Elizabeth sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes, but the bedroom still looked as though an Impressionist painter had blurred the furniture and walls some time during the night. Her head throbbed, her throat felt like she had spent the evening drinking sand instead of Mangopolitans, and when she brushed her hair out of her eyes she discovered that even her scalp hurt. She nearly succumbed to the bed’s beguiling embrace, but it was nearly nine o’clock and she had a jam-packed day ahead of her. Over the past week her relationship with William had absorbed her attention, and now it was time to get the rest of her life in order.

Her unsteady feet carried her down the hall under protest, rebelling altogether when they made contact with the chilly tiles of the bathroom floor. Her toes chattering in sympathy with her teeth, she hopped onto the small rug in front of the sink, grimacing when her head seemed to absorb the impact instead of her feet.

“My first hangover since … I don’t remember when,” she croaked to her pallid reflection in the mirror. “Wonderful.” Elizabeth wasn’t a heavy drinker, but several of the party guests had insisted on buying drinks for a series of birthday toasts, and this morning she was paying the price for her failure to resist temptation.

On this dreary morning, the remarkable events of the past week seemed buried in deep shadows, as though she had awakened to a cold reality, one in which she was alone. Of course that wasn’t really true, as proved by the faint hint of William’s scent clinging to her nightshirt, the same one she had worn at the penthouse. She turned on the shower and unbuttoned the shirt, burying her nose in its satin folds. The aroma of Eau de William was fleeting, perhaps even imaginary, but she took comfort in it all the same.

The shower felt wonderful, soothing and invigorating both at once. Gradually she felt herself waking up, though washing her hair without causing her aching head to explode was a tricky business.

The comforting aroma of coffee greeted her in the kitchen. Silently blessing Jane for being an early riser, she poured herself a healthy dose of the brew and sank into a kitchen chair, mulling over last night’s party.

Although Elizabeth had enjoyed herself, the chill in Jane and Charles’s relationship had cast a pall over the evening. Jane had evaded Elizabeth’s questions when they arrived home last night, citing fatigue and the late hour. When she returned from her morning run, Elizabeth intended to hear the rest of the story.

Ten minutes later, the front door opened with its characteristic squeak. Elizabeth croaked, “Hi, Jane.”

“Lizzy, you poor thing,” Jane said in a blessedly soft voice. Her hair was slightly tousled from her run, but otherwise she looked perfect as always.

“I’m starting to feel better. Anyway, I brought it on myself. How was your run?”

Jane sighed. “Embarrassing.” She poured a cup of coffee and joined Elizabeth at the kitchen table.

“What happened?”

“I was in the mood to run along the bay, so I went to Marina Green. I should have realized that Charles might go there too.”

“So you saw him while you were running. Why was that embarrassing?”

“Actually, I saw him at the Marina Safeway. I stopped to get a few things on my way home.”

The Safeway grocery store in the Marina district was a well-known singles hunting ground. “I still don’t see the problem.”

“First I bumped into Jordan.”

“Really?”

“He lives in that area. We hadn’t talked in over a month; he stopped calling after I turned him down for dates a few times, when Charles was … when things seemed …” Jane’s voice trailed off and she sat staring into her coffee cup.

Elizabeth sat forward, trying to ignore her throbbing head. “I think you’d better tell me what happened yesterday between you and Charles, and then we’ll get back to this story, because it sounds like the two are connected.”

“There really isn’t much to tell. Charles isn’t interested in me anymore.”

“I think I’m going to need more than the Cliff Notes version.”

Jane shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to bother you with this. You’re not feeling well, and I know you’re busy today.”

“And you’re my sister. Tell me.”

Jane rose and went to the refrigerator, retrieving two oranges. She returned to the table, setting one in front of Elizabeth, and began to peel hers, carefully depositing the rind on a napkin. Finally she began to speak.

“Charles and I decided it was too wet outside to go running yesterday, so we went to the Museum of Modern Art instead.”

“That sounds good.”

“It ought to have been. But he was so quiet and distracted and … glum, I suppose. Whenever I tried to start a conversation, he just gave me short answers—polite, of course, but nothing that helped the conversation along. And he barely even looked at me. He seemed … maybe bored, or maybe uncomfortable. Either way, he didn’t want to be with me.”

Elizabeth rolled her orange along the table. “And you didn’t get any indication of what was wrong?”

“No. But maybe I’ve been misreading his intentions these past several weeks. He’s so kind, so friendly; I may have seen something more because I wanted to, not because it was there.”

“Not a chance. He always looks like the happiest guy in the world when he’s with you.” Until last night, anyhow.

“But that’s just Charles. He can make anyone feel special.” Jane sighed. “It’s one of the things I love … loved about him.”

Elizabeth took Jane’s hand. “Are you absolutely sure? Did you ask him what was wrong?”

“I asked if anything was bothering him, and he said he was fine. Of course Charles would say that no matter what. He doesn’t like to trouble other people with his problems.”

“What happened this morning?”

Jane crossed the room, discarded her orange peels, and washed her hands before returning to the table. “I called him first thing and canceled our brunch date. I said I wasn’t feeling well. I hated lying, but I thought it was the kindest thing to do. That way I could spare him the awkwardness of trying to figure out what to say to me, and instead he could enjoy some time with Caroline before he went back to LA.”

“‘Enjoy’ sounds like an overstatement to me.” Elizabeth had been invited to brunch as well but had cited her busy schedule as an excuse. Caroline Bingley’s face across the table would have curdled her stomach even more than last night’s revels had done.

“Now, Lizzy.” Jane pursed her lips, but her attempt at a stern glance failed completely, as it always did at such times. “Charles and Caroline are genuinely fond of each other.”

“Maybe.” Elizabeth wasn’t interested enough in Caroline to argue. “Anyway, you canceled brunch, and you went on your run.” She drew in a sharp breath as realization dawned. “And you saw Charles at the grocery store, after you’d said you were sick.”

“So obviously he knew I’d lied. And even if he was relieved that I canceled, it was still awkward and …” She closed her eyes.

“What did he say?”

“Nothing, really. He nodded and said hello, and then he left.”

“Was this while you were talking to Jordan?”

Jane bit her lip and nodded. “We were just chatting, but he might have misunderstood.”

Elizabeth grabbed the phone and held it out to Jane. “Call Charles right now. Explain everything. At least then you’ll know for sure how he feels.”

“It’s too late for that.”

“No, it’s not. Come on, what do you have to lose?”

Jane pressed her lips together and sat quietly for a moment. Then she looked up, nodding. “I guess you’re right.”

Elizabeth handed her the phone and stood up slowly, conquering a slight wave of dizziness. “You need some privacy for this. I’m going to go get dressed.”

The heady sweetness of the crimson roses on her dresser filled her bedroom. She lifted the small card beside the vase, a smile curving her lips as she read the brief message in William’s precise handwriting. Next her eyes fell on her beloved orchid, its purple blossoms a poignant reminder of both the joy and the pain she had known since William entered her life.

Joy and pain. There’s been plenty of both. And now there’s that stuff Richard said last night. It was almost certainly true; she couldn’t see what Richard would gain by lying. Besides, he had supplied a likely explanation for William’s awkwardness around Jane after his arrival in San Francisco.

Her hands clenched into fists. She couldn’t see how anyone could suspect Jane—kind, gentle Jane—of such mercenary behavior. Just wait till the next time I talk to William. He’ll be sorry he ever opened his mouth.

She forced herself to take a slow, deep breath for the sake of both her temper and her aching head. Richard said the conversation took place just over two weeks ago. William didn’t really know her back then, and his loyalty to Charles would have made him suspicious of her. But since then he’s seen for himself how wonderful she is. Plus, he knows how much I admire her, and obviously I wouldn’t feel that way if she were greedy and superficial.

It was even possible that Richard had misinterpreted William’s advice. Perhaps he hadn’t been talking specifically about Jane, but about women in general. If half the stories about Richard’s wilder tendencies were true, it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine him awakening some morning in a Las Vegas hotel suite, hung over and sporting a wedding ring. On Richard’s first night on the town in a new city, perhaps William had simply sounded a much-needed note of caution.

Oh, please! I sound like Jane, trying to find an interpretation that excuses everyone from blame. Still, Elizabeth resolved to keep an open mind, up to a point, until William had the chance to defend himself. He’s going to get a piece of my mind for bad-mouthing Jane to Richard, but after he apologizes we’ll kiss and make up … and that’ll be fun.

Her body tingling from this final thought, she dressed quickly, finishing by fastening the emerald pendant around her neck. A tiny shiver went through her and she double-checked the clasp. It felt heavier and colder now that she knew she probably wore several times her bank balance around her neck.

She returned to the kitchen and found Jane standing by the counter, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. “What happened? Did you talk to him?”

“No. I called the number at the house and Caroline answered.” Jane stopped and closed her eyes, and a tear squeezed out of one eye and drifted down her cheek. “She said he’d already left for the airport. He decided to take an early flight.”

Elizabeth grabbed the phone and held it out to Jane. “Call his cell phone. You must have the number.”

“I tried that before I called the house, but he didn’t answer. I suppose he’s on the plane.”

“So you’ll call him later in LA.” Elizabeth returned the phone to its cradle.

Jane shook her head, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. “It’s no use. It’s over.”

“You don’t know that till you talk to him.”

“I’m afraid I do. When he got home from the party last night, he told Caroline he wouldn’t be coming back to San Francisco anymore.”

Elizabeth couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “She probably made that up just to torture you.”

“Why would she do that? If Charles really wants to be with me, what would she gain by keeping us apart?”

“Maybe you’re not grand enough to suit her notion of what Mrs. Charles Bingley should be like. She wants him with someone like that insipid snob he brought to the party at Rosings.”

“No, Lizzy, I think she was trying to warn me that he’s not interested anymore.”

Elizabeth wasn’t sure what to say. Jane continued, seeming to speak more to herself than to Elizabeth. “Besides, what was I thinking? Nothing has changed, not really. Caroline said he’s spending more and more time on the job, and that’s the main reason he won’t be back; he’s too absorbed in his life in LA. So either he’s chosen that life and doesn’t think I fit into his world anymore, or he’s still taking orders from his father instead of making his own decisions.” Fresh tears rolled down Jane’s cheeks. “And either way …” Her voice trailed off and she choked back a sob.

Elizabeth hugged Jane, her own eyes full of tears. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

 

“So does that cover everything for Thursday evening?” Sonya stared up at William, her reading glasses perched low on her nose.

“I think so.” His stomach rumbled. He had slept late and skipped breakfast, his routine disrupted by the change of time zones. “Run the draft agenda past Gran; she might think of something else.”

“Will do.” Sonya closed the file folder on her desk and checked her watch. “Are we done? I have a lunchtime appointment.”

“You’ll handle that other matter this afternoon?” he asked, doing his best to sound casual.

“I’ll work on it, but it might take a few days, or even longer.”

William shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. “I need it by Wednesday at the latest.”

“I’ll do my best. I have lots of places to check, and what little background information you have is six months old.” It was obvious from her frown that she wanted to question him about his peculiar request, but was restraining herself.

“And all this time I thought you were a miracle worker,” he said with a smirk.

Sonya rolled her eyes. “You’re hilarious. Now go away and leave me alone so I can get out of here.”

“Actually, there’s one more thing.” He uncrossed his arms, noting a loose button on his shirt. He’d have to remember to give it to Mrs. Reynolds to be mended. “It’s about Georgie.”

Sonya removed her reading glasses and slipped them into her purse. “I heard a little bit about what happened yesterday.”

“Gran was furious with her.”

“What about you?”

“I wasn’t angry so much as worried,” William said, dropping into the chair beside Sonya’s desk. “We had no idea where she was, or why she didn’t show up at the recital.”

“If I understand correctly, she was with her friend Courtney?”

William nodded. “It was the girl’s birthday and Georgie was invited to spend Saturday night. Gran even gave her special dispensation to skip church and family brunch yesterday so she wouldn’t have to come home early. But the condition was that she’d meet us at the recital. She insisted that Allen didn’t need to pick her up; she could take a cab.”

“Georgie’s done that a lot lately,” Sonya said. “She says it makes her feel like a little girl when Allen drives her around. But that’s beside the point. What was her explanation, once she finally appeared?”

“She said they were shopping in the Village and lost track of time.”

“That was the best she could do?” Sonya snorted, shaking her head. “The youth of today have so little imagination. But I suppose it shows a healthy respect for the classics.”

William glowered at her. “I’m glad my family’s problems are providing you so much amusement.”

“I’m sorry.” Sonya composed her expression and sat with her hands folded on her desk. “But can we look at this from another perspective? How many of your recitals has she been to in her life? Dozens, right? So she missed one to shop with a friend, possibly accompanied by a couple of boys. That’s a pretty good percentage. And anyway, she’s fifteen; shopping is in her blood. So are boys, for that matter.”

Boys? William tucked that unwelcome thought away for later consideration and returned to the central issue. “The problem wasn’t that she missed the recital. It was that no one knew where she was. Gran was getting ready to call the police.”

“Why didn’t somebody just call her cell phone and check on her?” Sonya asked.

“We did, during intermission, but there was no answer. Later she said the battery was dead.”

“‘She said’? You mean you don’t believe her?”

“I don’t know. I … Yes, I believe her.” William had no rational basis for doubting his sister’s word, but Gran insisted that there had to be more to the story. “But she refuses to discuss it with me. I don’t understand that. She’s always been able to talk to me.”

Sonya shook her head, and he saw her forcing a smile off her face. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but while you’ve been jetting around the world collecting standing ovations, the little girl who used to trot behind you with a teddy bear in her hands has turned into a young woman. She used to be able to talk to you about things because her life was uncomplicated. Or at least as uncomplicated as any Darcy’s life could be. You’re a high-maintenance bunch.”

“Why, thank you.” William pursed his lips and fixed a narrow-eyed stare on her.

“Oh, I’m not complaining, really. It’s the source of my livelihood, after all. Now and then I just recite that line from The Philadelphia Story: ‘With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.’ But let’s see—what was my point? Oh, right. She’s growing up, and she’s naturally going to be more secretive.”

“But it’s worse than that. On the rare occasions when she’s talked to me, she’s sounded impatient, dismissive. She doesn’t even seem to care that I’m home.”

“She cares. Trust me on that.” Sonya hesitated. “Has it ever occurred to you that she might resent the time you’ve spent in San Francisco?”

William shook his head. “That’s absurd. She knows I went there to convalesce.”

“You could have done that here.”

“I was going slowly insane here.”

“Not that slowly, if you ask me. It was a blessing to get you out of the house. But I don’t think Georgie saw it that way. You’re the closest thing to a father she’s ever really had, and she thinks of you as indestructible. So to her, it just looks like you abandoned her. And she adores you, no matter how she’s acting right now, so that has to hurt.”

William was becoming annoyed. “She’s used to my absences, with all the traveling I do.”

“But you’re usually not gone for such a long time. You know, this is only the second time you’ve been home since August.”

“I was supposed to keep my travel to a minimum,” William said in a cold voice. “And I invited her out to visit me.”

“Which was impractical for her during the semester. Look, I’m not blaming you. I’m just telling you how Georgie may see things.”

“Has she discussed this with you?”

“Not directly, but she’s made a few not-so-cryptic remarks.”

“Excuse me, William?” It was Mrs. Reynolds, standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but your lunch is ready. Where would you like it served?”

“In the breakfast room. Will Gran be joining me?”

“No, she’s gone to an Opera Guild luncheon.”

Mrs. Reynolds departed, and William turned back to Sonya. “Let’s assume for the moment that you’re right about Georgie. What should I do about it?”

“Spend some time with her this week.”

“That could be difficult. If she won’t talk to me, how am I going to get her to spend time with me?”

“You can at least issue some invitations. It’s only Monday, so you have the whole week. Take her out to dinner some night. Someplace fun, not one of your stuffy old dives. Or find a movie she wants to see and go with her. If you’re desperate, take her shopping. After all, bribery wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t work. She may act like it’s an imposition to go places with you, but I think she’ll be glad that you cared enough to ask.”

William lifted his chin. “Of course I care enough. She’s my sister. I’d do anything for her.”

“I know that. And she knows it too, deep down, but she needs a reminder.”

“All right. Thank you, Sonya. I appreciate your candor.”

“So may I go to lunch now?” Her narrowed stare suggested that only one answer was acceptable.

“Yes, I suppose you may,” he answered in a lofty tone, his eyes twinkling.

She chuckled. “Thanks, boss. See you later.”

 

“How was your dinner with Georgie?” Elizabeth asked, settling back on the sofa and tucking her feet beneath her.

“Good. It was a little awkward at first, but by the end things were much better.”

It was Wednesday evening, and she and William were in the midst of one of their nightly phone conversations. “I still can’t believe she didn’t have a Halloween party to go to.”

“I asked her about that and she said Halloween was for little kids.”

“I think you’d better tell her it’s for big kids too, especially here in San Francisco.”

“Did you dress up?” He sounded intrigued. “I’m sorry if I missed seeing that.”

“No, I didn’t. But Char talked me into going down to the Castro for a while.”

“Didn’t you tell me that’s a crazy place on Halloween?”

“It sure is,” she answered, laughing. “It was a little too wild for my tastes, but the costumes were great. Char’s favorite was the guy dressed like the famous Magritte painting, the man with the green apple in front of his face.”

“That sounds more sophisticated than I would have expected.”

“Oh, trust me, there were costumes at all points on the taste spectrum. I kept thinking how horrified you would have been by the whole thing. Richard would have liked it, though. I assume he’s out somewhere partying?” Richard had flown home two days ago. According to Charlotte, they had said a casual farewell with no particular intention of staying in touch.

“Probably, but earlier tonight he was at the World Series game.”

“Lucky guy. It must have been exciting. I heard the Yankees won in extra innings.”

“Did they? I hadn’t heard.”

“Did you talk to Georgie about the AWOL episode?”

“No. It was just a misunderstanding, and I know it won’t happen again.”

Elizabeth wasn’t convinced of that, but she had expressed her opinion already. William had obviously made up his mind and wasn’t going to listen to any disagreement. Georgiana was a Darcy, and to William that ruled out the possibility of willful disobedience.

He continued. “But I think it’s good that I’m home right now to spend some time with her. I should probably have visited more often, but I’ve had some major distractions.”

“So that’s all I am to you? A distraction?” She had meant it as a bit of light banter to match his teasing tone, but her voice betrayed the unexpected sting his words had inflicted.

“Of course not. I was just teasing. Lizzy, is there something wrong?”

The gentle concern in his voice filled her with shame. He wasn’t blaming me for his problems with Georgie. He’s got women on both coasts who love him, and he’s just trying to take care of all of us. “I’m sorry. I’m tired and grumpy tonight. It’s probably just as well you’re not here so you don’t have to put up with me.”

“I bet we could have found a way to cheer you up,” he murmured.

She could imagine the wicked glint in his eye, and it brought a rueful smile to her face. “You’re right about that. I guess I’m just pining away for you.”

“That makes two of us. By the way, I assume you’re going to stay with me at the penthouse while I’m in town.”

Although she had made the same assumption, she decided some teasing was in order. “My, what a charming invitation.”

“I apologize. Ms. Bennet, will you please be my guest during my stay in San Francisco?”

She leaned back against the sofa cushion, laughing softly at his stately tone. “I’d be delighted, sir. The only thing is—”

”No. No conditions, no exceptions. I need you all to myself.”

She was accustomed to William at his most imperious, and he didn’t intimidate her. “I have to go see South Pacific over the weekend. After all the time I’ve invested, the cast expects me to be there to cheer them on. In fact, I should really go on Friday; it’s opening night. Want to go with me?”

“I can’t. I’ve had to change to a later flight on Friday. Georgie has an audition in the morning, and she and Gran both asked if I’d stay a few extra hours and go with her.”

I bet his grandmother was thrilled to have an excuse to delay his departure. She stifled those thoughts and adopted a supportive tone. “That sounds like a good idea. And in that case it makes sense for me to go to the musical Friday night. Shall I meet you at the penthouse afterwards?”

“No. I’ll pick you up at your place.”

“But if I’m staying at the penthouse until you leave town, I’m going to need my car. I have to drive to school on Monday and Tuesday.”

“I’ll drive you to and from school.”

She rolled her eyes. “William, that makes no sense at all.”

“Why do you still call me William?”

“What?”

“You don’t call me anything special, not even Will, and that’s what most of my friends and family call me.” He sounded almost petulant.

“I’ve never really thought about it. You just seem like a ‘William’ to me. Do you want me to call you Will?”

“Maybe. Or …”

“Or?”

“It seems ironic that Caroline Bingley insists on calling me ‘darling’ and ‘dear,’ and you never call me anything like that.”

Elizabeth sat up. “Caroline? When did you see her?”

“Saturday, at the airport.”

“You didn’t mention that before.”

“It wasn’t the highlight of my day, I assure you.”

Relax. He can handle her. “So I take it she was flinging the endearments around?”

“I’ve told her before not to call me ‘darling,’ but I don’t have a lot of options in terms of enforcement.” He sighed loudly. “When I’ve imagined someone calling me that, it certainly wasn’t Caroline.”

Elizabeth smiled, nodding to herself. “I get it now. You want me to call you ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’ or something like that.”

“Only when we’re alone. And only if you want to.”

“I’ll have to think about it … darling.” She giggled. “I don’t know. That seems a little too sugary for you. Maybe I’ll just give ‘Will’ a try.”

“Mmm. I intend for you to give Will a try on several occasions this weekend,” he said, his voice laced with heat.

Elizabeth burst out laughing.

“Well, so much for my attempt at being sexy,” he said in a tone of injured dignity.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t usually say things like that.” She forced herself to stop laughing. “No slur on your sexiness intended, though.”

“Good.” He paused, and when he spoke again his voice was husky. “I miss you.”

“Me too.” Her hunger for his presence had become almost a physical ache. “I don’t suppose you could hop on a plane first thing tomorrow morning?”

“You don’t know how much I wish I could. But—”

“I know. You have the foundation board meeting tomorrow night.”

“I’m going to be completely useless. I’ll probably start fantasizing that you’re sitting on my lap and I won’t hear a word anyone says.”

Silence fell between them as the light-hearted moment dissipated. “I don’t even want to think about what it’s going to be like when you’re in Australia,” she said.

“I know. We have some things to talk about this weekend.”

It wasn’t the first time William had suggested that they needed to discuss their future. Elizabeth had considered the matter in depth and had also discussed it with Jane, and she had decided to offer to move back to New York after the school year ended. The prospect wasn’t an entirely happy one. She loved her job and still marveled at her good fortune in finding a position at such a prestigious school. She loved San Francisco too, and above all she loved being reunited with Jane after years of living thousands of miles apart. But William’s constant absence was too painful a prospect to endure in the long run, and relocation would be far more difficult for him than for her, so there seemed to be no better solution.

The thought of Jane reminded her of something she needed to ask. “Have you talked to Charles yet?”

He answered as he had on the two previous nights. “Not yet.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “You’d have a lot better chance of me calling you ‘darling’ if you’d do this. What’s so hard about picking up the phone?”

“As I’ve explained before, I don’t like the idea of invading Charles’s privacy that way. If he wanted to talk to me about it, he’d have called me by now. I don’t intend to try to force him to confide in me.”

A few days before Elizabeth had asked William to find out what had happened to Charles over the weekend, but to her disappointment he had proved uncooperative. Despite her annoyance, she wasn’t truly surprised; a more unlikely matchmaker than William was difficult to imagine.

He had compounded her frustration by volunteering only one bit of information from his meeting with Charles at the airport: that Caroline was telling the truth about Charles’s increasing interest in his job. She decided to make one last attempt to learn something useful. “He really didn’t say anything about Jane when you saw him Saturday?”

William was silent for a few seconds before he spoke. “He was … ambivalent.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Then he did talk about her! What did he say?”

“You’re putting me in an awkward position, Lizzy. He spoke to me in confidence.”

She didn’t want to challenge William’s sense of honor, but this was maddening. “Can’t you at least give me a general idea?”

“He expressed some doubts about the situation, and whether or not it made sense to keep on seeing Jane. From what you’ve told me, he must have made up his mind over the weekend.”

This was exactly what Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to hear, and she remained silent, heartsick for Jane. Soon William spoke again in a gentle voice.

“Lizzy, I know you have your heart set on a reunion for them, but that’s apparently not in the cards. It might be best to accept that.”

She was reaching the same conclusion herself, though with much reluctance. “Poor Jane. She tries not to show it, but she’s so unhappy.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

Elizabeth heard a key in the lock. “Oh, that’s Jane now. She’s been working long hours at the office this week. I’d like to talk to her for a while, if that’s okay.”

“I ought to do some practicing anyway. What time should I call you tomorrow night?”

“I’d better call you. I’ve got my evening class, and then I have to go straight to a club downtown. The guys and I have a late gig.”

“All right. I have to go out after the board meeting, but I should be home by then. I’ll have my cell phone with me in any case.”

“You’re going out after the board meeting?” Elizabeth was surprised. William was hardly a late-night man about town. “Has Richard lured you into a wild fling before you come back to me?”

“Of course not. It’s just something I have to take care of before I leave town.”

 

William hung up the phone after saying a fond goodbye to Elizabeth. He sat back in his leather chair, silently castigating himself for mentioning his plans for tomorrow night. He should have anticipated that Elizabeth would ask for more information, and it would only upset her to know his intentions.

Her continuing questions about Jane and Charles were also unsettling. While he hadn’t lied in the strictest sense of the word, he had concealed the fact that Charles’s doubts had been about Jane’s feelings, not his own. But Charles had obviously decided to sever the relationship, and it was undoubtedly for the best. To raise Elizabeth’s hopes would have been pointless and unkind.

Even as he offered himself this reassurance, he remembered Elizabeth’s mention of Jane’s unhappiness. But his ego scurried to his defense with a flood of rationalization. Of course she’s unhappy. She’s lost the most eligible candidate for husband she’s ever likely to meet. Not only that, but she’ll have to deal with her mother’s endless whining about it. And I’m sure she liked Charles, even if she didn’t love him. Besides, I didn’t tell Charles what to do; I only expressed my opinion. It was his decision.

William was sufficiently self-aware to hear the defensive tone of his thoughts. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was losing conviction in his beliefs about Jane, and he owed it to Charles to investigate further. But there was nothing to be done about it now; it was too delicate a matter to be handled over the telephone. He would be seeing Elizabeth in two days, and he would talk to her about Jane then. He was even prepared to risk her displeasure by confessing his mistake, if he had made one.

He checked his watch and found that it was almost 2:30. Not yet tired enough to sleep, he considered practicing in spite of the late hour, but found that he wasn’t in the mood. He lifted his book from the table beside him and opened to the marked page.

I’ll need to rearrange the furniture in here to make room for a chair for her. Smiling in anticipation of a lifetime of quiet evenings together, William sank into his book, the sounds of late-night traffic on Fifth Avenue receding into the distance as peace enveloped him.