“Hello, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth felt her pulse quicken at the sound of the deep voice on the other end of the phone line. She said a brief prayer of thanksgiving that it wasn’t a video call. Her damp hair hung down her back in a tangled mass, and her knee-length sleep shirt was dotted with ink stains, the result of her tendency to nod off with a pen in her hand during late-night exam-grading sessions.

“Hi, William. I thought it might be you.” Elizabeth plopped into a chair at the kitchen table.

“Because nobody else calls you this late in the evening?”

“Char and Jane do sometimes, but that’s about it. Don’t worry, though, it’s fine, because—”

“Because you’re a night owl. Just like me.”


“Yet another of the many things we have in common.”

Elizabeth laughed softly. “I already surrendered that point. We have lots in common; I was wrong, I admit it! But you’re never going to let me live it down, are you?”

“Sooner or later. But right now I’m having too much fun reminding you.”

It was the third day of William’s trip to Chicago, and the third time he had called her for a leisurely late-evening chat. She had begun to catch frequent glimpses of his quiet sense of humor, contradicting her initial impression of him as solemn, even glum.

Also for the third consecutive day, a local florist had made a delivery to Elizabeth’s apartment. The most recent floral offering, displayed in a crystal vase, adorned the kitchen table.

“Thank you for the roses. They’re beautiful, just like the others.”

“What color are they?”

“Now, wait just a minute. You told me once that you handled this sort of thing yourself and didn’t delegate it to your secretary. So shouldn’t you already know what color they are?”

“I placed a multi-day order before I left New York, and I can’t remember what color I requested for Friday.” yellow rose

“They’re yellow. And they’re absolutely gorgeous.” Elizabeth fingered one of the blooms gently. “But you know, this is a tiny apartment, and I already have roses all over the place. You don’t need to keep sending them.”

“I like sending you flowers,” he replied, his tone unrepentant. “Besides, as I said, I placed the order before I left New York. It’s too late to change it now.”

Their daily phone conversations had done much to reduce the residual shyness between them. Now it seemed natural to fall into relaxed, and often flirtatious, banter. Maybe it’s easier to talk on the phone. There’s less pressure, somehow.

“How did the recording session go today?” she asked. William was in Chicago to record the Liszt Piano Concertos with the Chicago Symphony, and also for a weekend of concerts.

“Not as well as I had hoped. By late this afternoon I thought we were performing well, but we’re going to have to re-record almost everything we did this morning.”

“Ah, there’s the perfectionist in you coming out. And I’ll say it before you do: that’s another thing we have in common, though you’re a hundred times worse than I am.”

He chuckled. “I should be making a list of all these things. Seriously, though, we need to discard some of today’s recordings. It means a longer day tomorrow, but I’m not going to allow the performances on this CD to be substandard.”

“What if the people from the symphony disagree?”

“It doesn’t matter. My contract gives me full approval rights. If I’m not satisfied, we’re not finished.”

Elizabeth shook her head, smiling at the contradictions in William’s nature. He could be self-assured to the point of arrogance when discussing an important recording contract, yet the prospect of a cup of coffee with her had reduced him to a state of near panic. “They’d better watch out, or you’ll make them spend the next month in these recording sessions, always trying for the perfect take.”

“No chance of that. I have an important dinner date on Tuesday evening. I’m glad you found someone to trade shifts with.”

Her smile faded. She hadn’t lied to him, but she had allowed him to make a false assumption without correcting him. She shifted in her seat, grimacing as her tired back, the result of a long work day, registered its disapproval of the uncomfortable kitchen chairs.

“I wish we had a longer cord on this phone,” she grumbled. “I’m stuck here in the kitchen, and the only thing these chairs were designed for is sitting up straight and gobbling down your breakfast.”

“I’m sorry. I’m stretched out on a sofa in the living room and it’s quite comfortable.”

“You have a living room? At the hotel? Oh, wait, silly me. You’re in a suite, right? Probably the nicest one they’ve got.” suite at Chicago hotel

“I need space for a piano. You can’t put one in a standard hotel room.”

Elizabeth noted a defensive tone in his voice. “You don’t need to justify getting a suite.”

“I just don’t want you to think it’s wasteful extravagance.”

“Well, it sounds like you’re a lot more comfortable than I am. I wish I could be on the sofa right now too.” A vision flashed into Elizabeth’s mind of herself in William’s undoubtedly luxurious hotel suite, nestled in his arms on the sofa. “Anyway, I … I’m sorry, I forgot what I was saying.”

“How much you wished you were on the sofa.” His voice was low and husky.

“Right,” she answered, her cheeks growing warm. “And I can’t do that, because, as I said, the cord on this ancient phone won’t stretch beyond the kitchen.”

“Maybe I should send you a cordless phone instead of roses one of these days.”

“Well …” She paused, biting her lip, but then took a breath and resolutely forged ahead. “It won’t matter soon anyway. I won’t be living here much longer.”

“Why not?”

“I finally connected with the dean of Pacific Conservatory this afternoon, after a couple of days of playing phone tag, and she offered me a job.”


“Yes. A fantastic job, exactly what I wanted, and with a much better salary than I was expecting.”

“Congratulations! You must be pleased. I know how much you wanted to go back to San Francisco.”

Then why am I having second thoughts? “I’m glad I’ll be with Jane. She says she’s fine, but I’m sure she’s having a harder time than she admits. And it’s a good job. Besides the salary, it’s a prestigious school, so it’s flattering that they want me. And I’m excited about the classes I’ll be teaching.” She hesitated. “But …”


“I’ve been enjoying getting to know you.”

“Tthere’s still time. You’ll be leaving in early August, I suppose.”

“No. They want me to teach in a summer enrichment program that starts a week from Monday. I’m leaving New York next Friday.”

“Next Friday? A week from today?”

“Yes.” She closed her eyes and sighed quietly.

“But I thought … I didn’t think you’d have to leave so soon.”

“Even if it weren’t for the summer program, I’d be going soon. Jane needs me now, not two months from now. In fact, I’ve been saving up for a plane ticket so I could go out for a long visit, in case I didn’t get the job.”

She heard a heavy sigh on William’s end of the line. “I should have realized.”

“I quit my job at the restaurant; my last day is Sunday. I need the extra time to get ready to move. In fact, that’s why I’m free for dinner Tuesday evening.”

An awkward silence ensued before he finally spoke. “I know I may not sound like it right now, but I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m just sorry that … I wish I hadn’t …” He fell silent.

Their earlier light-hearted mood was completely shattered. Elizabeth was trying to think of something to say when William spoke again.

“I’m afraid I have to go practice now, before it gets any later.”

“Of course. I understand.” That’s what I expected. Now that he knows I’m leaving, he’s lost interest. Already, he can’t wait to get off the phone. “Thank you again for the roses.”

“You’re welcome. I’m not sure what Saturday’s color is, so you’ll have to tell me when I call tomorrow.”

“Will you have time to call? You have a concert tomorrow night, don’t you?” And maybe you’d rather not waste your time.

“I might have to call late, that’s all.”

“That works out better for me anyway. Some friends are taking me out for a bon voyage drink after work, so I’ll be late getting home.”

“Elizabeth—” His tone was urgent, but then he stopped abruptly.


He was silent for a moment, and when he spoke his voice was impassive. “Nothing. It was nothing. Good night.”

“Good night, William. I hope everything goes well tomorrow.”


William had been expecting to hear the news of Elizabeth’s job ever since Catherine had left a brief, cryptic message with Sonya (“Tell William the answer is yes”) on Wednesday afternoon. But the imminence of her departure was a harsh blow. He had ended their phone call abruptly out of fear that he would say something rash. Something like, “Turn down the job. Stay with me. Now that I’ve finally found you, I can’t let you go.”

He pulled himself into a sitting position on the sofa and massaged his forehead, trying to soothe away a persistent headache. He should have realized that she’d want to leave for California right away. After all, there’s nothing to keep her in New York. We’ve only been on one date. So that makes us … what? Friends?

No. Friends don’t kiss the way we kissed on Tuesday night.

He leaned forward, elbows propped on his knees, his chin resting on his hand, and stared at the soft blue carpet under his feet. The recent warming of his relationship with Elizabeth had blurred the distinction between the real woman, with whom he had shared one date and a few lingering kisses, and the wraith who haunted his dreams, who adored him, and whose passion was so well matched with his own. He was finding it a challenge to remember that only in his heated imagination did she lie in his embrace, caressing him and whispering intimate words of love. Yet the dreams and fantasies were so real, so vivid.

The worst of it was that, had his behavior not driven a wedge between them, their fledgling attraction in San Francisco would have had the chance to flourish over the past month. He had only himself to blame.

At the end of the conversation, he had been on the verge of begging her to fly to Chicago to spend the rest of the weekend with him. Fortunately, sense and sanity had intruded in time. Their relationship was in a tenuous, early stage, yet in William’s mind and heart, she belonged to him and, even more to the point, he belonged to her.

With a sigh of resignation, he stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. He moved to the piano, hoping to work through his frustrations in an intensive practice session. And so, late into the night, William’s neighbors in the hotel were treated to—or plagued by, depending on one’s view—a lengthy piano recital, featuring several repetitions of a brilliant rendition of the soloist’s part of Liszt’s Piano Concerto #1.1


“Hello, Sonya?”

“William, is that you?” Sonya’s voice was thick with sleep. “Do you know what time it is?”

“No, I don’t.” William hadn’t stopped to consider the time when the impulse to call his secretary had seized him.

“Well, allow me to enlighten you. It’s not quite two thirty. One thirty, your time. I know that’s not late by your standards, but some of us aren’t creatures of the night.”

“Did I wake you?”

She yawned. “I wish I could say that you interrupted something more interesting than sleep.”

“I apologize. I just finished practicing, and I need to discuss something important with you.”

“Which couldn’t wait till morning?” Sonya yawned again.

“I have to be at Orchestra Hall early, and it’s going to be a long day. I doubt I’ll have time for phone calls.”

“Okay, then, let’s get this over with. What do you need?”

“Dinner reservations for Tuesday evening.”

This announcement was greeted with long silence. Then she cleared her throat. “You said it was important.”

“It is.”

“Dinner reservations.”

“And I need you to help me choose the restaurant. It has to be the perfect place.”

“You called me in the middle of the night to ask me to make dinner reservations.”

“Yes.” He wasn’t missing her sarcasm. He was choosing to ignore it.

“For Tuesday. Which is four days from now. Or three, depending on how you look at it. I guess it’s actually Saturday morning, isn’t it? Very early Saturday morning, in fact.”

“All right, all right. I didn’t realize how late it was, and I’ve already apologized. My request may seem trivial to you, but it’s important to me. I was sitting here worrying about it, and I thought you could help.”

“Fair enough. For the moment we’ll put the question of importance aside. Define ‘the perfect place.’”

“Elegant, but not pretentious.”

“In other words, all your usual haunts are out.”

William decided to ignore her mild taunt. “And it has to be thoroughly romantic.”

“Ah, the other shoe drops. You’re taking Elizabeth Bennet out to dinner on Tuesday.”

William decided that evasion was pointless. “Yes.”

“Good for you. I heard about the dinner delivery, by the way. Well done. I bet that melted her heart. And the rumor is that your date on Tuesday night went well too.”

“I have no privacy in that house,” he grumbled.

“I know you think you’re inscrutable, but when it comes to Elizabeth your poker face doesn’t function very well.”

“That doesn’t justify everyone discussing me behind my back. I’m entitled to conduct my private life … well, in private.”

“I know what you mean, but what happens to you affects all of us. Ninety percent of what goes on in that house revolves around you.”

“That’s not true.”

“All right, then, eighty percent. You just don’t realize it because you take it for granted. Besides, for reasons that escape me at the moment, we all care about you. We want you to be happy, and you’ve been walking around with your wounded heart on your sleeve for the past few weeks. In fact …”


She paused. “Just be careful, okay?”

“Why? Are you suggesting that she’s after me for my money and status? Don’t insult her that way. She’s not like that.”

“I’m not saying she is. I’m just saying, be careful. I’ve never seen you like this before, and I don’t want you to get hurt. Although it would serve you right for waking me up in the middle of the night to talk about your love life.”

He heard the rueful affection in her voice and smiled. “I’m lucky to have you in my corner, Sonya.”

“You certainly are. Remember that the next time I ask for a raise.”

“So what about some alternatives for Tuesday night?”

“I’m too tired to think clearly right now. Call me Sunday, preferably at a time when normal people are awake, and we’ll review some options.”

“All right.”

“By the way, I assume it was her phone number that you had me put into your cell phone’s speed dial on Wednesday morning?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t call and introduce yourself. You could have told her embarrassing stories about my boyhood.”

“Don’t think I wasn’t tempted. But I restrained myself.”

He chuckled. “I’m proud of you.”

“It wasn’t completely altruistic. It’ll be more fun to save the stories till I meet her. I keep envisioning you squirming in a corner while I tell them.”

“I’m making a note to myself to keep you two far apart.”

“You know I’m too sneaky for that. Well, look, I’d like to get an hour or two of sleep tonight, if that’s okay with you.”

“Sorry I woke you.”

“I’d tell you never to do it again, but I know better than to waste my breath. Now go get some sleep yourself.”

“I’ll try. Good night, Sonya.”


“So, is everything all set for tonight?” Sonya asked.

“Yes, I think so.” William sat down at his desk to stop his anxious pacing. He squared his shoulders, trying to appear more confident than he felt, and then checked his watch. Almost three. He was due to pick Elizabeth up for their dinner date in four hours.

Sonya pulled a chair close to his desk and sat down. “And you’re sure you want to have dinner here?”

He scowled at her. “It was your idea! What are you saying now, that I shouldn’t?”

“Well, really, Mrs. Reynolds thought of it. But you know it’s not going to be what Elizabeth is expecting.”

“Look, I’m already nervous. You don’t need to put so much effort into trying to rattle me.”

“I don’t know what you’re all keyed up about. It’s just dinner with a woman. Granted, a woman whose sanity is questionable, given that she seems to like you.”

William’s glare blasted across his desk. Sonya teased him constantly and usually he didn’t mind, but right now he didn’t have the patience for it.

“Oh, lighten up,” she retorted. “I’m kidding, obviously. What are you going to wear?”

He picked up a pen and began to roll it between his fingers. “My new dinner jacket.”

“Whoa! You’re really pulling out all the stops.”

“It’s Tuesday afternoon. She’s leaving for California on Friday morning. Precisely what should I be waiting for?”

“Point taken. So, then, is there going to be a tie on your doorknob tonight? The universal sign for ‘Action within, don’t come in’?”

“Sonya, you’re crossing the line.”

“I just keep thinking, a romantic evening under the stars, your bedroom just a few floors away …”

“Stop it.” William snapped, his nostrils flaring. “Now.”

“I’m sorry.” She grimaced and shook her head. “I’m so used to the way Richard talks about his exploits, I forgot that there are still a few gentlemen left in the world.”

“Apology accepted, but that’s a topic I do not intend to discuss with you, now or ever.”

“Understood, and again, I’m sorry for stepping over the line. Look, I never got any lunch, so I’m going downstairs for a sandwich. You didn’t eat either, did you? Why not come along and have a snack.”

“No, thanks. I have some things to do upstairs.”

William bounded up the stairs, restless anticipation giving him extra energy, though he paid the price with a brief dizzy spell at the third floor landing. He had often imagined sitting with Elizabeth in the library, strolling with her in the garden, and showing her the exotic blooms in the greenhouse, and this evening was his chance to see those visions realized.

But there were other, even more tantalizing visions: Elizabeth nestled in his lap in his leather armchair, sharing his whirlpool tub, or, above all, intimately entwined with him in his bed. He had been embarrassed by Sonya’s remarks, not because she was suggesting an unthinkable idea, but because he had thought of it so often himself. His desire for Elizabeth had become even more urgent under the influence of her imminent departure from New York.

The question was, did she share this sense of urgency? Although he didn’t delude himself that her feelings were equal to his, the physical attraction between them was obviously mutual.

He had rarely been faced with the dilemma of guessing if a woman was amorously inclined. His past female companions had usually been forthright, making their interest in him clear, and for that reason he could not recall ever being refused when making overtures.

No woman, aside from those who lived under this roof, had ever set foot in his bedroom. This was due in part to reluctance to share the intimacy of his private retreat, at least until he found the right woman with whom to share it. He had accomplished that goal, but a practical issue remained. Bachelors who lived alone had privacy in which to conduct their sex lives; William, living with his grandmother, his sister, and a motherly housekeeper, was constantly under a microscope.

So if anything’s going to happen tonight, maybe it should be at her place, when I take her home. But the prospect of bringing her to this room and finding ecstasy with her here, creating memories to sustain him once she was gone, would probably prove too tempting to resist. So I should be prepared, just in case.

Prepared! I need to do something about that. He was embarrassed to realize that he hadn’t been with a woman, or even anticipated being with one, for long enough that he had forgotten about protection. He would go for a walk to the nearest drugstore; he had skipped his run today, and the exercise might help to calm him.

He fetched his wallet from his dresser, intending to leave at once, but first he took a quick look around. Would she like his room? Would she be comfortable here? Everything was tidy, of course. But would she like the furniture, the paintings on the walls, the large fireplace?

Next he stepped out onto his balcony. Perhaps tomorrow morning Elizabeth and I will have breakfast together out here. He imagined her sitting across the table from him looking delectable, enveloped in his too-large bathrobe, her cloud of dark hair tousled from a long night of passion. With a contented sigh, he grasped the balcony’s iron railing, turned his face up to the warm mid-day sun, and surrendered to his imagination.


“Oh, my gosh, was that the buzzer?” Elizabeth called out frantically.

Sally, her roommate, appeared in the bathroom doorway. “Yeah. You want me to get it?”

“I should have known he’d be exactly on time.”

“Should I buzz him into the building?”

Elizabeth stared at her nowhere-near-ready reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Yes, please.”

Her daily phone calls with William had continued through the remainder of his stay in Chicago, though they had taken on a more serious tone with her departure from New York looming. Last night he had called her after arriving home from the airport, and they had talked for over an hour. He had refused to name the restaurant he had chosen for dinner; despite her best attempts to trick him into blurting it out, he had resolutely kept his secret.

Sally popped her head into the bathroom. “Okay, he’s on his way up.”

“Do me a favor. Once he gets here, talk to him while I finish getting ready, okay?”

“I can’t. I have to go or I’ll be late for work.”

Elizabeth scowled at her hair, which Sally had helped her to arrange in an up-do. She pulled at one of the curls that fell alongside her face. “I just don’t know about my hair. It seems too … I don’t know, like I’m trying to be something I’m not, all sophisticated and pretentious.”

“Lizzy, your hair looks wonderful, and it’s not pretentious.”

Elizabeth, wearing only a black bra and matching panties, dashed into the bedroom to finish dressing. “Well, I guess it’s okay. I mean, he did say we were going to a dress-up sort of place.”

Sally came into the bedroom, searching under the bed until she retrieved a pair of shoes.

“Could you zip me up?” Elizabeth asked.

Sally complied, and Elizabeth turned to face her. “How do I look?”

“Fantastic. You’re going to knock him on his butt when he sees you.”

Elizabeth inspected herself in the mirror. “But this dress is so tight. How did I ever let you talk me into buying it?”

“Live a little. You’ve got it, so you might as well flaunt it. Besides, how often do you get to have dinner with a famous millionaire?”

“He’s not … well, okay, he is a famous millionaire, but it doesn’t seem that way when we talk. He’s just … William. I can’t explain it.”

“Yeah, just William, who can afford to send you a dozen roses every day.”

They both flinched when they heard the knock at the door. “That’s him,” Sally said. “You ready?”

“I need to fix my make-up.”

“Your make-up looks fine. Look, I really do have to get going, but I’ll tell him to relax in the living room, and that you’ll be ready soon.”

“I won’t be long.”

“Have fun tonight, and don’t wait up. I’m seeing Craig after work, and we’ll probably go back to his place.”

“Thanks for everything, Sally. I know I’ve been a little neurotic.”

“You have, but I get it. A girl doesn’t have dinner with one of the most eligible bachelors in New York every day of the week. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Sally closed the bedroom door behind her, and Elizabeth heard the muffled sounds of her greeting to William and his reply. Elizabeth re-applied her lipstick, dabbed some powder on her nose, and, with a deep breath, opened the bedroom door.

William was standing in the living room with his back to her, inspecting her CD collection. Elizabeth cringed. Several CD’s in the collection featured none other than William Darcy; in fact, she owned every CD he had ever recorded. Great. Just great. He probably thinks I have some weird shrine to him in a closet somewhere. I bet he sprints for the door any second.

“Hi, William.”

He turned, and her eyes widened. She had never seen him look more handsome or more commanding than he did tonight. He wore an impeccably tailored double-breasted tuxedo with a crisply pleated white shirt and a black bow tie. She was acutely aware of his height, the breadth of his shoulders, and a powerful air of … what’s the word? Virility. Yes. He oozes virility.


Oh, my God. Every time I think she can’t get any more beautiful … by now I should know better. William simply stared at her, his mouth open. He knew that he must look like the village idiot, but he couldn’t help himself.

Elizabeth’s eyes were brilliant, framed by a dark fringe of eyelashes that he had never noticed before. Her hair was swept up, revealing her neck and shoulders. Her lips were curved into exactly the sort of warm, welcoming smile he had often imagined receiving from her. But when his gaze continued downward, he lost the ability to think. Her black dress was simple, with a round neck and short sleeves, but it was tightly fitted, showing off the curves that kept him awake at night and sending a rogue wave of pure, primitive lust crashing through him.

“You look beautiful,” William croaked, and then he remembered the parcel clutched tightly in his hand. He unrolled the tissue, revealing a single red rosebud, the lower half of the stem now crushed.

“I decided to make the delivery myself today,” he said, extending the rose toward her. “I suppose I should have left it to the professionals.”

She took the flower from him. “Thank you. It’s absolutely beautiful. I’ll just cut the stem shorter; it’ll be fine.”

“I know I’ve sent you too many flowers already, but I thought you could make room for one more.”

“Of course I can, especially one this perfect.” She stepped close to him, looking up at him through her lashes.

He put his hands on her shoulders and drew her gently toward him. Their lips were only a few inches apart when the front door slammed and Sally strode in the living room. Elizabeth jumped backward, her cheeks flushing.

“Hello again,” Sally said. “Would you believe I forgot my wallet? Won’t get far without that. I think I left it in the jacket I wore earlier.” She hurried past them into the bedroom.

“I guess we might as well get going,” Elizabeth said with a rueful smile. “Let me just put the rose in some water first.”

They left the apartment together, with William’s hand resting possessively on the small of Elizabeth’s back. Just as the elevator arrived, Sally rushed out to join them.

“Oh, good; got here just in time. We can ride down together.”

William nodded and did his best to smile. Elizabeth’s eyes met his, and the wry amusement he saw there relieved at least some of the frustration seething inside of him. He touched her hand, and felt her fingers entwine with his.

When they exited the building, Allen opened the car door for them. Sally stopped beside the car and looked beseechingly at William and Elizabeth.

“I know three’s a crowd, but I was already running late before I forgot my wallet. Could you please drop me at work on your way to wherever you’re going?”

William, who had been plotting a way to kiss Elizabeth in the car without attracting Allen’s notice, forced a weak smile onto his face. “Of course,” he replied, his voice sounding colder than he had intended.

Sally scrambled into the back seat, and after an apologetic glance at William, Elizabeth followed suit. William settled into the passenger side of the front seat in gloomy silence. This had better not be an omen for the rest of the evening.


William was certain that it took at least an hour to reach the Tribeca nightclub where Sally tended bar. When she was gone at last, he joined Elizabeth in the back seat for the remainder of the trip.

“I’m sorry about Sally inviting herself along,” Elizabeth said.

“It’s okay. I didn’t mind.”

“Yes, you did, but I understand. If it helps at all, she was running late for work because she spent so much time helping me with my hair.”

“Then she’s completely forgiven.”

“She helped me shop for my dress too. In fact, she’s really the one who picked it.”

“Then she’s more than forgiven. I’m her newest fan,” he murmured. “You look … I don’t even know what the word is. ‘Beautiful’ seems so inadequate.”

He took her hand, encouraged by her shy smile in response. As the car proceeded uptown, he slid closer to her, inhaling the scent that so often seemed to permeate his dreams. He knew, without the slightest doubt, that it was going to be a perfect evening.

1 Piano Concerto No. 1 in Eb major by Franz Liszt, S.124 (LW H4), third movement (Allegro marziale animato). Performed by Van Cliburn with the Philadelphia Orchestra, directed by Eugene Ormandy, on Liszt Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 and Grieg Concerto, Opus 16. © 1988 BMG Music. Listen to a sample on iTunes.