“Should I wait out front for you, Mr. Darcy?” Allen asked, watching William in the rear view mirror. “Or would you prefer to call me when you’re ready to go?”

“Is there someplace nearby—a sports bar, maybe—where you could watch the rest of the game?”

“I’m sure there is, but … ”

“Then why don’t you do that. I know you’re anxious to find out how the Yankees are doing. I’ll call you when I’m done here.” Allen was a Yankees fan, and William knew it was a sacrifice for him to be away from his television during a World Series game.1

“Thank you, sir. That’s kind of you, but are you sure you’ll be all right?” Allen peered at the East Village bar in front of which they were stopped. “I could just sit here and listen to the radio.”

“There’s no need for that. I’ll be fine.” William knew Allen was bewildered by their destination, but he was both unable and unwilling to explain.

“All right, then, sir. I won’t be far away. Just call me when you need me.”

As William stepped out of the car, three young women in midriff tops and miniskirts stumbled out of the bar, the throbbing beat of music spilling onto the sidewalk with them. He watched them weave their way across the street. Then with a deep breath he approached the club, paid the cover charge demanded by the rotund bouncer, and passed through the doors.

The walls seemed to pulsate with the thrumming of over-amplified bass. Everything was bathed in red light, obscuring some of the details of the room and its occupants, but the specifics William was able to discern were distasteful. Unsavory-looking couples filled a small dance floor in front of a particularly unkempt DJ surrounded by dusty equipment. It gives a new meaning to the term ‘grunge rock.’ William might have chuckled at his mild witticism had his errand not been so serious.

A large bar stretched across the back wall, and he made his way in that direction, the soles of his shoes sticking to the dirty floor. A dark head, reflected in the cracked mirror along the wall, towered above the patrons sitting at the bar. William made his way through the crowd, noting the bartender’s wavy hair, and his heavily muscled upper body and bulging arms flaunted beneath a snug-fitting tee shirt. His hands clenched into fists when he realized that those muscles had once been used to pin a terrified Elizabeth to her bed.

The knowledge that Michael was somewhere in Manhattan had eaten at William’s soul since he had heard Elizabeth’s story. Yesterday, in response to his request, Sonya had handed him a slip of paper containing the name and address of this bar and a list of Michael’s work hours for the rest of the week. William had headed downtown as soon as the foundation board meeting had ended, not even taking the time to change out of his charcoal gray suit, the expert work of his favorite Savile Row tailor. He looked entirely out of place, and he was glad of it.

“What can I get you?” Michael asked, sliding a cocktail napkin onto the bar in front of William.

The question seemed incongruous amid William’s fantasies of dark vengeance, as was the prosaic answer that popped from his mouth. “What’s your best cognac?”

“Martell VS.”

William nodded, not surprised that the bar was supplied with nothing better. Michael set a glass in front of him, filled it, and then sauntered away, pausing to wink at a blonde down the bar who sat preening, attempting to attract his attention.

William watched their flirtation, fury flashing in his eyes. He longed to be a medieval prince with an army at his disposal to wreak havoc on his enemies. A different sort of man seeking a modern alternative might have waylaid Michael after work and pummeled him mercilessly. But despite his murderous impulses, William was not of a violent nature, and his dignity ruled out a late-night brawl in an alley.

He stared into his glass, absently swirling the amber liquid. His mood grew even darker when the woman on his right, who had been inspecting him from head to toe with lascivious interest since his arrival, touched his arm, having apparently despaired of getting his attention in any other way. Before she could speak he shot her a freezing glare and turned his back on her.

What am I doing here? What did I think I was going to do? Give him a stern lecture? It’s pointless to try to get him fired. He’d walk down the street and find another job within an hour. And I don’t have the influence I’d need to get him blacklisted on Broadway. Not that producers are exactly begging him to join their shows. Helpless rage surged through him as he faced the cold reality that punishing Michael was beyond his power. He tried to convince himself that seeing Michael here, serving cheap liquor in distasteful surroundings instead of garnering standing ovations at the Winter Garden Theater, should be satisfaction enough. But it wasn’t enough. It didn’t come close.

He drained his glass, left payment for his drink (minus a tip) on the bar, and pulled his phone from his pocket to call Allen. Elizabeth had been right; nothing could change the past. The only thing he could do—and he had already begun to put these plans in place—was to protect Elizabeth, to cherish her and keep her from harm, for the rest of their lives.

 

“We’re going to take a short break, but stick around, because we’ve got more music for you,” Jim Pennington announced. Elizabeth glanced at her watch as she stepped away from the stage area. It was after 11:00, and their next set would be their last.

“Lizzy, I want to put some more of your songs into the final set,” Jim said.

“Sure, that’s fine.” Despite her long teaching day, followed by a mad dash across town to join her band-mates in the hotel lounge, she felt alert and energized.

“They’re really responding to you, much more than to the instrumental numbers.”

“That’s for sure,” Roger said. “You’re hot tonight, sweetie; there’s no other word for it.”

Elizabeth’s only answer was a wide, pink-cheeked smile. There was a reason for the high-wattage sparkle she knew she was emitting. The week of separation was nearly over. William would be back tomorrow, even sooner than she had expected.

She had called him before her evening class and he had shared some surprising news. The pianist scheduled to perform with the San Francisco Symphony that weekend had slipped in his hotel bathroom, breaking a finger and spraining his wrist. The symphony executives, aware that William had been living in San Francisco but not that he was presently in New York, had called him seeking an emergency replacement. After talking to Georgie, since it meant skipping her audition in the morning, he had consented.

Elizabeth doubted she’d have any time alone with William until late in the evening despite his early arrival. He would be busy most of the afternoon in a rehearsal session with the symphony. She would be busy too, with final preparations for the opening performance of South Pacific, which she still planned to see that evening. But Elizabeth intended to slip over to Symphony Hall some time during the afternoon, hoping to say a quick hello to William, or at least watch him while he rehearsed.

Since the start of their relationship she had occasionally seen him in recital, but not yet in concert with an orchestra. That would change on Saturday night, when she sat in the seat William had secured for her and watched him mesmerize the crowd with his skill and artistry. She drew a shaky breath as liquid heat surged through her. If we hadn’t already become lovers last week, it would have happened this weekend for sure. After seeing him in concert there’s no way I could have resisted him.

Roger sauntered over to join her at one end of the bar. He offered her a glass of water, her beverage of choice while singing, and she accepted it with thanks.

“Don’t you want to sit down?” he asked.

She shook her head. “It’s been a long day. I’ve got the adrenaline pumping, but if I let myself relax that much I might fall asleep in my chair. ”

“And I’ve been parked behind the drums all night, so it feels good to stretch my legs. Is William still due back tomorrow?”

“Yes, he is.” She pressed her lips together to try to tone down her smile, but the delight overflowing her heart demanded to be expressed, and she felt it radiating from her eyes.

“I’m glad for you both. It’s good to see two people so completely in love with each other.”

Despite his cheerful smile, she heard a plaintive tone in his voice. She touched his arm. “I wish things could have been different with you and Charlotte. I know you got hurt.”

A tinge of melancholy dimmed Roger’s smile. “I know you all think I was gonzo over her, but that wasn’t the problem. At first, I admit, being with her was quite a rush. I’d never met a woman with her … appetites. Then before long we became good friends. She’s a great girl and we had a lot of fun together.”

“You always say that when anybody asks you, but it doesn’t add up. If it was nothing but fun and friendship, why were you so down in the dumps when she pulled away from you?”

“It’s complicated,” he said, pausing to take a long swallow from his beer mug. “But I was hanging onto her for the wrong reasons.”

That was what Charlotte had said too. “Such as?”

“Familiarity, even habit, I suppose. I’m getting to a place in my life where I don’t do ‘alone’ as well as I used to. And she distracted me from things I didn’t want to think about.”

“Like what?”

He sipped his beer again before answering. “Don’t worry about it; I’m fine.”

“Roger, if there’s something wrong, I wish you’d tell me. Maybe I can help.”

He shook his head with a rueful smile. “You can’t, but I appreciate the offer.”

She didn’t like surrendering to his evasions, but she couldn’t force him to confide in her. “William said you and Anne de Bourgh seemed to hit it off.”

“Yeah, I guess so. She was nicer than I expected, after all the horror stories about her mother,” he said with a shrug. “Very quiet, though after William left she opened up a little more. And did I mention her mother? I’d just as soon not tangle with the dragon lady.”

Elizabeth giggled. “I hear you. Anyway, I know you’ll meet the right woman some day soon.”

“Like you’ve met the right man. He’s a lucky guy.”

“Thank you.” She kissed his cheek. “I think I’m pretty lucky too.”

He remained by her side, leaning casually against the bar while he finished his beer. She sipped her water, absorbing the low-pitched hum of voices punctuated by the occasional clink of glasses. Fatigue began to settle over her like a stifling blanket, and she yawned behind her hand.

Roger frowned and asked, “Who is that woman across the room? She looks familiar.”

“Which one?”

“Over there.” He inclined his head to one side of the lounge. “The redhead who’s sitting alone. She looks familiar, and she keeps staring at us like we’re covered in maggots.”

Elizabeth followed his gaze and let out a little groan. “Oh, no. That’s Caroline Bingley, Charles’s sister. What is she doing here?” Caroline’s table was off to one side in a corner, but she couldn’t have been there long or Elizabeth would have noticed her while singing.

“That’s right. She was at the rehearsal dinner. Isn’t she the one Charlotte calls Cruella?”

“That’s her. Maybe if we’re lucky she’ll finish her drink and slither off without causing trouble.”

But that was not to be. Caroline raised her hand in a supercilious wave and rose from her table. As she approached, Elizabeth inspected her black raw silk dress with reluctant admiration.

“Elizabeth Bennet! I haven’t seen you in ages. How are you?”

Elizabeth studied Caroline’s bright-eyed smile, noting how genuine it looked. She’s a better actress than I thought. “Hello, Caroline. I’m surprised to see you here.”

“I had a business dinner at the hotel, and as I was leaving I saw a sign that said Golden Gate Jazz was playing tonight. So of course I simply had to stop in and say hello.”

Elizabeth re-introduced her to Roger, who responded politely despite Caroline’s curt nod. Obviously she had sized him up and discarded him as a social inferior. Elizabeth expected him to take the opportunity to escape, but he stood his ground. Maybe he thinks I need a bodyguard.

Since she couldn’t escape a chat with Caroline, Elizabeth decided to troll for information. “It was good to see Charles last weekend. But I understand he cut his trip short.”

Caroline waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Oh, yes, Charles is so busy these days. In fact, I was surprised he didn’t cancel his trip altogether. He’s becoming an important businessman, and he can’t be wasting time on inconsequential things.”

Elizabeth refused to respond to Caroline’s snide reference to her birthday dinner. “But I’m sure he still wants to see his friends now and then.”

“Yes, well, as to that …” Caroline stared at Roger. “Could you excuse us? I have something to discuss with Elizabeth.”

Roger glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded and gave him a tight smile. He excused himself, joining the other band members at a nearby table.

“He seems … pleasant enough, I guess, if you like that type,” Caroline remarked, watching Roger go. “And obviously you do. You didn’t let grass grow under your feet after William left town.”

“Roger is just a friend,” Elizabeth said, a note of annoyance creeping into her voice.

“Well, of course he is.” Caroline patted Elizabeth’s arm. “I’m sure you have many … friends like Roger. I imagine you hardly even notice that William’s left you.”

Elizabeth’s chin jutted out. “He hasn’t left me. He’ll be back tomorrow.” She instantly regretted volunteering this information, but her pride had gotten the better of her.

“Isn’t that nice! Did he tell you about our nice chat at the airport last week?”

“He said he spoke to you.” But ‘nice’ wasn’t the way he described it.

Caroline nodded, and Elizabeth saw a smug light in her eyes. “I’m so glad Charles and I were there to see the poor dear off on his trip, since no one else cared enough to do it.”

Under the table, Elizabeth curled her hand into a fist, concentrating on the feel of her nails pressing into her palm. Don’t answer her. Stay calm.

“I must say, it was lovely to have some private time with him, to catch up. I’ve been working such long hours, mostly in LA. And then there’s the absolutely delicious man I’ve been seeing.” Caroline breathed a theatrical sigh. “He’s taken up so much of my time. I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting dear William.”

“I don’t think he’s felt neglected.” Elizabeth eyed Caroline with a smug look of her own.

“Yes, I’m sure you’ve … taken care of his needs. No doubt he’s very … appreciative.”

Elizabeth’s nails were digging so hard into her palm by now that it hurt. Nothing, it seemed, could puncture Caroline’s cheerful insolence. Preening, Caroline raised her left hand to smooth her hair, and Elizabeth’s eyes fell on an immense ring she wore.

“Oh, you noticed my ring,” Caroline said with a coy smile. “Doesn’t it take your breath away?”

Elizabeth coughed to cover a snicker. “It certainly does.” A massive ruby festooned with diamonds, the ring was as an ostentatious horror.

“It’s from Bruce, the man I mentioned before. He wanted to get me a diamond, but … this is a secret, but I can trust you, can’t I? We want to be absolutely sure that we’re ready to ‘forsake all others’ before we make it official. He says he can’t live without me, but he’s giving me a bit more time to be absolutely certain. But, really, you mustn’t tell a soul.”

“I won’t.” Elizabeth’s hand drifted up to her neck to touch her pendant, the emerald’s polished surface hard and cool against her fingers.

“What a sweet little necklace,” Caroline cooed, toying with her ring. “Isn’t it amazing the things they can do with costume jewelry these days? The substitutes they make for gemstones are good enough to fool most people.”

“That’s true,” Elizabeth answered sweetly. “I bet most people are fooled by your ring.”

For a second, rage flamed in Caroline’s eyes. Then, like a curtain drawn over a gruesome scene, a complacent smile settled onto her face. “You and your sense of humor, Elizabeth! We both know I was talking about your necklace, not my ring.”

Elizabeth itched to fling the truth about the pendant in Caroline’s face. Instead she smiled and sipped her water, soothing her annoyance by recalling the tenderness in William’s eyes when he gave her the emerald.

Caroline’s smile slipped a notch when Elizabeth refused the bait. “I suppose I should get to the point. It’s about Charles and dear Jane.”

“What about them?”

“Work is only part of the reason Charles won’t be back to San Francisco. Charles has chosen his life, and Jane, poor dear, doesn’t fit into it.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Oh, you know,” Caroline said with a casual shrug. “Charles needs the right sort of wife. Jane is a sweet girl, but she has … limitations. Isn’t that why she didn’t marry him? Because she realized she’d never fit into his world?”

“Of course not. Don’t you remember your father’s ultimatum?” Elizabeth glared at Caroline. “Either she and Charles agreed to live under your father’s thumb, or Charles was going to be tossed out of the family. And as for her not being an asset, that’s ridiculous. Charles will never find anyone half as wonderful as Jane.”

“As I said, Jane’s a sweet girl. And considering her upbringing, she’s done well for herself.”

It was just as well that Elizabeth had already finished her water, because otherwise it would have ended up in Caroline’s face. She glanced longingly over her shoulder at the hoses the bartender used to dispense water and soft drinks. Just the thought of spraying Caroline with seltzer water made her feel better.

“But there’s more to the story,” Caroline continued, “and I thought you ought to know the rest.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow and fixed an inquiring stare on Caroline, waiting for her to continue.

“Let’s see,” Caroline said. “Where to begin? At the airport, I suppose. As I told you, I had a nice long talk with William while we were waiting for Charles’s flight. Poor William seemed … out of sorts, and eventually I coaxed him into telling me his troubles. You displeased him by going off to pursue your own agenda instead of coming to the airport to see him off.”

“That’s none of your business, Caroline.” Had Elizabeth’s water glass been a paper cup, she would have crushed it in her vise-like grip. She wasn’t sure what angered her more, being subjected to a lecture from Caroline or the possibility that William had actually confided in her.

Calm down. He’d never do that. She’s just trying to make trouble, as usual.

Caroline was watching her closely. “I’m sorry if I touched a nerve. But if you want to hold onto him, that’s no way to behave.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together, staring across the room. “The band break will be over soon. If you’ve got something to say about Jane and Charles, get on with it.”

“I wonder if I should?” Caroline said with a pensive frown. “After all, it’s too late to change things. And I’m sure he’s always done what he thought was best for Charles.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I don’t have time for games.”

“I’m talking about William, and the things he did to keep Jane and Charles apart.”

Don’t overreact. Remember, she’d lie at the drop of a sapphire. “You mean when they talked at the airport?”

“Let’s start there.”

“I doubt you were part of the conversation, so how could you know what was said?”

“It’s true, they made me sit by myself. Talk about rudeness!” Caroline leaned forward, raising her eyebrows in a conspiratorial arch, and lowered her voice. “But I was nearby, and I have excellent hearing.”

“So you were eavesdropping.”

“I prefer to call it gleaning valuable information, which I’m now willing to share with you.”

“Go on.” Elizabeth hated seeing how much Caroline was enjoying the moment, but she hated even more that she couldn’t bring herself to end the conversation and walk away.

“Charles said he was thinking about getting back together with Jane. A bad idea, but Charles has never been practical. He asked William’s advice, and William discouraged him. For one thing, he said that Jane had moved on to his cousin Richard.”

“You must have heard him wrong. Jane and Richard are just friends, and William knows that perfectly well.”

“He did say that it might be platonic, on Richard’s side, at least.”

“It’s platonic on both sides,” Elizabeth retorted. “Richard is involved with my friend Charlotte Lucas. Charles would have seen that for himself Saturday night. Either you misunderstood, or you’re trying to stir up trouble.”

Caroline shrugged. “If you say so. Then you’re not interested in hearing the rest of what William said?”

Elizabeth wished she could shake her head and walk away, but the words that came out instead were, “I know you’re dying to tell me, so go ahead.”

“William said he still believed that Jane wanted Charles for his money, not for love.”

Pain lanced Elizabeth’s heart. She wished she could defend William, denouncing Caroline as a liar, but Richard’s comments at her birthday dinner supplied some corroboration.

Caroline seemed satisfied with the expression she saw in Elizabeth’s eyes. “Of course I’ve never believed that of Jane, not even when William first said it back in May.”

Elizabeth struggled to maintain a neutral expression. Keep an open mind. This could all be an elaborate lie. But somehow it didn’t feel like a lie.

“He must have told you how he kept Charles from reconciling with Jane. I’m sure you lovebirds have no secrets.”

Elizabeth gripped the edge of the bar. “He mentioned something about it.”

“Something? So you’ve never heard the whole story.” The eager accents in Caroline’s voice were matched by the malice glinting in her eyes. “The morning after the rehearsal dinner, Charles and I went to see Daddy. Charles didn’t want to lose Jane or his inheritance. He proposed a compromise, but Daddy wouldn’t hear of it.”

Caroline stopped to take a breath and admire her ring. Elizabeth was astonished. So Charles took Jane’s suggestion after all! It just didn’t work out.

“Then we went back to William’s suite. Charles had gotten drunk the night before and slept on William’s sofa. When we got there, William had returned from running not long before, as I recall.”

“Lizzy, we need to get started.” It was Jim Pennington, calling to her from his nearby table.

“I need a few more minutes,” Elizabeth said. Her better judgment told her to walk away from Caroline, who was probably twisting half the story and inventing the rest. But the details so far—Charles spending a drunken night in William’s suite, and the timing of William’s run that morning—matched Elizabeth’s knowledge of the events. She had to hear the rest.

“Sorry. Break is over.” Jim walked past her toward the stage area, flanked by Bill and Roger.

“I said I need a few minutes.”

Three male heads swiveled in unison to stare at Elizabeth. “Okay, fine,” Jim said, eyeing her with a frown. “We’ll open with an instrumental number. But after that we need you on stage.”

Elizabeth nodded. Roger shot her a concerned glance, but she waved him away.

“Where was I?” Caroline asked. “Oh, yes, William was back from running. So we sat down and talked. Charles said he was going to defy Daddy, sacrifice his inheritance, give up everything for Jane. I thought that was so romantic. He was on the verge of throwing himself at her feet, but William stopped him.”

“For what reasons?” Elizabeth had to know. A storm seemed to roar inside her head, muddling her thoughts and battering her heart.

“Then he didn’t tell you about this? My, my.” Caroline paused, no doubt for dramatic effect. “Let’s see. He made several points, but the main one was that Charles had fallen for fortune hunters in the past, and he seemed to be doing it again. I defended Jane. I didn’t think she wanted Charles for his money, or at least not only for his money. But you know how forceful William can be when his mind is made up.”

Elizabeth didn’t comment, but a parade of memories marched through her head in which William declared himself an authority on a wide range of subjects.

“Let’s see. What else did he say?” Caroline pondered the subject for a moment. “He shared my concern that Jane lacked the right sort of upbringing to be a proper wife to Charles. But, you know, he and Jane could have lived a happy life here in San Francisco, away from all those demanding social obligations. That’s what I was hoping for.”

Elizabeth tried to dismiss the story as a lie, but William’s haughty attitude that weekend hadn’t vanished from her memory. She could all too easily imagine the scene Caroline had described.

“And I guess even after getting to know Jane better, William still hasn’t changed his mind, because he mentioned those things again at the airport last weekend. I’m surprised his attitude toward Jane hasn’t caused the two of you problems. I’m sure if someone were saying nasty things about my sister Louisa, I’d be furious. But I guess you must be more accustomed to slurs against your family.”

“Would you excuse me, Caroline?” Elizabeth wasn’t sure how much longer she could maintain even a pretense of outward calm.

“Oh, my, I hope I haven’t upset you.” Caroline’s triumph was obvious behind her thin veneer of concern. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you, but I thought you’d want to know. After all, your background is the same as Jane’s, so perhaps William thinks of you the same way, and—”

“Goodbye, Caroline.”

Elizabeth nearly sprinted to the ladies’ room, relieved that Caroline didn’t follow. Once there, she stared at herself in the mirror, noting her hollow eyes and pale complexion, made worse by the unflattering light of the fluorescent lamp buzzing overhead. For some reason she couldn’t stop trembling. She wanted to be angry, but her emotions seemed to reside on a distant shore, separated from her by a gaping chasm.

It was true, all of it; her instincts told her that. Caroline might have exaggerated some things, but the bald truth remained: if not for William, Jane and Charles would be happily married and living in San Francisco.

She might have forgiven William for his actions in May, had that been his only transgression. But now the cause of Charles’s remoteness over the weekend was clear. William had reinforced the old objections, discouraging Charles from further pursuit. William’s so disdainful of her that he even thought Richard, one of the most notorious womanizers on the planet, needed a warning. Who the hell is he to judge her?

And if Jane wasn’t fit to be a Bingley, then William can’t have meant any of the things he’s said about a future with me … unless he’s planning to hide me away in an apartment somewhere uptown while his wife and kids live at the townhouse with Gran and Georgie. A wave of dizziness swept over her and her stomach heaved, and for a moment she thought she might be sick.

She splashed water on her clammy forehead and cheeks and patted her face dry with a paper towel. Her purse was hidden behind Roger’s drums; if not for that, she might have escaped the hotel and apologized later to the band.

But the show must go on and all that. She inspected her reflection, practicing a bright smile. It looked more like a grimace, and it did nothing to relieve the misery in her eyes, but perhaps no one would notice. That’s right. Paste on a big smile, and nobody will know I’ve got a big hole where my heart is supposed to be.

 

Friday morning, Elizabeth stared out her office window at gray skies full of clouds. An untouched cup of black coffee, long since grown cold, sat at her elbow. Her head ached, her eyes were bloodshot, and a stifling weariness had seeped into her bones.

Sleep had forsaken her last night, except for perhaps an hour near dawn. She had awakened from her brief nap to find herself bathed in sweat, trembling and crying out in the throes of a nightmare. She didn’t remember the details except that Michael had claimed a featured role, but it had put an end to any further attempts to sleep.

She had spent the earlier part of the night reviewing Caroline’s story to the point of obsession. No matter how many ways she turned the evidence, interpreted it, or tried to debunk it, she always reached the same conclusion. The man she loved was responsible for her sister’s misery.

Unable to accept the truth when stated so baldly, she had sought to shift the blame to others. Charles was certainly culpable for being so weak-willed that he had yielded to his friend’s pressure instead of making his own choices. Mr. Bingley also owned a share of the responsibility for terrorizing his son until he lacked any will of his own, and for forcing Charles to choose between his family and their fortune, and the wishes of his heart.

But in the end Elizabeth had lost the battle for William’s absolution. Fully aware of the extent of his influence over Charles, he had wielded it with a heavy hand. Every tear Jane had shed over Charles was at least in part because of William Darcy.

Her distress was all the worse because she couldn’t confide in anyone. It would only give Jane greater pain to hear Caroline’s revelations. This need for secrecy deprived Elizabeth of her most trusted confidante and of her best relief from the pain gnawing at her.

She fidgeted with a paper clip, barely aware of what her hands were doing. She wouldn’t have come to school at all today if not for her scheduled performance review with Catherine de Bourgh. After that she hoped to retreat to the condo for some quiet reflection before returning to the conservatory to assist with the final preparations for South Pacific.

Above all, she had to prepare to see William that night, to decide what to ask him, what to say, and what to do. His plane would be landing soon, and she felt a fresh stab of pain when she remembered his arrival in San Francisco three weeks ago, full of the joy of reunion. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back with fierce determination. She hadn’t cried yet, and she didn’t intend to start now.

Her cell phone rang and she flinched, fearing that it was William. She wasn’t ready to talk to him yet. But the display read, “Char.” Although Charlotte wasn’t as sympathetic a listener as Jane, Elizabeth desperately needed to talk to someone, and Charlotte could be counted on for objective advice. Elizabeth clicked the “Talk” button.

“Liz, I’m glad I caught you. You’ll never guess who just called me.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Then you’d better tell me.”

“Richard. He wants me to meet him in Phoenix for the weekend.”

“Phoenix? Why?”

“The Yankees won again last night, and the last two games of the World Series are in Arizona starting tomorrow. Sonya somehow managed to get him tickets to both games, and he wants me to meet him there.”

“I thought you two weren’t planning to stay in touch.” Elizabeth picked up her paper clip again.

Arizona Biltmore pool “So did I, but it sounds like fun, and I didn’t have any big plans for the weekend. Plus, he got a suite at the Biltmore, and I’ve heard it’s fabulous. I’m on my way to the airport. I just wanted to check in with you first.”

“That’s great, Char. I hope you have a wonderful time.” Elizabeth’s vision of a long, comforting chat evaporated.

“Liz, are you okay?”

“I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Couldn’t stop thinking about William, I bet. Maybe you’d better get a nap this afternoon, because I’m sure you have a busy night ahead of you.”

“Right.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Have a great weekend, and tell Richard I said hello.”

“Will do. I’ll try to catch a foul ball for you.”

Propping her elbows on her desk, Elizabeth rested her head in her hands. I’ve got to find some strength somewhere or I’ll never survive the meeting with Catherine de Bourgh. Maybe I should get some fresh coffee. That might help.

She stood up slowly, stretching, and opened her office door. A startled Bill Collins stood in the doorway, adjusting his ponytail with one hand, a manila folder clutched in the other. “Hello, Elizabeth. I was just about to knock.”

Elizabeth stifled a loud sigh. She lacked the energy to deal with anyone right now, least of all Bill. On the other hand, perhaps he would distract her from weightier matters. He often sought her out the morning after a performance in order to dissect the evening in exacting detail. On those occasions he required little response but an occasional nod, and that much she could manage. “Come in, Bill.”

She dropped into her chair and gave him a weak smile. She saw at once that she had been wrong about the purpose of his visit. His solemn expression was more appropriate to a funeral than to a light-hearted review of an evening of jazz music.

“Elizabeth …” He paused, shook his head, and continued. “Yesterday afternoon I was preparing notes for your meeting today with Dr. de Bourgh, and I discovered something that’s been troubling me ever since. In fact, you probably noticed that I barely spoke to you last night. I was afraid I might say something careless before I’d had a chance to consider the situation and make a decision. If I seemed rude, I apologize.”

“I didn’t think you were rude.” In truth she had been relieved that Bill had kept his distance.

“Good, because you know I’d never want you to think that. You’re so lovely, so sweet, and you deserve so much better than …”

Elizabeth looked up in surprise, the unaccustomed passion in Bill’s voice piercing the thick fog that enveloped her. He wore a harsh expression she had never before seen on his face, and his eyes were black with anger. “Bill, what’s wrong?”

He spoke rapidly. “I’m taking a risk telling you this; I doubt that Dr. de Bourgh would approve. But this is something you deserve to know. I’m assuming it was all done behind your back and you don’t know anything about it. And I know in your position I certainly wouldn’t want to be kept in the dark.”

“Please, Bill, just tell me whatever it is.”

“When Dr. de Bourgh offered you the job, were there any special … conditions or provisos?”

Elizabeth frowned. “Not really. I mean, she told me I’d have to teach summer school, but I expected that.”

“Did your salary seem unusual?”

“It was a lot higher than I expected, but this is an elite conservatory, and I figured I’d just misunderstood the typical salary ranges. Obviously I wasn’t going to say, ‘Excuse me, but you’re not supposed to pay me that much.’”

He set the folder on her desk and opened it, glancing out into the hall. “May I shut the door? I’d rather we weren’t overheard.”

Elizabeth nodded, her eyelids drooping. Ordinarily she would have found such behavior alarming, but given Bill’s tendency to hyperbole she wasn’t concerned. Perhaps Catherine intended to demand that she take a pay cut next year, and Bill was seeking to put her on guard before their meeting. She folded her hands on her desk and tried to energize her smile as Bill pulled the door closed.

 

Symphony Hall artists’ entrance At about 5:00 that afternoon, William stepped out through the musicians’ entrance to Symphony Hall and into his waiting limo. Rehearsals had gone well, the piano was tuned to his liking, and his white tie ensemble was pressed and waiting in his dressing room, courtesy of Mrs. Hill. Ordinarily William preferred to mentally prepare for a performance in solitude, but today being alone was the last thing on his mind.

Symphony Hall William gave the driver directions to the conservatory. He had hoped that Elizabeth would appear at Symphony Hall during rehearsals; he had gone so far as to hint for such a visit on the phone last night. But perhaps it was just as well. His studio at the conservatory would offer the privacy he needed to carry out his plan. He was in the grip of a rare impulsive urge, and unable to wait till tonight to follow through.

It was odd that she had neither answered her cell phone nor responded to his phone messages. She had warned him that her day would be hectic because of the impending opening night of South Pacific, but certainly she could find time for a phone call to the man she loved. From the start, the musical had stolen too much of her time and attention. To his chagrin, she had even chosen it over his concert tonight.

But tomorrow night she would be at Symphony Hall to share his triumph. He closed his eyes and imagined her in the audience, her eyes brimming with love and pride. He would play for her, opening his heart to her in a language they both understood. And then, when he was done, he would surprise her with the encore he and the orchestra had prepared. It was a gift for her, the musical equivalent of the pendant. He sat forward, grinning as he imagined her reaction to his tribute.

Conservatory entrance The limo pulled in front of the main doors to the conservatory, and William jumped out before the driver could exit the car to open the door. “I expect to be a while,” he said. He felt in the pocket of his overcoat to ensure that he had the key to his studio, and then checked his other pocket for the small box he had placed there.

Her office was locked, with a note on the door bearing today’s date and reading, “Gone for the day.” This seemed to contradict her plans as she had explained them last night, but then he realized that she was probably in the theater. He moved quickly through the halls, mostly deserted as usual late on Friday afternoon. As he approached the theater he heard muffled voices along with the sounds of large objects being dragged across the floor. He entered through the backstage doors and stopped a stagehand testing the controls for the curtains.

“I’m looking for Eliz—Ms. Bennet,” he said.

“Haven’t seen her,” the stagehand answered without looking up from her task. “She might be out front with Denny.”

He found his way through the curtain. Elizabeth had spoken often of Denny; he was the graduate student directing the play. William located a young man with a clipboard and a harried manner and approached him. “Are you Denny?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” Denny glanced up from his clipboard for only a split second, but then executed the sort of double-take William received on a regular basis. “You’re William Darcy.”

He nodded. “I’m looking for Elizabeth Bennet.”

“She went home sick around lunchtime. Said she thought she’d be back later, and I hope so, because heaven knows I need the help. Why does everything wait till the last minute to go wrong?”

William muttered his thanks and left the theater. She’s sick? Poor Lizzy. It must have come on suddenly. She was fine yesterday when we talked.

red rose Fifteen minutes later he stood in front of her door at the condo building holding the red rose he had forgotten to bring into the conservatory. It occurred to him that she might be sleeping and he hated to disturb her, but he couldn’t wait to see her. Besides, what I’ve come to discuss with her ought to make her feel better.

He knocked at the door. At first there was no sound, but then he heard soft footsteps followed by Elizabeth’s voice, lacking its usual musical clarity. “Who is it?”

“Lizzy, it’s William.”

His announcement was greeted by lengthy silence, but finally the door opened. Elizabeth, looking pale and somber, stood in the doorway wearing a faded knee-length tee shirt. She held onto the doorknob and stared at him in silence, biting her lip.

William, who had imagined her flinging herself into his open arms, wasn’t sure how to respond to this chilly reception. But she’s not feeling well. He stepped forward and enfolded her in a comforting embrace. “I missed you so much,” he whispered in her ear, pressing her head against his chest.

She stood stiffly in his arms, not melting against him as she usually did. When he captured her face in his hands and lowered his head, he was surprised that she evaded his kiss. Maybe she thinks she’s contagious, and with all the traveling I have coming up she doesn’t want to infect me. But that won’t do, because I’m not leaving town without kissing her.

He offered her the rose, but she only stared at it, so he set it on the dining room table. He led her to the sofa, noting the pillows arranged against the sofa arm and the crumpled afghan on the floor. “How are you, cara? I heard at school that you were sick.”

“I’m starting to feel better,” she said quietly. Her continued remoteness puzzled him, but he had never seen Elizabeth when she was ill. Perhaps she closed in on herself at such times. It was a response William understood.

“Why don’t you lie down, and you can rest your head on my lap,” he suggested, his eyes caressing her. “You’ve been a wonderful pillow for me sometimes. Now I can return the favor.”

She remained standing next to the sofa, arms crossed over her chest. “No, thank you. I have to get back to the conservatory soon.”

“You must have a few minutes, at least. I have something important to discuss with you.”

“It would really be better to wait till tonight.”

“No, this can’t wait.”

She sighed. “This isn’t a good idea.”

“Just hear me out, Lizzy.” William took her hands in his and drew her down to sit beside him. “If this past week has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t do without you. I have to have you with me, and not just once in a while. You said the same thing last week, that you wanted more than a long-distance relationship.”

“William—”

“No, let me say this. I want you to move back to New York as soon as possible so we can be together. And I want you to travel with me. You said you wanted to see the world; we’ll see it together.” He shook his head. “But I’m going about this all wrong.” He reached into his coat pocket, drew out a small black velvet box, and opened it, revealing a diamond ring. “Marry me, Lizzy. You’re everything I’ve ever wanted, and I love you with all my heart. Please, say you’ll be my wife.”

She didn’t respond, staring at the ring with a bewildered expression in her eyes.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, reaching out to brush her hair from her face. “You’ll have to leave Jane. But you can come back to visit as often as you want. Or you can fly her to New York to visit you. Your father’s welcome too. Even Kitty, if you want. I’m sure she’d love to see New York.” And as long as she’s not with Lydia, the city might survive her visit.

Elizabeth opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it again.

“You can’t move into the townhouse until we’re married. I think it would bother Gran, and there’s Georgie to consider too. So you’ll need a place to live until the wedding. I’m going to have Sonya look for someplace on Fifth Avenue, near the townhouse.”

“You’re getting me an apartment?”

He heard the edge in her voice and wasn’t surprised; he had expected her pride to rebel at this. “Don’t worry. You can pay me rent if it’ll make you feel better. But I want you to have a nice place where we can be together, and I want it to be close to the townhouse so I can go back and forth easily.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips. “What else?”

It seemed like a peculiar question, but William forged ahead. “You’ll have to leave the conservatory, of course. I know you can’t leave before the semester ends, but if you give notice now, Catherine still has two months to find someone for next semester.”

“And will my replacement be your property too?” she asked, staring at the ring, her soft voice chilling William’s blood.

“My property? What do you mean?”

She looked up, and the expression in her eyes hit him like an Arctic blast. “I mean, will you buy the new person a job, like you did me? If you do that, you’ll own them, right? Like you think you own me?”

William was about to protest that he didn’t think he owned her when the meaning of the rest of her words came clear. His stomach clenched. “Lizzy, wait. Let me explain.”

She jumped to her feet, her eyes blazing. “Oh, yes, please do. I’d love to hear you explain how you bought me a job and never got around to mentioning it. While you were busy making all those unilateral plans for our future, did you buy me a job in New York to replace the one I’m leaving behind? Who knew, when I was working day and night to get myself all through grad school, that all I really needed was a rich boyfriend to finance my teaching career!”

He set the ring on the coffee table and stood up. “I’m not financing your career.”

“Are you saying that there isn’t a copy of your personal check in my employment file, along with a note documenting your conversation with Catherine, right down to the exorbitant salary you insisted on?”

He hesitated, wondering how best to explain. “Yes, it’s my check, and it sounds like the memo I wrote. But

Her voice trembled as she spoke. “What a great joke on me. When I think how I argued with you to let me pay for my own cell phone, and how I insisted on buying you dinner every now and then … I was so proud of myself for asserting my independence despite the fact that those things were just pocket change to you. But here’s the punch line: it was your money, no matter who paid. You must have had a good laugh at my expense more than once.”

“I never laughed at you, and I don’t consider it my money. You earned every penny. You’re a wonderful teacher, someone any arts foundation would be proud to sponsor.”

“This wasn’t a grant from your foundation. It was your personal check.”

William didn’t like the disdain in her eyes. She wasn’t even giving him a chance. “I had good reasons for what I did, if you’ll let me explain.”

“Of course you had good reasons. You have good reasons for everything you do. You wanted to get me out of New York, because you didn’t like being attracted to someone from such a distasteful background. You figured if you sent me away you’d be safe. You had no idea you’d end up out here two months later.”

“You’re wrong.” William felt a stab of annoyance at her unjust accusation. “I did it because I loved you.”

“And if you love something, you have to own it, so of course you pulled out your checkbook.”

William’s hands plowed through his hair. “How did I benefit from sending the woman I loved thousands of miles away? Letting you leave New York was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. But I did it for you, because I loved you and I knew how much you wanted the job.”

She sighed, her lips compressed in a thin line, but her eyes didn’t look quite as cold as before. Relieved that he seemed to be making headway, he continued.

“The day after the Juilliard reception I called Catherine to vouch for you again, as I’d already done once, but she said she wasn’t planning to hire you. So I offered her a donation to cover your salary if she’d change her mind.”

“You coerced her into hiring me when she didn’t want me. Great.”

“She said you were qualified for the job, but she preferred another candidate. My donation made it possible for Catherine to hire both of you. It was good for you because you wanted the job, and it was good for Catherine because she got to expand her faculty.”

“Yeah, I can tell how thrilled she is. At least I finally know why she hates me so much.”

“I’m sorry for that. I didn’t anticipate that she’d treat you badly. I simply saw an opportunity to make you happy and I acted on it. Don’t you remember telling me how much you wanted to be with Jane?”

“Jane! Of course. Now I understand. This was your way of adjusting your blinders and absolving yourself for ruining her life, wasn’t it? You took Charles away from her, so you thought you’d send me along as a consolation prize.”

William grimaced. Just when he seemed to be clambering out of a deep hole, danger threatened again. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, don’t even try to play innocent. You decided Jane wasn’t good enough for your friend. So the morning after the rehearsal dinner, when he wanted to go to her and reconcile, you stopped him.”

“Who told you this?” His heart raced. No good could come from having this conversation now, when she was already upset.

“Is it true?”

“I gave him my opinion on the best course of action, and he agreed.” There. That sounded reasonable.

“You did lots more than that. You told him Jane was a fortune hunter, just trying to get her hands on his money. After an acquaintance of less than 24 hours you considered yourself an expert on her motives, better qualified to judge them than her fiancé.”

“Where did you hear this? Charles and I were alone that morning—” William stopped, sighing loudly. “Caroline. She was there.”

“And she claims to have excellent eavesdropping skills.”

“Lizzy, you know Caroline would say and do anything to separate us. She proved that in New York last summer. I can’t believe you’re accepting her word without question.”

“I’m not. I barely slept last night because I was working so hard to deny it, or to find some way that it wasn’t your fault. Do you think I want this to be the truth? But you can’t always get what you want. So let’s find out if she was telling the truth. Did you, or did you not, tell Charles that Jane wasn’t the right sort of wife for him?”

He ran one hand through his hair. “Yes, but that was because—”

“Did you, or did you not, tell him that Jane was probably after his money?”

William hesitated. “I suggested the possibility to put him on his guard, but—”

“And did you, or did you not, repeat that ridiculous, unfounded accusation last Saturday at the airport?”

“Yes.” His chin jutted forward. He wouldn’t submit to an interrogation from anyone, not even Elizabeth. “But it wasn’t unfounded, not in May, and not last weekend either. Did Jane tell you who was here on Saturday morning when I delivered your gifts?”

“Unless it was one of Donald Trump’s wives dropping by to give Jane some pointers, I can’t see what—”

“You’re closer than you think. I overheard your mother advising Jane on the best way to try to win him back so she could get a rich husband after all. This is the woman who raised Jane. Are you asking me to believe that your sister escaped years of your mother’s influence unscathed, that there’s not a grain of truth in all the crowing about Jane getting her hands on the money?”

“So I guess that makes me a gold-digger too, since I had the same mother. I’m surprised you’ve sullied yourself by associating with me.”

“I’ve always known you weren’t like that. But you and your mother don’t get along, so you weren’t as much under her influence.”

“So that was Jane’s mistake? She was sweet and gentle with Charles, and respectful to Mom? If she’d smacked Charles around a little and snarled at Mom at every opportunity, that would have lifted her above suspicion? You live in a twisted world, William.”

He ignored her sarcasm. “That wasn’t the only time I’d heard your mother rhapsodizing about Charles’s money. The night of the rehearsal dinner she walked around with your aunt gloating about how she’d raised Jane to understand the importance of a rich husband. So when Jane refused to sign the pre-nup, what other conclusion could anyone reach? At least, anyone objective who wasn’t blinded by affection.”

“You’re the one who’s been blind. Jane adores Charles, and losing him broke her heart. She had good reasons for refusing to sign the pre-nup, and you know that perfectly well. You’re just twisting everything to suit your purposes because you can’t stand to be wrong about anything.”

“The loss of one’s claim to a large fortune is an excellent reason to refuse to sign a pre-nup.” William was angry now. “There’s no need to twist that. It speaks for itself. Even if I was wrong about her feelings, there was plenty of reason to mistrust her motives. And as for Jane being a less-than-perfect wife for Charles in other ways, that’s the simple truth. She’s not accustomed to spending her life planning huge parties and attending charity events, which is what she’d have to do in the Bingley family.”

“Oh, and that’s all such rocket science. You sound just like you did the day I met you, looking down your nose at anybody who isn’t at your ‘social level.’”

He heaved a loud sigh. “I’ve apologized and apologized for that. When can we finally bury it in the past?”

“As soon as you stop keeping it alive with your snobbery. By the way, you do realize that my background is the same as Jane’s, right? If she’s not sophisticated enough to marry Charles, that must mean I’m totally unfit to be a Darcy.”

“You’ll be fine. We live more quietly than the Bingleys.” He had thought about this question, though he doubted it would have prevented him from marrying Elizabeth in any case. “And Gran will teach you what you need to know, just like she did with my mother.”

“Yeah, and we all know how well that turned out. How nice that you have someone standing by to complete my education, since evidently my parents did such an inadequate job. I must say, you have a unique approach to convincing a woman to marry you, insulting her family and her upbringing.”

Something gave way inside William and he lashed out. “I didn’t think you’d need to be convinced. But apparently you’d like me to woo you with empty flattery about your family. Have you considered what it would be like for a family like mine to be related, even by marriage, to some of your relatives? You weren’t at my table at the rehearsal dinner to see the fool your mother made of herself. And as for Kitty and Lydia, I can see it all too clearly, the two of them at Thanksgiving dinner at the New York townhouse, giggling and shrieking and speculating in loud voices about which of the men at the table is the best endowed.”

Elizabeth flinched and turned white. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and her eyes glittered with fury. “How dare you?”

In a rush of remorse, William realized what he had done. “Lizzy, I’m sorry. I got angry and I didn’t think what I was saying. I didn’t mean it, cara.” He stepped toward her, reaching out to take her into his arms.

She backed away from him. “You absolutely meant it, every word. As if you have such a wonderful family to brag about. First there’s your cousin, the Playboy of the Western World. And your grandmother, who has you so terrified of her that you tiptoe around afraid of your own shadow. Not to mention that she’s an inveterate snob, but at least you come by it honestly.”

William swallowed, reining in the anger that flared inside him. His remarks, though accurate, had been harsh, and family loyalty was driving her to retaliate. “Lizzy, let’s not do this.”

“Oh, I’m just getting started. Then there’s your sister, who’s running all over town doing heaven knows what while you look the other way. Because after all, everything a Darcy does is right and proper by definition.”

He clenched his jaw. “Lizzy, I know you’re angry, but I won’t have you speaking that way about Georgie.”

“You won’t have me speaking that way? Since when do I take orders from you?” She folded her arms over her chest. “I think you’d better leave.”

How did this go so terribly wrong? “I can’t. Too much is at stake. Let’s take a deep breath and discuss this rationally. You’re upset, and you have a right to be, but I know you love me. And I’d be lost without you, cara.”

“I can’t see why you’d say that.” She counted the various points on her fingers in an exaggerated pantomime. “I’m from a horrid family. I have a greedy sister who isn’t worthy of one of your college buddies. Never mind that he’s so weak he might as well be a dummy sitting on your lap. Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m so pathetic that I can’t get a job without you writing a check.”

He grabbed her arms, pulling her toward him. “Stop it. You’re making this so much worse than it needs to be. The important thing is that we love each other, and we belong together.”

She yanked herself free from his grasp. “You don’t love me. You just want to own me, but I’m not for sale. As for us belonging together, even if I could overlook everything you’ve done, I could never be with someone who considers me so utterly beneath him.”

“But I don’t—”

“I asked you to leave. Please don’t make me ask again.” She stood staring at him, her arms folded across her chest.

“But—”

“I need for you to go, William. Now.”

As little as William wanted to leave things this way, he could tell that further argument was pointless at present. She needed time to cool down, and then she would be more reasonable. “All right. I’ll go. But I’ll be back tomorrow, after you’ve had time to think things through. I’m not letting you go, Lizzy. I can’t do that.”

“That’s a choice you don’t get to make. Goodbye, William.” She stood still, her face expressionless.

His instincts cried out to enfold her in an embrace, to gain her forgiveness through the sheer power of his love. But he knew she would never allow it, so he forced his hands to remain at his sides. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.”

William trudged down the hall to the elevator lobby, his distress multiplying with every step. Elizabeth had been so angry, so unwilling to listen to reason, and so contemptuous of him. He hadn’t seen her this way since that night at her apartment in New York, and they had come so far since then, or at least he had thought so. He was willing to do whatever she asked to atone for his transgressions, even though she was blowing everything out of proportion. But what if there’s nothing I can do? What if ‘Goodbye’ meant, ‘Goodbye forever’?

As the limo crossed town en route to Symphony Hall, William leaned his head back against the soft leather seat and closed his eyes, a deep sense of foreboding gripping his heart.

------
1 For anyone thinking, “Wait a minute. The World Series doesn’t run into early November,” that’s usually true. But the end of the baseball season was delayed in 2001 (the year in which the story is set) due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The attacks didn’t happen in this story’s universe, but the delayed schedule worked nicely with baseball fan Richard’s travel schedule so I left it as is.