The sound of a truck backfiring roused William from the half-awake state in which he had been floating for several minutes. His eyelids popped open and he squinted at the weak shafts of light filtering through the curtains. The light was coming from the wrong direction. Then he remembered that he was in his aunt’s penthouse in San Francisco, not at home in New York. You’d think after three days I’d be able to remember that.

It was early by his standards, just past seven o’clock. Still, despite two consecutive nights without much sleep, he felt well rested. Must have been that nap yesterday. It would have been nice to wake up this morning the way I woke up from the nap!

He hauled himself to his feet and reached for the black silk robe lying at the foot of the bed, belting it around him as he exited the bedroom. Mrs. Reynolds was in the kitchen, juicing oranges.

“Good morning,” he rasped, clearing his throat.

She started and turned to him. “Well, good morning! My goodness, you’ve become an early bird out here in California.”

“I think I’m still adjusting to the time difference. I thought I’d go to the early service at Grace Cathedral, so I’d like my breakfast in about 20 minutes.”

“Of course, dear. It’ll be in the dining room when you’re ready.”

 

Slightly less than two hours later, William exited the cathedral at the close of the service. The cool air was still heavy with moisture, but the fog was beginning to burn off, offering the promise of a sunny afternoon.

He crossed the street and followed the perimeter of Huntington Park on his way home. Wish I could go running. Running helped him to manage stress and gave him time to think. Although he had done a great deal of walking that summer, as one of the few forms of exercise he was allowed, he considered it an unsatisfactory substitute. So, what to do instead? Maybe go for a drive?

An image of the Ferrari’s unoccupied passenger seat cast a pall over his thoughts. He was a veteran of hundreds of days spent alone in unfamiliar cities, and ordinarily he didn’t mind, even preferred it that way, but today the prospect of a day spent alone made him melancholy. Still, there was nothing to be done about it. Charles was on his way back to Los Angeles, and Elizabeth was busy—too busy for him, at least. But I’ll see her tomorrow at school.

This reminder of the conservatory wasn’t an entirely cheerful thought. Over the next two months he would be traversing a minefield. If his relationship with Elizabeth developed as he hoped it would, concealing it from Catherine was imperative; otherwise, disaster was sure to follow. To retaliate for what she would see as a monumental insult to Anne, Catherine would almost certainly retaliate in the worst way possible: by telling Elizabeth why she had been hired, and who was paying her salary.

The obvious solution was for him to tell Elizabeth the truth himself. But it was too soon. She hadn’t been upset to learn that he had recommended her for the job, but her disconcerting words about Catherine still rang in his ears: “She has no right to behave as though somebody coerced her into hiring me.” Of course he hadn’t literally done that, but, like the Godfather, he had made Catherine an offer she couldn’t refuse.

If he could make Elizabeth love him, then he could risk telling her the truth. Then she would understand that he had acted out of love, and she would forgive him for being the unwitting cause of Catherine’s hostility.

He blinked and looked around him, momentarily disoriented, and then recognized that he was walking alongside the Fairmont Hotel. While engrossed in his thoughts, he had overshot his building. Feeling a bit foolish, he turned and retraced his steps. All right, then. I’ll tell her as soon as I know she loves me. And I’ll make sure we’re discreet in the meantime.

 

A bleary-eyed Elizabeth ambled into the kitchen to fix herself some breakfast. She greeted Jane, who looked fresh and lovely in her lace-trimmed pink pajamas. Elizabeth didn’t even bother to cast a disdainful glance down at her own rumpled nightshirt. Nobody but Jane could make cotton knit pajamas look like a couture ensemble, and comparison was pointless.

Elizabeth had never begrudged Jane her serene beauty; however, she had grown up under the weight of mother’s constant reminders that she wasn’t as pretty as her sister. “If you’d just make an effort, Lizzy, you could be quite attractive,” had been Frances Bennet’s constant refrain.

As a child, Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to make an effort. She had loved to run and play outdoors, and at bedtime Jane had often been sent out to find her rambling through the neighborhood or climbing a nearby tree. Her wardrobe of choice had been a pair of jeans and a tee shirt; her preferred hairstyle a ponytail. Only on ceremonial occasions, and even then under extreme protest, had she ever donned a dress, invariably one of Jane’s impeccable hand-me-downs.

Elizabeth’s fashion sense hadn’t improved much when she entered adolescence. She had been, hormonally speaking, an early bloomer, and she had been mortified when the boys in the neighborhood began to tease her about the changes in her body. Embarrassment had led her to conceal her budding figure beneath a procession of shapeless, oversized blouses and shirts.

Over the years her wardrobe choices had of course broadened, but she had continued to prefer a casual and modest look: appropriate to the occasion but not elaborate, and with little skin on display. Her singing, the classes she taught, and time spent with friends mattered more than dressing to the nines, or even the sixes.

Since meeting William, she had purchased more new clothes than at any other time in her life. She had finally learned that her hair could be an asset with the right sort of styling. And she felt … beautiful? Yes. Amazing, but true. It was because of something in William’s eyes, something that sent warmth seeping through her even now.

Jane left the kitchen to prepare to go for her morning run, leaving Elizabeth alone with her English muffin. She nibbled it, replaying Jane’s advice from last night. At last she swallowed the last bite of the muffin, nodded decisively, and reached for the telephone, hitting the “Redial” button.

“Hello?” William sounded far more alert than he had last night.

“Hi, William. It’s—”

“Lizzy! I didn’t expect to hear from you today.”

“I hope I didn’t call at a bad time.”

“Not at all. In fact, you can help me. I want to go for a drive today, and maybe take a walk on a beach while I’m out, but I’m not sure where to go.”

“I know the perfect place. Marin County, north of the city. There’s Stinson Beach, Muir Beach … just beware of Red Rocks Beach unless you want to get an eyeful … or several eyefuls, depending on how crowded it is.”

“Nude beach?”

“Uh huh. To get to the beaches, cross the Golden Gate Bridge on 101, and then take Route 1 north along the coast. It’s a gorgeous drive, custom-made for your car.”

“It sounds perfect. Just what I was looking for.”

“But if you’re heading up that way, you’d better leave soon. Looks like it’s going to be a nice day, so lots of people will have the same idea.”

Before Elizabeth could figure out how to invite herself along on the excursion, William said in a wistful tone, “I wish you’d come with me.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, that’s why I called. I decided that I’m well enough prepared for school tomorrow, and there’s no reason for me to sit here all day and obsess about it. So if you’d like a navigator …”

“Absolutely. When can you be ready?”

His unabashed enthusiasm touched her heart. Jane was right. The key is to notice the differences. William is happy to have my company. Michael would have thought he was doing me a favor. “Is half an hour okay?”

“Perfect.”

“Great. I’ll meet you in front of my building.”

She hung up the phone and went to her room to get dressed, humming to herself.

 

California is famous for its freeways, and drivers in a hurry to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco can travel most of the way at high speeds on the I-5. But those to whom the journey matters more than the destination head for Highway 1 instead. It hugs the dramatic coastline of central and northern California, a roller coaster of a road replete with sharp turns, climbs into the hills, and descents into valleys. The traveler passes woodlands, fields of wildflowers, and even a castle—the one built at San Simeon by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper baron. But the star attraction is the Pacific Ocean, often crashing into rocky cliffs, sometimes lapping at sandy beaches, but always stretching to the horizon, immense and majestic.

William had never driven on Highway 1 before, but already he could tell that Elizabeth had been right. It was a perfect match for his car. The road slipped in and out of a forest of towering redwoods, teasing them with glimpses of the ocean at the end of a distant valley. Then the shimmering expanse of water was closer as the road flowed down the coastal ridge like an asphalt ribbon. He felt absurdly young—sixteen and cruising the highway with his girlfriend in a hot convertible, a carefree day of beachcombing ahead. Too bad Charles never taught me to surf. I could be a character right out of a Beach Boys song.

They made a brief stop at Muir Beach Overlook, wandering down the trail hand in hand and admiring the dramatic view of the coastline that unfolded beneath them. As they returned to the parking area, he said, “By the way, if you’re hungry, Mrs. Reynolds sent along some snacks: fruit and cheese, more of yesterday’s cookies, and I think some bottled water and juice too.”

“Is she trying to make sure you don’t waste away to nothing?”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that was part of it. And she made me promise to explain that she only had ten minutes’ notice to put it together, or else it would have been a full lunch.”

“I wish I had someone like Mrs. Reynolds taking care of me,” she said with a sigh. “She’s wonderful.”

“She’s disappointed that she won’t see you before she goes home.”

“I wanted to ask about that. Is the dinner invitation still open?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.” He paused and darted a furtive glance at Elizabeth, who was clearly caught off guard.

They arrived at the car, and he turned to her with a grin. “Okay, I’ve thought about it. Yes.”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Very funny.”

He cupped her shoulders and drew her toward him. “I’m glad you changed your mind.”

She unfolded her arms, and rested her hands on his waist. “I didn’t change my mind; I always wanted to have dinner with you tomorrow. It’s just that the situation has changed.”

He kissed her quickly and then released her, reaching for the car door. “What happened? I thought you had plans with Jane.”

“I do. I guess I’ve never really explained about this reception on Monday.” She slid into the passenger’s seat. “I suppose it sounded like I was just going there to schmooze with a bunch of lawyers.”

“No comment,” he replied. He closed her door and moved around to the driver’s side.

“It’s more than that,” she explained. “Jane does lots of pro bono work, and she’s getting an award for community service. One of her friends called me a couple of weeks ago to tell me about it. They were planning to surprise her, but someone called Jane yesterday afternoon and congratulated her. Now that the secret is out, I don’t have to drive her there anymore to make sure she doesn’t get stuck late at the office.”

“But you’re still going to the reception?”

“Of course. But if we drive separately, it means I can be there for the presentation, hang around for a little while, and then slip away.”

“Get a ride over with Jane, and I’ll come and pick you up. That way, I can drive you home after dinner. I don’t want to send you home alone at night.”

“I drive alone at night all the time.”

Not when you’re with me. “Lizzy, I want to do this.”

“And heaven forbid that William Darcy should fail to get what he wants,” she said in a gently mocking tone. “Okay, you win.”

“Good. It’s settled, then.”

“Well … there’s just one other thing.”

His hand paused on the ignition. “Hmm?”

“Monday is Mrs. Reynolds’s last day in town, and I’m sure she has a million things to do. So why don’t I take you out to dinner. We can stop by to see her after we eat.”

“Not a chance.”

“Why not?” A pronounced frown line formed between her eyebrows.

“Because Mrs. Reynolds would be offended by the suggestion that she couldn’t put together a gourmet feast for two, given 24 hours’ notice.” The idea that he would allow Elizabeth to buy him dinner was equally absurd, but it wasn’t the central issue at present.

“I’m not saying she can’t. I’m just saying she has other things to do.”

“Trust me, she’d be crushed if we had dinner anywhere but the penthouse. Now, shall we head for the beach?”

Before she could answer, he started the car and pulled out of the parking area, returning to the highway.

 

“He took you to the Tonga Room? You’re kidding.” Elizabeth, who was leaning back on her elbows on her beach towel, turned sideways to face him.

William rolled his eyes, though it occurred to him that it was wasted effort, since he was wearing sunglasses. “I’m not kidding in the slightest.”

Her shoulders shook as she laughed, and even though she was laughing at him, the infectious sound soon had him chuckling as well.

As Elizabeth had predicted, Stinson Beach was a popular destination on this pleasant Sunday, but there had been no problem finding an open space on which to spread the beach towels she had brought along. The hot sun and cool ocean breeze combined to produce a comfortable temperature, and William was glad that he had chosen to wear khaki shorts instead of jeans with his polo shirt. He cast a sidelong glance at Elizabeth. She had worn shorts as well, and as he eyed her legs he was even more grateful for her choice than for his own.

Her laughter subsided, and she favored him with an affectionate smile that sent his heart careening into his ribs. “I wish I’d been there to see you. You must have been absolutely adorable, all grumpy and haughty.”

He reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. His hand lingered there, his fingertips brushing her cheek. “I’m not sure that I agree with your characterization, but as long as you think I’m adorable I’d be a fool to argue.”

She laughed again, softly this time. “You need to wear a sign around your neck like the ones you see outside some of the cages at the zoo: ‘Please don’t feed the ego.’”

He scowled in mock indignation. “I’m not really that bad, am I?”

“I’ve known worse. But it’s so much fun to tease you. Tell me your impressions of the Tonga Room.”

“Have you ever been there?”

She nodded. “A few times.”

“You actually went there voluntarily more than once?”

“I have news for you, Mr. Darcy. You’re going there more than once, voluntarily or otherwise. Why should Charles have all the fun of seeing William in Wonderland? Did you like the tropical rainstorms?”

“Hardly.” He exaggerated his haughty attitude, hoping to provoke her further. He had often been teased in his life; Richard and Sonya were masters of the art. But never before had he so thoroughly relished the experience.

“Oh, I bet you had a great time goggling at the place and dreaming up clever insults, but you’d sooner die than admit it. How was the band?”

“Pathetic. I didn’t know you could still buy sheet music for some of that stuff.”

“So then I suppose you didn’t deign to get on the dance floor?” She sat up, hugging her knees to her chest.

“No. In general I prefer not to dance.”

“But you and I have danced … let’s see, three times, haven’t we? And you never seemed reluctant.”

“That’s entirely different.”

“Why?”

“Because on those occasions, you were in my arms.”

She looked down and busied herself brushing sand off her toes, but he saw her smile.

“What about you? Did you do any dancing last night?” he asked, unable to resist the question.

She shook her head. “Char wanted to go to clubbing, but Jane and I weren’t in the mood.”

“You didn’t want to go dancing? I would think, being a dancer, you’d enjoy every opportunity.”

“I do,” she said slowly, “but recently I’ve found a partner I prefer, and I just didn’t feel like dancing with anybody else.”

Only through the exertion of unyielding self-control did he stop himself from engulfing her in a crushing embrace. He forced himself to be satisfied with a smile and the brief response, “I’m glad, because I feel the same way.”

Neither one spoke for a time. William’s eyes followed the shore birds skittering along the water’s edge seeking an early supper. Seagulls swooped overhead, their distinctive cry blending with the sounds of the ocean. He leaned back on his elbows and closed his eyes, a contented smile on his face.

“Is it time for your nap?”

He opened his eyes and glanced over at her. “Don’t tempt me.”

“It’s really okay, you know. If you need to rest—”

“Let’s go for a walk instead.”

“Okay. And how about getting lunch after that? It’s getting late, and if I’m going to look Mrs. Reynolds in the eye tomorrow night, I need to make sure you get regular nourishment.”

He smiled, brushing the sand off his legs as he rose to his feet. “Good point.” He offered her his hands and pulled her to her feet.

He and Elizabeth were only two of several visitors enjoying the sunny afternoon. Dogs strained at their leashes, barking at the already high-strung shore birds. Children waded into the chilly water or dug in the sand. Up ahead, a Frisbee splashed into the water, bobbing among the waves while two boys rushed into the surf to retrieve it. But William was barely aware of this activity as he strolled along the water’s edge with Elizabeth. She was close by his side, her hand meshed with his, and that was as it should be.

 

Later that afternoon, they walked together again, this time along Muir Beach. Much smaller than Stinson Beach, it was dotted with huge rocks and featured a freshwater stream that emptied into the ocean. It was their final stop before heading home, and Elizabeth found herself seeking excuses to linger in order to prolong their day.

In an attempt to accelerate the getting-acquainted process, she had begun to quiz William about his favorite things in different categories. She had been pleased when he entered into the spirit of the proceedings by turning the questions around on her, leading to a lively conversation that was still in progress.

“Favorite food?” she asked, as they explored the tide pools near the mouth of the stream. She waded into one, surprised to find the water much warmer than the ocean. “I’m expecting it to be something spectacular.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, beluga caviar or maybe a decadent dessert.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but actually it’s gnocchi.”

“You’re kidding.”

He shook his head and smiled. “Sometimes when my mother was homesick for Italy she’d go down to the kitchen and fix gnocchi.” He licked his lips. “I can still taste them, made from scratch, topped with butter and sage and Parmesan cheese. Remember how you said once that tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich were comfort foods for you? For me, comfort food means gnocchi.”

“Do you still have gnocchi sometimes?”

“Once in a while Mrs. Reynolds cooks them as a special treat for me, but it’s just not the same.” His soft voice was tinged with sadness, and she knew that he was thinking of his mother. She reached out and took his hand, and was rewarded by his tentative smile.

“How about you?” he asked. “What’s your favorite food?”

“Crabs.”

“Good choice.”

“You’re probably thinking of king crab legs. I’m talking about whole crabs.”

“Dungeness crabs? They’re the local variety, aren’t they?”

“Actually, I’m partial to Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, steamed in their shells.”

He bent down to examine an unusually shaped rock lying in the sand. “I’ve never had them.”

“My aunt and uncle live in Baltimore, and I used to take the train down from New York for the weekend. If crabs were in season, we’d go to this plain-looking crab house right on the water. In good weather, we’d sit outside at a picnic table covered in heavy brown paper, and they’d bring out the crabs on cafeteria trays, encrusted with Old Bay seasoning.” Elizabeth’s eyes shone as she continued to reminisce. “I can remember some beautiful evenings, watching the sun set and the sailboats coming into the cove to moor for the night.”

“There’s something magical, almost hypnotic, about being near the water, isn’t there?”

“I relax better at a beach than anyplace else. It feels so good to just sit and listen to the waves, and watch the birds and the people.” She turned toward the ocean, her eyes fixed on nothing in particular.

They meandered in the direction of the large black rocks at the far end of the beach. “I hope I can show you Pemberley some day,” he said quietly, sounding as contemplative as she felt.

“That’s your family’s house in Barbados, right? I remember you mentioning how much you love it there.”

“We used to go there frequently when I was small, but then my music started taking more time. Nowadays I get there maybe twice a year. We were supposed to go in June, but we had to cancel.”

“Because of your illness?”

“Yes.”

“What a shame. I would think that relaxation and sunshine would have been the perfect medicines.”

“They might have been, but the doctors didn’t want me that far from a major medical center.”

She glanced at him, biting her lip. “You were sicker than you’ve told me, weren’t you?”

“I’m going to be fine.”

She shook her head at his evasiveness and considered pressing harder for information, but she saw a stubborn set of his jaw that told her that further questions would yield no new information. Instead, she returned the conversation to Pemberley. “What do you like to do when you go there?”

“Almost anything that involves the outdoors. Running, or taking long walks on the beach. Relaxing on our hilltop overlooking the water and reading a good book, or just sitting on the beach and watching the waves break. Or sitting in the hot tub until 2:00 am, listening to the sound of the ocean and gazing at the stars.”

She closed her eyes and imagined him in the hot tub, sipping a glass of wine as he studied the starry sky. She could almost smell the fragrance of tropical flowers wafted along by the warm, humid night air. The idyllic image was enhanced by a vision his broad bare chest emerging from the steaming caldron of water. “Do you like to swim?”

“I swim laps in our pool sometimes. The ocean on our side of the island is too rough for swimming.”

Her overheated imagination conjured up an image of William clad in nothing but a pair of drenched swim trunks that clung to him as he stepped out of the ocean and sauntered across the beach. A wave of guilt flowed over her for concocting such a lascivious fantasy, but she quickly squelched it. Why should I put him in jeans and a tee shirt? It’s my fantasy. If I wanted, he could be skinny-dipping!

Those words had barely entered her mind when her imagination rewound the fantasy, this time stripping William of the swim trunks. Her eyes became huge as her imagination conjured up a dark-haired, virile Adonis, water droplets clinging to his body as he emerged from the surf and strode to a chaise lounge in the shade of a palm tree.

“Lizzy, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, trying to control the quiver in her voice. “Why do you ask?”

“You’re quiet all of a sudden.”

“I was just thinking about something.”

“Anything you want to share?”

“No, it’s nothing important.” I just can’t stop drooling, that’s all. She led him closer to the waves, welcoming the chilly water that lapped over her feet. “You said you’re coming to campus tomorrow, right?”

“In the afternoon,” he said.

“Come to my office when you get in,” she said. “I’ll give you the grand tour.”

He smiled. “I’ll do that. By the way, while I’m thinking of it, I want to get your cell phone number before I take you home.”

“I don’t have a cell phone.”

“Really? I never knew you were a cell phone hater like I am.”

She smiled. “I couldn’t afford one while I was in grad school. Now I can, but since I’m not used to having one, it hasn’t been a priority.”

“I just thought if you had one it would be easier for us to contact each other.”

“Until messages start disappearing again. I still don’t understand how that happened.”

“I’m going to talk to Sonya about it on Monday and ask her to switch to a more reliable cell phone company.”

The air was growing cooler as fog began to drift in from the ocean. Elizabeth glanced at her watch. “We’d better head back to the city. I’ve got that gig tonight, and I have to change first.”

He drew her into the circle of his arms. “We can’t go quite yet.” He removed his sunglasses, hanging them over the open neck of his polo shirt.

“Why not?” She saw his eyes darken with desire, and she knew immediately what he wanted.

“Because I need to do this first,” he murmured. He bent his head, and his warm lips covered hers.

 

“Okay, that takes care of favorite composers. What’s the next category?” William asked, grinning.

They had been standing outside Elizabeth’s door for the past fifteen minutes, continuing their discussion of their favorite things. She needed to leave for the jazz group performance soon or she’d be late, and she still had to shower and change clothes. But William obviously didn’t want to leave, and she couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye either.

“Favorite movie.”

“I’m not sure I want to tell you,” he said, wincing.

“Why not?”

“Because I think men my age are supposed to mention The Godfather, or an action movie, something of that sort.”

“But not you?”

“I’ve seen The Godfather and I enjoyed it, but to Richard it has almost religious significance. He loves to find excuses to quote from it.”

“I’ve known guys like that. And they love to imitate Brando. I must say, I can’t see you doing that. Well, then, come on, ‘fess up. If you’re not a Godfather guy, what’s your favorite?”

“The Philadelphia Story,” he said with a diffident air.

She couldn’t believe her ears. “I love that movie!”

“So you’re not going to laugh at me for choosing it?”

“Of course not. It just shows that you have excellent taste. I love the wit, and the acting is fantastic, and … you know, we should watch it together some time.”

“Good idea.”

“And I can see why you’d like it. After all, it’s a movie about your tribe.”

“My tribe?”

“Old-money Episcopalians,” she retorted with a sassy grin.

“You are a wicked woman,” he said, his attempt at a stern expression a complete failure. “If I’d had the slightest idea you were like this—”

“What would you have done about it, tough guy?” She stepped closer to him, their bodies touching lightly, energy crackling between them.

He leaned forward, his sultry half-lidded gaze on her lips. “I’d have kissed you a lot sooner.”

Her hand curled around his neck, and she felt his warm breath fanning her face. “But you kissed me the morning after you met me.”

“Precisely,” he murmured, gathering her into his arms as his lips descended to meet hers. “A whole day wasted.”

 

On Monday afternoon, Elizabeth sat in her office fidgeting. She checked her watch: 3:10. William had called her that morning on the way to his doctor’s appointment, and had promised that he’d see her at school around lunchtime. But it was long past lunchtime and he hadn’t appeared. What if the doctor found something terribly wrong, and he’s in the hospital? Her heart clutched in her chest, and she couldn’t sit and wait any longer.

She called his cell phone for the third time in the past hour, and for the third time it rolled to voicemail. Relax. He might have left the phone in his car. Or maybe he forgot to recharge it and the battery died. But if he were in the hospital, they would probably have required him to turn off the phone.

She scrolled through her email inbox, opening a message containing the fall semester faculty directory. She dialed the number for William’s studio, exhaling a sigh of relief when she heard a busy signal. He’s there. He just hasn’t gotten around to stopping by.

But her relief was short-lived as other possibilities occurred to her. What if the busy signal just means the phone isn’t working yet? Her instincts continued to prod her to action, whispering that something was wrong. There was only one way to find out. She grabbed her keys and shut her office door, her quick, nervous steps echoing in the hall.

As she approached William’s studio, she saw that the door was open. Her fear dissolved when she heard his voice. She paused outside the door, and was about to enter the room when he spoke again.

“What was the point of my providing you a detailed list of my requirements if you were going to ignore it?” He spoke softly, but with tight, clipped accents that betrayed his annoyance.

“Truly, Mr. Darcy, I didn’t ignore your requests.” It was Bill Collins’s voice, infused with a plaintive note. “It’s just that I was told you weren’t coming in until tomorrow.”

“Perhaps you should have asked me my plans, instead of accepting the word of others.”

“You’re right, of course, and I do apologize. But, you see, we had so little notice to make these arrangements—”

“I’m interested in results, not excuses. You should have expedited everything.”

“We did, sir, I assure you. The audio equipment you requested should have been delivered this morning, but it was shipped to the wrong address. I spoke to them a few minutes ago, and we’ve been promised that it will be here tomorrow. So if you can just give us one more day—”

“And what about the piano? I was promised that it would be here when I arrived, and that I would be meeting with a piano technician this afternoon. Not only is the technician not here, but this is not the instrument I requested.”

“Again, I’m so very sorry, sir. This piano is strictly for your temporary use. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, you might say … or perhaps robbing Yamaha to pay Steinway?” Bill giggled weakly at his own joke, and Elizabeth had to suppress a little snicker of her own, but the quip was met with nothing but heavy silence from William.

“At any rate,” Bill continued, speaking rapidly, a distinct quaver entering his voice, “we’re giving you the piano from our recital hall. It’s a marvelous instrument and I know you’ll be pleased with it. But we need to shift some other pianos around to replace it, and we couldn’t do that yet because—”

“Just fix it, Collins. And you should have informed me so that I could have avoided a wasted trip here to meet with the technician. Catherine de Bourgh is going to be displeased when she hears about this.” Elizabeth was astonished by William’s dark, resentful tone, considering the relative triviality of the problem.

Bill’s voice took on a note of panic. “Please, Mr. Darcy, allow me to fix this without involving Dr. de Bourgh. I assure you that I will personally make certain that—”

Elizabeth had heard enough. She stepped into the room. “Hi, guys,” she said in a cheerful tone.

Both men stared at her. The hard expression in William’s eyes softened as his gaze rested on her, but the tension in his jaw and the rigid set of his shoulders remained. He was standing beside a Yamaha baby grand piano, his arms crossed over his chest, every line on his face communicating disdain.

“Elizabeth,” Bill said with an attempt at a smile, “it’s good to see you again so soon.” Since William hadn’t appeared by lunchtime, Elizabeth had accepted Bill’s invitation to share his table in the cafeteria.

“Was there something you wanted, Elizabeth?” William’s voice wasn’t precisely cold, but neither did it hold any warmth.

“I just dropped by to say hello, to welcome you to the conservatory on your first day. But I see I’m interrupting something. Is there a problem?”

“I was just apologizing to Mr. Darcy; we’re a bit behind schedule in getting his studio set up. You may recall, at lunch today I was telling you about the situation with the pianos.” Bill fidgeted with the ring of keys in his hand. The jangling noise sounded like raw nerve endings.

“Well, I know you’ll have everything in place very soon, won’t you?” she said, offering Bill an encouraging smile. “And I know that William—”

“Elizabeth, let me handle this,” William said calmly, but in a tone of command.

Bill sidled toward the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check on our progress with the pianos. Perhaps I can get the matter resolved before the end of the day. And if not, your piano will be here first thing in the morning. And we’ll have a piano technician—the finest one in the city, I assure you—at your disposal whenever it’s convenient for you. Just let me know when you’d like to come in, and I’ll make the arrangements. And, again, sir, I apologize with all my heart. You’re absolutely right that Dr. de Bourgh would find these failures very vexing, and I assure you that I shall not rest till the matter is set right.” With a little nod to Elizabeth, Bill decamped hastily.

Elizabeth shut the studio door and turned to William, whose face communicated utter disgust. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? I travel across the continent and arrive here only to be faced with gross incompetence. It’s inexcusable that I’m being treated this way.” This was the imperious, spoiled William Darcy she remembered from her earliest encounters with him.

“I understand that it’s inconvenient. But he promised that you’d have everything by tomorrow.”

He shook his head, his eyes resentful. “So you’re taking Collins’s side.”

She bit back a flash of anger and said calmly, “This isn’t about taking sides. I just think you were awfully rough on Bill over a one-day delay.”

“So I’m supposed to just accept the fact that nothing was as I requested it?”

Elizabeth had a strong sense that something else was wrong. William was a difficult customer who expected first-rate service, but yesterday at lunch she had seen him dealing calmly with a long wait for their food. He had shown no anger, no emotion at all, in fact; he had calmly insisted on getting what he wanted.

She approached him, hoping that at closer range she could reason with him. “Granted, Bill didn’t manage things very well. And he lacks the talent to pull a Ferrari out of a hat the way Sonya can. But you’re not using your studio to teach yet, and you’ve got a piano at home for practicing. What difference does it make if it’s ready tomorrow instead of today?”

“It might make no difference to you, but it’s insulting to treat a person of my stature this way. And in any case, this is not your concern, Elizabeth, so I suggest that you drop the subject.”

She glared at him, hands planted on her hips. “You’re telling me to mind my own business?”

He squared his shoulders, his intense stare nearly pinning her in place. “I’m saying that this is a business matter, and you’re unaware of the nature of my agreement with the school. So perhaps you should leave this to me, before I start wondering why you’re so anxious to defend Bill Collins.”

Her eyes blazed. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

He swallowed, and the fire in his eyes cooled somewhat.

“What I was doing,” she spat out, “was trying to get you to stop bullying the poor man. But perhaps you think a person of your stature is entitled to be rude and overbearing to little people like Bill … and me.”

He stared at her, a bemused expression on his face. His lips parted slightly as though he wanted to speak, but couldn’t quite find the words.

Elizabeth, who was having no problem with word selection, continued. “I came down here because I was worried sick about you. You said you’d be here around lunchtime, and I’ve been waiting for you all afternoon. I was worried that something terrible might have happened, that maybe you were lying in a hospital bed somewhere. And instead I find you ripping poor Bill Collins to shreds. So, I’ll tell you what, I’ll start minding my own business right now. In fact, why don’t you just forget that I was here.” She marched to the door and yanked it open.

“Lizzy, don’t go.”

“When you’re ready to have a civilized conversation, I’ll be in my office.”

“Wait. I’m …” He paused, took a deep breath, and continued in a quieter voice. “I’m ready now.”

She paused in the doorway and gave him a cool, appraising look. “I’m listening.”

He covered the distance between them in half a dozen long strides and drew her back into the room, shutting the door behind her. She allowed him to lead her to a comfortable sofa in one corner.

“You know,” she remarked with pointed sarcasm, “you have no idea how good you have it here, even if they haven’t handed over the school’s best piano to you quite yet. My office is too small for an armchair, much less a nice couch. But, then, I’m not a person of your stature.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I’m sorry if I sounded …”

“Arrogant? Conceited? Offensive?”

He sighed, his eyes on the ceiling. “All right, yes, if I sounded … like those things.”

She didn’t answer, only partially mollified. But as she opened her mouth to question him further, he turned to her, and she was shocked into silence by the dark misery in his eyes. She could also see how pale and haggard he looked.

“I’m sorry, Lizzy,” he mumbled. He leaned forward, burying his head in his hands and massaging his forehead.

“William, what’s wrong? Are you feeling all right?”

He looked up at her, hesitating. After a long pause, he spoke in a halting voice. “Well … actually, no. I’ve had a bad headache since around noon, and …” He closed his eyes.

In a flash of insight, the pieces fell neatly into place. “And you got bad news from the doctor.”

He leaned forward again, his elbows resting on his thighs, hands clasped tightly together, and at first he didn’t answer. She reached over, running a gentle hand down his back, feeling the tense muscles bunched up under her fingers. She set aside her annoyance at his behavior and slid closer, wrapping her arm around him.

To her surprise, he leaned over and rested his head on her shoulder with a deep sigh. “I’m sorry, Lizzy. It’s been a terrible day. I still think Collins is an incompetent jackass, but I never meant to take out my frustrations on you.”

“I’m sure you’ve taken something for your head?”

He nodded. “But sometimes the pain relievers don’t work.”

“Would it help to lie down?”

“It might.” He rubbed his temples. “That’s why I was so angry. I wanted to go home after I left the doctor’s office. But I had agreed to come here to meet with the piano technician, and then they weren’t even ready for me. And it’s not as though I can take a nap on campus.”

“Yes, you can,” she said. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa and rest?”

“Because I want to sit next to you, and I’d take up the whole sofa, and then some, by myself.”

“I have a solution.” She nudged his head off her shoulder and scooted down to the far end of the sofa, setting a loose pillow on her lap. “Will this work?”

The tension lines around his eyes softened. He kicked off his shoes and stretched out on his back, his head sinking into the pillow on her lap, his feet sticking out over the arm of the sofa at the other end.

She stroked his hair with gentle fingers. “Close your eyes,” she whispered. She massaged his forehead softly, engulfed by a wave of tenderness that wiped away the last traces of the annoyance she had felt just a few minutes before.

His eyes drifted shut. “This is the best pain reliever in the world,” he murmured. “I feel better already.”

For a few minutes, neither spoke. Elizabeth continued her gentle ministrations to his forehead, her other hand resting lightly on his chest, where she felt the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. From his relaxed breathing, she began to suspect that he had fallen asleep. But as she looked down at him, admiring his dark eyelashes as she had done the day of their picnic, his eyelids fluttered open and she nearly drowned in the warm intensity of his eyes.

He reached up, toying with a lock of her hair. “I wish all medical treatments were this pleasant.”

“Speaking of medicine, tell me about your visit to the doctor.”

“That won’t help me to relax.”

“Please? I’m worried about you and I’d really like to know what the doctor said.”

He closed his eyes, and at first it seemed that he wasn’t going to answer, but then he began to speak. “Dr. Salinger wasn’t as optimistic as Dr. Rosemont, my cardiologist in New York. He thinks my recovery is going to be much slower than we were expecting. He doesn’t think I can resume my touring schedule in November. And there are … things Dr. Rosemont told me I was healthy enough to do, but Dr. Salinger disagrees.”

“Like what?” she asked, caressing his stubble-roughened cheek.

He hesitated. “Never mind. What worries me is, what if this is the best I’m ever going to be? What if I can’t ever tour again, or go running, or … or do other things that normal men can do?”

A single tear slid out of his eye and down the side of his face toward the pillow on her lap. She dabbed the tear away, stroking his cheek. “He didn’t say that you weren’t going to get better, did he?”

“No. But he said it’s going to take a long time, based on the limited progress I’ve made so far. He wasn’t even willing to give me a time frame for resuming touring.”

“But you know how doctors are. They don’t like to be pinned down. And Dr. Rosemont did tell you that it might take six months or more. You’re the one who decided that six months was too long.”

“But what if the doctors are wrong? What if I’m not making progress because I’m going to be this way for the rest of my life?”

Elizabeth was torn between wanting to hold him and comfort him, and wanting to reason with him. She opted for a compromise, running one hand slowly down his arm and capturing his hand while saying, “But can you honestly tell me that you’ve been taking care of yourself? Maybe that’s why your progress is slow. Maybe you need to do a lot less running around town and a lot more resting.”

He sat up partway, supporting his weight on his arms. “I can’t sit in a chair all day long and do nothing. Besides, I need some exercise to keep my circulatory system from getting even weaker.”

“Okay. But exercising doesn’t mean climbing Telegraph Hill. And you can’t be staying up till three in the morning and then getting up at eight.”

“I want my life back. I want to give concerts, and go running, and …” He sighed, lowering his head to the pillow on her lap.

She caressed his hair tenderly and spoke in a gentle but firm voice. “I know. It must be painful to have these things taken away from you, even temporarily. But the sooner you accept that you can’t just order your body to obey you, the sooner you’ll start doing the things you need to do in order to get better.”

“You sound like Sonya.”

“That’s because we’re two brilliant, sensible women.”

“Indeed you are,” he replied, a tiny smile flitting across his face.

“And I think you should make this Dr. Salinger choke on his pessimistic predictions. Start doing everything the doctors have told you to do, and really commit to taking care of yourself, and I bet before long you’ll show him some serious progress. And I’m going to help you any way I can.”

He sat up, his eyes full of an emotion she couldn’t quite identify. “You are an amazing woman,” he whispered, and then his mouth was on hers in a deep, unhurried kiss. She sighed, a soft, throaty sound born of the sweet intimacy of the moment, and her arms went around his neck.

When their lips finally parted, they stayed close together, foreheads touching. He kissed the tip of her nose and murmured her name in a deep, caressing tone that sent a shiver through her.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, shivering again as his lips rambled along her jaw, heading for her ear.

“Much … much … much better,” he answered, punctuating each word with a kiss on the jaw or a light nibble on her ear lobe.

She drew in a shaky breath. “Is your headache gone?”

He didn’t answer, too busy tracing a path of hot kisses down her neck.

The sensations he was creating in her were electrifying, but then she heard footsteps in the hall and became vividly aware of their surroundings. “William, the door isn’t locked, and if someone came in …”

He raised his head reluctantly. “I guess you’re right. This isn’t exactly discreet.” He sat up and turned to her, a rueful smile on his face. “At least I’m going to have you all to myself tonight.”

“Maybe it would be better if you just went home and got some sleep tonight. We can have dinner on Tuesday instead.”

“No. I’m starting to feel better. Besides, Mrs. Reynolds would murder me in my sleep if I canceled. I think you can count on getting minute instructions on the care and feeding of William Darcy.”

Elizabeth hoped that his prediction was accurate. Mrs. Reynolds would give her a more candid assessment of William’s health than he had provided himself. “All right, then, dinner is still on. But I have some conditions.”

“Let’s hear them.”

“First, I want you to go home right now and take a nap.”

“Okay,” he said, as they stood up. He flashed a flirtatious smile. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into coming with me. I rather liked the pillow I had just now, and I bet it would help me to sleep.”

She handed him the sofa pillow. “Here you go.”

“You know perfectly well that’s not what I meant.”

“Sorry, but the rest of your pillow has to go to Jane’s reception. Come on, let me walk you to your car.”

“So you can make sure I keep my promise and leave campus?”

She led the way to his studio door. “Exactly.”

As they followed the hallway toward the doors to the parking lot, he said, “You’d better tell me the rest of the conditions.”

“We’ll make it an early evening.”

“All right. As long as it’s not too early. What else?”

“Don’t come to the reception to pick me up. Use that time to get some extra rest. That’ll save you the trouble of taking me home, too.”

They passed through the doors together into the parking lot. “You really don’t need to walk me the rest of the way,” he said. “I’m going home, I promise.”

He leaned forward as though to kiss her, but stopped abruptly when a faculty member came through the doors, nodding to them. They stepped apart, exchanging rueful smiles.

“Bye, Lizzy. Enjoy the reception.”

“Thanks, I’m sure I will. Get some rest, and I’ll see you later.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me too.”

She stood in the parking lot and watched until he drove away. Then she returned to her office to finish preparing for her Tuesday classes. On the way down the hall, she noted that she couldn’t seem to stop humming to herself. I’d better not do that around Jane or Char, or they’ll try to use it as proof that I’m falling in love.

Hmm …