Elizabeth had heard somewhere that you could learn a lot about a man by watching him sleep. She wasn’t convinced that it was true; she had watched William sleeping on her sofa ten days ago and had come away without any startling insights. But experiencing him while he slept, with nearly all of her senses involved, was a different matter.

She had awakened a short time ago to find herself lying on her side with William spooned behind her, holding her firmly in his grasp. Kind of like curling up with a life-sized teddy bear. She smiled to herself, snuggling back against him. He stirred and tightened his arm around her, breathing in the regular cadence of sleep.

So this is what I’ve been missing all these years. She had wondered what it would be like to sleep with a man. The topic had arisen a few weeks ago over dinner with Jane and Charlotte.

“Once the fun’s over,” Charlotte had said, “I’d rather kick them out and have the bed to myself. I need to be able to thrash around in my sleep. But you know what I hate most of all? The ones who like to cuddle.”

As far as Elizabeth was concerned, Charlotte was nuts. It was true that she had awakened occasionally during the night, roused by William’s unfamiliar presence. Each time she had relaxed against him, luxuriating in the comforting warmth of his body, and had soon been lulled back to sleep. On one occasion he had also been awake, and they had shared a few drowsy kisses before drifting off again.

So, that’s the first thing I’ve learned. He likes to cuddle. Second, he doesn’t snore, though I was already pretty sure of that after the night he spent on our couch. Third, I already knew this, but he smells wonderful. That faint hint of cologne—he knows you’re not supposed to drown in the stuff—mixed with something else, something that’s just … him. Eau de William.

He stirred again, and this time he was awake. With a sigh that seemed to rumble from his toes, he brushed her hair aside and pressed a soft kiss just behind her ear.

Fourth, he’s really stubbly early in the morning. But I already knew that.

He slid even closer, molding himself against her. Fifth, did I mention that he likes to cuddle?

She rolled over to face him, amused to find that she felt almost shy. “Good morning.”

His lazy smile was blissful, his eyes only half open. “Did you sleep well?” His voice was even deeper than usual.

She nodded. “I’m glad you talked me into staying.”

“Not half as glad as I am. Do you remember what I said last night?”

“Which part?”

“About spending at least a decade in this bed?”

“Mmmm.”

He stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I changed my mind. Thirty years, minimum.”

“Okay.”

“With an option for another thirty.”

He rested his head against her shoulder and his eyes drifted shut, his breath fanning her throat in a slow rhythm. Tenderness flooded her when she realized that he was asleep again. She stroked his hair, floating in a peaceful fog.

Sixth, if there’s a more wonderful man in the world, he wears a cape and boots, and his suit has a red “S” on its chest.

 

Elizabeth was jolted awake by a noise outside, perhaps a garbage truck on its early morning rounds. William was asleep, spooned behind her with one arm draped over. How romantic. Unfortunately, a decidedly unromantic ache in her back compelled her to move from her current position.

She inched her way off the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Weak light filtered through the sheer white curtains, and she drew them aside, studying the Mark Hopkins Hotel across the street while she stretched her arms to the ceiling, working out the kink in her back.

Bending from the waist, she pressed her palms to the cool marble floor, holding the position to stretch her back and leg muscles. The events of last night whirled around her, a series of images ranging from foggy to crystal clear. She realized that most of the clarity had to do with William: his gentle sympathy, his understanding, and the comfort she had felt falling asleep in the shelter of his arms. She straightened up slowly and inspected herself in the bathroom mirror.

Yikes! Is that me, or is it Medusa? She applied her brush to the task, concentrating on the worst of the snarls and tangles. Then her eyes fell on her borrowed toothbrush, and she ran her tongue over her teeth, grimacing. She had just finished brushing when she heard a knock at the door.

“Lizzy? Are you in there?”

She opened the door, revealing William, squinting against the bright light shining on him from the bathroom.

“Do you need to come in?” She couldn’t help but smile at his dishevelment. It’s not fair. How can he look so good first thing in the morning when he’s all rumpled and bleary-eyed?

“I woke up and you weren’t there. I was afraid you’d snuck out without saying goodbye.” He ran one hand through his sleep-ruffled hair.

She caressed his cheek, the dark stubble along his jaw prickling her fingers. “Of course not.”

“Then you’re coming back to bed?”

“For a little while. I was just … freshening up a little.”

“Ah.” He pressed his lips together. “Go back to bed. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Soon the bathroom door opened and he crossed the room to rejoin her in bed, his progress aided by the weak light of the bedside lamp. Once he was lying on his side facing her, she reached over to switch off the light. “No, leave it on,” he murmured, sliding his arm around her waist. “Otherwise it’s too dark to see you. How do you feel this morning?”

“Much better, thanks to you.”

He rolled onto his back, drawing her close so that she lay against him, nestled in the crook of his arm. She rested her head on his chest, and he fondled a lock of her hair. “I love your hair. I always have.”

Elizabeth raised her head, leaning on one arm. “And I’m quite attached to these curls that are always escaping onto your forehead.” She reached up, smoothing his hair.

He captured her hand and brought it briefly to his lips, the usual intensity in his eyes replaced by a look of pure contentment. Her gaze dropped to his mouth and she shifted upward on the bed, lowering her head to brush her lips over his in a tender, lingering caress.

Seventh, he’s got the softest, warmest lips. But I already knew that too.

William’s arms closed around her and he rolled onto his side, taking her with him, their kisses slow and exquisitely thorough. Each time it seemed that passion might overtake them, Elizabeth sensed him restraining himself, gentling the kiss. She was not as fragile this morning as he must have assumed, but her heart swelled at his tender solicitude.

She stroked his jaw, which felt deliciously smooth against her fingers. Obviously he had shaved while in the bathroom. “I’ve caused you a lot of frustration, haven’t I?”

“Yes, you have.” Grinning, he kissed the tip of her nose. “But you’re worth waiting for.”

Elizabeth had her doubts on this score. William had undoubtedly been with dozens of women, all of them bold and uninhibited and possessing extensive experience in giving a man pleasure. Oh, stop it. You’re making it sound like he’s spent his life working his way through an army of courtesans.

William settled onto his back again and she snuggled against him, her head reclaiming its resting spot on his shoulder. Her hand drifted over his chest, her enjoyment enhanced by a vision of William as he had looked without his shirt. She had to fight the temptation to slip a finger, or two or five, beneath his tee shirt, to again feel the warmth and strength of his lean torso.

Whoa. Stop and think for a minute. He’s been holding back for your sake. Don’t make it harder for him. Unless you’re ready to move forward. And you’re not, are you?

She was surprised that she even needed to ask herself the question when not eight hours earlier she had lain in a tearful heap on this same bed. But this morning, in his arms, anything seemed possible. Yeah, but let’s consider it from another point of view. What if we picked up where we left off and the same thing happened again? I can’t do that to either of us.

She had no illusions that her talk with William had miraculously cured her of the problem she had tried to ignore for far too long, even though telling her story last night had been cathartic, especially since William had been so loving and supportive from start to finish.

I’m not going to let this stand between us anymore. He deserves a woman who isn’t haunted by a ghost. And I deserve to love him without always looking over my shoulder.

She had plenty to think about, but there was time for that later, when her head wasn’t pillowed on William’s chest. She closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of his body. His hands, which had sparked thousands of women’s fantasies, caressed her hair.

The involuntary thought of other women reminded her of something important. “I was thinking about what I told you last night, and I hope you didn’t misinterpret what I said, about idolizing you when I was a teenager.”

“Hmm?”

She raised her head from his chest. “I wouldn’t want you to think that’s why I’m with you, that it’s just shallow hero worship.”

“I don’t think that.”

“Good. I mean, you know how much I admire you as a musician. But if that’s all it was, I wouldn’t be here. I fell in love with the man underneath all of that, the one who’s sweet and gentle and romantic—that is, when he’s not being bossy and arrogant.”

He scowled, but she saw amusement in his eyes. “And I thought you were building up to a compliment.”

“You know my rule about feeding the ego. Besides, if I fawned over you incessantly, I’d be just like every other woman in the world. I have to find some way to stand out.” Her smile faded and she sat up, propping two pillows behind her. “But I suppose I’ve done that already. I imagine I’m the only woman who’s ever had a panic attack in your bed.”

“Poor Lizzy.” He struggled into a sitting position. “If it’s any consolation, you’re unique in another way. You’re the only woman who’s ever been in my bed, period.”

“You don’t need to say that just to make me feel better.”

“I’m not. It’s true. I’m not saying that I’ve never been with a woman before, but you’re the only one I’ve ever invited into my bed.”

“Here in San Francisco.” Because he couldn’t mean that he hasn’t—

He shook his head. “No, I’m talking about all of my beds, everywhere. You know how important privacy is to me, and to invite a woman into my room, my sanctuary …” He shrugged. “That’s huge for me.”

“I’m honored.” She hadn’t intended to sound so formal, but it seemed like the only possible response to the immense compliment he was paying her. Draping her arms loosely around his neck, she returned his kiss and then buried her face against his throat, inhaling Eau de William to her heart’s content.

A few peaceful minutes later, she raised her head. “Ready to tackle another loose end from last night?”

“I think so. What is it?”

“You said that you’d been wanting to tell me how you felt for a long time.”

William nodded.

“Why didn’t you? Say it before last night, I mean.”

“I did, that night in New York, but you didn’t believe me. So I wasn’t going to say it again until I was sure you’d be glad to hear it.”

“I know, I’m sorry for how I acted, but you couldn’t have meant it way back then. Maybe you thought you did, but you were probably just caught up in the heat of the moment.”

He shook his head. “Lizzy, I’d waited 30 years to say those words to a woman. Do you honestly think I’d have said them unless I was sure of my feelings?”

He’d never said ’I love you’ before? She filed away that extraordinary piece of information to be examined later. “But we barely knew each other.”

“I knew enough. I think I started falling in love with you the first time I saw you.”

“You mean out on the patio at Charles’s house, when I overheard you talking about me?”

“No. I mean before that, at JFK Airport. I noticed your eyes; they were beautiful and full of life. And then I saw you again in San Francisco. There was just something about you that spoke to me, even from the opposite side of the baggage claim area.”

“But you told me once that you didnt believe in love at first sight.”

“That’s why it was hard for me to understand what was happening. It wasn’t until later, in New York, that I realized I was in love.”

She smiled and took his hand in hers, toying with his fingers. “You know, it felt like a spark passed between us at JFK. But you ignored me when I walked past you getting on the plane, and you were so cold at the airport in San Francisco, so I figured it was just my imagination.”

“To begin with, I wasn’t feeling well that day.”

“I know.” Several weeks ago she had asked him about his behavior that morning. He had explained the acute dizzy spell he’d been fighting at the moment when Jane approached.

“But I would have ignored you in any case,” he continued. “I’m not in the habit of making overtures to strangers, especially not teenaged girls, and you looked as though you couldn’t have been older than eighteen.”

They had discussed some of the events of that day in the past, but this was a fresh insight. His pensive expression indicated that he was collecting his thoughts before continuing, so she waited, still holding his hand.

“In fact, I was disturbed by the inappropriate fascination I was feeling for a college girl, which is what I thought you were. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have reached out and pulled you onto my lap as you walked past on the plane. It would have saved us valuable time.” His eyes twinkled as he grinned at her.

“An opportunity lost. I wonder how I would have reacted?” She kissed his jaw and his cheek, and he turned his head to claim her lips briefly.

They fell silent, basking in contentment, but before long she spoke again. “Okay, here’s another question I’ve never gotten around to asking. Why were you so rude to me when we met outside the church that evening, before the wedding rehearsal?”

“Rude?”

“You just stood there stone-faced. I almost had to hit you over the head to get you to talk. Seems like odd behavior if you were attracted to me.”

He was silent for a moment, his brow furrowed, and then he shook his head, wearing a bashful grin. “I remember now. I was overwhelmed.”

“By what?”

“By you. I didn’t recognize you at first. I’d met an oddly appealing teenager. Outside the church, I saw a woman who took my breath away. She took off her sunglasses and I saw her eyes, and I realized who she was. And then I really couldn’t breathe.”

Elizabeth touched her lips to his, her heart melting. “Most of that was so beautiful that we’ll just gloss over the ‘oddly appealing’ part. I never guessed that you felt that way, but Char did. She told me at the rehearsal dinner that you were falling for me.”

“She was right. You invaded my dreams for the first time that night, and there hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t thought about you.”

“I wish I’d known. I thought I saw signs that you liked me, but the next moment you’d be distant and cool. And I couldn’t believe that you’d take an interest in me anyway.”

“Why not? I know sometimes I’m reserved, but I tried to show you how I felt in every way I could. And still you didn’t trust me, not even after I took you to my home for dinner and introduced you to my family.”

Elizabeth heard the pain in his voice. “Jane and Char kept telling me I was wrong about you. They’ve been your advocates all along. But the problem was, I kept … hearing echoes of Michael, I guess. Like the Jekyll and Hyde thing.”

“The what?”

“That’s what I called it. The way sometimes you’d be sweet and utterly charming, and other times you’d be haughty or silent, and I never knew what to expect. Now I understand; when you’re uncomfortable, you retreat inside yourself. But I didn’t know that back then.”

William sighed but didn’t comment.

“Michael had that Jekyll-and-Hyde quality too, in a different way. Like I told you, one day he’d be charming and attentive, the next day he’d ignore me, and the day after that he’d fly into a rage if I even smiled at another guy. And I thought maybe it was the same with you. I was seeing two William Darcys. I didn’t know which one, if either, was the genuine article. So it was hard to trust you.”

“You could have asked me what was going on.”

“How would that have helped? If you were trying to deceive me, you weren’t likely to admit it. Besides, here I was again, deeply attracted to a man who was out of my league. In Michael’s case it was only his popularity with women that put him out of my reach, but you and I weren’t even on the same planet.”

“Of course we were. And are.”

“Oh, come on. You said it yourself that first day; I’m not at your social level. The main reason it made me so angry was because it was true. And it wasn’t just that. William Darcy, the most eligible bachelor in New York, who’d just been called ‘Classical Music’s Sex Symbol’ by Newsweek. William Darcy, who could have any woman who caught his eye. Men in your position usually get involved with actresses or supermodels, or the daughters of European royalty. What could you possibly have wanted from an ordinary music teacher, except maybe the same thing Michael wanted?”

His eyes narrowed. “You thought I was capable of treating you the way he did?”

“I didn’t think you’d use force, no. But emotional manipulation, or using your wealth and position to seduce me … I admit, I considered those things possible.”

It was clear from the set of his jaw that he was annoyed. “And that’s why you accused me of just wanting to get you into bed when we were in New York?”

“That was part of it. I should have given you more credit, especially after the dinner at your house. But ever since I was … ever since Michael, my instinct has been to suspect men’s motives. And you inadvertently made it worse that night by saying that you loved me.”

“I never understood why you instantly assumed that I was trying to manipulate you. Obviously you didn’t—” He stopped abruptly, shooting a horrified glance at her. When he spoke again his voice was strained. “Michael said that he loved you in order to get you into bed. So you thought …” He closed his eyes, a small, anguished sound escaping his throat.

Elizabeth sighed. “Right. I heard his voice in my head saying the same thing, and then doing … that to me. So I threw your words right back in your face.” She sighed. “I feel like a broken record, but I’m so sorry.”

“I’m glad to finally understand. It was torture, not knowing what I’d done to make you so contemptuous of me.”

She rested her hand on his chest, over his heart. “I hate that I hurt you. Especially since … it was really the first time you ever said ‘I love you’?”

He nodded.

It was a thought she couldn’t quite wrap her mind around. “But you must have loved some other girl, and just never said the words.”

“I thought I loved my first girlfriend, when I was about 14. But I was too shy to tell her, and I know now that it wasn’t love, it was … my hormones waking up, I think.”

She laughed silently. “Good way to put it.”

“I’ve dated other women since then, but I didn’t love any of them. Only you, Lizzy.”

He lowered his head, the warm lips that Elizabeth had studied earlier covering hers in a blissful caress. Eighth, his kisses are dangerously addictive. But I already knew that. Boy, did I ever.

At last he raised his head, a self-satisfied expression on his face. “And as you’ve probably noticed,” he murmured, “my hormones are still wide awake. In fact, I don’t think they’ve slept a wink since I met you.”

“Insomniac hormones. Sounds like a case for the medical journals.” Her eyes brimming with laughter, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.

 

Elizabeth was still smiling an hour later when she parked her car behind her building. She heard a faint buzzing sound coming from her purse and rummaged through to locate the source. Her cell phone, still set on “vibrate” from rehearsal last night, was trying to notify her that she’d missed a call, one placed from the condo about 45 minutes ago. Elizabeth decided that there wasn’t much point in returning Jane’s call or even listening to the voicemail message; she’d be upstairs in two minutes, and Jane probably hadn’t left for court yet.

Precisely two minutes later, Elizabeth unlocked the door to their condo and stepped through. “Jane? I’m home. I hope you—” The words died in her throat.

Richard was lounging on the sofa, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, his bare feet propped on the coffee table. “Good morning,” he said with a smirk, raising his coffee mug in a rakish salute.

Elizabeth swallowed hard. “What are you doing here?” Jane and Richard? It was impossible; at least, she hoped it was.

“I’m drinking coffee. I assume you left the old man with a big smile on his face?”

She ignored his suggestive tone. “You spent the night here?”

“An excellent deduction.” Richard sat back and drank his coffee.

Jane, dressed in her favorite gray suit, joined them in the living room. “Lizzy, there you are! Did you get my message?”

Elizabeth shook her head, still staring at Richard. “I didn’t notice that you’d called till a couple of minutes ago. But I see we have a guest.”

“I think you’d better tell Elizabeth where I slept.” From the angle of his crooked grin, it was clear that Richard was enjoying the situation. “Looks like she’s reached her own conclusion based on my reputation.”

“Oh, Lizzy, no, that’s not it at all. I knew you were planning to visit William after rehearsal, and I wanted you to have some privacy.”

“So she kidnapped me after dinner and brought me here to keep me from crashing the party,” Richard said. “And then Will called and told me I was persona non grata.”

“And when it got late and I was sure you weren’t coming home, I made up your room for him. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“No, that’s fine,” Elizabeth replied, smiling apologetically at Richard. “I didn’t mean to get you kicked you out of the penthouse.”

You may not have,” he retorted in a good-natured tone, “but the old man practically threatened to have me dragged away in irons if I showed my face within a five-block radius.”

“That was for my sake. We were discussing something personal, and he wanted me to know that we wouldn’t be disturbed.”

Jane raised her eyebrows, eyeing Elizabeth with interest, but then frowned as she glanced at her watch. “I wish I could stay and talk, but I can’t afford to be late this morning.”

“I’ll walk you to the elevators,” Elizabeth said. At least they could have a brief chat in the hallway.

Jane approached Richard, who had risen to his feet. “I really do have to leave, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Thanks for not tossing me out onto the streets last night.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Knock ’em dead today. I hope I didn’t get in the way of your prep work too much.”

“That’s right,” Elizabeth said. “You had work to do. I’m really sorry.”

“I finished everything, never fear. I offered him sole custody of the TV remote and took my work into the kitchen.”

Richard folded his arms over his chest. “Must we reinforce that absurd stereotype about men and channel surfing? Though come to think of it, that’s what I did till I found a movie to watch.” He glanced at Elizabeth. “Incidentally, I assume we’re still on for Top of the Mark tonight.”

“Absolutely. Are you going to be able to make it, Jane?”

“I think so, but it depends on how things go in court today. Charlotte’s coming, right?”

“As far as I know.”

“I told Richard that I thought they’d get along well.”

Elizabeth snickered. “To say the least. Char is exactly like he’d be if he got a sex change operation, except better looking.”

“I hope you meant that she’d be the better looking one. Because the thought of me in a miniskirt …” Richard shuddered, wearing an exaggerated grimace.

“Oh, I don’t know; I bet you’ve got lovely legs,” Elizabeth called over her shoulder as she accompanied Jane out into the hall.

 

“We seem to have resolved everything. Are we ready to adjourn?”

William scanned the faces at the conference table, receiving a chorus of nods in reply. “Very well. Thank you all for your assistance in this process.”

For the next few minutes, William’s attention was occupied with saying goodbye to the faculty members and local musicians who had helped him to select the winners of his foundation’s young composers’ grants. Once they had departed, he turned to Sonya. “Go ahead and prepare the notification letters for my signature.”

“I’ll meet you in your office.” She collected the stacks of papers and left the room.

“I must say, that went reasonably well.” Catherine de Bourgh rose to her feet. “And I’m satisfied with the outcome.”

You would be. Catherine had been adamant in her support of the two applicants from the conservatory. Fortunately, one of the two had submitted an exceptional portfolio of piano compositions, clearly deserving of one of the grants without any need for Catherine’s influence. With one of her pet applicants successful, she had been more reasonable where the other was concerned, saving William the battle he would have faced otherwise. Not that Catherine would have won, but this way there wasn’t any need to fight.

“Thank you for your help, Catherine.”

“Of course. Although, as I told you in August, I would have been pleased to chair the selection committee rather than simply serving as a member. I have extensive experience in such matters.”

William stifled an eye-roll. Just what I would have needed. “In any event, your participation was valuable. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”

“No, don’t leave yet. I’d like to speak to you in my office.”

William checked his watch. “I have somewhere else I need to be.”

“It will only take a moment. I want to speak to you about your schedule for the rest of the semester.”

He checked his watch again. He was probably missing a song even now, but he’d still be able to get there before she finished. “All right.”

Catherine led the way to her office and gestured to a chair, seating herself behind her desk. “As I’ve told you, I’m displeased to learn that you’re leaving us at the end of the week. I understood that you would be here for the entire semester.”

“When we discussed the idea in New York, I told you that I hoped to resume my normal activities by November. Nothing has changed. And the recital in December will still proceed as planned.”

“Nevertheless, I’m displeased. And Anne is deeply disappointed. You’ve spent very little time with her these past two months, and now you’re leaving. To make amends, you should join us for dinner this evening.”

“I’m afraid I have plans.”

“I’m curious about these plans of yours, William. I never had the impression that you were such a man about town, with constant social engagements.”

William ignored the general context of her remark and addressed the current situation. “I believe you’re aware that my cousin Richard is visiting me. My plans this evening are with him.” It was true, more or less.

“I beg your pardon, Dr. de Bourgh?” Bill Collins stood in the doorway to Catherine’s office.

“Yes, Collins, what is it?”

Bill hustled into the room, halting beside her desk in an attitude of humble supplication. William regretted that he didn’t have a Milk Bone in his pocket. “Please forgive the interruption,” Bill began in the unctuous voice that never failed to annoy William, “but I’m preparing the faculty’s preliminary contracts for the next school year, as you requested. You told me to start with senior faculty and administration, and work my way down to the junior faculty.”

Catherine glared at him. “Indeed I did. I should think that you’d be better off getting it done, rather than standing here wasting my time.”

Had Bill fallen prostrate at her feet, William wouldn’t have been surprised. “Please accept my deepest apologies. It’s just that I know you’re planning to meet with the junior faculty in November, and I thought you might want drafts of their contracts for next year available for those meetings. So I thought that perhaps I should start with those instead.”

Catherine’s momentarily disconcerted expression was comical. William coughed to conceal a snicker that escaped before he could suppress it. She recovered quickly, snapping, “Well, of course you should. I’m astonished that you even need to ask the question. See that they’re ready in time.”

She turned back to William. “If your plans with your cousin are keeping you busy tonight, then Anne and I would welcome your company in our box at the Opera House on Friday evening. I believe you’re in town till Saturday, and you haven’t accompanied us to the opera yet this season.”

“With your permission, Dr. de Bourgh, I’ll get back to work now. I want to get started on those contracts this instant.” Bill’s words were for Catherine, but the smirk on his face was directed at William. “I’ll leave you two to discuss your plans.

Bill knew quite well where William was going to be tonight, hence his sarcasm. Golden Gate Jazz had a job at Top of the Mark, the lounge atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. Bill would be there as the group’s pianist, and William had become a regular fixture at their performances.

William and Elizabeth had stopped trying to hide their relationship from Bill, based on Elizabeth’s argument that Bill had certainly heard conservatory gossip about them by now. “If he were going to tell Dr. de Bourgh, he’d have done it already,” she had insisted. William had finally agreed, relieved that he could stop censoring his behavior toward Elizabeth in Bill’s presence.

“I have plans on Friday night as well,” William replied. “But I’d be pleased if you and Anne would join me for dinner at Charles Nob Hill tomorrow night.” William usually reserved Thursday evenings, when Elizabeth taught a night class, for jazz clubbing with Roger, but he could make an exception in the interest of suppressing Catherine’s dangerous curiosity. And maybe I can talk Richard into coming with me.

“I’m afraid that I’m engaged tomorrow evening, but Anne would love to join you. I’m sure you know that’s her favorite restaurant.”

Catherine is busy? How did I get so lucky?

He excused himself from Catherine’s office, checking his watch as he strode quickly down the hall. Anne was in her office, next door to her mother’s, but he would speak to her later. He made his way rapidly through the hallways of the conservatory, his footsteps echoing through the deserted corridors. In less than fifteen minutes, the current class period would end and the hallways would be jammed, but for now, silence reigned.

He reached his destination and was gratified to see that, as usual, the classroom door was open. He heard a woman singing and smiled, but within a few seconds he realized that the voice didn’t belong to Elizabeth. Damn. I must have missed her.

Although he had seen Elizabeth perform in public on several occasions, he had made no progress at all in realizing one of his fondest wishes, which was to be the audience for a private performance. He had tried teasing, cajoling, and even a dignified form of pouting, but she was always ready with an excuse: a lack of sheet music, a full stomach (with its negative impact on her singing), or the lateness of the hour.

Then one Wednesday morning in September, he had passed through this hallway en route to her office and had heard her sweet voice filtering out of a classroom. It was the same room in which he had heard her poignant song the afternoon of the party at Rosings. He had slipped away after a few songs, entranced but unwilling to risk discovery. Casual questioning a few days later had unearthed the information that she often stayed to practice her performing skills after her morning class, since the classroom was vacant until after lunch.

Since then, William had made a habit of spending Wednesdays at the conservatory, and his routine always included a late-morning stroll down this hallway. Occasionally he was disappointed by an empty room, but usually his songbird was there, hard at work. He had never announced his presence, cognizant of his own dislike of an audience when he practiced yet unable to give up these delightful interludes.

He stepped silently to the doorway, which stood at the highest point in the room, and scanned the rows of seats below him. She was in the second row, her attention trained on the singer, whom William recognized as another instructor from the vocal music department.

The song ended and Elizabeth called out, “That was fantastic!”

The other woman, whose name William couldn’t recall, executed a teasing curtsey. “So I got the focus changes right this time?”

Elizabeth rose from her seat and headed down to the stage. “And you were completely believable. It’s come a long way since we started working on it.”

“Thanks to you. I can see why they’re working you to death on ‘South Pacific.’ You’re really good at this stuff.”

“I’m glad I could help. Really, Barb, that’s going to be a great audition piece for you. Do you want to perform it one more time?”

“No, thanks. I’m feeling good about it. And didn’t you say you had something new you wanted to try out on me?”

Elizabeth glanced up, and William stepped back into the shadows. “Yes, I do, if you don’t mind.”

“No, go right ahead.”

Elizabeth retrieved a CD from the desk and loaded it into the player. William situated himself for optimal listening. He had found that she never raised her eyes to the highest row of seats in the room, which meant that he could safely lean a short distance into the doorway and enjoy both her voice and the emotions she conveyed so vividly.

I wonder what she’s going to sing for me today? He always imagined that he was in the room with her, sitting in the front row, the recipient of her undivided attention.

She began to sing, and William was transfixed. It was as though she was singing her story, their story, and every word spoke directly to his heart:

I have never felt like this,
For once I’m lost for words,
Your smile has really thrown me.
This is not like me at all,
I never thought I’d know the kind of love you’ve shown me

Now, no matter where I am,
No matter what I do,
I see your face appearing
Like an unexpected song,
An unexpected song that only we are hearing.

I don’t know what’s going on,
Can’t work it out at all,
What ever made you choose me?
I just can’t believe my eyes,
You look at me as though you couldn’t bear to lose me.

Now, no matter where I am,
No matter what I do,
I see your face appearing
Like an unexpected song,
An unexpected song that only we are hearing.1

As Elizabeth held the final note of the song, William couldn’t stay hidden any longer. He stepped through the doorway, standing in the back of the room. Perhaps sensing movement, she looked up. Her eyes locked with his, brimming with love and tremulous joy.

He was about to descend the steps to the stage and capture her in a crushing embrace when Barb’s hearty applause echoed through the room and he froze. He had forgotten that they were not alone.

“That was amazing!” Barb stood up and approached the stage. “You made me cry. But if you tell any of my students that I have a sentimental side, I’ll hunt you down and stomp on you.” She took a closer look at Elizabeth. “Wow, you even made yourself cry.”

Elizabeth was indeed wiping a tear from her cheek. “They’re happy tears,” she said in answer to Barb’s remark, but William knew the comment was intended for him. “I’m not usually weepy, but this song is special to me.” She raised her eyes to William again with a shy smile.

“Well, I wouldn’t change a thing about that performance.”

Elizabeth brushed away another tear. William ached to hold her, kissing away any further teardrops. “Thanks for giving me the chance to try it out,” she said, smiling at Barb.

“Do you want to go through it again? Not that you need to.”

William hoped that Elizabeth would accept that suggestion, but she shook her head. “Actually, I have a voice student due any minute. We’re going to work in here so we can use the sound system.”

“Not even enough time to grab a sandwich?”

“No, but thanks for asking.”

“Um, excuse me?” It was a high-pitched feminine voice, coming from behind William. He turned and saw a tall, thin girl standing behind him, her short cap of red hair gleaming even in the indifferent light in the hallway. She gaped at him. “You’re William Darcy!”

“Yes, I am.”

“Omigosh! It’s really you! I’m, like, a huge fan! I’ve seen you at some receptions and stuff, but I was always afraid to, I don’t know, talk to you or anything.”

William didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled, hands in his pockets.

The girl’s eyes were huge. “My name is Jenna. Jenna Woods. Are you here to see Ms. Bennet? I mean, I’ve heard rumors that she’s your—never mind, I shouldn’t say that, but—oh, God, I’m babbling like an idiot!”

William usually disengaged himself from giddy fans as quickly as possible, but for some reason it seemed important to put this girl at ease. “It’s nice to meet you, Jenna. Are you here for your voice lesson?”

“How did you know that?”

“I heard Ms. Bennet say something about it a minute ago. She’s waiting for you, so you might as well go right in.”

“Thank you. But first—no, I shouldn’t ask.”

“What is it?”

She held out a yellow folder. “Would you autograph my music folder?”

“Do you have a pen?”

While Jenna was fumbling in her purse, Barb exited the classroom, nodding to William as she passed. Jenna produced a purple felt-tip pen which he accepted with a grin, writing a short message on the folder.

She took the folder from his hand, inspecting it closely, and then looked up at him, her eyes dancing. “Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome. Have a good lesson.”

Beaming, Jenna practically bounded into the room and down the steps. Elizabeth stood halfway up the stairs, her eyes shining. Evidently she had observed the exchange. “Jenna, go on down to the stage,” she said. “I’ll be right with you.”

The halls were filling now with students and faculty, some strolling slowly and conversing in animated tones, others weaving through the crowd at high speeds. Elizabeth stepped outside the room and faced William, a sweet smile on her face. “Hi,” she murmured.

He embraced her with his eyes. “Hello, cara.”

“Did you like the song?” She took a step closer to him.

He stepped closer too, their bodies almost touching. “Very, very much.”

“I’m glad, because it was for you.”

“I want to kiss you.” It was taking every ounce of William’s restraint not to snatch her into his arms despite the crowds milling around them.

She touched his hand in a fleeting caress, yet the sensation raced up his arm. “I hate to go, but …” She glanced behind her at the classroom, where Jenna waited.

“I understand. And, Lizzy?”

“Hmmm?”

“Promise me you’ll sing that song for me some time when we’re alone?”

Her smile was tender. “I promise.”

He watched her descent to the front of the room, and then forced his feet to move in the direction of his office, where Sonya was working on the grant winners’ notification letters. Partway there he stopped and, on a sudden impulse, exited the building through the main doors. He crossed the grassy slope that led down to the street, pausing when he reached the sidewalk.

He and Richard planned to go running in Golden Gate Park later that afternoon, but he needed time alone to process everything he had heard in the past day: Elizabeth’s harrowing story, her explanation of the misunderstandings that had impeded their relationship, and the knowledge that he was loved by the woman he adored. A long walk, to exercise his body and clear his mind, sounded like the perfect prescription.

William turned to his left and moved briskly down the sidewalk. Sonya will just have to wait.

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1 “An Unexpected Song / The Last Man in My Life.” performed by Christiane Noll on A Broadway Love Story, 1998, Fynsworth Alley. (Music and lyrics by Webber/Black/Maltby). I listened to at least a dozen recordings of the title song for the story before I picked Christiane Noll’s; in fact, that’s how I learned about her. Unfortunately, as with the other songs on A Broadway Love Story ,it’s not available on iTunes. You can, though, hear and watch Bernadette Peters sing it on Youtube (the song starts at 1:54, just as Peters puts away the prop notebook she’s been using; before that she is singing an introduction to set up the song). Peters sang it in the original Broadway production of Song and Dance.