Where is she?
Jane was at the bar talking to a friend, which left William alone with Sonya. After a few failed conversational gambits she had fallen silent. This suited William, who wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter. He also wasn’t in the mood for jazz music, at least not if it meant tolerating Bill Collins’s preening presence at the keyboard. All he wanted was to know that Elizabeth was all right, and until that happened nothing would please him.
His festival of disgruntlement was interrupted by Charlotte’s voice. “Hey, William, how’s it going?”
He rose from his chair and nodded to her. “Welcome home. Did you have a productive trip?”
“Very much so, thanks in part to you.” Charlotte had been in the Netherlands doing dissertation research, her trip funded by an arts foundation with which William had connected her.
“I just made a few calls. You did the rest.” He assisted her in seating herself and made terse introductions.
“He’s such a gentleman, isn’t he?” Charlotte said, grinning at Sonya.
Sonya turned a sardonic eye on him. “Yeah, he’s a regular Sir William Raleigh.”
“Oh, William, you’re in trouble now.” Charlotte rubbed her hands together, her eyes gleaming. “Sonya can fill me in on what you’re really like.”
“Not if she values her job.” He crossed his arms over his chest, glowering.
“Oh, stop being such a grouch,” Sonya said, rolling her eyes. “You know perfectly well that I always say nice things about you to other people. I only insult you to your face.”
“Welcome to my world,” William sighed.
Charlotte grinned at his remark as she glanced around the room. “Oh, there’s Jane. Who’s she talking to?”
William didn’t know, nor did he care. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elizabeth dashing into the lounge, and relief washed over him. She signaled a wordless apology to her fellow band members and then turned in William’s direction. He rose to his feet and stepped away from the table, basking in the pleasure of watching her approach.
“Hi,” she breathed, stepping close to him and raising her face to his. His arms encircled her and their lips touched gently.
“I was worried about you,” he murmured.
“I’m fine.” She brushed his lips with her thumb. “Lipstick.”
“You shouldn’t have rubbed it off. Now I’m going to have to get some more.”
“Well, then, come and get it.” This time the kiss lingered.
Elizabeth glanced over his shoulder at the occupants of their table. “We have an audience.”
“I don’t care. I’m just glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” She touched his cheek. “But as much as I’d rather stand here and kiss you for the rest of the evening, the guys are probably going to expect me to do a little singing.”
“First, tell me where you were. You aren’t sick, are you?”
“It wasn’t that kind of appointment. I was talking to a counselor about what happened last night. I promise I’ll tell you about it later.”
Her answer took him by surprise. He was about to question her further when a jovial voice rang out. “Okay, you two, break it up.”
William smiled at Elizabeth. “Go away, Richard.”
“How are you tonight, Richard?” Elizabeth asked.
“You need to buy Richard a drink,” Elizabeth said to William. “A smooth, well-aged single malt scotch, neat, preferably in a Glencairn whisky glass.”
“Will, have I mentioned how much I love this girl?” Richard headed for the bar.
Elizabeth flung her arms around Charlotte, who had stood up to greet her. “Welcome back! I want to hear all about the Netherlands, including the things you left out of your emails, but I have to go sing before the guys fire me. We’ll talk later, okay?”
“I’ll be here.”
“Good. I’d better get to work.” Elizabeth hurried away to the stage area after a quick detour to kiss William on the cheek.
“Have you seen Charles lately?” Charlotte asked Jane, who had returned to the table.
“It’s been a couple of weeks, but he’s coming up this weekend for Lizzy’s birthday party.”
Richard returned to the table, a glass in his hand. “Well, old man, I’m here now, so you can forget about having these three lovely ladies all to yourself. And that’s not counting the ravishing creature who just left lipstick on your cheek.” Richard seated himself between Jane and Charlotte. “Isn’t anybody going to introduce us?”
“Of course,” Jane said. “Charlotte, this is William’s cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam. Richard, this is a good friend of Lizzy’s and mine, Charlotte Lucas.”
“So you’re the cousin I’ve been hearing about,” Charlotte said, eyeing Richard with obvious interest.
“I don’t know what you’ve heard,” Richard drawled, “but it’s probably true.”
“When you’re not talking to women in bars, what do you do?”
“He’s my business manager, and a perennial thorn in my side,” William said.
Charlotte smirked. “Such a broad range of talents.”
“Oh, that list barely scratches the surface,” Richard replied smoothly.
“The problem is,” Sonya shot back, “your other ‘talents’ aren’t fit for public discussion.”
“Well, now I’m intrigued.” Charlotte leaned toward Richard. “Tell me more.”
Richard leaned forward as well, his eyes glittering. “I would, but I’m more into showing than telling.”
“That suits me. When does the show start?”
“Any time you like. Why don’t we discuss performance opportunities over a drink? I’d offer to buy, but this round is on Will. In fact, all the rounds are on Will; he’s a handy guy to have around on evenings like this. What would you like?” Richard flagged down the cocktail waitress.
“Johnny Walker Black, neat.”
Richard’s lips quirked in a crooked grin as he glanced up at the waitress. “Make that two.” He then directed his grin at Charlotte. “A scotch drinker, and you don’t ruin it with ice, either.”
“I drink it on the rocks now and then, but tonight I’m going for the gusto. So you’re a Johnny Walker Black drinker, too?”
“Not usually. I prefer 30-year Macallan, but they don’t serve it here.”
“I’ve never had it.”
“It’s the nectar of the gods.”
Charlotte and Richard’s banter continued, as did Sonya and Jane’s more placid conversation, but their voices faded as William focused on Elizabeth, who was preparing to sing. He sat back, his possessive gaze fixed on her.
“Have you had that talk with Roger yet?”
“Yeah. He stopped by last night and we had a good conversation, cleared the air.”
The band was taking a break, and Elizabeth and Charlotte stood together near the bar catching up on recent events.
She returned her attention to Charlotte. “So then, are you and Roger officially broken up?”
“Not exactly. For one thing, we were never officially together. At least, not ‘together’ together. But we’re going back to something more casual, like at the beginning. He doesn’t love me, thank God; that would have been a mess. But we’re friends and the sex is good, so there’s no reason to completely call it quits. Anyway, enough about me. I want to know what’s going on with you and William.”
“Things are good.” Elizabeth hadn’t decided yet which details she was willing to share.
“Just ‘good’? Rumor has it you and William spent last night together.”
“‘Rumor’ being a code name for Richard?”
Charlotte chuckled. “He’s a piece of work, that one. You know I can’t possibly resist him.”
Elizabeth accepted her refilled water glass from the bartender, giving him a nod of thanks, and then turned back to Charlotte. “I figured as much. You’re like twins separated at birth.”
“Twins?” Charlotte grimaced. “I hope not, considering what I’m going to do to—and with—him later tonight.”
“You two have already decided this? That was done at warp speed.”
“We haven’t discussed it, exactly, but we both know it. By the way, when is he going back to New York?”
“Saturday, with William.”
“Only three nights left; too bad my days are booked. Oh, and speaking of days, you don’t teach on Friday, right?”
“Not this week. Why?”
“For your birthday, I’m taking you to a spa for a day of pampering, and I thought Friday would be perfect. We can get you all fixed up for your big evening with William … though I guess last night might have been a big evening too?” Charlotte eyebrows were raised in anticipation.
Elizabeth reflected back Charlotte’s smirk but didn’t answer.
Charlotte heaved a sigh. “You never tell me any of the good stuff. Anyway, is Friday okay?”
“It sounds heavenly.”
“Good. Jane’s going to try to join us for the afternoon. We talked about it before she went home.”
“I can’t wait. Thanks, Char.”
“Yeah, well, what do you get for the girl who has everything?”
Elizabeth saw the other band members returning to the stage. “Looks like break’s over. I won’t keep you from your twin any longer.”
As Elizabeth walked away, Charlotte called after her, “I’ll tell you what. You stop calling him that, and I’ll stop asking you what happened last night.”
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder, smiling. “It’s a deal.”
Later that evening, William sat sipping a surprisingly good cognac and watching Elizabeth sing. His tablemates had given up on engaging him in conversation, relieving him of any need to pretend to listen to them.
Each time he and Elizabeth made eye contact, a little dart of energy zapped between them. Ordinarily that would have been sufficient to keep him in a happy haze, but he couldn’t shake off a sense of unease. Snippets of her story from last night and her explanations this morning had been circling in his mind since his lunchtime walk, the pieces not quite adding up … at least, not to any answer he wanted to accept.
An even bigger problem was the rage that inhabited the pit of his stomach. How dare anyone treat my Lizzy that way? He had no idea how to help her, other than by promising himself that he would never again pressure her for physical intimacy. He had made and broken that promise several times before, forgetting in the heat of passion his resolve to follow her lead. But it was bad enough that he resembled Michael; he refused to behave even remotely like that bastard.
Her song ended and the band took another break. Elizabeth’s progress in William’s direction was halted by the compliments of some patrons at a table close to the stage.
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?” It was the cocktail waitress, holding a tulip glass identical to the one in front of him, except that it was full.
“I didn’t order a refill,” he said with a dismissive gesture.
“The ladies over there sent it with their compliments. They told me that you’re a famous musician?”
“I’m a concert pianist.” William’s head swiveled in the direction the waitress had indicated, on the other side of the dance floor. Six women of varying ages were watching him intently.
The waitress set the glass in front of him. “They’re fans of yours and didn’t want to disturb your evening, but they wanted to buy you a drink.”
“You should go talk to them, Will,” Richard said with a smirk. “It’ll be the thrill of their lives, to experience the William Darcy Magnetic Field up close and personal.”
William gritted his teeth. He had no intention of trying to make small talk with a table full of fans at a bar, and Richard knew it. Still, some sort of gesture was in order, so he nodded in the direction of the women, raising the glass in a silent toast. As he turned away, he heard a burst of high-pitched noise from their direction. A quick look back showed the women leaning toward the center of the table, all talking at once.
“All the attention William gets from adoring women must make you jealous,” Charlotte said to Richard, her eyes gleaming with mirth.
Sonya snickered. “Only on days with a ‘Y’ in their names.”
“Ignore her,” Richard said. “That blasted magnetic field of Will’s does tend to draw in the ladies, but I have some skills of my own.”
“Mr. Fitzwilliam,” Charlotte said with exaggerated formality, “I do get the sense that you don’t spend many nights alone.”
“All hail the defender of my honor.” Richard clinked glasses with Charlotte. “As to nights alone, I confess I’m a male version of Goldilocks. I enjoy trying out different beds, looking for one that’s just right.”
“Not afraid of being eaten by the big bad wolf?” Charlotte’s eyebrows rose in a suggestive arch.
“The wolf was in The Three Little Pigs. And Little Red Riding Hood too, come to think of it. Goldilocks had a run-in with the three bears. But why do you ask? Is there a possibility that I might get eaten?”
Charlotte didn’t respond, but the crooked angle of her grin combined with the frank expression in her eyes made it clear that an offer had been extended … and accepted, judging from Richard’s answering smirk. William shook his head, staring into his glass of cognac.
Two hands landed on William’s shoulders, and he smelled a familiar jasmine scent. Elizabeth bent over and kissed his cheek. “How’s it going here?” He rose to pull out a chair for her, but she put a hand on his arm and leaned down to murmur in his ear, “I’m done for the evening. The guys are going to finish with an instrumental set, so I was thinking ….”
“We can get out of here?” It sounded like an excellent plan.
“Not yet. I should stay till they’re finished in case they change their minds. But what if we find a quiet table over by the windows, just the two of us?”
“That sounds wonderful.”
She addressed the others at the table. “Would you mind if I stole William for a while? There’s something I need to discuss with him.”
“By all means, take him away.” Richard grinned at her. “He’s done nothing but stare at you all night anyway. And I suppose he might have grunted once or twice. By the way, you’re quite a singer. Will didn’t exaggerate when he told me how good you were.”
“Thank you, Richard.”
Sonya rose to her feet. “As much as it frightens me to say the words, I agree with Richard. You’re every bit as good as William told us, and that’s saying something. I’m glad I got to hear you. But now it’s time for me to be on my way. I have an early flight in the morning.”
“It’s been great having you in town,” Elizabeth said. “I enjoyed our brunch.”
“I’ll see you at Thanksgiving. Maybe we can check out that vintage clothing store in the Village you told me about.” Sonya turned to Richard. “And as for you, behave yourself.”
“The only behaving I’m planning to do is misbehaving.”
William shook his head. Some things never changed.
Elizabeth watched William walk away with Sonya at his side. He was escorting her to her hotel, despite her protests that she didn’t need a bodyguard when the Fairmont was just across the street.
Charlotte eyed Elizabeth with obvious curiosity. “What’s this about Thanksgiving?”
“Elizabeth is spending Thanksgiving at the fortress in New York.” Richard sat back in his chair, gently swirling the contents of his glass. “You’re a brave girl, tackling Gran on her home turf.”
“Is your grandmother really that bad, or are you just trying to scare Liz?”
Richard shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong, I think Gran is terrific, but she’s a tough old broad. And William is the only son of her only son, the heir to the kingdom, you might say.”
“You’re the eldest grandchild,” Elizabeth said. “Does she have something against heirs produced by daughters?”
“There’s more to it than that. Put yourself in her position. On your left, ladies and gentlemen, there’s the brilliant musician and dutiful grandson who’s steady and respectable and behaves himself in public. And on your right, we have … me. Now, place your bets on the Great Hope for the Future.”
“You’re pretty hard on yourself,” Charlotte said.
“Don’t worry,” Richard replied with a jovial grin. “It never lasts. Ordinarily, I’m my biggest fan. But Gran picked the right man for the job. I enjoy being the ne’er-do-well. Meanwhile, Will gets roped into representing the family on nonprofit boards and at unspeakably dull parties.”
“And let me finish this story for you,” Elizabeth said. “Your grandmother thinks I’m an unsuitable consort for the crown prince.”
Richard hesitated. “‘Unknown element’ might be a better way to put it. Most of William’s girlfriends have been the granddaughters or nieces of people she knows. So she’s at least on yellow alert where you’re concerned. But you’ve got some fans in that house; Mrs. R. is crazy about you, and you seem to have won Sonya’s seal of approval. I’ll even put in a good word for you, for what little that’s worth.”
“Thanks, Richard. I appreciate the endorsement and the warning.”
“Just looking out for Will. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s become a reflex.” He shrugged. “I need a drink. Anybody else?”
William returned to their table and stood behind Elizabeth, his hands massaging her shoulders. She twisted around to smile at him. “Did you deliver Sonya safely to her hotel?”
“Yes, and she never stopped trying to get rid of me.”
“Maybe she had a secret rendezvous planned, and you were in the way.” Elizabeth rose to her feet, laughing at the baffled look on his face. “I was kidding, silly boy. Come on, let’s find a table.”
They situated themselves in a corner of the room, as far from other people as possible. “Would you like a drink?” he asked.
“Looks like I could just share with you. When did you become a two-fisted drinker?” She nodded at the two glasses of cognac he had brought with him.
“The women over there are fans; they sent me a refill. And before you ask, no, I didn’t go and talk to them afterwards, and I don’t intend to, so don’t waste your time trying to talk me into it.”
“I wasn’t going to ask,” she said, tamping down a flash of annoyance at the harsh tone in his voice. Obviously something was bothering him, something that it might help him to discuss. He usually resisted direct questions, but it often helped to get him talking about a non-threatening topic first. She adopted a light-hearted tone. “Besides, you already did your daily good deed when you were so nice to Jenna.”
“My voice student. The one who got your autograph.”
“Oh, of course.”
“She has a huge crush on you, and you can’t imagine how much it meant to her.”
William took Elizabeth’s hand. “I looked at her, and it was as though I was seeing you waiting for my autograph when you were sixteen. I wish I’d noticed you then and talked to you.”
“Well, you gave her a thrill, and I was proud of my wonderful guy.” She grimaced. “Oh, no. Now I have a song from South Pacific in my head—you know, ‘I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy.’” She sang the song title softly. “I suppose it’s no wonder, considering all the time I’ve spent listening to it at rehearsals.”
She exhaled loudly in feigned irritation, but she couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “If you do say so yourself. But, yes, I am.”
“That wasn’t so difficult, was it?”
His smile was wider now, and she congratulated herself on the success of her strategy.
They fell silent and Elizabeth appropriated one of his glasses, inhaling slowly before she tasted its contents. William loved to linger over a glass of cognac after a relaxed dinner, and although she found the flavor too strong for more than a few sips, she was at least learning to appreciate the rich aroma. “Did you really tell Richard and Sonya that I was a good singer?”
“I’m proud of you, Lizzy; of course I told them how talented you are. And you know how much I love hearing you sing.”
She squeezed his hand. “Even if you have to skulk in doorways to hear me.”
His expression softened into a gentle smile. “Your song this morning was beautiful.”
“I learned it a while ago, but today it was brand new for me. I understood exactly what every word meant, because of you.”
He clasped both her hands in his. Their eyes met, and she could feel William’s intense gaze penetrating her soul. Once this had made her uneasy, but now she welcomed it. When he spoke, his voice held a husky note. “How long before the end of the song did you see me?”
“I saw you right before I started singing.”
“You knew I was there the whole time?”
“I’d been watching for you. You show up often enough on Wednesdays.”
“Wait a minute. You know that I watch you practice sometimes?”
Her eyes sparkled as she squeezed his hand. “Why do you think the classroom door is always open?”
“How long have you known?”
“I saw you up there one day, over a month ago, lurking by the door. I almost invited you in, but you didn’t seem to want to be noticed. I decided that if you wanted me to know you were there, you’d say something.”
“And I thought I was so successful with my stealth routine,” he said.
“I decided to play along. I know you’re disappointed that I haven’t sung for you in private, especially since you’re always willing to play for me.”
“Willing to play for you? Of course I am. It rarely fails to earn me some very … hot … kisses.” He leaned over and brushed his lips over hers after each of the last three words.
His mood was lighter now, so she decided to try a gentle probe. “Earlier you seemed like something was bothering you. Is there something you’d like to talk about?”
He didn’t answer at first, his gaze drifting around the room. “I’d rather wait till we’re alone. I wish we could leave now.”
“I’m sorry.” She checked her watch. “A little less than an hour to go. But if you don’t want to stay—”
“If you’re here, I’m here. But I wanted to mention, I was hoping you’d stay the night with me again. Just so I can hold you while we sleep; I’m not expecting anything else.”
“I have an overnight bag in the car, because I was hoping you’d ask.”
“Well, after all, I did agree to your thirty-year plan this morning. The only thing is, I have a voice lesson at seven, a make-up, so I’m going to have to get up awfully early.”
“That’s fine, though I’ll probably try to convince you to play hooky and stay in bed.”
“I know I’ll be tempted.” She withdrew one hand from his grasp, running a finger along his cheek. “Maybe I’d better not look at the gentleman occupying the pillow next to mine, or I won’t want to go anywhere.”
His grin, with dimples on high beam, nearly stole her breath. “I’ll have to do my best to look irresistible, then, so you can’t bear to leave me.”
William released her hands and sat back, sipping his cognac. Elizabeth decided that she wanted a glass of wine. As she glanced around the room, deciding whether she should wait for the cocktail waitress or go to the bar herself, she noticed that their former table was empty. “It looks like Char and Richard are gone. Did you see them leave?”
“That’s odd. I would have expected them to stop by to say goodnight.”
“Later they’ll claim they didn’t want to disturb us, but I bet they were just waiting for the rest of us to disperse so they could sneak off together.”
She glanced over at the band and noticed Roger motioning with his head and mouthing something that she couldn’t understand. She excused herself and crossed the room, standing a short distance away until the band finished its current selection.
Roger frowned at her. “Sweetie, what are you still doing here? Jim and I rearranged the songs so you wouldn’t have to hang around all night.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m part of the group and I’m staying till the end.”
“That’s an excellent attitude, Elizabeth,” Bill Collins chimed in. “I applaud your commitment, though I’d expect nothing less from you.”
Roger rolled his eyes and shook his head. “There’s no reason why she and Will can’t leave.”
“I agree with Roger, but can we wrap up this conference?” Jim Pennington asked, adjusting his grip on his bass. “We’re getting paid to play, not chat.”
“Sorry, Mr. Pennington,” Elizabeth sang out. Jim was the unofficial disciplinarian of the group, a natural role given his job as a high school principal.
“Seriously, Lizzy,” Roger said. “Go enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“Okay, thanks. And William thanks you too.”
The moment the elevator began its descent, William pulled Elizabeth into his arms. “Alone at last,” he whispered against her lips. Their kiss lasted for nineteen floors, ending only with their arrival in the hotel lobby. William grabbed her hand and pulled her through the elegant lobby at a brisk pace, his powerful strides fueled by his impatience.
When they reached the hotel’s main doors, Elizabeth grabbed his arm. “Hold on. I’ve got shorter legs, and you’re not wearing heels.”
William stopped. “Sorry. I’m just in a hurry to be alone with you. How about if I carry you?”
“I think I’m safer walking. Just don’t sprint, that’s all.”
They exited the hotel together into the chilly night air. “You don’t think I could carry you? Want to see me do it?”
She tucked her arm through his. “Come on, Superman, the light’s changing.”
Together they crossed the street, walked the short distance to the parking garage to fetch her overnight bag and then retraced their steps to his building. As soon as they were in the elevator, he set the bag on the floor and lifted her off the ground, cradling her in his arms.
“Is this supposed to impress me?” she asked, her eyes bubbling with laughter.
“Just proving a point.” William kissed her soundly, and with a sigh of surrender her arms stole around his neck. When the elevator doors opened, he set her on her feet. “So, are you impressed?” he asked.
“I don’t need to be carried around, but as for your kissing … that has always impressed me.”
“Then allow me to impress you some more.” He buried his hands in her hair and his lips recaptured hers, more demanding this time. She leaned against him with a soft moan, and heat rippled through him as he pulled her closer.
The elevator doors slid shut, and Elizabeth drew away from him, laughing. “Unless we want to ride the elevator all night, maybe we’d better think about getting off.”