs to get his jacket before leaving for Lincoln Center. Upstairs to my luxurious master suite, built for two, inhabited by one. One lonely man.

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1 “Prelude in C# minor, Opus 3, No.2,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Performed by Van Cliburn. From My Favorite Rachmaninoff, © 2000, BMG Entertainment. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

2 I know this isn’t exactly what she said. He’s remembering it worse than it actually was, and has forgotten that she also said something nice about him.