“When are you going to tell me where we’re going to dinner?” Elizabeth asked as the Darcy family’s Mercedes passed through midtown Manhattan.

Neither Elizabeth nor William had said much on the drive uptown. Elizabeth had been content to sit quietly, enjoying the warmth of his arm around her shoulder. Things had changed between them since his trip to Chicago, and she needed time to process the flood of unnerving feelings aroused by his presence.

William grinned at her. “Okay. I suppose I’ve played ‘William Darcy, Man of Mystery’ for long enough.”

“More than long enough, especially considering how hard I’ve tried to trick you into confessing! So, come on, out with it. Where are we going?”

“Chez Darcy.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re having dinner at my house.”

“Oh.”

His house? No doubt in a huge, stately dining room with haughty servants everywhere, and perhaps his grandmother dropping by to see if I know which fork to use. Or else he’s sent everyone away, and after dinner he’s planning to have me for dessert. Elizabeth’s vague feelings of unease were instantly magnified, and she stiffened.

He eyed her, frowning. “Is something wrong?”

She forced a reassuring smile onto her face and sat up straight. “No, of course not. It was just a surprise. I thought we were going to a restaurant.”

“If you’d prefer that, all I have to do is make a phone call.”

“No, I’d love to see your house.”

He exhaled in obvious relief. “Good, because Mrs. Reynolds would kill me if we didn’t show up. She’s been cooking and decorating and who knows what else for the past two days.”

There was something endearing about the idea of William, with all his wealth and influence, fearing the wrath of his housekeeper. “Then I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else. And I can thank her first-hand for the soup and sandwich last week.”

“She’s looking forward to meeting you. And I’d like you to meet my sister, Georgiana.”

“I’d like that.”

“She’s at a friend’s house right now, but she should be back before it gets too late. By the way, we won’t see Gran; she’s out for the evening.”

photo of Darcy mansionThe car pulled up in front of the townhouse. Elizabeth stepped out onto the sidewalk, admiring the stately limestone building with its large windows and ornate balconies. She craned her neck to see the higher floors.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.

“Thank you. My great-great-grandfather had it built in 1896. He was named William Darcy, too.”

“Then ‘William’ is an old family name.”

“Yes, though if you go back far enough, it was actually ‘Fitzwilliam.’”

“Like Richard’s last name?”

“That’s a coincidence, believe it or not. My great-great-great-great-grandfather Fitzwilliam was the first Darcy to cross the Atlantic. He was the younger son and namesake of a wealthy English landowner. The elder son was heir to the bulk of the estate, and so in 1839, Fitzwilliam sailed to Barbados to make his own fortune. He did well, mainly because he married the only child of a wealthy planter, and she inherited her father’s estate.”

“Clever fellow.” She was fascinated by the energy and enthusiasm in his voice as he told the story, in sharp contrast to his usual reserved demeanor.

“I’ve read about that era in Barbados, and the only viable way to make a fortune was through marriage. Most of the arable land was already owned by the large estates. Slavery had recently been abolished, though the former slaves had little choice but to keep working on the plantations for paltry wages. It’s really a crime how—”

He stopped speaking, and the animation drained from his face. “I’m sorry. History is a passion of mine, and sometimes I forget that not everyone shares my fascination.”

She touched his arm and smiled. “No, please, go on. It’s an interesting story. I assume Fitzwilliam and his wife had children who kept the plantation going?”

“Yes. In fact, we still own the plantation house.”

“Really?”

“Yes. The house is called Pemberley. Fitzwilliam named it after his father’s estate in England. The agricultural land was sold long ago, but we use the house as a vacation home. It’s on a high bluff overlooking the ocean, surrounded by a tropical garden.”

“It sounds amazing.”

He nodded, a distant smile on his face. “It’s my favorite place in the world. I don’t get there often enough.”

“How did your family end up in New York?”

“One of Fitzwilliam’s grandsons came here to attend Columbia University, and he never went home. He started our company, and he’s the one who had this house built.”

“It’s so great that you know your family history. I couldn’t begin to tell you who my great-great-grandfather was, much less my great-great-great—well, however many ‘greats’ you said.”

He ushered her through the wrought iron gate in front of the house, which Allen had left open for them. “My grandmother is a big believer in keeping family traditions alive. That’s why we still own this house. Gran sees it as part of our heritage, and she won’t hear of selling it and buying a penthouse with a park view.”

“Is that what you’d like to do?”

“Yes and no. We’d probably be more comfortable in a place like that, and Richard is always making jokes about how mired in antiquity we are, but in general I agree with Gran. It means something to me that five generations of my family have lived in this house, and that someday my children will be the sixth.”

The front door swung open, and Elizabeth found herself face to face with a slightly plump, grandmotherly woman with silver hair and wire-rim glasses. She wore a simple black dress, a string of pearls, and a warm smile.

“Good evening, Ms. Bennet, Mr. Darcy.”

“Elizabeth, this is Mrs. Reynolds,” William said. “Mrs. Reynolds, this is Ms. Elizabeth Bennet.”

“I’m so glad to meet you, Mrs. Reynolds.”

“Ms. Bennet, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. We’ve been looking forward to your visit.”

Mrs. Reynolds led them into the house. The reception area was small but impressive, with an ornate table in the center holding a massive floral arrangement, and a large gilt-edged mirror on the wall that was obviously, even to Elizabeth’s untrained eye, an antique. The lofty ceiling made the area seem even larger than it was. Through an arched doorway, Elizabeth saw a spacious living room.

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?” Mrs. Reynolds said.

“Yes?”

“Sonya wondered if you could spare her a moment.”

“She’s still here?” William frowned.

“She’s been waiting for you. She said an important piece of business just came up, and promises that it won’t take long.”

He pressed his lips together tightly and sighed noisily. “Elizabeth, this is terribly rude of me, but may I leave you with Mrs. Reynolds for a few minutes so I can handle this?”

“Of course,” she answered.

“You go ahead, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “I’ll take good care of Ms. Bennet till you get back.”

William departed, and Elizabeth smiled at Mrs. Reynolds. “Thank you so much for the delicious dinner you sent me last week.”

“I’m so glad you enjoyed it. But Mr. Darcy deserves the credit; it was his idea. When he discussed it with me, I thought to myself, ‘I wish, just once in my life, some handsome young man had done something that lovely for me.’ But Mr. Darcy isn’t like other young men. He’s very special.”

“It was a sweet gesture.” Elizabeth couldn’t help but be impressed by Mrs. Reynolds’s obvious affection for William.

“Would you like to go into the library? That’s where Mr. Darcy wanted to have drinks before dinner.”

Elizabeth looked around her in awe as they passed through the living room, with Mrs. Reynolds leading the way. A huge fireplace with an ornate hearth dominated one wall. Oriental rugs covered portions of the beautiful hardwood floor. The room was furnished in antiques, and Elizabeth guessed that most of them curved, wrought iron staircase in Darcy homehad been in the family for several generations.

Next, they passed into a marble-floored hallway housing a large oval staircase. The walls were covered with framed oil paintings, including some that Elizabeth suspected were portraits of family members. She looked up, and exclaimed, “Is that a fresco on the ceiling above the staircase?”

curved, wrought iron staircase in Darcy home“Yes, it is. You really must see it from the sixth floor; it’s one of my favorite things about the house. That, and the library. Oh, and also the greenhouse.”

“There’s a greenhouse?”

“Yes, on the roof. And a garden, too.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Oh, my goodness. I had no idea.”

“It’s a lovely house, from top to bottom. I’d take you on a tour, but I think Mr. Darcy is planning to do that. And you’ll definitely see the greenhouse and the roof garden, since you’re having dinner up there.”

“That sounds perfect.”

“Oh, good, I’m glad. Mr. Darcy was particular about the arrangements, and he thought you’d like it up there. We were so pleased that the weather cooperated.”

“It’s a beautiful evening.”

“I take it Mr. Darcy hasn’t told you much about the house?”

“Not really. Just now, when we were outside, he was telling me some family history.”

“He’s so proud of his heritage, as he should be. The Darcys have a long history as leading citizens in New York, and his ancestors would be proud of him. He’s the most talented, the smartest, and the most generous man you could ever hope to meet.”

When they entered the library, Elizabeth gasped. It was designed to answer the prayers of any book Darcy family library, with grand pianolover: two stories high, with a gallery at the second level to allow access to the upper bookshelves. The wood-paneled walls gave the room a rich, warm appearance. Floor-to-ceiling windows along the back wall created a dramatic effect, offering views of a small garden behind the house.

“What a beautiful room!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“Isn’t it? This floor of the house has all the public rooms. Mrs. Darcy entertains her friends here periodically, and the family meets for brunch every Sunday, but otherwise these rooms don’t get much use.”

“William doesn’t give many parties?”

Mrs. Reynolds shook her head. “He travels so much, the poor boy. I think it’s a lonely life for him, being by himself on the road so much. What he needs is to find a nice girl, settle down, and start a family. But first he has to find someone who deserves him, and that’s going to be a tall order.”

Elizabeth suppressed a smile. “How long have you been with the Darcys?”

“Since before William was born. I’ve known him since he moved here with his parents when he was still a baby. And in all that time, he’s never treated me with anything but kindness and respect. He has his moods, but that’s just because he feels things so deeply. He’s a wonderful grandson and a loving brother. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for the people he loves.”

“What was he like as a child?”

“He was the sweetest little boy you’d ever want to meet; so respectful and polite. Such a beautiful child, too, with huge brown eyes, and that dark, curly hair. He was quiet, and he didn’t laugh or smile as much as most children.” Mrs. Reynolds’s smile held a touch of melancholy. “But I suppose that’s not surprising, given everything he went through back then.”

“Oh?” This sounded like a clue to the real William Darcy.

Mrs. Reynolds’s eyes widened. After a split-second pause, she began to speak rapidly. “But listen to me, blathering on and not even offering you something to drink. Would you like a glass of wine? I have Mr. Darcy’s favorite Chardonnay chilling in the kitchen, but if you prefer red wine, I can just run down to the wine cellar.”

“Chardonnay sounds perfect.”

“I’ll be right back. Why don’t you go out and enjoy the garden? I’m sure Mr. Darcy will be down to join you any minute.”

Elizabeth smiled her thanks and decided to take Mrs. Reynolds’s suggestion. She exited the library and stepped onto a small brick patio behind the house. The garden was compact, but it offered a pleasant oasis in the midst of the city.

She needed to stop jumping to conclusions about William’s world. His house was somewhat overwhelming, as she had anticipated, but Mrs. Reynolds was the antithesis of the haughty, stiff servants Elizabeth had expected to find. She turned to look back at the house and noted a series of balconies on the upper floors, terraced so that the lower-floor balconies were uncovered. One of them undoubtedly belonged to William. She wondered where he was, and what he was thinking, at that particular moment.

 

After dispensing with his business with Sonya as quickly as possible and sternly ordered her not to “accidentally” bump into Elizabeth on her way out of the house, William went upstairs to inspect his bedroom, quadruple-checking that it was ready for a visitor. Just in case.

He studied his reflection in the dressing room mirrors, straightened his black bow tie, and took a deep breath to calm his jittery stomach. Please, please, don’t let anything go wrong tonight. Turning resolutely on his heel, he strode into the hall and descended the stairs to the first floor. As he passed the kitchen, he nearly collided with Mrs. Reynolds, who was carrying a small tray with two glasses of wine.

“William!” she exclaimed, struggling to keep the glasses from spilling.

He deftly rescued the glasses. “Sorry, Mrs. Reynolds. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“No harm done. I was just going to take these to the library. Ms. Bennet is out in the garden.”

“I’m on my way there, so I’ll save you the trip.”

“She’s a lovely young lady.”

He nodded, not trusting himself to say anything.

“I was planning to serve dinner at 8:30; is that all right?”

He checked his watch. “That should be fine. Is everything ready on the roof?”

“Yes. You can go up whenever you like. Enjoy your evening, dear.”

Mrs. Reynolds had mostly broken the habit, formed during his childhood, of using endearments when speaking to him, but occasionally one still escaped. William didn’t mind, as long as she was careful to address him formally when outsiders were present.

He passed through the doors from the library to the garden, juggling the wine glasses. Elizabeth stood off to one side, bending over a rose bush to inhale the scent of one of the blooms.

“I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said.

She straightened and turned to face him. “It’s no problem. I’m enjoying being out here; it’s just beautiful.”

“It’s small, but I’ve always liked it.” He handed her a glass of wine.

“What shall we drink to?”

“To your new job.”

“Thank you.”

They stood together on the small lawn, silently sipping their wine. The sun sat low in a sparkling blue sky, with a few clouds visible between the tall buildings surrounding them. The fragrance of the shrub roses mixed with the smell of the freshly-mowed grass, creating the unmistakable scent of summer.

“I’m glad you brought me here for dinner,” she said, breaking the silence.

“So am I.”

“But there’s something I have to ask.”

“Yes?”

“It’s about the tuxedo. Not that you don’t look wonderful, but do you always dress this way for meals at home? I’ve been imagining you at breakfast, eating your Frosted Flakes and trying not to spill any milk on your tuxedo jacket. Or does one wear a morning coat at the breakfast table?”

Her eyes sparkled with merriment, and he stared at her, enchanted. He stepped closer until their bodies were just touching, and ran a finger tenderly along her cheek. “This isn’t an ordinary dinner at home, Elizabeth. I want this to be a special evening for both of us.”

Her eyes softened as he continued to caress her cheek.

“I’ve always liked this garden,” he murmured, leaning over her as she raised her face to his, “but it’s never been more beautiful than it is right now.”

“William, are you out here?”

It was Sonya’s voice. Elizabeth sprang away from him and studiously examined the rosebushes. William pivoted on his heel and faced his secretary, grinding his teeth.

“I thought you had left,” he said curtly.

“I have just one more thing for your signature. It’ll only take a second. Oh, and this must be Elizabeth. I’m Sonya Lawrence, William’s secretary. I’m so pleased to meet you.”

Elizabeth greeted Sonya, and they began to chat. William was far too frustrated to concentrate on what the women were saying, so he contented himself with glowering at his studiously oblivious secretary.

Finally, he had had enough. “I know you’re anxious to get home,” he said in a commanding voice, taking Sonya’s arm firmly, “so let me walk you out, and I’ll sign that document. Please excuse me, Elizabeth. I’ll be right back.”

“Nice to meet you!” Sonya called out over her shoulder as William propelled her forward.

He marched her briskly through the house and to the front door. “Just what did you think you were doing?” he snapped. “I specifically told you not to do that.”

“Yes, you did,” she retorted with a smug smile. “Once you did that, I couldn’t resist. Did I interrupt something?”

“None of your business.”

“Ah, so I did, then. Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb a romantic moment. But I had to make sure I approve of this woman who’s got you all tied up in knots.”

“And?” He asked the question with deliberate sarcasm, hoping to hide his interest in Sonya’s impressions of Elizabeth.

“Well, I didn’t get to talk to her for long, what with you dragging me away so soon.” She smirked at him.

“Cut it out. What did you think of her?”

“From what little I observed, she seems nice. Bright, lively, and completely down to earth. What she sees in you, I can’t fathom.”

He shook his head in long-suffering silence.

“Oh, come on, you know I’m kidding. I like her. She may even turn out to be good enough for you, and that’s saying something.”

His lips quirked into a reluctant smile at the indirect compliment. “Thank you.”

“So I’m not fired?”

“Not yet.”

“Good, because you’d never find anybody else who’d put up with you. Have fun, boss, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Sonya departed, and William made his way through the house, a lopsided grin turning up the corners of his mouth. He found Elizabeth in the library, scanning the bookshelves.

“Sonya seems terrific,” she said. “And you have quite a fan club in this house. Everybody I meet keeps singing your praises.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He took her hand. “I bribed them all handsomely, and I’d hate to think I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. Now, would you like to see the rest of the house?”

 

Of all the rooms on the second floor, Elizabeth liked William’s office best. It was decorated in dark, rich colors and, like the living room, was furnished in antiques. “You can feel the history in here,” she breathed.

William smiled at her, dimples creasing his cheeks, and her heart did a peculiar flip-flop in her chest. He led her slowly around the room, showing her his collection of antique maps and globes. She was touched by his almost childlike pleasure in sharing these prized possessions with her, and she made an effort to draw him out further by asking questions about the maps.

She pointed to the large portrait above the fireplace. “Who are they?”

“My parents.”

“Your mother was beautiful.”

“I always thought so.”

“I can see the resemblance, especially in the eyes. Were you and your mother close?”

“Yes. She was devoted to me.”

“And to Georgiana too, I’m sure.”

“Georgie was only a few months old when Mamma died.”

“Oh, no, how sad. How old were you?”

“Fifteen.”

“That must have been so hard for you.”

“It was.” He sighed. “After all this time, I still miss her.”

She watched him gazing up at his mother in the portrait, and saw a bittersweet smile on his lips. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, touching his arm.

His dark eyes fell on her, seeming to peer into her soul. He took her wine glass, set it on the hearth, and took her hands in his, drawing her closer to him. “Elizabeth,” he murmured. A thrill of anticipation streaked through her as he leaned forward, his lips descending toward hers.

“Mr. Darcy?”

She stepped away, stumbling over the edge of the rug but managing to regain her balance. Allen Reynolds stood in the doorway, a wine bottle in his hand and a stricken look on his weathered face.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Darcy. My wife sent me up to see if you’d like any more wine.”

William exhaled loudly. “Just leave the bottle, Allen. We’ll serve ourselves.”

“Of course, sir.”

Allen set the bottle on the nearest table and all but sprinted from the room. William turned to Elizabeth, his brown eyes mournful, the corners of his mouth curling down. His pitiful expression was the last straw; she could no longer contain her giggles.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but it’s just—” She burst out laughing, unable to finish. And to think I was worrying about being alone with him!

“Sometimes I wish I lived in a cave in Tibet,” he grumbled, but she saw a faint twinkle in his eye. A smile gradually stole across his face, and he began to chuckle softly.

She stepped close to him, raised up on tiptoe, and planted a soft kiss on his lips. Then she stepped back before he had a chance to react. “Maybe that will break the jinx.”

“I hope so.” They smiled at each other.

“So,” she asked, “do we go to the third floor next?”

“If you like. My private rooms are there.”

“Oh.” Me and my big mouth. How do I get out of this?

“I’d especially like to show you the piano in my sitting room.”

Come on, Lizzy, relax. It’s just his sitting room. Besides, somebody is sure to burst into the room the instant anything starts to happen. She grinned at the thought and said, ”Lead the way.”

The climbed the steps and entered his sitting room, where a baby grand piano in a beautiful rosewood case dominated the space.

“It’s beautiful,” she breathed, running her fingers over its polished surface with reverence. Rosewood piano in William's study

“Gran had it custom-made for me as a 30th birthday present.”

“And you have to bring people all the way up to the third floor to see it.”

He shook his head. “I don’t bring people up here. This is my private place.”

“But I’m here.”

“Yes.”

Unnerved by the intensity of his gaze, she sought a less personal subject. “No wonder your house has to be so big, with all your pianos. I’ve seen three so far; is that all?”

“Yes. The piano in the library doesn’t get much use. The one on the second floor is Georgie’s; I bought it for her a few years ago. This is the one I play most of the time. I like to have privacy when I practice.”

“I bet it sounds wonderful. Would you play something for me?

He pulled out the piano bench. “I will if you’ll sit with me.”

“So I can turn your invisible pages again?” she asked, grinning, as they seated themselves.

“Absolutely. I missed my invisible page turner in Chicago. Is there anything special you’d like to hear?”

She shook her head. “I know I’ll enjoy anything you choose.”

He sat quietly for a moment, studying the keys, and then began to play. This piece was gentler and more contemplative than the stormy compositions with which he was so often associated. Its plaintive melody sang out, piercing her heart with its sweetness. As was typical when he played, he seemed to escape reality and slip into the world of his music. She felt herself being pulled along to a place of rare beauty as the music ebbed and flowed around her, forging a bond between them that she didn’t understand, but was powerless to resist.

 

William lifted his hands from the keyboard as the final chord of the Brahms Intermezzo1 shimmered in the silence and then faded away. A passing car backfired, yanking him back into the present. He turned to Elizabeth and was astonished to see tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” He reached out and captured a teardrop as it rolled slowly down her cheek.

“How do you do that?” she asked, her voice clogged with emotion. “Your music always makes me cry, and I don’t know how you do it. You make me feel all these things, and they go straight to my heart, and …”

“Lizzy,” he murmured, cupping her face gently in his hands. “Please, don’t cry.”

Their eyes locked, emotion surging between them. They leaned toward each other and their lips met, tentatively at first, but the urgency escalated rapidly. Elizabeth moaned softly and her arms curled around his neck. She pressed closer to him and he shuddered with desire, her eager response inflaming him. His tongue teased her lips, probing gently until her mouth opened under his. Groaning deep in his chest, he wrapped his arms tightly around her.

Fierce hunger electrified William’s nerve endings, and as the kiss continued he thought repeatedly of his bedroom, his private sanctuary just a few steps down the hall. His few functioning brain cells argued that the time wasn’t right, that it was too soon, that he needed to maintain control, but his ravenous body refused to listen. Finally, reason triumphed over desire, and he forced himself to break off the kiss.

They sat together, foreheads touching, eyes closed, still clinging to each other, the silence broken only by their shallow breathing. Nothing in William’s experience had ever come close to the wave of pure joy he had felt when she yielded her mouth to him.

He saw in her eyes that she too was shaken by the emotion that had flared between them. He kissed her tenderly and drew her head onto his shoulder, caressing her hair. Finally, he felt her stirring, trying to sit up straight, and he reluctantly released her.

“I … I think I’d better go check my hair and make-up,” she said, her voice trembling. “I probably messed up my make-up when I started crying, and then …”

“You look beautiful,” he said, surprised to hear a hoarse note in his own voice. “But feel free to use my bathroom. It’s the door just on the other side of the stairs. I can show you where—”

“No.” She leapt to her feet. “No, I’ll find it. And besides, I need to go downstairs and get my purse. I’ll be back soon.”

She passed through the doorway without a backward glance. His lips curled into a lazy grin and he closed his eyes, basking in the memory of that incredible kiss.

But in three days, she was leaving. His smile faded.

 

Elizabeth peered into the dressing table mirror in William’s bathroom and took a deep but unsteady breath. She repaired her lip gloss, and task made difficult by her trembling hand.

What on earth just happened? One moment, he had been sweetly concerned about her tears; the next, they had been locked in the most passionate embrace Elizabeth had ever experienced. A shuddering warmth had filled her body, leaving her weak and trembling, able to do little but cling to him in helpless surrender.

She ran a finger along the marble top of the dressing table. It was a beautiful piece, but seemed incongruously feminine for a man’s bathroom. He must have installed it for his girlfriends to use when they slept over. Considering all the women who must throw themselves at him, she was sure he rarely spent a night alone. Which explains why he’s so good at kissing. Lots and lots of practice.

Her smile faded, and she rose from the table, surveying the room, which felt—and perhaps was—as big as her entire apartment. It was decorated in deep, warm colors, creating an impression of masculine comfort and luxury. She noted the huge glass shower stall and the long expanse of countertop, but it was the whirlpool tub in the corner that caught and held her attention. She sighed wistfully, imagining herself lounging in the tub, surrounded by a sea of fragrant bubbles. Needless to say, with a glass of champagne in my hand.

But she was feeling like herself again, and it was time to rejoin William. After one final admiring look around the palatial bathroom, she exited into the hall.

He was waiting by the stairs. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks.” Before she could devise an appropriate comment about the bathroom, her attention was distracted by a set of doors recessed into the wall to her right. “Is that an elevator?”

He nodded. “In a six-story house, it comes in handy. We can take it straight up to the roof.”

“But what about the fourth and fifth floors?”

“There’s not much to see, just bedrooms. The fourth floor was intended for the children of the house, but at the moment we use it for guests. Gran and Georgie share the fifth floor.”

fresco painted on the ceiling dome in Darcy houseWhen they emerged from the elevator onto the sixth floor, Elizabeth remembered Mrs. Reynolds’s advice and glanced up at the painted dome over the stairs. William beamed with pride when she commented on its beauty, and then, with an air of anxious anticipation, he led her through a set of French doors into the greenhouse.

orange orchidThey were surrounded by lush greenery punctuated by a profusion of orchids in an endless variety of colors and sizes. She inhaled the warm, humid air, fragrant with damp earth and green, growing things.

lavender orchid“Oh, my,” she whispered reverently. “You didn’t tell me you had a little Garden of Eden up here.”

“I wanted to surprise you. I was hoping you’d like it.”

orchid with spots“Like it? It’s incredible. I love orchids. Who takes care of them?”

“My mother started the orchid collection when I was a boy. She had the greenhouse built and did most of the work, with Allen’s help. After she died, he continued it mostly on his own. I help him occasionally, when I have the time. It’s a good way to relax.”

“And it probably reminds you of your mother.”

He nodded but didn’t answer.

yellow/red orchidElizabeth wandered down the rows of plants, admiring the delicate blooms. William pointed out some of the most unusual plants, and discussed care and cultivation.

“You know a lot about orchids.” she observed. “I assume your mother taught you?”

white/purple orchidHe nodded. “And I’ve done some reading on the subject.”

“You read a lot, don’t you?”

“I’ve always loved books, and reading helps to pass the time on long plane trips, or late at night in hotel rooms. Do you like to read?”

“For the past few years, most of my reading has been for school. But when I was on tour with Les Miz, my suitcase weighed a ton because of all the books I packed.”

orange orchidHe stopped to set a small clay pot upright, revealing a delicate plant with tiny orange blooms. “What do you like to read?”

“Well, after your discussions of history and horticulture, I’m embarrassed to say, but I like mystery novels.”

He shrugged. “Why be embarrassed? Mystery novels are like brain-teasers. You sift through the clues and try to solve the puzzle.”

“Exactly! I especially like stories with female sleuths.”

“Did you want to be Nancy Drew when you were growing up?”

Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”

“Because Georgie loved those books too.”

“I used to sneak outside at night with a flashlight to go exploring. Mary was always tattling on me, and then I’d get in trouble with Mom, but it didn’t stop me. I was a little too fearless for my own good back then.”

“But not now?”

She sidestepped his question, pointing to a plant that caught her eye. “I think this one is my favorite,” she said. “What kind is it?”

“A dendrobium orchid.”

“I love the deep shade of purple. It’s so unusual and vibrant.” She glanced at him and saw a warm light in his eyes. “What?”

“The way you described the orchid. It’s like you.”

Her heartbeat quickened as he stepped closer. “Thank you for coming to my house,” he murmured, placing his hands on her shoulders. She closed her eyes, feeling his warm breath on her cheek as his lips descended to meet hers.

“Will? Are you up here?”

William raised his head and dropped his hands from Elizabeth’s shoulders. He sighed and stepped away from her. “It’s Georgie.”

The teenager Elizabeth had noticed at the Juilliard reception sauntered toward them. She was tall and thin, with shoulder-length light brown hair and soft blue eyes. She wore faded designer jeans, a snug-fitting pink top, and sneakers with thick soles. Other than her height, she bore little resemblance to her brother.

“Hi, Georgie,” William greeted her, kissing her cheek. “I didn’t think you’d be home so soon.”

“Courtney’s stepmother was in a bad mood, so we wanted to get out of there. Mrs. Reynolds said you wanted to talk to me.”

“I’d like you to meet our guest.”

William made the introductions and Elizabeth stepped forward with a smile. “I’m glad to meet you, Georgiana.”

“Hi,” Georgiana said with a nonchalant air.

“Your brother told me you’re a fine musician.”

“I like music. But I’m nowhere near as good as Will.”

“That’s an awfully tough comparison,” Elizabeth answered with a quick smile at William. “What instruments do you play?” She knew the answer already, but it was as good a topic as any.

“Piano and viola.”

“When I was in high school I wanted to play the viola. Do you play in an orchestra?”

“Georgie is second chair violist with the New York Youth Symphony,” William interjected with pride.

“That’s wonderful!”

Georgiana shifted from one foot to another. “It’s okay.”

“Is your friend Courtney in the youth symphony too?”

“No.”

Okay, time to try another topic. “What school do you go to?”

“Chapin.”

“Oh, that’s a wonderful school. Do you like it?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“What grade are you in?”

“Tenth, this fall.” Georgiana sighed loudly. “Will, I have to go downstairs. Courtney’s waiting for me.”

“Of course, I understand,” Elizabeth answered quickly before William, whose eyes betrayed his embarrassment, could respond. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too.”

As soon as Georgiana vanished through the French doors, William turned to Elizabeth. “I’m sorry. She has much better manners than that. Something must be bothering her.”

“Don’t worry about it. Girls her age can be difficult. I remember being so moody back then. And I certainly wasn’t much for small talk with adults.”

“But she knows better than that. I’m going to speak to her about it later.”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched as she did her best not to laugh. “You behaved exactly the same way at the café last week, until you relaxed.”

He flinched. “Was I really that bad? No wonder you wanted to go home early.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. But, you know, maybe Georgie felt uncomfortable, just like you did at the café.”

He didn’t answer. They continued their stroll through the greenhouse.

“I have to say,” she remarked, “the people in this house have a real talent for showing up at inopportune moments.”

He shook his head, a slow grin stealing onto his face. “I’m beginning to think it’s a conspiracy. The good news is that we’re running out of potential culprits; most of them have already taken their turns. At this point, the only ones left are Mrs. Reynolds and—”

“Ah, there you are.”

Elizabeth turned to see Rose Darcy approaching.

“Gran! I wasn’t expecting to see you until later.” William’s lips twitched, and Elizabeth had to work hard to suppress a giggle.

“I’m rather tired tonight, so after the Marstons’ reception I decided to skip the ballet and come home. I’m not fond of Stravinsky in any case.” Rose nodded at Elizabeth. “Good evening, Ms. Bennet.”

Elizabeth didn’t dare make eye contact with William; instead, she bit her tongue, willing herself not to laugh. “Good evening, Mrs. Darcy,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“I hope William has been a good host.”

“Oh, yes. He’s been showing me around the house. It’s so beautiful.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?” It was Marcia Reynolds, passing through the French doors bearing a tray laden with dishes.

“Yes?”

“Dinner is ready, sir. I’m on my way out to set up; you can come along whenever you’re ready.”

“I won’t keep you from your dinner,” Rose said, “but perhaps after you’re finished you could join me in the library. I’d like to get better acquainted with you, Ms. Bennet, since you and my grandson are becoming friends.”

“But, Gran—”

“I’m not going to monopolize your evening, William. But certainly you can spare a few minutes for your grandmother.”

“Of course, Mrs. Darcy. That would be lovely.” Elizabeth did her best to sound sincere.

“I’ll see you later, then.”

William led the way to the dinner table. For Elizabeth’s ears only, he muttered, “Well, at least they’ve all interrupted us now. Maybe things will finally quiet down.”

“We can only hope.” She took his hand and squeezed it.

 

William leaned back in his chair, sipping his coffee, and marveled at how relaxed he felt. From the moment he and Elizabeth had seated themselves at the table in the midst of the roof garden, the evening had progressed flawlessly.

Dinner had been a triumph of Mrs. Reynolds’s culinary skill, the wine he had chosen was superb, and the weather had been perfect for dining al fresco: warm enough for comfort, but not oppressively so, with a gentle breeze. The sun had set near the start of dinner, streaking the sky with improbably vivid color, and a nearly full moon now rode above their heads.

Traffic noises drifted up from the city below, but as was typical of a seasoned New Yorker, William barely noticed the sounds. Besides, they were masked in part by soft jazz music, which he had carefully selected that morning.

Even his reflections on the early part of the evening were pleasant now, in his current benevolent frame of mind. Instead of dwelling on the constant stream of interruptions, he reflected with satisfaction on the pleasure of sharing his home with Elizabeth, and above all on their passionate interlude in his sitting room, an experience that he hoped to repeat, and perhaps improve upon, later that evening.

Elizabeth was finishing her dessert, a blissful expression on her face. Her skin glowed in the candlelight. He wished for a moment that he were a painter instead of a musician so that he could capture the moment on canvas.

She put down her spoon and smiled at him. “Everything was delicious, but the chocolate mousse was out of this world. How did Mrs. Reynolds manage to guess my favorite dessert?”

“It wasn’t a guess. Don’t you remember our conversation about desserts Monday night? Mrs. Reynolds asked me to find out at least one of your favorite foods so she could serve it.”

“I had no idea you were so sneaky. Thank you.”

“For being sneaky?”

She laughed softly. “For going to so much trouble on my account.”

“It was no trouble.”

“Well, thank you anyway. Do we have to go find your grandmother yet?”

“No,” he declared. “If we wait long enough, she’ll go to bed.”

“But she’s expecting us, and she won’t like it if we don’t do as she asked.”

This was true, and William didn’t often risk arousing Gran’s wrath. But tonight it didn’t seem to matter. “I’ll explain it to her in the morning.”

“If you’re trying to avoid her for my sake, it’s not necessary. I don’t mind spending a few minutes with her. I think it’s sweet that she’s so protective of you.”

“That’s not it. I don’t want to share you with anyone tonight.”

Their eyes met in a long, unsmiling look. In the silence that followed, a familiar song began to play on the stereo. Elizabeth’s eyes widened in recognition.

“I love this song,” she said. “Who’s playing it?”

“The Bill Evans Trio.”

“I mostly listen to jazz singers, not instrumentalists, but I love Bill Evans.”

“My grandmother introduced me to his music when I was a boy, and he’s always been one of my favorites. He’s probably one of the reasons I started playing jazz.”

They fell silent, listening to the trio’s recording of “When I Fall in Love.” The lyrics floated through William’s head:

When I fall in love, it will be forever
Or I’ll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is,
Love is ended before it’s begun
And so many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart, it will be completely
Or I’ll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.2

His reverie was interrupted when Elizabeth spoke. “May I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Do you know Catherine de Bourgh, the dean of Pacific Conservatory?”

“Yes … ah, yes, yes, I do.”

“I thought you probably did, and I’ve been wanting to ask you about her.”

Oh, no. She’s found out about the job. William took a long, deliberate sip from his coffee cup before he answered, “Yes?”

“Well, this may sound silly, but … I don’t think she likes me. I mean, she did offer me a job, but when she offered it, she was cold and disapproving.”

He relaxed back into his chair, noting that he had been holding his coffee cup in a death grip. “That’s just Catherine. She’s never been a warm person.”

She shook her head. “It felt personal. And unless she just doesn’t like my nose or the sound of my voice, there’s only one possibility I can think of. Would she get angry about someone having tried to influence her to hire me?”

Warning sirens shrieked in William’s head. “Well, I think … that is … why do you ask?”

Elizabeth paused and sipped her coffee. “The first time we met, she made a remark that seemed to accuse me of trying to trade on the influence of friends. I’m not completely certain what she meant, but I have a theory.”

His insides clenched. She’s guessed what I did.

“Remember Bill Collins, from the rehearsal dinner?” she asked. “Well, he’s the Associate Dean for Administration at the conservatory. And he really went out of his way to help me. I bet he pushed too hard to get her to hire me, and she thinks I put him up to it, so she blames me for that.”

He briefly considered confessing the truth. No. It would hurt her pride to know why she was hired.

“Anyway,” she continued, “Considering the way she treats me, Bill must have really made a nuisance of himself.”

“Really? What were the odds?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

“Why do you dislike him? Sure, he can be weird, but he’s been kind to me.”

“Because … no, never mind.” A memory of Elizabeth kissing Bill on the cheek at the rehearsal dinner, and later of her leaning over his shoulder when he sat at the piano preparing to accompany her song, flashed into William’s mind.

“No, no. Too late to say ‘never mind.’” The mischievous light in her eyes was irresistible. “Come on. Spill it.”

“All right. He got to sit with you at the rehearsal dinner, and it should have been me.”

“You’re jealous of Bill Collins?”

“Certainly not.”

Her eyes danced. “No, of course not. How silly of me. You know, Jane said she intended for us to sit together that night, but somehow Caroline wound up in my place. So she must have made a mistake when she set out the place cards.”

He snickered. “Caroline switched the cards.”

“Seriously?”

“There’s no doubt in my mind.”

“She’s that desperate to get her claws into you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied with a shrug. “I told her in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.”

“But she probably thinks she can change your mind if she’s persistent enough.”

“She can’t. I’ve never wanted to have anything to do with her, and especially not now, when …”

“When what?”

“When my interests lie elsewhere,” he said boldly, his eyes caressing her.

She smiled but averted her eyes, staring at her empty dessert dish. The sound of Duke Ellington’s orchestra flowed through the speakers. William rose from his chair and held out his hand.

“Dance with me.”

“Haven’t we done this before?” she teased. “A dance in a moonlit garden. It feels familiar, somehow.”

“Yes, and I enjoyed it so much the first time, I’d like to do it again.”

She stood up and placed her hand in his. He drew her close, and they began to move together in time with the music.

“Are you sure we should be tempting fate this way?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” He was both perplexed and delighted by the playful light in her eyes.

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what happened the last time we danced. You know, when Caroline Bingley interrupted us just before we … well, before you …”

“Before I had the chance to kiss you.”

“Yes. I mean, when you consider the way things have been going this evening …”

He chuckled. “You don’t need to worry about Caroline. Even if she did show up, Mrs. Reynolds would never let her into the house.”

Elizabeth looked up at the night sky.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, also glancing up.

“I was just thinking that all she’d need is a plane and a parachute, and she could be standing a few feet away from us.”

They laughed together as they continued to dance. Her green eyes sparkled with mirth, and her laughter was as sweet as any music he had ever heard. “You make me happy,” he whispered.

Elizabeth sighed and nestled close to him. Her hair felt soft against his cheek, and he inhaled her scent, slowly breathing in her essence. He tightened his arm around her waist, savoring the light pressure of her body against his, and they swayed to the music as a saxophone moaned a sensuous melody.

He wanted only to go on holding her like this forever, to envelop himself in the warmth of her presence. He kissed the top of her head, and she looked up at him, her eyes soft and luminous.

“This song. Isn’t it ‘Prelude to a Kiss’?”3 she asked.

He nodded and lowered his head toward hers. “Quite apropos, I think,” he murmured against her lips.

 

Marcia Reynolds exited the elevator onto the sixth floor and approached the doors to the greenhouse, humming to herself. Everything was going wonderfully this evening. Elizabeth Bennet was charming, and she and William appeared to be having a lovely evening, judging from the happy look on her boy’s face when she had served the various courses of their dinner. Now it was time to collect the dessert dishes, and to see if they wanted more coffee or perhaps an after-dinner drink.

If only Allen had been more careful earlier! He had returned to the kitchen, red-faced and flustered, explaining that he had interrupted a tender moment in William’s office. Men! They’re like bulls in china shops, all of them, lumbering around without paying the slightest attention to what’s going on.

She stepped into the garden and saw immediately that the table was unoccupied, but it took a short time for her eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. At last, she saw them standing in the shadows, wrapped in each other’s arms, in the midst of an intimate kiss.

A smile formed on her lips as she drank in this romantic sight. Unfortunately, her attention was diverted, and she bumped into the dinner table, causing the dishes to rattle noisily against one another. Marcia winced, standing helplessly beside the table, but William and Elizabeth were too engrossed in each other to notice the sound.

She silently retraced her steps to the greenhouse and slipped through the door. The dishes could wait. And as for more coffee, somehow I don’t think they need anything but each other right now.

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1 Intermezzo in A, Opus 118, No. 2, by Johannes Brahms. Performed by Daniel Pollack on First Kiss, © 1996, Four Winds Entertainment. Listen to a sample on iTunes. My favorite version was recorded by Van Cliburn, but it’s not available on iTunes and Pollack’s interpretation is similar.

2 When I Fall in Love (Young/Heyman). Performed by the Bill Evans Trio on Portrait in Jazz. © 1959, Riverside Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

3 Prelude to a Kiss (Mills/Gordon/Ellington). Performed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra on Duke Ellington: 16 Most Requested Songs. © 1994, Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Listen to a sample on iTunes.