Many thanks to Anne Marie for sharing the menu her chef/husband cooked for her one Valentine's Day. The only change was to add Lizzy’s favorite dessert.
William and Elizabeth sat together in the dining room. A variety of dishes, served in small portions on attractively garnished plates and each accompanied by a complementary wine, had been arriving periodically, punctuated by tiny servings of delicately flavored sorbets to cleanse the palate. William wasn’t easily impressed by culinary achievement, but Mrs. Reynolds had outdone herself.
He felt completely relaxed with Elizabeth, and the feeling astonished him. He couldn’t think of anyone else—not even his family—in whose company he felt so comfortable. So far she had carried the lion’s share of the dinner conversation, but not because of the awkward reserve that so often silenced him. Rather, he simply enjoyed listening to her. She had regaled him with amusing anecdotes from the jazz group’s recent gigs, and now she was offering an account of Jane’s awards ceremony. A highly respected Federal judge for whom Jane had clerked had presented the award.
“I bet Jane will end up being a judge herself someday, maybe in family court. She’s the most honest, fair-minded person I know.”
William kept his doubts to himself. “Does she want to be a judge?”
“She’s never mentioned it, but she’d be wonderful. Her problem would be that she’s so willing to give people the benefit of the doubt that she’d probably be too merciful sometimes. She doesn’t believe in the concept of a hopeless case.”
Unless signing a prenup is involved. “Do you agree with her about that?”
“No. I’m not as forgiving as she is.”
“Neither am I,” he said. “Once I develop a negative opinion of someone, that’s basically the end.”
“So you’re the sort who holds a grudge?”
“I don’t know if ‘grudge’ is precisely the right word, but ….” He shrugged.
“Well, it’s a relief to know that you’re not perfect. I had begun to wonder.” She pursed her lips, mischief in her eyes.
He frowned. “I don’t think this has anything to do with perfection, but regardless, I’ve never pretended to be perfect.”
She smiled and leaned forward, touching his arm. “I was teasing. Still, you seem pretty sure of yourself when it comes to your beliefs and opinions. And your grudges too, apparently.”
“I suppose so.” He paused briefly. “I don’t form opinions or take actions lightly. I weigh situations carefully and objectively, so I think it’s appropriate that I have confidence in the conclusions I reach.”
Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “Well, you’re lucky. Most people aren’t that sure of themselves.”
She fell silent, spearing her last sweet potato dumpling with a contemplative air while William savored his last bite of salmon. He decided that a more light-hearted conversational topic was in order, and surprised himself by thinking of one. “What first got you interested in musical theater?”
“So you’re a fan of The Sound of Music.”
“Oh, yeah. That was my favorite movie when I was a little girl. I listened to the soundtrack all the time, too, and I’d sing along with it. At first I used to imagine myself as one of the children, but before long I started to identify with Maria.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy.” Mrs. Reynolds stood in the doorway. “It looks like you’re done with the salmon?”
“Yes, we are.”
Mrs. Reynolds removed their empty plates and set tiny dishes in front of them. “This is grapefruit ice,” she remarked. “I’ll be back in just a moment with the main course.” She exited to the kitchen.
“Please tell me she didn’t make all these ices herself,” Elizabeth sighed. “I can’t believe how good everything is.”
Mrs. Reynolds returned with two servings of rack of lamb. The aroma set William’s mouth watering. It was one of his favorite foods, and for that reason he hadn’t objected to its inclusion on the menu despite having eaten it for dinner just two nights before.
Elizabeth’s eyes shone. “Mrs. Reynolds, this is the best meal I’ve ever had. I didn’t think anything could top that delicious feast you made for us in New York, but everything is perfect.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.”
The lamb was tender and juicy, with a savory topping that enhanced its flavor, and it temporarily commanded their full attention. Soon, though, Elizabeth deposited her knife and fork on her plate. “This is delicious, but I can’t eat another bite.”
William, his mouth full, simply nodded.
“While you’re eating, I can continue my story if you want. But first, I’m going to have some more wine.”
He reached for the bottle, but she already had it in her hand and filled her own glass.
“We left off at a critical point,” he said. “You had just revealed the shocking news that you were quite a handful as a child.”
She grinned. “I wasn’t a bad kid, but it seemed like Mom was always upset over something I’d done. We disagreed about clothes, and she had definite ideas about appropriate behavior for a ‘young lady.’ And my stubborn streak drove her crazy. Luckily for her, Jane was the sort of daughter she wanted.” Elizabeth paused to sip her wine. “I don’t mean to sound self-pitying. Mom loves me, and she wants the best for me. We just rarely agree on what ‘the best’ is.”
He found it impossible to comprehend how Mrs. Bennet could have failed to appreciate her sparkling diamond of a daughter while doting on Jane. He sat in silent indignation as he thought of her trying to stifle Elizabeth’s energy and spirit.
“Anyway,” she continued, “Maria in The Sound of Music was like that, too, but in the end she found the place where she belonged. I could relate to that.”
“So you watched the movie over and over?”
“And when I was nine, I heard that a community theater group was going to stage the musical. So I went home and announced that I wanted to be in the play.”
“As Maria, I’m sure,” he teased.
“And you found out that you loved it?” William, who had finished eating, leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table in violation of one of Gran’s cardinal rules.
“More than anything I’d ever done. I suppose I liked being in the spotlight, literally. And I liked pretending to be someone else. The director of the theater company thought I had talent, so he encouraged me. He convinced Mom and Dad that I should have voice lessons, and he gave me roles in his productions whenever he could. He even let me play a boy once. And when I was twelve, he mounted a production of Annie and gave me the lead role.”
William chuckled, wearing a broad grin.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m imagining you in a curly red wig. I bet you were adorable.”
She snickered. “I don’t know about that. But the production turned out well, and I loved being the star. That’s when I decided to be a musical theater actress.”
“And yet you’ve given it up to teach.” This was the part that mystified him.
“Well, as you pointed out at the rehearsal dinner, I was a failure on Broadway.”
He winced. “I’m never going to live that down, am I? I know I’ve said it before, but I was a pompous ass that night.”
“Yes, you were,” she retorted, but he saw a glint of amusement in her eyes. “But I suppose part of the reason I was so annoyed with you that night was because you were basically right. I have some talent, but along the way I found out that talent isn’t enough.”
“Some talent? Don’t be so modest. You sing like an angel, and from what I’ve seen you’re a wonderful dancer.”
A shy smile lit her face. “Thank you.” She paused for a sip of wine and then continued her story. “Talent aside, what I seem to lack is the fire in my belly that I saw in some of my friends, the sense that they weren’t alive unless they were on stage. And I think you need that fire to become a star, because then you won’t let anything stand in your way.”
William understood what she meant. His music, and the chance to perform it, wasn’t just something he wanted; it was something he couldn’t survive without. He had never fully appreciated the importance of performing until now, when he had been denied the privilege.
“Then one summer, I taught a class to earn some extra money and found out that I loved teaching. It seemed so rewarding to help a young person to develop and grow as a musician and as a person. That’s what puts a fire in my belly.”
Until now, he had seen her choice to teach as settling, as accepting a lesser destiny. But the conviction in her voice and her glowing countenance told another story, and he was ashamed of himself for underestimating her.
“It’s nothing compared to all the good your foundation does for music education,” she said. “But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll discover the next William Darcy.”
He raised his wine glass. “To the next William Darcy, whoever he—”
“Or she may be.”
They clinked glasses and sipped their wine, smiling into each other’s eyes.
Elizabeth still felt overwhelmed by the meal, which had been a gourmet triumph from start to finish. “If I weren’t so full,” she remarked, “I’d ask for more chocolate mousse.”
“I’m sure that could be arranged if you change your mind.”
William had already removed his jacket and loosened his tie. Now he asked, with his best boyish grin, “Would you be scandalized if I took off my shoes?”
“Of course not, as long as you don’t have holes in the toes of your socks.”
He chuckled as he removed his shoes and propped his feet on the coffee table. “Gran would kill me if she saw this.” He stretched his arm along the sofa back, behind Elizabeth’s head.
“Well, she’s not here, and I won’t tell.” She set her empty cup on the coffee table and kicked off her own shoes. Then she curled her legs beneath her and leaned back with a happy sigh.
He wrapped his arm around her, toying with the fold-over collar of her sweater. “I could get used to this.”
She tilted her head up, meeting his gaze. “Me, too.”
“I’m not too boring for you? A guy who gets winded when he climbs a few steps and takes afternoon naps in the middle of dates?”
She was about to offer a teasing retort when she noticed a hint of tension around his eyes. Despite his casual attitude, he seemed to be asking a serious question. Looking directly into his eyes, she spoke gently but firmly. “You climbed a lot more than a few steps that day, and as for the nap in the park, stop beating yourself up about it. I enjoy being with you, and I don’t need constant frenetic activity to have fun.”
He tightened his arm around her, drawing her closer, and she leaned her head lightly against his shoulder.
The music ended, and William left the sofa briefly to reload the CD changer. When he resumed his place beside her, she said, “At dinner I told you how I got started in theater. It’s your turn. Tell me all about ‘William Darcy, the Early Years.’”
He shrugged. “I started playing as a small boy, and then started giving occasional recitals and concerts while I was still quite young.”
“I know that part already. What I meant was, when did you first discover the piano?”
His fingers tangled gently in her hair. “I was three years old.”
He nodded. “I don’t know if I remember it, or if it’s just from hearing the story so many times. Mamma played the piano; sometimes she would accompany herself when she sang. I loved to listen to her; in fact, my earliest memories are of sitting on her lap while she sang to me. One day she was playing and singing, and I was sitting on the floor playing with my toys. She went downstairs for a minute to speak to Mrs. Reynolds, and while she was gone I dragged a footstool over and managed to get up on the piano bench. When she returned I was sitting there, my legs dangling in the air, playing the melody she’d been singing.”1
“You picked it out by ear?”
“I’d shown an interest in the piano before that, but Mamma said this was the first time I’d gone beyond just randomly hitting the keys. Though in retrospect, she wondered if I’d been working out bits and pieces of melodies for a while and she just hadn’t recognized them.”
“Three years old, and playing piano by ear. She must have been stunned.”
“She taught me a few other tunes, and I learned fast and kept asking for more. The piano teachers she contacted all said I was too young, so she taught me herself for a while. I learned the alphabet and to read music at about the same time. And I guess you probably know the rest.”
“Did you ever accompany her while she sang?”
“Occasionally, when I was younger. It’s such a tragedy that Father forced her to give up her career. She was immensely talented, and I think it ate away at her soul that she couldn’t share her gift with the world.”
“Your poor mother. It sounds like she had the passion for performing I was talking about earlier.”
“If it hadn’t been for me, I think she would have left Father, returned to Italy, and resumed her career. But he would never have allowed her to take me out of the country.”
“And she loved you too much to leave you.” Elizabeth’s heart ached for Anna, and for William too.
He sighed, wearing a bittersweet smile. “That’s why my career was so important to her, almost an obsession. She wanted me to have what she’d been denied.”
Elizabeth’s mind flashed to some of the obnoxious “stage mothers” she’d seen dragging reluctant children to auditions. “But you wanted to be a pianist, didn’t you?”
“Oh, absolutely. I don’t mean that Mamma pushed me into it. But once she recognized that I had a good chance at a professional career, she did her best to sweep every obstacle out of my path.”
It was hard to imagine what obstacles William, with his privileged upbringing and his extraordinary talent, would have faced. She was about to ask when they heard a quiet “ahem” and looked up to see Mrs. Reynolds in the doorway.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy, Ms. Bennet. The dishes are done and I thought I’d go to my room now, but first I wanted to see if I could get you anything.”
“Thank you for the delicious dinner, Mrs. Reynolds,” William said. He glanced at Elizabeth. “Now’s your chance for that second helping of mousse. Or more coffee?”
“No, I’m fine.” She stood up and approached Mrs. Reynolds, extending her hand. “Thank you so much for everything. Dinner was amazing, and I enjoyed our talk, too.”
“So did I. I hope to see you again soon.” A spark of understanding passed between them.
Mrs. Reynolds disappeared down the hall and Elizabeth returned to the sofa. She decided that now was as good a time as any to raise an issue that had been troubling her. “William, we need to talk about something.”
He grimaced. “That doesn’t sound good.”
”It’s about what happened this afternoon.”
“But we already talked about it. And I apologized.”
“I know, and as a matter of fact, I have to apologize, too. I forgot to check email when I got back from lunch. I finally checked it after you left campus, and I found an email from the department secretary forwarding your message. So it was my fault I didn’t know where you were.”
He nodded in acknowledgement but didn’t comment.
“But there are some other things that happened.”
He eyed her, frowning. “I hope you’re not going to tell me that I’m not allowed to object when I encounter incompetence.”
“Not exactly. But here’s the thing. When you’re at home, you have Sonya to organize your schedule and work miracles when you need something. You have Richard, who is 100% loyal and focused on your career. You have Mrs. Reynolds, who can whip up a gourmet feast in the blink of an eye. You have Allen, whose sole purpose in life is to drive you wherever you want to go. You live in a very comfortable bubble most of the time. And even when you travel, I assume you’re whisked by limo from the airport to your hotel suite to the concert hall, with someone from the symphony assigned to get you anything you need.”
“And there’s something wrong with that?”
“Of course not. You’re lucky to be surrounded by people whose purpose is to make your life better. But now you’ve left your bubble; you’re out in the real world—well, the real world plus a luxury penthouse and a Ferrari. While you’re here, you’re going to have to live a little more like the rest of us. Things don’t run perfectly out here. You’re not always going to be dealing with super-competent people.”
“So I’ve noticed,” he muttered.
She couldn’t help smiling. “There’s no question that Bill Collins made some mistakes. He also had some bad luck. The end result was that you were inconvenienced at a time when you were already feeling physical ill and emotionally upset. You had every right to be annoyed.”
“Exactly,” he said, lifting his chin.
She continued. “But I said, ‘to be annoyed,’ not, ‘to take Bill Collins to task for every single thing that went wrong.’ You seemed to consider every failing a personal insult. But Bill didn’t wake up and say to himself, ‘I think, just for fun, I’ll ruin William Darcy’s day.’ In fact, it sounded like he had almost everything well planned, but somehow he got your arrival date wrong. I thought you were hard on him, considering what a small mistake it was.”
He heaved a sigh. “I know I seemed arrogant and impatient to you, both in what I said to Collins and in what I said to you. But let me try to explain.”
He nodded. “When I agreed to come here, I was promised certain things, in writing. I’ve been here less than a week, and already the conservatory isn’t living up to the terms of the agreement. I know it’s only a matter of one day, Lizzy. But I’m donating my time while I’m here. The only payment of any sort I’m receiving is the studio space, along with some administrative support for the grant program I told you about. And perhaps you’ll think it’s arrogant for me to say this, but so be it: my time, because of who I am, is valuable. My presence enhances the school’s reputation. So for the conservatory to fail to meet its minimal commitments in return … yes, it feels like a personal insult.”
“Oh.” She wasn’t sure what she had expected him to say—perhaps some more complaints about Bill Collins—but she hadn’t expected this. “Okay, I see what you’re saying. But, even so, you know it wasn’t really personal, right? It was just a mix-up?”
He thought for a moment, frowning. “I suppose I allowed my emotions to enter into a purely business situation; I do that sometimes. And because of that, perhaps I took it more personally than I should have. But I keep my promises, and I’m not used to having to wait for things, or having to come back another day, when I’ve been promised something.”
She smiled, glad to be back on solid ground. “That was my original point; you’d better get used to it. Out here, we have to deal with inconvenience and disappointment on a daily basis. And getting snotty or saying, ‘Do you know who I am?’ just makes you look rude and self-centered.”
He began to protest, but she held up a hand to interrupt him. “I know you didn’t say that, but I was afraid you were heading there. Just remember, when your suit isn’t ready on time, that the dry cleaner doesn’t care about your stature in the music world.”
“Of course,” he said, and she could see that he was mildly offended. “I know that, and I don’t think I behave the way you’re suggesting. This is entirely different. But I understand your point. I’m out of the bubble, and I have to be more patient in the face of inefficiency.”
“And remember that the ‘little people’ have feelings, too. You terrified poor Bill when you threatened to go to Dr. de Bourgh.”
“There’s just something about Collins,” William grumbled. “He sets my teeth on edge.”
She had suspicions about why William disliked Bill so much, but kept her thoughts to herself. “He’s peculiar, no question, but he means well. And he has tremendous respect for you.”
William threw a skeptical look in her direction but didn’t comment.
“You know, living like a normal person has some advantages. Like spending your Saturday afternoon napping under a tree in the park.”
He was smiling now. “I have to admit, I already feel more relaxed, and … well, free, being here.”
“So, to get that freedom, you’re willing to accept some occasional incompetence, if not with a smile, at least without ranting about it or letting your blood pressure skyrocket?”
”I’ll do my best.”
“Good. You’ll be much happier, trust me.” She checked her watch and stood up. “It’s getting late; I should go soon. Remember, we agreed we’d make it an early evening.”
William heaved himself to his feet. “As long as it wasn’t too early, and this is too early.”
His self-assured tone might have annoyed her had she not noted the twinkle in his eyes. “Yes, Mr. Darcy, whatever you say, sir,” she answered in high-pitched voice, batting her eyelashes.
“Mmm, I like the sound of that.” He drew her into his arms.
“So you like it when I’m submissive and obedient?” She tipped her head to one side, raising her eyebrows.
He scoffed. “I wouldn’t recognize you if you were submissive and obedient. No, my tastes run towards prickly, independent women with a hint of the devil in their eyes, especially if they were notorious trouble-makers as children.”
The laughter she had been suppressing bubbled out of her throat, and she pulled his head down to hers for a kiss whose fervor surprised even her.
William raised his head, delight written on his face. “I guess I’m going to have to order you around more often, if this is the reward I get.”
“I kissed you because you made me laugh, not because you were pushy. Plus, I have a favor to ask, and I thought it might help if I buttered you up a little first.”
“What’s the favor?” He slid his hands slowly up her arms, and Elizabeth shivered involuntarily.
“Would you play for me before I leave?”
“Of course. Why would you think you’d need to talk me into it?”
“I just didn’t want you to think that I’m going to expect it every time we’re near a piano.”
“Lizzy, it’s not an imposition. I’d love to play for you. Any requests?”
“I want to see you play the Black Key Etude up close. After that, maybe some more Chopin?”
“Absolutely.” He released her from his arms and led the way to the piano in the living room.
“It’s lucky that your aunt and uncle have a nice piano.” It was a beautiful instrument, though not the equal of the custom model in his New York sitting room.
“They didn’t. It was just delivered the middle of last week.” He seated himself with an apologetic grimace, indicating the small padded bench he occupied. “The only thing is, there’s no room for my invisible page turner.” He started to rise. “But I can get a chair from the dining room.”
“No, stay put,” she said, placing her hands on his shoulders. “I’ll just stand here behind you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I have the best ‘seat’ in the house.”
She left her hands resting lightly on his shoulders as he launched into the Black Key Etude,2 his encore from the Juilliard recital in June. His fingers flew over the keys with euphoric abandon until she half expected to see smoke rising from the keyboard.
Entirely too soon the piece ended, leaving her breathless from its exuberant pace. She applauded gaily. “Bravo, Mr. Darcy.”
He turned his head to smile at her. “Why, thank you, Ms. Bennet.”
“What are you going to play for me next?”
“Hmm. I think we’ll stay with the etudes. This is one of the most beautiful melodies Chopin ever wrote. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.”
He turned back to the piano and sat quietly for a moment, his hands poised over the keys. Elizabeth couldn’t see his expression, but it seemed that in the expectant silence, the air around him became emotionally charged. He leaned forward and began to play, and she emitted an involuntary sigh of delight when she heard the opening measures of Chopin’s Tristesse Etude.3
It was overwhelming to stand so near him, captivated by his absolute mastery of the instrument as he played the haunting, painfully beautiful melody. “Tristesse” was the French word for “sadness,” and in William’s skilled hands, the etude communicated a wealth of emotional shadings that spoke directly to her heart. He made the piano sing, sigh, and cry out as the music progressed through its many moods, a brief light-hearted passage giving way to a section full of stormy passion, and then a return to the poignant opening theme, brimming with fathomless yearning.
She was no less affected by the man than by his music. The heat and strength of his body radiated through his crisp white shirt. The coffee-colored waves of his hair cried out to be sifted through her fingers. His neck, strong and smooth-skinned, seemed to demand the touch of her lips. Even standing behind him, where she could see his face only in partial profile, his magnetism was riveting. She could do nothing but stand frozen, tears stinging her eyes as the final chord of the etude faded away.
William’s hands slowly lifted away from the keyboard, and he turned around on the bench to face her. His expectant expression changed to one filled with concern. “I’ve made you cry again,” he said softly.
“I’m fine,” she answered, offering him a tremulous smile. “It’s just that you’re so amazing, so—” She didn’t know how to explain, so instead she bent forward and kissed him. His hands, which had so recently created magic on the piano, encircled her waist.
“Come here, cara,” he whispered, drawing her down onto his lap. He reclaimed her lips, his kiss sending new spirals of longing through her. His tongue gently traced the outline of her lips. In a haze of desire, she tightened her arms around his neck and her mouth opened against his.
Passion rose between them as the kiss grew more urgent, leaving Elizabeth clinging to him, trembling with desire. William crushed her to him, his hands roving up and down her back. He dragged his lips away from hers and deposited a line of kisses on her jaw and neck. Her hands threaded restlessly through his hair as he anointed her neck and shoulder with a fiery progression of kisses that tore a low moan from her throat.
By the time he raised his head, his eyes blazing, she was finding it difficult to breathe. “I want you so much, Lizzy,” he groaned, his voice hoarse.
I want you, too. The words vibrated through her body, but before her passion-drugged mind could even consider speaking them aloud, his mouth came down on hers again, ravenous and demanding. Her heart raced as they continued to devour each other, the heat spiking between them threatening to consume her.
The hand at her waist began to creep upward, sliding slowly over her rib cage, and Elizabeth astonished herself by arching slightly in encouragement. But then he abruptly stilled his hand and raised his lips from hers.
He pulled her close, resting his head on top of hers. She could feel the urgent pounding of his heart, and sudden fear gripped her. Could getting excited be dangerous to him?
Soon his breathing relaxed and his heartbeat slowed. He gazed into her eyes. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, stroking her cheek.
“I promised I wouldn’t push things to where you were uncomfortable, and then the first chance I got, I let things start to get out of hand.”
His comment confused her. She had been a willing—no, eager—participant in everything that had happened so far, and she was certain that he knew it. Then she recalled the lone tear on his cheek that afternoon, and his embarrassed, veiled references to the doctor’s orders. The doctor must have forbidden lovemaking, and William had been too mortified to admit it. Perhaps it soothed his pride to use her hesitation as a pretext for stopping, rather than to admit the truth. If so, she was willing to help him to preserve this innocent bit of fiction.
She smoothed a curl away from his forehead and kissed him softly. “You’re sweet.” She snuggled against him, luxuriating in the warmth and strength of his body. Unable to resist temptation, she nuzzled his neck and kissed his jaw, savoring the salty tang of his skin. A wave of tenderness washed over her when she heard his soft sigh.
It had to be getting late, and she knew that she ought to ask him to drive her home. But she couldn’t summon up the will to emerge from her cocoon of profound contentment—not yet. Just a few more minutes; then it would be time to go.
At first, Marcia Reynolds wasn’t sure what had awakened her, but then she heard the music coming from the living room. She checked a clock— it was nearly three in the morning. What am I going to do with that boy? Yawning, she got out of bed and retrieved her bathrobe from the closet.
The living room was dimly lit, with one lamp casting weak rays of light on the piano. William, absorbed in his music, was oblivious to her approach. His hair was disheveled, and she saw heavy fatigue in the lines around his eyes.
He saw her and stopped playing, frowning. “I’m sorry; did I wake you?”
“You should be in bed, William, not out here exhausting yourself.”
“I couldn’t sleep.” His fingers still rested on the keys. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Is something the matter?”
“No. I just have a lot on my mind.”
“Is there anything you want to talk about?” She would have fallen into a dead faint had he accepted her offer, but she felt the need to ask.
He responded as expected. “No, I’m fine. But thank you.”
“Maybe you could talk with Elizabeth tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” His voice was little more than a whisper.
“I suppose you know that I asked her to keep an eye on you.”
“I suspected as much.”
“She seems to think that you just developed your heart problems in the past few months. Why haven’t you told her it was congenital?”
His smile vanished. “You told her?”
“Of course not.” She saw him relax at this assurance. “But she’d understand better if she knew.”
“You know that I prefer to keep that information private.”
“I’m not talking about holding a press conference. I’m talking about trusting the woman you love.”
His eyes narrowed. “Mrs. Reynolds—”
“Now, don’t even try to deny it. You’re in love with her. Anyone can see that.”
William sighed. In a soft voice that seemed to be addressed more to himself than to her, he murmured, “Anyone but Elizabeth.”
She felt a wave of triumph at this tacit admission of his feelings, and decided to press her advantage. “Then why don’t you tell her how you feel?”
He stood up, towering over her, and from his expression she could tell that further discussion was pointless. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s nowhere near as simple as that. And as you said, it’s late and we should both get some sleep.”
He bid her goodnight and strode down the hall, leaving her staring after him, shaking her head. He could be so stubborn sometimes.
Bound by years of habit, she made a quick sweep through the room, ensuring that all was in good order. Then she switched off the light and padded silently down the hall to her bedroom. As she drifted off to sleep, the image in her mind was a familiar one: a large brood of grandchildren with dark, curly hair. As always, the boys had their father’s dark eyes, full of solemn intensity. But tonight, the girls had eyes of emerald green.
Elizabeth, like William, had difficulty sleeping that night. Also like William, she sought refuge in a keyboard, though it was one of a different sort. She sat at her laptop, squinting at a page of Google search results.
Fifteen minutes earlier she had been lying in bed, mentally reviewing the events since William had re-entered her life. So much had changed in just a few days, and although she wasn’t introspective by nature, she needed to take a step back and assess the situation.
She could no longer pretend that he was an unnecessary complication in her life, nor could she continue to discount the gathering evidence that his interest in her went far beyond casual liking, flavored with a generous helping of desire. Something powerful was developing between them, building on the magnetic pull she had first felt three months ago in the moonlit courtyard at the Ritz-Carlton. Their connection was based on far more than the physical attraction that sizzled and sparked whenever they were in the same room.
Yet there was still so much she didn’t understand. The Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of his personality that had struck her almost from the beginning still mystified her. She never knew which William would appear: the gentle, affectionate man who laughed with her, teased her, and re-awakened desire in her after years of dormancy, or the haughty aristocrat who had stood on the fringes of Jane’s group of friends, scarcely bothering to conceal his disdain.
In addition, she sensed that he was keeping a great deal of himself hidden from her. Just like Michael. She gritted her teeth, impatient with herself. When would she stop letting Michael control her life?
It was this question that had driven her into the living room in the early hours of the morning. William was becoming far too important to her to allow the past to interfere. She clicked the link at the top of the results list and began to read a page with a simple title: Flashbacks.
1 This is approximately how concert pianist Van Cliburn got his start. It's also how I got my start, but not until I was seven or eight, which probably explains why he became a famous concert pianist and I didn't.
2 Etude in Gb major ("Black Key"), Op. 10, No. 5, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, © 1995, Decca Records. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.
3 Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3, "Tristesse," by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy on Essential Chopin, © 1995 Decca Records. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.