William awoke abruptly, blinking in confusion at his surroundings. As his mind cleared, he remembered. He was at home, in his bed; he had returned from San Francisco the night before. He wondered why his heart was thudding in his chest, but then he remembered his dream. Elizabeth. Again.
He peered at his alarm clock, rubbing his eyes until he could read the numbers. He could feel the beginnings of his usual morning headache. It reminded him that he’d been putting off making an appointment with Dr. Rosemont for over a month. But he was too busy this week, preparing to leave for Boston.
William sat up, stretched his arms, and arched his back, a soft groan of pleasure rumbling deep in his chest. After a quick call to the kitchen, he ambled through his dressing room and into the bathroom.
He wiped the steam from the shower door and peered over at the tub, imagining her reclining there amid a cloud of bubbles, her hair spilling around her shoulders. She raised a hand and beckoned to him, the image so compelling that he almost opened the shower door.
With a rueful grin, he shook his head and grabbed a bar of soap. From a young age, William had possessed the ability to conjure up vivid worlds in his mind. It was one of his greatest strengths as a musician. He left the concert hall behind, transporting himself to another time or place, taking his audience along on his sensory and emotional journey. The last few days, though, had exposed the troublesome side of his imagination, with enticing images of Elizabeth popping into his head at inopportune moments.
A few minutes later, wrapped in a thick terrycloth robe, he crossed the center hall to his sitting room. A breakfast tray sat on an antique mahogany table, holding his standing order of freshly squeezed pulp-free orange juice, black coffee, and half a cinnamon raisin bagel, lightly toasted and spread with an almost invisible layer of low-fat cream cheese. He gulped down the juice and poured a cup of coffee from the thermal carafe, inhaling the delicious hazelnut scent on the rising steam.
Coffee cup and bagel in hand, William wandered back to his bedroom. He crossed the room and stepped out onto his spacious balcony, which overlooked the patio and garden at the rear of the house. As he munched his bagel and sipped his coffee, a misty rain began to fall.
It was only eight o’clock, and Richard was not due until ten thirty. William retrieved a book from his bedside table and crossed the center hallway to his sitting room. He loaded a CD into his stereo, and the sound of John Coltrane’s virtuoso saxophone poured out through the speakers. He sank into the soft leather upholstery of his favorite armchair and propped his bare feet on the matching ottoman, soaking in the music.
William reached for his book, a history of Napoleon’s military campaign in Russia, but he was distracted by one of the framed photographs displayed on the bookcase nearest his chair. It had been taken on the beach near Pemberley many years ago. He studied himself at age four, wearing swim trunks and a solemn expression. His mother knelt behind him in the sand with her arms wrapped tightly around him, her smile luminous.
In a flash of insight, he realized that Elizabeth reminded him of his mother in some ways. There was little physical resemblance between them; rather, it was their personalities. They were both strong-willed, energetic, and intelligent. In addition, they had vocal talent in common, along with a joy of performing that shone on their faces and infused their voices with rare beauty and energy.
He replaced the photo on the shelf with a sigh. He needed to stop thinking about Elizabeth. He could see no potential for a long-term relationship. Besides, he was confident that she would be offered the teaching position at Pacific Conservatory and would soon be moving to San Francisco.
However, some time during the week, he would call her. He wanted to ensure that she had received the peace offering he had sent before leaving San Francisco. Although the arguments he had made over coffee on Saturday morning were entirely rational, after mentally replaying the conversation he had become uneasy about her reaction.
His final day in San Francisco had been somber. Charles had eventually decided to move back to Los Angeles; he was now making preparations for the move with a heavy heart but firm resolve. Despite Charles’s current unhappiness, William was convinced that his friend’s decision had spared him even greater pain in the future.
William’s eyes grew heavy. He set his empty coffee cup on the table beside him and leaned back in his chair, letting the music envelop him.
A quiet “Ahem” caused William to open his eyes. He looked up to find his housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, standing beside his chair.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I knocked and you didn’t answer. It’s 10:15.”
He rose to his feet, belting his robe securely around him. “Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. I’m having trouble getting started this morning.”
“You looked so peaceful, I hated to bother you,” she replied with an indulgent smile. “You’ve been working too hard lately, and I’m sure you’re tired after your stressful weekend. But if you keep Richard waiting, you know you’ll never hear the end of it.” She shook her head, her eyes narrowed but with a hint of a twinkle.
“You’re right about that,” he replied, grinning. “Is Gran at home?”
“Mrs. Darcy left a few minutes ago for the Opera Guild board meeting, and after that she has plans for lunch. And her bridge group is meeting here later this afternoon. She asked me to tell you that she’ll see you at dinner tonight.”
His grandmother led an active social life, so he was not surprised that her day was fully scheduled. She and his sister Georgiana each had a large bedroom with private bath on the fifth floor of the Darcy townhouse; their bedrooms were separated by a shared sitting room. William occupied the entire third floor of the house. This arrangement gave them each a modicum of privacy, yet still allowed them to spend time together in the common areas on the first and second floors.
Mrs. Reynolds picked up his breakfast tray. “I’d better get back downstairs.”
“Thank you again for waking me up. I’ll be down soon.”
They went their separate ways, Mrs. Reynolds to the kitchen, and William to his dressing room.
“Good grief, I thought we were about to be overrun by a herd of wild animals. I was wondering where I’d put my elephant gun.”
“Good morning to you, too, Sonya.”
William grinned. “At least I never tried to slide down the banister like Richard did.”
“Ah, yes, the day he broke his arm. I’ve heard the story from Mrs. Reynolds. You can always count on Richard for excitement.”
“Speaking of Richard, is he here yet?”
“Just barely,” a hoarse baritone voice replied. William turned and saw his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam. His eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were rumpled.
“Out late again last night?” William smirked.
“You should try it some time,” Richard shot back. “I didn’t have time to shower or change; I came straight here.”
“I’m flattered … I think.”
“You should be. I wouldn’t try so hard to be on time for most people, but I know I’m dealing with Mr. Swiss Train. So how was the wedding? Were you the best man, or only in the top five?”
William ignored Richard’s joke. “Unfortunately, it was called off at the last minute.”
“Oh, no! What happened?” Sonya asked.
“It’s a long story. Basically, there were some misunderstandings that couldn’t be resolved.”
“Poor Charles,” she said. “He must be devastated.”
Richard shrugged. “That’s too bad for Chuckles. He deserves better. But I hope you had some fun anyway, Will; at the very least, boinked the maid of honor.”
“Oh, very nice, Richard.” Sonya glared at him.
William was too mortified to reply. Richard’s crude remark was entirely too close to William’s fantasies.
Mrs. Reynolds bustled down the stairs towards them. “Good morning, Richard.”
“The jury is still out on that, Mrs. R.”
“If you wouldn’t tomcat around so much, you’d be in better shape in the morning.”
“What can I say? Women find me irresistible. It’s a curse, but I don’t want to disappoint them. With the number of single women in Manhattan, my dance card overfloweth.”
Mrs. Reynolds shook her head at Richard, but she smiled at William, her eyes warming. “I left some fresh coffee in your office. And some blueberry muffins, fresh out of the oven; I thought they might help to perk you up.”
He nodded his thanks. It reminded him of arriving home from school as a boy. His first stop had usually been the kitchen, where Mrs. Reynolds waited with an affectionate greeting, a warm plate of cookies, and a glass of milk.
“Hey, what about me?” Richard grumbled. “I could use some perking up too.”
Mrs. Reynolds stared at him, pursing her lips. “You’re playing too hard, not working too hard like William, so don’t expect any sympathy. But your tea is up there waiting for you.”
“Bless you, Mrs. R.,” Richard groaned. “You’re a lifesaver.”
Richard’s seemingly contradictory tastes never failed to amuse William. After a hard night of partying, a Bloody Mary might have seemed a more appropriate beverage to some people, but Richard was a devotee of a specific blend of green and herbal teas.
“Shall we get this show on the road?” Richard asked, gesturing toward the steps. “I’d like to get home and shower and change before my meeting with the people from the Philharmonic.”
“I’m glad that’s your plan,” William remarked. “I’d hate to think of you showing up there looking like you do right now.”
“They would never have noticed,” Richard shot back. “My innate charm would have blinded them to my wrinkled state.”
Richard and Sonya followed William up the steps to the second floor and into his office. They seated themselves at the conference table, and Sonya distributed copies of William’s schedule for the next four weeks.
“Would some decent lighting be too much to ask?” Richard grumbled. “This room is like a cave unless it’s sunny outside. Those ancient velvet drapes block most of the sun. And I don’t know why you don’t take down that damned chandelier and replace it with something that, you know, gives off some light.”
William glanced up at the crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the carved mahogany ceiling far above their heads. “It’s been here since the house was built, Richard. It’s part of our heritage.”
“I know, I know. And our great-grandfather bought this table. And the drapes have probably been hanging there since the Crusades. Will, you’re starting to sound like Gran. If she had her way we’d still be using oil lamps. Though I guess I shouldn’t knock it; maybe then I’d be able to read this damn schedule.”
William smiled ruefully. Preservation of the family legacy, particularly as it concerned the Darcy family home, was a passion for their grandmother, one she had done her best to instill in the rest of the family with mixed results. He reached over and turned on a lamp beside the table. “There. That should help your bloodshot eyes.”
“And what about the lamp?” Richard grumbled. “I assume it dates back to the Norman Conquests?”
“Not to interrupt this fascinating stroll through Darcy family history,” Sonya said with a superior air, “but maybe we could get this meeting started? Some of us work for a living, Richard, though I know you’re not familiar with the concept.”
“Ouch!” Richard yelped, clutching his chest in mock agony. “That really hurt.”
Despite their frequent bickering, William knew he was fortunate to have Richard and Sonya assisting him with his career. Richard was William’s agent and manager, an arrangement that William had proposed a decade ago when his career had begun to explode. He had preferred to take a chance on Richard, despite his lack of experience in representing artists, rather than to allow a stranger to manage his career. Richard had shown a surprising aptitude for, and enjoyment of, the work.
It was only a part-time job, which suited Richard since it left him free to pursue his active social life. He had no need to work at all: his trust fund provided plenty of money to support him in idleness. But William knew that Richard enjoyed the sense of purpose and accomplishment that came from the work, not that he would ever admit it.
William’s mother and grandmother had hired Sonya almost twenty years ago to help them run the Darcy Arts Trust, a charitable foundation supporting the musical arts, and music education in particular. She still held this position, working closely with the Darcys; in addition, she assisted William with the day-to-day details of his life. A cool, elegant blonde, she looked a decade younger than her 45 years.
“I’d like to take Georgie to Pemberley after school is out,” William said. “Do I have a block of free time when we could spend a week there?”
Sonya pulled out a wire-bound appointment book and flipped to the months of June and July, scanning the pages. “We had two weeks blocked out in July, but, remember, you agreed to schedule your summer residency at Interlochen during that time.”
“What about June?”
“The early part is booked. You’ve got the LA trip, the Juilliard recital, and the recording session in Chicago. But it looks like you could get to Pemberley for five days or so in late June, before you go to Interlochen.”
“Pencil that in. I’ll talk to Georgie about it after school today. I also want to invite Charles Bingley to join us.”
“You look like you need a vacation now,” Richard said. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I haven’t been sleeping well the past few days. Jet lag.” William deftly changed the subject. “Let’s discuss the meeting with the Philharmonic.”
“Here you go.” Richard handed him a set of contracts and began to highlight some key points.
William was usually attentive in the weekly meetings, but today his mind wandered to Elizabeth. He wondered what she was doing at that moment, and remembered that her interview with Catherine would start soon. Don’t let her intimidate you, Lizzy. He smiled at the thought, doubtful that anything could intimidate Elizabeth Bennet, not even Catherine de Bourgh.