William couldn’t seem to stop yawning, despite several pokes in the ribs from Georgiana. He had lain awake for most of the night, first basking in the euphoria of the evening, and later brooding over the doubts that had gradually crept into his mind.
She harbored a fierce protective streak where her family was concerned, which was undoubtedly the cause of her wary reaction to Elizabeth. Rose had never approved of William’s habit of drifting through tepid relationships with women; she wanted to see him married and producing heirs to carry on the Darcy legacy. But at least he was discreet, and he chose his companions from within their social circle—two things which, much to Rose’s chagrin, could not be said of Richard. Yet last night she had seen William barely able to keep his hands off a woman she had never met. No wonder she had asked Elizabeth so many questions in the car.
The Fitzwilliams had arrived too late for any conversation before the service, so William wasn’t sure if Richard bore a grudge over last night’s competition for Elizabeth’s attention. Not that he particularly cared; winning had been imperative. Fortunately, as Richard might say, the William Darcy Magnetic Field had been in good working order.
He shook his head, interrupting this self-congratulatory train of thought. He hadn’t won anything yet. Yes, she had seemed to enjoy his company, and had welcomed his suggestion to call her. But this was a woman who had loathed him, and for good reason, just a few weeks ago. Furthermore, after his ill-timed and unpremeditated attempt to kiss her at the reception, she had become skittish. She had only reluctantly accepted a ride home, and had not seemed to welcome his company on the trip to her apartment.
In spite of these discouraging signals, the temptation to kiss her goodnight had been overwhelming. But at the last moment, he had lost his nerve. Unsure where he stood, he had kissed her cheek instead.
He sighed loudly, earning him curious glances from Georgie, Rose, and his Aunt Eleanor. Appropriately chastened, he summoned his self-discipline and focused on the sermon.
After church, the Darcy/Fitzwilliam clan assembled in the townhouse’s library. Most were drinking coffee or tea; Richard and his father, Robert Fitzwilliam, sipped their Bloody Marys, stirring them idly with the stalks of celery festooning each glass. Last night’s recital was the primary topic of conversation.
“How much money did you raise?” Robert asked.
“Sonya is going to run the final figures tomorrow, but I think it’s going to be a new record,” William answered. “We may be able to increase the number of scholarships by as much as a third.”
“The hall looked full. I assume it was a sell-out?” Eleanor Fitzwilliam asked.
Rose nodded. “We may want to consider using a larger venue next year.”
“The reception seemed to go well, too,” Eleanor said.
“And did Ms. Bennet enjoy herself?” Rose asked, eyebrows raised as she eyed William.
He had been expecting this. He arranged his features into a neutral expression and replied, “Yes, Gran, she said that she did.”
“Ah, yes,” Richard drawled. “The delectable Ms. Bennet. Lovely girl. Not interested in me, though.” He shot a wry glance at William, who could feel a flush creeping up his neck. “Did you two get a chance to have that talk that just couldn’t wait?”
“Yes … yes, we did.”
“Who is Ms. Bennet?” Eleanor asked.
William stared across the room at nothing, anxious to avoid the inquisitive eyes turned to him.
“Her name is Elizabeth Bennet, Mom,” Richard interjected. “You may have seen her. I was talking to her for a while, before she got distracted by … someone else.”
William forced himself to feign indifference as he met Richard’s mocking glance.
“Oh, I think I know the one,” Eleanor replied. “The dark-haired girl in the black dress and that gorgeous beaded jacket. So I take it you already knew her, William?”
“I met her last month in San Francisco.”
Richard turned his smirk toward William. “And apparently you two became … oh, let’s call it friends?”
William chose his words carefully. “Yes … I suppose you could say that. But I don’t know her that well.”
“William and Allen drove her home after the reception last night,” Rose remarked.
“Oh?” Richard’s eyebrows levitated. “Well, I always said you were quite the gentleman.” His eyes gleamed, and William felt his composure slipping further. “I take it we may be seeing more of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet?”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds announced from the doorway. “Brunch is served.”
Brunch was over, and the Fitzwilliams had returned to their Fifth Avenue apartment. William had just finished running on the treadmill in the basement exercise room. He dragged himself up the stairs to the third floor, his chest still heaving, and turned toward his bathroom to take a shower. After a glance at his watch, he decided to make a phone call first.
Only after he was seated in the leather chair in his sitting room did he recall that his cell phone was in a dresser drawer in the bedroom. He hauled himself to his feet, collapsing back into the chair as a dizzy spell engulfed him. It took several minutes for the room to stop spinning and for his breathing to normalize. Without a doubt, it was time to visit Dr. Rosemont. He would ask Sonya to call for an appointment tomorrow.
Once his head had cleared, William went to his bedroom to retrieve the phone. He dialed a number as he returned to the sitting room.
“Hi, Charles. It’s William.”
“Hey, Will! How’s it going?”
“Pretty well. I’ve been meaning to call, but I’ve been traveling.”
“Why don’t you just start using email?”
William grinned to himself, shaking his head. “Give it up, Charles. That’s not going to happen. How are you?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“How about the job?”
“I did what you suggested. I asked Father if I could do something in marketing or PR instead of taking that financial job. He wasn’t happy about it at first, but then he saw the logic in getting me as far away from numbers as possible, before I drop a decimal place and all hell breaks loose. So I’m now the Assistant Director of Corporate Communications. It’s a big improvement. At least I feel like I’ll be good at it once I learn my way around.”
“That sounds encouraging.”
“Could be a lot worse, I guess.”
“Have you spoken to Jane?”
“Not yet. I’ve been thinking about calling her, just to make sure she’s okay. But then sometimes I think it’s better if I leave her alone and let her get on with her life.”
“I know this must be hard for you.”
“Yeah, it is. I love her, Will.”
That was as good a lead-in as any for William’s question. “When you first fell for her, what made you so sure you were in love?”
“Will, we’ve been through this already, and I don’t want to argue about it anymore. Besides, it doesn’t matter now.”
“I’m not challenging you. I just meant, what was it that made you realize you were in love?”
After a brief silence, Charles spoke in a hesitant tone. “I guess the main thing was that I thought about Jane constantly. Basically, I just wanted to be with her as much as I could, and when she wasn’t around, I was usually thinking about her.”
William listened with interest. He knew exactly what Charles was talking about.
“And I wanted to make her happy,” Charles continued. “That was the other thing. Her happiness meant everything to me. That’s the worst part about this whole mess. I’ve hurt her, and that was the last thing I ever wanted to do.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be asking about this and making you think about Jane when you’re trying to forget her.”
“Trying to forget her? As if I could. I’ll never forget her.”
“I’ve got nobody to blame but the guy in the mirror. What’s with these weird touchy-feely questions?”
William searched frantically for an excuse, but lacking that he told a vague version of the truth. “I’m trying to be more open-minded about the idea of people falling in love quickly. You told me I didn’t understand, so I thought I should consult an expert.”
“I think I’m flattered,” Charles said. “What else did you want to know?”
“How long did it take you to decide that you loved her?”
“You’re not going to like this part. It was probably just a week or two after I met her. But in a way, I think I knew the first time I saw her. There was just something about her.”
William remembered the first time he had seen the girl with the green eyes at JFK Airport.
“So what’s up, Will? Enough with the vague explanations. Have you fallen for someone?”
William briefly considered confessing the truth, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Before he decided how to respond, Charles spoke again.
“I know, it’s too silly a question to deserve an answer. I’m the impulsive one, not you. You’d never let yourself fall in love till you had a complete dossier, a psychological profile, and an FBI file on the woman.”
William almost laughed at the irony. “I’m not that bad, am I?”
“Not quite. You know, it’s great to talk to you. I’m sorry I was out of town when you were in LA last weekend.”
“Me too. Are we still on for Pemberley at the end of the month?”
“You bet. Unless Father has a business crisis at the last minute and won’t let me go.”
“Don’t let that happen. It’ll be good for you to get away for a while, and Georgie and I are looking forward to having you along.”
“I’ll do my best. Look, I gotta go. The parents are expecting me for lunch.”
“Okay. I’ll have Sonya call you in a week or so to firm up the arrangements for Pemberley.”
“Sounds good. Catch you later, Will.”
William set his phone down and stood up. It was time for his shower, and after that he had another call to make, this one not so pleasant. He had agonized incessantly over this decision while running on the treadmill. But it was just as Charles had said. He wanted her to be happy. And Sonya had lectured him about learning to put other people’s needs first.
Still, he hesitated. After last night, it seemed possible that Elizabeth might some day come to care for him, but it would take time and patience. She needed to get to know him better, and he needed to demonstrate the depth and sincerity of his feelings. Perhaps it would be better to wait and see what happened, and then—
He shook his head. He would do what was best for her, not what suited his preferences.
After his shower, William went down to his office to look up a phone number. He dialed, his fingers absently drumming the arm of his chair while he waited for an answer.
“Catherine de Bourgh speaking.”
“Catherine, it’s William Darcy.”
“William, how nice to hear from you! Excuse me for just a moment.”
William heard muffled voices in the background, and then Catherine’s reply: “It’s William Darcy. Yes, of course, the pianist. We’re very close; he’s practically part of the family.”
When William was a boy, Catherine and her husband, noted British conductor Sir Lewis de Bourgh, had resided in New York. She and William’s mother, Anna, had met through the Opera Guild and had become close friends, especially after Sir Lewis abruptly left Catherine for a young and attractive violinist. It was not until years later that William had learned that the violinist in question was a man.
Catherine and her daughter Anne had been frequent visitors at the Darcy home until they moved to San Francisco around the time of Anna Darcy’s death. As a child, William had been encouraged to refer to his mother’s friend as “Aunt Catherine” due to her intimacy with the family, but he had dropped this inaccurate title as he grew older.
While he waited for Catherine to finish her conversation, William reconsidered his decision. It still wasn’t too late to change his mind. He could tell Catherine he had called to check on Anne; she would love that. And Elizabeth could take the job at Hunter College and stay in New York.
Stop it. You know what you need to do.
“I’m back,” Catherine said. “We have some unexpected houseguests this weekend; I was just explaining that you were on the phone. Anne and I were sorry to have to cancel our trip back east for the recital.”
“Is Anne feeling better?”
“Yes, the doctor thinks she’ll be fine after a few days of rest. But as you know, we can’t be too careful; her health is so delicate.”
“Yes, of course.” Anne suffered from frequent bouts of illness, though the specific nature of her problems had never been clear to William. “Catherine, I don’t want to keep you from your guests, so I’ll get right to the point. I’m calling about Elizabeth Bennet.”
“What about her?” Catherine’s voice was suddenly cold.
“When I saw you in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I asked you to give her serious consideration for your open teaching position.”
“And I did so. But we found two other candidates who were, in my view, far superior.”
“Then you’ve already filled the position?” William felt a mixture of disappointment and relief.
“No. Our first-choice candidate accepted a position at Eastman, and I haven’t contacted our second choice yet.
“In that case, I want to renew my suggestion that you give Ms. Bennet serious consideration.”
“What is your interest in this young woman? Is she a girlfriend of yours?”
“No, she’s not,” William responded, intentionally keeping his tone casual. “I met her recently through my friend Charles Bingley—I think you know him. She struck me as someone who would be an asset to your program, and she’s interested in returning home to San Francisco.”
“Her qualifications are adequate, just barely, for an Instructor position, but I don’t care to be badgered about my hiring practices. You should tell this girl that she’s making a mistake by persuading you to twist my arm. I find it distasteful and utterly inappropriate.”
“Elizabeth doesn’t know that you and I have spoken about her situation.”
Catherine snorted in obvious skepticism. “I respect you as a musician, William, but you are not a skilled judge of potential teachers. You should leave these matters to experts such as myself.”
William had anticipated resistance from Catherine and had devised a strategy to overcome her objections. “Catherine, you said that she was adequately qualified. Suppose you could have her services at no cost to the school. Would that be of interest to you?”
“What are you proposing?”
“If you hire Elizabeth, I’ll donate an annual sum equivalent to the cost of her salary and benefits for as long as she stays at the conservatory.”
There was no response.
“Catherine, are you there?”
“William, who is this woman to you? And tell me the truth this time. She must be your girlfriend, or lover, or whatever you choose to call her, if you’re making such an outrageous offer.”
“If that were true, why would I be trying to get her a job three thousand miles away?” It was an excellent question.
“Perhaps she’s someone you’ve grown tired of, and you’re attempting to discard her.”
“And in any case, why should I hire someone who can’t find a job anywhere else? It doesn’t speak well that she needs you to pay someone to hire her.”
“She has some excellent job offers, including one from a university here in New York. But I think she’ll be an exceptional teacher once she’s had more experience, and as you know I’m interested in advancing the quality of music education. I’d like to give a talented young teacher like Ms. Bennet the opportunity to be on the faculty of a truly world-class institution. I’m sure she would benefit tremendously from your leadership.” He was proud of himself for saying all of that without snickering.
“I see. Well, yes, there is some sense in that.”
William rolled his eyes. Catherine was so predictable. “Then you accept my offer?”
“I assume these funds would be donated through your foundation?”
“No. This would be a gift from my personal account, in addition to the financial support the conservatory receives from the Darcy Arts Trust.”
“I see.” Catherine was almost purring now.
“It would be donated anonymously, and I would expect your absolute discretion. No one, except for the two of us, must know that I’m the donor.”
“Except for Ms. Bennet, I assume.”
“Especially not Ms. Bennet. I don’t want her to know anything about this arrangement. Not that her salary is being paid by a special gift, and not that I’m involved. That’s a firm condition of the offer.”
“Of course it would benefit our programs to have an additional full-time faculty member. But I’d much prefer that you make an unrestricted gift and let me select the best person for the job.”
“Sorry, Catherine. My offer is strictly to support Ms. Bennet’s employment. What salary would you offer her?”
Catherine quoted a figure.
“That’s too low,” William replied. “Add twenty-five thousand to that amount.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’d be making as much as some of our tenured professors.”
“All right, then, fifteen thousand more, and we’ll discuss a pay increase after her first year.”
“That’s still far more than she is worth, but I suppose it would be acceptable.”
“Then we have an agreement?”
“I need to consider the matter further, and the Board of Trustees will have to be consulted1. This is extremely unorthodox, and it sets a questionable precedent.”
“Not if it’s handled quietly.”
“And I need to review Ms. Bennet’s resume to re-acquaint myself with her qualifications. I will not have someone on my faculty who is unqualified, regardless of the financial incentive.”
“Of course not.” William knew that he had won, but Catherine needed to extend her claws before she agreed. “I’ll look forward to hearing your decision.”
1 At most universities, the existing tenured faculty are heavily involved in hiring decisions; deans generally don’t make these decisions unilaterally. But this is Catherine de Bourgh we’re talking about.