Tiny beads of sweat glistened on William’s forehead, the product of the hot stage lights and the exertion required by the boisterous finale of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. Both he and the orchestra were in excellent form tonight, operating as a seamless unit, the energy flowing between them a palpable force hovering over the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

“William?”

He ignored the summons, his brow creased in single-minded concentration as he and the orchestra rocketed through the final bars of the concerto, ending in a crashing fortissimo.

“William!”

The stage lights were abruptly extinguished, replaced by the far more congenial lighting of the penthouse’s dining room. Sonya, who sat across the table from him, spoke again. “Did you hear what I said?” Her elevated eyebrows punctuated the impatience in her voice.

William adopted a haughty air to conceal his befuddlement. “Obviously not, or I would have answered.”

“I asked if we were done for the evening. But I think I have my answer; you’ve already checked out.” She collected the papers on the table front of her into a neat stack. “On the plus side, we got a lot done today.”

William hadn’t intended to spend his Tuesday evening reviewing grant proposals with Sonya, but Elizabeth had called that morning to cancel their dinner date because she was needed at rehearsal. Again. Nine days had passed since their idyllic Sunday morning breakfast, and since then the Fates had conspired to keep them either apart or surrounded by other people.

Elizabeth’s job was the chief culprit. She was serving as the vocal coach for an upcoming student production of South Pacific at the conservatory. To William’s increasing displeasure, these additional responsibilities were consuming nearly all of her spare time.

“Tell the director that you’ll make yourself available once or twice a week, and that they’ll have to plan accordingly,” he had suggested, doing his best to keep any hint of pleading out of his voice.

She had shaken her head with obvious regret. “When Dr. de Bourgh hired me, she made it clear that I was supposed to participate fully in things like this. She said it was the main reason why I’d been given such a generous bonus beyond the usual salary they pay someone with my background.”

William had nearly worn his teeth down to stumps since then, irked by Catherine’s duplicity. He found himself in an unprecedented position: deprived of that which he wanted most by his own money.

When Elizabeth hadn’t been busy, there had been another obstacle, one residing in the penthouse’s spare bedroom. To William’s surprise and increasing chagrin, Richard hadn’t fallen into his New York pattern of late-night debauchery, returning home each morning with a mild hangover and a sated smirk on his face. Instead he had developed a genius for being underfoot along with a taste for Jane’s company. What little time William and Elizabeth had eked out together had been spent mostly on double dates, amply chaperoned by his cousin and her sister.

They had been alone together last Saturday for the first time in almost a week. If you can call it “alone” when you spend most of the evening in an auditorium with three thousand other people. William had hoped for some private time with her afterwards, but Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was a lengthy production, with a third act longer than some complete operas. By the time it had ended they were both yawning, and he had simply taken her home and kissed her goodnight.

Richard’s interest in Jane, who was far too sedate for his usual tastes, continued to mystify William. There was no question of romance between them; it was clear that they enjoyed each other’s company strictly as friends but had no interest in anything more. Richard had deflected William’s curiosity with a dismissive wave of the hand. “I came out here because I needed a change of pace. Stop worrying about it, old man.”

The history book on William’s nightstand, a study of the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars, included a discussion of press gangs, roving groups of sailors who abducted able-bodied men and forced them into naval service. During recent lonely nights with no solace but this volume, William had harbored dark fantasies of handing Richard over to just such a band of ruffians. Then he’d be gone at sea for months and I could have some time alone with Lizzy. If she ever finishes up at school.

This confluence of events might have driven William to put his fist through the nearest wall had his hands not been such valuable possessions. Worst of all, he was scheduled to return to New York the following weekend. As the library clock chimed the half-hour, it occurred to him that he could literally hear his remaining time with Elizabeth slipping away.

“Where did Richard go?” Sonya asked. “I was on the phone when he left. Is he out with Jane again tonight?”

“They were meeting some of her friends for dinner, but he said he wouldn’t be late. Jane has a big day in court tomorrow, a difficult child custody case.”

“I have to hand it to her. So many of her cases sound heartbreaking. I don’t think I could do it.”

William nodded absently, sitting back in his chair. Through increased exposure to Jane on their evenings together, he had developed a grudging admiration for her. He was increasingly bemused by her behavior where Charles and his money were concerned. It seemed inconsistent with the kind, unassuming woman he had come to know, a point upon which Richard continually hammered. Still, money, at least, in large sums, can make people behave strangely.

Sonya collected a group of file folders from the end of the table. “What are you going to do with the rest of your evening?”

“I’m going to practice.” He pushed his chair back from the table and rose to his feet.

“Then I’ll say goodbye now. I have a few more things to clean up in here, and then I’ll be on my way.”

As everyone in his inner circle knew, William’s practice sessions were sacrosanct. No one dared to disturb him except in an emergency, and even then they would do so with some trepidation lest the flames licking at their feet be judged insufficient cause for interruption.

He stopped in the doorway to the living room, belatedly remembering his manners. “Thank you for staying late.”

“No problem. In fact, we’ve gotten so much done over the past several days that I thought I might fly back a little early, if that’s okay with you.”

“How early?” William had expected Sonya to return to New York with him on Saturday.

“Thursday, probably. That still gives us tomorrow afternoon to finish up, after our morning meeting at the conservatory. I’d like to be home for the weekend; Brad’s planning to come down, and I haven’t seen him since he left for Boston.”

“Then you should definitely go.” Brad was Sonya’s son. “Anything we don’t get done tomorrow, we can finish up in New York next week.”

“Thanks, boss. See you tomorrow.”

William nodded and moved toward the piano, already absorbed in planning his practice session.

 

In a remote corner of his subconscious, William heard the chime of the doorbell. He filed it under “unimportant noises” as his fingers flew over the piano keys. His mind whirled through a landscape of vivid colors, strange shapes, and blind corners that, once traversed, revealed entirely new vistas. To an ordinary person, these mental images might have seemed a form of madness, and perhaps they were, since artistic genius is often tinged with insanity.

Mad or sane, William played on, immersed in his fantasy universe. He never tired of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata because of its sweeping emotional arc, from the contemplative opening theme to the fiery third movement which presently cascaded from his fingertips1, its shimmering arpeggios and passionate chords swirling around him.

The final chord echoed through the shadowy living room. William’s posture unfurled as he sat up and lifted his hands from the keys in a hesitant, almost regretful motion. He flinched at the unexpected sound of applause, and his head jerked toward the source of the interruption. Sonya ought to know better than this. He saw Elizabeth standing there instead.

“Bravo!” she cried. “I know I’m breaking Darcy’s First Law, but there was no way I could hide in the kitchen and pretend not to hear something as wonderful as that.”

Despite more than two decades of public performing to constant accolades, her praise had the power to unsettle him. With an awkward smile, he crossed the room to greet her. “I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”

“We got done early for a change, so I thought I’d come by and surprise you. Sonya let me in on her way out; I hope that’s okay.”

“Okay?” He chuckled. “Oh, I’d say it’s okay.” His arms enfolded her.

“Even though I’m interrupting your practice session?”

“I hope you realize that you’re the only person in the world who could get away with this.”

“Oh, I doubt that. I suspect your grandmother could get your attention. Georgie too.”

“Allow me to rephrase. You’re the only person in the world who could make me happy by interrupting me.” He kissed her, filling his senses with her. You see, universe? I’m not asking that much. Just this, every day for the rest of my life.

“Your mood must have improved once you started practicing. Sonya said you were quite the curmudgeon today.” Elizabeth stroked his cheek. “I told her that I think you’re kind of cute when you’re grumpy, but she didn’t seem to agree.”

William set his jaw. “I’m not sure that I like being called cute or grumpy, and clearly I need to have a discussion with my soon-to-be-ex-secretary about calling me a curmudgeon.”

“I can’t imagine what made her say that.” Elizabeth pulled away from him, a mischievous gleam in her eye. “Maybe I’d better go home and let you sulk in peace.”

“Don’t you dare.” He hauled her back into his arms, stifling her laughter with a long, deep kiss. By the time he raised his head, her eyes held the soft, languorous look he loved. “You know,” he said, pausing to kiss her forehead, “all I’d need to be a saint would be a steady diet of your company. The problem is, I’ve been on starvation rations lately. How much more coaching do you have to do?”

Hand in hand, they crossed the room to sit on the sofa. “As a matter of fact, I don’t need to attend any more rehearsals till this weekend.”

William sat back, draping his arm around her shoulders. “When you say ‘weekend,’ you don’t mean Friday night, I hope?”

“No, I mean Saturday morning. They asked me about Friday, but I told them I had big plans.” Their private celebration of Elizabeth’s birthday was set for Friday evening.

“Good, because otherwise I’d have no choice but to walk into the auditorium, toss you over my shoulder, and carry you off.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to give it some thought. It’s not exactly politically correct, but there’s something delicious about that image.” She snuggled close to him and kissed his cheek.

He quirked an eyebrow. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from Ms. Independent.”

“What can I say? I doubt I’d like it if you actually did it, but the idea of you on testosterone overload is kind of sexy. Anyway, there’s no need for a macho display. I’ll be here on Friday, I promise.”

“Good, because a great deal of planning has gone into the evening.”

“You’ve been keeping Sonya busy making the arrangements, then?”

He lifted his chin. “I should say not. I planned every detail myself.” That was no exaggeration. He had never before put half this much effort into a dinner date.

Elizabeth’s smile softened. “Then I can’t wait.”

William closed his eyes, smiling. He would have predicted that in his first time alone with her in days, he would have been instantly seized by ravenous hunger, but for now he was filled with contentment just sitting with her. He brushed her hair away from her cheek, his fingers trailing along the line of her jaw as her head drifted to his shoulder.

 

Elizabeth sighed happily, listening to the muffled thump of his heart. “I’ve needed this so much.”

“Mmm. Me too.”

She hated that her job had kept them apart so much lately, but she was determined to develop a good reputation at the conservatory despite Catherine de Bourgh’s antipathy for her. She owed it to herself and even to William, whose recommendation had undoubtedly helped her to get the job. The timing of the rehearsals was unfortunate, falling as they did in the midst of William’s all-too-brief return to San Francisco, but nothing could be done about that.

Her smile faded. “I wish you didn’t have to leave Saturday.” He was performing at a benefit recital in New York on Sunday afternoon, and would miss her birthday party on Saturday night.

“I know.”

“Are you sure you can’t take a red-eye and come to the party for a little while before your flight?”

“I considered it, but what if the flight were cancelled? A Sunday morning flight wouldn’t get me to New York early enough for the recital. I’m taking a chance as it is; I should really fly back on Friday to be doubly sure of being there in time.”

“And I know you’re staying the extra day for me. At least I get you all to myself on Friday night.” His Saturday departure wasn’t the worst of it. Foundation meetings would keep him in New York through most of the week. He planned to fly back to San Francisco the following Friday and depart on his Australian tour just four days later.

He sighed. “Would you like a glass of wine? I’m sorry, I should have asked earlier.”

“That sounds good.”

William released her from his arms. She sat up, and he rose slowly to his feet. “Stay put; I’ll be right back.”

“No, I’ll go with you. Wouldn’t want you getting lost in there.” Elizabeth loved teasing him about his ineptitude in the kitchen, though in reality he’d developed what he called “survival skills” during his stay in San Francisco. If it’s possible to survive on toasted bagels and herbal tea, that is.

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Come on, funny lady. Help me pick out a good wine.” Hand in hand, they proceeded to the kitchen. “Red or white?”

Elizabeth shrugged. “Red, I suppose.” She leaned on the breakfast bar and watched as he rounded the corner into the kitchen and opened the freestanding wine cellar.

“Good. I have what ought to be an excellent Merlot.” After a brief search, he extracted a bottle and set it on the bar.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.” William halted his search for a corkscrew, meeting her gaze.

Summoning her courage, Elizabeth plowed ahead. “What happens next? With us, I mean. Your time in San Francisco is almost over, and we still haven’t talked about the future, beyond agreeing that we want to keep seeing each other.”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought.” He located the corkscrew and went to work opening the wine bottle.

“How is it ever going to work? You’ll be on the road a lot, and when you’re not, you’ll be three thousand miles away. So I suppose we’ll talk on the phone, and you’ll stop by to visit when you’re performing on the West coast. And occasionally I’ll visit you in New York. Oh, and you said once that maybe sometimes you’d invite me to join you for a day or two wherever you’re performing. Is that what you envision for us?”

William set down the corkscrew. He hesitated, frowning.

“I know I’m putting you on the spot,” she continued. “But lately it’s been on my mind a lot. In fact, it’s really the reason I stopped by tonight, so we could talk about this. I hate to say it, but phone calls and a couple of days together every now and then …” She sighed. “That’s not enough for me. I’d miss you too much. I think I’d just end up being unhappy most of the time.”

“It’s not enough for me either. As a matter of fact, there’s a question I’ve wanted to ask you.”

“Which is?”

William took a deep breath. “Would you consider moving back to New York?”

“Yes.” Elizabeth surprised herself by answering the question without hesitation. She continued, her instincts telling her to trust her heart. “I would. I love San Francisco, and being with Jane, and seeing my dad. And I love my job. But …”

“But?” he repeated gently.

Just say it. “But I also happen to love you.”

His eyes flared. “Cara.” He reached across the barrier of the breakfast bar to caress her cheek. After a moment, he rounded the corner to her side of the bar and cupped her face in his hands. Their eyes locked and held, and although he had not yet spoken the words, the naked adoration in his gaze stole her breath. Then his lips came down on hers, hot and sweet, filling her with rapture … and also a sense of destiny, as though the universe had just whispered in her ear, “This is it. Don’t screw it up.”

Had she not been overwhelmed by emotion, she would have scoffed at the notion of destiny, or the universe, or any other disembodied voice whispering in her ear. But such considerations were swept aside when William, who was anything but disembodied, wrapped his arms around her and murmured, “I love you, Lizzy. I love you so much.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard those words from William, but this time she could feel that they were true, that she was loved by this man, who had somehow burrowed his way through her defenses. She tipped her head back and met his searching gaze.

“You’re crying,” he said softly. “What is it?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I don’t know. I’m not usually like this, but you …” She shrugged. “Just kiss me.” She drew his head down to hers, eagerly pressing her parted lips to his.

His mouth opened against hers, and with a little rumbling sigh he tightened his hold on her, pulling her body into intimate contact with his. He felt so strong, so warm, so wonderfully male, and she melted against him, every nerve ending alive and tingling with need, their kiss growing deeper and hotter and more rapturous than she had thought possible. The kiss was followed by another, and another, and still another, each more enthralling than the last, as passion ignited between them with a force that made her tremble. They clung to each other, swept along by a dizzying tide of pent-up need that had been released at last.

He dragged his mouth from hers and embarked on a scorching journey along her throat, nibbling and nuzzling and tasting until she shuddered with desire. He raised his head, his eyes boring into hers. “I want you so much, cara,” he whispered.

Elizabeth wasn’t interested in words. She pulled his head back to hers, kissing him hungrily, wringing an impassioned groan from him. She had felt desire for William before, but never had it clawed at her, surging through her in shuddering waves, threatening to consume her. Is this what he’s been feeling? No wonder he’s been so frustrated.

They continued to kiss, evenly matched in their hunger. Her hands slid over his back, feeling his taut muscles beneath his crisp cotton shirt. His hands were at the neckline of her blouse, opening the buttons with unsteady fingers. Her own hands lifted to the buttons of his shirt, driven by an instinctive desire to feel his warm skin against her fingers.

He raised his head, his breathing rapid, his eyes nearly black. “Yes, love. Please touch me.”

She spread his shirt open and splayed her hands along the solid planes of his broad chest. He shuddered and groaned, “Yes, Lizzy. Oh, yes.” Burying his hands in her hair, he claimed her mouth in a ravenous kiss that nearly sapped her strength. As she continued to explore his chest, she felt his heart hammering out a frantic rhythm not unlike her own.

“Stay with me tonight, cara.” His hoarse voice held a desperate edge. “Let me make love to you.”

Every nerve ending in her body seemed to contract. “Yes,” she whispered.

Did I just say that?

They both froze, except for the rapid rise and fall of their chests, and stared at each other. William was the first to recover. His hands cupped her face. “My darling Lizzy.” He lowered his head to hers.

She evaded his kiss, practical concerns flooding her mind. “What about Richard?”

William seemed momentarily befuddled by the question. “I suppose he’ll be home before long, but he won’t bother us. We’ll have all the privacy we need in my bedroom.”

“And what about … do you have any—” She felt like an idiot, stumbling over a perfectly reasonable question.

Fortunately, he understood her. “Yes, in my room.”

She nodded slowly, and with a small, exultant sound, he kissed her. As he led her down the dark hallway, she tried to douse the fear flickering inside her. It’s natural to be nervous on our first time together. But I love him, he loves me, and we’ve waited for the time to be right. Everything will be fine.

 

William shut and locked his bedroom door. Elizabeth stood with her back to him, gazing at the view through the glass doors to his small balcony. After five months of heated dreams and fantasies, it was difficult to believe that she was actually here. He half expected her to vaporize, a product of his fevered imagination.

The room was dimly lit by a small bedside lamp, which supplemented the reflected glow of the city lights. He crossed the room and wrapped his arms around her waist, drawing her backward against his body. “I love you,” he whispered.

She sighed and leaned against him as he anointed her neck with a trail of gentle kisses. “Do you know how often I’ve imagined you in this room?” he murmured in her ear. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he exerted gentle pressure until she turned to face him.

“Are you having second thoughts?” He hated to ask the question, but the tension in her shoulders was unmistakable.

“No.” She threaded her arms around his neck. “I’m a little nervous, but this is where I want to be.”

William wrapped her in his arms and brushed her lips with his in a feather-light kiss. “To be honest, I’m nervous too.” It was true, and it surprised him. He remembered feeling some anxiety before his first few sexual experiences, but in the years since then he couldn’t recall a time when nerves had factored into an amorous encounter.

His admission seemed to have relaxed her. Her eyes softened, and she slipped her hands inside his open shirt, resting her palms on his chest. “I’ve been wondering what you look like without a shirt,” she said, licking her lips.

“Why don’t you find out?” He raised an eyebrow with what he hoped was a sexy smile. “I’m completely at your disposal.”

Elizabeth accepted the challenge, slipping his shirt off his shoulders. He unbuttoned the cuffs and pulled the shirt off, draping it carefully over a nearby chair.

“Well?” He felt oddly vulnerable standing bare-chested before her, awaiting her verdict.

Her eyes widened and she drew her lower lip between her teeth. “You’re perfect,” she breathed.

William watched with rapt attention as she caressed his torso. Her hands were cool, but they seemed to spread fire as they skimmed over him, the flames fanning out through his body. Finally, he could remain passive no longer.

“It’s my turn.” He opened the last few buttons on her blouse and slipped it off her. She was lovely, pale and smooth-skinned, smelling faintly of jasmine. He kissed a leisurely path across her soft shoulders and up her neck while she stroked his hair, sighing softly when his lips finally captured hers in a heated kiss.

Then he slipped her bra straps off her shoulders and, after a glance to gain her tacit permission, reached behind her with a practiced hand to release the hooks.

The sight that awaited him nearly brought him to his knees. “Oh, cara,” he whispered. Her breasts glowed like pearls in the dim light. They were perfectly formed, round and full and tipped with delicate pink. “You’re even more beautiful than I dreamed.”

Gently, almost reverently, his fingers traced the slopes and curves of one warm, pale globe. She watched his hand in silence until he began to toy with the soft pink peak. Then her eyes closed and she sighed softly, burying her face against his neck.

He pulled her tightly against him, soft sounds of pleasure coming from both of their throats at the exquisite sensation of flesh meeting flesh. Their lips fused in a kiss of slow, melting hunger, her hands sliding over his back, his pressing her lower body against his. His mouth still melded to hers, he walked them slowly backward until his knees bumped the bed.

He silently cursed himself for not preparing the bed for their occupancy on first entering the room; it was awkward to stop and handle housekeeping details now. He released her and pulled back the spread and the covers as rapidly as he could. Then he drew her back into his arms and kissed her again, laboring to stem the flooding tide of impatient lust that clamored for immediate satisfaction.

Together they sank onto the bed, exchanging greedy kisses while their hands roved over each other’s bodies. William caressed her breast, rolling the nipple between his fingers until she moaned his name. He shuddered at the exquisite feeling of her eager hands exploring his torso. Her lips danced along his neck and across his shoulders, and then her mouth was on his, nibbling and sucking and tasting and finally coaxing his lips apart with her tongue, not that any coaxing was really required. She sighed as he enveloped her other breast in his palm, his fingers gently kneading the firm mound.

He pressed her onto her back and leaned over her, kissing a path down her neck and then traversing the valley between her breasts. His mouth reached her nipple and he lapped at it gently. She arched her back in wordless invitation, and his tongue hungrily circled the delicate bud again.

William raised his head, staring intently into her passion-drugged eyes. “You taste so sweet, cara.” And she did, delicious and enticing. He lowered his head to her breast again, this time drawing its pink tip between his lips and suckling gently, inflamed by her soft moan as she arched her back again, her hands stroking his hair.

He unzipped her skirt and, with her assistance, slipped it off. Again he was overcome by the sight of her, naked except for a pair of plain white cotton panties and lovely beyond even his wildest fantasies. He burned with impatience to feel her legs entwined with his, and he sat up, yanking off his trousers and socks. Clad only in his boxers, he lay back down beside her and gathered her to him.

The rapture of holding her near-naked body against his nearly overwhelmed him; every cell in his body seemed to be vibrating. “Lizzy, I want you so much,” he groaned, his voice thick with passion. He rolled on top of her and pressed his lips to hers, planning to kiss his way from her head to her toes.

Almost immediately, he could tell that something was wrong. She stilled beneath him, and although she made no attempt to escape his kiss, neither did she participate in it. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” she answered in a clipped tone. She averted her eyes, turning her head to one side. He heard her gasp, and her entire body tensed beneath him. Her breathing became shallow and rapid, and she began to tremble. Then she began pushing at his chest and crying. “Please, stop,” she implored him. “Get off me—please! I can’t … I can’t!”

William rolled off her immediately. “Cara, what’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer, but he could see her body trembling. He touched her shoulder, intending to draw her into his arms, but she jerked away as though his hand were a hot coal. Still facing away from him, she rolled up in a ball, pulling the covers tightly around her.

William lay on his back in miserable suspense for what seemed like hours. The only sounds were the occasional noise of traffic passing on the street below and her labored breathing. Finally, he sensed that her trembling was beginning to subside.

“Lizzy? Please, love, tell me that you’re all right.”

“I’m … okay. I just …” A sob escaped her throat. ”I’m sorry … I’m so sorry.”

“What happened, cara? Did I hurt you? Did I do something to frighten you? Was I too heavy, and you couldn’t breathe?”

“No. No. It wasn’t … wasn’t your fault. It was me. It was all … me.” She sat up, clutching the covers around her, and he saw her pallor and the tears in her eyes.

“Please tell me what’s wrong. Whatever it is, maybe I can help.” It was almost physically painful to restrain himself from drawing her into his arms, but her eyes warned him away.

“You can’t. Nobody can.”

“How can you be so sure? Tell me what it is. We’ll find a way to fix it.”

She took a deep breath that seemed to calm her. “Thank you, but I’ve already ruined your night. I’d better get dressed and go home.”

“You’re in no condition to go anywhere. And I can’t let you leave here without helping me to understand what happened. I have to know what I did to hurt you.”

Elizabeth’s eyes were downcast, fixed on the blankets covering her feet. “You’re right. I can’t let you suffer for my mistakes, any more than you already have.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know. You deserve at least a short explanation before I go home. But I’d like to get dressed first.”

“Lizzy, you need a chance to recover before you go anywhere. I’m going to make us some tea, and we’ll sit quietly and talk, and then we’ll see how you’re feeling.”

She shook her head. “I’m fine, really.”

“No, you’re not. Let me help you, Lizzy. I love you, and unless I imagined it, earlier this evening you said that you loved me. Trust me.”

“I should go. Richard will be home soon, and I don’t want to see anyone.”

“I’ll call him. At the least, he won’t mind having a late nightcap somewhere.”

Finally she met his gaze. “All right. I admit, I’m still feeling shaky. I guess I shouldn’t get behind the wheel until I’m calmer. But I want to get dressed now.”

William ignored her reference to driving herself home—that wasn’t going to happen—and pressed his temporary advantage. “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in something besides the clothes you’ve been wearing all day?”

“What other choice do I have?”

“I’ll lend you something comfortable to wear.” He saw her press her lips together, frowning. Fortunately, during the past two months he had learned some helpful skills in dealing with her stubborn moods. “It’ll only take you a few minutes to change back into your clothes when you’re ready to go home.” That he had no intention of letting her go anywhere until morning was a detail he kept to himself.

He saw capitulation in her eyes, and jumped to his feet to follow through on his plan. “I’ll be right back.”

In his dressing room, he searched until he found the perfect choice: a pair of silk pajamas with a matching robe, purchased by Mrs. Reynolds during his hospital stay and worn only once. The pajama bottoms were much too large for Elizabeth, but the top plus the robe would be comfortable and would offer enough coverage to satisfy her modesty.

I guess I’d better cover up too. He stepped into the pajama bottoms and retrieved his favorite robe from the closet.

When he returned to the bedroom, Elizabeth lay in the same position, the covers still around her neck, clutched in white-knuckled fists.

“Here are some clothes,” he said, again struggling to resist enfolding her in his embrace. “And you’re welcome to use my bathroom. It’s right through that door. When you’re ready, meet me in the kitchen. I’ll be out there, fixing our tea.”

She nodded, regarding him with solemn eyes. As he left the bedroom, gently shutting the door behind him, he was gripped by remorse. My poor Lizzy. No matter what she said, it has to be something I did. But somehow I’ll make it right.

------
1 Piano Sonata No. 14, Op. 27, no. 2, in C-sharp minor (“Moonlight”), third movement. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Favorite Beethoven Piano Sonatas, © 1997, London Records. Listen to a sample on iTunes.