A horse galloped along the Golden Gate Promenade. Elizabeth could only remotely make out its shape through the thick fog blanketing the walkway, but she could hear the clip-clop of its hooves as it approached her.
The horse slowed as it approached, and she could now see that it was a dark, powerful stallion with a sleek coat. Its rider, clad in black armor, dismounted and walked stiffly toward her. The black knight removed his helmet, revealing William Darcy’s patrician features, deep brown eyes, and dark, tousled hair.
“I’ve come to kiss you,” he intoned in a deep voice that sent shivers down her spine.
“Wearing armor? Who are you expecting to fight?” she heard herself ask.
“You, of course,” said a familiar voice behind her. “You’re fighting your feelings for him.” She turned and saw Charlotte, dressed most inappropriately for a foggy morning by the bay.
“Could you excuse me for a moment?” Elizabeth asked Sir William.
“Of course. I need to get out of this armor anyway.” He glanced down, frowning at the elaborate network of buckles and straps.
“What are you doing down here wrapped in a bed sheet?” Elizabeth gaped at Charlotte. “Although I guess it’s no more bizarre than seeing William in a suit of armor.”
“Or you in that silly princess get-up. Besides, don’t blame me; it’s your dream. Are you going riding with William?”
“I want to, but I’m afraid I’ll get hurt.”
“Haven’t you heard people say that after you fall, you need to get right back on the horse?” Charlotte wandered away, the tail of her sheet flapping in the breeze.
William was still busy removing his armor. He seemed to be wearing very little beneath it. Elizabeth was about to protest that this wasn’t correct—knights wore other clothing under their armor. But before she had the chance, he set aside the last of the armor, and rational thought was driven from her mind.
Lydia whizzed by on inline skates. “See?” she cackled. “Told ya he was prime stuff!” She whinnied like a horse and skated away.
Now they were enveloped in heavy, swirling fog, creating their own private hideaway. She stared at him, her eyes huge, her breathing shallow, watching him stride toward her with easy, powerful grace. She could hear Chopin playing softly in the background.
“Would you like to ride with me?” he asked, his voice a deep caress. He reached up, removed her headdress, and combed his fingers through her hair.
“I want to,” she whispered, “but I’m afraid.”
He continued to stroke her hair. “Please say yes. I want very badly to take you riding,” he said, the quiet intensity in his voice sending a shiver through her. His dark eyes burned into hers.
Elizabeth reached out to touch his bare chest. It felt warm and firm beneath her trembling fingers. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her against him.
“Please, Elizabeth, ride with me,” he whispered hoarsely, his eyes blazing with fierce hunger. She nodded, frightened yet helpless to refuse him anything. He made an exultant sound as he gathered her into his arms and carried her to his horse. He set her on her feet, jumped into the saddle, and then pulled her up to join him, settling her so that she sat facing him. She placed her hands on his shoulders to steady herself.
“You still haven’t kissed me,” she breathed, her lips parted in invitation.
William gripped the horse’s reins in one hand and raised the other to her face, cupping her cheek. “You know that I can only ride with you this one time, don’t you?” he murmured.
“Why?” she asked, mesmerized by the sensuous mouth descending towards hers.
“Because,” he whispered against her lips, “you’re not at my social level.”
“Lizzy? Are you all right?”
Elizabeth opened her eyes and blinked hard, trying to remember where she was. Jane’s worried face floated above her, visible in the pale morning light filtering through the curtains. “What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked, her voice thick with sleep.
“I heard you in here making strange noises. I thought you might be ill. But you must have been dreaming.”
The dream was fading quickly. Elizabeth tried to grasp shreds of it as it fell away. There was something about a horse, in the fog. And it seemed that Lydia had appeared? She shook her head. The details were just out of reach.
“What time is it?” she asked, struggling to sit up.
“A little after 7:30.”
“Did you get much sleep?” It didn’t look like it. Jane’s face was pale and drawn, her eyes red-rimmed.
“A little.” Jane sat on the edge of Elizabeth’s bed. “Thank you for taking such good care of me last night. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“I couldn’t believe how strong you were.”
“Did I do the right thing? Maybe Charles is right and I should just trust that it will all work out.”
“Last night you seemed sure that you and Charles would be miserable if you agreed to Mr. Bingley’s terms. Have you changed your mind?”
Jane shook her head sadly. “He’s destroying Charles. That would only get worse if we did what he wants. But now there’s nobody at Charles’s side, nobody to fight for him or help him. I’ve abandoned him.” Jane began to cry quietly.
Elizabeth scooted across the bed to sit beside Jane and wrapped her arm around her sister’s shoulders. “But Charles wouldn’t let you help him. Maybe losing you will bring him to his senses. He may be knocking at your door before you know it, willing to do anything to keep you.”
“Do you think so?”
“Of course. Where is he going to find anyone who compares to you?”
“Oh, Lizzy, it’s so good to have you here,” Jane said, hugging Elizabeth. “I hope you get that job. It would mean so much to have you here permanently.”
“I hope so, too, but my chances aren’t good.” Elizabeth hopped to her feet. “I’d better take my shower and get dressed. Charlotte said she’d come over and help us make calls.”
“Okay. While you do that, I’m going to call Mom and Dad. If Dad answers the phone I’ll tell him what’s going on; otherwise I’ll just ask Mom to get here early without telling her why.”
During her shower, Elizabeth tried to recall her dream. She remembered now that Charlotte had been in it. And a horse, too. A vision of dark, hungry eyes filled her mind, eyes that seemed familiar from the dream.
Elizabeth returned to the bedroom dressed in her underwear and began to search her suitcase for something to wear. She located a pair of black capri pants, and found a pair of flip-flops in a side pocket. But where were the rest of her clothes? She had already unpacked her outfits for the major weekend events, but she had also packed a casual shirt or two, hadn’t she? Apparently not.
She pulled on the capri pants and her nightshirt and went in search of Jane, who was in the kitchen reviewing the list of wedding guests.
“Lizzy, do you want some coffee?”
“Maybe later. I have a problem. The only shirt I have with me is the one I wore yesterday, and it’s a wrinkled mess. Do you have something I could borrow?”
Jane smiled. “Still packing haphazardly, I take it?”
“Yes, big sis,” Elizabeth answered with a grin. It was good to see Jane smile. “I guess I never learned that ‘every sock in its proper place’ lesson from you. Now, about borrowing something to wear?”
“Hmm. Nearly all of my clothes are at the … at Charles’s house.” Jane sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. “But I left a few things here. Let’s go take a look.”
Jane’s dresser yielded only a halter top, a jogging bra, and a midriff-baring scoop-neck tee shirt. “Not your style, I think.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “They wouldn’t fit anyway.”
Jane opened her closet. As she had predicted, it was mostly empty, with just three or four hangers displaying garments. Jane’s wedding gown hung alone at the far end of the closet, covered by a plastic bag.
“Wait,” Jane said. “What about this?” She held up a sleeveless white silk top with a high, rolled collar. The front and sides were shirred, while the back was sheer. “I’ve only worn it once. I bought it because I loved the fabric, but I don’t have the curves to fill it out. I bet it would look amazing on you.”
Elizabeth took the top from Jane, eyeing it skeptically. “But it’s so dressy. I just wanted something casual, like a tee shirt. And that see-through back …“ She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Come on, Lizzy, have some fun. If you were in a bathing suit, that part of your back would be completely bare.”
Elizabeth held the garment at arm’s length, frowning. The sheer back was only one of her concerns. While the front wasn’t sheer, the delicate fabric was thin enough that it wouldn’t leave much to the imagination.
Jane made a small, exasperated noise. “Elizabeth Bennet, I know you’re modest, but this isn’t going to make you look like the Whore of Babylon. Try it on.”
“Okay. It really is pretty.” Elizabeth slipped off her nightshirt and drew the top over her head.
Jane inspected her and nodded approvingly. “It’s perfect. I certainly didn’t look like that in it! You should keep it.”
Elizabeth frowned at herself in the mirror. Unlike her usual wardrobe, the top was designed to mold to the body, clinging to the curves of her breasts and leaving a narrow stripe of her stomach uncovered. But it fit perfectly, and she couldn’t deny feeling a tiny moment of triumph at, for the first time in her life, looking better in an article of clothing than did Jane. The judgmental voice in her head shot back: Jane was just being kind. You know she looked ten times better.
Elizabeth shrugged. Her plan for the day was to sit in the living room and telephone wedding guests. Wardrobe wasn’t a major consideration. “It’ll be fine; thanks, Jane. I’m going to go dry my hair now.”
“Why don’t you let me style your hair?”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. You have more important things to worry about.”
“Actually, I’d enjoy it.” Jane smiled, but Elizabeth saw tears swimming in her eyes. “It would remind me of when we were younger and life was a lot easier to understand.”
Elizabeth squeezed Jane’s hand. “Okay. That sounds good to me.”
The doorbell rang, and Jane hurried to answer it, with Elizabeth a few steps behind. They exchanged warm greetings with their aunt and uncle, Madeline and Edward Gardiner.
“You poor dear,” Madeline said, enfolding Jane in a motherly hug. “I’m so sorry about everything.”
Jane’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
Edward spoke briskly. “Don’t give it another thought. These things happen sometimes. It’s better to call off the wedding now than to regret getting married afterwards.”
“Would you like to talk about it?” Madeline asked.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not, not right now. I—” Jane stopped and took a shaky breath.
“It’s all right, dear,” Madeline answered in a soothing tone. “No need to explain. But if you want to talk later, I’m here for you, okay?”
Jane nodded, wiping away a tear. It broke Elizabeth’s heart to see Jane struggling to maintain her composure. It was good that the Gardiners had arrived. Aunt Madeline had always been a good friend and confidante to both Elizabeth and Jane, old enough to have useful advice to offer, yet close enough to their ages to be able to connect with them as a friend.
“When will your mother be here?” Madeline asked.
“Probably not till lunchtime. We haven’t told her what’s going on yet, so it was hard to persuade her to come up early. I guess Kitty and Lydia aren’t feeling well this morning and she wants to let them sleep in.”
Elizabeth scoffed. “After the drinking they did last night, I’m surprised they’re conscious.”
Jane looked at Elizabeth reproachfully. “Now, Lizzy, it might be a flu bug.”
Elizabeth shot a glance at her aunt. “Trust me, it’s the after-effects of beer and tequila shooters.”
“I take it they cut a wide swath at the party,” Madeline said.
“To say the least. It was embarrassing to have them acting that way in front of the other guests.” And one guest in particular, but Elizabeth tried not to think about that.
Madeline shook her head. “Those girls. Especially Lydia. I think Kitty would be fine on her own.”
“Would you like some breakfast?” Jane asked. “I don’t have a lot of food here, but I’m sure I could find something.”
“We had a bite at the hotel; we were up early because of the time difference. But if you’re hungry, we’d be happy to take you out to breakfast,” Edward said. “No sense in you having to cook this morning.”
Jane shook her head. “I’m not hungry. What about you, Lizzy?”
“Don’t worry about me,” Elizabeth said. “But you should eat something. This is going to be a difficult day for you. You need to take care of yourself.”
Jane burst into tears, burying her face in her hands.”I wonder who’s taking care of Charles, and if he’s as miserable as I am this morning. I know he must be, and it’s all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault.” Elizabeth wrapped an arm around Jane’s shoulders. “Charles lied to you about very important things. You did what you had to do.”
“But to break the engagement the night before the wedding! He must be devastated. I wish I could at least know that he’s all right.”
“Couldn’t you call him?” Madeline asked.
“I tried. He’s not answering. He probably doesn’t want to talk to me.”
At Madeline’s urging, Jane sat down beside her on the sofa, resting her head on her aunt’s shoulder. Her tears gradually stopped. Elizabeth looked on, her own eyes growing damp. She wanted desperately to do something, anything, to help. An idea formed in her mind.
Elizabeth found the number of the Ritz-Carlton written on a slip of paper in the kitchen. She dialed the number and asked for William’s suite, assuming that he could offer a report on Charles’s condition. But the hotel claimed that he wasn’t registered. Elizabeth was about to argue with the operator when she realized that he might be registered under another name to protect his privacy.
How to reach William, if she couldn’t call him? She could go to the hotel. She knew his suite was near the Club Lounge; that would mean just a few doors to knock on. But then she remembered that William had needed his key card in order to access the club floor. So that idea wouldn’t work either.
Then she remembered his intention to go running. He might have abandoned the idea to stay with Charles, or he might have restricted himself to a shorter run near the hotel, but if the universe was on her side she might find him at Crissy Field. There would be no harm in “accidentally” bumping into him there in order to inquire about Charles. She could look for the Z3 in the parking lot; if it was there, so was he.
She went to her room, put on her denim jacket, and studied herself in the mirror. It was an absurd idea, akin to the cliché of seeking a needle in a haystack. There were dozens of plans that made more sense—for example, calling Charlotte. Roger was probably still with her, and he might have more success in contacting Charles. “Why am I doing this?” she asked her reflection, twirling a lock of hair around her finger. Her reflection didn’t seem to know the answer either. She shrugged and grabbed her purse.
When Elizabeth returned to the living room, Jane was deep in conversation with the Gardiners. “You know, I’m kind of hungry after all,” Elizabeth said in a deliberately casual tone; it seemed better not to share her plan with the others. “I might go get myself a bagel, and maybe take a walk.”
Jane looked up and nodded. “That’s a good idea, Lizzy. You could use a break. Yesterday wasn’t easy for you either.”
“Can I bring anybody a bagel?” Elizabeth asked. “Or something else?”
The Gardiners and Jane all refused. As Elizabeth headed for the door, Jane called after her, “Please be sure you’re back before Mom gets here, okay?”
She walked down the hill to the bus stop, ordering the nervous flutters in her stomach to cease. She was on a mission to help Jane; besides, there was no guarantee she would find him.
William’s face, his eyes warm and intense, filled her mind, and she sensed that he had been in her dream, too. And she had been wearing … a hat with a veil? It must have been the weirdest dream she’d ever had.