William stood flanked by Catherine and Anne de Bourgh in the majestic front hallway at Rosings as the party guests filed past. Massive chandeliers suspended from the vaulted ceiling flooded the room with light and set the guests’ jewels glittering. William guessed that Harry Winston had millions of dollars in inventory on display tonight.
His head ached from the noise, and the heat in the room made it difficult to breathe. He hated receiving lines, making inane small talk with a parade of strangers whose names he would never remember. Worse yet, every guest seemed to know about his health problems. Besides the conventional expressions of concern or sympathy, he had been subjected to too many prying questions. He had rapped out vague answers, his much-practiced air of indifference beginning to wear thin. He regretted allowing Richard to make any public statement at all about his health. Why didn’t we just tell people that it was none of their damn business why I was taking some time off?
But he had a bigger concern at the moment. He scanned the line of guests waiting to pay their respects. Where was she? He exhaled loudly, earning him a curious glance from Anne.
“Are you okay?” she asked quietly. “If you’re tired and need to sit down ….”
He only had time to shake his head before the next guest stepped in front of him, her hand outstretched. “Mr. Darcy, I’m Pamela Allenby. You may remember, we met at the American Cancer Society benefit in New York last winter. It’s a pleasure to see you again. I was so sorry to hear about your heart attack—”
“It wasn’t a heart attack,” he said, for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Oh? But I heard ….” She recovered quickly. “It’s wonderful to see you looking so well. My husband is on the board of the conservatory, and ….”
Mrs. Allenby kept talking, but William didn’t hear a word. When the next guest stepped in front of him, and the next, and the next, he went on shaking hands and exchanging greetings with mechanical precision.
Whenever Elizabeth finally appeared, he would need to stay calm, to show as little emotion as possible. At lunch earlier that day, Catherine had spoken with her characteristic bluntness.
“About you and Elizabeth Bennet,” she had begun. “You assured me when we made our arrangement regarding her salary that you were not involved in any sort of liaison with her. I am assuming that this is still the case.”
“I told you the truth, Catherine.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Are you or are you not involved with this young woman?”
“I’m not.” That was true, at least at present. “As I pointed out at the time, I wouldn’t have wanted to send her away from New York if we were romantically involved. I couldn’t have known then that I’d end up here myself.”
“And I suppose if she were an ex-lover you were trying to discard, you wouldn’t have agreed to come here. Unless, of course, you anticipated no problems in keeping her at a distance.”
“She is not an ‘ex-lover,’ to use your term,” William answered in a haughty tone. “Though it would be none of your concern if she were.”
Catherine had stared at him, her face stern. “And you have no intention of becoming involved with her?”
“I don’t understand your fascination with my private life.” William glared at her. “As I said, it isn’t your concern.”
“You are a member of my faculty now, and that makes it my concern.”
“I beg your pardon? Do you oversee your faculty’s personal lives? Do you prohibit them from socializing with one another?”
“I don’t approve of it, though there’s little I can do to stop it. But your situation is different.”
“You know perfectly well why. Because of Anne. As I told you when I made you this offer, Anne expects to see a great deal of you during your stay, and I am confident that you won’t disappoint her.”
As he recalled this conversation, he glanced involuntarily at Anne, who was greeting a guest in her whispery voice. She was about her mother’s height, making William feel like Gulliver standing between two Lilliputians. He had known Anne for years due to their mothers’ acquaintance, but he felt nothing for her beyond brotherly affection.
He sometimes suspected that Anne’s feelings for him went deeper than his for her, but it was hard to tell. She was as unassuming and passive as her mother was presumptuous and forceful. Even in appearance, she faded into the background with her limp blonde hair, her almost ghostly pallor, and her watery blue eyes. While he doubted Catherine’s claim that she and his mother had planned for their children to marry, he knew that Rose would approve. Rose’s primary qualifications in a wife for him were good breeding and wealth, and Anne possessed plenty of both.
Not that it mattered. No one could force him to marry Anne. She would never make him happy, especially not when—
His breath caught in his chest. There she stood, a short distance down the receiving line.
Elizabeth, aided by William’s height and his conspicuous position in the receiving line, had seen him on entering the room. Since then, as the line of guests crept forward, she had struggled to remain calm.
He was handsome as always, but she noted signs of recent ill health. He had lost weight and his face looked gaunt and pale. Above all, his usual magnetism was muted.
He looked in her direction, and their eyes met and held. She swallowed hard, steeling herself to withstand his intense gaze. But soon he looked away and spoke to a guest standing in front of him.
“Are you okay, Lizzy?” Jane asked quietly.
“I’m not sure what to expect.”
“It’ll be fine. Try to relax.”
Elizabeth snickered. Jane might as well have told her to try to hold her breath for a week or two. They inched forward along with the rest of the line, and finally Elizabeth found herself face to face with Catherine de Bourgh.
“Good evening, Dr. de Bourgh.” Elizabeth could feel William’s eyes on her.
“Ms. Bennet.” Catherine’s voice was glacial.
“I’d like you to meet my sister, Jane Bennet.”
Catherine nodded coldly, refraining from offering her hand.
“You have a lovely home, Dr. de Bourgh,” Jane said.
“Thank you. I presume that you both know William Darcy.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath and raised her eyes to William’s expressionless face. “Hello, Elizabeth,” he said, his voice cool.
Her heart sank; she had her answer. “How are you?” she asked softly.
“Well enough, I suppose,” he answered, clasping her outstretched hand. As their hands touched, she thought she saw something flicker in his eyes, but then it was gone.
“You remember my sister Jane, I’m sure.” Elizabeth hadn’t intended to sound so stiff.
“Yes, of course. Hello, Jane.”
“I’m pleased to see you again, William,” Jane answered with a warm smile which, Elizabeth noticed, he didn’t return. Instead, he glanced around the room, frowning.
“I’m Anne de Bourgh, Ms. Bennet. I’ve seen you on campus a few times but we haven’t had a chance to meet.”
Elizabeth studied the tiny, pale woman standing close to William. She greeted Anne, introduced Jane, and then she and Jane walked away, accepting glasses of champagne from a passing waiter.
“He looks thin, doesn’t he?” Elizabeth asked, looking back at William.
Jane nodded. “That’s not surprising, considering what we’ve heard about his illness.”
“I just hope—I mean, what if he ….” Elizabeth bit her lip.
Jane squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “I’m sure he’s doing better now. His doctors wouldn’t have let him come all this way otherwise.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Elizabeth was chagrined to find herself unable to look away from William. He, by contrast, seemed totally focused on the stream of party guests passing him. She saw him glance occasionally down the line at the people waiting to pay their respects, but he showed no compulsion to look in her direction. And why should he? Obviously it was over between them. It was time to throw the orchid stem in the trash and stop acting like a fool over someone who had long since forgotten her.
They entered a large room to one side of the reception hall. The walls and furniture were awash in gilt trim, and crystal chandeliers sparkled from the ceiling.1 An antique harp stood at one end of the room and a harpsichord at the other. They approached a buffet table offering an array of gourmet delicacies. Elizabeth was too nervous to eat, but Jane took a small plate and selected some hors d’oeuvres.
But it was too late. Bill opened his eyes and his smile widened. “Elizabeth!” he called, much too loudly.
Elizabeth darted an apologetic glance at Jane and then arranged her face in a polite smile. “Hi, Bill,” she said, wincing as he nearly upset an ornate glass clock sitting on an end table in his haste to reach her side.
“You see? I said you’d be the belle of the ball. You look absolutely beautiful. And, Jane, you’re a vision as well.”
Jane and Elizabeth thanked him. “You look nice yourself,” Elizabeth added.
She was almost telling the truth. Bill’s tuxedo, though it couldn’t compare to the custom-tailored formal wear on general display, fit him well. His hair, arranged in its characteristic ponytail, was obviously freshly washed. And after William’s indifferent greeting, Bill’s ingratiating smile and the genuine appreciation in his eyes comforted her to a surprising degree.
“May I take you lovely ladies on a tour of the house? Of course, you’ve already found your way to this divine Salon de Musique!”
“Are you sure you can spare the time?” Elizabeth asked. “I know you’re busy handling things for Dr. de Bourgh, and I wouldn’t want to distract you from your responsibilities.”
“Yes, and she seems very pleasant,” Jane answered. Elizabeth hadn’t been similarly impressed; she smiled but didn’t comment.
“What a shame that her health is so uncertain. Yet in spite of her troubles, she’s such a charming young woman. Did you know that she and William Darcy are expected to marry?”
Elizabeth let out a little gasp before she could stop herself. Jane shot an anxious look at her and answered Bill. “No, I don’t think we’ve ever heard that.”
“Oh, yes. And what could be more fitting? A musical genius like William Darcy, married to the daughter of two musical legends such as Sir Lewis de Bourgh and, of course, Dr. de Bourgh. Both children of privileged families, with wealth and importance. They’re like royalty.”
“Are they engaged?” Jane asked.
“I don’t believe the engagement is official yet, but Dr. de Bourgh assures me that it’s nothing more than a formality. They’ve known each other since they were children; their mothers were dear friends in New York. That’s why William came here, to spend time with Anne in preparation for announcing the engagement.”
Elizabeth bit her lower lip hard, nearly drawing blood, as she stared at Anne. She couldn’t imagine this lifeless creature coaxing a delighted smile or a shout of laughter from William. She also couldn’t imagine him staring at Anne with the heat of passion in his eyes. But she was “at his social level.”
Bill excused himself with a frustrated exclamation and hurried towards the members of the string quartet as they exited the music room, taking an unauthorized break.
“Lizzy, it’s not necessarily true,” Jane said.
“But it explains so much. I was just a last fling before he settled down. No wonder he didn’t return my calls. And no wonder he acted like he barely knew me tonight, with his fiancée on one side of him and his future mother-in-law on the other.”
“Lizzy, Bill’s just telling you what Catherine de Bourgh told him. Of course she wants William for a son-in-law, but it doesn’t mean he’s interested in Anne.”
Elizabeth’s eyes settled on William. He was smiling with more animation than she had seen in him so far that evening, shaking hands enthusiastically with a male guest. The man turned in their direction and Elizabeth gasped. “Oh, my God.”
“What is it?” Jane’s eyes followed Elizabeth’s. She drew in a quick breath and grasped Elizabeth’s arm.
Charles Bingley was leaving the receiving line and heading in their direction, though he didn’t seem to have noticed them yet. Jane’s grip on Elizabeth’s arm tightened as they saw the elegant blonde by his side, her arm linked possessively with his.
“I should have realized he’d be invited,” Jane said, her voice trembling. “Bill got him involved with some fund raising for the conservatory last year.”
“I’m so sorry, Jane.”
“No, it’s all right. It’s over between us, so why shouldn’t he date other women? We should go and say hello.”
Jane drew Elizabeth forward. Elizabeth saw Charles start when he noticed Jane, but then his expression grew warm. He glanced at his date, and Elizabeth saw the corners of his eyes tighten.
“Hello, Charles,” Elizabeth said.
“Elizabeth. Jane. Good evening.” Elizabeth could hear the tension in his voice.
Jane greeted Charles quietly, and they stood staring mutely at each other. The silence grew awkward until Charles finally remembered his manners. “I’m sorry. Jane, Elizabeth, this is Elena Foxworth. Elena, I’d like you to meet Jane and Elizabeth Bennet.”
Elena raised one perfectly-shaped eyebrow. “Hello.”
Elizabeth noted the bored look in Elena’s eye. She was perfectly groomed, from her smooth blonde hair to the lacquered toes peeking out of her sandals, below the hem of her stylish black silk gown. Elizabeth’s new dress, purchased at a clearance sale, seemed cheap and tacky in comparison. And the diamonds Elena wore probably cost more than Elizabeth earned in a year.
Another uncomfortable silence fell over the quartet. Elizabeth glanced involuntarily across the room at William, and saw him watching them with a frown. She now understood his discomfort at seeing Jane—he had known that Charles was coming to the party.
“Well, um, I suppose we should get some champagne. Perhaps we’ll see you later,” Charles said, his eyes on Jane.
“Enjoy your evening,” Elizabeth answered.
Elena nodded, still looking bored, and she and Charles walked away.
“Oh, Jane, I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth said. “How awful for you to see him with someone else.”
Jane would have appeared calm to most onlookers, but Elizabeth could see the tension in her eyes and around her mouth. “Elena is the woman Charles’s father always wanted him to date. He mentioned her name to me once.”
“Well, he looks miserable. I don’t think he has the slightest interest in that arrogant snob.”
“Don’t say that, Lizzy. I’m sure she’s very nice. I hope she is, for his sake.”
“Give me a break. Didn’t you see the way he looked at you? He still loves you.”
A voice behind the sisters interrupted their conversation. “Well, Jane, I didn’t know that I’d be seeing you tonight! What a pleasant surprise! And Elizabeth. You’re here, too.”
“And the hits just keep on coming,” Elizabeth murmured to Jane. She turned to Caroline Bingley and said coldly, “Hello, Caroline, I didn’t know you’d been invited.”
“Well, of course I was! Catherine wanted some of William’s closest friends here to help welcome him to San Francisco, and, besides that, everyone of the highest social rank was invited. It never occurred to me that I’d see you here, but I suppose Catherine felt that she couldn’t exclude any of the faculty, not even the minor ones.”
Caroline’s breezy tone maddened Elizabeth, but she swallowed the insult to avoid embarrassing Jane.
“I saw you talking to Charles and Elena just now,” Caroline continued, her tone nauseatingly sweet. “Jane, you poor dear, are you all right?”
“It was a bit of a surprise, but I’m fine.”
“Yes,” Caroline said with a sigh, “Charles has been seeing quite a bit of Elena lately. Father wants him to settle down with her. When I first heard that he was coming up for the party, I hoped he might invite you to accompany him; I even suggested it. You know I’ve never stopped trying to reunite you two lovebirds. But Father wanted him to bring Elena. They’re staying the weekend; Charles booked a suite at the Fairmont.”
“I suppose Charles wanted to stay the weekend so he’d have more time to visit with William,” Elizabeth suggested, hoping to distract Jane from the image of Charles spending a romantic weekend with Elena.
“Oh, heavens, no, He knows that I’ll keep William fully occupied this weekend,” Caroline cooed. She glanced over at him. “That poor, darling boy, having to stand all that time in the receiving line when I know he’d rather sit somewhere with me and relax.”
“He does look tired,” Elizabeth remarked.
“It’s nothing compared to the way he looked earlier this summer, right after he got out of the hospital. I’ve been visiting him regularly, you know. His grandmother said that my visits always cheer him up, so I’ve been flying from coast to coast all summer. What a relief to have him here at last where we can see each other every day.”
“Caroline, you never told me about all of this traveling,” Jane said mildly.
“I don’t tell you all my secrets, Jane, dear,” Caroline replied, her expression coy. “William wanted us to be discreet at first. Now that he’s come here to be with me, of course that will change.”
This, at least, Elizabeth knew was a collection of ridiculous lies. William had been clear about his antipathy for Caroline. Where his connection with Anne de Bourgh was concerned, though, the truth was less clear.
The last of the guests had finally passed through the receiving line, and Caroline’s eyes lit up like a bloodhound on the trail of an interesting scent. She stripped off the matching bolero jacket she wore over her emerald green satin gown, and Elizabeth had to feign a coughing fit to cover her loud snort of laughter. Voluptuous cleavage swelled above the plunging neckline of the dress, in sharp contrast to Caroline’s formerly meager curves.
“Excuse me, ladies. Enjoy your evening,” she said abruptly, her stiletto heels clacking on the wood floor as she scurried in William’s direction.
“Lizzy,” Jane whispered, “did you see—”
“Of course I did,” Elizabeth replied, laughing. “They were impossible to miss in that dress. I wonder when she got them?”
“Well, let’s see. We had lunch about six weeks ago. It must have been right after that.”
William looked utterly disgusted when Caroline nearly tripped Anne de Bourgh in her haste to reach him. Caroline stood facing him, with her back arched in a peculiar manner that Elizabeth realized was designed to display her newly-acquired bosom to greatest advantage. She watched William intently, curious to see his reaction. His gaze flicked downward, and then he executed a perfect double-take. He looked away, a bewildered expression on his face.
Elizabeth coughed to cover a laugh as she watched him disengage his arm from Caroline’s. If William had come to San Francisco for a rest, she wished him luck.
“People are going to think he’s the head waiter,” Elizabeth said.
Jane smiled. “But, Lizzy, he means well. He’s trying so hard to help Dr. de Bourgh.”
Elizabeth’s response died in her throat when she saw William approaching. “Hello, Elizabeth, Jane.”
“Hello, William,” Jane said. “It’s a lovely party.”
“Catherine pulled out all the stops,” he replied. “But she always does.”
Elizabeth forced herself to look into his eyes. His expression was warmer now than it had been in the receiving line. “I’m glad to see you,” she said quietly.
“Would either of you like a glass of champagne?” Jane asked. “I’m going to get some.”
Elizabeth and William refused, and Jane left them alone together.
“I’ve been concerned about you, I mean, about your health,” Elizabeth stammered. “When I stopped by the hospital, the nurse wouldn’t tell me much.”
His eyes flickered. “So you did come to the hospital.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth shrugged. It was odd that he seemed to be questioning it. The orchid and her note had offered plenty of evidence.
“That was kind of you.” He seemed uncomfortable, as though he were choosing every word with care.
“I wish I’d been able to say hello, but you were asleep, and I had a plane to catch. Besides, you had other people there to take care of you.”
William looked at her. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but no words came out.
“How are you feeling?” Elizabeth asked.
“I get tired easily, and occasionally I get dizzy or breathless, but I’m doing better overall.”
“Do they expect the remaining symptoms to go away?”
“There are no guarantees. That’s why I’m taking time off, to try to reverse the damage.”
“Damage? That sounds serious.”
William looked away and changed the subject. “Allen said he saw you at the hospital.”
“Yes. He’s such a nice man. He offered me a ride to the airport, but I knew he was too busy.”
“How did you find out I was in the hospital?”
“I promised I wouldn’t reveal my source.”
“Please?” A hint of a twinkle lightened William’s solemn expression. “I’ve been curious.”
She found his curiosity peculiar. If he had cared that much about the answer, he could have called her and asked. “You have to promise not to get her in trouble.”
“Do you promise?”
He sighed and rolled his eyes, but a tiny smile broke through his pretense of annoyance. “I promise. Who are you talking about?”
“She works for you. I think she helps Mrs. Reynolds part-time. I stopped by the house to return the orchid, and she answered the door. She said everybody was at the hospital, so of course I had to know why. I just kept badgering her until I wore her down.”
His half-smile died and his eyes widened. “Wait. Did you say you went to the house to return the orchid?”
“Yes, because I thought ….” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Look, William, I—I owe you an apology. I completely overreacted that night. I was rude and insulting, and you didn’t deserve it. I shouldn’t have behaved that way. It was—well, I’m sorry.”
“So am I. It was ungentlemanly of me to be so … insistent, when I could tell that you had doubts.”
“I suppose neither of us was at our best that night.”
“With both of us working at the conservatory, it would be good if we could just put that night behind us, don’t you think?”
William didn’t respond at first, and it took all of Elizabeth’s self-control to remain silent and wait. Finally he nodded. “Yes, that would be best.”
“And I was thinking,” Elizabeth continued, “that maybe we could be friends?”
“Friends.” His tone was neutral, his expression unreadable.
“It would be better than trying to avoid each other, don’t you think? Besides, we used to have some good conversations. Like those nights on the phone when you were in Chicago?”
A hint of a smile touched his lips again, but this time it didn’t reach his eyes. “Yes, we did.”
“So what do you think? Can we manage cordial chats in the hall? Maybe even a friendly lunch once in a while?”
William, who had been avoiding eye contact through most of this exchange, looked directly into her eyes and took a deep breath. “Elizabeth, I—”
“William! There you are. We’ve been looking for you everywhere. Please come with me at once.” It was Catherine de Bourgh, speaking in a strident voice.
Sudden lines creased William’s forehead. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth; I have to go.”
“You will excuse us, Ms. Bennet,” Catherine said in a regal tone.
“Of course,” Elizabeth said, ignoring Catherine and giving William a smile of false cheer. “Duty calls.”
Elizabeth found Jane in the main hall, conversing with an attractive man who bore a faint resemblance to Charles. It was satisfying to see the genuine Charles Bingley standing a short distance away, ignoring both Elena and Caroline while he stared at Jane and her companion. Hard as she tried, Elizabeth couldn’t work up any sympathy for him. He had to live with his choices. And so do I.
Bill Collins strutted into the hall like a flamingo in full courting plumage and raised his voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?” He repeated himself twice before the guests fell silent.
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh requests that you join her in the ballroom. Our guest of honor, Mr. William Darcy, has consented to play for us.” He moved on, no doubt to make his announcement in other rooms. Amidst a buzz of conversation, the guests began moving in the direction Bill had indicated.
Elizabeth saw the strain on Jane’s face as she watched Charles and Elena walking ahead of them. “Would you rather leave?”
“Of course not. I’ll stay as long as you want.”
Elizabeth studied her sister and shook her head. “I should have gotten you out of here ages ago.”
“No, Lizzy, I’m fine,” Jane protested. “I had a nice talk with Jordan.”
“Is that his name? He looks like Charles.”
“I suppose so,” Jane said, her brow furrowed. “He was very nice, and we might go out to dinner some time soon. Did you get a chance to straighten things out with William?”
Elizabeth hesitated. “More or less.”
“Did you ask him why he didn’t return your calls?”
“I don’t need to ask. It’s perfectly obvious.”
“No, it’s not. You shouldn’t automatically believe what Bill said about William and Anne de Bourgh.”
“I don’t see why not. It makes total sense.”
The hall was nearly deserted. Jane took Elizabeth’s arm. “Come on, Lizzy, I’ve never known you to turn down an opportunity to hear William play.”
Elizabeth nodded reluctantly. “Okay, let’s go.”
They arrived in the ballroom to find it nearly full. With the guests drifting from room to room, it hadn’t been obvious how many people were in attendance. Now, assembled in one placed, they made a large and impressive group, sleek and elegant in their formal wear.
Elizabeth and Jane squeezed into a spot near a bank of French doors that opened onto a terrace. Elizabeth was disappointed that they would be unable to see William’s hands moving across the keyboard; however, he would be facing them while seated at the piano, allowing them to see the emotions playing across his face. He stood beside Catherine, scanning the faces in the room.
“Good evening,” she said. “I am pleased that you’ve joined us this evening to honor William Darcy, Pacific Conservatory’s Artist in Residence for the fall semester. He has consented to play for us as a special gift to my daughter, Anne.”
The crowd applauded as William stepped to the piano, his eyes still surveying the crowd. When his gaze fell on Elizabeth, his eyes widened and he stared at her for a moment. Then he seated himself at the piano. He glanced at Elizabeth once more and, after a moment of hesitation, began to play.
Elizabeth made a small, choked sound when he played the opening phrase. It was the Intermezzo by Brahms2 that he had played for her the night of their dinner at the townhouse. Images and emotions from that evening flooded her mind: the warm intimacy as she sat beside him on the piano bench, the heartbreaking beauty of his music, his gentle concern for her tears, and the passion that had erupted between them. Yet now he played it for another woman.
She turned toward the French doors, searching blindly for an exit. She had to get out of the room, away from the music. At last she managed to fling a door open. She stumbled onto a large terrace overlooking the bay, with a startled Jane close behind.
“Lizzy, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”
“No,” Elizabeth said, her voice thick with tears. “I just need to be alone for a few minutes. Go back inside, Jane. Really, I’m okay.”
Jane took Elizabeth’s hand in hers. “Are you sure?”
Elizabeth nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back soon.”
Jane reluctantly released Elizabeth’s hand. After a long, searching look, she slipped back into the ballroom.
Elizabeth was too close to the house; she could hear the music filtering through the doors. She followed a path heading into the darkness, walking as fast as her gown and her high heels would allow. Even through her tears, she saw that Bill had been correct in his assessment of the views from Catherine’s hilltop. The San Francisco skyline twinkled in the distance as though lit by millions of fireflies.
She continued along the path until she was far from the house and all was quiet. At last she found herself beside a swimming pool on the hillside. A waterfall, lit for dramatic effect, splashed into the pool. She stepped onto the cement deck and stared into the water. As the minutes passed she began to relax, soothed by the gentle splashing sounds. A search of her evening bag yielded a tissue, which she used to dry her eyes.
Now that she was calmer, Elizabeth began to regret her idiotic behavior. She hoped that only Jane had observed her frantic exit. Once upon a time he had played that piece for her. What difference did that make? She couldn’t fall apart every time he played something, especially not if she had any hope of following through on the whole “being friends” idea.
Elizabeth wished that she had her shawl, but she had surrendered it on her arrival at the house. She rubbed her bare arms to warm herself, finally deciding that it was foolish to stand outside freezing. It was time to return to the house, find Jane, and go home before anything else happened to unsettle either of them.
She turned to go back inside, but stopped abruptly when she saw a tall figure striding down the path. Her heart began to pound before she knew the reason; it was quicker to recognize his silhouette and the powerful grace of his movements. He stopped a short distance from her, and even though his face was hidden in the shadows, she could feel his intense gaze burning into her.
“Elizabeth,” he said, “we need to talk.”
1 The interior photos are from Chateau de Chantilly, near Paris. I thought Catherine would want to imitate the gilded-to-excess splendor of the French chateaux.