Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei …
It occurred to William, as he finished his final set of bicep curls, that he was probably the only person in the fitness center counting his repetitions in Italian. He was probably also the only person there who had a private exercise room at home. But home was a continent away, and on Monday afternoon he had finally received his doctor’s blessing to resume a limited weight training program. He had considered waiting until he returned to New York, where he wouldn’t have to work out under the competitive scrutiny of far stronger men at nearby benches. But any motivation he might have needed to begin at once had been provided by the rapt expression on Elizabeth’s face last Tuesday night as she peeled his shirt from his shoulders.
William jogged for his health, but he engaged in weight training purely for vanity’s sake. He had started years ago in an attempt to imitate Richard, his scrawny fourteen-year-old frame an embarrassment compared to his cousin’s muscular build. William, who was naturally slender, would never have Richard’s physique, and in any case he had no interest in bulging muscles or a six-pack. But he was proud of the additional strength and sculpting his efforts had earned him.
His workout complete, he toweled off, pulled on sweatpants and a clean tee shirt, and dodged the late-afternoon traffic during the short walk back to the penthouse. One advantage offered by the center’s location in the Fairmont Hotel was that he could bypass its showers in favor of the comfort and privacy of his own bathroom.
Privacy was now in abundant supply at the penthouse. Over the past two weeks, William had grown accustomed to Sonya’s company at mid-day and Richard’s in the morning and late at night. But Sonya’s plane had landed in New York a few hours ago, and Richard had moved out just before William left for his workout.
Late that morning, as he and Richard were driving back from their run along the bay, William had finally confessed the celibate state of his relationship with Elizabeth. It had irked him to do so, but he owed Richard some explanation for his pending eviction.
“So I have been in the way, and that’s why Jane kept trying to put me on a leash. You should have said something sooner, old man.” Richard was quiet for a moment, and then shot a perplexed glance at William. “But in that case, what was the deal on Tuesday? You needed privacy for, what, a hot game of Scrabble?”
William, unable to think of a plausible explanation that wouldn’t violate his obligation to keep Elizabeth’s secrets, remained silent.
Richard shook his head. “Whatever. I know better than to try to pry you open when you’re being inscrutable. But the real question is, what the hell are you waiting for? You two can barely keep your hands off each other, even in public.”
William shrugged, his eyes straight ahead on the road, and replied, “It’ll happen when the time is right.” But his nonchalance was pure pretense. He had spent the hours since Elizabeth’s departure last night thinking of little but her. He was proud of the restraint he had shown yesterday, starting before dawn in his bed and continuing through the evening at Top of the Mark, but he worried that his supply of self-control was running low. Hearing Richard and Charlotte enjoying each other for most of the night hadn’t helped.
“Time, shmime. Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘Just do it’? Anyway, say no more. I’ll clear out right after lunch.”
“Thanks, Richard. I’m sorry to kick you out, but ….”
“Really, old man, it’s no hardship. In fact, it’s just what the doctor ordered. In a hotel with 24-hour room service, we’ll hardly even have to get out of bed.”
“You and Charlotte.”
“Of course. Last night was beyond belief, Will. The World Series of sex. Tie score, extra innings, a nonstop string of home runs.”
“It was that good?” A hot wave of envy washed over William and he gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying not to lapse into yet another full-blown fantasy of Elizabeth lying in his arms, her face flushed with passion. Stop it! She needs to be treated gently, not devoured by a slobbering beast. Unfortunately the beast was ravenous, demanding to be fed.
Richard let out a little hoot. “Good? You have no idea. And I know I’m safe in saying that, considering your monastic existence. I’m fairly sure the earth really did move.”
“It sounded that way,” William said with a sardonic glance at his cousin.
“I know, we made some noise, which is another reason to relocate to neutral turf.”
“I’m surprised by this sudden turnaround. Until last night, you’ve been on the monkish side yourself during your stay here.”
“Yeah, and I know you’ve been scratching your head over it.”
“Are you going to explain, or is it your turn to be inscrutable?” William brought the car to a stop at a red light, and a group of pedestrians stepped into the intersection.
Richard grabbed a towel from his lap and mopped his face. “Damn, I’m still overheated from that run. You’re getting your stamina back, old man; I had to work hard to keep up. Then again, I expended lots of energy last night, so I was at a disadvantage.”
“Still evading, I see.”
“Oh, all right. Richard’s Dilemma, in one hundred words or less. For the past few months, I’ve been waking up in the morning unable to remember the name of the girl I’m with, or even what we did the night before.”
“They say the memory is the first thing to go.”
“Shut up. My point is, more and more the girls are interchangeable, instantly forgettable, and I’m getting bored. And also, though it pains me to admit it, either the girls are getting younger or I’m getting older.”
William snorted. “I hate to break this to you, but ….” The light turned green and the Ferrari surged ahead, its engine growling.
“I know, I know. And you can cram the superior routine. Your day will come, and sooner than you think. But I admit, turning thirty-five a few months ago was tough, especially since I found my first gray hair a day or two later. Just don’t ask where it was.”
There was no danger of that. “Then I gather that you’ve decided it’s time to settle down. I never thought I’d see the day.” Despite his sarcastic remark, William understood. Even at its most extreme, his social life had never approached the bacchanalia that was Richard’s daily existence, yet the arrival of his thirtieth birthday had forced some serious introspection.
“Hell, no.” Richard looked aghast. “I haven’t gone completely round the bend. Settle down.” He snorted. “I pity the woman who tries to domesticate me.”
“As do we all. Sorry, I didn’t mean to impugn your honor.”
“Yeah, watch it, old man. But I have been rethinking the way I spend my evenings, or at least the company I keep. I’m tired of endless rounds of inane chatter and verbal foreplay.”
“If you’re tired of verbal foreplay, what do you call what went on with Charlotte last night at the bar?”
“I stand corrected. I’m tired of dull, unimaginative verbal foreplay. But I’m always interested in talking to a woman who’s heard of Kant and Nietzche and Abner Doubleday, and who has actual opinions on politics and art.”
“Which I suppose is why you like Jane.” She was soft-spoken in her views, but she was intelligent and well read, and had occasionally impressed William with the breadth of her knowledge.
“Yes, exactly. And as for Charlotte, I haven’t had that much fun talking to a woman in years. She’s got wit and brains to spare.”
“I’ve always enjoyed talking to her.”
“And, hallelujah, she’s not coy about what she wants, and it’s the same thing I want.”
And so Richard was gone, ensconced in a suite at the Four Seasons. Aside from Mrs. Hill’s unobtrusive presence in the afternoons, William had the penthouse to himself again. He unlocked the door, dropped his keys on the hall table, and made his way to his bathroom, mentally organizing the remainder of his day. A shower first, obviously. There would be time for a quick practice session before meeting Anne and Roger for dinner. And Lizzy would be over later to spend the night, a perfect end to the day.
Jane looked up from her book as Elizabeth dashed into the apartment and called out a hasty greeting on her way to the shower. It gave Jane great pleasure to see her sister so happy, secure in the certainty of William’s love. Not that he was truly good enough for Elizabeth—no man was that deserving—but there was no question that he adored her, and Elizabeth had finally accepted what Jane had known for much longer. Had there been any doubt, the love and patience he had shown after Elizabeth's flashback had offered ample proof.
Elizabeth, swathed in a bathrobe, returned to the living room. She perched on the arm of the sofa, her gaze sharp as she studied Jane. “How’s everything going?”
“Fine. How was school?”
“Not bad. Are you still going to join Char and me at the spa tomorrow afternoon?”
“I hope so. We should have the judge's decision in the morning.”
“Are you worried about it?”
“You know I always worry about cases like this one. But all we can do now is wait and hope for the best.”
“I’m sure you did a wonderful job,” Elizabeth said. “You always do.” She slid off the sofa arm and onto the cushion. “Tell me how things went today.”
Jane was touched by Elizabeth’s concern, but it was obvious from her surreptitious glance at the clock and the way she was fidgeting with the belt on her robe that her thoughts were elsewhere. “Lizzy, I’m fine. And I know you’re itching to get over to the penthouse.”
Elizabeth looked down at her hands. “I’m sorry, Jane. It’s just that ….”
“I know. You’re in love, and all you can think about is being with him. So go get dressed. He’s waiting, and I’m sure all he can think about is being with you.”
Elizabeth leaned across the couch and hugged Jane. “I love you.” She jumped to her feet and hurried into the bedroom.
Jane had read only a few more pages of her book when Elizabeth reappeared, carrying her overnight bag.
“Before I go, I want to ask you something,” Elizabeth said. “About our conversation this morning.”
Jane heard the hesitation in Elizabeth’s voice. “Are you having second thoughts?”
Elizabeth licked her lips, setting her bag on the floor. “Not exactly. I mean, I feel like I’m ready, and this is what I want. But do you think it’s too soon, after what happened Tuesday?”
“You’re the only one who can know that. It is pretty soon, but if you feel that you’re ready, that just shows how much you love and trust him. I think, go with what your heart is telling you.”
“Okay.” Elizabeth nodded, her expression solemn. “And I know you’re right that he’s going to need a signal that I’m ready to move forward. But I’m still not sure what to say. I mean, how do you look a guy in the eye and tell him that you want to ….” Her voice trailed off. “I know I sound like a twit.”
“No, you don’t, not at all,” Jane replied, smiling. “Just be honest; tell him how you feel.”
“But how do I word it? ‘Take me, you big, hot hunk of man’?”
Jane laughed. “He’d definitely get the message. And I think he’d appreciate it if you were direct, though maybe not that direct.”
“Yeah, if I said that, he’d probably run off screaming into the night.”
“I doubt it. But, seriously, he’s going to be worried about moving too fast and scaring you, so I’m sure he’d appreciate not having to guess what’s on your mind.”
“I hope I’ll know what to say without sounding like a blithering idiot.”
“You will,” Jane said with a smile. “But if you can’t find the words, try showing him how you feel by the way you kiss him and touch him.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in a skeptical arch. “Just what kind of touching are we talking about?”
Jane blushed. “I didn’t mean anything off color.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Poor William. If he had the slightest idea what we’re discussing, he’d die.”
“Lizzy, my best advice is, don’t make this complicated. Just talk to him.”
“I love him so much, Jane.”
“I know you do. And he loves you.” Jane stood up and hugged Elizabeth, which allowed her to hide the tears that had sprung to her eyes. She brushed them away before releasing Elizabeth. “Now, go on over there, and have a wonderful time.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you at the spa tomorrow.” Elizabeth grabbed her bag and coat and rushed out the door, her ponytail flying behind her.
Alone again, Jane wandered into the kitchen, put on the teakettle, and dabbed her eyes with a paper napkin. Her tears were of the happy variety. Elizabeth had finally emerged from the cocoon in which she had wrapped herself years ago, and to see her radiant with love and joy was poignant.
While she waited for the kettle to boil, Jane went to her bedroom and opened her laptop. Her eyes warmed when she saw the email message that awaited her:
From: Charles Bingley
To: Jane Bennet
Subject: re: This weekend
Finally booked my flight. The best Will and I could come up with was to meet at the airport on Sat. morning. Pretty sad, huh? But that means I’m free after lunch. Want to meet for a run in the park? Or on the Embarcadero. You choose, either one’s fine w/me.
Also, Caroline said she’d call to set up Sun. brunch. She’s got some new place to try. Lizzy’s welcome, too, but Caro prob. won’t mention that. You know how she is about Lizzy.
How’s the court case going? I’m sure you’re prob. worried about it, but I know you’ve been brilliant.
Can you tell me the time and place for Lizzy’s party again? I keep writing it down and losing it.
I’m looking forward to this weekend—
The kettle whistled. She hurried to the kitchen, poured herself a cup of tea, and returned with it to the bedroom. Taking a cautious sip of the hot liquid, she read Charles’s message again.