Last night could scarcely have ended better had he scripted it himself. The only improvement would have been awakening to find her in his arms this morning, but he hadn’t expected that. Not yet. He loathed the unnamed man or men who had made her skittish about physical intimacy. But he had plenty to celebrate; they were in the same city, and they were spending the day together.
“I did, thank you. I see you got my note about the picnic.”
Mrs. Reynolds, who was filling a large wicker basket, nodded. “I’ve put together a nice feast for you and Ms. Bennet.”
William stared at her. “How did you know that I’m spending today with Elizabeth? All my note said was that I needed a picnic lunch for two.”
“You’ve been in this city less than 48 hours, and you’re not a fast mover like that cousin of yours. If you had a date already, it had to be with Ms. Bennet. Besides, it’s written all over your face. She’s the only woman who’s ever made you smile this much.”
He shook his head, but he couldn’t extinguish the telltale grin. “Sonya told me I was losing my poker face.”
“It’s wonderful to see you smiling for a change. She’s a lovely young lady, and she can look after you once I go back to New York.”
“I can look after myself.”
“We’ll see.” She shut the basket and patted the lid. “Are you bringing her back here for dinner tonight?”
He shook his head. “She’s busy.”
“Then what about tomorrow night? Or Monday? I’d love to fix the two of you a romantic dinner before I leave.”
“I’ll ask her, but is this a scheme to get her over here so you can sign her on as an informant?”
She laughed merrily. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
“I don’t have time. Just coffee, please.”
“William Darcy, I am not letting you out of this house until you’ve had some breakfast.”
“I don’t want to be late,” he said.
“And I don’t want you back in the hospital because you’re not taking proper care of yourself.” Mrs. Reynolds met William’s challenging stare with one of her own, her hands on her hips. “I’m sure Ms. Bennet would agree with me. Shall we call her and ask?”
He rolled his eyes. His patience with this sort of scolding had worn thin long ago. “Fine. I’ll take her out for breakfast.”
Mrs. Reynolds eyed him skeptically and retorted, “See that you do. And ‘breakfast’ doesn’t mean just a cup of coffee.”
“All right, Warden.” William smirked at her.
She shook her head, a long-suffering expression on her face. “The abuse I take from you and your cousin.”
“I appreciate that you take such good care of me.”
“There’s nothing in this world I’d rather be doing. Now, go and have a wonderful day.”
Elizabeth opened her eyes and tried to focus on the clock beside her bed. It was 6:37, which meant that she didn’t have to get up for over an hour. Her vision was foggy from lack of sleep; she had lain awake most of the night thinking about William, trying to puzzle out the man and her feelings about him. She heard a knock at her bedroom door. She called, “Come in,” and sat up in bed as Jane, dressed in gray linen slacks and a white silk blouse, walked in.
“My goodness,” Elizabeth said, “you’re dressed up for so early on a Saturday.”
“It’s not that early, Lizzy.”
“What are you talking about? It’s only—” Elizabeth’s vision was clearer now, and she gasped as she checked her clock again. “It’s almost twenty to nine?”
“Yes, and I’m on my way to the office to meet with a client.”
Elizabeth leapt out of bed as though ejected from it. “Why didn’t my alarm go off?”
“I take it you have plans this morning?” Jane followed Elizabeth as she raced into the bathroom, leaving a trail of nightclothes in her wake.
“William’s going to be here in twenty minutes.” Elizabeth turned on the shower and jumped in immediately. She stood shivering under the stream of cold water, running a bar of soap over her goose-pimpled body.
Jane spoke over the sound of the shower. “I almost woke you an hour ago, because I’ve been dying to hear about the rest of your evening, but I knew you were out late so I let you sleep. I take it things went well?”
“They did. At least, I think so. I’ll tell you about it tonight.” Elizabeth picked up her shampoo bottle, and then set it back down. There was nowhere near enough time to wash and dry her long, thick mass of hair.
“I have to get going or I’ll be late for my meeting,” Jane said. “Have a wonderful day.”
Two minutes later, Elizabeth stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a towel. As she squirted a ribbon of toothpaste onto her toothbrush, the doorbell rang and she flinched. Guests ordinarily needed to use the intercom to be admitted to the building, but William could have gotten in along with a resident who had a key. Still, he wasn’t due for another ten minutes. Everyone knew that showing up that early for a date was a shooting offense, didn’t they?
She peered through the peephole in the door and saw their next-door neighbor. “Hi, Chloe,” she said, loud enough to be heard outside the door. “Hold on a sec, I’ll be right back.” Elizabeth raced to the bedroom, tossed the towel on the bed, and grabbed her faded nightshirt from the floor. She threw it over her head and sprinted back to open the door.
“Hi, Lizzy,” Chloe said. “I need a favor. My hair dryer just broke with my hair only half dry, and I’m in a hurry. Could I borrow yours to finish up?”
“Sure. Just a minute.” Elizabeth retrieved her hair dryer from the bathroom and thrust it into Chloe’s hands. “Here you go. Sorry to be kind of abrupt, but I’m in a hurry myself.”
“Thanks; you’re a lifesaver. I’ll bring it right back. Ten minutes, tops.”
Elizabeth returned to the bathroom and scowled at her hair again. It was hopeless. A ponytail was her only option, and even that would be a frizzy mess. She raced back to the bedroom to rummage through her closet, searching frantically for a clean pair of jeans and a shirt to wear.
The doorbell rang again. Elizabeth was impressed—Chloe had finished drying her hair in record time. She ran to the living room and flung the door open. “Well, that was quick—” The rest of Elizabeth’s words were lost in her horrified gasp when she saw William standing in the doorway. “Oh, no, it’s you!”
His lips twitched. “Good morning to you, too.”
“My alarm didn’t go off and I’m running late and—” She forced herself to stop babbling. “Anyway, I’m not dressed yet.”
“So I noticed.” William’s amused expression vanished as his eyes slid over her.
Elizabeth was suddenly, painfully aware that she was naked under her thin shirt. It seemed that she could feel a blush working its way up from her toes. “Anyway, I’ll just go, um ….” she stammered, pointing toward her bedroom.
William swallowed hard and raised his eyes to her face. “I’m sorry. Should I wait in the hall?”
“No. Come on in. I’ll be ready in ten seconds.”
Elizabeth retreated to her bedroom as fast as she dared to move, given the abbreviated hemline of her nightshirt. Once there, she sighed loudly, her hands balled into fists. To have him see her, looking like a disaster—it was a bad omen for the day.
William was disgusted with himself. She had been embarrassed to be seen that way, so what had he done? He had let his eyes crawl all over her, like a wolf sighting its dinner. But while he lamented his lack of control, he couldn’t blame himself for feeling a sharp stab of desire. She had looked adorably tousled, as though freshly risen from bed, wearing an oversized tee shirt that served up a mouth-watering helping of her legs. And despite the looseness of the shirt, the thin fabric had done little to hide the outline of her breasts. Before he could assert control over his overheated imagination, he was mentally drawing the shirt over her head.
He pondered for what seemed like the hundredth time why Elizabeth affected him this way. Perhaps the secret of her allure was in the contrasts she presented. She was fresh-faced with girlish features, but with the body of a voluptuous woman. And then there were her startling green eyes, crackling with spirit and wit, issuing a tantalizing challenge. Yet they could also glow with gentle warmth, revealing her tender heart.
Or perhaps this is just what it feels like to be so much in love that it hurts. All William knew for certain was that he found the entire package utterly appealing and unbearably sexy. He would have to curb his reactions if he hoped to win her trust.
She entered the living room looking lovely in her casual clothes and ponytail, and he smiled. “Everyone who sees us together today is going to wonder what you’re doing with an old codger like me.”
“You’re only four years old than I am; you’re decades from codger-hood.”
“But the difference is, I look my age. You look like you’re about eighteen.”
Their smiles faded as they regarded each other in silence. William felt an urge to fidget with his cufflinks, but he wasn’t wearing any. Then he remembered the item he had set on the coffee table. He nodded toward it. “I brought you a present,” he said.
It was the dendrobium orchid—the one she had admired in the greenhouse on the townhouse roof in New York, the one Allen had delivered to her the following day, the one she had left for William at the hospital. She sucked in a breath, her eyes glowing. “Were you carrying this when you got here? I didn’t notice.”
“You were a little distracted.”
He nodded. “I’ve gotten attached to it, so I brought it out here.”
“Oh, right,” she replied, grinning. “You thought it was from Caroline, so it must remind you of her.”
He snickered. “If it had reminded me of her, it would have given me nightmares.” He continued in a softer voice, “For the past two months, it sat on my night table so it was the last thing I saw every night, and the first thing every morning.”
She picked it up from the table, inspecting it carefully. “What a shame that I broke the stem. But it’s still beautiful.” She set it back on the coffee table and stepped close to him. “Thank you,” she murmured. She stood on tiptoe, resting her hands on his chest to brace herself, and kissed him softly.
William had suggested going out to breakfast, and they were presently in Haight-Ashbury, approaching the restaurant she had selected. She noted his bemused gaze shifting frequently as he inspected his surroundings.
“The Squat and Gobble?” He read the sign in a skeptical tone, one of his eyebrows arching to impressive heights.
“Relax, Your Lordship. It’s a popular place for breakfast, popular enough that there are two of them within about a mile of our building.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to California.”
Several minutes later, they were seated at a wrought-iron table on the terrace behind the restaurant. “I can’t believe, with all the choices, you got a boring old bagel.” she said.
He shrugged. “I almost always have orange juice or fruit, a bagel, and coffee for breakfast.”
“A creature of habit. I should have guessed. But weren’t you tempted to take a little walk on the wild side?”
He grinned, a naughty twinkle in his eye. “Yes, in fact, I was,” he answered, glancing down at his shirt in a manner that mystified Elizabeth.
“Well, fine, go ahead and be predictable. I’m going to enjoy my breakfast.” she said smugly, cutting off a bite-sized chunk of her omelet.
“What’s in it?” he asked.
Her fork, in transit to her mouth, paused in mid-air. “Lots of veggies: mushrooms, peppers, bean sprouts, zucchini. And cheese and yogurt. Oh, and sunflower seeds too. Want a taste?”
“No, thanks,” he said, casting a dubious glance at her plate. “I’ll stick with my boring bagel.”
“Are you on any sort of restricted diet?”
“I’ve always tried to be careful about my diet because of my … because heart disease seems to run in my family. The biggest recent change was that I had to cut back on caffeine. So my coffee is decaf now, or sometimes even herbal tea.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” Elizabeth made a mental note to put both decaf coffee and herbal tea on the grocery list.
He shrugged. “It’s not.”
“I asked because it looks like you’ve lost weight.”
“I haven’t had much of an appetite lately.”
“I’m surprised Mrs. Reynolds didn’t make it her personal project to fatten you up.” Elizabeth took another bite of her omelet.
“She did. She hasn’t taken so much interest in the contents of my dinner plate since I was five.”
Elizabeth chuckled and sipped her Mimosa. William had declined to get one, remarking, “I’m driving.”
“Poor Mrs. Reynolds,” she said. “Well, at least she’ll get a rest from waiting on you hand and foot once she goes back to New York. How long is she staying?”
“Till Tuesday morning.” He paused, sipping his coffee. “By the way, are you free tomorrow evening? Mrs. Reynolds suggested fixing us dinner before she goes home.”
She hesitated. “I’d love to, but my jazz group has a gig tomorrow night.”
He sighed and set down his coffee cup. “Well, then, what about Monday evening?”
“Jane has a Bar Association reception that I need to attend; I think it’s on Monday. May I check and get back to you? I’d like to see Mrs. Reynolds before she leaves.”
“You’ve got a busy schedule. I’m starting to get the feeling you don’t have time for me.”
She had forgotten how spoiled he was. She paused, selecting her words with care. “Of course I have time for you. But I had these things on my calendar before you arrived in California. And I have friends and family here; I want to see them sometimes, too.”
He nodded and wrapped his hands tightly around his coffee mug.
“Besides, you’re going to be busy, too, once you get settled in,” she continued. “I’ll probably be the one wishing you had time for me.”
“I would never let that happen. But I understand. I don’t expect you to be at my beck and call.”
Oh, but I think you do. “Then we understand each other. And I’ll check about dinner Monday night.”
“I’m disappointed about this weekend. I’d hoped that we could make up for some lost time before the semester starts.”
“Aren’t we doing that right now?” she asked with a smile, her eyebrows raised.
A reluctant half-smile curved his lips. “You’re absolutely right. I’m not sure why I’m spending my time with you complaining about not spending time with you. Where are we going on our tour today?”
“I’ve seen some signs.”
“Right. The ones with the seagulls on them. The drive covers most of the main sights, and we can stop and explore whenever we feel like it … that is, if we can find a parking space. It’ll also give us ideas of places to visit in the future. We don’t have to do the whole drive, but I think it’ll be fun, especially in your new car.”
“With the top down, of course.”
He wore the unabashed, boyish grin that always melted her heart. Elizabeth had to stifle the urge to lean across the table and kiss the dimple creasing his cheek.
“We got perfect weather once the fog burned off, didn’t we?” Elizabeth said. “But I’m sitting here enjoying the sights, and you’re doing all the work.”
They were stopped at an intersection, waiting to turn onto California Street. William looked at her, grinning. “Is that a hint that you want to drive?”
“I know. My aunt and uncle’s place, where I’m staying, is just up the street.”
William pulled the car to the curb and pointed. “It’s there, the building on the left.”
Her eyes widened. She knew of the building; it was a well-known Beaux Arts landmark3 in a prime location, with several elegant hotels nearby.
“I’d invite you to come in and say hello to Mrs. Reynolds, but that wouldn’t be a wise strategic move. If you want to see her, you’ll have to come to dinner on Monday.” He raised his eyebrows in a good-natured challenge.
“I’ve never been inside, but I’ve heard that too. Have you wandered through Huntington Park yet?” The park was across the street from the cathedral.
“It’s small, but it’s pretty. They have a nice tree lighting ceremony in December, but I suppose you might be back home by then.” Her voice trailed off. Sometimes she forgot how brief his stay in San Francisco was going to be.
He glanced at her and seemed about to speak, but instead he turned his attention back to the road.
“You were right,” William said. “That was an interesting bookstore. I could have spent a couple of hours there, even though most of the books weren’t the sort of thing I read.” She had taken him to City Lights, a bookstore famed for its connection to beatnik poets of the sixties.
Elizabeth thumbed through one of the books he had purchased. It looked like an excellent cure for insomnia. “By the time you’re done with these, you’ll be an expert on San Francisco history.”
He smiled. “Hardly, but I’d like to learn more.”
“And then you can be my tour guide. Ready to move on?”
“Well, I was thinking you might like to see the view of the city from the top of the Coit Tower, up on Telegraph Hill.”
“That sounds good.”
“The only thing is, we’d have to leave the car and walk. On a Saturday in the summer we’d never find a parking space up there. So maybe it’s not a good idea.”
“I don’t mind walking. It’ll be a chance to take a closer look at some of the Victorian houses.”
“The thing is, the hill is steep. I don’t know your health situation ….”
He hesitated briefly, and then said, “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? Because we could do this another time, when we’d have a better chance of finding parking.”
“No. I’m fine. Let’s go.”
They left the café and walked several blocks toward the waterfront until they reached the foot of a staircase that seemed to lead into the clouds. William glanced at Elizabeth. “Up the steps?”
She reached the top and turned around, surprised to find that he had fallen well behind her. As he neared the top of the stairs, she saw that he was struggling to breathe.
“William, are you okay?”
She took his arm and led him to a nearby bench. He dropped onto it and bent forward, elbows resting on his knees, his chest heaving. She sat beside him, forcing herself to stay calm.
He didn’t seem to be improving. She rested her trembling hand lightly on his back. “I should call 911.”
He shook his head. “I’ll be … okay in a minute.”
“But you can’t breathe. You need medical help.”
“No. This has … happened before. Just … need to rest.”
She considered calling 911 without his permission, but given her ignorance of his medical situation she decided to respect his wishes, at least for the moment. “How can I help? There are people working inside; I could go ask them to call someone.”
He shook his head again, gasping, “No. Just … stay with me.” He clutched her hand tightly.
She threaded her fingers through his. With her free hand, she gently rubbed his back and shoulders. She knew it wasn’t much help, but she was compelled to do something, anything, to try to ease his discomfort.
As the minutes passed, his breathing slowed, and she could feel the tension leaving his body. She began to relax too, her pounding heart returning to a normal rhythm.
“Would you like some water?” she asked.
He sat up, leaning against the back of the bench and staring into the distance. “No, thanks. I’m better now. But I need to sit for a few more minutes.”
“Why don’t you give me the car keys? I’ll walk down and get the car, and then drive up here to pick you up.” She winced at the thought of trying to handle the Ferrari in the usual traffic jam heading up to the tower.
“There’s no need for that.” He withdrew his hand from her grasp and ran it through his damp, unruly hair.
“You said this has happened before?”
“Yes.” Perhaps regretting his curt tone, he finally looked at her, though she couldn’t read his expression behind his sunglasses. “I’m sorry. I know I gave you a scare.”
“You did, but I’m the one who should apologize. I would never have suggested walking up here if I’d had the slightest idea what would happen.”
She was about to embark on a series of jumbled questions about his health, but she noted his slumped shoulders and the drooping corners of his mouth. He seemed to need comfort above all else, so she shifted closer and took his hand again, stroking it tenderly with her thumb.
“I’m sorry I ruined our day together,” he murmured.
“You haven’t ruined anything. Of course I’m worried about you, but you seem a little better now.”
“What I mean is, you planned a wonderful tour, and instead you’re stuck on this bench playing nursemaid to an invalid.”
He leaned over and kissed her softly. “Thank you for saying that.”
“I meant it. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
He draped his arm around her shoulders, his hand stroking her arm lightly. In the distance, a container ship glided under the Golden Gate Bridge. All around it, tiny white sails dotted the sparkling bay. Elizabeth rested her head on his shoulder, turned her face up to the warm caress of the sun, and mentally repeated the words she had said a short time before: There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“I thought you’d like them; they’re a sort of visual history,” Elizabeth answered. She and William were wandering around the first floor of the Coit Tower viewing a set of murals depicting life in the 1930’s.
She observed him carefully as he stepped closer to one of the murals to study it. He had insisted on taking the elevator to the top of the tower, had appeared suitably impressed by the view, and had been inspecting the murals with apparent interest for several minutes, but she could tell that he was laboring to conceal his fatigue. It showed in his posture, which fell short of his usual upright, square-shouldered stance. She saw it in his eyes, which lacked their characteristic intensity. And the attentiveness he usually showed her had been replaced by a polite but distracted air. A protective impulse swept over her, and she resolved to find a way to save the poor man from himself.
“Why don’t we find a taxi, have it take us back to your car, and get you home so you can rest. We can finish the tour another day.”
“Let’s at least get a taxi back to the car,” she said, donning her sunglasses. “I bet we can find one over by the parking area.”
He shook his head, and she could see tension in his jaw muscles. “I’m not a total invalid. I can handle walking downhill.”
“The walk back down is easier, of course. But we’re still a long way from the car. If you won’t agree to get a taxi for your own sake, will you do it for me, so I won’t worry about you?”
He sighed, seeming to deflate before her eyes, and took her hand. “I’m sorry, Lizzy. I’ve caused you more than enough anxiety for one day. Yes, let’s get a taxi. But no more talk about going home.”
“Okay. For a while, anyway.” She checked her watch. “It’s lunchtime. Let’s have our picnic now. We could go to Golden Gate Park, find a quiet spot, and relax.”
“That sounds perfect.”
“Maybe you could even read me some scintillating San Francisco history,” she suggested with an impish grin as they ambled toward the parking lot. “I could use a nap.”
“What a marvelous idea,” he said, grinning. “In fact, I might subject you to the whole book.”
“Bring it on,” she retorted, cheered by the improvement in his spirits. “I can sleep through almost anything. Come on; there’s a taxi driving up right now.”
1Haight Street has been seeing gradual gentrification for a long time—these days, you can find brands like Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s there—and it has continued to change since I wrote the first version of the chapter.
2(For San Francisco residents) When I wrote this, there were four Squat & Gobbles. However, since then the two locations in the Haight have closed. I ate Lizzy’s omelet at the one in the Upper Haight many years ago; it was delicious.
3I picked this building for Darcy’s San Francisco address on a long-ago visit to Nob Hill because it was a striking building in a great location. I learned its history later; it was built by William Randolph Hearst not long after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed several buildings on Nob Hill. The pictures I’m using of the inside of the Fitzwilliams’ unit are of the actual penthouse in about 2006 (asking price $3.5 million - see the Sotheby’s listing).