During the drive back to Baltimore, Elizabeth and Edward—who had never found a parking space—listened to her confrontation with Wickham, courtesy of Edward’s mini-recorder. From its position in her jacket pocket it hadn’t picked up every word, but most of the conversation was audible.
Edward’s mouth was set in a grim line by the time the recording ended. “We’ve got to keep him away from Georgie,” he said. “All those nasty remarks, and demanding a million dollars to do the right thing! And I don’t want him anywhere near you either. If this were the 18th century, I’d call him out for that insolent remark about ‘tickling your ivories.’”
“If we’d been close enough to the water’s edge, I would have pushed him in when he said that,” Elizabeth replied. “But I’m more worried about some of the other things he said, like the threats to interfere in Georgie’s life.”
Edward had suggested making the recording, and he had been right about its potential usefulness, but Eleanor Fitzwilliam was the only Darcy for whom Elizabeth would even consider playing the whole thing. Wickham’s vicious remarks about William and Rose would only make them angrier, and he had been so dismissive of poor Georgiana.
When Elizabeth and Edward arrived back at the Gardiners’, they found Madeline and Georgiana in the kitchen fixing sandwiches. Tessa, the second of the three Gardiner daughters, had arrived home from school that morning for a brief visit before heading to Florida for spring break. She was describing college life to a clearly fascinated Georgiana while setting the table for lunch.
The instant Georgiana saw Elizabeth, her smile was replaced by a look of wide-eyed anxiety. “What did he say?” she asked. “Did he tell you he’s my dad?”
Elizabeth greeted her cousin quickly and then turned to Georgiana. “No, he didn’t. He wouldn’t even answer the question; he treated it like a game or a joke. Georgie, if he were certain that he’s your father, he’d have said so, and he wouldn’t have waited till now.”
“But he said he wanted custody of me after Mamma died, except Gran and Will stopped him.”
“He told you a very sweet story, one it must have felt wonderful to hear. But … well, I have a recording of our conversation. Later today, you can listen to some of it if you want. You’re going to hear a very different person from the one you got to know in the emails.”
Georgiana was silent for a moment, but then she nodded slowly. “Yesterday, he wasn’t like I expected. At first he was really mad that I’d come to see him. He got nicer after that, but I could tell that he mostly just wanted me to go away. I thought about that a lot last night.” She paused and then looked up at Elizabeth. “But he could still be my father, right? And just not want to be responsible for me? Did he say he’d do the paternity test thing?”
“He said he might, but … he asked for money to do it.”
“Yeah, he said he lived in a terrible apartment and couldn’t afford anything better. I guess he wants some money for rent?”
Elizabeth glanced at Edward, who nodded in encouragement. “Georgie, he demanded a million dollars.”
”Oh.” Georgiana’s gaze dropped to the floor.
“I’m sorry to say this, but I think he has just two goals. One is to get money from your family. The other is to hurt your grandmother, and especially Will, as much as possible, and upsetting you is a way of doing that.”
“In his emails, he seemed so nice.” A tear rolled down Georgiana’s cheek.
Elizabeth instantly regretted her harsh assessment. It was important to open Georgiana’s eyes to Wickham’s true nature, but the poor girl had wanted so badly to believe the sham affection in his emails.
“He fooled us all, Georgie,” Madeline said. “I thought he was utterly charming when we met him at the Kennedy Center. Unfortunately, some people know how to turn on the charm, but underneath they’re entirely different.”
“Even if he’s a bad person, he still might be my father. Mamma talked about him a lot in the diary, even if I mostly couldn’t tell what she was saying about him. And then there’s what Mrs. Scofield said.”
“Let’s not give Mrs. Scofield’s idle gossip any weight,” Elizabeth said. “I talked to Sonya this morning, and she said that although Wickham and your mother were clearly fond of each other, she never saw any proof that they were having an affair. Maybe people misinterpreted a close friendship for something more.”
“But how can we find out the truth if he won’t do the test?” Georgiana asked in a plaintive tone.
“William said he’d try to read the diary, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll figure something out.”
Georgiana’s eyes filled with tears. “I really need to know. I wish Mamma were here.”
“Poor thing,” Madeline said, wrapping her arm around Georgiana’s slumped shoulders. “It’s hard growing up without a mother.” The girl leaned into the embrace, sniffling. Elizabeth was impressed; in less than 24 hours, her aunt had broken through Georgiana’s shell.
After lunch, Tessa took Georgiana out for a walk around the neighborhood. Edward grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and headed into the den to watch the NCAA basketball tournament. Elizabeth was glad for the opportunity to talk to Madeline in private.
“Georgie and I had a long talk this morning,” Madeline said. “She’s a very troubled girl. I’m concerned about her.”
“I know. I’m doing my best to help her, but I don’t really know how.”
“I think she needs professional help.”
Elizabeth nodded. “She could use someone objective to help her sort through things. I think it’s hard for her to trust any of us right now.”
“She seems to be starting to trust you, and that’s a good thing. You’re doing a wonderful job with her.”
“I’m just taking cues from what I see you doing.”
“Well, I hope I’ve learned a thing or two after raising three girls,” Madeline said with a chuckle. “I certainly made every mistake you could imagine along the way. But back to the subject at hand. Tell me more about your meeting with Wickham.”
Elizabeth played the recording and filled in details from the few inaudible parts. When it was done, Madeline said, “What a horrible man.”
“I know. I felt like I needed a shower after our conversation.”
“I agree that either he’s not her father, or it’s possible but he’s not sure. But that leaves us with … if not Wickham, then who?”
“Edmund, Anna’s husband.”
“But they had been separated for years by the time she was born, right?”
“Then unless they had a brief reconciliation ….”
“I know. It’s confusing.”
“Hmm.” Madeline tipped her head to one side, her brow furrowed. “So even if it’s not Wickham, that doesn’t completely answer the question. Could there have been someone else?”
Elizabeth grimaced. “I never thought of that, but I guess it’s possible.”
“We really need to know what’s in that diary. Or to find someone who was around back then and knew what was going on. It’s a shame the foundation secretary didn’t have any information.”
“What does William think happened?”
“He thinks Wickham and Anna had an affair. But he pointed out that Edmund claimed the baby was his, though that could have been for the sake of appearances. The Darcys are obsessed with maintaining their public image.”
“So we don’t know the answer at the moment. But just for now, let’s consider the worst-case scenario and suppose that Georgie is Wickham’s child. He doesn’t want custody, right?”
Elizabeth scoffed. “Not a chance. You heard the way he talked about her on the recording. No, he’s just looking for money—a big, fat settlement to make him go away quietly.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. When Georgie contacted him for information, an opportunity fell into his lap that he couldn’t resist.”
“Why did I ever talk to him on New Year’s Eve?” Elizabeth shook her head and sighed. “This is all my fault.”
“No, it’s not. It’s like I said to Georgie; he fooled us all. I thought he was charming and refined, albeit quite a flirt.”
“But that’s just it. I flirted back, and it was fun. Of course, it would never have gone beyond that, but I was enjoying myself. And now William and Georgie are suffering for it.”
Elizabeth was still indulging in self-recrimination a few hours later, on the way back to New York. She glanced over at Georgiana, who was staring out the train window at the scenery rushing past. “Have you talked to William today?”
“Yeah, he called this morning while you were gone. He wants you to call him tonight.”
Elizabeth had spoken to him that morning after leaving Wickham, but had kept the conversation short, merely saying that she was fine, that there was a good chance Wickham was lying about being Georgiana’s father, and that she would tell him more later. She had yearned to linger on the phone, to bask in the comfort of his affection. But she had feared that, upset as she was, she would blurt out some of Wickham’s most insulting accusations—for example, that William had lusted after his mother.
Recalling that remark and others, a fresh wave of anger slammed through her. Not just anger, she realized, but anger and fear, even panic. Wickham had the power to do so much damage to people she loved. Something akin to a flashback seized her, but instead of Michael’s face hovering above her as she cried out in pain, she saw Wickham, sneering and disdainful. It took every technique her therapist had taught her to claw her way back to reality.
“What’s wrong?” Georgiana asked in a breathless tone, her eyes huge.
Elizabeth took a deep, shaky breath, and then another, and at last was able to respond, though in a voice that trembled. “I’m fine. It’s just … well, meeting with Wickham brought back memories of something bad that happened once. Sort of like a nightmare, except I was awake.”
“You started breathing really fast and sort of crying, and I didn’t know what was wrong. What was the bad thing that happened?”
“Some day I’ll tell you, but not right now. I’m afraid it would just upset me even more.” Elizabeth took another slow, deep breath. “I think I might try to take a nap; I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Me neither. And I keep thinking how awful things are going to be once we get home.”
“I’m sure there will be some consequences for what you did. Going off alone like that to meet Wickham was reckless and wrong, even though I understand why you did it.”
Georgiana didn’t respond, except with a deep sigh.
“But I think they’ll be so glad to see you home safe that it won’t be as bad as you’re expecting. And I’ll be there with you every step of the way.”
Georgiana nodded, and despite the tears swimming in her eyes, she gave Elizabeth a brief, tremulous smile.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and focused on the soft rumble of the train as it headed north. Eventually her heart slowed to a normal rhythm and she was able to relax.
Elizabeth’s prediction turned out to be accurate. Rose greeted Georgiana with relief and even a glimmer of warmth. “I’m glad you’re home, Georgiana,” she said. “I’ve been worried about you. We need to discuss what happened, but that can wait until tomorrow.”
Mrs. Reynolds enfolded Georgiana in a warm embrace, and then did the same with Elizabeth, who was surprised to find tears springing to her eyes. “I’m so glad to have my two girls back safe at home,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “And, Georgie, I made all your favorites for dinner.”
Georgiana asked permission to eat dinner upstairs, alone. “I’m so tired,” she said. “I just want to eat and then go to bed.”
Elizabeth expected Rose to deny the request, but Rose agreed. Once Georgiana disappeared from view up the steps, Rose said, “My dear, thank you for everything you’ve done. I’m sure it was difficult.”
Elizabeth sighed. “It was, for all of us.”
“Of course, I will write to your aunt and uncle to thank them for everything they did.”
“They were glad they could help.”
“I’ve arranged for us to go to Eleanor and Robert’s apartment for dinner, so that the four of us can discuss the situation.”
“They’re back from Chicago?”
“Yes; they came back early. And I thought it might be best to go there, rather than having them come here.”
Elizabeth didn’t need an explanation; Rose didn’t want to risk Georgiana overhearing the discussion. It also explained Rose’s willingness to let Georgiana dine alone in her room.
Once they were seated in the Fitzwilliams’ elegant living room, Elizabeth shared the story of her experiences in Washington and Baltimore. When she was done, she scanned the anxious faces around her. “So, what do you think?”
“One million dollars?” Eleanor pressed her lips together, jutting out her chin.
“Obviously we could pay it,” Rose said. “But the idea of that man extorting money from us, after everything he’s inflicted on this family ….”
“Exactly,” Robert said. “He’s done more than enough damage already.”
“William thinks he might be able to translate the diary,” Elizabeth said. “But I don’t know. The handwriting is terrible, and it’s full of abbreviations, and he doesn’t have any experience in reading Italian.”
“We could hire someone to translate it for us,” Eleanor said. “A professor of Italian, or maybe an Italian musician who lives in New York. The handwriting might still be a challenge, but at least not the language.”
“Out of the question,” Rose snapped. “We cannot expose something as private as Anna’s diary to a stranger.”
Elizabeth had expected that objection. “Also, bear in mind that we don’t know if the diary answers the question, and even if it does, it could take William a long time to figure it out. Georgie is in a lot of pain over this; I think we should consider other ways to get answers.”
“Can’t you do DNA tests on siblings?” Eleanor asked.
“Aunt Madeline said that without a parent, they can’t be certain of the relationship between siblings. They can only give a statistical best guess, and I don’t think a best guess is going to satisfy Georgie unless we’ve exhausted every other avenue.”
“I wonder if there’s a way we can compel Wickham to provide a DNA sample through a court order,” Rose mused. “I’ll call Spencer Hamilton first thing Monday morning and ask.”
“My sister Jane might be able to help, too,” Elizabeth said. “She deals with paternity cases in her practice sometimes. In fact, I’ve been meaning to call her but I just haven’t had time. But there’s another question that didn’t occur to me till this afternoon. Do we really want to involve him further? If we somehow get him to do the test, he’ll be entitled to know the results. And what if the test is positive? In that case, we just handed him ammunition to use against the family. And like I told you, he made some threats about taking control of Georgie’s inheritance, and even worse. Could he do that?”
“I don’t believe so,” Rose said, “but I’ll ask Spencer about that as well.”
“Can’t you just tell Georgie that Edmund is her father?” Robert asked Rose.
“I doubt that would work. You know how angry she is with me; she might not believe anything I said. And in any case, I would rather not lie to her.”
Elizabeth was relieved to hear this. She was about to voice her agreement when Eleanor spoke in an agitated tone. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that you know that Edmund isn’t her father?”
“No.” Rose set down her teacup. “I’m saying that I don’t know the answer.”
“You never asked Anna?” Eleanor’s eyes widened. “Wasn’t it important to know, for legal reasons?”
“Edmund allowed his name to be placed on Georgiana’s birth certificate. So either he didn’t want a scandal, or else he knew something that we don’t. Of course I was curious, but he and I were not on good terms at that time.”
“I was surprised to learn that you didn’t know the answer,” Elizabeth remarked. “I always heard that you and William’s mother were close.”
“Anna and I … we worked together on the foundation, and for William’s benefit. In that sense, yes, we were close. But she didn’t confide in me. I don’t think that’s surprising; after all, I was her mother-in-law. And, unfortunately, we had a falling out not long before she became pregnant that opened a chasm between us. So it was a question I could never bring myself to ask.” Rose sighed. “Once Georgiana was born, I found that I preferred not knowing the answer, in case it was the one I feared. So I decided that she was my grandchild and closed the issue.”
“Then I guess our best hope is the diary,” Eleanor said, “and if that doesn’t pan out, we’ll try the sibling DNA test.”
As the others shared what they knew—or thought they knew—about DNA testing, Elizabeth put herself in Anna’s place. Like Anna, she wouldn’t have confided in Rose, but she would have unburdened herself to Jane and Charlotte, her trusted confidantes. Rose was always saying that Anna and Elizabeth were alike in many ways; if so, Anna would have had a trusted confidante of her own. That person probably knew the answer, as well as the story behind it. But who had it been?
And then, in a flash, Elizabeth remembered something Wickham had said, something that had seemed inconsequential at the time. “I have an idea,” she said. “Let me tell you what I’m thinking.”
Later that night, William asked Elizabeth to go through every word of her confrontation with Wickham. She told him as much as she could, editing out Wickham’s worst insults.
“That snake seriously demanded one million dollars?” he spat out.
“I know. He fooled me at first when he said he’d take the test. He sounded so magnanimous. But then he named his price.”
“I refuse to give him a penny. We have to tell Georgie that he can’t possibly be her father, or he wouldn’t be demanding money.”
“I already suggested that, but she wants stronger proof. So the diary is a possibility, but I have another idea.” She went on to explain the plan she had concocted at the Fitzwilliams’.
“It makes sense,” he said, “but do you really think you’ll get any answers?”
”I don’t know. I’ve sent an email and made a phone call; we’ll see what happens.” She paused. “You don’t know how much I wish you were here.”
“So do I. It was hard to focus on my performance again tonight; all I could think about was you and Georgie. How is she?”
“She’s better than she was on Friday, but I’m still worried about her. She’s starting to see Wickham for the thief and the con man that he is. But the problem is, that might mean that she’s the daughter of a thief and a con man. No matter what we find out, she’s going to need help getting over this.”
“Of course. We’ll all help her.”
“She needs more than just us. She needs to see a therapist.”
He was silent for a moment. “We can talk about that when I get home.”
They certainly would; Elizabeth didn’t intend to allow Georgiana’s need for therapy to be pushed aside. But for now, she changed the subject. “Tell me about your concerts.”
He provided a short account, but she found her mind wandering, plagued by self-doubt. What if her combative approach with Wickham had provoked him to make his million-dollar demand? A calmer negotiator might have found common ground and reached a truce. What if someone else could have done a better job of comforting Georgiana? Her aunt had succeeded in that, but Elizabeth had felt helpless in the face of Georgiana’s pain.
After a moment of silence, he asked, “How are you, Lizzy? You don’t sound like yourself. I know this has been hard on you.”
“Can you take an earlier flight home tomorrow?” she asked, surprised by how weak her voice sounded. “I really miss you.”
“I’m sorry, cara. I agreed to attend a luncheon tomorrow for their biggest donors. Back when they asked me to do it, I thought you’d be attending it with me, so I didn’t mind. But I’ll leave the luncheon as soon as I can, and I’ll be on the first available flight after that.”
“I wish you were here now. I really need your arms around me.”
“Close your eyes, cara.”
“I’m holding you now, kissing your forehead, and then your cheek, and then your lips.”
She didn’t have William’s ability to summon up a vivid imaginary world, but she did her best to feel him cradling her in his arms. “Please come home soon,” she whispered.
The next afternoon, Elizabeth found herself on the way to the airport. Her email had received an affirmative answer, and in a quick conversation after church, Rose and the Fitzwilliams had agreed that a face-to-face meeting was likely to produce more information than a phone call.
Unfortunately, her flight was to depart before William arrived from St. Louis. True to his word, he had arranged to leave the luncheon early, but an overturned truck on the highway had snarled traffic, leaving his limo stuck behind a roadblock and delaying his departure for several hours. Elizabeth had shed some private tears at this news—she had counted on seeing him, albeit only briefly at the airport, to help her to restore her emotional equilibrium. But she brushed the tears away, took a few deep breaths, and left her room wearing the most confident air she could muster.
At least she had accomplished one important goal: ensuring that Georgiana wouldn’t be left alone with Rose at the townhouse. With her initial fears for Georgiana’s safety resolved, Rose’s anger had reasserted itself. Although Rose was justified in being upset, Elizabeth felt that Georgiana needed warmth and reassurance, not lectures or punishment, at least for now. Eleanor, who agreed with this assessment, had offered the Fitzwilliam apartment as a sanctuary, but to everyone’s surprise, Georgiana had begged to accompany Elizabeth on the trip. In an greater surprise, Rose had consented. Perhaps Rose was as afraid to be alone with Georgiana as her granddaughter was in reverse.
Elizabeth had also managed to coax the diary away from Georgiana so that William could begin inspecting it as soon as he arrived home. They had considered delaying their trip for a day to see what he could learn at first glance, but Georgiana didn’t believe the diary held the answer. She had begged for an immediate departure, and Elizabeth—with reluctant support from William and, surprisingly, Rose—had agreed.
Georgiana was mostly silent on the drive to the airport, and Elizabeth, busy with her own thoughts, didn’t say much either. But once they were in the air, Georgiana finally spoke. “Thank you for letting me come with you.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I’m glad for the company.”
They fell silent, and then Georgiana said, very quietly, “And thank you for doing all this stuff for me.”
“Of course. I just hope it works.”
“I think you’re the only one who understands why I need to know. Well, you and Aunt Maddie and Uncle Edward.”
“I think everyone understands and wants to help, but some of them may not have said so.” They were both thinking of Rose, of course.
As though a dam had burst, Georgiana’s words suddenly flowed without hesitation. “What if I’m not a Darcy? For a while I thought I didn’t want to be one, but that would mean I’d have to leave the house, and then where would I go?”
“Isn’t the house half yours?”
“But if I’m not a Darcy, won’t they take it away from me? And Wickham said he didn’t want me to live with him, and now that I know more about him, I wouldn’t want to be with him anyway.”
“Okay, first of all, legally speaking, you’re a Darcy. That’s what your birth certificate says. I don’t know for sure how inheritance stuff works, but we could ask my sister Jane; she deals with those issues in her law practice.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway. Will and Gran won’t want me around anymore. They’ll want me to leave, and I’ll never see them again.”
“Georgie, why would they want that? They love you.”
“They’re already mad at me for screwing up my life, and now if they find out I’m really his daughter, when they hate him so much, they’ll be glad to get rid of me.” Tears shimmered in Georgiana’s eyes.
“No, Georgie, they love you, and it has nothing to do with who your father is. No matter what we find out, you are Rose’s granddaughter and William’s sister. That’s not about your DNA; that’s about you.”
“Gran barely spoke to me yesterday after we got home. And all she said before we left for the airport was that I should do what you told me to do.”
Elizabeth sighed. “I think she wanted to give both of you a little time to calm down before you talk. And isn’t that a good idea?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Besides, you know that your grandmother isn’t as warm and demonstrative as some people.”
Georgiana let out a soft snort.
“But I’m learning that with her, you have to try to see things through her eyes. She was so worried while you were gone, imagining all sorts of bad things happening to you. She isn’t good at showing it, but she loves you very much.”
“It doesn’t feel that way.”
“I know it’s hard to see, but it’s there. Now, as for William, the only thing he’s felt since you got into trouble is worry. He loves you so much, and he was afraid that the legal troubles might mess up your life.”
“Like, jail time or a felony charge.”
“Yes. But that didn’t happen. And I know you thought he was embarrassed by what you did, but he wasn’t. In fact, to this day he blames Courtney for all of it and he thinks you were entirely innocent. That’s how convinced he is that you’re perfect.”
Georgiana pursed her lips. “I guess I kind of told him it was all her fault. But that wasn’t exactly true. I mean, she talked me into it the first time, and I did it because I wanted her to think I was cool, like she is. But we both stole stuff. It was like a game, to see if we could get away with it.”
“I figured it was something like that. And I think Will might really know that, too, deep down. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re his sister and he loves you. He’s been worried because you’ve seemed so sad and withdrawn. In fact, he’s worried that you don’t love him anymore.”
“That’s not true.”
“I know, and I’ve tried to tell him that. But he’s very sensitive, like you are, and it’s easy for the people he loves to hurt him.”
Georgiana appeared to ponder that notion. “But he has you now, and he loves you, like, a whole lot, I can tell. And you’ll probably start having kids soon. He doesn’t need a sister anymore.”
“You are so, so wrong! He will always need his sister. You’re right that Will and I love each other very much, and, yes, we hope to have children someday. But love comes in an infinite supply; he can love me, and our children, and you all at once.”
Georgiana didn’t comment, but she nodded slightly.
“And you’ll be a wonderful aunt to those children, when we have them. I’ve seen how good you are with the kids in the after-school program. My children will be so lucky to have Aunt Georgie in their lives. And there’s one more thing.”
Georgiana was almost, though not quite, smiling now. “What?”
“My sister Jane is my best friend, but now we live 3,000 miles apart. That leaves a big hole in my life, and I need another sister to fill it. It’s completely up to you, but I was hoping you’d be that additional sister. We didn’t get off to a good start, but we’re doing a lot better now, and I think it would be pretty easy to learn to love each other.” In fact, their experiences over the past 48 hours had taken Elizabeth much of the way down that road already. Anyone who tried to hurt Georgiana would have to get past her first.
“I’m sorry,” Georgiana said, staring at her lap.
“I was horrid to you when you first started coming to New York.”
“You weren’t very nice, and at the time it bothered me. But like I told you Friday night, I understand your reasons.”
“All Will ever talked about was you, and he was always rushing off to San Francisco to see you.”
“Some day when you fall in love, you’ll understand better. It’s a very intense experience, especially at the beginning. It can make you a little crazy, a little obsessed. He didn’t mean to ignore you.”
“But he did, and it was because of you. But then you moved to New York. And you helped me to start doing stuff for the foundation, just like Mamma would have done, instead of telling me I was too young like everybody else. And you went to Washington to bring me home, and you talked to George—I mean, Wickham—for me. And now you’re taking this trip to help me find out the truth, even though it meant you didn’t get to see Will today. And you even convinced Gran to let me come along.”
Despite the recent warming in their relationship, Elizabeth generally avoided physical contact with Georgiana, fearing that the girl would shrink from her. But in this instance, she decided it was worth the risk. She reached over and took Georgiana’s hand. “Georgie, that’s what sisters do for each other.”
Although she didn’t return Elizabeth’s smile, Georgiana also didn’t withdraw her hand. “Then I guess maybe I need a sister after all.”
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