“This looks excellent, Elizabeth. You’ve done very good work.”

Elizabeth sighed in relief and smiled at Dr. Laura Church, director of the Music Education graduate program at NYU, and her advisor. They were meeting to review the latest draft of Elizabeth’s master’s thesis in preparation for her oral defense the following Monday.

“I can’t believe I’m almost finished with my degree!”

“How is the job search going?” Laura asked

“Well, I already told you about the interview at Pacific Conservatory. I have another one on Friday at Hunter College. And I’ve had a few calls in response to my letters to the arts high schools.”

“Let me know if you need me to call anyone on your behalf.”

“Thanks. I will.”

“So, we’re done for today, aren’t we? I think you’re all set for Monday.”

“I will be by then—I still have five days to polish my presentation.”

Laura laughed. “You work too hard, Elizabeth. It’s already very well polished. You ought to take a break and have some fun. In fact, do you have plans for Saturday night?”

“I was going to spend all of my free time this weekend on the presentation.”

“Well, I have another suggestion. My husband and I have tickets to a benefit recital this Saturday evening, and he just found out he has to go out of town. So I have an extra ticket to the recital. Would you like to use it? It would do you good to relax a little bit.”

“You said it’s a benefit. What’s the cause?”

“The scholarship fund for Juilliard’s Pre-College Division. It’s being sponsored by the Darcy Arts Trust.”

“As in William Darcy?”

“That’s right. They do wonderful work supporting music education programs, and they sponsor a recital for Juilliard every year. I never miss it—it’s a good cause, and besides, I never pass up a chance to see William Darcy perform. I’m a big fan. Have you ever seen him perform live?”

“Um … yes, I have.” Elizabeth decided not to explain further. It might raise questions that she preferred not to answer.

“Then you already know what an incredible performer he is. Easy on the eyes, too.” Laura smiled mischievously.

“Yes, he is.” Elizabeth remembered William walking beside her on the beach at Crissy Field, deliciously disheveled from his run. She licked her lips involuntarily.

“So, how can you refuse? Think of it as a graduation present.”

Elizabeth considered the situation. She would have no reason to talk to William. He would never even know she was there. Besides, who are you kidding? There’s no way you can resist seeing him perform.“I’d love to go. Thank you for the invitation.”

“Great! It’s at Alice Tully Hall at 7:30. Let’s meet there—I’ll bring your ticket. Oh, and it’s black tie, so be sure to dress up.”

Elizabeth caught the subway at Washington Square and returned to her apartment. Given her uncertain plans for the future, she had taken a job in a restaurant instead of teaching summer school. She had an hour before she had to leave for work, so she collapsed on the threadbare sofa in the living room for a quick rest, feeling the cumulative effect of several late nights working on her thesis.

So I’m going to see William Darcy again. From a distance, anyway. It had been almost two weeks since their argument at City Hall Park, and he had been on her mind frequently since then. Her anger had long since abated, and now she could see that his visit had been a sincere, albeit clumsy, attempt to make peace with her. She, by contrast, had pounced on his slightest misstep, choosing to view everything he said in as offensive a light as possible. And why? So I could feel justified in ripping him to shreds, that’s why.

The wounded expression on William’s face as she said goodbye had haunted her over the past two weeks. You wanted the last word, and you got it. You wanted to get even, and you did. You wanted to hurt him, and, well, mission accomplished. She had expected anger and disdain from him, but she had never anticipated that her remarks would cause him pain.

Until her emotions had gotten the better of her, crossing verbal swords with William Darcy had been exhilarating. She had relished the energy crackling between them as she had intentionally provoked him. But after a remark of his had reminded her of painful incidents in the past, she had gone on relentless attack. He had deserved criticism for his behavior, but not to be torn limb from limb.

She had considered sending him a note of apology, but decided that it would be best to simply avoid all contact with him. Since Jane and Charles were no longer together, there was no reason for her to see William ever again. Before the weekend in San Francisco, she had simply been one of his many fans, and at the recital on Saturday, she would be just one of a thousand anonymous faces in the shadows of the darkened concert hall. It was for the best.

 

The following day, Elizabeth sat hunched over a borrowed laptoin a study carrel in Bobst Library on the NYU campus. She couldn’t seem to concentrate; every noise, no matter how slight, drew her attention away from her thesis presentation. What shall I do? Go outside for a walk? Just wander around the stacks for a while? Or …

Succumbing to a temptation that had been tickling her consciousness all morning, she brought up the Google web site and searched on “William Darcy.” Scanning the first page of search results, she saw that some were old genealogical records, many referring to a Sir William Darcy of the 15th century. I wonder if he wore black armor, like in my dream? Another William Darcy, she discovered, worked for the Department of Defense. Scattered among these results were others of more interest. She repeated her search, this time specifying “William Darcy pianist.”

Elizabeth clicked on one of the top results and found herself at www.darcymania.com, a fan site devoted to William. The photo on the home page showed him in the departure area at JFK Airport, smiling weakly while standing beside a middle-aged woman with a huge smile on her face. Elizabeth giggled; she had watched the photograph being taken. She followed a link below the photo and found a breathless story written by Linda Hopewell, the site’s owner, about her encounter with her idol.

Another link led to an illustrated biography, and she spent some time reading about William’s career and studying a series of photographs. Her expression softened as she inspected a photo of him at age eight, dressed in formal wear and standing beside a grand piano, his huge dark eyes staring gravely at the camera.

Next came his teenage years. He had told her about entering the college program at Juilliard at 15, but he hadn’t mentioned that his mother had died in a car accident just a few weeks before the start of the school year. In addition, according to the biography, “William won the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competition on June 11, 1989. At the age of 18, he was the youngest pianist ever to win the gold medal. Sadly, his father died of a heart attack on the same day.” Elizabeth inspected the photo of William accepting his award. What a tragedy. A huge triumph, marred by the loss of his father.

The biography continued, chronicling his rapid ascent to international fame. He gradually grew older in the photographs until finally the William she knew looked back at her. Near the end of the biography, it mentioned that he was the executive director of the Darcy Arts Trust. She followed a link to the organization’s home page, curious to learn more about the causes it supported.

Elizabeth soon saw that Laura Church had been correct: the Darcy foundation did a great deal to support music education programs. The list of recent grants included an impressive array of awardees, from inner-city music outreach programs to college and university scholarship funds.

The site also included a page advertising Saturday’s upcoming recital, “to benefit the scholarship program of the Juilliard Pre-College Division, which helps young musicians to develop their talent and realize their dreams.” The scholarships were earmarked for students from lower-income families in the New York metropolitan area.

The picture emerging of William was one that surprised Elizabeth. She had chosen to become a music teacher because she believed fervently in the power of music to change lives; William was giving generously of his time and his family fortune for the same purpose.

She returned to the home page of the DarcyMania web site. The photo of William at the airport tugged at her heart. There’s a lot more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there? But I’m still not sure—who are you, really?

 

Columbus Avenue in front of Lincoln CenterOn Saturday evening at 7:25 pm, Elizabeth emerged from the subway at Lincoln Center. She was running late, but at least the recital hadn’t started yet. She hurried toward Alice Tully Hall as fast as her high-heeled sandals permitted, and found Laura Church waiting outside.

Subway stop at Lincoln Center “Laura, hi! I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to cut it so close. I was late getting off work, and then my hair simply refused to cooperate.”

“No problem. I haven’t been here that long myself. But we’d better go find our seats.”

As the two women entered the concert hall, Laura said, “I love your dress, by the way.”

Alice Tully Hall“Thank you.” Elizabeth was pleased with the outfit she had been able to assemble despite her limited budget. She was wearing a long, straight-cut black gown with spaghetti straps and a loose, draped neckline. It was a bridesmaid’s dress from a college friend’s “black and white” wedding four years ago. To cover the bodice, which Elizabeth had always thought was too low-cut, she had found a vintage black chiffon jacket with beaded trim at a resale shop. Her black evening bag had come from the same shop. Its lining was worn from years of use, but it was beautiful and she had been unable to resist splurging on it.

They settled themselves in their seats in the tenth row, slightly to the left of center. The hall was nearly full. “What great seats!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

Laura nodded. “It’s worth some extra money to get closer to the stage so you can really see him play. Also, the more expensive tickets include admission to the reception afterwards.”

“There’s a reception?”

“Oh, didn’t I mention it? That’s the best part. Usually—” The house lights dimmed, and Laura whispered, “I’ll tell you all about it at intermission.”

There’s a reception? Before Elizabeth could fully react to that news, William strode onstage, his appearance greeted by thunderous applause. He bowed briskly, and as his gaze swept the crowd it seemed that he looked directly into her eyes for a moment. She felt an electric shock that reminded her of the first time their eyes had met, just a few weeks ago at the airport.

He looked powerful and confident, the respected artist in his element, and Elizabeth was humbled. How could I have ever imagined that this man would have any interest in me? Or that I would have any sort of power over his feelings?

William seated himself at the piano and paused for a moment, staring at the keyboard, as a hush descended over the concert hall. Then his fingers attacked the keys. Elizabeth inhaled sharply as the opening octave of Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu1 gave way to the restless energy of the first theme of the piece. His skillful fingers brought out the brilliant, ringing tones of the piano as the melody swirled through the concert hall. As always, his artistry wove a spell around her heart, one she was helpless to resist.

The piece ended, and he rose to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause. When he resumed his seat at the piano, he sat still for a moment, concentrating on the keyboard. He began to play a slow, mournful Rachmaninoff prelude2. Elizabeth was struck by the tone of hopeless despair in the music. Tears blurred her vision as she remembered his bewildered expression that day in City Hall Park. Stop it, Lizzy. This isn’t about you.

The recital continued with a variety of selections that demonstrated William’s wide range as a performer, though his affinity for Romantic-era composers was clear. Then Elizabeth heard the opening notes of the Chopin Ballade3 that he had played at the rehearsal dinner. How appropriate. The last time I heard this piece, I was regretting the way I had treated him. And here I am again.

She pushed away her guilt and immersed herself in the music, emerging from her fog only when he departed the stage for intermission and the house lights came up. She blinked several times and looked around her, feeling oddly disoriented. During the performance she had been unaware of the rest of the crowd, as if she and William were alone in the dark as he played just for her. She shook her head. Oh, right, Lizzy. As if.

“He gets more amazing every year,” Laura said.

Elizabeth nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

“I’m going to run to the ladies’ room before the line gets too long.” Laura rose to her feet.

Alice Tully Hall “Okay. I think I’ll just wander around a little bit. See you in a few minutes.”

Elizabeth decided that she needed some fresh air. She exited the auditorium and, once outside, rode the escalator to the nearly deserted upper-level plaza. She stared absently at the modern rock sculpture set into the reflecting pool while she attempted to sort out the thoughts competing for her attention. She turned around and studied the large building behind her, the ground floor of which housed Alice Tully Hall. “The Juilliard School” was emblazoned on the building in large letters. She thought of William as a small boy, passing through those doors, walking down the hallways, perhaps dreaming of future glory.

Reflecting pond, Lincoln Center There was no question that she was completely enthralled by William Darcy, the pianist. But what about William Darcy, the man? He’s kind of stuffy, he’s arrogant, and he can be insensitive to the feelings of others. But who wouldn’t be that way, given the way he must have grown up, like a young prince? And I think he’s a good man—generous, loyal to his friends, and honest … to a fault, unfortunately.

Lincoln Center Plaza But what difference does it make? I put an end to any interest he might have had in me that day in City Hall Park.

Elizabeth checked her watch and saw that intermission was nearly over. She hurried across the pavement and down the escalator, following the last of the concertgoers into Alice Tully Hall and slipping into her seat just as the house lights dimmed. She smiled in apology to Laura as they applauded William’s return to the stage.

He opened the second half with Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata4, a special favorite of Elizabeth’s. She had listened to his recording of the Pathetique dozens of times, but his live performance was even more lyrically beautiful, and more emotional, than the recording. As the recital continued, she was struck by how many of his choices were restless, passionate pieces in minor keys, as though he were pouring out some private pain through his music.

The final selection of the recital departed from the overall dark tone of the music. Chopin’s Grande Valse Brilliante5 evoked a grand celebration, and he played the piece with a delicate, playful touch. It reminded her of William on the beach at Crissy Field, laughing at the image of Caroline as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, mischief and delight in his eyes.

As the triumphant final chord of the waltz echoed through the hall, he rose from the piano and bowed, and the audience came to its feet. Elizabeth stood with the rest, applauding fiercely, stopping only to brush tears from her cheeks. Shouts of “Bravo!” punctuated the tumultuous applause. Her eyes followed him as he walked off stage with his characteristic loose-limbed stride. The ovation continued unabated, and upon his return the cheers and shouts became louder still. He smiled, the same boyish grin that had captivated Elizabeth in San Francisco, and she felt an ache in her heart.

He motioned to the audience, requesting quiet, and his voice resonated powerfully through the hall. “Thank you. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to perform for you tonight, and on behalf of my family, the Juilliard School, and all the young musicians who will benefit from your generosity, I thank you for being here.” He sat down at the piano amidst scattered applause as the audience members took their seats.

Elizabeth was expecting a jazz piano solo, as was William’s habit with encores, but instead the brilliant tones of Chopin’s Black Key Etude6 rang out in the hall. His hands flew over the keyboard in a remarkable demonstration of his virtuosity.

The brief piece ended, and as he rose to his feet, so did the audience. He bowed, smiled, and left the stage. He returned once more to accept the continuing ovation; however, this time he merely bowed and departed again without playing another encore. The applause continued for a time, but when it became obvious that he would not return, it faded, replaced by a buzz of excited conversation as people collected their belongings to depart.

Laura turned to Elizabeth. “Wasn’t he phenomenal?”

Elizabeth nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve been crying.”

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “I just—I don’t know. His playing does that to me. He’s so … I can’t explain it.”

“I know. There’s so much emotion in it. During the Pathetique, I wanted to run up on stage and comfort him. I get the feeling that he knows a lot about sadness and despair. Though that’s hard to imagine, with the charmed life he must lead.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes, willing her tears to stop. “Yes,” she said, her voice sounding thick to her ears. Don’t over-dramatize. The man who just brought a thousand people to their feet cheering wouldn’t let anything an insignificant music teacher said bother him.

“Ready to head over to the reception?” Laura asked,

“Oh, Laura, I don’t know. I should get home and work on my presentation.”

“Nonsense, you don’t want to miss this. I never got a chance to tell you about it at intermission, did I? About 200 people attend, and he makes himself available to speak to everyone. You want to meet him, don’t you?”

Elizabeth searched frantically for an excuse. “I don’t need to talk to him, really. It was enough just to see him play.”

“Well, that’s another reason to come to the reception. He usually plays something. Please come; it won’t be nearly as much fun if I have to go alone.”

Elizabeth was trapped. She considered explaining her situation to Laura, but it was a complicated story, and one she wasn’t anxious to share. Besides, Laura had been a tremendous help to her throughout her master’s program. To keep her company at the reception was little enough to ask in return. She would do her best to avoid William; if that was impossible, she would be friendly and polite and make the best of the awkward situation.

“You’re right; I don’t want to miss it,” Elizabeth said, forcing a smile onto her face. “Let’s go.”

 

William sat slumped forward in a chair in his backstage dressing room, his elbows propped on the counter in front of the mirror. The harsh light made him look pale and haggard.

Being on stage usually gave him a surge of adrenalin that carried him through his performances with energy. But sometimes he crashed back to earth in the aftermath, and tonight he was particularly drained. He knew the audience had hoped for a second—or even a third—encore, but he had simply lacked the energy to play anything else.

And now I’ve got to get through this reception. He would be the focus of attention; many of the donors attended primarily in the hope of meeting him, and it was important for them to feel that their time and money had been well spent.

Since his conversation with Sonya several days before, he had done his best to hide his inner turmoil from those around him, with some success. Georgie, Gran, and Mrs. Reynolds had relaxed in his presence, though Mrs. Reynolds was still on culinary red alert due to his finicky appetite.

Sonya knew the truth, and he saw her subtly trying to help him, treating him with solicitude and even protecting him from Richard’s jests. She made no further attempts to get William to talk about Elizabeth, for which he was grateful. If he intended to forget her, discussing her was not going to help.

Forgetting her. That part isn’t going very well. Concealing his despair was an emotionally demanding enterprise, made worse every time he retreated to his inner sanctum on the third floor, surrounded by reminders of his solitary state. He had spent hours at the piano preparing for the recital, but for the first time in his life he had failed to find comfort in his emotional communion with the instrument.

It wasn’t just Elizabeth herself that he couldn’t forget. Her angry words, combined with Sonya’s frank advice, presented a disturbing portrait of him. He had always considered himself a good man. He took care of his loved ones, treated family obligations seriously, gave generously of his time and financial resources to those less fortunate, and devoted himself to achieving the highest possible musical standard so as not to disappoint his audiences. He was not as friendly and sociable as someone like Richard; however, it was not a crime to be introverted.

It had been a painful shock to see himself through her eyes: a man who lived his life surrounded by impenetrable walls of pride and arrogance. Rather than allow any cracks to be spotted in the façade of strength and confidence he attempted to exude, he held people at arm’s length with an air of superiority and indifference.

In addition, as Sonya had pointed out, he had gradually come to believe that this superiority was genuine, encouraged by fans and family alike. He cringed at the memory of the things he had said to, and about, Elizabeth during his trip to San Francisco. He saw himself standing alone in the corner before the rehearsal dinner, silently observing the other guests, and recognized how conceited—and ridiculous—he must have looked.

He had ruined his chances with Elizabeth—she despised him, and with good reason. He resolved, though, that should he ever happen to see her again, he would show her that he was a better man, one she might have been able to like and respect.

And if I want to be a better man, that means that I need to stop procrastinating, get myself over to that reception, and play the genial host. I don’t know where I’ll to find the energy to do it, but somehow I have to.

 

Stanley Kaplan penthouseBy the time William arrived at the reception, the room was buzzing with conversation. Waiters circulated with trays of hors d’oeuvres and pastries. Bars set up at both ends of the room were surrounded. Amid all the activity, his arrival went unnoticed at first. But soon he was spotted, and applause spread through the room. He moved among the guests, shaking an occasional hand and smiling as much as he could manage.

He located Rose Darcy, his grandmother, holding court with a circle of her friends. His sister Georgiana stood beside Rose, her gaze directed downward. She didn’t like these events any more than William did, but she attended dutifully, usually hovering in the shadow of a family member.

Rose interrupted the conversation when he approached. “There you are. Everyone has been looking for you.”

William kissed her cheek, absorbing her mild reproof. “I’m sorry, Gran. I needed to rest for a few minutes.” He greeted her friends, most of whom had known him since his childhood, and then drew Georgiana close to him, draping his arm across her shoulders.

“You were wonderful, Will.” Georgiana smiled up at him.

“Thanks, Georgie. I saw you down front beaming at me. How are you holding up?”

“I’m tired. How much longer do I have to stay?”

“Just hold on till the speeches are over. Then Allen can take you home.”

“William, about the speeches.” Rose interrupted. “Sonya needs to know when you want to do that. The Juilliard people said it was up to us.”

“Might as well get it over with. I assume all the guests are here by now.”

“Yes, probably. Go find Sonya and tell her to get things ready.”

“No, you stay here, Will.” Georgiana said. “I’ll find her.”

“Excellent idea. That will leave William free to circulate among the guests.”

William took the hint and excused himself from Rose’s group. Soon he was surrounded by people anxious to discuss music.

A few minutes later, he saw Sonya a short distance away, attempting to catch his eye. He detached himself from some well-wishers and joined her. “Time for the speech?” he asked.

“In just a minute. They’re having some trouble with the microphone.”

William and Sonya crossed the room to the makeshift stage area. William asked Sonya, “Where is Richard?”

She snickered. “Propositioning some cute single woman, I’m sure. Oh, wait—there he is. Over there. With not just one woman, but two.”

William looked across the room, located his cousin, and nearly had the wind knocked out of him when he recognized the younger of the women with whom Richard was gaily conversing.

“What are you gaping at?”

“Elizabeth.” William spoke as quietly as he could, barely moving his lips.

Sonya matched his conspiratorial tone. “Elizabeth who?”

“The Elizabeth I met in San Francisco.”

“She’s here?’

“She’s talking to Richard.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No.”

“She flew out from San Francisco for this?’

“She lives in New York.”

“Oh. You didn’t tell me that.”

“Excuse me.” William stepped forward, intending to go to her side, but Sonya stopped him.

“Not now. After the speech.”

“But Richard is—”

“I know. But they’re almost ready for you. It has to wait till after the speech.”

As fond as William was of Richard, there was no denying that his cousin was an inveterate womanizer. He genuinely liked women, but he didn’t get emotionally involved with his partners, and he typically sought out women who were similarly inclined.

Of course Richard would find Elizabeth irresistible, but William couldn’t allow his cousin to use her that way. He was almost desperate to rush to her side and protect her, but he could only stand and watch Richard operate.

What if he talks her into going somewhere else before I can stop them? “When are they going to get that damned microphone working?” he hissed.

“Patience,” Sonya whispered. “It’ll all work out.”

He gritted his teeth as Richard touched Elizabeth’s arm in an intimate gesture. He can’t have her. I couldn’t bear it. I …

The words that formed in his mind shocked him, but he was unable to deny their profound truth. I love her. God help me, but I do.

At that moment, Sonya tapped on the microphone to get the guests’ attention. Elizabeth glanced toward the podium, and their eyes met. He braced himself for the cold disdain he would certainly see there. But instead she smiled—tentatively, but it was a smile all the same. He had no idea what it signified, but he was determined to find out at his first opportunity.

Sonya nudged him, and he noted that the audience was applauding and watching him expectantly. He stepped to the microphone, his eyes locked on Elizabeth.

“Um … yes, good evening. On behalf of the Darcy Arts Trust, I’d like to thank you. For being here tonight. We…”

Eyes like hers should be illegal.

“We … appreciate your support, and … we thank you. This is … very important work.” He took a deep breath and continued. “I can tell you from personal experience that a skilled teacher can have a tremendous impact on a young person’s artistic development. The scholarships funded with your support will offer talented young musicians access to some of the finest teachers in the world.”

Elizabeth’s smile grew brighter, and he felt his concentration fading again. It was time for a quick finish. “I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening. Thank you again for your support.”

William strode quickly to Elizabeth’s side, ignoring the greetings of the guests he passed on his way to her. He was pleased to note that he, and not Richard, had her attention now. “Hello, Elizabeth,” he said, interrupting Richard in mid-story.

Elizabeth acknowledged William’s greeting with an awkward smile and a little nod.

Richard frowned at them. “You two know each other?”

“We met in San Francisco last month,” William said softly.

The attractive dark-haired woman standing beside Elizabeth extended her hand. “Mr. Darcy, I’m Laura Church. I’m a professor of music education at NYU. We’ve met before but I know you wouldn’t remember.”

William forced his eyes away from Elizabeth’s and shook Laura’s hand. “Hello, Dr. Church. It’s a pleasure.”

“I’m a big fan, Mr. Darcy. The recital was wonderful.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I assume you’re one of Elizabeth’s professors?”

“She’s my thesis advisor,” Elizabeth said. “She’s been a great help to me.”

“She’s an excellent student,” Laura answered.

“I’m sure she is,” William replied with an affable smile. He turned to Elizabeth. “Have you finished your degree?”

“I defend my thesis on Monday. I hope it’ll go well.”

“She’s ready.” Laura said, “but she won’t stop working on it. I barely managed to drag her here tonight.”

“Listen to your advisor.” Richard took a step closer to Elizabeth. “Sounds like you need to stop gilding the lily and have a little fun.”

“I understand,” William said, giving Elizabeth a reassuring smile that covered his urge to wring Richard’s neck. “You want to do your best.”

Elizabeth nodded emphatically. “Exactly.”

“Don’t take Will’s advice, or you’ll never have any fun at all.” Richard had adopted the superior air that set William’s teeth on edge. “Even when he already plays something perfectly, he’ll keep practicing it for hours and hours. He’s compulsive about it.”

“Which is exactly why he’s such an incredible musician,” Elizabeth retorted. “And why people all over the world admire him so much.”

William nearly gasped at her warm defense of him. This can’t be happening. Yet there was no mistaking the warmth radiating from her smile or the softness in her eyes.

She was even more beautiful than in his many tortured dreams. He wanted to bury his hands in the curls falling loose around her shoulders. He longed to slip his hand beneath her nearly transparent jacket and caress the satiny skin revealed by the neckline of her dress. Above all, he ached to taste her soft lips, to feel them open under his. But if he stood staring at her like a lovesick fool, none of that would happen.

Richard cleared his throat. “Sorry to break up the party, but I was about to ask these ladies if they’d like to go somewhere for a quiet drink. I’d invite you along, Will, but of course you’re the man of the hour and you have to stay here with your guests.”

William noted Richard’s smirk, and lifted his chin in response. “Did Richard explain that he’s my cousin?”

“No, he didn’t.” Laura answered. “How interesting!”

“When I’m lucky enough to talk to a couple of beautiful ladies, I have far better things to discuss than you, Will.”

“I’m sure you do, Richie.” William grinned at Richard, who hated that nickname.

“Well, you need to circulate, old man, and greet your legions of adoring fans, so, ladies, shall we go?”

William took petulant satisfaction in the peevish tone that had crept into Richard’s voice. That’s right, Richie, I’m going to use the William Darcy Magnetic Field for all it’s worth. Deal with it. “I’m sorry to interfere with your plans,” he said, “but I had hoped that Elizabeth might be able to stay for a while.” He turned to her. “I have something I’d like to discuss with you, but Richard’s right—at the moment I need to make the rounds. Later, though, when things quiet down …” His eyes implored her to consent.

“Yes, I’ll stay,” she said quietly.

Years of experience concealing his feelings helped him to hide the rush of joy and relief that washed over him. “Wonderful.” he remarked calmly. “That gives me something to look forward to. But Richard is right—duty calls. I’d better make my way around the room.”

William nodded politely to Laura, tossed a smug glance at Richard, and strode away.

 

Elizabeth was astonished, happy, and nervous in approximately equal parts. He had been polite and friendly, with none of the awkward reserve he usually showed in public. And he had sought her out, despite her disdainful treatment of him at their last meeting.

From the moment he had arrived at the reception, she had been constantly aware of, and unnerved by, his presence. She had been grateful for the distraction Richard offered. She had forced herself to focus on his flirtatious banter until the moment when William’s eyes had locked on hers from across the room as he prepared to give his speech. She had expected imperious coldness; the warmth and earnest supplication she saw instead had stunned her.

“Earth to Elizabeth! Anybody home?”

Elizabeth winced at the sight of Laura’s knowing grin. “Sorry. I was just thinking about … my thesis.”

“Right.” Laura drawled, her eyes appraising Elizabeth. But without further comment, she turned to Richard and made a remark about the state of music education in the public schools, a topic they had apparently been discussing.

Elizabeth tried to follow the conversation, inserting an occasional comment, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from scanning the room in search of a head of dark, wavy hair. She became belatedly aware that Laura and Richard had fallen silent, and was embarrassed to find them looking at her expectantly.

“I’m sorry—I didn’t hear what you said.” She could feel her cheeks flushing.

“Richard was just asking how you met William. And I have to admit, I’m curious too.”

“We met in San Francisco a few weeks ago. My sister was engaged to William’s friend, Charles Bingley, and William and I were in the wedding party.”

“A shame about the wedding being called off.” Richard said.

“Wasn’t that sad?” Laura shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it when Elizabeth told me about it.”

Richard turned to Elizabeth. “You know, I lived in San Francisco as a boy.”

“Really? I was born and raised in the Bay area.”

“I’d love to get together some time and compare notes. Since you’re stuck here tonight and can’t go for a drink, how about meeting me for dinner tomorrow?”

“Thank you, Richard, but I really need tomorrow night to prepare for my thesis defense. I appreciate the invitation, though.”

“Some other time?”

“Perhaps.”

Richard was handsome and charming, but Elizabeth had no interest in having dinner with him. Her eyes darted restlessly around the room until she saw William standing with a large group of obviously smitten females. As she watched, his eyes drifted away from the group and rested on her. Their gazes locked, and time seemed to stop. She finally forced herself to turn back to Richard, who was staring across the room at William.

“Well, I suppose I should circulate too,” Richard said, “or my grandmother will come over here and drag me away. I hope to see you both again.”

As soon as he was out of earshot, Laura fixed a sardonic eye on Elizabeth. “I can’t believe you let me babble on and on about William Darcy, and you never even mentioned that you two have something going on.”

“We don’t!”

“Oh, right. That’s why you couldn’t stop looking at each other when he was over here. I thought the sparks flying between the two of you were going to singe me. And I suppose that’s also why you just turned down a dinner invitation from a handsome, charming, wealthy man.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Elizabeth said, hesitating. “I won’t deny that I find William attractive, but so does every other woman in the room.”

“He doesn’t look at the rest of us the way he looks at you.”

“You’re imagining things.”

“Come on, Elizabeth. He can barely take his eyes off you. And you’re no better. Even right now, you’re not looking at me—you’re looking past me and trying to find him.”

Elizabeth blushed. She had discovered that William’s height made him easy to spot as he moved around the room.

“Look, I need to get going,” Laura said. “I promised the babysitter I’d be home by twelve thirty, and I’m probably going to be late as it is. But I assume you’re staying to talk to William, despite the fact that there’s absolutely nothing going on between you.”

“Honestly, there isn’t. I wouldn’t even say that we’re friends, exactly.”

“Nevertheless, I expect a full report on Monday. Feel free to add a slide or two to your Powerpoint presentation summarizing what happens.”

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head. “I doubt I’ll have anything to report. Thanks so much for inviting me to come with you tonight, Laura—I had a great time.”

 

Half an hour later, Elizabeth sat at a table in the corner, sipping a glass of champagne. She had sat alone since Laura’s departure, watching as William was besieged by a constant stream of admirers. He had directed frequent warm glances at her, and she sensed that he was reassuring himself that she hadn’t left the reception.

She was powerless to do anything but stare at him. He looked regal in his tailcoat, which accentuated his broad shoulders. His hair had been neatly styled at the beginning of the evening, but now a few rebellious curls had fallen onto his forehead. Elizabeth thought that slight touch of informality made him even more attractive.

At last the crowd was thinning, and William made his way toward her table. She greeted him with a smile. “This has been a busy evening for you,” she said. “Please, sit down.”

With a grateful nod, he sank into the empty chair at her table. “Thank you for waiting. I’m sorry to keep you here for so long by yourself. But I couldn’t let you leave without speaking to you.”

“I wanted to talk to you too.”

He yawned. “I’m sorry—it’s not the company. This has been a long week and I haven’t been sleeping much.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve had some things on my mind. It’s warm in here, isn’t it? Do you mind if I take off my coat and tie?”

“Of course not.”

He shrugged off his tailcoat, untied his white bow tie, and unfastened the top two buttons of his wing-collar shirt. “Much better. I wouldn’t ordinarily do that, and Gran will probably have my head if she sees me like this, but with so few people left I think it’s okay.”

Their eyes met for a moment in silence, and then both spoke at once.

“Elizabeth, I—”

“William—”

They stopped, and she burst into nervous laughter. “Go ahead,” she said.

“No, ladies first.”

“All right. I owe you an apology, William.”

“What for?”

“For the things I said to you that day we walked to City Hall Park. I was way out of line.”

“I disagree. I deserved every word you said.”

His shoulders looked tense, and he fidgeted absently with one of his cufflinks. “You were right about me. I was terribly rude to you in San Francisco. I’m so sorry, Elizabeth.”

“It’s all right,” she answered gently.

“No, it’s not. I was patronizing and arrogant and … everything you said about me. I know I don’t deserve it, but if some day you might be able to forgive me—”

“It’s already done.”

He raised his eyes to hers, and the intensity of his expression stole her breath. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice thick with emotion.

“You’re not the only one who behaved badly, William. That day you brought me the roses, you were trying so hard to make peace with me, but I wouldn’t let you. I was itching for a fight, and I kept provoking you till I had an excuse to say all those things. I’m very sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” he said quietly, “but you don’t owe me one.”

They sat in silence, looking into each other’s eyes, until Elizabeth grew uncomfortable under his intense gaze and looked away. She searched for a safe topic of conversation. “Was that your sister I saw you with earlier tonight? The pretty girl with the light brown hair, in the blue dress?”

“Yes, that was Georgiana.”

“Is she a musician too?”

“She’s a pianist, and she also plays the viola quite well.”

“How old is she?”

“She’ll be fifteen next month.”

“Are the two of you close?”

“Yes. Our parents died when she was just a baby, so in a way, I’ve been both father and brother to her.”

“I’m sure you take good care of her.”

“She looks after me, too.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

He shuddered. “No. I’m not looking forward to that.”

Elizabeth laughed at his horrified expression. “I think you’d better get ready for it.”

He shifted in his chair. “You and Richard seemed to be getting along well.”

“He’s a charming man.”

“I hope you don’t mind that I kept you from going out with him tonight.”

“I wasn’t planning to go anyway.”

“You weren’t?”

“No. As I said, he’s charming, but … I like men with more depth.”

“Richard has plenty of depth. He’s brilliant—he loves to argue philosophy and politics. People don’t see that till they get to know him better.”

“So you’re telling me I should have accepted his invitation and gone out with him?”

“No! No, I didn’t mean that. I …” William began to play with his cufflink again.

Elizabeth wasn’t sure what was going on in his head, but she decided that a change of subject might relieve his discomfort. “I noticed that you didn’t play a jazz encore tonight.”

“Georgie asked me to play the Black Key Etude. I had intended to play a second encore as well, and it was going to be a jazz piece, but I was tired enough by then that I doubted I could do it justice.”

“I admit, I was disappointed. The Black Key Etude was fantastic, but I was looking forward to some jazz.”

William rose to his feet, extending his hand. “Then come with me.”

Elizabeth stood up, looking at him quizzically. She tentatively placed her hand in his, and a shiver ran Stanley Kaplan penthousethrough her when they touched. He led her across the room and seated himself at the grand piano in the corner.

“I thought you were too tired to play any more.”

“I seem to be catching my second wind. Any special requests?”

“I’ll leave that up to you.”

The few remaining guests moved closer to watch the impromptu performance, and Elizabeth felt awkward standing so close to the center of attention. “I’m going to go stand with the others.”

“No, please, stay. You can be my page turner.”

“For the invisible sheet music you’re using?” she teased.

His eyes gleamed with mischief. “That’s right. And I expect you to pay close attention so you turn the pages at exactly the right time.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” she promised with mock gravity. “The only thing is, you’d do better with an invisible page turner for the invisible pages. It’s silly for me to be standing here on display.”

He shifted the piano bench slightly in her direction. “Have a seat,” he said.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t. I’d be in your way.”

“No, you won’t. Please, sit with me.”

Elizabeth hesitated, but when William fixed his warm brown eyes on her in mute invitation, she lowered herself gingerly onto the bench.

“Are you ready?” he asked. “I don’t want you to miss the first page turn.”

“I never knew you were such a tease.”

“There are a great many things you don’t know about me.”

William turned his attention to the piano, but he glanced back at her, flashing a grin that made her heart thump.

He had chosen to play a gentle rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me.”7 She watched, mesmerized, as his long, slender fingers moved confidently over the keyboard with an intoxicating combination of strength and softness. His face was a study in blissful concentration—he seemed to be living in another world, unaware of his audience or even of Elizabeth’s presence at his side. But when he had to lean toward her to reach some particularly low notes, his body brushed against hers, and his eyes met hers in a private smile before he looked back at the keyboard.

His wavy hair looked thick but soft, and Elizabeth wanted to feel its texture. She felt the warmth of his body radiating through his crisp white shirt and white pique vest when he leaned against her. The top few buttons of the shirt were open, and she had an inexplicable urge to run a finger along the smooth skin of his neck. Completely unnerved by her visceral response to his nearness, she took a deep breath and tried to compose herself, only to feel the fluttering in her stomach intensify when she inhaled the faint scent of his spicy cologne.

When the song ended the guests applauded, but William ignored them as he fixed his soul-searching gaze on Elizabeth.

“That was beautiful. Thank you,” she whispered, trying to catch her breath.

William, who was already sitting very close to her, leaned closer still, his eyes focused on her lips. Clearly he intended to kiss her. He can’t—not in front of all these people. She pressed her palm to his chest, feeling his heart beating rapidly, and exerted gentle pressure to keep him from coming any closer. “William, no,” she murmured.

The spell broken, he looked around him in dismay. “Oh, God, I’m sorry,” he said, rising abruptly from the piano bench. “When I play, sometimes I forget where I am. But I never meant to—”

“That was a lovely piece, William, though I wish you had played it earlier, while more of the guests were here.” An elderly woman—one Elizabeth had noticed speaking to William a few times that evening—approached.

Elizabeth stood up as the woman reached William’s side. He made the introductions. “Gran, this is Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth, this is my grandmother, Rose Darcy.”

“Good evening, Ms. Bennet,” Rose said. She was tall and slender, and carried herself with her grandson’s regal posture. Her gray satin gown complemented her perfectly coiffed silver-white hair.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Darcy.” Elizabeth accepted Rose’s extended hand. It was cool and dry, her grip firm. Her ice-blue eyes were not precisely unfriendly, but neither were they warm and welcoming. Elizabeth sensed that she had been judged and found wanting.

“How do you know my grandson, Ms. Bennet?”

“We met in San Francisco,” William said. “Her sister was engaged to Charles Bingley.”

“Charles Bingley is a fine young man. I was sorry to hear that the wedding was cancelled. But I understand that some problems arose at the last minute.”

“Yes, well, no need to go into that now,” William said quickly. Elizabeth saw him dart an anxious glance in her direction, and she coughed to cover up an involuntary giggle. Poor William—he’s afraid I’ll start ranting about Jane and Charles.

“William, the last of the guests are leaving, and I’m rather tired. I assume Allen is back from driving Georgiana home?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Good. I need to have a word with Sonya—she’s in the kitchen talking to the caterers—but then I’d like to go. Excuse me for a moment.”

William turned to Elizabeth. “I wish it weren’t so late,” he said.

She nodded. “Yes, I’d better be going.”

“How are you getting home?”

“The same way I got here—on the subway.”

William blanched. “I can’t let you take the subway, especially not alone at this hour of the night.”

“I’ve taken the subway alone at night lots of times. I’ll be fine.”

“Not tonight. It’s my fault you’re out so late—I’m the one who asked you to stay.”

“What if I promise to take a cab instead of the subway?”

“I have a better idea. Allen, our driver, is outside waiting for us. We need to stop by the house first to drop Gran off, but after that he could drive you home.”

“It’s really not necessary,” Elizabeth insisted, though she doubted she had enough money with her to pay cab fare to the Lower East Side.

“Please say yes so I won’t have to worry about you getting home safely.”

“Well … are you sure your grandmother won’t mind?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, then, yes, thank you. That would be nice.”

Rose approached them, carrying a silver beaded evening bag. “Are you ready to go, William? Good night, Ms. Bennet; it was a pleasure meeting you.”

“Elizabeth is coming with us, Gran. After we stop by the townhouse, Allen will drive her home.”

“I see.” Rose’s eyes swept from William to Elizabeth, her expression guarded. “Well, then, let’s be on our way, shall we?”

 

Ten minutes later, the car pulled up in front of the Darcy townhouse on East Sixty-Seventh Street. Elizabeth couldn’t make out many details of the house in the darkness, but the Darcy residence appeared to be a prime example of the elegant, well-maintained townhouses found in this part of the city. Allen stepped out of the car and opened Rose’s door. William exited the car as well.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and Elizabeth watched him escort his grandmother into the house.

Elizabeth wondered why William hadn’t said goodbye before going inside, to save the trouble of coming back out. She shrugged; everything about the short trip to the house had been peculiar. Rose had used the time to ask Elizabeth about her musical background and her family. That wasn’t unusual in itself, except that the questions were strangely in depth coming from a stranger. William had said nothing the entire trip, but Elizabeth noted his restless demeanor and his anxious glances in her direction.

About two minutes later, William emerged from the house. Elizabeth opened her window, expecting him to say goodnight and go back inside; however, to her surprise, he walked around the car and slid into the back seat beside her. “We’ll take Ms. Bennet home now, Allen. She’ll tell you where she lives.”

“Ms. Bennet and I took care of that while you were inside, sir.”

“But you don’t need to come along,” she protested. “Earlier you were telling me how tired you are. Why don’t you go inside and get some rest?”

“I feel fine, and I’d like to escort you home. Let’s go, Allen.”

“Yes, sir.” Allen pulled the car smoothly away from the curb.

Elizabeth couldn’t see William’s expression clearly in the darkness, but she could tell that he was looking at her. “I’m glad we were able to talk tonight,” she said quietly.

“So am I.” William paused. “Elizabeth, if Gran seemed cool or if her questions bothered you—”

“Don’t worry. I’ve come to expect that sort of thing whenever I meet a Darcy.”

Elizabeth saw a look of deep distress come over William’s face as he digested her remark. She touched his arm in a reassuring gesture. “William, I’m sorry. I’m just teasing. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I deserved it.”

Elizabeth’s heart warmed to William, who looked like a sad little boy with a guilty conscience. “About your grandmother—she’s probably just formal with strangers.”

“She’s protective of me.”

“And I’m somehow dangerous to you?”

He smiled, his eyebrows raised. “You might be surprised.”

Elizabeth was as perplexed by William as ever. Tonight she had again seen his sweet, beguiling side, and she was powerfully drawn to him; however, she had seen him behave this way before, only to be repelled soon afterward by his oversized ego. His apology had seemed sincere, but she found herself unable to trust in his transformation. As she tried to think of something to say, she noticed that he was drumming his fingers absently on his leg.

“Oh—I haven’t told you how much I enjoyed the recital. You were wonderful.”

“Thank you. Did you have a good seat?”

“Excellent. Around the 10th row, center section.”

“Really? That section has some of the most expensive seats. Most of the people who buy those are—”

“Wealthy people? Unlike me?”

“I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to. It’s just—”

“No, you’re absolutely right. I could never have afforded the ticket. Laura, my advisor, offered it to me when her husband couldn’t use it.”

“I’m glad she did.”

“So am I.”

They fell silent again. When they turned onto Houston Street, Elizabeth leaned forward and spoke to Allen.

“Let me know when I need to direct you.”

“Yes, ma’am. After I turn onto Ludlow, I’ll need your help.”

“We’re almost there?” William asked.

“Just a few more blocks,” Elizabeth said.

“Oh. I thought it would take longer. I’ve been meaning to ask if you ever heard about the job in San Francisco. At the conservatory.”

“Not a word. I guess I didn’t get it, because they needed someone to teach in their summer program, and it starts very soon.”

“Hmm.”

“It was a great chance to go home, and I’d especially like to be there for Jane right now. She’s very strong, and she doesn’t complain, but I know she’s having a lot of trouble getting over Charles.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I had an interview at Hunter College yesterday, and they as much as told me that they intended to make me an offer, so at least I’m not facing unemployment. But I really wanted the job in San Francisco.” Elizabeth sighed, shaking her head.

William didn’t respond, and Elizabeth’s attention was distracted by the need to direct Allen the rest of the way. He stopped the car in front of her building and got out to open her door.

“It was good to see you again, William. Thank you so much for arranging for my ride home.”

“I’ll walk you to the door.”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“Yes, I do.”

The effort seemed unnecessary to her—it was only a short trip up the sidewalk to the building—but Elizabeth was nonetheless touched by his gallantry. She stepped out of the car, thanked Allen for the ride, and walked into the building and toward the elevator with William by her side. When the elevator doors opened, she smiled at him and extended her hand, saying, “I’m fine from here, really. Thank you again.”

William took Elizabeth’s hand in both of his. “I’ll call you Monday evening to find out how your thesis defense went,” he said, taking a step toward her.

“I’d like that. I work Monday evening, though. I won’t be home till about 10:30, but you’re welcome to call then—I’m usually up until at least midnight. ”

“Then I’ll talk to you Monday night. Good night, Elizabeth,” William murmured, his deep voice caressing her name.

William’s gaze dropped to her lips and he released his hold on her hand. His long fingers caressed her jaw, and he lowered his head to hers.

Elizabeth felt a moment of panic. Am I ready for this? She wasn’t certain, but she lacked the will to resist. She closed her eyes, expecting to feel the pressure of his mouth on hers, but instead his lips gently brushed her cheek, his breath soft and warm on her skin. He pulled back slowly, and then turned to leave.

As he opened the doors to exit the building, he looked back, an unreadable expression on his face, and then he was gone. She stepped onto the elevator, a bemused smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

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1 Fantasie-Impromptu, Opus 66, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Van Cliburn on The World’s Favorite Piano Music, © 1992, BMG Music. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

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

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

4 Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”) by Ludwig von Beethoven, First movement (Grave—Allegro di molto e con brio). Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Beethoven: Favorite Piano Sonatas, © 1997, London Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

5 Grande Valse Brilliante, Op. 18, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, © 1995, Decca Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

6 Etude in Gb major (“Black Key”), Opus 10, No. 5. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, © 1995, Decca Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

7 “Someone to Watch Over Me,” performed by Dave Brubeck on One Alone. © 2000, Telarc Listen to a sample on iTunes.