William drifted up to consciousness slowly. As his awareness sharpened, he noted two primary sensory inputs: the delicious smell of coffee and a full chorus of aching body parts. His neck was shrieking a florid aria of protest, demanding immediate attention, and he reached up to massage the knotted muscles.

He was lying on the sofa in Elizabeth’s living room. He had awakened once in the middle of the night and had reconstructed what must have happened. It had been difficult to fight the urge to creep down the hall and slip into her bedroom, to hold her in his arms till morning. But he had mastered temptation, largely out of fear that he might slip into Jane’s room by mistake, and had finally dozed again.

Supporting himself on his elbows, he sat up partway and stretched out his back, emitting a soft groan.

“Hi there.”

He opened his eyes, blinking to clear his blurred vision. Elizabeth sat curled up in an armchair next to the sofa, a book in her hand. Early-morning sunlight streamed in the window, igniting fiery highlights in her sleep-tousled hair. She still wore her nightclothes, a pink nightshirt under a dark purple robe. It wasn’t quite consistent with his dreams of awakening with her, but for now, it would do.

“Good morning.” His voice was husky from sleep. “How long have you been sitting there?”

“About an hour. I don’t know why I woke up so early. But I couldn’t get back to sleep, and finally I figured out why.”

“Why?” He hoped that he knew the answer.

Elizabeth stood up and approached the sofa. He rolled partway on his side, wincing as his sore muscles grumbled in protest, and compressed himself against the sofa back to open a space for her. She perched on the edge of the sofa, and began to smooth his hair, her warm green eyes smiling into his.

“Because,” she murmured, her musical voice and her soft touch filling him with contentment, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you, out here all alone. So I decided to come out and keep you company.”

He clasped his arms loosely around her waist. “I would have been happy to keep you company in your room instead.”

“I thought about it.”

“Oh, really?” He arched an eyebrow.

Elizabeth bent over him, dropping gentle kisses on his forehead and eyelids. “Yes,” she whispered. “But I didn’t want to disturb you.”

William’s senses warmed to her kisses and the feather-light touch of her hand along his neck. “You have my permission to disturb me any time, day or night, if it’s to take me to bed.” With a sleepy grin, he brushed her hair away from her face and slipped a hand beneath her robe and nightshirt, teasing her shoulder with a gentle caress. When she sighed in response, he pulled her down to nestle against him, burying his face against her throat.

Her giggle surprised him. “What?”

She sat up, running her hand along his jaw. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so stubbly. It felt rough against my neck, that’s all.”

She’s right. My beard will rip her skin to shreds if I keep this up. He levered himself into a sitting position, groaning loudly as his sore muscles reasserted themselves.

Fear flickered in her eyes. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

He hated that his health still caused her so much worry. Once the depth of her concern had become apparent, he had adhered to the doctor’s regimen with near-religious fervor, as much to ease her fears as for his own benefit. He covered her hand, which lay against his cheek, with his own and spoke in a soothing tone. “It’s nothing. I just slept in a strange position. I’ll be fine once I get up and do some stretching.”

“I have a better idea. Come with me.” She took him by the hand and led him to the chair she had vacated a few minutes before, urging him to sit down. Her intentions became clear when she moved behind him and began to massage his neck and shoulders. This time his groan was one of pure bliss.

His head lolled slowly from side to side as her hands kneaded his shoulders. “Mmmm. Lizzy, this is wonderful.”

“I’m glad I can do something to make you feel better,” she murmured, her lips inches from his ear. She kissed a spot directly behind his earlobe and he groaned again as her touch ignited a spark.

She lightened her touch from a massage to a caress and then looped her arms around his neck, nuzzling his ear. “Better?”

She released him and straightened up, and he stood and circled around the chair to draw her into his arms. “Thank you,” he murmured, kissing the top of her head. He doubted his stubble could hurt her there. “I told you last night that you were the prettiest nurse I’d ever seen; you’re the loveliest masseuse too.”

“Would you like some breakfast? I made coffee earlier—don’t worry, it’s decaf. And I’ve got juice and bagels, which I know is your version of the breakfast of champions.”

“That sounds good, but I’d like to clean myself up a little bit first.”

“Of course, you’re welcome to take a shower. I’ll get you some towels.”

“No, I’ll do that when I get home and have clean clothes to change into. But would you have a spare razor and toothbrush I could use?”

She led him into the kitchen and poured him a cup of coffee. “I’ll go see what I can find.”

He leaned against the counter, sipping the steaming brew. His cup was half empty by the time Elizabeth returned. “I found a spare toothbrush; it’s all yours. And I looked for a new razor, but I didn’t have one, so I left the best one I could find on the bathroom counter.”

“Thank you.” William set down his cup. “By the way, where is Jane?”

“In her room. She’s getting ready to go running.”

William made his way to the bathroom, finding the plastic-wrapped toothbrush beside a pink disposable razor, both resting on a deep blue towel and washcloth. He grimaced at his reflection in the mirror. I look like a wild man. I’m surprised Lizzy was willing to come near me. He tried to use his fingers to tame his disorderly waves, frowning at the lack of improvement.

Next he grabbed a bar of soap and lathered his beard, staring at the razor through narrowed eyes. He’d attempted to shave with women’s razors in the past, and had concluded that women didn’t understand the concept of a truly sharp razor. On the first stroke of the blade, he discovered that his observation still held true. The razor barely made an impression on his stubble. Trying once more with greater pressure, he nicked his chin. With a sigh, he put down the razor and picked up the toothbrush.

A few minutes later, he wandered back into the kitchen to find Elizabeth peering into the toaster oven. She turned her head and inspected him. “You didn’t want to use the razor?”

“It wasn’t sharp enough. It’s okay. I’ll shave when I get home.”

“I suppose I don’t use my razor for anything that can compare to your tough, he-man beard.” Her eyes gleamed with mischief.

He grabbed her around the waist. “Are you casting aspersions on my masculinity?”

“A manly specimen like you? Never!”

Their eyes locked and he lowered his head. No longer mindful of his beard, he claimed her mouth in the intoxicating good-morning kiss he had wanted to bestow on her since first seeing her curled up in the chair.

He raised his head to catch his breath and was about to kiss her again when she sniffed, made a small exasperated sound, and wriggled from his grasp. As he watched over her shoulder, she flung open the door to the toaster oven and yanked out a tray holding two sliced bagels. She had saved them just in time; the outer edges were a deep brown, but not quite black. To his amusement, she lifted one, gasped, and dropped it quickly onto a waiting plate.

He grinned. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that things right out of the oven are hot?”

“Well, excuse me, Mr. ‘I can’t tell my oven from my dishwasher.’” She inclined her head toward the table in the dining area, which was set with cutlery and two glasses of orange juice. “Have a seat; I’ll bring these over.”

Soon they were seated at the table. “This is a treat, having breakfast with you,” he remarked as he spread a thin layer of cream cheese on his bagel. “I don’t think we’ve done it since the first weekend I was here.”

“Right, when we went to Squat & Gobble. That seems like a long time ago.”

“Good morning!” Jane greeted them from across the room, dressed in navy running shorts and a white sweatshirt.

“Hi, Jane. Want some juice before you go?”

Jane shook her head. “No, thanks. Did you sleep well, William?”

He smiled. “Yes, thanks. Did you and Richard have a good evening?”

“We did. Your cousin is good company. Well, I’m off on my run. Will you be here when I get back, Lizzy, or should I take my keys?”

“I’ll be here.”

Jane departed, and Elizabeth smiled at William. “Are you going to show Richard all the best jogging paths in San Francisco while he’s here?”

“I imagine so. He’s enjoying the fact that I’m the one who has to keep up with him, instead of the other way around. We should go out this afternoon, since we didn’t run yesterday.”

He took a bite of his bagel, marveling at how natural it felt to smile across the table at Elizabeth over breakfast.

“What are you thinking about?” She was staring at him, wearing a quizzical frown. “You have a peculiar smile on your face.”

“I’m just enjoying my breakfast,” he said. He stretched out his hand and clasped hers across the table, and they looked long into each other’s eyes, enveloped in an intimate silence that spoke louder than words ever could.

 

William dropped his keys on the hall table of the penthouse, the jangling sound echoing in the peace of the morning. He congratulated himself on his early return home. Richard preferred to sleep late, which would give William an opportunity to shower and change before his disheveled appearance fell under his cousin’s satirical eye.

But as he passed the doorway to the library, a mocking voice rang out. “And the prodigal cousin returns.”

Damn. I forgot; jet lag. Of course he’d wake up earlier than usual.

Richard looked utterly in his element lounging in the library’s most comfortable armchair, his bare feet propped on a convenient ottoman, a mug of steaming liquid that could only be his favorite herbal tea at his elbow. The Sunday paper, which William always read in a precise sequence, lay scattered on the floor at Richard’s feet, burying the rug in a blizzard of newsprint.

“Good morning. I see you’ve been making yourself at home.” William was referring both to the newspaper and to his favorite silk robe, which was belted loosely around Richard’s mid-section.

“I knew you’d want me to help myself to whatever I needed.” Richard paused to sip his tea, his razor-sharp stare skewering William over the rim of the cup. “You look like death on toast.”

“Why, thank you.” William feigned an offended air, but with his hopelessly unruly hair, his stubbly face, and his slept-in clothes he knew that he looked terrible. Had the doorman not recognized him, he suspected that he would have been ejected from the building on his arrival home.

“Didn’t get much sleep, eh, old man?” Richard eyed him with a wicked grin. “No surprise there. I figured you two would be at it all night and most of the morning. Hell, during dinner I half expected you to fling her over your shoulder and carry her off into the bushes.”

William pressed his lips together. “Come on. It wasn’t that bad.”

“You were on Red Alert all evening, and if you think anybody at the table wasn’t aware of it, you’re kidding yourself. So, did the tantalizing Ms. Bennet take you home and help you work out all of your … ahem … kinks?”

William ignored Richard’s double entendre and the rakishly elevated eyebrow that accompanied it, wondering how to put a halt to questions about his private activities. Interpreting the question literally seemed the best approach. “As a matter of fact, yes. She gave me a backrub this morning.”

“But the question is, what else did she rub?”

“None of your business.”

“Spoilsport. I spent a celibate night myself, since you wouldn’t let me hit on Jane, not that she’s the type for a one-night stand anyway. So I was hoping to get some vicarious titillation from your nocturnal exploits.”

William leapt at the opportunity to steer the conversation away from himself. “Did you and Jane have a good time?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, we did.” Richard’s expression warmed. “She’s gorgeous if you like the Grace Kelly type, which usually I don’t but in her case I’m making an exception. And she’s intelligent and well read, though she doesn’t flaunt it. But most of all she’s a genuinely nice person, far too nice to have any business hanging out with me.”

William crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, she has some good qualities.”

Some good qualities? Plenty of them, if you ask me. I don’t see what your problem is with her. Nothing against your pal Chuckles, but he would have been lucky to land Jane as his Mrs.”

“Evidently you’ve forgotten about the pre-nup.”

“Are you sure you have your facts straight about that?”

“Yes,” William snapped. One evening with Jane, and he’s an expert.

“All I know is, she doesn’t seem like the money-grubbing type. She must know that I’m a trust fund baby, but she still insisted on buying some of the drinks last night.”

“I think you’d have seen a different attitude toward that trust fund if she were trying to get you as a husband.”

Richard shuddered. “No, thanks. I’ll leave marriage to sentimental fools like Bingley—and you, now that you’re in luuuuuv.”

William raised his eyes to the ceiling, trying to control his annoyance at Richard’s sarcastic drawl. “You’d have more credibility on the subject of love if you had the slightest idea what you were talking about. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shower.”

As he strode down the hall, Richard’s voice pursued him. “You passed up a chance to shower with Elizabeth? To ogle her while rivulets of water streamed over that heavenly body? Old man, there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

William’s mouth twisted in a humorless smile. It was the first accurate statement Richard had made all morning.

 

Pulsing jets of hot water pummeled William’s neck and shoulders as he stretched slowly, trying to work out the knots in his muscles that persisted despite Elizabeth’s best efforts. I wish she were here right now to rub my back some more.

What did Richard say? “What else did she rub?” I wonder what he’d think if he knew how much I ache, literally, for her to do that. And so many other things.

He was as physically frustrated as ever, but his spirits were buoyed by their conversation last night. She had trusted him with at least part of the story of her painful romantic past. How could any man have been so cruel to her? William didn’t know exactly what Michael had done, but clearly he’d been manipulative and dishonest. I wish she could trust that I’d never treat her that way.

He ran a bar of soap over his body while his mind whipped up a lather of its own. What about getting her the job? I’m being dishonest about that.

No, it’s not the same. I did it for her sake; whatever this Michael did, it was obviously for his own benefit. And I’m not lying about it. I’ll share the full story when the time is right.

He had come close to professing his love for her while he lay with his head cradled in her lap last night. But he had hesitated, deterred by her tale of Michael’s false words of love. With that experience fresh in her mind, she would probably have viewed even a heartfelt declaration with skepticism. Her rejection of his love last June in New York had left William with wounds that had proven slow to heal, and to repeat that experience would be shattering.

Still, they had made progress. He basked in the memory of their long, intimate look across the breakfast table, a moment in which perfect understanding had seemed to flow between them. Soon I’ll be able to tell her how I feel, and this time she’ll believe me. And once she’s truly mine, I can explain about Catherine and the job. She’ll be able to see that it was a gesture of love; I know I can make her see that.

The one danger was that Catherine would break her promise of silence out of spite over William’s lack of interest in Anne. But so far it appeared that Catherine was unaware of his relationship with Elizabeth. It was the subject of gossip among faculty and students alike at the conservatory, but it had worked to their advantage that Catherine maintained a regal distance from her underlings, neither socializing with them nor inviting casual conversation in the workplace. She spoke while they listened, and she tolerated nothing else. Anne de Bourgh and Bill Collins were the only two from whom she might have heard the news, and apparently they were either unaware, or had chosen to keep silent.

The situation was still fraught with risk, because Catherine was growing ever more displeased with him as he continued torefuse her invitations. The events to which she had attempted to compel his presence had included private dinners with the two de Bourgh women, engagements to escort Anne to charity functions, and late suppers following evenings in the de Bourghs’ private box at the opera.

Occasionally, and always with Elizabeth’s knowledge, he attended large dinner parties at Rosings in an attempt to keep the peace while avoiding more intimate occasions. He was invariably seated next to Anne at dinner, and usually spent the evening comparing her listlessness with Elizabeth’s vibrant sparkle. How could anyone imagine that I’d want Anne when I have Lizzy in my life?

But his grandmother had imagined exactly that. Rose Darcy had requested a private audience with William in her sitting room one afternoon during his recent stay in New York. Enthroned in one of her prized Chippendale armchairs while he stood before her, she had wasted no time in getting to the point.

“I’ve had some disturbing phone calls from Catherine de Bourgh. She says that you’ve been terribly rude to her and to Anne.”

William had bristled. “She’s just angry because I haven’t arranged my life around her social calendar. Certainly you don’t expect me to do that.”

Rose lifted her chin in a gesture that those who knew William well would have recognized instantly. “Of course not. A Darcy owes such obeisance to no one. And Catherine’s company can hardly be described as pleasant, so I understand your preference for other forms of amusement.”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is.”

“It appears that Anne is suffering from your neglect as well. It was my belief that you were fond of her.”

“I am. I like her, and even more, I feel sorry for her. But I don’t see how that translates into any obligation on my part.”

“What about your obligation to your family?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I should think it would be obvious.”

William knew where the conversation was headed and had no intention of assisting its progress. He glanced down at the Oriental rug beneath his feet and it occurred to him that he had been, literally, called on the carpet. “Do we have to discuss this?”

Rose continued in a gentler tone. “You’re almost 31, William. Isn’t it time for you to find a wife?”

It was time, and he believed that he had found her, but he knew that Rose had someone else in mind. “What does this have to do with Catherine de Bourgh?” he asked, recklessly permitting sarcasm to enter his tone. “I assume you’re not proposing that I marry her.”

Rose’s eyebrow lifted in an imperious arch, and for a moment William thought he might receive a tongue-lashing for his caustic retort, but instead she pursued her agenda. “You know that I’m thinking of Anne. We’ve discussed this before.”

Indeed they had. William steeled himself for what was to come next.

“She understands the role she would play as your wife, and she’s been trained for that sort of life since childhood. And she’s a dear girl, quiet and respectful and well-bred.”

“All of which would be important if I were getting a dog.” William retorted, pushing the sarcasm lever a notch higher.

This time he had gone too far. Rose’s stare froze him in place as she spoke in an icy tone. “William Edmund Darcy, I’m surprised at you for saying such an unkind thing about Anne.”

William sighed. “I wasn’t insulting Anne. My point was that she’s not the sort of woman I want to marry. I need someone with more spirit, someone bright and lively.”

“In other words, someone like Elizabeth Bennet.”

He met Rose’s ice-blue gaze and realized that he had stepped into her trap. She had summoned him to discuss Elizabeth, not Anne. “Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“I assume that she’s the reason you’ve been unavailable to Anne?”

“Not the only reason, but, yes, I’ve been spending time with Elizabeth.”

“Are you seriously involved with this young woman?”

William surprised himself by responding with complete candor. “Yes. I’m in love with her.”

His grandmother’s eyes flickered. “I see.”

In the heady aftermath of admitting his feelings aloud, William couldn’t stop the flow of words. “She makes me happy, Gran. She’s good for me; in fact, it’s mostly because of her that my health is so much better. I wish you could be happy for me.”

“I’d like to be. But you’ve grown close to her so quickly, and we know so little about her background or her family.”

“Give her a chance, Gran. If you get to know her better, I think you’ll like her.”

William had then proposed that Elizabeth spend Thanksgiving with them. Rose had made no objection, but had attempted to attach one condition.

“If I allow Elizabeth to join us for the holiday, will you promise to spend some time with Anne between now and then, to make certain that you’re making the correct choice?”

“I’m already certain. Anne is all wrong for me. I’d never be happy with her.”

“I don’t think you’ve given her a chance.”

“I need Elizabeth in my life, Gran.”

Rose’s shrewd gaze rested on him for a long moment before she answered. “Very well. I’ll make an effort to get better acquainted with your young lady.”

“Thank you.”

The interview over, Rose had risen slowly to her feet, accompanying William to the fifth-floor landing. “I want only the best for you, my dear. I hope you know that. We simply disagree sometimes about what that means.”

Before trotting down the stairs to his office, he had surprised Rose—and himself—by leaning over and planting a kiss on her wrinkled, paper-white cheek. Halfway down the first flight of steps he had looked back to see her standing watching him, a ghost of a smile on her face.

William’s bar of soap slid from his hand, recalling him to the present. I’d better get out of this shower before I turn into a prune.

He saw his future clearly. Elizabeth would understand his motivations for helping with her job. She would weave her spell on his family as she had on him. And by this time next year, I won’t be alone on the third floor of the townhouse anymore. Yes, everything was going well.

The matter settled, he shut off the water and reached for a towel.

 

A short time later William exited his dressing room, clean-shaven and wearing fresh clothes, his damp curls neatly styled. As he entered the library, Richard glanced up from his newspaper.

“So, old man, what are your plans for today?”

“Lizzy and I were talking about going for a drive up the coast.”

“I have a better idea. Come to the playoff game with me.” The Yankees had won their do-or-die game the night before, and the fourth game of the playoffs was to take place just across the bay in Oakland that afternoon.

Abandoning Elizabeth to attend a baseball game, playoff or otherwise, didn’t fall under the heading of “a better idea” in William’s estimation. “No, thanks.”

“C’mon. Just us guys at the ballpark. Sonya worked one of her little miracles and got me three tickets on the first base line.”

Three tickets. The idea had just improved exponentially. “Who’s the third one for?”

“Haven’t decided yet.”

“Lizzy likes baseball.”

Richard grimaced, shaking his head. “Please tell me you aren’t turning into one of those annoying couples that can’t bear to be out of each other’s sight for more than five minutes at a time.”

That pretty much sums it up for me.

“Okay, fine,” Richard continued when William didn’t respond. “Call and invite her. She’s fun to be around, and she’s more than a little bit easy on the eyes. Besides, if she’s not there you’ll probably just sit around moping all day.”

William retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and speed-dialed Elizabeth’s number, feeling a bit pathetic. It’s not that I can’t be apart from her, it’s just that we spent the past eleven days apart. Of course I want to make up for lost time.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth didn’t respond to the invitation as he had hoped. “Oh, I’d love to go to a playoff game! But remember, I told you I had a rehearsal today?” She was serving as vocal coach for an upcoming musical production at the conservatory.

“But you said it wasn’t till later.”

“I know, but I doubt we’d be back from the game in time. I’m sorry.”

“Then I won’t go either. We’ll stick to the original plan and drive up the coast.”

“No, you should go with Richard. It can be a guys’ day out. In fact, you know who you ought to invite in my place? Roger.”

William had forged a tentative friendship with Roger Stonefield in the weeks following Charlotte’s birthday party. A surprisingly enjoyable double date had offered the two men an opportunity to further their discussion of jazz music. They had formed a habit of weekly expeditions to local jazz clubs on Thursday nights, when Elizabeth was busy teaching her night class. William enjoyed Roger’s relaxed, genial company and respected his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz. “I suppose I could call and see if he’s busy. I know he likes baseball.”

“I haven’t talked to him since Friday, but he was kind of down in the dumps then. He could use some cheering up, poor guy.”

In their nightly bi-coastal phone conversations, Elizabeth had provided William with periodic updates on the Roger-and-Charlotte situation. In mid-September, Charlotte, an inveterate commitment-phobe, had begun to pull away from Roger, claiming that he wanted more than friendship. Although they were not officially broken up, Charlotte had made it clear that her interests began and ended with a casual relationship. She was presently in the Netherlands doing research for her dissertation and had completely cut off contact with Roger during her trip.

“Okay, I’ll call him. Maybe we could go to Yoshi’s after the game since we’ll be nearby.” Yoshi’s, one of the premier jazz clubs in the Bay Area, was located not far from the ballpark.

“Sounds like a great plan. What’s Sonya doing this afternoon?”

William hadn’t even thought of his secretary. “I don’t know. I suppose she’ll go shopping or something. I didn’t want to work on the grant applications this weekend.”

“Always the attentive host. Well, have fun with the guys. The weather is perfect, and if you get bored you can always amuse yourself by rooting for Oakland and watching Richard get annoyed. That’s what I’d do if I could go.”

William was still grinning at this thought a few minutes later when they said goodbye.

 

“So, Jane, you spent an evening with the original party animal and survived unscathed? I’m impressed.” Sonya took a bite of her smoked salmon Benedict.

Elizabeth, Jane, and Sonya were seated in the crowded dining room at 2223, a popular restaurant in the Castro District. Elizabeth had called Sonya to propose an impromptu Sunday brunch soon after getting off the phone with William.

“He was a perfect gentleman, despite his reputation,” Jane said with a warm smile.

Elizabeth sipped her coffee. “William warned him to behave himself before we left the restaurant.”

“Oh, like that had any effect,” Sonya retorted. “Richard Fitzwilliam does what Richard Fitzwilliam wants to do.”

“That’s pretty much what I told William.” Elizabeth picked up her fork and cut into her lemon-buttermilk pancakes. They were heavenly, but she knew she’d have to take a long, brisk walk that afternoon to atone for the reckless eating she’d been doing all weekend.

“Well,” Jane said, “whatever the reason, he couldn’t have been nicer. Charming, polite, and fun to be with. But I get the feeling he can be quite a rascal if he wants to be.”

Sonya snickered. “You better believe it. He’s put a lot of effort into honing his bad-boy reputation. But at the same time, he can surprise you; he’s a lot deeper than he usually lets on. It’s not surprising that he doesn’t spend too many evenings alone; he’d be a perfect choice for a little fling. Mind you, it would be a very little one. He gets bored and moves on in the blink of an eye.”

Jane stirred a few drops of cream into her coffee. “He was quoting Nietzche last night to explain why he doesn’t believe in love or marriage.”

“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Sonya said with a snort. “‘Marriages contracted from love have error for their father and need for their mother.’1 One of his favorite quotes. In fact, he was rapping out discouraging quotes about love and marriage at a brisk pace all last week, for William’s supposed benefit. But William wasn’t having any of it.” She glanced at Elizabeth. “I’ve never seen him so happy, and obviously it’s because of you.”

Elizabeth sternly ordered herself not to blush. “But he must have had dozens of girlfriends before me.”

“Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong. William is like catnip to women, for obvious reasons, but he tends to just float above it all, completely detached. I think all the attention gradually made him jaded and a bit complacent, too. If people treat you like you hung the moon for long enough, you start believing it.”

“Yeah, I tease William about that sometimes. I told him once that I wanted to attach a sign to him reading, ‘Please don’t feed the ego.’”

Jane smothered a laugh with her napkin.

Sonya snickered. “Good for you, Elizabeth. Nice to know that somebody out here has his number. I suppose you’d call him a serial monogamist. There’s usually a woman in his life, often the same one for a year or more, but I wouldn’t have described any of them as girlfriends. Really more like casual friendships with … some of the trappings of a closer relationship.”

In other words, sex, not that this is a surprise. Given the lusty nature William had exhibited, it was improbable that he would have eschewed the vast ocean of sexual opportunity surrounding him.

“Although now that I think of it, all of that ended late last year. He stopped seeing whomever he was dating at the time, and I was wondering who’d be next. But there was nobody, at least, not until he met you,” Sonya said, smiling at Elizabeth. “It was really kind of touching last week the way he kept working your name into conversations. And it was obvious when he’d just gotten off the phone with you. He tried to hide it, but there was something in his eyes, like a little boy who’d just been given a great big bag of his favorite candy.”

Elizabeth couldn’t stop a delighted little smile from setting her face aglow. A vision of William slowly awakening on the sofa that morning swam before her eyes. Oddly, in his disheveled state she had found him sexier than ever. Her offered backrub had been partly for his benefit, and partly to satisfy her compulsion to touch him. And the look in his eyes when we stared at each other across the breakfast table! Even now, the memory stole her breath.

Sonya’s head swiveled as two attractive men, both in tight jeans and snug-fitting shirts, sauntered past on their way to a table. “Wow.”

“The good-looking ones are almost always gay,” Elizabeth remarked.

“Oh, well,” Sonya said with a philosophical shrug, still eyeing the men as they took their seats, “we can still enjoy the scenery.”

Those guys are attractive enough, but they can’t hold a candle to William. The thought must have shown on her face, because Sonya and Jane both laughed.

“I know where your mind is this morning, Lizzy,” Jane said, grinning.

“Mooning over a certain musician, eh?” Sonya sliced off a bite-sized piece of salmon with her fork.

Jane nodded, still beaming. “Did you know that he invited Lizzy to New York for Thanksgiving?”

“I knew he was planning to; it was the talk of the house the last few days we were there. I hope you said yes, because Marcia Reynolds is already busy with the preparations. She’s got a grandiose plan to redecorate the guest room for you.”

Elizabeth’s smile grew even wider. “She is so sweet.”

“She’s a big fan of yours too. Did William give you the big tin of cookies she sent for you?”

“Yes, he did, yesterday afternoon.” Elizabeth sliced a strawberry in half and speared one piece on her fork. “I need to write her a thank-you note tonight.”

“When she was out here, did she really ask you to take over for her in keeping an eye on William’s health?”

“Oh, absolutely. It was a solemn passing of the torch, I assure you.” Elizabeth popped her strawberry-laden fork into her mouth.

Sonya chuckled. “I can just imagine it. And you sent him home in such good condition that Marcia was singing your praises to everybody who’d listen.”

“Lizzy really did take good care of him,” Jane remarked. “She even had him on a curfew.”

“You’re kidding. And he followed your orders?” Sonya leaned forward, inadvertently brushing her knife with an elbow and knocking it to the hardwood floor.

Elizabeth shrugged. “I just made sure our dates ended early. At first he tried all sorts of tricks to keep us out late, but once he realized it wasn’t going to work he decided to start cooperating.”

“I’m impressed. Marcia’s been saying that you’re exactly what he needs, and I think she’s right.”

While Sonya bent over to retrieve her knife, Jane gave Elizabeth a fond smile. “Listen to her,” she said softly.

Sonya sat up again, setting her knife on her empty plate. “I think I need another Bloody Mary. Anybody else want anything?”

Jane and Elizabeth ordered refills of their Mimosas. Once the drinks arrived, the three raised their glasses.

“To Elizabeth,” Sonya declared. “Anybody who can tame William Darcy is a superwoman in my book.”

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1 From Human, all too Human, s.389, R.J. Hollingdale transl.