On a bright Saturday morning in mid-October, Elizabeth dashed through her building’s parking lot on her way home from dance class. Time was short, but a shower and a change of clothes were essential. She didn’t want William to see her—for the first time in almost two weeks—in baggy gray sweats. She rushed through the lobby and stabbed the “Up” elevator button.
A few minutes later, she flung open her apartment door, peeling off her sweatshirt as she made a beeline for the bathroom.
“Lizzy, is that you?” Jane emerged from her bedroom carrying a laundry basket.
“Yeah. And I’m running late.”
Jane stopped in the doorway to the bathroom. “If it would help, I can drive you there.”
“No, it’s okay.” Elizabeth stripped off her remaining clothes and turned on the shower. “I saw Chloe in the hall, and she said if I needed a few extra minutes to get ready, she could wait; she’d still be on time for her lunch date.”
“All right, if you’re sure. By the way, what time is dinner?”
“Our reservations are at seven.”
“Tell William I said ‘welcome back.’ I’ll see you later.” Jane departed for the laundry room.
William had been in New York visiting his family and handling foundation business. He had originally planned to return to earlier in the week, but he had stayed to see Georgiana perform in a concert at school. His flight was due to land in San Francisco in just over an hour.
Elizabeth couldn’t imagine a happier life than hers—at least, now that he was returning. Her job was everything she had hoped for. In addition, she was back in the city she called home, living with Jane and seeing her father on a regular basis. Above all, though, she was in love—she could no longer deny it, though she hadn’t yet found the courage to speak the words—and that heightened every other joy in her life. A quiet walk along the winding paths of Golden Gate Park was all the sweeter with William at her side, their hands joined. Even grading papers and preparing lesson plans had their charms when she looked up from her work to smile into his warm brown eyes. She had rediscovered San Francisco while showing it to him, with its scenic beauty, its distinctive neighborhoods, and its vibrant cultural scene. They had sampled these charms together, from leisurely strolls along the bay to the black-tie opening night at the opera where they had mingled with the cream of San Francisco society. With a handsome prince at my side, and black heels instead of glass slippers.
The evening had unfortunately featured another element of the Cinderella story: Catherine de Bourgh as the evil stepmother, and Anne as one of the stepsisters, holding court in their private box on the mezzanine. Catherine had issued William an invitation to accompany them—he said it had been phrased more as a royal command. He had declined, citing an unspecified prior engagement, making it important to hide from Catherine that evening.
The Ferrari reminded her of another evening, and she smiled as she stood under the cascading spray of water. Their “teen experience” drive-in movie date had been memorable, but not in the way William had hoped. He had failed to realize in advance that a small, sleek convertible—without a back seat, as Caroline Bingley had infamously pointed out—was a poor choice of vehicle in which to recapture his lost youth. At first he had clenched his jaw, his eyes crackling with annoyance as Elizabeth dissolved into fits of helpless giggles at his contorted attempts to embrace her across the car’s center console, but eventually he too had been overcome by the humor of the situation. They had abandoned the drive-in to proceed to phase two of the date, settling companionably into a booth at a nearby diner to enjoy an ice cream soda—with two straws, of course.
She turned off the shower, wrapped herself in a towel, and mechanically began to dry her hair, still musing over the past weeks. Their argument the night of Charlotte’s party had paved the way for a new measure of trust, leading to deeper and wider-ranging conversations. One particularly revealing topic had been William’s childhood. Though he told the stories matter-of-factly and without much detail, she had pieced together a poignant image of a lonely boy adrift in a world of adults. He had grown up beloved by the women in his household and praised by strangers, but isolated from his peers.
At an age when most boys spent their afternoons and weekends honing their skills—and making friends—on a variety of playing fields, William had been forbidden to play by his fearful mother. Fearful of what, Elizabeth wasn’t sure, and he hadn’t explained; perhaps she had worried about injury to his hands, since by then his once-in-a-generation talent had asserted itself. He had always been different, unique, peculiar—words that strike terror in the heart of the average adolescent. Now that Elizabeth understood that he had always felt like an outsider among his peers, it no longer seemed odd that he exhibited confidence to the point of arrogance in professional settings, yet retreated behind a wall of diffident reserve in social situations, reserve she had once misinterpreted as pompous conceit.
Of course, occasionally he was pompous … and a bit conceited. Love hadn’t blinded her to his faults. She was well aware that he treated nearly every unfamiliar person or situation with skepticism, awkward reserve, or both. Yet those who managed to chip their way through his protective shell were privileged to know a man who was loyal and generous, whose feelings ran deep, and whom she loved more with every passing day.
His frequent stubbornness, born of reliance on his formidable intellect, was another challenge, but Elizabeth had learned that humor and unassailable logic allowed her to hold her own. In one area, she had done better than hold her own: his health. With her encouragement—and some affectionate nagging—he had begun to take better care of himself, and his body had responded. The crowning moment had come two weeks ago, when Dr. Salinger had given a triumphant William permission to begin running again on a limited basis.
She suspected that the doctor’s prohibition against sex had also been lifted; otherwise it seemed unlikely that William would be permitted to run. Yet the physical side of their relationship had not advanced in the six weeks since the night of Charlotte’s party. If anything, they had taken a step backward. It was as though they had approached the edge of a precipice and peered over, only to scurry back after seeing the size of the drop that awaited them.
Elizabeth gathered her nearly-dry hair into a ponytail on her way to her bedroom. She dressed quickly in casual clothes and raced from the apartment, snatching a denim jacket from the hall closet on her way out the door. She would have to put on her make-up in the car.
After Chloe dropped her off at the airport, she began to feel silly. Who on earth hitched a ride to the airport in order to meet someone? But her teaching schedule had prevented her from seeing him off on his trip to New York, and the other night on the phone he had spoken of his many solitary arrivals at airports. He had already arranged a limo, so he didn’t need a ride. But had his wistful tone not convinced her to meet his flight, the broad hint that followed would have done the job: he had informed her not just of his arrival time, but of his airline and flight number.
She arrived at the entrance to the concourse with a few minutes to spare. As she stood with other passengers’ friends and relatives just outside the security area, all craning their necks for a view down the crowded concourse, she noted a limo driver holding a placard bearing the word “Darcy,” and her heart fluttered in her chest.
At last she saw him, and she drew in a quick breath. Did he get even more handsome over the past … eleven days, two hours, and twelve minutes?
Sonya was at his side, looking cross and tired. Elizabeth had expected to see Sonya; she was joining William in San Francisco to complete the work for the foundation’s young composers’ grants. But Elizabeth’s eyebrows shot up when she saw William speak to a man whom she belatedly recognized. William hadn’t mentioned that Richard was coming along on the trip, but there he was, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
William was scanning the waiting crowd. When at last he saw her, a look of pure delight spread across his features and he quickened his pace, leaving Sonya and Richard behind. She expected that the presence of his friends and the public setting would inhibit the warmth of his greeting, but he swept her into his arms the moment he reached her side, and they held each other tightly in wordless contentment. His lips brushed the top of her head and she heard him breathe her name. She lifted her head and basked in the warmth of his smile, wondering how she had survived for the past eleven days, two hours, and twelve minutes, not to mention the past twenty-six years, without him.
“Hi,” he said softly.
“Hi, yourself.” She smiled up at him as he lowered his head to hers.
“Okay, you two, break it up.” It was Richard, standing close beside them.
William straightened up and directed a stare of profound resentment at his cousin.
“Shut up, Richard,” Sonya snapped.
“Kidding!” Richard’s rakish grin made Elizabeth laugh. “Please, old man, do us all a favor and kiss the girl. You’ve been talking about her nonstop for the past ten days.”
Elizabeth knew better than that; William wouldn’t talk nonstop about anything. But she noted his sheepish expression, so perhaps Richard’s teasing had some basis in fact.
“I should never have let him come along,” William grumbled.
“You didn’t let me come. I invited myself.”
Elizabeth smiled at Sonya. “Welcome to San Francisco.”
Despite her obvious annoyance at Richard, Sonya managed a smile in return. “Thank you. It’s good to see you again. And I apologize for the bad behavior of my traveling companion.”
Elizabeth sensed smug satisfaction behind Richard’s penitent air. “Sorry,” he said. “I imagine you’ve been told that bad behavior is my specialty.”
Elizabeth extended her hand to Richard. “I’ve heard something to that effect. But I hadn’t heard that you were coming to San Francisco.”
“Spur of the moment decision. Been getting bored with my decadent lifestyle in New York, so I thought I’d seek out some fresh forms of decadence and give Will some company.”
“And I already regret it.” William’s weary tone suggested that he wasn’t joking.
“Don’t forget that you’re living under my folks’ roof, old man. A little gratitude would be in order.”
“I’m grateful—to Aunt Eleanor,” William shot back over his shoulder.
“They were like this the whole way out here,” Sonya muttered to Elizabeth, rolling her eyes. “The Bickersons Meet the Odd Couple.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed to Richard, anticipating his barbed retort, but he was engrossed in watching a curvaceous woman pass by. She stepped closer to Sonya. “Are they angry with each other?”
“No, this is their normal routine, just intensified. They do it mostly to amuse themselves, and as a weird form of competition. It’s rare for a sincere word to come out of Richard’s mouth, and William does his best to keep up. But I think he’s had his fill of Richard’s teasing this time.”
“Is the teasing about anything in particular?”
Sonya cocked her head and raised one eyebrow. “It’s mostly about you. We’ve all noticed that William has been, for lack of a better term, pining for you, and Richard’s been having a field day. He’s about as unsentimental as they come. Anyway, they acted like a couple of teenagers the whole way out here.”
A smile played around the corners of Elizabeth’s mouth. “I’ve been on the receiving end of some teasing myself, from a good friend of mine.”
William approached with the limo driver in tow and shepherded the group forward. Elizabeth couldn’t stop smiling as their group made their way toward baggage claim.
William felt an unexpected sense of homecoming as he set his keys on the table in the penthouse’s foyer.
“How old were you when your family moved to New York?” Elizabeth asked.
“Thirteen,” Richard answered without turning around. “New York is a terrific place, but San Francisco … I don’t need to explain; you’re a native, too.”
“I left at the same age as you, for school. This is the first time in years that I’ve been here for longer than a break between semesters.”
Richard stepped away from the windows. “I think you said your parents live in Cupertino.”
“Right. The weather’s a lot better down there, but I’m enjoying city life.”
“So, which room is mine?” Richard asked.
William, who couldn’t take his eyes off Elizabeth, didn’t answer at first. After Richard repeated his query with barely concealed amusement, a flustered William motioned in the direction of the hall. “The master suite or the small bedroom; your choice.”
“You’re not using the master suite?”
Richard snorted. “Not that a wall full of flowers threatens my masculinity, but I think I’ll bunk in my old bedroom for nostalgia’s sake.” He disappeared down the hall.
As soon as Richard was gone, William grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and drew her into his arms. “Now I can finally say a proper hello.” But no sooner had their lips met than he heard Richard’s footsteps and his jovial voice.
“Okay, my suitcase is stowed. Now let’s get some lunch. I’m—oops.”
Elizabeth withdrew from his embrace, but he kept one arm draped lightly over her shoulders. “Go away, Richard.”
“Fine. I can take a hint.”
Richard chuckled. “Okay, okay, I’m going. But you know, if you really want me to stay gone for a while, you could hand over the keys to the Ferrari.”
“Goodbye, Richie.” William emphasized Richard’s detested childhood nickname.
“This is your fault, Elizabeth,” Richard grumbled, but his eyes were twinkling. “Just because the old man wants to be alone with you, I’m about to be launched on the unsuspecting city of San Francisco without a chaperone.”
“I’ll make a quick call and warn the women to take cover.” Elizabeth gave Richard a saucy grin.
William smirked, gratified by the approval in his cousin’s eyes. He had suspected that Elizabeth would have no trouble going toe to toe with Richard.
“Well, enjoy yourselves, not that I need to tell you that. If there’s a tie on the doorknob when I get back, I’ll take a walk around the block. That should be more than enough time.” Richard’s footsteps echoed in the foyer, followed by the thud of the door.
William gathered Elizabeth back into his arms. “Alone at last.”
This time nothing interrupted the rapturous sensation as their lips met. He poured all his love, and all the loneliness of the past several days, into the kiss, until Elizabeth was clinging to him in helpless surrender. Then he raised his head, clasping her tightly to him. “I missed you so much,” he whispered against her hair, inhaling the clean scent of shampoo mingled with the sweet, exotic fragrance she wore.
Her breath was warm against his neck as she deposited spine-tingling kisses in a path up to his jaw. She raised her head, her eyes soft. “Same here.”
Their lips met again in a slow, deep, thorough kiss that awoke every nerve ending in William’s body. He groaned softly as her hands caressed his neck and threaded through his hair. But as time passed, their kisses grew gradually more playful, rubbing noses and giggling.
She took his hand and led him to the sofa. William sat down and she snuggled next to him in the circle of his arm, her legs curled under her, her hand resting over his heart. The sounds of the traffic below receded to the edges of his mind, leaving him enveloped in quiet contentment.
“How have you been feeling?”
He grinned, glancing at his wristwatch. “Mrs. Reynolds would be disappointed; it took you over an hour to get around to asking.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Ah, yes. Poor persecuted William. How dare we show concern for your welfare?”
He traced his fingers along her arm, and she nestled closer to him. “I feel fine. I still can’t run even half the distance I used to, but my stamina is improving bit by bit.”
“Okay, but what about the other things? Headaches? Fatigue? Breathlessness?”
“No, I’ve been fine.” He had a slight headache at the moment, but anybody would have a headache after leaving the house at six in the morning and being the target of Richard’s barbs for hours on end.
“Good.” She kissed his cheek. “I worry about you, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” He pressed a soft kiss to her lips. Her concern meant a great deal to her, even if sometimes he grumbled about it.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I assume you got breakfast on the flight, but that was a while ago. Let’s go out and get something.”
“There’s no need. I contacted Mrs. Hill a few days ago and asked her to have lunch for two waiting.”
She gave him a mischievous grin. “You didn’t mention that while Richard was here.”
“Certainly not. I said it was lunch for two.”
Elizabeth stood up and pulled him to his feet, and they proceeded into the kitchen. They found a container of vegetable soup in the refrigerator along with a fruit and cheese plate. A baguette lay on the counter. As they worked together to prepare the simple meal, Elizabeth said, “You never mentioned that Richard was coming with you.”
“He just decided last night.”
“So it’s not business related?” She paused in slicing the bread.
William frowned slightly. “No; why do you ask?”
“I thought maybe you were getting ready to resume touring, and he came out to work with you on the arrangements.”
“No, that’s not why he’s here. But—”
The microwave beeped, announcing that the soup was ready. They carried their lunch to the kitchen table.
“I considered telling you this on the phone,” William said, pulling out a chair for her and then seating himself. “But I thought it could wait till I got here.”
“So I was right. You are ready to start touring again.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Almost. I saw Dr. Rosemont last week, and afterwards she and Dr. Salinger talked. When I saw her again a few days ago, she said I could resume a normal schedule in January, based on my recent progress.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I know how hard it’s been for you to wait around.” Her smile was warmer now. “So you’ll stay out here till the end of the year?”
William hesitated. “They also gave me the go-ahead to start back on a limited basis in November.”
Her smile died. “So soon? Are they sure you’re healthy enough?”
“I have just one trip planned for November, but it’s a long one.” He absently swallowed a spoonful of soup.
“About ten days. Remember, I told you about the Liszt festival the Sydney Symphony is doing?”
“They’ve been holding out, waiting to see what would happen. They made backup arrangements just in case, but they wanted me. I’m supposed to perform over two weekends. It’s different from popping in and out of town and performing three times in as many days. I’ll have time to rest on the days between performances. And I was thinking ….”
“Hmm?” She sipped from her water glass.
“Why don’t you come with me?” He watched her reaction closely; he had come to depend on the success of this plan ever since he had thought of it.
She drew in a little breath and her eyes widened. “Is it during Thanksgiving break?”
“No. It’s earlier in the month.”
Her smile dimmed and she shook her head. “I wish I could. But I can’t cancel that many classes. They have strict policies about that.”
“Couldn’t you get a substitute?”
“That’s a lot of time to ask colleagues to cover for me, and I’d be giving Dr. de Bourgh a reason to fire me if I disappeared for that long.” She touched his hand. “I’m sorry; believe me, I would love to go with you if I could.”
He nodded and sighed, staring down at his plate. How ironic that the resumption of touring, the thing he had wished for so fervently, was bringing him a measure of sadness. “I’m going to miss you the whole time I’m there.”
“I’ll miss you, too.” She paused. “While you were in New York, it got me thinking about what it’s going to be like once you move back there for good.”
“I’ve been thinking about it, too.”
“I understand your situation.” She absently trailed her spoon through the broth in her soup bowl. “Your life is back there, and I can’t expect you to be here all the time. So, I don’t know what options we have.”
“One way or another, I want our relationship to continue.”
“So do I,” she said.
He lifted her hand to his lips. “Then we’ll make it happen. Now, I have to ask once more. Are you absolutely sure you can’t come to Australia?”
“Not if I want to keep my job. But what about the rest of November? When do you get back from the trip?”
“I don’t recall the exact date, but it’s a few days before Thanksgiving.”
“Are you flying back here, or to New York?”
William reached into the bread basket. “New York.”
“And staying there through Thanksgiving?”
“Yes.” No Darcy would dare flout Gran’s dictum that they appear en masse for Thanksgiving dinner, but William had no intention of being separated from Elizabeth for that long. He had at first considered defying Gran, but then a better idea had occurred to him. He took a breath, about to explain, when Elizabeth spoke again.
“I ask because my Aunt Madeline invited me to go to the Caribbean over Thanksgiving break. Uncle Edward has a medical conference starting the weekend before, and we’d play tourist and lie by the pool while he’s in meetings. She said we’d stay through the end of the week.”
“Did you accept?”
“Not yet. I wanted to find out your plans first. I thought you’d probably be in New York, but just in case you were going to be here instead, I didn’t want to leave you by yourself. Anyway, I guess I’ll call her and say yes. It sounds like fun, don’t you think?”
William shook his head, responding not to her question, but to the idea. “Don’t go with them. Come to New York with me instead.”
“What?” She set down her soup spoon and regarded him in silence.
“Come to New York and spend Thanksgiving week with me. And my family, of course.”
Her eyes widened. “But—I mean, it’s so nice of you to ask, but—”
“I’m not asking to be nice. I want them to get to know you better, and vice versa.”
“Thanksgiving is a big deal in most families. Are you certain I won’t be intruding?”
William reached across the table and took her hand. “Of course you won’t. They’ll be happy to have you join us.” At least, he hoped so.
She looked skeptical, but she nodded and gave him a tentative smile. “Then, yes, I’d love to come.”
He beamed at her. He could already see her sitting beside him at the dinner table; he had imagined her there often enough during his lonely summer. “Excellent. I’ll let Gran know. She’ll be writing you to issue an invitation of her own.”
“That’s sweet of her.”
“She’s old-fashioned about these things. She still talks about the days when it wasn’t proper for a young single lady to visit a gentleman, so officially she visited one of his female relatives.”
“And we certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that wasn’t proper.” Elizabeth said the word “proper” with an exaggerated British accent.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he replied, one eyebrow raised at a rakish angle.
Laughing, she stood up, walked around the table, and looped her arms around his neck from behind. “I’m so glad you’re back,” she murmured in his ear.
“So am I.” He drew her onto his lap,.
“Glad enough to do me a favor?”
“You want me to play something for you?”
She grinned. “I’d love that, as always, but I had something else in mind. Is this Sonya’s first trip to San Francisco?”
“I think so.”
“We shouldn’t just leave her alone at the hotel all day. Let’s show her around town this afternoon.”
He frowned. “You know I’d rather be alone with you.”
“Yes, but I also know that you’re a sweet, thoughtful gentleman who treats his guests well. And we’ll have some time to ourselves after dinner tonight.” She nuzzled his neck.
“If you want me to do this, you’d better stop kissing my neck. That’s persuasion of entirely the wrong kind.”
“Good point.” Nodding, she jumped to her feet. “Why don’t you call her? We’ll have to take my car since yours only seats two.”
Elizabeth’s suggestion interfered with the romantic afternoon he had anticipated, but he knew that she was right. “Or I could hire a car and driver for the afternoon.”
“Excellent idea! No parking hassles, and the driver can take us up Telegraph Hill. I know you’re better now, but I’m not letting you anywhere near those steps.”
“I have to warn you; I’m going to be sharing stories from the San Francisco history book I bought that day.”
“I think we can bear it. Go make the calls, and I’ll clean up the lunch dishes.”
1 Okay, this is just weird. In 2019, long after I wrote this chapter, the Drake renamed the Starlight Room "Lizzie's Starlight." It's a reference to Queen Elizabeth's alleged affair with Sir Francis Drake.