“We need to discuss the wedding,” Rose said.
Elizabeth caught herself tugging at the hem of her black skirt, and forced her hands to be still. She refused to let Rose undermine her confidence, and a confident woman wouldn’t be obsessing about whether or not her skirt completely covered her knees. “William and I haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet,” she said, giving her hair what she hoped was a defiant toss.
“Lizzy and I need to talk first, Gran.” William wrapped his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. A confident woman also wouldn’t need the reassurance of his touch, but she couldn’t stop herself from shifting closer to him on the sofa.
Her eyes strayed to the Christmas tree in the corner of the second-floor family room. Compared to the behemoth in the library, some might have considered it unimpressive, but she preferred its more modest size and its simpler decorations: garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and delicate blown glass ornaments.
“I’m not suggesting that we choose the wedding cake and design the bridesmaid’s dresses today,” Rose said dryly. “But we need to establish some basic parameters. For example, it is customary for the bride’s family to assume primary responsibility for the wedding.” She paused, her cool gray eyes as unreadable as a page inscribed in invisible ink. “But William is a prominent man from a prominent family, which places unusual demands on the style and scale of the event.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help but admire Rose’s talent for euphemism. “In other words, it needs to be a much bigger wedding than my parents and I can afford.”
“No problem,” William said. “I’m going to pay for everything.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but Rose spoke first. “I wasn’t referring solely to the cost. There are other considerations. For example, weddings are often held where the bride lives, or where her family resides. It would be best if this wedding took place in New York.”
At least Rose’s tone gave it the air of a recommendation and not a command. Elizabeth glanced at William, who raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “That’s fine with me,” she said, “and I doubt my parents will object.” She coughed to cover a giggle at the understatement. Her mother had already anticipated this development and was thrilled by the prospect. She had been on the verge of calling to reserve St. Patrick’s Cathedral for every Saturday in June until Mr. Bennet had reminded her that neither the Darcys nor the Bennets were Catholic.
“Then that’s settled.” Rose folded her hands in her lap with the air of a woman accustomed to getting her way. “Now, let’s discuss the time frame. As I told William the other day, a date next December would give us sufficient time to prepare. And a winter theme for the wedding would be lovely.”
“And as I told you, Gran, we’re not waiting a year.”
“Very well.” Rose made the concession with a suspicious degree of complacency. “I suppose six months might do if we are diligent and well organized, and June is a traditional month for weddings.” Her self-assured gaze fell on William. “That is, if you can spare some of Sonya’s time to help with the arrangements.”
“Three months,” he said, his chin jutting out. “That’s non-negotiable.”
“Impossible. We would never be able to get the church, much less a proper location for the reception.”
Elizabeth astonished herself by siding with Rose. “Will, I know you don’t want to wait, but three months is too soon. I’m not even moving here till the end of February. Wouldn’t it be best if I were here for a few months before the wedding?” She assumed her best respectful-future-granddaughter-in-law expression. “So that Mrs. Darcy and I can work together on the arrangements.”
“That’s an excellent point,” Rose replied.
She touched William’s arm gently. “It’ll be fine, Will. June isn’t that far away.”
He scowled and huffed a stream of air through his nose, but didn’t comment.
“And, besides, you’ll be able to take more time off in June, so we can plan a longer honeymoon.”
His expression softened. “All right, I admit, that almost makes up for the delay. Almost.”
“Excellent.” Rose set her coffee cup aside. “Before Elizabeth returns to California, the three of us should meet with the rector at St. Bartholomew’s to select some possible dates. Then Sonya can begin investigating options for the reception. We’re starting late, so our choices may be limited, but I’ll have her start with the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza.”
Elizabeth envisioned Rose as a train departing the station, gliding slowly past the platform at first but gathering relentless speed, until it would flatten anything standing in its way. “And William needs to check his performing calendar.”
“You mean I get some say in the proceedings?” he grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.
“Not much.” Elizabeth grinned and patted his knee. “Don’t you know that the groom’s only official responsibility is to show up for the wedding, on time and appropriately dressed? Oh—and to produce a best man and an usher or two.”
A ghost of a smile flickered across Rose’s face. “I’ll ask Sonya to call the church and make an appointment.”
A few minutes later, when Elizabeth and William exited the family room, he grabbed her arm and all but dragged her across the second-floor landing to his office. He shut the door with a bang and spun around, skewering her with the laser-like intensity of his eyes. “Are you having second thoughts about marrying me?”
“Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“You sided with Gran about delaying the wedding. And you made me sleep alone last night.”
She planted her hands on her hips and glared at him. “William Darcy, stop acting like a spoiled brat. I would have sided with you about not waiting a year, if you’d bothered to ask my opinion. But three months is too soon. It’s going to be hard enough to keep your grandmother from making every decision about the wedding herself, but at least if I’m in town for a few months beforehand, I have a fighting chance.”
“Oh.” His forehead twitched, as though trying to dislodge the frown from his face.
“And the sleeping arrangements last night had nothing to do with how I feel about you. It had to do with respecting your grandmother’s wishes and wanting to keep the private details of our relationship … well, private. You, of all people, should understand that.”
He closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I’m just frustrated.”
“I know.” She let her hands drop to her sides. “But I’m not going to let you take it out on me. This is all new to me, and you need to give me some time get get comfortable.”
She could feel him willing her to come closer, but she stood unmoving, staring at him. At last he stepped forward and enfolded her in his arms. His sigh this time was deep and slow, and she felt his body relax against hers.
“I didn’t know this was going to be so complicated,” he murmured.
She rested her hands on his chest, its solid warmth radiating through his shirt, and her pulse slowed to a relaxed cadence. “You thought we’d just transplant our life in California out here, and insert it into the middle of your family.”
“I guess I did.”
“You were kidding yourself. It’s going to disrupt everyone’s lives. That’s another reason why I think we shouldn’t get married in a hurry. It’ll be easier if we do things gradually. We still have a lot of things about our future to figure out.”
He bent his head and kissed her. “I know, and I don’t mean to be impatient. I’m just ready to start our life together.”
She reached up and brushed her favorite stray curl off his forehead. “And you love all of us, and you want us to be one big, happy family.”
He nodded. “It sounds naïve when you put it that way.”
“Give us a little time, okay?” She drew his head down to hers and kissed him. “And meanwhile, don’t ever forget that I’m crazy about you, you big, dumb jerk.”
He chuckled and returned the kiss, drawing her tightly against him. When he spoke again, she could feel his voice rumble in his chest. “I should warn you, I’m not done trying to convince you to sleep with me. I was awake almost the whole night. I kept imagining that I could hear you tossing and turning upstairs, missing me.”
She had done precisely that, but she wasn’t going to hand him any ammunition. She stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “How could you have heard me, if the soundproofing is as good as you say it is?”
He smirked. “I have special sensory powers where you’re concerned.”
“Well, at least now I know why you’re so grouchy today.”
“I am not grouchy.” He eyed her indignantly.
“You are, too. In church this morning you looked like a petulant six-year-old, and you barely said a word all through brunch.”
“I’m tired, not grouchy. In fact, I thought I might take a short nap.” He raised his eyebrows. “Want to join me?”
“Yes. But I’m not going to.” She extracted herself from his arms. “I need to call Jane, and I have some presents to wrap. Go take your nap, and when you wake up, let’s go for a walk, just the two of us.”
“Good idea.” He paused, mischief glinting in his eyes. “If you won’t nap with me, will you at least tuck me in?”
“How gullible do you think I am? If you maneuvered me that close to your bed, you’d never let me escape.”
He sighed. “It was worth a try. I’ll see you in an hour or so.”
She watched him go, smiling to herself.
The relatively balmy December weather continued through Christmas Eve, and for the third day in a row William found himself out for an afternoon stroll. After his much-needed nap on Sunday, he and Elizabeth had explored the park. Today, she had proposed a walk down Fifth Avenue. No one else in the world could have enticed him into the tourist area of Midtown during the holidays, but she had overcome his protests with a determined assault of kisses. And so we find our hero on the streets of Manhattan, braving the crowds in the name of love.
Venturing into tourist territory wasn’t the only thing he had done for love over the past two days. Their steamy good night kisses on Saturday had been followed by even hotter ones on Sunday. He didn’t know why he insisted on driving himself to agonies of frustration, but he couldn’t deny himself the taste of her warm lips or the softness of her body in his arms. And once he held her, he craved more. Much more.
He hadn’t lied to her the day before. Deep in the night, he could sense her presence one floor above him. Her soft, regular breathing, its rhythm burned into his brain, seemed to whisper in his ears. When he inhaled, he thought he detected a hint of her jasmine fragrance on his pillow. To have her so close, and yet not close enough, was excruciating.
“Want to get a cup of coffee?” she asked as they exited the store several minutes later. “I’ll even buy.”
“Then how can I possibly refuse?”
Ten minutes later they sat sipping their coffee at a small table in a bustling café around the corner from Tiffany’s. “Not as quiet as La Lanterna,” he said, smiling at her.
“Speaking of La Lanterna …” Elizabeth paused.
“And our conversation about children …”
He set down his coffee cup. “What about it?”
She scooted her chair closer to his. “We’ve never discussed our feelings about having kids in any detail—if, when, how many, stuff like that. We really should have done that before we decided to get married.”
“I just assumed …” He shrugged.
She nodded. “You’ve always taken it for granted that you’d have children some day. The next generation of the Darcys. I know that.”
“Are you saying you don’t want children?” He studied her intently, astonished that he could have taken something so fundamental for granted.
“No, not at all.” She licked her lips. “But I’m not like Jane. She and Charles want a big family, and they want to get started right away. She’s dying to be a mother.”
“And you’re not?”
She hesitated. “I want children, eventually. Not a dozen, but I think two would be a good number.”
“That’s what I’ve always envisioned. A boy and a girl.”
“I can’t guarantee you one of each,” she said with a warm smile, “but I’ll do my best.”
He leaned forward and kissed her. “You’re going to be a wonderful mother, Lizzy.”
She smiled but didn’t answer. Silence fell between them again, and they sat back and sipped their coffee. Then she set her cup on the table, a determined expression on her face. “Also, I think we should wait a while. A few years, maybe. We need to work out all the complications of being married before we add children to the mix.”
He hadn’t been thinking of a delay. Quite the contrary; he sometimes wondered if his forgetfulness about birth control had been partially rooted in a desire to start his family immediately. But she was right about their complicated situation. “A few years? That long?”
“You said you wanted me to travel with you, right?”
He almost choked on a mouthful of coffee. When he was able to speak, he said, “Of course, but I didn’t think you were willing to consider it.”
“I’ve been doing some thinking. In fact, at lunch on Saturday, Laura—Dr. Church—and I talked about it. She thinks I can find a way to do something in music education, but still go on the road with you. Probably not on every trip, but ….” She shrugged. “Maybe half of them? Or even a little more?”
“That would be ….” His heart seemed to expand. He reached across the table and seized her hands. “Lizzy, this is wonderful. I thought it was a lost cause.”
“So did I, at first. I worked hard for my master’s degree, and I love teaching. And I can’t just follow you around for the rest of my life. But maybe it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision.”
“Remind me to send Dr. Church complimentary tickets to my next fifty performances.”
“I wasn’t thinking about how much I’d learn, seeing the life of a concert soloist from the inside, and the network of contacts I could develop, meeting lots of musicians. It should make me a better teacher.” She grinned. “And there’s another good reason to travel with you, too.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“I can fight off all the groupies trying to steal you away.”
“Right.” He snorted. “A harem in every port. That’s me.”
“I know it’s true,” she teased. “You can’t fool me. Anyway, I’m going to try to figure something out, job-wise, and Laura’s going to help me. I was starting to tell you about it the other day at La Lanterna, but then we got on the subject of your heart condition.”
He leaned over and kissed her. “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”
“But, you see, that’s another good reason to delay starting a family. It’ll be harder to travel with you once we have children.”
“Why? We’ll hire an au pair, and we can all travel together.” He had imagined precisely this scenario.
“I guess you don’t often end up sitting next to discontented toddlers in first class,” she retorted. “I’m not an expert on traveling with kids, but I’ve seen enough to know that it’s a challenge. And once they start school, it introduces a whole new set of complications.”
“But by then I won’t be traveling as much.”
“I’m cutting back on my future bookings, and I’m going to focus more on recording. It’ll take a few years to work through my current schedule, but after that things will calm down. And I’m going to book more summer travel, when it’s easier for you to come along.”
He nodded. “I thought I told you.”
“You said it might be possible, but I didn’t know you’d already started planning for it.” Her eyes shone. “Thank you, Will.”
“You don’t need to thank me. I did it for both of us.”
“But that’s just it. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing all the compromising. I’m the one moving across the country, and leaving Jane, and missing Christmas with my family. So it means a lot when you sacrifice something. And I know what a sacrifice it is for you to cut back on performing.”
They finished their coffee in contented silence and then decided to move on. As they stood up, two college-aged girls approached, studying William with obvious interest. “Excuse me,” one of them said. “Are you—”
“Yes,” he said. Ordinarily he didn’t welcome fan attention, but today holiday spirit surged through his veins. “I’m William Darcy. Did you want an autograph?”
The girls glanced at each other in obvious confusion. “Um, we just wanted to know if we could have the table,” one explained.
The other nodded. “‘Cause it looks like you’re leaving?”
Elizabeth coughed and pressed her lips tightly together, her eyes dancing. “It’s all yours,” she told them in a strangled voice.
He followed her out the door, feeling the flush gradually recede from his face and down his neck.
“Is Richard coming to dinner tonight?” she asked, her lips twitching.
He frowned.”Yes, he is. Why?”
“Oh, no special reason.” She flashed a wicked grin. “I just might have a funny story to tell him.”