Some of the locations in this chapter (City Lights Bookstore, Caffé Trieste, the Greenwich Steps up Telegraph Hill, and the Coit Tower) are featured in the delightful documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”

 

William’s alarm clock jolted him awake. He stared at it through bleary eyes, initially perplexed as he fumbled to find the snooze button. Why would I want to get up before eight o’clock on a Saturday morning? Then he remembered. He sank back against the pillows and closed his eyes, a sleepy but contented smile creeping across his face. Elizabeth.

Last night could scarcely have ended better had he scripted it himself. The only improvement would have been awakening to find her in his arms this morning, but he hadn’t expected that. Not yet. He loathed the unnamed man or men who had made her so skittish about physical intimacy, and he wished that she trusted him enough to explain.

But I need to relax and enjoy just being in San Francisco, and especially being with her. He stretched his arms over his head, working out the kinks in his back muscles, and then sat up slowly. He stopped to admire the view out the French doors, and then entered the marble bathroom.

It was well-equipped with a whirlpool bath and an oversized glass shower stall, and would have been considered luxurious by almost anyone on the planet. But it couldn’t compare to his palatial bathroom in New York.

He showered, shaved, and brushed his teeth, and then proceeded to his dressing room. Lizzy said I was irresistible in formal wear; wonder what she’d do if I showed up in a tux this morning? Grinning at the thought, he sifted through his wardrobe and finally decided on jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt. The jeans, along with several other pairs of trousers in his closet, were new, purchased in a smaller size to accommodate his recent weight loss.

As he had done on their first date at the café, he left two buttons open at his collar. After a moment of thought, he unfastened a third button and examined his reflection in the mirror. Now I’m really taking a walk on the wild side! Studying himself again, he shook his head and re-buttoned the bottom button. It was one thing to try to look sexy for Elizabeth, but “lounge lizard” wasn’t his target.

Mrs. Reynolds greeted him with a smile when he entered the kitchen. “Good morning, William. I hope you slept well.”

“I did, thank you. I see you got my note about the picnic.”

Mrs. Reynolds, who was filling a large wicker hamper, nodded. “I’ve made a nice feast for you and Ms. Bennet.”

William stared at her. “How did you know that I’m spending today with Elizabeth? All my note said was that I needed a picnic lunch for two.”

“You’ve been in this city for less than 48 hours, and you’re not a fast mover like that cousin of yours. So if you had a date already, I knew it had to be with Ms. Bennet. Besides, it’s written all over your face. She’s the only woman who’s ever made you smile that way.”

He shook his head, but he couldn’t extinguish the telltale grin. “I had no idea I completely lacked a poker face.”

“It’s wonderful to see you smiling for a change. She’s a lovely young lady, and she can look after you once I go back to New York.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“We’ll see.” She shut the basket and patted the lid. “I hope you enjoy the lunch. Are you bringing her back here for dinner tonight?”

He shook his head. “She has other plans.”

“Then what about tomorrow night? Or Monday? I’d love to fix the two of you a nice, intimate dinner before I leave for home.”

“I’ll ask her, but why does it feel like I’m falling into a trap? Is this a scheme to get her over here so you can sign her on as an informer?”

She laughed merrily. “I see you’ve caught on to my plan. Are you ready for your breakfast?”

“Just coffee. I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late.”

“William Darcy, I am not letting you out of this house until you’ve had some breakfast.”

“There’s not enough time,” he said, his chin jutting forward.

“And I don’t want you back in the hospital because you’re not taking proper care of yourself.” Mrs. Reynolds met William’s challenging stare with one of her own, her hands on her hips. “I’m sure Ms. Bennet would agree with me. Shall we call her and ask?”

He rolled his eyes and heaved a theatrical sigh. His patience with this sort of scolding had worn thin, but he knew that she was only trying to speed his convalescence. “How about a compromise? I’ll take her out for breakfast before we start our tour.”

Mrs. Reynolds eyed him skeptically and retorted, “See that you do. And ‘breakfast’ doesn’t mean just a cup of coffee.”

“All right, Warden.” William smirked at her.

She shook her head, a long-suffering expression on her face. “The abuse I take from you and your cousin.”

“I really do appreciate that you take good care of me.”

“And there’s nothing in this world I’d rather be doing. Now, go and have a wonderful day.”

 

Elizabeth opened her eyes and tried to focus on the clock beside her bed. It appeared to read 6:37, which meant that she didn’t have to get up for over an hour. Her vision was foggy from lack of sleep; she had lain awake for most of the night thinking about William. Sometimes he was an enigma, an intriguing stranger with a familiar face. At other times, it seemed that a powerful bond connected them, as though they had known each other all their lives.

And I’d forgotten how fantastic he is at kissing. William’s skill had no doubt been honed through extensive practice with a wide variety of partners, but whatever the source of his expertise, no other man’s kisses had ever reduced her to a state of trembling weakness.

She was surprised to hear a knock at her bedroom door. She called, “Come in,” and sat up in bed as Jane, dressed in gray linen slacks and a white cowl-neck silk blouse, walked in.

“My goodness,” Elizabeth said, “you’re dressed up for so early in the morning.”

“It’s not that early, Lizzy.”

“What are you talking about? It’s only—” Elizabeth’s vision was clearer now, and she gasped as she checked her clock. “It’s twenty to nine?”

“Yes, and I’m on my way to the office. I have a client who couldn’t meet during the week, so we’re getting together this morning.”

Elizabeth leapt out of bed as though ejected from it. “Why didn’t my alarm go off?”

“I take it you have plans this morning?” Jane followed Elizabeth as she raced into the bathroom, leaving a trail of nightclothes in her wake.

“William’s going to be here in 20 minutes.” Elizabeth turned on the shower and jumped in immediately. She stood shivering under the stream of cold water, running a bar of soap over her goose-pimpled body.

Jane spoke up over the sound of the shower. “I almost woke you an hour ago, because I’ve been dying to hear about the rest of your evening, but I knew you were out late so I let you sleep. If you’re going out with him today, things must have gone well.”

“They did. At least, I think so. I’ll tell you about it tonight. I could use your advice.”

“Of course, though I don’t know if I’ll be much help. I haven’t had much success with romance.”

Elizabeth picked up her shampoo bottle, and then set it back down. There was nowhere near enough time to wash and dry her long, thick mass of hair. “That’s not your fault. There just isn’t any man in the world good enough for you.”

“You’re sweet, Lizzy, but I think you’re a little bit biased.” Jane answered, and Elizabeth could hear the smile in her voice. “I have to get going or I’ll be late for my meeting.”

Two minutes later, Elizabeth turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, and wrapped herself in a towel. She grimaced at her hair, which had some peculiar kinks in it, the remnants of last night’s updo. But it couldn’t be helped; she didn’t have time to wash and dry the thick, unruly mass.

As she squirted a ribbon of toothpaste onto her toothbrush, the doorbell rang, and her stomach jumped. It couldn’t be him, could it? Guests ordinarily needed to use the intercom to be admitted to the building, but William could have gotten in along with a resident who had a key. But it was only ten minutes to nine. He wouldn’t be ten minutes early. Everyone knows that showing up that early for a date is a shooting offense.

She peered through the peephole in the door, and saw their next-door neighbor standing in the hall. Relief washed over her, and she opened the door a crack.

“Hi, Chloe. Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back.”

Elizabeth raced to the bedroom, tossed the towel on the bed, and grabbed her faded sleep shirt from the floor. She wriggled into it and sprinted back to open the door.

“Hi, Lizzy,” Chloe said. “I need a favor. My hair dryer overheated and shut itself off with my hair only half dry, and I’m in a hurry. Could I borrow yours to finish up?”

“Sure. Just a minute.” Elizabeth retrieved her hair dryer from the bathroom and thrust it into Chloe’s hands. “Here you go. Sorry to be kind of abrupt, but I’m in a hurry myself.”

“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver. I’ll bring it right back.”

Elizabeth returned to the bathroom and stared discontentedly at her hair again. She brushed through her tangled curls, trying to tame them without much success. A pony tail was her only option.

She brushed her teeth at warp speed and hurried back to the bedroom to rummage through her closet, searching frantically for a clean pair of jeans and a shirt to wear.

The doorbell rang again. Chloe, already? I wish my hair dried that fast! She ran to the living room, reflecting that at least all the dashing around the apartment was giving her some exercise, and flung the door open.

“Well, that was certainly quick. I’m jealous of—” The rest of Elizabeth’s words were lost in her horrified gasp when she saw William standing in the doorway. “Oh, no, it’s you!”

His lips twitched. “Good morning to you, too.” A tiny smile flitted around the corners of his mouth.

“I’m sorry, but the alarm didn’t go off and I’m running late and—” She forced herself to stop babbling. “Anyway, I’m not dressed yet.”

“So I noticed.” William’s amused expression vanished as his eyes slid over her.

Elizabeth was suddenly, painfully aware that she was naked under her thin shirt. It seemed that she could feel her blush working its way up from her toes. “Anyway, I’ll just go, um …” she stammered, pointing toward her bedroom and wishing fervently that she had put on a pair of jeans, or even shorts. The hem of the shirt barely fell to mid-thigh.

William swallowed hard and raised his eyes to her face. “I’m sorry. Should I wait in the hall?”

“No. Come in and have a seat. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

Elizabeth retreated to her bedroom as fast as she dared to move, given the abbreviated hem of her shirt. Once there, she threw her head back and sighed loudly, her eyes squeezed shut, her hands balled into fists. Why did he have to see me like this, looking like an absolute disaster?

She quickly dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a pale blue shirt, pulled her hair into a pony tail, and dabbed on lip gloss. After a final disdainful glance in the mirror, she slipped on a pair of comfortable sandals and grabbed her purse.

 

William stood in the living room, absently inspecting his surroundings but not really absorbing much. He was thoroughly disgusted with himself.

Poor Lizzy. She was embarrassed for me to see her that way, so what did I do? I let my eyes crawl all over her, like a wolf sighting its dinner. But while he lamented his lack of control, he couldn’t blame himself for the sharp stab of desire that had overcome him. She had looked adorably tousled, as though freshly out of bed, wearing an oversized tee shirt that served up a mouth-watering helping of her legs. And despite the looseness of the shirt, the knit fabric had done nothing to hide the outline of her breasts, obviously unfettered by a bra. Before he could assert control over his overheated imagination, he was mentally drawing the shirt over her head.

He pondered for what seemed like the hundredth time why Elizabeth affected him this way. Perhaps the secret of her allure was in the contrasts she offered. She was fresh-faced with girlish features, yet her tempting curves promised a surfeit of rich sensual delights. And then there were her startling green eyes, which crackled with spirit and wit, issuing a tantalizing challenge. Yet they could also glow with gentle warmth, revealing her tender heart.

Or perhaps this is just what it feels like when you’re so much in love that it hurts. All William knew for certain was that he found the entire package utterly appealing and unbearably sexy. He would have to find a way to curb his instinctive reactions if he hoped to win her trust.

He looked up to see her approaching, looking youthful and fresh in her casual clothes and ponytail, and he smiled. “Everybody who sees us together today is going to wonder what you’re doing with an old codger like me.”

She chuckled. “Don’t be silly. You’re decades from codger-hood. Besides, most people won’t be able to take their eyes off you—and I’m talking about the men, too.”

“I think there was a compliment in there somewhere, so I’ll just say thank you.”

Their smiles faded as they regarded each other in silence. William felt an urge to fidget with his cufflinks, but he wasn’t wearing any. Then he remembered the item he had set on the coffee table. He nodded toward it. “I brought you a present,” he said.

It was the orchid she had admired in the greenhouse on the townhouse roof in New York, the one Allen had delivered to her the next morning, the one she had left at William’s bedside at the hospital. She sucked in a breath, her eyes glowing with obvious pleasure. “Were you carrying this when you got here? I didn’t notice.”

“I guess you were a little … distracted.”

“It’s really the same orchid?”

He nodded. “I brought it along. I’d gotten attached to it.”

“Oh, right. You thought it was from Caroline, so it must remind you of her.”

He snickered. “Right. If it had reminded me of her, it would have given me nightmares.” He smiled at her, and said in a softer voice, “It sat in a place of honor on my night table for the past two months, so it would be the last thing I saw every night, and the first thing every morning.”

She picked it up from the table, inspecting it carefully. “What a shame that I broke the stem. It happened right outside the hospital, when I got out of the cab.” She set it back on the coffee table and stepped close to him. “Thank you,” she murmured. She stood on tiptoe, resting her hands on his chest to brace herself, and kissed him softly. He smelled the fresh scent of soap, and tasted a hint of toothpaste. No. I will not let myself imagine her in the shower. Oops, too late.

“You’re welcome.” He wrapped his arms around her waist before she had a chance to step away. “And I think we should try saying ‘Good morning’ again. I’m sure we can improve on our earlier performance.”

 

“Do you trust me?” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, shooting William a challenging glance as he walked by her side.

“I did, until you asked that question.”

William had suggested going out to breakfast, and they were presently walking through Haight-Ashbury, approaching the restaurant she had selected. She noted William’s bemused gaze shifting frequently as he inspected his surroundings.

Elizabeth was accustomed to the motley assortment of people on the streets, and she thought that the eclectic mix of shops enhanced the offbeat appeal of the neighborhood. But now, as they walked by the mannequins in black leather at Cheap Thrills, as she saw him staring at the huge fishnet-clad legs hanging out a window above a shop in the next block, and as she saw bubbles wafting into the sky from an elaborate blow pipe mounted above the Pipe Dreams head shop, she thought how foreign this must all seem to William.

“Here we are.” she announced.

“The Squat and Gobble?” He read the sign in a skeptical tone, one of his eyebrows arching to impressive heights.

“Relax, Your Lordship. It’s a popular place for breakfast. So popular that there are two of them within about a mile of our building.”

“There are two places in this city called the Squat and Gobble?”

“Four, actually.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to California.”

Elizabeth was still laughing as they passed through the doors into the busy café. She pointed to huge chalkboards on the wall. “There’s the menu. After we order, we can go out back and grab a table. They have wonderful crepes and omelets, by the way.”

He solemnly studied the menu, and she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing again. There was something surreal about the sight of William Darcy preparing to order breakfast off a chalkboard in such mundane surroundings.

Several minutes later, they were seated at a wrought-iron table in a garden area behind the restaurant, their food in front of them. “I can’t believe, with all the choices, you got a boring old bagel.” she said.

He shrugged. “I almost always have orange juice or fruit, a bagel, and coffee for breakfast.”

“A creature of habit. I should have guessed. But weren’t you tempted to take a little walk on the wild side?”

He grinned, a naughty twinkle in his eye. “Yes, actually, I was,” he answered, glancing down at his shirt in a manner that mystified Elizabeth.

“Well, fine, go ahead and be predictable. I’m going to enjoy my breakfast.” she said smugly, cutting off a bite-sized chunk of her omelet.

“What’s in it?” he asked.

Her fork, in transit to her mouth, paused in mid-air. “Lots of veggies: mushrooms, peppers, bean sprouts, zucchini. And cheese and yogurt. Oh, and sunflower seeds too. Want a taste?”

“No, thanks,” he said, casting a dubious glance at her plate. “I’ll stick with my boring bagel.”

“Are you on any sort of restricted diet?” she asked casually. She wanted to know more about his health, but when she had raised the subject the previous evening, he had offered only vague answers.

“I’ve always tried to be careful about my diet because of my … because heart disease seems to run in my family. The biggest recent change was that I had to cut back on caffeine. So my coffee is decaf now, or sometimes even herbal tea.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.” Elizabeth made a mental note to put both decaf coffee and herbal tea on the grocery list when she got home.

He shrugged.

“I asked because you look like you’ve lost weight.”

“I haven’t had much of an appetite lately.”

“I’m surprised Mrs. Reynolds didn’t make it her personal project to fatten you up.” Elizabeth took another bite of her omelet.

“She did. She hasn’t taken so much interest in the contents of my dinner plate since I was five. I half expected her to remind me of the starving children in Africa.”

Elizabeth chuckled and sipped her Mimosa. William had declined to join her in this treat, remarking, “I’m driving.”

“Poor Mrs. Reynolds,” she said. “Well, at least she’s going to get a rest from waiting on you hand and foot once she goes back to New York. How long is she staying?”

“Till Tuesday morning.” He paused, sipping his coffee. “By the way, I know you’re busy tonight, but are you free tomorrow evening? Mrs. Reynolds especially wanted me to invite you over for dinner before she goes home.”

She hesitated. “I’d love to, but tomorrow’s a really bad day. Classes start Monday, and I’ve still got some last-minute prep to do. And my jazz group has a gig later tomorrow night. So I’d better say no.”

He sighed and set down his coffee cup with an unnecessary degree of force. “Well, then, what about Monday evening?”

“Jane has a Bar Association reception she asked me to attend with her; I think it’s on Monday. May I check and get back to you? I’d really like to see Mrs. Reynolds.”

“Only Mrs. Reynolds?”

“No, of course not.” Her smile faded when she saw his frown. “My goodness, you’re touchy this morning.”

“It just seems like I hear the word ‘no’ from you quite a lot.” His lips were pressed tightly together, his tone resentful.

“Please tell me that you’re not referring to anything more than these dinner invitations,” she shot back, fixing a hard stare on him.

He stared at her in silence for a moment, looking perplexed. Then his eyes widened. “Oh, Lizzy, of course not! I was just talking about dinner, nothing else.”

She offered him a conciliatory smile. “I thought so, but you seemed so angry. Don’t blow it out of proportion; this is just a little scheduling problem.”

“But I’m starting to get the feeling that you don’t have time for me.”

He is so spoiled. She paused, selecting her words with care. “Of course I have time for you. And even if I didn’t, I’d make time. But I have friends and family here, and I want to see them sometimes too.”

He sighed and stared down into his coffee mug, wrapping his hands tightly around it.

“Besides, you’re going to be busy too once you get settled in,” she continued. “I’ll probably be the one wishing you had time for me.”

“I won’t let that happen. But I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t expect you to be at my beck and call.”

Oh, but I think you do. “Then we understand each other. And I’ll check about dinner Monday night.”

“I’m sorry you’re so busy this weekend, though. I’d hoped that we could make up some lost time before the semester starts.”

“Aren’t we doing that today?” she asked with a smile, her eyebrows raised.

A reluctant half-smile curved his lips. “You’re absolutely right. So let’s finish our breakfast and get on with the grand tour. Where are we going?”

“Have you ever heard of the 49-Mile Scenic Drive?”

“I’ve seen some signs.”

“Right. The ones with the seagulls on them. It covers most of the main sights, and we can stop and explore whenever we feel like it. It’ll also give us some ideas of places to go in the future. We don’t have to do the whole drive, but I think it’ll be fun, especially in your new car.”

“With the top down, of course.”

“Of course!”

His dark mood forgotten, he wore his unabashed, boyish grin, the one that always melted her heart. Elizabeth had to stifle the urge to lean across the table and kiss the dimple creasing his cheek.

 

“We got perfect weather once the fog burned off, didn’t we?” Elizabeth said. “But I feel bad. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights, and you’re doing all the work.”

They were stopped at an intersection, waiting to turn onto California Street. William looked at her, grinning. “Is that a not-too-subtle hint that you want to drive?”

“Yes and no. I’d love to try it out, but I think a less congested—and less hilly—place would be safer. Maybe a nice empty parking lot.”

At last, traffic cleared and they turned left. “Watch out for cable cars,” she said. “There’s a line that runs along here.”

“I know. Remember, I told you last night that I’m living at my aunt and uncle’s place? It’s about three blocks down the street.”

They were driving through Nob Hill, an old-money section of San Francisco occasionally referred to by its detractors as Snob Hill. Elizabeth wasn’t surprised that members of the Darcy clan would own a penthouse here. At least, she assumed it was a penthouse.

William pulled the car to the curb and pointed. “It’s right over there, the building on the left.”

Her eyes widened. The stately building was in a prime location, with the elegant Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels across the street. The Stanford Court and Huntington Hotels, both occupying private mansions formerly owned by railroad magnates, were less than a block away.

“I’d invite you to come in and say hello to Mrs. Reynolds, but that wouldn’t be a wise strategic move. If you want to see her, you have to come to dinner on Monday.” He raised his eyebrows in a good-natured challenge.

Elizabeth stuck out her tongue, and William smirked in response as he pulled the car away from the curb. He turned right onto Taylor Street, in front of majestic Grace Cathedral. “I thought I might attend services here tomorrow morning,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s as beautiful inside as out.”

“I’ve never been inside, but I’ve heard that too. Have you explored Huntington Park at all?” The park was across the street from the Cathedral.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“They have a tree lighting ceremony in the park in December. Although I suppose you’ll have gone back home by then.” Her voice trailed off. Sometimes she forgot how brief his stay in San Francisco was going to be.

He glanced at her and seemed about to speak, but instead he turned his attention back to the road.

 

An hour later, they were sharing a table tucked away in a corner of Caffe Trieste on Columbus Avenue, which billed itself as “the Espresso Pioneer of the West Coast.” They were both sipping cappuccino with extra foam—decaf, in William’s case.

“Well, you were right,” William said. “That was an interesting place. There’s something about an old bookstore like that, with the worn floors and books piled around everywhere … I could have spent a couple of hours there, even though a lot of the books weren’t really the sort of thing I read.” She had taken him to City Lights, a bookstore famed for its connection to beatnik poets of the sixties.

Elizabeth thumbed through one of his books. She thought it looked like an excellent cure for insomnia. “By the time you’re done with these, you’re going to be an expert on San Francisco history.”

He smiled. “Hardly, but I thought it would be interesting to learn more.”

“Then you can be the tour guide and teach me about the city. So, ready to move on?”

“Sure. What’s next?”

“Well, I was thinking you might like to see the view of the city from the top of the Coit Tower, up on Telegraph Hill.”

“That sounds good.”

“The only thing is, we’d have to leave the car where it is and walk. On a Saturday in the summertime we’d never find a parking space up there. So maybe it’s not a good idea.”

“I don’t mind walking. It’ll be a chance to have a closer look at some of the Victorian houses.”

“But it’s pretty strenuous; the hill is really steep. I don’t know your health situation …”

He hesitated briefly, and then said, “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure? Because we could do this another time, when we’d have a better chance of finding parking.”

“No. Let’s go.”

They left the café and walked several blocks toward the waterfront until they reached the foot of a staircase that seemed to lead up into the clouds. William turned to Elizabeth, a frown lowering his brow. “Steps?”

She nodded. “There’s a lot to see along the way. We’re going to pass by some beautiful gardens, and there’s even a group of wild parrots who live around here. But, really, if you’d rather not—”

“It’s fine.”

She inspected him warily for a moment, but he seemed sure of himself, so she began to climb. He fell in directly behind her, and for the first part of the trip, he made brief responses to the remarks she directed over her shoulder. She briefly explained that Coit Tower had been built through a woman’s bequest in her will to honor the city’s firefighters. In fact, some felt that it resembled a firehose nozzle. But before long, the physical demands of the climb made it difficult to speak, so she finished it in silence.

Along the way, she met several groups of pedestrians on their way down the steps. They greeted her with sympathetic smiles. I’d forgotten how much work this is.

She reached the top and turned around, surprised to find that he had fallen well behind her. As he neared the top of the stairs, she saw that he was struggling to breathe.

“William, are you okay?”

He nodded, but his labored breathing told another story. “Just need … to sit.”

She took his arm and led him to a nearby bench. He dropped onto it and bent forward, elbows resting on his knees, his chest heaving. She sat beside him, forcing herself to stay calm despite the adrenalin coursing through her.

He didn’t seem to be improving. She rested her trembling hand lightly on his back. “I should call 911.”

He shook his head. “I’ll be … okay in a minute.”

“But you can’t breathe. You need medical help.”

“No. This has … happened before. Just … need to rest.”

She considered calling 911 without his permission, but given her ignorance of his medical situation, she decided to respect his wishes, at least for the moment. “How can I help? There are people working inside; I could go ask them to call someone.”

He shook his head again, gasping, “No. Just … stay with me.” He clutched her hand tightly.

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere.” She camouflaged her fear and threaded her fingers through his. With her free hand, she gently rubbed his back and shoulders. She knew it wasn’t much help, but she was compelled to do something, anything, to try to ease his discomfort.

As the minutes passed, his breathing slowed, and she could feel the tension leaving his body. She began to relax too, her pounding heart returning to a normal rhythm.

“Would you like some water?” she asked. “I’m sure the staff in the tower would have some.”

He sat up, leaning against the back of the bench and staring into the distance. “No, thanks. I’m better now. But I need to sit for a few more minutes.”

“Why don’t you give me the car keys? I’ll walk down and get the car, and then drive up here to pick you up.” She winced at the thought of trying to handle the Ferrari, but it was necessary.

“There’s no need for that.”

“We need to get you to a doctor, or even a hospital.”

“It’s not necessary.” He withdrew his hand from her grasp and ran it through his damp, unruly hair.

“You said this has happened before?”

“Yes.” Perhaps regretting his curt tone, he finally looked at her, though she couldn’t read his expression behind his sunglasses. “I’m sorry. I know I gave you quite a scare.”

“You did, but I’m the one who should apologize. I would never have suggested walking up here if I’d had the slightest idea—”

“How could you have known? I told you it would be all right. I thought I could handle it, but …” His voice trailed off and he stared into the distance, focusing on the panoramic view of the city below.

She was about to embark on a series of jumbled questions about his health, but she noted his slumped shoulders and the drooping corners of his mouth. He seemed to need comfort above all else, so she shifted closer and took his hand again, stroking it tenderly with her thumb.

“I’m sorry I ruined our day together,” he murmured.

“You haven’t ruined anything. Of course I’m worried about you, but—”

“What I mean is, you planned a wonderful tour, and instead you’re stuck on this bench playing nursemaid to an invalid.”

“You’re not an invalid, and I don’t consider myself stuck. I’d be perfectly content to sit beside you on this bench for the rest of the day.”

He leaned over and kissed her gently. “Thank you for saying that.”

“I meant it. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

He draped his arm around her shoulders, his hand stroking her arm lightly. In the distance, a container ship glided under the Golden Gate Bridge. All around it, tiny white sails dotted the sparkling bay. Elizabeth rested her head on his shoulder, turned her face up to the warm caress of the sun, and mentally repeated the words she had said a short time before: There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

 

“You were right. These murals are worth seeing,” William said.

“I thought you’d like them; they’re a sort of visual history,” Elizabeth answered. She and William were wandering around the first floor of the Coit Tower viewing a set of murals depicting life in the 1930’s.

She observed him carefully as he stepped closer to one of the murals to study it. He had insisted on taking the elevator to the top of the tower, had appeared suitably impressed by the view, and had been inspecting the murals with apparent interest for several minutes, but she could tell that he was laboring to conceal his fatigue. It showed in his posture, which fell short of his usual upright, square-shouldered stance. She saw it in his eyes, which lacked their characteristic intensity. And the attentiveness he usually showed her had been replaced by a polite but distracted air.

She knew from his earlier comments that he blamed himself for spoiling their date, despite her assurances to the contrary. Obviously he was determined to tough it out, slogging through the rest of the day without complaint no matter what the cost. A protective impulse swept over her, and she resolved to find a way to save the poor man from himself.

“Why don’t we find a cab, have it take us back to your car, and get you home so you can rest. We can finish the tour some other day.”

“There’s no need for that. I feel fine.”

“You do not. I can tell how exhausted you are.”

“I’m okay, and I don’t want our time together to end yet.”

“Well, neither do I, but—”

“Good, then it’s settled,” he said in an authoritative tone. “Ready to move on to our next stop?”

His hand on the small of her back, he led her firmly out of the tower.

“At the very least, let’s get a cab back to the car,” she said, donning her sunglasses. “I bet we can find one over by the parking area.”

He shook his head, and she could see tension in his jaw muscles. “I’m not a total invalid. I can handle walking downhill.”

“The walk back down the hill is easier, of course. But we’re still a long way from the car. If you won’t agree to get a cab for your own sake, will you do it for me?”

He sighed, seeming to deflate before her eyes, and took her hand. “I’m sorry, Lizzy. I’ve caused you more than enough anxiety for one day. Yes, of course, let’s get a cab. But no more talk about going home.”

“Okay. For a while, anyway.” She checked her watch. “You know, it’s lunchtime. Let’s have our picnic now. We could go to Golden Gate Park, find a quiet spot, and relax.”

“That sounds perfect.”

“Maybe you could even read me some scintillating San Francisco history,” she suggested with an impish grin as they ambled toward the parking lot. “I could use a nap.”

“I’m going to have to do that now, just to get even,” he said, a faint smile on his lips. “In fact, I might subject you to the whole book.”

“Bring it on,” she retorted, cheered by the improvement in his spirits. “I can sleep through almost anything. Come on; there’s a cab driving up right now.”

 

“What a beautiful afternoon,” Elizabeth said with a sigh.

Lunch in the park had turned out to be the perfect antidote to the tension caused by William’s episode of breathlessness. Elizabeth planned to ask more questions about his health later, but for now she was content to simply enjoy the afternoon.

A canopy of tree branches shaded their blanket in a quiet nook in the Golden Gate Park arboretum. They had just finished a leisurely lunch of shrimp salad served on croissants, accompanied by a green salad and heaping plates of fresh fruit and raw vegetables. They had also found an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, carefully wrapped in cooling packs to keep it chilled, in the picnic hamper.

After finishing his lunch, William had made good on his threat, opening his new history book and skimming it to find interesting snippets to share.

“Please thank Mrs. Reynolds for this wonderful lunch,” she said, reaching for a strip of red bell pepper.

He looked up from his book, swallowing a bite of the pear he held in his hand. “Come over for dinner on Monday and thank her yourself,” he said, arching an eyebrow.

She smiled and nodded. “I’ll check with Jane later today about the date of that Bar Association reception, I promise.”

“Good. I’ll have Mrs. Reynolds start the menu planning as soon as I get home. Then you’ll have to come to dinner or all her work will go to waste. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.”

“You’re relentless.”

“I can be, when something is important.”

His steady gaze seemed to envelop her with warmth, and when he leaned forward slowly, her eyes drifted shut. He cupped her face in his hands and touched his lips to hers, lingering there in a kiss so sweet that the world seemed to melt away. She was intoxicated by his nearness: the caress of his fingers on her cheeks, the faint tang of his cologne, the quiet sigh that resonated in his chest, and above all, the warmth of his lips against hers.

She expected him to deepen the kiss, but instead he drew away and sat back on the blanket.

“It’s going to be funny seeing you around school,” she said.

“I don’t know how much time I’ll actually spend there. But I’m going in on Monday, mostly to inspect my studio.”

“Would you like me to show you around campus after my morning class?”

“Yes, I would.” He paused to pour himself a glass of sparkling water, which had been chilling in the basket along with the wine. “Although … I hate to say this, but we should try to be discreet about our relationship when we’re on campus.”

“Oh, I agree.” She plucked the last strawberry from the plate of fruit. She had eaten so many that her fingers were tinted pink from the juice. “I’m sure people will find out that we’re … spending time together, but the details are nobody’s business.”

“Actually, I meant that it would be better if people at the conservatory thought we were just casual friends.” He fell silent, staring at the blanket.

Elizabeth bit her lip. Don’t jump to conclusions. It doesn’t mean that he’s embarrassed to have his name associated with yours. “Sure, that’s fine,” she answered, struggling to keep her voice cool and impassive. “No problem. In fact, if you want, I’ll pretend I don’t even know you.”

“That’s not what I’m saying. Let me explain.”

“You don’t owe me any explanations. The last thing you’d want is a photo of us on the Society page of the paper.”

He shifted toward her on the blanket. “That’s true. I don’t like it when my private life becomes public.”

This was a reasonable explanation, consistent with what she knew about him, but she couldn’t entirely quell her doubts. She saw that he was studying her intently.

“Lizzy, I hope you’re not still remembering the ridiculous things I said the day we met, when you overhead me talking to Charles.”

Her lips twitched. “Like that I wasn’t at your social level?”

He sighed. “I was a conceited ass that day. I’m amazed that you gave me a second chance. But I suppose you still consider me arrogant enough to think of you that way.”

His self-deprecating tone coaxed a smile from her. “Well, I must admit, your arrogance can be kind of sexy sometimes.”

“Oh?” His eyebrows levitated and his smile became distinctly wolfish. “That sounds like a good topic for further discussion.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything,” she retorted.

Smiling, William leaned back on the blanket, resting on his elbows. His eyes scanned the landscape surrounding them. “This is a beautiful place.”

Elizabeth smiled in agreement. “I love coming to the park. Everywhere you look there’s something new to see. Some other time you should visit the Japanese Tea Garden. A few weekends ago I came over early one morning, before the fog had rolled back. The place was almost empty, and it was like being in a world apart.”

He smiled, closing his eyes. “We should visit it together some day.”

“Speaking of doing things together …”

“Hmm?”

“I want to be sure I understand. Are you just suggesting that we hide our relationship at school? Or are you worried that you’ll be recognized in a restaurant when we’re together, or even out here in the park?”

He opened his eyes and sat upright. “That’s bound to happen on occasion, and it’s fine. Catherine’s reaction is the only thing that worries me.”

“Catherine de Bourgh? Why should we care what she thinks?”

“Because she’s determined to have me marry Anne.”

“And you’re afraid of what she’ll do if she finds out you’re going out with me instead?” Elizabeth smirked at the mental image of William, who had at least a foot of height advantage over Catherine, shrinking from her in quivering terror. “Unless she shows up at your door with a sawed-off shotgun—or in Catherine’s case, I guess it would be a samurai sword—she can’t force you to marry Anne.”

“I can handle Catherine,” he said, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I’ve been dealing with her for years. She’s maneuvered me into spending time with Anne once in a while, but only because I allowed it. I like Anne, and I know how lonely she is, so I don’t mind taking her to dinner or to a party occasionally.”

“Then I don’t understand.”

“It’s what Catherine might do to you that worries me.”

Elizabeth shrugged, nibbling on a carrot. “Maybe so, but I refuse to live my life to please ‘Lady Catherine.’”

“But she’s Dean of the conservatory, so she has power over you. And I’m afraid she might punish you for ‘stealing’ me from Anne.”

“And you really think we can keep it a secret from her? She seems like a busybody.”

“We should try. That’s why I was distant when I spoke to you in the receiving line last night. I didn’t want her suspicions aroused.”

“I wondered what was going on. It almost seemed like you were sorry to see me.”

He set down his glass, shaking his head. “Lizzy, I’d been watching for you all evening. I had made sure you’d be invited, but I couldn’t control whether or not you actually showed up.”

“You got me invited to the party? How did you manage that, without making her suspicious?”

“She was only going to invite the upper-level faculty and administrators. I suggested that if she invited the junior faculty too, some of them could be asked to entertain.”

She giggled. “I had no idea you could be so sneaky.”

“Usually I’m not. But with the right incentive …”

“The thing is, Catherine already hates me. I don’t know what I did, but every time she sees me she practically sneers.”

He hesitated. “Perhaps she sensed my interest in you.”

“But she’s been giving me dirty looks ever since my interview in May, and the first time she could have seen us together was last night.”

William brushed some invisible blades of grass, or perhaps a wayward ant, off the blanket. Finally, his eyes still fixed on the ground, he said, “I recommended that she hire you.”

“You did? When?”

He looked up, tension evident on his face. “Back in May. The weekend of the wedding. I went to see her before I flew home and I told her that you were a first-rate candidate for the job.”

Elizabeth didn’t understand his embarrassment. “That was sweet of you, especially since you barely knew me then.” Then the pieces fell into place. “But that’s probably why she dislikes me. At the interview, she accused me of exploiting my influential friends.”

“I know. You told me about it the night we had dinner at my house.”

“At the time I thought she meant Bill Collins, though he isn’t particularly influential. But she was talking about you.”

His obvious discomfort touched her heart, and she impulsively reached out to grasp his hand.

“It’s not your fault,” she said fervently. “It was a lovely gesture, and I appreciate it. She has no right to behave as though somebody coerced her into hiring me.”

He seemed, if anything, even more uncomfortable now, so she tried again to soothe him. “I understand why you don’t want her to know we’re seeing each other, and you’re sweet to worry about me. But does this mean we’ll be reduced to clandestine meetings in dark alleys?”

“Of course not, but it might be better for you in the long run if—”

“I was teasing.” She squeezed his hand. “If someone sees us together in a restaurant and Catherine de Bourgh hears about it, that’s just the way it is. We’ll behave professionally on campus, but we’d want to do that anyway. The students and faculty are going to be watching your every move; we’re not used to having a celebrity in our midst.”

“I suppose I’ll be under a microscope while I’m here.”

“And it’s not as though I had planned to take out an ad in the campus newspaper announcing that we’re dating, or throw myself at you in the hallways.”

He favored her with a crooked grin. “Let’s not be hasty. I’d rather not limit the places where you’re welcome to throw yourself at me.”

“I would never have guessed that you could be such an incorrigible flirt.”

“Why not?” He stretched out on his side, propping up his head with one arm, and her heart did a sudden back flip in her chest. He had never looked more irresistible than he did at that moment, lounging casually on the blanket, a small, delicious smile turning up the corners of his mouth. She licked her lips reflexively and swallowed.

“Lizzy? Why not?”

She started, and realized that she had been gaping at him for heaven only knew how long. “Um, well, I don’t know exactly,” she stammered. “Whenever I’ve seen you in concert or being interviewed, you look so serious.”

“I am serious, most of the time. Probably too serious. But you’re … I don’t know how to explain it. There’s something about being with you that brings out a different side of me.”

“So you’re saying I encourage you to be frivolous.”

He chuckled softly. “All I know is that when I’m with you, I have fun. I’d forgotten …”

The wistful note in his voice tugged at her heart. It continually surprised her to discover pockets of vulnerability in his psyche, after years of foolishly assuming that his poise and command on the concert stage reflected his inner self. Even more unexpected was that, as much as she admired the public figure, the private man was turning out to be even more attractive and interesting.

While she reflected on his true nature, the private man rolled onto his back, hands clasped behind his head, and gazed at the leafy canopy above him. “I never knew it could be so nice to just lie under a tree in the park,” he remarked.

“That’s because you’re so tired. A bed of nails would feel good to you right now.”

“Mmmm. You might be right,” he murmured, closing his eyes with a contented sigh.

Elizabeth sat hugging her knees to her chest and scanned their surroundings. The sun was shining in a perfect blue sky, but the secluded hollow where they rested was an oasis of dappled shade. A fresh breeze, carrying the warm, earthy scent of growing things, rustled the leaves of the trees. The muffled sound of traffic was the sole reminder that the park was in the midst of a bustling city.

Her mind drifted until a craving for something sweet reminded her that they hadn’t eaten dessert yet. “I think it’s time to try those cookies Mrs. Reynolds baked for us, don’t you?” she said. She turned to William, who still lay on his back on the blanket.

He didn’t answer, and on closer inspection she saw that he was breathing in the easy rhythm of sleep. She moved closer, able for the first time to study him at close range without feeling self-conscious. Her eyes slid over his shoulders and chest, admiring their breadth. She had felt the lean strength of his body on those occasions when he had wrapped her tightly in his arms, and she had seen a hint of his upper chest the day at Crissy Field, but the rest of his torso remained a tantalizing mystery. The open neck of his shirt revealed a few crisp, dark hairs, and a liquid warmth filled her as her imagination supplied the hidden details.

The breadth of his upper body tapered gradually to his slender waist and hips. His jeans fit him snugly, and she involuntarily paused, her cheeks reddening when she realized that she was staring at a bulge at the inseam of his trousers. What if he woke up right now and saw you ogling him … there? She forced her eyes to continue their downward journey, appreciating the way his jeans accentuated the length of his legs.

The more time she spent with William, the more she was forced to admit that her body, mind, and heart were locked in a power struggle where he was concerned. She knew that she must be sending him mixed signals, but it was no wonder, considering her inner confusion.

There was no question that she and William shared a powerful physical attraction. Being close to him set her pulses pounding, awakening an insistent heat like nothing she had ever felt. But her mind continually interrupted, sounding strident alarms, as it had done last night on the windy hilltop. Her heart was the third member of this warring triad. Something elemental seemed to draw her to him, especially in quiet moments like this one, but she didn’t trust this instinct.

The result was a perplexing brew of yearning, hesitation, and fear. The only reasonable solution was the one she had adopted: to be cautious, allowing the relationship to advance only in tiny steps until she could find the answers.

Her attention returned to his face. The reserved, slightly melancholy expression he often wore had melted away, replaced by calm contentment. “Sleep well,” she whispered, smoothing his hair off his forehead, remembering with bittersweet clarity the moment at the hospital two months ago when she had stroked his hair in much the same way while he slept.

She reached for William’s history book, and then rummaged through the picnic basket until she found the package of cookies. Hmm … I wonder what kind of wine goes best with chocolate chip cookies? Smiling to herself, she refilled her glass and leaned back against the trunk of a nearby tree, opening the book across her lap.

 

An hour later, William was still napping, and Elizabeth thought she should wake him. She would have been content to spend the rest of the afternoon in the shade of the tree, guarding him while he got some much-needed rest, but she doubted that he would share her view. She had ostensibly been reading his book, but in reality had spent most of the time watching him sleep.

An ant began the long march up his chest, heading for the open collar of his shirt, and she scooted closer in order to foil the insect’s plans. “I doubt you’ll find any food in there,” she told the ant quietly as she brushed it onto the grass. “He’s much too neat to spill crumbs into his shirt.”

She was about to return to her seat at the foot of the tree, but she paused, her gaze captured by William’s face. A lot of women would kill for eyelashes like that. Doesn’t it just figure that a man would get them instead?

But it was his mouth that attracted her most avid interest. It was the sexiest mouth she had ever seen, especially when shaped into the lazy smile he often wore while drawing her into the circle of his arms. Operating on instinct, she bent forward, brushing a trembling finger over his lips.

His eyelids opened slowly, and his half-lidded gaze gradually focused on her. Her initial embarrassment at having awakened him dissolved as his mouth curved into a blissful, drowsy smile. He reached up, brushing an errant lock of hair off her cheek. In a dreamlike state, she lowered her head and touched her lips to his.

“Hi there, Sleeping Beauty,” she whispered.

“Hello,” he murmured in a husky voice, stroking her cheek. “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”

“It’s not. You’re awake. Here, I’ll show you.” She kissed him again. “See?”

He smirked, shaking his head, his eyes still only half open. “You’ve done that plenty of times in my dreams. It’s going to take more than a little peck on the lips to convince me that I’m awake.”

“I see. Well, I think this is the traditional method of proving that someone isn’t dreaming.” She bent down as though to kiss him again, but instead she pinched his arm.

“Ouch!” he yelped, sitting up abruptly. He scowled at her, rubbing his arm in mock distress.

“Oh, don’t be such a big baby. I barely touched you.”

“But I was anticipating something much more pleasant. And you’ve left me no alternative but to retaliate.”

He grabbed her by the waist, and she burst into helpless giggles, squirming in an attempt to escape from his grasp.

He raised his eyebrows speculatively. “You’re ticklish?”

“No, I’m not,” she lied. “You just startled me.”

“Let’s see about that.”

She tried to escape his grasp, but he was too quick for her, leaving her trying in vain to pry his hands from her waist. “Unhand me, you brute!” she commanded, her shrieks of laughter completely derailing her attempt at a haughty air.

He stopped tickling her, but left his hands resting on her waist. “I’m stopping,” he assured her as she tried to wriggle away, “but just remember, you started it.”

She knelt beside him, vividly aware of his body close beside hers. Their broad smiles gradually softened. Desire kindled in his eyes, and he lifted a hand from her waist. Sparks seemed to arc between them as he dragged his thumb slowly across her lips. His hand cupped her cheek while his other arm slid up her back, exerting gentle pressure to draw her closer.

The heat of his gaze enveloped her, and she leaned forward, pressing her lips firmly to his and sliding her arms up his chest and around his neck. She felt his tongue probing gently but insistently, and she parted her lips, clinging to him as the kiss grew deeper. He tightened his arm around her and pushed her gently backward to lie on the blanket, cradling her head in his hand, his mouth still on hers. At another time she might have resisted, but the delicious warmth of their embrace crowded out rational thought, silencing her mind with its myriad of shrill warnings. She threaded her fingers through his thick hair, sighing softly, and gave herself up to the passion building between them.

Time seemed to stop as they explored each other’s mouths with a slow thoroughness that melted her bones. Finally he raised his head. “You’re so beautiful,” he rasped, caressing her hair.

She knew that it wasn’t really true. She had been considered pretty since her mid-teens, but “beautiful” was an adjective for Jane, not for her. Bathed in the intense heat of his gaze, though, she felt like the most beautiful woman on the planet. She wanted to thank him for this gift, but instead she tightened her arms around his neck, pulling his face down to hers for another kiss.

Passion flared again the instant their lips met, and as they kissed with growing hunger, he shifted partially on top of her, the weight of his upper body pressing her into the ground. A wave of panic seized her, and instinctively she began to struggle to free herself, but at the same moment he dragged his lips from hers and raised up, supporting his weight on his elbows. Gradually, her fear dissipated. She buried her fingers in his hair as his lips traced a fiery path from her jaw down the contours of her neck.

He kissed the hollow at the base of her throat, and at first it seemed that he might continue his descent to the vee neckline of her shirt. Instead, he lifted his head and gave her a rueful smile. “I think we’d better stop this before I forget that we’re in a public place in the middle of the day … not to mention the fact that I promised you last night that we’d take things more slowly. You are entirely too kissable for your own good, Ms. Bennet.”

“So are you,” she answered softly, stroking his jaw.

He covered her mouth with his once more, this time in a gentle, leisurely kiss. Then he rolled onto his back, leaning on his elbows and staring into the distance.

Elizabeth sat up and self-consciously busied herself with repairing her ponytail. She was disconcerted to realize that she had been lying on the ground with him in, as he had pointed out, a public place in the middle of the afternoon. But, she hastened to remind herself, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded; they were alone in their corner of the park and probably hadn’t been observed by anyone. Besides, there was an unwritten rule when picnicking in the park: you ignored activity on nearby blankets. She had stumbled onto amorous interludes that bordered on exhibitionism, making a bit of kissing seem tame. Well, okay, a lot of kissing. And let’s face it. The entire faculty of the conservatory could have paraded by, along with my family and a news crew with video cameras, and I wouldn’t have noticed.

William’s voice interrupted her reverie. “How long was I asleep?”

“About an hour.”

He sighed loudly. “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.”

“It’s okay. I had your book and the wine to keep me company, not to mention Mrs. Reynolds’s cookies. And it was entertaining watching the squirrels trying to figure out how to steal our food right from under my nose.”

He smiled briefly, but then his expression saddened. “But I shouldn’t have left you sitting here alone while I slept. I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t be. I was relieved that you got a nap. I was worried about you earlier, when you had your attack, or whatever you’d call it.”

He sat up, his jaw set in a tense line. “I am so damned sick of this,” he said through gritted teet.

His wrath didn’t offend her, since it was clearly not aimed at her. “Please tell me what’s wrong,” she said in a gentle tone. “I’d really like to help.”

William’s expression was grim when he turned to her. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s nothing. As Sonya would say, I’m just in one of my moods.”

“I think it’s a lot more than that. Perhaps it would help you to talk about it.”

He paused, regarding her with an expression she couldn’t interpret. Then he nodded and said, “Actually, you might be right. But first, what was that you said about Mrs. Reynolds’s cookies?”

She reached for the packet, which wasn’t quite empty yet, and passed it to him. “You were right, by the way. They’re fantastic.”

“She used to have cookies, fresh from the oven, waiting for me every day after school when I was a boy. Her kitchen was one of my favorite rooms in the house, and not just because of the cookies. It was such a warm, happy place.” He bit into a cookie, looking up at the trees towering above them.

Elizabeth filed away the implication that other parts of the house might not have been warm and happy. “Okay, you have your cookie now. Tell me what’s wrong.”

He leaned back, resting on his elbows again. “How much did you find out when you visited the hospital?”

“Almost nothing. I wasn’t a family member, so they wouldn’t tell me anything. Later, I saw in your press release that you had a problem with a blocked artery. But when I researched arterial blockages on the Internet—”

“You researched my medical condition?”

“I was worried, and your public statements were so vague.”

“And you cared enough about me to want to know more, even though you thought I wasn’t interested in you.” His dimples blazed, causing her heart, as usual, to skip a beat.

Come on, Lizzy. It’s just a smile. Get a grip. Besides, there was a hint of smug triumph in his eyes that demanded a response. “Yes, I did,” she retorted, “but don’t go getting a swelled head about it.”

He pursed his lips, his eyes brimming with wry amusement. “Somehow I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, with you around to puncture my ego on a regular basis.”

“Well, somebody’s got to do it.”

“That’s exactly what Sonya says.”

“I knew I liked her. But back to the subject. You still haven’t told me anything about your health, and you’re not getting off the hook.”

He exhaled a loud stream of air. “Okay. I had a constriction in my aorta that was interfering with the flow of blood leaving my heart. I was having headaches and dizzy spells, and getting breathless when I exercised, and my blood pressure was elevated.”

“How long had you been having problems?”

“For several months. My schedule last spring was particularly busy, and I thought I was suffering from stress.”

“But you never said a word about it. And I saw you the night before you went into the hospital.”

“I didn’t know what was happening. I saw the doctor on Thursday, and she diagnosed the problem.”

“And she sent you to the hospital the same day? It must have been more serious than you’re letting on.”

He hesitated, pressing his lips together. “I had a small problem during my run that morning, and Richard insisted that I go directly to the hospital from the park.”

Her eyes narrowed. “A small problem. Like the ‘small problem’ you had on Telegraph Hill?”

“Something like that.”

“Then why didn’t you let me call 911? Doesn’t this mean the blockage has returned? Or that they didn’t treat it properly back in New York?”

“No, the blockage is all taken care of.”

“Then what’s wrong now?”

He sighed. “My heart sustained some damage because of the blockage, so it’s not working as efficiently as it should.”

Cold tentacles of fear seemed to slither around her. “Oh, William, I’m so sorry.”

He sat up and took her hand in both of his. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. The damage can be reversed, which is why I’m taking this break. If I take care of myself, I should be back to normal soon.”

“So you’re definitely going to be okay?”

Nodding, he leaned over and kissed her. “This is why I didn’t want to get into the details; I didn’t want to scare you. But it means a lot that you’re worried about me.”

“Of course I am. But shame on you for letting me drag you up Telegraph Hill this morning! I don’t think that qualifies as taking care of yourself.”

He let go of her hand and sat back, his brow furrowed, though his eyes held a glint of amusement. “Mrs. Reynolds is going to be thrilled to hear that you’re already scolding me.”

“Well, you deserve a scolding for taking an unnecessary risk like that! And so do I, for suggesting it. We could easily have gone another time, when it wasn’t so crowded and we could have parked up there.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But I’m tired of feeling like an invalid.”

“And that’s what’s especially bothering you.”

He nodded. “I’ve done nothing but rest for the past two months, and I hate it.”

“Did the doctors give you any idea how long your recovery might take?”

“At first the doctor wanted me to stop touring for six months, but that was out of the question.”

Elizabeth began to understand the source of his frustration. Here was something that not even William Darcy, with all the resources at his disposal, could control. “But if that’s what you need in order to heal, isn’t it best to take that time?”

“She was being too cautious. We agreed on a four-month break, including time served.”

“Till the end of November, then?”

“No, the end of October. The four-month period counts back to late June, around the time I got out of the hospital.”

“But … I thought you were going to be here for the entire semester.”

He shook his head. “My appointment as artist in residence is for the semester, but I have a busy touring schedule starting in early November.”

“Assuming you’re better by then.”

“I will be.”

She felt a flash of amusement at his haughty declaration of sovereignty over his health, but it was quickly submerged beneath a wave of unhappy thoughts. She suspected that he was intentionally making light of his condition for her benefit. In addition, she was reeling from the discovery that he would be leaving San Francisco in just two months, when even the full semester had seemed too short.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he said, his dark eyes locked on her face.

“I don’t know. It’s a lot to digest.”

“I have a talent for spoiling our dates, don’t I?”

“No, really, I’m glad you told me. Do you have problems frequently, like you did this morning?”

“No. I feel light-headed sometimes, and I need more sleep than usual. But the main problem is everything I’m not allowed to do.”

“Like running, I imagine.”

“Right. I’m seeing a cardiologist on Monday, and I was hoping he’d clear me to start running again, but after what happened this morning I suppose he’ll say I’m not ready. I really miss it; I’ve been walking, but it’s a poor substitute. I’m going to have to rebuild my endurance from scratch.”

“And of course there’s the traveling.”

He nodded, his expression grave. “I hate that I’ve had to cancel so many performances. It’s going to ruin my reputation.”

“But it’s not as though you’re canceling for a frivolous reason. People will understand.”

“I hope you’re right. I’m not so sure.”

She could see that debate was pointless, so she looked for another approach to cheer him up. “There are some good things about taking time off, aren’t there?”

“Like extra time to do the New York Times crossword puzzle?”

She ignored his sarcasm. “You have lots of time to practice. That must be nice.”

“That’s true. I’ve taken the opportunity to expand my repertoire in some new directions.”

“You see?” she replied in a cheerful tone. “And San Francisco is a fabulous city. I think you’ll love it here.”

“I like it so far,” he admitted, his expression warming. “But that’s mostly because of my tour guide.”

She smiled, self-conscious under the microscope of his intense gaze. “Speaking of the tour, should we get moving?”

Together they cleaned up the remains of their picnic and folded the blanket. As they followed the path to his car, she checked her watch. It was already almost four o’clock.

“What time are you meeting Charles for dinner?” she asked.

“At seven.”

“That’s when I’m meeting Jane and Char. Okay, then, we have time to finish the drive if we don’t make any more stops. I’d planned to take you for a ride on a cable car and a walk on the beach, but we can do those things another time.”

“I hate that I wasted so much of our afternoon sleeping.”

“Are you feeling better now?”

They arrived at the car, and he opened the tiny trunk and stowed the picnic basket and blanket. “Yes, I admit, I am.”

“Then it wasn’t a waste. Besides, we have plenty of time for sightseeing.”

He opened the car door for her, and she slid into the passenger seat. Plenty of time? Not exactly. Two months. And then … things will just go back to normal, except that maybe he’ll call me whenever he’s in town.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You’re quiet all of a sudden.”

“I’m fine. But let’s squeeze in that cable car ride after all.”

She did her best to seem her usual, animated self, but beneath this mask, one thought repeated itself, parrot-like, holding fast despite her efforts to banish it.

Two months.