The security gate swung open and Elizabeth drove into the parking lot. She couldn’t recall ever being more grateful to be home. Some masochistic impulse had led her to drive from Symphony Hall to the Marin Headlands, looking out over the view of the city that she and William had enjoyed together on that long-ago, magical night. She had cried till she couldn’t cry any more, the passenger seat littered with tissues, and had finally calmed down enough to drive again.

Since she had left the concert at intermission, it was still early. Jane wouldn’t be home from her date yet, and for once Elizabeth was glad to have the condo to herself. Later it would be comforting to confide in her sister, but now she was too exhausted for conversation.

She walked toward the building, already mentally soaking in a warm bubble bath. Through the window she saw a man sitting in an armchair in the lower lobby, partially obscured by a potted palm that stretched almost to the ceiling. She unlocked the door just as the chair’s occupant stood up.

“William!” She froze in place, the door still half open.

“Hello, Lizzy.” He stepped toward her, his face a mask of tension.

Elizabeth shut the door behind her and took a deep breath. “What are you—that is, why …?” Her voice trailed off as he moved closer. She knew the answer to the question she had been trying to form.

“You’ve been crying.” He reached out and brushed a curl away from her face.

“That can happen when someone hurts me.” She stepped out of reach, not trusting herself so close to him. He was still in formal dress from the concert, even more handsome than he had looked from a distance. Add to that the tenderness in his eyes, and she had to blink hard to force back a new wave of tears.

“I never meant to hurt you, cara.”

“But you did, more than anyone else ever has.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, pressing his lips together. When his gaze met hers again, his eyes held inexpressible sadness. “I’m sorry, more than I can say. I only wanted to make you happy, and instead …” He took an unsteady breath. “But we can’t just walk away from each other. We need to talk.”

His timing was terrible—besides her exhaustion, her head had begun to throb—but she heard the quiet determination in his voice. Perhaps it was better to get everything out in the open now, rather than wasting energy on an argument about the best time for a conversation. “All right,” she said. “Would you like to come upstairs?”

Relief washed across his face. “I’d rather take you to the penthouse. We’d have privacy there.”

“You mean my gold-digging sister won’t be underfoot?” Elizabeth snapped. She bit her lip and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. It’s just that I’m tired and my head aches, and … ”

“And you’re hurting,” he said gently. “I know. So am I.”

“All right. Let’s just go upstairs,” she said, leading the way to the elevator. “Jane’s out tonight and she expected to be late, so we won’t be disturbed.”

“Did you go to see South Pacific again tonight?” he asked.

“No, I was just … out.” She hoped he wouldn’t press her for more information. She didn’t want to confess that her tears had started at the concert hall, but she also didn’t want to lie. He frowned as they waited for the elevator but didn’t question her further.

Elizabeth had heard the expression, “The silence was deafening,” but she had never truly understood it until now. By the time she led him into the living room, the silence had thoroughly jangled her nerves and her heart seemed to be pounding louder than a timpani. He regarded her without speaking, shifting from one foot to the other; she inspected her fingernails for lack of any other place to look. Voices in the hallway roused her to action at last.

“William, I need to apologize. I said some things yesterday I shouldn’t have, especially my remarks about your family. I was angry and I stepped over the line. I’m sorry.”

“I said some things I regret too,” he replied. His eyes scanned the living room. “Where’s the orchid I left for you earlier? I intended it as an apology.”

She swallowed. “It’s in Jane’s room. It’s beautiful, but …”

He raised his eyebrows in a mute question.

“I’m not comfortable right now with reminders of … happier times.”

He shook his head. “Happier times are exactly what you should be thinking about, Lizzy. We have something special together.” He stepped forward, resting his hands on her shoulders. “You know how much I love you, don’t you? And I know you love me too.”

“Love isn’t worth much if there’s no trust behind it, and no respect.” It hurt to say the words.

Cara, you’re being overdramatic. I’ve made mistakes—I know that—and I can imagine how incriminating everything must look. But if you’ll let me explain, you’ll see that you can still trust me, and respect me too, I hope. As for me, I respect you and trust you completely.”

She stepped away from him, shaking her head. “If you did, you wouldn’t have arranged my career behind my back and then lied about it. You would have put more thought into the consequences of your actions, and you’d have told me what you’d done.”

A shade of hauteur wafted over his face. “I think recent events have demonstrated why I was reluctant to tell you.”

“Now, wait just a minute.” She swallowed the stinging retort that rose to her lips and continued in a calmer tone. “There’s a big difference between you telling me yourself, and having me hear about it from someone else.”

“How did you hear about it?”

“Bill Collins found a copy of your check and your letter, and he brought them to me yesterday morning.”

William snorted, folding his arms across his chest. “I’m sure he was thrilled to find a wedge he could drive between us. He’s probably skulking around waiting to pick up the pieces.”

“You’re in no position to criticize Bill, or anyone else.” Her temper was rising again, and again she did her best to contain it. “He understood that I had a right to know what you’d done. You can’t imagine how it felt to learn that the man I loved and trusted had deceived me.”

“Since we’re talking about breaches of trust, what about his? What right did he have to go through private files?”

It annoyed her that William seemed intent on making Bill a scapegoat. “As a matter of fact, he had every right. The papers were in my employee file, and he handles personnel matters involving the faculty.”

“Catherine put those things in your personnel file?” His eyes narrowed and she saw a muscle in his jaw twitch. “I made her promise she wouldn’t tell anyone about it, so she put copies of the papers where Collins would ‘accidentally’ discover them.” He heaved a loud sigh. “Wonderful.”

“I think you’d better lighten up on the righteous indignation. If you hadn’t been sneaking around behind my back, you wouldn’t have had to worry about people giving away your secret. What she did with the papers just shows how much she wanted to punish me for what you did.”

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he said, sincere contrition in his voice. “I didn’t expect her to be so angry.”

“But you’ve known for a while that she was. I told you about her attitude toward me the night we had dinner together in New York. That was almost five months ago, and in all this time you never told me why she bore me such a grudge. Didn’t you think I deserved to know?”

William hesitated, brushing invisible lint off the sleeve of his tailcoat. “It was too late to undo the damage where Catherine was concerned, so I tried to make sure she didn’t find out about our relationship. I knew that would only make things worse.”

“So that’s why you were always so worried about her!” His fears of Catherine’s reprisals had seemed overblown.

“Lizzy, I’m sorry that what I did backfired. I never meant to put you in that position. Perhaps if I talk to Catherine—”

“Oh, I think you’ve done more than enough. And, incidentally, since you’re my benefactor, should I submit my resignation to you? I’m going to leave the conservatory at the end of the semester.”

“I assumed as much. I know you’ll be sorry to leave your students, but once you’ve left the job you’ll be out of Catherine’s reach and the issue will be moot.”

“You can’t possibly be that naive.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “The academic music community isn’t that large. News travels fast.”

“What news?”

“That William Darcy bought a job for his girlfriend, and that’s the only reason Pacific Conservatory hired her.”

William swallowed and stared at her in obvious distress. Then his expression cleared and he shook his head. “No. Only four people know about it.” He counted on his fingers. “Starting with the two of us, and we won’t tell anyone.”

“Neither will Jane.”

“Okay, then, five people know.” He counted another finger. “I know Collins is a gossip, but I’m sure you can convince him to keep quiet. He’d probably walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on hot coals if you asked him to.”

She gritted her teeth at his sarcastic tone but didn’t rise to the bait. “You’ve accounted for the four people who don’t worry me. But what about Catherine?”

“She promised me her secrecy, and she knows that if she breaks her word I’ll withdraw my foundation’s support of the conservatory. We’re one of her largest donors, so she can’t risk that.”

“But as you pointed out just a minute ago, she found a clever way to leak the secret without actually breaking her promise.” Elizabeth’s expression was grim. “She won’t take out a half-page ad in the paper, and she won’t announce it on the conservatory’s web site. She’ll whisper the news in someone’s ear at just the right moment. I’ll never know it happened; I’ll just find out that nobody wants to hire me.”

“Catherine doesn’t have that kind of influence.”

“Of course she does. Here’s how it’ll happen.” Each time Elizabeth had envisioned this scenario, it had become more humiliating. “I’ll apply for a job somewhere, and they’ll call her for a reference. She’ll say, in that self-important tone, ‘Her work was adequate, I suppose, but we only hired her because William Darcy insisted. He refused to serve as our Artist in Residence unless we brought her onto the faculty. He even paid her salary.’”

He looked at her in dismay. “But you were hired two months before my Artist in Residence position was even discussed.”

“You think they’re going to research the timeline?” She laughed, a dry, mirthless sound.

“All right, I can see why that bothers you.” The take-charge side of William’s personality was revving up for action. “But my endorsement could work in your favor. People know my foundation supports music education. It’s completely natural for me to support a deserving young music teacher.”

“A deserving young music teacher who’s in a relationship with you. We haven’t flaunted it, but plenty of people have seen us together. And in case my prospective employer hasn’t heard about it, Catherine will finish by saying, ‘And of course I’m not one to spread gossip, but Elizabeth is his mistress, you know.’ I think she’d use the old-fashioned term, don’t you?”

His face contorted in disgust. “Our personal relationship is no one’s business but ours.”

“Oh, well, then I’m sure nobody will be interested in the lurid details,” she retorted. “Don’t you see? She’ll imply that I preyed on you to gain your patronage. You know, sleeping my way, if not to the top, at least to the front of the classroom. And that’ll do all sorts of good things for my career.”

“But, Lizzy—”

“Actually,” she continued, a sardonic glint in her eye, “now that I think about it, maybe this will help my job prospects. Other schools may assume that you’ll pay them to hire your mistress too.”

William took a deep breath, shaking his head slowly. “I refuse to believe it’s going to be that bad.”

“Then you’re not being realistic. Potential employers aren’t going to confront me with the story. They’ll just hire someone else. And I can’t see you calling the Dean of every school to which I apply and saying, ‘By the way, in case you’ve heard the gossip, let me clarify. While it’s true that Elizabeth Bennet slept with me while I was in San Francisco, she didn’t do it for money.’”

William ran one hand through his hair and sank into an armchair. “You’re being too pessimistic.”

“Easy to say when it’s not your career on the line.” Elizabeth considered sitting on the sofa, but it made her feel stronger to stay on her feet. “You may have had good intentions, but you barged into a situation you didn’t understand and started throwing money around. And then you didn’t even tell me what you’d done. If I’d known sooner, perhaps I could have protected myself from the worst of the fallout.”

He bent forward, elbows resting on his knees, and clasped his hands together, his eyes averted.

“And it doesn’t help that you gave me an unreasonably high salary. If what Bill told me is correct, I’m making as much as my department chair. If that gets around I’ll have a whole school full of colleagues who will think I put out for you to get myself a ridiculously well-paying job. Ironic, isn’t it? You’ve made me look like exactly what you accused Jane of being: a gold-digger.”

He leaned further forward, massaging his forehead with both hands, and let out a soft groan.

It had been weeks since his last dizzy spell or breathing problem, but not long enough for her to stop worrying. She perched on the edge of the coffee table, watching him closely for several seconds before asking, “Are you okay?”

William raised his head, wearing a ghost of a smile. “I’m glad to know you still care.” There was no sarcasm in his tone, only wistful regret.

“Of course I still care. That’s what makes this so hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop loving you, no matter what happens.”

He captured her hands in his, his eyes full of hope. “If we love each other, then we can get past this. Don’t I deserve some forgiveness?”

She gently but firmly withdrew her hands from his grasp and moved to sit on the sofa. “It’s complicated, William, more so than I think you understand. Could I forgive you for unintentionally putting a damper on my career? If that were the only issue, I probably could, after I’d had more time to be mad and you’d done a lot more apologizing.”

A faint smile curved his lips. “I’m willing to apologize as often as necessary.”

She resisted the caress of his warm, rich voice. “I said ‘if that were the only issue,’ but it’s not. That you got me the job, and did unintentional harm to my career prospects, I could eventually forgive. That you lied about it bothers me much more.”

“I admit that I withheld information, but I didn’t really lie.”

She scowled at him. “As far as I’m concerned, you lied every time I told you some new anecdote about Catherine’s antipathy for me and you didn’t share what you knew. You can’t imagine how much it hurts to know that you’re capable of treating me that way.” Tears filled her eyes, and she brushed them away, mentally scolding herself.

A perplexed frown creased his forehead. “I didn’t realize you’d be so upset.”

“It fits your pattern. You hide parts of yourself from me, behind huge walls I can’t climb.” Now they were getting to the heart of her concerns. “Trust is difficult for me, but I took a chance and opened every corner of my heart to you. I told you everything about the darkest night of my life, things I’d never told anyone, not even Jane. And how did you reciprocate?” She fought back tears again. “And it’s not just that. There are so many aspects of your life that you won’t talk about. Instead, you give me dismissive answers and change the subject.”

“So I’m not permitted any private thoughts at all?” He folded his arms over his chest. “You got angry yesterday when I lost my temper and gave you an overly frank assessment of your family. Can’t you see why I might have preferred to avoid the subject?”

“I’m not talking about a few private thoughts. You have too many subjects that are off limits, because you don’t trust me enough to pull down the walls. And I think I know why.”

“Enlighten me.” His voice was cool, but she saw emotion simmering in his eyes.

“Like I said yesterday, you think I’m beneath you. It’s not just me. That’s your opinion of most people outside your little world. Granted, in my case, my family makes it even worse.”

He sat forward. “Lizzy, that’s not—”

“Let me finish. You’re so accustomed to being the king of your world that the rest of us automatically take a back seat. I don’t know if you’re capable of a true partnership with a woman.”

“How on earth can I defend myself against such a sweeping statement?”

“All right, fine. I’ll give you an example. You walked in here yesterday and insisted on talking. I asked you more than once if we could wait till later. I was still dealing with learning what you’d done about my job. But you wanted to talk, so it was time to talk, regardless of my feelings.”

William sat back in his chair, wearing an injured expression. “I hadn’t seen you in a week, and I assumed you’d be as glad to see me as I was to see you.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath to calm herself. He was missing the point. “So we talked—or, rather, you talked—about all the decisions you’d made for our future. You’d decided when I should move to New York. You were in the process of buying me an apartment in a part of town you’d already chosen based on what was convenient for you. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’d picked out my wedding dress; maybe you had Sonya working on that too. Everything was arranged to suit your preferences. Did you even once stop to consider what I might want, or was that irrelevant?”

“I thought you’d want the same thing I wanted: for us to be together. And it was obvious what steps needed to be taken to achieve that.”

“Exactly. You didn’t think anyone could improve on your perfect plans, so why even ask? That’s what you do. You call the shots without considering anyone else.”

“What about your birthday dinner?” He sounded resentful, almost petulant. “I designed the entire evening based on your likes and dislikes. But I guess that doesn’t count.”

“Of course it counts,” she said, a catch in her voice. “Sometimes you’re the sweetest man I’ve ever met. But you expect to get your way. Sometimes I challenge you on it, but I don’t really mind when it’s small stuff. It’s when you start arranging my life without my permission—or even my knowledge, like you did with my job—that we have a problem, one I’m not sure we can solve.”

He sighed, the tightness in his jaw betraying the anger he had so far kept in check. “You’re making this sound much worse than it is. I wanted us to be together, and I was trying to make it happen.”

She shook her head. “You make love to me, but you shield off sections of your heart and soul and won’t let me see them. You say you respect me, but when you discuss my family visiting New York you filter out the undesirable elements of the clan. You seem to think my career is something to be twisted at your whim. I’m not interested in being a Mrs. William Darcy action figure, someone you can pose wherever and however you like.” She bit her lip, trying to calm her pounding heart.

“Now you’re just exaggerating.”

“I want a partnership with the man I marry, and I don’t think you’re capable of that. At least, not with me. Maybe with someone from your background, someone you respect.”

“I do respect you, Lizzy, and you should know it by now. Just because I said something I shouldn’t have yesterday—”

“It’s more than that.” She bit her lip, battling tears. “I may rate higher in your estimation than my sisters and parents, but that’s not saying much. I’m still a second-class citizen.”

“Is there anything I can say to prove that you’re wrong?”

She shook her head. “Your actions will drown out anything you could possibly say. How would you like it if someone decided where you should live without consulting you, and told you to stop touring so you could be at their beck and call? What would you say if someone booked concerts for you behind your back, and if a particular orchestra didn’t actually want you as a soloist, they secretly paid your fee and made you look like a charity case? You wouldn’t tolerate that sort of treatment. You’d demand more respect than that. And yet you’ve done all of that to the woman you claim to love.”

“I …” William stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment. Then he leaned forward, combing his hands through his hair.

“And that’s even before we consider all the unhappiness you caused Jane, because you didn’t have the slightest shred of respect for her either.” Tears she could no longer restrain spilled from Elizabeth’s eyes. “Losing Charles broke her heart. She’s very brave, so you don’t see it, but it’s hurt so much to watch her trying to rebuild her life. To learn that the man I loved and trusted did that to her …”

“I was trying to protect Charles.”

“But who are you to decide that he needed protection from her? She’s always treated you with kindness and respect. And how did you repay that? By looking down your nose at her, right from the first time you saw her at the airport, even before you knew anything about her.”

William winced but didn’t comment.

“What does that say about your opinion of me?” Elizabeth felt the knots in her stomach tighten, and she clasped her hands tightly together. “You know how much Jane means to me. Apparently you think I could respect and love a deceitful woman who would pretend to love a man just to get her hands on his cash.”

“She’s your sister. No one would expect you to be objective.”

“You’re so wrong about her.” Elizabeth brushed the tears off her cheeks. “But you couldn’t believe that, because you’re never wrong.”

“Lizzy, why do you insist on making everything sound worse than it is? I admit, I’ve made mistakes, but we can fix this. I can’t see why you’d want to blow everything out of proportion this way.”

“You think I want this? You think I’m sitting here trying not to cry and failing miserably because this is what I want? I love you, and I was hoping that maybe I’d found the one who …” She took a shaky breath and continued, her voice trembling. “But I don’t trust you, not anymore. And I can’t be with you. Not now … maybe not ever.” Her last words were barely above a whisper.

“Don’t say that.” William reached across and clasped her hands in his. “We belong together, cara. Tell me what I can do to fix this, and I’ll do it. Anything.”

“Do you mean that?” She looked deep into his eyes.

“Of course.” The tenderness in his voice was almost unbearable. “You mean everything to me, whether you believe it or not. To prove it, I’ll do anything you ask.”

“Then stay away for a while. I need some time alone.”

He drew in a sharp breath. “What?”

“You heard me. I’m confused and my heart is broken. I love you, but I don’t know if I can sacrifice my identity and my free will to be with you. But while you’re here trying to convince me to make choices that might be the wrong ones, and then every time I look at you or hear your voice I remember being in your arms …” She shook her head. “I can barely breathe, much less think. I need space to think, to feel … to decide. Will you do that for me?”

He shook his head. “I’ll do anything but that. I can’t just walk away and hope you’ll find your way back to me.”

“In other words, what I want doesn’t matter, because you want something different. Thank you for proving my point.”

Pain shimmered in his eyes. “I don’t think you understand what you’re asking. It’s not a matter of what I want. It’s a matter of what I need. And I need you.”

“I’m sorry, but you can’t have me. Not right now.” She rose to her feet, retrieved her purse, and withdrew the small velvet box containing the engagement ring. Unable to bring herself to place it in his hand, she deposited it on the end table next to him instead. “I think I’ve explained why I can’t accept this.”

He rose as well, watching her warily. His eyes were fixed on the box, but he didn’t touch it.

“Excuse me for a minute,” she said. “I need to get something.”

Back in her bedroom, she lifted the emerald pendant from the top of her dresser. A tear splashed onto the brilliant green stone as she cradled it in her hand, gazing at it.

When she returned to the living room, the ring box was no longer on the table. She extended the pendant to him. “I should return this too. Char told me how valuable it is, and considering … everything, it seems wrong for me to keep it.” Her throat constricted, clogged with tears, and she couldn’t continue.

He shook his head, hands stiffly at his sides. “No. It’s yours.”

“But—”

“This is a hopeless situation for me. If I refuse to leave you in peace, you’ll see that as proof that I don’t respect you or your wishes. Yet to do what you’re asking …” He sighed and stared at the floor.

At the sight of his slumped shoulders, Elizabeth wavered. But before she could speak, William stood upright and continued in a stronger voice.

“But if that’s the only way I can prove that I’m willing to put your needs ahead of my own, then I’ll abide by your request. I won’t try to see you again before I leave town, and I won’t call you while I’m in Australia. After that, I can’t vouch for my self-restraint. Is that enough time?”

She nodded. “I think so.”

“But as for the pendant, it’s yours, and it stays here with you … just like my heart.”

Fresh tears welled up in her eyes. “I do love you, William. But love isn’t always enough.”

He moved toward the door, smoothing his tailcoat, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m going to leave now, before I lose my resolve. You can reach me through Sonya any time during my trip. You have her number, don’t you?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and followed him to the door. He turned back and pulled her into his arms, kissing her hard, with raw hunger. Her body responded to the heat of his embrace, and she clung to him, her hands threading through his hair as his mouth slanted over hers. Then he raised his head and cupped her face in his hands, his tear-filled eyes seeming to memorize every detail of her appearance.

“I love you,” he whispered. “Don’t ever forget that.”

And then he was gone.

 

The elevator always moved at a leisurely pace, but tonight William thought it would never arrive at the penthouse floor. Not that there was any particular need to hurry. Nothing awaited him upstairs, no warm welcome, no sweet embrace, no affectionate smile. Nothing.

He stepped off the elevator and entered his empty domain. Silence hung heavy in the air, the echo of his footsteps on the marble floor the only sound. His eyes fell on a vase of red roses, placed there according to his instructions to Mrs. Hill. Their rich perfume filled his nostrils, and he found himself struggling to breathe.

He paced down the narrow hallway, yanking off his white bow tie as he labored to drag air into his lungs. In his dressing room he inhaled deeply, grateful for the cool air with no hint of roses. Once his breathing relaxed, he slipped off his tailcoat and vest and placed them carefully on hangers. Mrs. Hill would have them cleaned before his departure for Australia on Tuesday night.

Tuesday night. I can’t stay here alone for three days. I’ll lose my mind. He would have Sonya rebook him on an earlier flight.

As he removed his trousers he remembered the ring box in his pocket. He retrieved it and set it aside, neatly folding the trousers over a hanger. Then he finished undressing and wrapped himself in a silk robe. It was the one Elizabeth had borrowed the night she told him about Michael. He could still sense a faint trace of Elizabeth’s jasmine perfume … or perhaps his imagination was filling in this detail. Either way, her scent wafted through his nostrils.

The ring box caught his eye. He reached for it but snatched his hand back, scolding himself. The last thing you need is an extra dose of misery right now. But even without opening the box he could see the diamond as he had imagined it, sparkling on Elizabeth’s hand, proclaiming to the world that she belonged to him.

His book, a half-empty bottle of cognac, and an empty tulip glass sat on an end table in the library in silent testament to his sleepless Friday night. Obviously he was destined for more of the same.

Once not so long ago the library hadn’t been such a lonely place. A pair of green eyes had flashed at him from the chair on the other side of the fireplace. A sweet voice had filled the room, sharing an amusing story from her day. Warm lips had brushed his cheek as she nestled in his lap, and a soft hand had stroked his hair. He had hoped to secure those blessings for the rest of his life, and he had come so close, only to be left alone again.

He tried to lose himself in his book, but when he looked up at the clock he saw that twenty minutes had passed without his turning a page. The piano in the living room beckoned, offering the spiritual balm of music, yet when he seated himself at the instrument he knew it was futile. He could play until his fingers were raw, but nothing would blot out the pain of Elizabeth’s words: “I don’t trust you anymore … I can’t be with you. Not now … maybe not ever.”

Sighing again, he returned to the library and his eyes fell on a DVD sitting beside the television. It was South Pacific, Elizabeth’s birthday gift from Sonya. He had neglected to deliver it along with the rest of Elizabeth’s gifts. Mrs. Hill must have found it and assumed it belonged here.

South Pacific title lineHe slipped the disk into the player and dropped into his chair. After a few lucky stabs at the remote control buttons, the South Pacific overture began to play. He settled back in his chair, propped his bare feet on an ottoman, and poured himself a glass of cognac.

South Pacific - Bali Ha’i Two hours later, he sat in the same position, sipping cognac. He was surprised to find himself engrossed in the story, though the director’s penchant for colored filters annoyed him. At first the film’s breezy tone had offered a pleasant distraction, but the mood had turned dark a short time ago as the two pairs of lovers encountered self-made obstacles. Now his own problems forced their way into his mind, and he found himself identifying with the two men who stood together by a tropical lagoon in the dark, taking stock of their battered romantic hopes.

South Pacific - de Becque and Cable The glass on its way to William’s lips froze in place as Emile de Becque, the French planter, uttered these simple but heartfelt words: “When all you care about is here, this is a good place to be. When all you care about is taken away from you, there is no place.” Then de Becque began to sing, and tears stung William’s eyes as he listened to the lyrics1, which seemed to have been written especially for him.

When the song ended, William set his glass on the table and hit “stop” on the remote control. “Lizzy,” he whispered, leaning forward and burying his head in his hands.

 

“You want me to change your flight to Australia?” Sonya asked, shaking her head. She wondered why she bothered to make William’s travel arrangements in advance anymore, since lately he always seemed to change his plans at the last minute. She had booked his recent return to San Francisco three times, and the Australia trip seemed headed down a similar path.

“Yes. I’d like to go out first thing tomorrow.” William sounded tired. She had been surprised to hear from him so early on a Sunday morning.

“Hold on a second.” Trapping her cell phone between her chin and her shoulder, she opened her laptop, brought up the Travelocity web site, and did a quick flight search. “That’s what I thought. The only non-stops are at night. There’s a flight in the morning, but you’d have to connect through Honolulu.”

“Tonight, then. That’s better anyway.”

“Tonight?” She gave the phone a disdainful stare. “After we upset the people in Sydney with your plans for a last-minute arrival, now you’ve decided to fly down early?”

“I don’t think I’m obligated to justify my decision.”

“What about Elizabeth? You never said so, but obviously you were trying to eke out a couple of extra days with her.”

Silence greeted her remark, and Sonya began to worry. “What’s wrong? And don’t say ‘nothing,’ because I know you better than that.”

“Nothing I wish to discuss.”

These days there was only one possible cause for his emotional state. “Something happened between you and Elizabeth.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

A stranger or a casual acquaintance would have accepted his stonewalling at face value and changed the subject, but Sonya knew her employer better than that. Twice now he had offered indirect confirmation that a problem existed. Coming from someone as private as William, that was tantamount to a cry for help. A suspicion formed in her mind, and she decided that a blunt approach might yield the most information. “Did Elizabeth turn down your marriage proposal?”

“What did you say?” His voice blasted icicles, even across 3,000 miles.

Okay, that was a little too blunt. “I’m sorry, boss. I realize I’m butting in, but I know about the diamond ring.”

“How?”

“The jeweler called Friday morning asking where to send the extra copy of the appraisal certificate. He mentioned it was for a diamond ring, so I assumed you were planning to propose. Did you?”

“Yes … on Friday.”

His subdued tone made Elizabeth’s answer obvious, but Sonya felt it best to be certain. “And she turned you down?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. And I’m surprised. I got the impression that she loved you very much.”

“I destroyed everything. I drove her away.”

Sonya didn’t consider herself soft-hearted, but it was painful to hear him sounding so miserable. “Tell me what happened.”

After a pause he said, “I’d rather not go into the details.”

“Seriously, it might help you to talk through things.”

“I don’t think anything can help. I just have to learn to live with the consequences of my actions, and hope that …”

She waited for him to finish his sentence, but he had fallen silent. “All right,” she said, “but if you change your mind—”

“I’ll call you. Thank you for your concern. I mean that. And I know I can trust you not to tell the others.”

“Of course. But shouldn’t we let your grandmother know that Elizabeth won’t be coming for Thanksgiving?”

William made a small, anguished sound. “I’ll tell her myself, but … not yet.”

“Again, I’m sorry. I wish there were something I could do to help.”

“Just get me on a plane out of here as soon as possible.” His voice had a desperate edge.

“Of course. I’ll get working on it right away.”

“Perhaps it’s best that you know about this. I don’t hold out much hope right now, but if Lizzy wants to reach me during my trip, I told her to call you. And if she does—”

“I’ll hunt you down, no matter where you are, I promise. If necessary I’ll send Crocodile Dundee to find you.”

“You’re a good friend, Sonya. I don’t tell you that often enough.”

“The best friendship money can buy.” She had intended her remark to be flippant, but in his current mood she worried that he might misunderstand. “I’m teasing. You know you’re like my kid brother, except I have to do what you tell me.”

“There’s probably a law against that in the Big Sister handbook.”

She chuckled. “If Elizabeth Bennet can’t see what a terrific guy you are, she doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, let me go make these reservations. It’s not always easy to find first-class seats on overseas flights at a moment’s notice, and I have to call the hotel and make sure your suite is available early. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m done.”

She hung up the phone, shaking her head. It was a shame things hadn’t worked out for them. Elizabeth had seemed perfect for William: warm and reassuring when his sensitive nature required it, yet able to stand toe to toe with him when his imperious side asserted itself. It was a difficult balance to strike, as Sonya knew only too well.

Oh, well. Perhaps they’ll straighten things out. Meanwhile, I’d better get these reservations made. She brought up William’s travel itinerary on her laptop and went to work.

 

Jane Bennet sat in the kitchen alone, finishing a simple lunch of a sandwich and some fruit. Her Sunday afternoon promised to be uneventful, spent working through the pile of papers she had brought home from the office. She nibbled on a slice of apple, making a face when it turned out to be unpleasantly tart, and extracted a deposition transcript from the pile.

It was difficult to keep her mind on her work. The phone message left during her run this morning kept tickling the edges of her mind, generating additional worries.

The phone rang, startling her, and she hurried to answer it. “Hello?”

“Jane? It’s William Darcy.”

It wasn’t the voice she had hoped to hear, but she greeted him warmly all the same. “Hi, William. How are you?”

“I’m glad you’re the one who answered. Is Lizzy there?”

She hesitated. “No, she’s at the conservatory.”

“That’s just as well. I’m leaving for Australia tonight, and she left a few things at the penthouse. I wanted to drop them off, if that’s all right.”

“Of course. I’ll be here all afternoon. Stop by any time.”

“Thank you. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Haagen-Dazs ice cream container Jane had arrived home from her date last night to find Elizabeth huddled under an afghan on the sofa, the throw pillow beneath her head damp from her tears. An ice cream container languished on the coffee table, empty except for a spoon. Jane had cradled her sister’s head on her lap, stroking her hair while listening to the story of William’s most recent visit to the condo. After offering a cup of tea and what little comfort she could, she had finally tucked Elizabeth into bed some time after two.

This morning Elizabeth had been calm but subdued. Yesterday’s tears had doused the usual sparkle in her eyes, and she was quiet and solemn. Jane had endorsed Elizabeth’s plan to help with the Sunday matinee of South Pacific, hoping the energized atmosphere backstage would help her to find equilibrium.

William arrived precisely on schedule. He was perfectly groomed as always, but his eyes were bloodshot and lines had formed on his forehead. “These are Lizzy’s,” he said, a catch in his low voice as he held out a bottle of shampoo and a DVD of South Pacific. “Thank you for letting me drop them off. I won’t take up any more of your time.”

Jane thought it unlikely that he had come over solely to return these small, unimportant items. “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?”

“That’s kind of you, but I should be going. I wouldn’t want to impose.”

Despite his words, she could read hesitation in his face and body language, confirming her suspicion that he had another agenda. She adopted a teasing tone. “If you don’t stay, I’m going to be stuck here alone with a stack of legal briefs. I’m counting on you to save me from a fate worse than death.”

He almost smiled. “If you’re sure I won’t be in the way.”

“Of course not. Go into the living room and make yourself comfortable. Decaf, black, right?”

He nodded. “Thank you.”

mug decorated with piano keys While the coffee was brewing, Jane scoured the kitchen for appropriate snacks, assembling a plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. Soon she returned to the living room bearing a tray laden with the plate and their coffee mugs. “Here’s your coffee. And I thought you might like some—” Her voice died in her throat when she saw him standing beside the dining table, holding a photograph in his hand.

His eyes were suspiciously shiny as he stared at the photo. “She was so beautiful that night. The loveliest sight I’d ever seen.”

Jane had taken the photo on the night of Elizabeth’s birthday dinner at the penthouse. William and Elizabeth beamed at each other in the picture, surrounded by a nearly visible halo of joy.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said, depositing the tray on the dining table and collecting the other photos. “I had these out so Lizzy would remember to give them to you on Friday. She said you’d probably want printed copies, not just electronic ones. I was gone most of the day yesterday and I didn’t get a chance to put them away.”

His eyes were still locked on the photo. “May I have this?”

“Of course. There’s another that turned out well too, if you want it.” She held out the photo, a more formal pose.

He inspected it briefly and shook his head, his eyes returning to the photo he held cradled in his hand. “No, just this one. This is my Lizzy.” He brushed the corner of his eye with his thumb, releasing a shaky sigh that went straight to Jane’s heart. Then he looked up from the picture. “Thank you for offering the coffee, but I think I’d better be going.”

“Wait.” She placed her hand on his arm. “Have you had lunch?”

He frowned. “No, but I’m not hungry.”

“When did you eat last?”

“There was a fruit basket in my dressing room last night before the concert.”

“And before that?”

He pursed his lips, silent for a moment. “Lunch on Friday, I suppose, on the plane. I haven’t felt much like eating.”

She had suspected as much. “Why don’t you let me fix you something?”

“Thank you, but I’ve imposed on you enough. Besides, Lizzy will be upset if she finds me here when she gets home. I promised I wouldn’t try to see her.”

“She won’t be home for a while. And she’d be even more upset if she heard you weren’t taking care of yourself. You know how she is about your health.”

His eyes softened. “I suppose you’re right; I should eat something. But you don’t need to go to any trouble. I’ll stop at a deli on my way home.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s no trouble at all.” She picked up the tray and led him into the living room. “Here’s your coffee, and you can help yourself to some fruit and cheese while I fix your lunch.”

“I suppose I …” He smiled—a weak effort, but a smile all the same—and nodded. “Thank you, Jane. I … ” He sighed. “Thank you.”

Jane ticked off the list of possible lunches, based on the contents of the refrigerator and pantry, and William requested a turkey sandwich. When she returned with his food a few minutes later, he was studying the photo. “That was the happiest night of my life,” he said softly.

She handed him his plate. “Lizzy said the same thing.”

His smile was the saddest one Jane had ever seen. “At least she and I agree on that much.”

“You agree on plenty of things,” she said, sitting on the sofa. “She loves you very much.”

“But she doesn’t trust me anymore.”

“William, why didn’t you tell her about the job?”

“I knew she’d be angry, and I was afraid of losing her. I knew I had to tell her eventually, but I thought the more she cared about me, the easier it would be to make her understand.”

“That might have been true, except you waited till she found out from someone else. So now, it seems as though you’re only sorry because you got caught.”

He grimaced and set his plate on the coffee table. “I think I just lost my appetite.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so blunt.”

“Have I lost her?” His intense stare burned into Jane’s eyes.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Lizzy’s upset now, but it’s still so fresh. You do understand why this was all such a blow for her, don’t you?”

“I know I’ve made it harder for her to trust me, and I know she thinks I don’t respect her. But I don’t understand why she won’t let me make it up to her.”

Jane was faced with a dilemma. Of course she couldn’t tell William anything Elizabeth had said in confidence. But can I tell him things I figured out for myself? And does it matter that it might benefit them both in the long run if I give him some guidance? She made her decision.

“At first I was surprised by that too,” she said, “given how much she cares about you. I can see that she might seem unforgiving, even cold. But I think there are two things that make this particularly hard for her. First of all, she’s always had trouble accepting that you would want to be with her. The comments you made about her background and our family hurt twice as much because she’s had similar thoughts herself.”

His face flushed. “I’m sorry for what I said about your family. I was upset.”

She smiled. “I know. She said she spouted off about your family too. But do you see what I’m getting at? It took her a long time to believe that a man in your position could have any serious romantic interest in her. So any sign that you think she’s deficient, like when you talked about your grandmother teaching her how to behave, just feeds that insecurity.”

William rubbed his forehead. “I was trying to make her feel more comfortable, not less so.”

“The problem is, Lizzy’s gotten the impression that your grandmother doesn’t want her in your life.”

He frowned but didn’t comment, reaching for his sandwich. “You said there was a second reason?”

“Michael.”

William’s jaw clenched. “That bastard. I should have just gone behind the bar and beaten him bloody.”

Jane stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“I saw him.” He spoke in a tight voice. “Sonya found out where he was working, and I went there last Thursday night. I watched him tend bar for a while and then I just left. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do.” His tight grip left indentations in his sandwich.

“Did you tell Lizzy about this?”

He shook his head. “I had some crazy idea that I could punish him, and then she’d be safe when she came back to New York.”

She smiled gently. “You really do want to take care of her.”

“More than anything in the world. I swore to myself that no one would ever hurt her again …” He sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were full of remorse. “Except me.”

“It’s sweet that you have such strong protective impulses, William, but I think it’s leading you to go overboard. She’s always been independent, and she wants to make her own choices. There’s a fine line between protecting someone and controlling them.”

“I can see why you’re a good lawyer,” he grumbled. “You’re very logical.”

“You sound just like Lizzy. Sometimes she hates it when I make too much sense.”

“I’m guided by logic in most areas, but when it comes to Lizzy …” He shook his head. “My brain doesn’t seem to function properly.” A rueful half-smile on his face, he took a bite of his sandwich.

Jane brought the discussion back to her main point. “I’m sure you realize how hard it was for Lizzy to trust you at first, because of what happened with Michael. So imagine how she must have felt, after she’d dropped all her defenses, to find out that you’d been deceiving her for months about the job. And I understand there’s something else bothering her too, something she hasn’t told me.”

“She didn’t tell you everything?”

“She just said there was something else, something worse than the job. You don’t need to tell me. In fact, you probably shouldn’t, since she chose not to.”

He nodded.

“That’s why I think she’s turned in on herself. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but she’s started having nightmares about Michael again.”

“Oh, no.” Pain slashed across William’s face. “I never meant to …” He shook his head and sighed.

“Of course not. And I didn’t tell you that to make you feel guilty. I thought it might help you to understand why she’s so upset, and why she asked you to stay away for a while.”

“I said I’d respect her wishes, but I don’t know if I can. If she won’t let me explain myself, she might drift away and I’ll lose her. I can’t let that happen.”

“I understand why you’re worried, but I think your best option is to do what she’s asking. If you give her some space, I think she’ll start putting things into perspective.”

“What if she forgets me, or decides she’s better off without me?”

“Could you forget her?” she asked with a knowing smile.

“Never.”

“She won’t forget you either. She loves you very much—you need to remember that.”

“I’ll try.”

Jane hesitated. This next part was tricky; she wanted to be tactful but still make her point. “And there’s something else, but you might find this presumptuous.”

“Please, go ahead.” He gestured with both hands, palms up. “As well as you know Lizzy, I’d be a fool if I ignored your advice.”

“All right, then. I think you could use the time too. Your relationship has been emotionally intense for both of you, and it might be good to step back and think.” She paused, trying to choose her words with care.

“About what?”

“About how much you’re willing to change in order to build a strong relationship with her, one that can last.”

“A partnership, in other words.”

She nodded, relieved that he understood. “Exactly.”

“That’s the word she used,” he said, glancing at the photo again.

“You’re both going to have to do some compromising to make that happen. And from what she’s told me, that’s not something you’ve had to do too often.” Neither had Elizabeth—not at this level—but she hadn’t figured that out yet, and Jane hadn’t pointed it out.

William pressed his lips together and stared into the distance for several seconds before he spoke. “Do you think we can get through this?”

“I can’t say for sure, but …” Jane leaned forward and grasped his hand, which was busy fiddling with a loose thread on the chair arm. “I hope so. I’d like to have you for a brother some day.”

His gaze met hers for a moment and she saw what looked like embarrassment in his eyes.

She withdrew her hand and sat back, sorry that her impulsive gesture had made him uncomfortable. “Would you like some more coffee?”

He rose to his feet. “No, thank you. I should go now.” He slipped the photo into his jacket pocket.

“I’m glad you decided to stay and talk,” Jane said as she walked him to the door.

“Thank you for lunch, and for the advice.”

“You’re leaving for Australia tonight?”

“Yes. I was supposed to stay here till Tuesday, but considering … everything, I decided to leave sooner.”

“Have you talked to Charles lately?”

William paused in the open doorway and turned back. “Not since I saw him at the airport.”

“He called this morning while I was out and left a message. He sounded upset. I tried to return his call, but he didn’t answer his cell phone. I hope he calls again soon because I’m worried about him.”

“I’ll call him before I leave for the airport.”

She nodded. “That would be great. He doesn’t have much of a support system in LA.” She hesitated. “Do you think he’s happy?”

“I don’t know. Obviously he had a difficult time at first, after …” He stopped and looked away.

Jane spoke quickly, anxious to relieve the awkwardness. “I understand. He had to make some difficult choices, and I hope for his sake they were the right ones. I want him to be happy.”

“What about you? Did you make the right choices?” He fixed a penetrating stare on her.

The question surprised her coming from William, but she supposed that the frankness of their earlier conversation had lowered the barriers between them. “Are you asking if I wish I’d agreed to Mr. Bingley’s terms? No. I couldn’t have done that. But I do wish Charles had been willing to try to compromise with his father.”

William’s eyes narrowed and he frowned. “What sort of compromise?”

Jane shrugged. “Almost anything that would have softened his father’s terms. You know what I mean. He insisted that we move to LA immediately and live under his roof, and that I give up my law practice. He wouldn’t even give me till morning to sign the pre-nup so I could have someone take a look at it first. I don’t mean to criticize; he had a good reason to be upset after the misunderstanding about the pre-nup. But he seemed to be planning every detail of our lives, and Charles was willing to let him do it.”

“You wanted someone to look over the pre-nup before you signed it?” William’s frown deepened.

Jane smiled. “I know, it probably sounds silly. You’d think a family attorney could read through a pre-nup without help, wouldn’t you? But those aren’t my specialty, and besides, it’s an occupational hazard. Attorneys are notoriously skittish about signing things without examining every word under a microscope.”

“I see.” For a moment he looked as though he intended to say something else, but he stared around the room in awkward silence.

“I didn’t mean to keep you standing here while I babbled. I hope you enjoy Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“I was looking forward to it, but now …” He sighed and stared at his shoes.

“Your heart isn’t in it anymore. I’m so sorry. At the least, take good care of yourself. Lizzy would want you to do that.”

He nodded. “Thank you again for lunch. I …” He shook his head and sighed again. “Goodbye, Jane.”

She watched him disappear down the hall before she shut the door. That poor man. Then she collected the dishes from the living room and took them to the kitchen. Her eyes fell on the answering machine, and on impulse she pressed “Play” to listen again to Charles’s message from that morning, wondering how soon she should call him again.

 

William sat in his car in front of Elizabeth’s building, his cell phone to his ear. Come on, Charles, pick up. But the ringing gave way to Charles’s voicemail greeting. William left a terse message and then sat gripping the steering wheel, absorbing the news he had just received.

Jane wanted time to look over the pre-nup, and Mr. Bingley said no? And that’s why she wouldn’t sign? That can’t be true. He tried to remember Charles’s exact words that night. Didn’t he say that she refused outright to sign it?

He was halfway home when his phone, lying on the passenger’s seat, rang. He fumbled for it, his eyes still on the road. “Hello?”

“Will!” It was Charles. “I’m glad you called. How did you know?”

“Know what?”

“About Father.”

William frowned. “What about him?”

“He’s in the hospital. He had a massive heart attack, and they had to do emergency bypass surgery.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I thought that was why you called. Was there something you wanted?”

“Nothing important.” The questions about Jane and the pre-nup would have to wait.

“I’m sorry I didn’t answer my phone before. They don’t allow cell phones in the CCU. I have to slip out now and then to check messages.”

William remembered this restriction from his time as a heart patient. “How is he?”

“Better, but … oh, God, it’s such a mess, all of it.” Charles paused and took a deep breath. “I almost called you half a dozen times, but I didn’t want to disturb your weekend with Lizzy.”

“Ah.” That discussion would also have to wait. “So when you say everything’s a mess, do you mean your father’s health?”

“It goes way beyond that. I don’t even know where to begin.”

William rarely spoke impulsively, but without any forethought he found himself saying, “Would you like for me to come down there?”

“Oh, no, I can’t ask you to do that, not when you’re with Lizzy and about to leave for Australia.”

“No, it’s fine. I can fly to Sydney from LA.” William was surprised at himself for making this offer, but Charles sounded overwhelmed.

“Are you sure?” Charles asked. “I mean, it would be great to see you, but …”

“I’m sure. I can only stay for a day, two at the most, but maybe that would help.”

“It would. It really would. Thanks, Will.”

“Is there anything you want to talk about now?”

“No, it can wait till you get here. Besides, I have to get back to Mom soon, and I need to call Jane. I left her a message this morning and she’s tried to call me back twice.”

“I stopped by there earlier. In fact, it was her suggestion that I call you. She said you sounded upset, and she was concerned.”

“Then I definitely need to call her,” Charles said.

“All right, then. I’ll leave you a message once I know what time I’ll be arriving. Which hospital?”

“Cedars-Sinai. And of course you can stay at the house, but I should warn you, Caroline’s there. if you’d rather stay at a hotel, I understand.”

The mention of Caroline’s name cast a pall over the conversation, like a sudden gust of exhaust fumes in a garden. “No, that’s all right.”

“Will, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

“It’ll be good for both of us,” William said, feeling the truth of his words. “I’ll see you soon.”

He disconnected the call and placed another, using one of the only speed dial codes he knew aside from Elizabeth’s. When Sonya answered, he said, “About that change in my flight to Australia—”

“Didn’t you get my message?” she asked. “It’s all done. You leave at 10:15 tonight, and the hotel is expecting you tomorrow morning. Well, Tuesday morning, actually, with the International Date Line, but you know what I mean. We were lucky that your suite was available for the extra days.”

blizzard “Right. But about those arrangements—”

“William Darcy, if you’re about to tell me that you’ve changed plans again, I recommend that you reconsider. Bear in mind, I could route you through Duluth. And don’t think I wouldn’t.”

William grinned, surprised at how good it felt. “Isn’t it about time for me to remark that this is why I pay you the big bucks?”

“Not big enough, trust me.”

His grin widened. “How sad for you. Here’s what I need you to do.”

-------
1 “This Nearly was Mine,” music and lyrics by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. Sung by Giorgio Tozzi on the film soundtrack of South Pacific, 1958 (listen to it on Youtube).

South Pacific - de Becque One dream in my heart,
One love to be living for,
One love to be living for,
This nearly was mine.

One girl for my dreams,
One partner in paradise,
This promise of paradise,
This nearly was mine.

South Pacific - de Becque Close to my heart she came
Only to fly away,
Only to fly as day flies from moonlight

Now, now I’m alone
Still dreaming of paradise,
Still saying that paradise
Once nearly was mine.