Marcia Reynolds covered two stem glasses full of chocolate mousse and placed them in the refrigerator. She glanced at her watch and nodded; dinner preparations were proceeding on schedule. Over her years with the Darcys, Marcia had cooked for an illustrious array of business leaders, celebrities, and socialites, but no dinner had mattered to her more than the one tonight.

She inspected the living room for the third time, plumping cushions, moving knick-knacks that essential quarter-inch, and adjusting the drapes to take best advantage of the early evening light.

Marcia was relieved that William would have company tonight. He had seemed out of sorts since arriving home late in the afternoon. She was accustomed to his unpredictable moods, but over the past few days he had been uncharacteristically cheerful and energetic … until a few hours ago.

The sound of the telephone interrupted her thoughts.

“Mr. Darcy’s residence …. No, I’m afraid he’s not in at the moment, could I take a message? …. Oh, hello, how nice to hear from you. This is Marcia Reynolds, the Darcys’ housekeeper. We met when William was … yes, that’s right …. Oh, dear, that doesn’t sound good. I know you can’t tell me any details, but I hope it’s nothing serious … Oh, my, that’s a relief! … Well, let’s see. He has plans this evening, but if you could call back in a few hours … Of course, how silly of me, it’s three hours later there. I expect him back in less than an hour, so … yes, that sounds good …. Goodbye.”

Marcia hung up the phone. She drained the water in which she’d been soaking spinach leaves, absently patting the greens dry. So that’s why he’s in a bit of a blue funk. It’ll do him good to talk to her. And while he’s doing that, I’ll have a chat with Ms. Bennet. Starting tomorrow, she’s the one who’ll have to look after him. Mrs. Hill, the part-time housekeeper who would start work tomorrow, seemed like a nice enough woman, but she couldn’t be expected to keep an eye on him the way Marcia had always done.

She glanced again at her gold and diamond wristwatch, a 60th birthday gift from the family and her most prized possession. William and Ms. Bennet would be back soon, and she wasn’t properly dressed to receive them. She hung her apron in the pantry and hurried down the hall to change into a simple black dress with a strand of pearls, her typical evening attire for important dinner parties.

 

Elizabeth stood in the Green Room of the War Memorial Veteran’s Building, sipping a glass of white wine. An artificial smile adorned her face while she pretended to listen to an attractive but deadly dull real estate attorney expound on currently-available investment property in the Bay Area. She was processing his nonstop monologue in a remote corner of her brain in the unlikely event that he said anything requiring a response, but he clearly enjoyed the sound of his own voice and needed little encouragement. She peeked at her watch and nearly sighed aloud in relief. It was almost seven, which meant that she could leave soon.

Her eyes restlessly scanned her surroundings, which were far more interesting than her companion. The long, narrow room was lit by glittering chandeliers suspended from a lofty ivory and gold leaf ceiling. Gilded columns lined the room, and several sets of glass doors along one wall led outside to a gallery overlooking the street.

She was beginning to regret having asked William not to pick her up at the reception. It would have been exhilarating to depart on his arm, the envy of nearly every unattached woman in the room and probably many of the attached ones as well. But she was glad that he was getting some much-needed rest.

Elizabeth managed to detach herself from the real estate maven, politely declining both his dinner invitation and his request for her phone number. She found Jane near the bar accepting congratulations from a group of colleagues. Elizabeth waved goodbye, not wishing to interrupt the conversation, and turned toward the exit. Halfway to the door she froze in place, surprised by an unexpected, but by no means unwelcome, sight.

William was weaving his way through the room, scanning the crowd, a small frown line between his eyebrows. Their eyes met and his frown melted into a devastating smile. She stood still, savoring the pleasure of watching him come to her, his tall form impeccably garbed in a double-breasted suit in a dark shade of blue-gray. His eyes never left hers, and she felt a little thrill when she realized that he was completely oblivious to the female, and even some male, heads swiveling in his direction as he passed by.

“Good evening, Ms. Bennet,” he murmured when at last he stood before her.

“I thought we agreed that you were going to rest at home and not pick me up here,” she said in a mildly accusing tone, though she couldn’t summon up any genuine annoyance.

“You suggested it; I never agreed.” He raised his eyebrows and smirked at her.

“I see. I suppose from now on I’d better get everything from you in writing.”

He chuckled. “Ready to go?”

“You bet. In fact, I was on my way out when I saw you. But the thing is, my car’s here.”

“I should have thought of that.” He stood silent for a moment, frowning, and then shrugged. “We could both drive back to your building, and then go on to my place in my car.”

“Why don’t you just let me drive myself? Then you don’t have to take me home later.”

William’s hands grasped her upper arms gently. “Lizzy, I just don’t feel right about you driving yourself home from a date, especially not late at night.”

“But that’s such an antiquated attitude. I’m perfectly capable of getting myself home.”

“If you want, chalk it up to my being old-fashioned. But I’ll sleep better if I know you got home safely. And you wanted me to get more rest, didn’t you?”

Elizabeth almost laughed. “That is shameless manipulation.”

“Is it working?” he asked with a wicked grin.

She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling back at him. A flirtatious William Darcy was impossible to resist; she suspected that every woman in the room would back her up on that assertion. “All right, you win. And I have an idea about the car. Let me go talk to Jane. In fact, why don’t you come with me and say hello? I know she’d like that.”

The frown line between his eyebrows reappeared. “I, ah … no, I wouldn’t want to interrupt her.”

“She wouldn’t consider it an interruption. Really, why don’t you—”

He jammed his hands into his trouser pockets. “She’s busy with her colleagues. I’d rather not interrupt.”

“But Jane will be hurt if you don’t at least say hello. And I know you wouldn’t want to hurt my favorite sister’s feelings.” Because if you do, you’re going to hear about it from me.

William heaved a sigh and removed his hands from his pockets. “Of course not. Let’s go.”

When Jane saw them approaching, she smiled in warm welcome. “William, how nice to see you!”

“Hello, Jane. Congratulations on your award.”

His smile looked half-hearted to Elizabeth, and his tone was subdued. She shot an inquiring glance at him, but he was staring at his cufflinks and didn’t notice.

Jane either didn’t notice his lack of enthusiasm, or decided to politely ignore it. “Thank you. It was such an unexpected honor; so many of my colleagues volunteer their time. Let me introduce you to my friends.”

William nodded to each person as Jane made the introductions, but said nothing. When one of the lawyers recognized William and effusively complimented his musical artistry, William thanked him briefly, fiddling with his cuff links. What is it with him? He can be so sweet, and then all of a sudden he’s too exalted to say hello to Jane and her friends.

Rather than prolong the uncomfortable encounter, Elizabeth interceded. “We have to be going; we have dinner plans.”

“We should get moving too,” one of the lawyers remarked. Jane’s friends were taking her to dinner to celebrate.

Elizabeth turned to Jane, her car keys in her hand. “Can you take my car? William wants to drive me to his place.”

“Of course. That way I won’t have to impose on anyone for a ride home later.” Jane drew Elizabeth aside for a moment and whispered, “He looks so handsome tonight, Lizzy.”

Elizabeth smiled in agreement, though she would gladly have traded his appearance for a little more courtesy. She turned to William, who was standing off to one side, glancing around the room. “Ready to go?”

He nodded, and together they made their way toward the exit.

“Are you feeling better than you were this afternoon?” she asked.

“Much better; I guess I needed that nap. And you were a big help this afternoon.”

Well, then, he’s not acting this way because he’s feeling sick. Elizabeth filed the matter away for future discussion and adopted a light-hearted tone. “Ah, yes. A few kisses and you completely forgot what ailed you.”

They exited the Green Room and proceeded downstairs. “I wouldn’t mind conducting an extensive exploration of the curative properties of your kisses,” he replied with a lazy grin. But then he stopped and turned to her, his smile fading. “But what I really meant was that it helped me to talk to you about what the doctor said. I’m still not happy about it, but it doesn’t seem quite so hopeless now.”

Her sweet, charming William was back again. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand him. After a quick glance around to ensure that they were alone, she stood up on tiptoe, her hands resting on his chest for balance, and kissed him. “I’m glad I could help.”

As they covered the short distance to the parking garage, they passed the Opera House. William remarked, “That reminds me. I called Sonya this morning and asked her to get us tickets to the opera.”

“Oh, good.” During their trip to the beach on Sunday, they had discussed their shared love of opera. “What date were you thinking of?”

“The season opens a week from Friday, with Rigoletto. Are you available that night?”

“Yes, I think so, but, opening night? Won’t it be sold out already?”

He shrugged. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Elizabeth fell silent as they continued their walk to his car. William was the sort of person who could ask his secretary to call the managing director of the San Francisco Opera, and VIP tickets to a sold-out performance would promptly materialize. Ahead of them stood Symphony Hall, where he had held audiences spellbound with his technical brilliance and his astounding artistry. It was easy to forget these things while strolling barefoot along a beach with him, holding hands and sharing stories, but to forget was to invite future heartbreak.

They arrived at his car, and William held out the keys. “Want to drive?”

His offer was perfectly designed to lift her spirits, and she grabbed the keys from his hand, her eyes gleaming. She had driven the car from Stinson Beach to Muir Beach the previous afternoon, and she was itching for another opportunity to master the unfamiliar Formula 1-style gearbox.

Grinning, he opened the driver’s door for her. “Do you want the convertible top up or down?”

“Up, if you don’t mind. It’s getting chilly.”

She checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror while he crossed to the passenger’s side of the car. Once he was seated, she cast a wicked glance at him, her hand poised on the ignition. “Do you suppose I can get it up to 100 miles per hour between here and Nob Hill?”

He patted the dashboard gently. “I’m sorry,” he addressed the car in a mournful tone. “I think I’ve created a monster.”

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Elizabeth replied in her best Bette Davis imitation. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

 

The ride to William’s building was, in fact, somewhat bumpy as Elizabeth continued to struggle with the transmission. William, to her surprise, relinquished this marvelous opportunity to tease her, exhibiting gentlemanly patience and more than a little courage as they lurched their way through traffic.

Elizabeth loved the tasteful decor at the penthouse, its warm colors enhanced by the evening light filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows. “You were lucky to have a place like this just sitting around ready for you to use.”

“I suppose you’re right. I never really thought about it.”

Mrs. Reynolds appeared with two glasses of wine. Elizabeth accepted hers with thanks, her mind on William’s comment. He takes all of this for granted.

A quiet ringing sound came from the kitchen, and Mrs. Reynolds excused herself. She reappeared a moment later.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Darcy, but there’s a phone call for you.”

The frown line between William’s eyebrows reappeared, this time forming a particularly deep crease. “Take a message.”

The intrepid housekeeper stood her ground. “I beg your pardon, sir, but you should take this call. It’s Dr. Rosemont.”

“Your New York doctor?” Elizabeth’s eyebrows shot up. “Mrs. Reynolds is right; you ought to talk to her.”

“Nonsense. I’m not going to leave you sitting alone while I’m on the phone.”

Elizabeth touched his arm. “No, it’s fine. You can ask her about what Dr. Salinger told you. In fact, I bet that’s why she’s calling. She probably knows about your appointment today.”

“It can wait till tomorrow.”

“Please, Mr. Darcy, listen to Ms. Bennet.”

Elizabeth noted the stubborn set to his jaw, but she was convinced that a conversation with Dr. Rosemont would help him. Inspiration seized her at last. “Don’t you think you’d sleep better if she could help resolve some of your concerns? And as you pointed out earlier, it’s important that you get more rest.”

His lips twitched. “Now who’s doing the manipulating?”

“If you’re going to dish it out, you’d better be prepared to take it.”

William stood up slowly, a bemused smile on his face. “It appears that I’ve been beaten at my own game. But don’t think for a second that I don’t know the real reason you two want to get rid of me. My ears are going to be burning, aren’t they?”

“Oh, stop being paranoid and go talk to the doctor,” Elizabeth teased, rising to her feet. “I promise, we’ll only say nice things about you.”

With a soft chuckle, he stepped toward her, his eyes on her lips. After a moment of hesitation and a glance at Mrs. Reynolds, he turned back to Elizabeth and kissed her softly. “I’ll be back soon,” he murmured. He strode from the room.

“Ms. Bennet,” Mrs. Reynolds said in a tentative tone, “Mr. Darcy was right. I was hoping to have a chance to speak to you in private.”

“I’d like that too.”

“I hate to ask, would you mind keeping me company in the kitchen? I need to keep an eye on some things.”

“Of course.”

Elizabeth followed Mrs. Reynolds into the well-equipped kitchen, decorated in rich woods and dark colors. She set her wine glass on the polished granite counter and inhaled. “Mmm, it smells delicious in here.”

“We’ve put together a sort of tasting menu for you. I hope you enjoy it.” Mrs. Reynolds opened the oven, checking a small casserole dish filled with some sort of creamy substance.

“What’s that?”

“A cauliflower and chanterelle mushroom gratin. It’s for the second course, along with seared scallops.”

Elizabeth almost giggled at Mrs. Reynolds’s matter-of-fact tone, as though every kitchen in America had such delicacies baking in the oven. “Well, it sounds and smells delicious. Is there anything I can do to help?” Elizabeth wasn’t known for her culinary expertise, but under close supervision she doubted she’d be able to cause the meal any irreparable harm.

“Thank you, but I’ve got things pretty well under control. Now, Ms. Bennet—”

“Please, call me Elizabeth.”

Mrs. Reynolds smiled and nodded. “Elizabeth. Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but it’s obvious that Mr. Darcy is very fond of you, and unless I’m mistaken you’ve grown rather fond of him too.”

Elizabeth felt herself blushing. “Yes, I guess I have.”

“Good. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but you could have knocked me over with a feather just now when he kissed you.”

Elizabeth’s blush deepened. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she remained silent and took a sip of her wine.

Mrs. Reynolds patted Elizabeth’s arm. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong for him to kiss you, or even that I’m surprised he did it. But I am surprised that he did it in front of me. He’s so private about things like that. I’ve never even met most of his former … lady friends.”

This was Elizabeth’s first confirmation that, as she had suspected, William had a long line of ex-girlfriends. She tried to suppress her pang of disappointment. Oh, grow up. It’s not as though you thought he’d never kissed a girl before. “You mean he doesn’t usually invite his girlfriends over to the townhouse for dinner?”

“Heavens, no.” Mrs. Reynolds set some fresh herbs on a plastic cutting board and began to chop them. “Sometimes if there’s a large dinner party at the house he’ll bring a date, but you’re the only woman he’s ever invited for a private dinner.”

Elizabeth’s disappointment melted away. “I’m flattered.”

Mrs. Reynolds set down her knife, her eyes meeting Elizabeth’s. “William probably wouldn’t be happy if he heard me telling you these things.”

“Don’t worry. My lips are sealed, I promise.”

Mrs. Reynolds smiled briefly and returned to her work. “It’s just that I’m so worried about leaving him tomorrow. He’s not accustomed to taking care of himself.”

“But he said you’d hired a housekeeper … Mrs. Hill, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but that’s not the same. He needs someone looking out for him who really cares about him.” She set down the knife and brushed the chopped herbs into a small bowl. “I’m not sure what he’s told you about his health, beyond what you must have read in the newspaper.”

“He’s told me a little bit, but I get the feeling he’s skipped some details.”

“That’s just what worries me. He’s not taking his condition seriously enough.”

“I agree. He and I talked about that earlier today, in fact.”

Mrs. Reynolds glanced at Elizabeth. “What has he told you?”

Elizabeth briefly summarized what she knew about William’s health, for the moment leaving out the incident on Telegraph Hill. She finished by mentioning in vague terms the discouraging news from Dr. Salinger that morning.

“I gathered that the doctor’s appointment hadn’t gone well,” Mrs. Reynolds remarked. “In fact, that’s why Dr. Rosemont is on the phone. She called earlier, while he was out, and I encouraged her to call back. Apparently she talked to the doctor William’s seeing out here, and she thought she’d better follow up with William. She’s been his doctor for a long time and they seem to connect well, but even she hasn’t had much luck getting through to him lately.”

“Apparently Dr. Salinger was pretty blunt. In the long run that may get William to take things seriously, but right now I think he’s overwhelmed.” Elizabeth rubbed her fingers together, thinking of the tear she had brushed from his cheek while cradling his head in her lap.

“The poor boy. He didn’t seem quite himself when he got home today.”

“It must be difficult for him to become a heart patient at age 30, especially considering the active life he’s accustomed to leading.”

Mrs. Reynolds stared at Elizabeth, frowning, and Elizabeth wondered what she had said to upset the older woman. She was about to inquire when Mrs. Reynolds said, “There’s no question that his health has interfered with his life. I suppose that’s why he tried to ignore this problem for so long. Did he tell you that he’d been having symptoms for months before he collapsed in the park that day? Dizzy spells, severe headaches, breathlessness, even nosebleeds. But he just kept ignoring—”

“Wait a minute.” Elizabeth set down her wine glass more forcefully than she had intended. “He collapsed in the park?”

“Why, yes, of course. He didn’t tell you? That’s how he ended up in the hospital.”

“He collapsed in the park,” Elizabeth repeated, her stomach tightening. “In Central Park?”

“That’s right. He went running with Richard, got dizzy and breathless, and passed out. Richard had to call an ambulance.”

“Oh, no.” Elizabeth felt a cold chill, imagining him lying unconscious on the ground. Then she remembered his symptoms on Telegraph Hill, and she shivered. Oh, William, why did you let me drag you up there? “I had no idea it was that bad. No wonder you all watched him so closely all summer.”

“So he told you that, did he?”

“But he never told me about collapsing, or the 911 call, or any of that.”

Mrs. Reynolds sighed, shaking her head slowly. “That’s what worries me. He tries to pretend that nothing’s wrong, and he’s not going to get better if he keeps that up.”

“I know.”

“That’s why he needs someone to look after him once I leave. I was hoping you could be that person.”

Elizabeth realized that this request was tantamount to the Mrs. Reynolds Official Seal of Approval. “Well, I promised him this afternoon that I’d help in any way I could, but I’m not sure if he’ll let me.”

“I have a feeling you’ll have more luck than the rest of us. You convinced him to talk to Dr. Rosemont, even though he was digging in his heels. Mind you, I’m not criticizing him. It’s just that he tries to be so strong and capable, the poor boy.”

This was a view of William’s situation that Elizabeth hadn’t considered before. “And he’s not used to situations that are beyond his control.”

“That’s right. But it’s wonderful to see how much happier he is here in California. He was miserable in New York all summer. You’ve probably noticed all the weight he lost; he just didn’t have any interest in food. I used to cook all his favorites, but he’d just sit there at the table picking at them. Will you excuse me for a moment? I need to get some things from the pantry.”

Elizabeth stood alone in the kitchen, blinking back tears. If only I’d handled things better in New York …

The housekeeper returned, a bottle of oil and a bulb of garlic in her hands. “I hope you don’t mind the way I’m talking your ear off about William.”

“Of course not. He obviously means a lot to you.”

“He’s the finest young man I’ve ever known. I couldn’t love him more, or be prouder of him, if he were my own son.”

“Do you have children?”

“No. I was pregnant once, but … he was stillborn. It happened shortly before Allen and I came to work for the Darcys.” Mrs. Reynolds retrieved a small skillet from a cabinet and set it on the stove.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“I still think about him, what sort of man he would have grown up to be, and how my life and Allen’s might have been different.”

“I’m sure you would have been a wonderful mother.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Reynolds drizzled olive oil in the skillet and switched on the burner. “Still, I consider myself blessed because I got the chance to help raise William. And Georgiana too; she’s such a sweet girl. Have you met her?”

“We met briefly the night I came for dinner. She and William seem to be close.”

“William is like a father to her. I just wish he’d settle down and start a family of his own so I could help with the next generation of Darcys.”

“Your grandchildren,” Elizabeth said softly.

“Yes, exactly.” Mrs. Reynolds’s smile was poignant. “It’ll be wonderful to have little ones in the house again some day. But listen to me, going on and on, keeping you standing around in the kitchen.”

“I’m glad we had a chance to talk.”

“So am I. I won’t worry so much about William, knowing that you’re keeping an eye on him. Now, why don’t you let me refill your wine glass. I’m sure William will be off the phone soon.”

 

While two of the women William loved best in the world were discussing him in the kitchen, he was in his bedroom, on the phone with another woman who had a sincere interest in his welfare.

“Okay,” Dr. Rosemont said. “First of all, let’s remember that early November was an optimistic estimate. We agreed that we’d see how things were going at that point, and decide if you needed some additional time to convalesce. Dr. Salinger isn’t saying anything different. But somewhere along the line, you convinced yourself that you were going to be fully recovered by then.”

“I can’t keep canceling things. I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Then you’d better get serious about taking care of yourself. How many times have we had this conversation? Get lots of rest. Eat right. Take your medication every day. Get out and walk, but do it on level ground, or at least as close to level ground as you can find in San Francisco.” In a moment of questionable judgment he now regretted, William had told her about his attempt to climb Telegraph Hill.

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“Don’t try. Do it! And avoid stress as much as you can. Relaxation is more than just taking naps, you know.”

Except that the two best stress relievers I can think of are the things Dr. Salinger said were forbidden for now.

As if reading his mind, Dr. Rosemont continued, “And as to what he said about sex, I get the impression that’s bothering you.”

William snorted. “Why should it bother me to be turned into a virtual eunuch?”

“I don’t think he meant it as a long-term restriction. The last time I saw you, I thought you were fit enough for that sort of activity, in moderation at least. But perhaps Dr. Salinger prefers a more conservative approach. I think before long he’ll give you back your nookie card.”

“What about running? I’m going to have to rebuild my muscle tone from scratch.”

“I know it’s tough to play a waiting game, particularly when you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait. And patience isn’t exactly your strong suit.”

“Thanks a lot,” William grumbled, but Dr. Rosemont’s mix of sympathy and sarcasm was, as always, making him feel better.

“Here’s my advice. First, trust Dr. Salinger. I’ve known Martin since med school. He’s a little short in the bedside manner department, but he’s an excellent cardiologist. Do what he tells you. And I mean everything, not just the things that suit you. Second—and this part may make you gag because it’s rather Pollyanna-ish—try to maintain a positive attitude.”

“I’m not gagging, precisely, but that’s easier said than done when I’m getting all this bad news.”

“William …” Dr. Rosemont paused. “You refused to discuss this last summer, but I need to say it again. You may be experiencing mild depression. I’m sure Dr. Salinger can refer you to a therapist for evaluation, or maybe prescribe some medication—”

“Absolutely not.” Weakness of that sort was unthinkable.

“There’s no shame in it. It’s not uncommon for heart patients to have some difficulty coping with—”

“I said no, Teresa.”

“All right. I think you’re making a mistake in rejecting the idea, but I can’t tie you up and force you to speak to a therapist. In that case, self-help is even more important, so work on that positive attitude. For example, can you think of at least one good thing about this break you’re taking?”

William smiled in spite of himself. “Yes, I can.” She’s sitting in my living room right now. “Thank you, Teresa. You always make good sense, even if I don’t always want to hear it.”

“I’m happy to help. Call me any time.”

When he re-entered the living room, Elizabeth stood with her back to him, watching out a window as dusk gave way to night. She turned and saw him, her bright smile a healing balm to his soul. He returned the smile, his worries dissolving as he crossed the room to join her.

 

Elizabeth was relieved to see the smile on William’s face. His conversation with Dr. Rosemont had apparently gone well.

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” he said. “Did you and Mrs. Reynolds thoroughly dissect my life?”

Hands on her hips, she quirked an eyebrow. “Well, aren’t we full of ourselves? What makes you think that two intelligent, interesting women would have nothing better to talk about than you?”

“You keep telling me that arrogance is my defining characteristic, so what else would you expect?” He stepped close to her, wearing a cocky grin, and grasped her wrists lightly, drawing them away from her hips. His fingers coaxed her fists open with persuasive caresses that awoke every nerve ending in her body.

She drew a shaky breath. “Well, lucky for you, that arrogance of yours can be strangely attractive at times.”

“So you said the other day. In fact, I believe the precise word you used was ‘sexy.’”

That was definitely the word. She inhaled, his spicy scent teasing her nostrils. “Did Dr. Rosemont convince you to take better care of yourself?”

His fingers trailed slowly up her arms, and even through her sweater, his seductive touch raised goosebumps on her flesh. “Actually, you were the one who did that, this afternoon in my studio. Besides, I’ve decided that the situation does have one or two … compensations.”

“Such as?”

She drew in a quick breath as his hands glided past the wide neckline of her sweater. His fingers were cool as they traced a circular path on her skin, yet they spread almost unbearable sensual heat.

“Well,” he drawled, bending his head to hers, “if I weren’t in San Francisco taking a rest right now, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”

By now, she thought she should be accustomed to the sensation of his lips on hers, that every kiss shouldn’t start her knees trembling, but apparently this was an unrealistic expectation. His hands slid along her neck to cup her face as their mouths melted together.

William lifted his head slowly, toying with the curls that tumbled over her shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here.” His deep, mellow voice weakened her knees still further. It seemed unfair that on top of all his other assets, he’d been gifted with a voice as smooth and intoxicating as old brandy.

She stepped away from him reluctantly. “Mrs. Reynolds will probably be along any minute to tell us dinner is ready. And you already shocked her earlier when you kissed me.”

He raised his eyes to the ceiling and shook his head, but she saw that he was smiling. “I thought she looked surprised. I don’t behave that way in front of her … or anyone else. But where you’re concerned …” He reached out to touch her hair. “It’s different.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy, Ms. Bennet.” Mrs. Reynolds stood in the doorway. “Dinner is served.”

 

William and Elizabeth sat together at one end of the table in the Fitzwilliams’ elegant dining room. A variety of delicacies, served in small portions on attractively garnished plates, and each accompanied by a complementary wine, had been arriving periodically, punctuated by tiny servings of delicately flavored sorbets to cleanse the palate. William wasn’t easily impressed by culinary achievement, but Mrs. Reynolds had outdone herself.

It astonished him, as always, how much he was able to relax with Elizabeth. She had carried the lion’s share of the dinner conversation, but not because of the awkward reserve that so often silenced him. Rather, he was entranced by her melodic voice and her animated countenance and simply preferred to listen. She had regaled him with amusing anecdotes from the jazz group’s gig the previous night, and now she was offering an account of Jane’s awards ceremony. A highly respected Federal judge for whom Jane had clerked had presented the award.

“I bet Jane will end up being a judge herself some day, maybe in family court. She’s the most honest, fair-minded person I know.”

William stifled the rebuttal that rose to his lips. Elizabeth couldn’t see any weaknesses in Jane. But of course she can’t be objective about her own sister. “Does she want to be a judge?”

“She’s never mentioned it, but she’d be wonderful. Her problem would be that she’s so willing to give people the benefit of the doubt that she’d probably be too merciful sometimes. She doesn’t believe in the concept of a hopeless case.”

Unless signing a pre-nup is involved. “But you see things differently.”

“I’m not as forgiving as she is.”

“Neither am I, as I guess you already know,” he said with a self-deprecating grin that faded as he pondered the matter further. “Once I develop a negative opinion of someone, that’s basically the end.”

“So you’re the sort who holds a grudge?”

“I don’t know if ‘grudge’ is precisely the right word, but …” He shrugged.

“Well, it’s a relief to know you’re not perfect. I had begun to wonder.”

He frowned. “I don’t think this has anything to do with perfection, but regardless, I’ve never pretended to be perfect.”

She smiled and leaned forward, touching his arm. “I was just teasing. Still, you seem pretty sure of yourself when it comes to your beliefs and opinions. And your grudges too, apparently.”

“I suppose so.” He shrugged. He’d never given the matter much thought. “I don’t form opinions or take actions lightly. I weigh situations carefully and objectively, so I think it’s appropriate that I have confidence in the conclusions I reach.”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “Well, you’re lucky. Most people aren’t that sure of themselves.”

“Most people are sloppy in their thinking and impulsive in their behavior.”

She fell silent, spearing her last sweet potato dumpling with a contemplative air while William savored his last bite of salmon. He decided that a more light-hearted conversational topic was in order.

“What first got you interested in musical theater?”

“Actually, it was Julie Andrews. Or, more to the point, Maria von Trapp.”

“So you’re a fan of The Sound of Music.”

“Oh, yeah. That was my favorite movie when I was a little girl. I listened to the sound track album all the time too, and I’d sing along with it. At first I used to imagine myself as one of the children, but before long I started to identify with Maria.”

“Any particular reason?”

“Because she loved the outdoors, and she liked to climb trees and run around and do things that ladies aren’t supposed to do, at least, according to my mother. And Maria got into a lot of trouble, just like me. You know the song, ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’? That was the story of my life back then.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy.” Mrs. Reynolds stood in the doorway. “It looks like you’re done with the salmon?”

“Yes, we are.”

Mrs. Reynolds removed their empty plates and set tiny dishes in front of them. “This one is grapefruit ice,” she remarked. “I’ll be back in just a moment with the main course.”

The sight of the spoon sliding between Elizabeth’s lips mesmerized William, and he struggled to quell a hot surge of desire. He forced himself to eat the frozen concoction, barely tasting it.

“Please tell me she doesn’t make all these ices herself,” she sighed. “I can’t believe how good everything is.”

“I … um … I don’t know.” He wrested his attention away from the wide-screen Technicolor fantasy playing in his head in which they lounged naked in his bed, feeding each other strawberries. He swallowed hard, tantalized by the vision of a ripe, red berry slipping between her lips. Down, boy. That sort of things is off limits right now, and thinking about it just makes it worse. This reminder of Dr. Salinger’s orders doused his libido like a cold shower, and he finished his ice with a heavy sigh that earned him a curious glance from Elizabeth.

“Is something wrong?”

“No.” Though I might just as well be impotent … no, actually, that would be better. Then I could just pop a Viagra and I’d probably be good to go.

Mrs. Reynolds returned with two servings of rack of lamb. The aroma sliced through William’s self-pity and set his mouth watering. It was one of his favorite foods, and for that reason he hadn’t objected to its inclusion on the menu, despite having eaten it for dinner just two nights before.

Elizabeth’s eyes shone. “Mrs. Reynolds, this is the best meal I’ve ever had. Everything is perfect.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it, dear. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”

The lamb was tender and juicy, with a savory topping that enhanced its flavor, and it temporarily commanded their full attention. Soon, though, Elizabeth carefully deposited her knife and fork on her plate.

“This is delicious, but I can’t eat another bite.”

William, his mouth full, simply nodded.

“But while you’re eating, I can continue my story if you want.”

He nodded again, and after a moment’s silence, said, “We left off at a critical point. You had just revealed the shocking news that you were quite a handful as a child.”

She laughed softly. “I guess so. I wasn’t a bad kid, but it seemed like Mom was always upset over something I’d done. We disagreed about clothes, and she had definite ideas about appropriate behavior for a ‘young lady.’ And my stubborn streak drove her crazy. Lucky for her, Jane was more the sort of daughter she wanted.”

Elizabeth paused to sip her wine. “I don’t mean to sound self-pitying. Mom loves me, and she wants the best for me. And she’s proud of my successes. We just don’t understand each other very well.”

He found it impossible to comprehend how Mrs. Bennet could have failed to appreciate her sparkling diamond of a daughter while doting on Jane. He sat in silent indignation, his contempt for Mrs. Bennet escalating as he thought of her trying to stifle Elizabeth’s energy and spirit.

“Anyway,” she continued, “Maria in The Sound of Music was like that too. She meant well, but she didn’t always behave the way people thought she should. And in spite of that, she found the place where she belonged. I could relate to that.”

“So you watched the movie over and over?”

“Oh, yeah. And then when I was nine, I heard that a community theater was going to stage the musical. So I went home and announced that I wanted to audition.”

“As Maria, I’m sure,” he teased.

She laughed. “If I’d been sixteen instead of nine, I might have tried. Mom thought it was a bunch of foolishness—those were probably her exact words—but Dad drove me to the audition. And to everyone’s surprise, I was cast as Brigitta.”

“And you found out that you loved it.” William, who had finished his food, leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table in violation of one of Gran’s cardinal rules.

“More than anything I’d ever done. I suppose I liked being in the spotlight, literally. And I liked pretending to be someone else too. The director of the theater company thought I had talent, so he encouraged me. He convinced Mom and Dad that I should have voice lessons, and he gave me small roles in his productions whenever he could. He even let me play a boy once. And when I was twelve, he mounted a production of Annie and gave me the starring role.”

He laughed heartily.

“What’s so funny?”

“I’m imagining you in a curly red wig. I bet you were adorable.”

She snickered. “I don’t know about that. But the production turned out well, and I loved being the star. That’s when I decided to be a musical theater actress.”

“And yet you’ve given it up to teach.” This was the part that mystified him.

“Well, as you pointed out at the rehearsal dinner, I was a failure on Broadway.”

He winced. “I’m never going to live that down, am I? I know I’ve said it before, but I was a pompous ass that night.”

“Yes, you were,” she retorted, but he saw a glint of amusement in her eyes. “But I suppose part of the reason I was so annoyed with you that night was because you were right. I have some talent, but talent isn’t enough.”

“Some talent? Don’t be so modest. I haven’t seen you act, but you sing like an angel, and from what I’ve seen you’re a wonderful dancer.”

A shy smile lit her face. “Thank you. I …” She shrugged, apparently searching for words. “Thank you.”

William heard the surprise in her voice. How could she not know how talented she is? Or that I know it too?

She continued her story. “Talent aside, what I seem to lack is the fire in my belly that I saw in some of my friends, the sense that they weren’t alive unless they were on stage. And I think you need that fire to become a star, because then you won’t let anything stand in your way.”

William understood what she meant. His music, and the chance to perform it, wasn’t just something he wanted;it was something he couldn’t survive without. He had never fully appreciated the importance of performing until now, when he had been denied the privilege.

“Then one summer, I taught a class to earn some extra money and found out that I absolutely loved teaching. It seemed so much more rewarding to help a young person to develop and grow as a musician and as a person. You might say that that’s what puts a fire in my belly.”

He understood the impact a good teacher could have on a budding musician, yet until now he had seen her choice to teach as settling, as accepting a lesser destiny. But the conviction in her voice and her glowing countenance told another story, and he was ashamed of himself for underestimating her.

“It’s nothing compared to all the good your foundation does for music education, but who knows? Maybe some day I’ll discover the next William Darcy.”

He raised his wine glass. “To the next William Darcy. May he enjoy his life as much as I’m enjoying this evening.”

They clinked glasses and sipped their wine, smiling into each other’s eyes.

 

After dinner, they returned to the living room. Elizabeth still felt overwhelmed by the meal, which had been a gourmet triumph from start to finish.

“If I weren’t so full,” she remarked, “I’d ask for more chocolate mousse.”

“I’m sure that could be arranged if you change your mind.”

She raised her coffee cup to her lips, absorbing the serene atmosphere. The lighting was low enough to create a languorous mood. The soft music wafting from the speakers contributed to the effect, masking the sounds from the streets below without demanding attention in its own right.

William was also settling into the relaxed atmosphere. After dinner, he had removed his jacket and loosened his tie. Now he turned to her with a boyish grin. “Would you be scandalized if I took off my shoes?”

“Of course not … as long as you don’t have holes in the toes of your socks.”

He chuckled as he removed his shoes and propped his feet on the coffee table. “Gran would kill me if she saw this.” He stretched his arm along the sofa back, behind Elizabeth’s head.

“Well, she’s not here, and I won’t tell.” She set her empty cup on the coffee table and leaned forward, removing her high-heeled sandals. She curled her legs under her on the sofa and leaned back with a happy sigh.

He wrapped his arm around her, toying with the fold-over collar of her sweater. “I could get used to this.”

She tilted her head up, meeting his warm gaze. “So could I.”

“I’m not too boring for you? A guy who gets winded when he climbs a few steps, and who takes afternoon naps in the middle of dates?”

She was about to offer a teasing retort when she noticed a hint of tension around his eyes. Despite his casual attitude, he seemed to be asking a serious question. Looking directly into his eyes, she spoke gently but firmly. “You climbed a lot more than a few steps that day, and as for the nap you took in the park, stop beating yourself up about it. I enjoy being with you, and I don’t need constant frenetic activity to have fun.”

He tightened his arm around her, drawing her closer. She leaned her head lightly against his shoulder.

The music ended, and William left the sofa briefly to reload the CD changer. When he resumed his place beside her, she said, “At dinner I told you how I got started in theater. It’s your turn. Tell me all about ‘William Darcy, the Early Years.’”

He shrugged. “I started playing when I was three, and then started giving occasional recitals and concerts while I was still a boy.”

“I know that part already. I’ve read about the early performances and the prizes you won where you were the youngest competitor. What I meant was, when did you first discover the piano?”

His fingers tangled gently in her hair. “I don’t actually remember it, but I’ve been told that I was three.”

“Three?”

He nodded. “Mamma played a little bit, and sometimes she’d sing and accompany herself. I loved to listen to her; in fact, my earliest memories are of sitting on her lap while she sang to me. Apparently one day she was playing and singing, and I was sitting on the floor playing with my toys. She went downstairs for a minute to speak to Mrs. Reynolds, and while she was gone I dragged a footstool over and managed to get up on the piano bench. When she returned I was sitting there, my legs dangling in the air, playing the melody she’d been singing.”

“You picked it out by ear?”

“I’d shown an interest in the piano before that, but Mamma said this was the first time I’d gone beyond just randomly hitting the keys. Though in retrospect, she wondered if I had been working out bits and pieces of melodies for a while and she just hadn’t recognized them.”

“Three years old, and playing piano by ear. She must have been stunned.”

“She taught me a few other tunes, and I learned fast and kept demanding more, so she decided I needed a piano teacher. The teachers she contacted all said I was too young, so she taught me herself for a while. I learned the alphabet and to read music at just about the same time. And I guess you probably know the rest.”

“Did you ever accompany her while she sang?”

“Occasionally. It’s such a shame that Father forced her to give up her career. She was immensely talented, and I think it ate away at her soul that she couldn’t share her gift with the world.”

“I feel so sorry for her. She had the passion for performing that I was talking about earlier.”

“I think if it hadn’t been for me, she would have left Father and returned to Italy. But he would never have allowed her to take me away.”

“And she loved you too much to leave you.” Elizabeth’s heart ached for Anna, and for William too.

He sighed, wearing a bittersweet smile. “That’s why my career was so important to her, almost an obsession. She wanted me to have what she’d been denied.”

Elizabeth’s mind flashed to some of the obnoxious “stage mothers” she’d seen dragging reluctant children to auditions. “But you wanted to be a pianist, didn’t you?”

“Oh, absolutely. I don’t mean that Mamma pushed me into it. But once she found out that I had both the interest and the ability, she swept every obstacle out of the way.”

It was hard to imagine what obstacles William, with his privileged upbringing and his extraordinary talent, would have faced. She was about to ask when they heard a quiet “ahem” and looked up to see Mrs. Reynolds in the doorway.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy, Ms. Bennet. The dishes are done and I thought I’d go to my room now, but first I wanted to see if I could get you anything.”

William turned to Elizabeth. “Now’s your chance for that second helping of mousse. Or more coffee?”

“No, thank you.” She stood up and approached Mrs. Reynolds. “Thank you so much for everything. Dinner was amazing, and I enjoyed our talk, too.”

“So did I. I hope to see you again soon.” Their eyes met, and a spark of understanding passed between them.

Mrs. Reynolds disappeared down the hall, and Elizabeth checked her watch. “I probably shouldn’t stay much longer. Remember, we agreed we’d make it an early evening.”

William heaved himself to his feet and crossed the room to join her. “As long as it wasn’t too early, and this is too early. You can’t leave yet.”

His imperious tone might have annoyed her had she not noted the twinkle in his eyes. “Yes, Mr. Darcy, whatever you say, sir,” she answered in mock acquiescence.

“Mmm, I like the sound of that.” He drew her into his arms.

“So you like it when I’m submissive and obedient?” She tipped her head to one side, raising her eyebrows.

He chuckled. “I wouldn’t recognize you if you were submissive and obedient. No, my tastes run towards prickly, independent women with a hint of the devil in their eyes, especially if they were notorious trouble-makers as children.”

The laughter she had been suppressing bubbled out of her throat, and she pulled his head down to hers for a kiss whose fervor surprised even her.

William raised his head, delight written on his face. “I guess I’m going to have to order you around more often, if this is the reward I get.”

“I kissed you because you made me laugh, not because you were bossy. Plus, I have a favor to ask, and I thought it might help if I buttered you up a little bit first.”

“What’s the favor?” He slid his hands slowly up her arms, and Elizabeth shivered involuntarily..

“Would you play for me?” She tried to control the slight quaver in her voice.

“Of course. Why would you think you’d need to talk me into it?”

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’m going to expect this every time we’re near a piano.”

“Lizzy, it’s not an imposition. I’d love to play for you. Any requests?”

“I want to see you play the Black Key Etude up close. After that, maybe some more Chopin?”

“Absolutely.” He released her from his arms, switched off the stereo, and then took her hand, leading her to the piano.

“It’s lucky that your aunt and uncle had a nice Steinway grand.” It was a beautiful instrument, though not the equal of the custom model in his New York sitting room.

“They didn’t. It was just delivered the middle of last week.” He seated himself at the instrument with an apologetic grimace, indicating the small padded bench he occupied. “The only thing is, there’s no room for my invisible page turner.” He started to rise. “But I can get a chair from the dining room.”

“No, stay put,” she said, placing her hands on his shoulders. “I’ll just stand here behind you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, absolutely. I have the best ‘seat’ in the house.”

She left her hands resting lightly on his shoulders, admiring their breadth and strength, as he launched into the Black Key Etude,1 his encore from the Juilliard recital in June. His fingers flew over the keys with euphoric abandon until she half expected to see smoke rising from the keyboard.

Entirely too soon the piece ended, leaving her breathless from its exuberant pace. She applauded gaily and then leaned forward, depositing a kiss on his cheek. “Bravo, Mr. Darcy.”

He turned his head to smile at her. “Why, thank you, Ms. Bennet.”

“What are you going to play for me next?”

“Hmm. I think we’ll stay with the etudes. This next one is the most beautiful melody Chopin ever wrote. I know you’ve heard it before.”

He turned back to the piano and sat quietly for a moment, his hands poised over the keys. Elizabeth couldn’t see his expression, but it seemed that in the expectant silence the air around him became emotionally charged. He leaned forward and began to play, and she emitted an involuntary sigh of delight when she heard the opening measures of Chopin’s Tristesse Etude.2

It was overwhelming to stand so near him, her hands still resting on his shoulders, captivated by his absolute mastery of the instrument as he played the haunting, painfully beautiful melody. “Tristesse” was the French word for “sadness,” and in William’s skilled hands, the etude communicated a wealth of emotional shadings that spoke directly to her heart. He made the piano sing, cry, sigh, and even scream as the music progressed through its many moods, a brief light-hearted passage giving way to a section full of stormy passion, and then a return to the poignant opening theme, brimming with fathomless yearning.

She was no less affected by the man than by his music. The heat and strength of his body radiated through his crisp white shirt. The coffee-colored waves of his hair cried out to be sifted through her fingers. His neck, strong and smooth-skinned, seemed to demand the touch of her lips. Even standing behind him, where she could see his face only in partial profile, his magnetism was riveting. She could do nothing but stand frozen, tears stinging her eyes as the final chord of the etude faded away.

William’s hands slowly lifted away from the keyboard, and he slid around on the bench until he faced her. His expectant expression changed to one filled with concern. “I’ve made you cry again,” he said softly.

“No, I’m fine,” she answered, offering him a tremulous smile. “It’s just that you’re so amazing, so—” She didn’t know how to explain, so instead she bent forward and kissed him. His hands, which had so recently created magic on the piano, encircled her waist.

“Come here, cara,” he whispered, drawing her down onto his lap. He reclaimed her lips, his kiss sending new spirals of longing through her. His tongue gently traced the outline of her lips, and in a haze of desire she tightened her arms around his neck as her mouth opened against his.

Passion rose between them as the kiss grew more urgent, leaving Elizabeth clinging to him, trembling with desire. William crushed her to him, his hands roving up and down her back. He dragged his lips away from hers and deposited a line of sultry kisses on her jaw and neck. Her hands threaded restlessly through his hair as he anointed her neck and shoulder with a fiery progression of kisses that tore a low moan from her throat.

By the time he raised his head, his eyes blazing, she was finding it difficult to breathe. “I want you so much, Lizzy,” he groaned, his voice hoarse.

I want you too. The words vibrated through her body, but before her passion-drugged mind could even consider speaking them aloud, his mouth came down on hers again, ravenous and demanding. Her heart raced as they continued to devour each other, the heat spiking between them threatening to consume her.

The hand at her waist began to creep upward, sliding slowly over her rib cage, and Elizabeth astonished herself by arching slightly in encouragement. But just as his fingers brushed the lower slope of her breast, he abruptly stilled his hand and raised his lips from hers.

He buried his face in her neck, his rapid breathing fanning her overheated skin. Mystified by his sudden retreat, she stroked his hair in a comforting gesture, her other hand caressing his back. She could almost hear the urgent pounding of his heart, and sudden fear gripped her. I wonder what the doctor told him about sex. Maybe he’s not even supposed to get excited.

Soon his breathing relaxed and his heartbeat slowed. He raised his head and gazed deeply into her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, stroking her cheek.

“Please, don’t apologize.” Just as with his problem on Telegraph Hill and his impromptu nap in Golden Gate Park, he was blaming himself for “allowing” his health to interfere with their relationship. She would have to cure him of that tendency.

“No, Lizzy, let me say this. I promised you we’d take it slowly, and then the first chance I got, I let things start to get out of hand.”

In the heat of the moment, she had entirely forgotten that promise. She had been an eager participant in everything that had transpired between them that evening, and she was certain that he knew it. Then she recalled the lone tear on his cheek that afternoon, and his embarrassed, veiled references to the doctor’s orders. Perhaps it soothed his pride to use her hesitation as a pretext for stopping, rather than to admit the truth. If so, she was willing to help him to preserve this innocent bit of fiction.

She smoothed a curl off his forehead and kissed him softly. “You’re very sweet.”

He kissed the tip of her nose and gently pressed her head down to lie on his shoulder. She snuggled against him, luxuriating in the warmth and strength of his body. Unable to resist temptation, she nuzzled his neck and kissed his jaw, savoring the salty tang of his skin. A wave of tenderness washed over her when she heard his soft sigh.

It had to be getting late, and she knew that she ought to ask him to drive her home. But she couldn’t summon up the will to emerge from her cocoon of profound contentment. Besides, a few more minutes won’t make any difference.

 

At first, Marcia Reynolds wasn’t sure what had awakened her, but then she heard the music coming from the living room. She checked the alarm clock. Nearly three in the morning. What am I going to do with that boy? Yawning, she got out of bed and retrieved her bathrobe from the closet.

The living room was dimly lit, with one lamp casting weak rays of light on the piano. William, absorbed in his music, was oblivious to her approach. His hair was disheveled, and she saw heavy fatigue in the lines around his eyes.

He saw her and stopped playing, frowning. “Did I wake you?”

“You should be in bed, William, not out here exhausting yourself.”

“I couldn’t sleep.” His fingers still rested on the keys. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

Taking another step toward him, she touched his shoulder lightly. “Is something the matter?”

“No. I just have a lot on my mind.”

“Is there anything you want to talk about?”

Marcia would have fallen into a dead faint had he accepted her offer, but she felt the need to ask. He responded as expected. “No, I’m fine. But thank you.”

She removed her hand from his shoulder. “Maybe you could talk things through with Elizabeth tomorrow.”

“Maybe.” His voice was little more than a whisper.

“I suppose you know that I asked her to keep an eye on you.”

“I suspected as much.”

“She seems to think that you just developed your heart problems in the past few months. Why haven’t you told her it was congenital?”

His smile vanished and his eyes seemed to hold equal parts of anger and fear. “You told her?”

“Of course not.” She saw him relax at this assurance. “But she’d understand the situation better if she knew.”

“You know perfectly well that I prefer to keep that information private.”

“I’m not talking about holding a press conference. I’m talking about trusting the woman you love.”

His eyes narrowed. “Mrs. Reynolds—”

“Now, don’t even try to deny it. You’re in love with her. Anyone can see that.”

William sighed. In a soft voice that seemed to be addressed more to himself than to her, he murmured, “Anyone but Elizabeth.”

Marcia felt a wave of triumph at this tacit admission of his feelings, and decided to press her advantage. “Then why don’t you tell her how you feel?”

He stood up, towering over her, and from his expression she could tell that she had stepped over the line. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s nowhere near as simple as you seem to think. And as you said, it’s late and we should both get some sleep.”

He bid her a terse goodnight and strode down the hall, leaving her staring after him, shaking her head. That boy can be so stubborn sometimes. But I suppose you can’t tell young people anything. They have to learn everything the hard way.

Bound by years of habit, she made a quick sweep through the room, ensuring that all was in good order. Then she switched off the light and padded silently down the hall to her bedroom. As she drifted off to sleep, the image in her mind was a familiar one: a large brood of grandchildren with dark, curly hair. As always, the boys had their father’s large, dark eyes, full of solemn intensity. But tonight, the girls all had eyes of emerald green.

 

Elizabeth, like William, had difficulty sleeping that night. Also like William, she sought refuge in a keyboard, though it was one of a different sort. She sat at the computer in one corner of the living room, squinting at a page of Google’s search results.

Fifteen minutes earlier she had been lying in bed, mentally reviewing the events since William had re-entered her life. So much had changed in just a few days, and although she wasn’t introspective by nature, she had badly needed to take a step back and assess the situation.

Her first and most important conclusion was that she could no longer pretend, as she had tried to do during their two months apart, that he was simply an unnecessary complication in her life, nor could she continue to discount the gathering evidence that his interest in her went far beyond casual liking, flavored with a generous helping of desire. Something powerful was developing between them, building on the odd magnetic pull she had first felt three months ago in the moonlit courtyard at the Ritz-Carlton. She wasn’t ready to call it love, but she acknowledged that their connection was based on much more than the intense physical attraction that sizzled and sparked whenever they were in the same room.

Yet there was still so much she didn’t understand. The Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of his personality that had struck her almost from the beginning still mystified her. She never knew which William would appear: the gentle, affectionate man who laughed with her, teased her, and re-awakened desire in her after years of dormancy, or the haughty aristocrat who had stood on the fringes of Jane’s group of friends, scarcely bothering to conceal his disdain.

In addition, she sensed that he was keeping a great deal of himself hidden from her. Just like Michael. She gritted her teeth, impatient with herself. Cut it out. When are you going to stop letting Michael control your life?

It was this question that had driven her into the living room in the early hours of the morning. William was becoming far too important to her to allow the past to interfere.

She clicked the link at the top of the results list and began to read a page with a simple title: Flashbacks.

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1 Etude in Gb major (“Black Key”), Opus 10, No. 5, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, 1995, Decca Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes. (Repeated from Chapter 12)

2 Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3, “Tristesse,” by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, 1995 Decca Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.

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