Elizabeth peered into the dressing table mirror in William’s bathroom and took a deep but unsteady breath. She repaired her lip gloss, a task made difficult by her trembling hand.
What on earth just happened? One moment, he had been sweetly concerned about her tears; the next, they had been locked in the most passionate embrace Elizabeth had ever experienced. A shuddering warmth had filled her body, leaving her weak and trembling, able to do little but cling to him in helpless surrender.
She ran a finger along the marble top of the dressing table. It was a beautiful piece but seemed incongruously feminine for a man’s bathroom. He must have installed it for his girlfriends to use when they slept over. Considering all the women who must throw themselves at him, she was sure he rarely spent a night alone, which explained why he was so good at kissing. Lots and lots of practice.
Yet he had told her that he didn’t invite people to the third floor. He must have meant that he didn’t invite people except for girlfriends. And dinner dates.
Her smile faded and she rose from the table, surveying the room, which felt—and perhaps was—as big as her entire apartment. It was decorated mostly in black and gray, creating an impression of masculine comfort and luxury. She noted the huge glass shower stall and the long expanse of countertop, but it was the large whirlpool tub in the corner that caught and held her attention. She sighed wistfully, imagining herself lounging in the tub, a glass of champagne in one hand, surrounded by a sea of fragrant bubbles.
But it was time to rejoin William. After one final admiring look around, she exited into the hall.
He was waiting by the stairs. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes, thanks.” Before she could devise an appropriate comment about the bathroom, her attention was distracted by a set of doors recessed into the wall to her right. “Is that an elevator?”
He nodded. “In a six-story house, it comes in handy. We can take it straight up to the roof.”
“What about the fourth and fifth floors?”
“There’s not much to see, just bedrooms. The fourth floor was intended for the children of the house, but at the moment we use it for guests. And Gran and Georgie share the fifth floor.”
“I was hoping you’d like it.”
“My mother started the orchid collection and had the greenhouse built. She did most of the work, with Allen’s help. After she died, he continued it mostly on his own. I help him occasionally, when I have the time. It’s a good way to relax.”
“And it’s a connection with your mother.”
He nodded but didn’t answer.
“You know a lot about orchids.” she observed. “I assume your mother taught you all of this?”
“You read a lot, don’t you?”
“I’ve always loved books, and reading helps to pass the time on long plane trips, or late at night in hotel rooms. Do you like to read?”
“For the past few years, most of my reading has been for school. But when I was on tour with Les Miz, I used to enjoy reading on our travel days.”
“Well, after your discussions of history and horticulture, I’m embarrassed to say, but I like mystery novels.”
He shrugged. “Why be embarrassed? Mystery novels are like brain-teasers. You sift through the clues and try to solve the puzzle.”
“Exactly! I especially like stories with female sleuths.”
“Did you want to be Nancy Drew when you were growing up?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“Because Georgie loved those books too.”
“I used to sneak outside at night with a flashlight to go exploring. Mary was always tattling on me, and then I’d get in trouble with Mom, but it didn’t stop me. I was a little too fearless for my own good back then.”
“Only back then? You still seem fearless to me.”
“A dendrobium orchid.”
“I love the deep shade of purple. It’s so unusual and vibrant.” She glanced at him and saw a warm light come into his eyes. “What?”
“The way you described the orchid. It’s like you.” Her heartbeat quickened as he stepped closer. “Thank you for coming to my house,” he murmured, placing his hands on her shoulders.
She closed her eyes, feeling his warm breath on her cheek as his lips descended to meet hers.
“Will? Are you up here?”
William raised his head and dropped his hands from Elizabeth’s shoulders. He sighed and stepped away from her. “It’s Georgie.”
The teenager Elizabeth had noticed at the Juilliard reception sauntered toward them. She was tall and thin, with shoulder-length light brown hair and soft blue eyes. She wore faded designer jeans, a snug-fitting pink top, and sneakers with thick soles. Other than her height, she bore little resemblance to her brother.
“Hi, Georgie,” William greeted her, kissing her cheek. “I didn’t think you’d be home so soon.”
“Courtney’s stepmother was in a bad mood, so we wanted to get out of there. Mrs. Reynolds said you wanted to talk to me.”
“I’d like you to meet our guest.”
William made the introductions and Elizabeth stepped forward with a smile. “I’m glad to meet you, Georgiana.”
“Hi,” Georgiana said with a nonchalant air.
“Your brother told me you’re a fine musician.”
“I like music. But I’m nowhere near as good as Will.”
“That’s an awfully tough comparison,” Elizabeth answered with a quick smile at William. “What instruments do you play?” She knew the answer already, but it was as good a topic as any.
“Piano and viola.”
“When I was in high school I wanted to play the viola. Do you play in an orchestra?”
“Georgie is first chair violist with the New York Youth Symphony,” William interjected with pride.
Georgiana shifted from one foot to another. “It’s okay.”
“Is your friend Courtney in the youth symphony too?”
Elizabeth decided to try another topic. “What school do you go to?”
“Oh, I’ve heard that’s a wonderful school. Do you like it?”
“What grade are you in?”
“Tenth, this fall.” Georgiana sighed. “Will, I have to go downstairs. Courtney’s waiting for me.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth answered quickly before William, whose eyes betrayed his embarrassment, could respond. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too.”
As soon as Georgiana vanished through the French doors, William said, “I’m sorry. She has much better manners than that. Something must be bothering her.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Elizabeth answered. “Girls her age can be difficult. I remember being terribly moody back then. And I certainly wasn’t much for small talk with adults.”
“But she knows better than that. I’m going to speak to her about it later.”
Elizabeth’s lips twitched as she did her best not to laugh. “You behaved pretty much the same way at the café last week, until you relaxed.”
He flinched. “I was that bad? No wonder you wanted to go home early.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just saying, maybe Georgie felt uncomfortable, like you did at the café.”
He didn’t answer. They continued their stroll through the greenhouse.
“I have to say,” she remarked, “the people in this house have a real talent for showing up at inopportune moments.”
He shook his head, a slow grin stealing onto his face. “I’m beginning to think it’s a conspiracy. The good news is that we’re running out of potential culprits; most of them have already taken their turns. At this point, the only ones left are Mrs. Reynolds and—”
“Ah, there you are.” It was Rose Darcy.
“Gran! I wasn’t expecting to see you until later.” William’s lips twitched, and Elizabeth struggled to suppress a giggle.
“I’m rather tired tonight, so after the Marstons’ reception I decided to skip the ballet and come home. I’m not fond of Stravinsky in any case.” Rose nodded at Elizabeth. “Good evening, Ms. Bennet.”
Elizabeth didn’t dare make eye contact with William; she bit her tongue, willing herself not to laugh. “Good evening, Mrs. Darcy,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“I hope William has been a good host.”
“Oh, yes. He’s been showing me around the house. It’s so beautiful.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?” It was Marcia Reynolds, standing just outside the greenhouse, bearing a tray laden with dishes.
“Dinner is ready, sir.”
“I won’t keep you from your dinner,” Rose said, “but perhaps after you’re finished you could join me in the library. I’d like to get better acquainted with you, Ms. Bennet, since you and my grandson are becoming friends.”
“I’m not going to monopolize your evening, William. But certainly you can spare a few minutes for your grandmother.”
“Of course, Mrs. Darcy. That would be lovely.” Elizabeth did her best to sound sincere.
“I’ll see you later, then.”
William led the way to the dinner table. For Elizabeth’s ears only, he muttered, “Well, at least they’ve all interrupted us now. Maybe things will finally quiet down.”
“We can only hope.” She took his hand and squeezed it.
William leaned back in his chair, sipping his coffee, and marveled at how relaxed he felt. From the moment he and Elizabeth had seated themselves at the table in the midst of the roof garden, the evening had progressed flawlessly. Dinner had been a triumph of Mrs. Reynolds’s culinary skill, the wines he had chosen were superb, and the weather had been perfect for dining al fresco: warm enough for comfort, but not oppressively so, with a gentle breeze. The sun had set near the start of dinner, streaking the sky with improbably vivid color, and a nearly full moon now rode above their heads. Occasional traffic noises drifted up from the city below, but as was typical of a seasoned New Yorker, William barely noticed the sounds. Besides, they were masked in part by quiet jazz music, which he had carefully selected that morning.
Elizabeth was finishing her dessert, a blissful expression on her face. Her skin glowed in the candlelight. He wished for a moment that he were a painter instead of a musician so that he could capture the moment on canvas.
She put down her spoon and smiled at him. “Everything was delicious, but the chocolate mousse was out of this world. How did Mrs. Reynolds manage to guess my favorite dessert?”
“It wasn’t a guess. Remember our conversation about desserts Monday night? Mrs. Reynolds asked me to find out at least one of your favorite foods so she could serve it.”
“I had no idea you were so sneaky. Thank you.”
“For being sneaky?”
“For going to so much trouble on my account.”
“It was no trouble.”
“Well, thank you anyway. Do we have to go find your grandmother now?”
“No,” he declared. “If we wait long enough, she’ll go to bed.”
“But she’s expecting us, and she won’t like it if we don’t do as she asked.”
This was true, and William didn’t often risk Gran’s displeasure. But tonight, he didn’t care. “I’ll apologize in the morning.”
“If you’re trying to avoid her for my sake, it’s not necessary. I don’t mind spending a few minutes with her. I think it’s sweet that she’s so protective of you.”
“That’s not it. I don’t want to share you with anyone tonight.”
Their eyes met in a long, unsmiling look. In the silence that followed, a familiar song began to play on the stereo. Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “I love this song,” she said. “Who’s playing it?”
“The Bill Evans Trio.”
“I mostly listen to jazz singers, not instrumentalists, but I love Bill Evans.”
“My grandmother introduced me to his music when I was a boy, and he’s always been one of my favorites. He’s probably one of the reasons I started playing jazz.”
They fell silent, listening to the trio’s recording of “When I Fall in Love.” The lyrics floated through William’s head:
Or I’ll never fall in love.
In a restless world like this is, love is ended before it’s begun,
And too many moonlight kisses seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.
When I give my heart, it will be completely,
Or I’ll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.1
His reverie was interrupted when Elizabeth spoke. “May I ask you something?”
“Do you know Catherine de Bourgh, the dean of Pacific Conservatory?”
“Yes … ah, yes, I do.”
“I thought you probably did, and I’ve been wanting to ask you about her.”
He took a long, deliberate sip from his coffee cup before he answered, “Yes?”
“Well, this may sound silly, but … I don’t think she likes me. She was almost confrontational at my interview. And when she offered the job, she sounded cold and disapproving.”
“That’s just Catherine. She’s never been a warm person.”
She shook her head. “No, it felt personal. And unless she just doesn’t like my nose or the sound of my voice, there’s only one possibility I can think of. Would she get angry about someone having tried to influence her to hire me?”
Warning bells chimed in William’s head. “Well, I think … that is … why do you ask?”
Elizabeth paused and sipped her coffee. “The first time we met, she made a remark that seemed to accuse me of trying to trade on the influence of friends. I’m not completely certain what she meant, but I have a theory.”
“Remember Bill Collins, from the rehearsal dinner?” she asked. “He’s the Associate Dean for Administration at the conservatory, and he went out of his way to help me get an interview. I bet he pushed too hard and she thinks I put him up to it, so she blames me for that.”
He briefly considered confessing the truth, but decided that secrecy was the best policy. Although he had done her a major service that she might appreciate, he saw now that his actions could be misconstrued in ways that hadn’t occurred to him when he made Catherine the offer. She might wonder, as he did himself, why he would want her to leave New York. And her pride might be hurt if she learned why she had been hired. He couldn’t risk casting a pall over the warm intimacy of the evening, not when he had so little time left to win her heart. He would tell her, but not tonight.
“Anyway,” she continued, “Considering the way she treats me, Bill must have made a nuisance of himself.”
“Seriously? What were the odds?” he asked, rolling his eyes.
“Why do you dislike him so much? Sure, he can be weird, but he’s been kind to me.”
“Because … no, never mind.” A memory of Elizabeth kissing Bill on the cheek at the rehearsal dinner, and later of her leaning over his shoulder when he sat at the piano preparing to accompany her song, flashed into his mind.
“No, no, no. Too late to say ‘never mind.’” The mischievous light in her eyes was irresistible. “Come on. Spill it.”
“All right. He got to sit with you at the rehearsal dinner, and it should have been me.”
“You’re jealous of Bill Collins!” she crowed.
Her eyes danced. “No, of course not. How silly of me. You know, Jane said she intended for me to sit at your table, but somehow Caroline wound up in my place. So she must have made a mistake when she set out the place cards.”
He snickered. “Caroline switched the cards.”
“Seriously? She’s that desperate to get her claws into you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied with a shrug. “I told her in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.”
“But does she think she can change your mind if she’s persistent enough?”
“I don’t know what she thinks. But I’ve never wanted anything to do with her, and especially not now, when ….”
“When my interests lie elsewhere,” he said boldly.
She smiled but averted her eyes, staring at her empty dessert dish. The sound of Duke Ellington’s orchestra flowed through the speakers. William rose from his chair and held out his hand.
“Dance with me.”
“Haven’t we done this before?” she teased. “A dance in a moonlit garden. It feels familiar, somehow.”
“Yes, and I enjoyed it so much the first time, I’d like to do it again.”
She stood and placed her hand in his. He drew her close, and they began to move together in time with the music.
“Are you sure we should be tempting fate this way?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” He was both perplexed and delighted by the playful light in her eyes.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what happened the last time we danced. You know, when Caroline Bingley interrupted us just before ….”
“Before we kissed.”
She nodded. “I mean, when you consider the way things have been going this evening.”
He chuckled. “You don’t need to worry about Caroline. Even if she did show up, Mrs. Reynolds would never let her into the house.”
Elizabeth frowned up at the night sky.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, also glancing up.
“I was just thinking that all she’d need is a plane and a parachute, and she could be standing a few feet from us.”
They laughed together as they continued to dance. Her eyes sparkled with mirth, and her laughter was as sweet as any music he had ever heard. “You make me happy,” he whispered.
Elizabeth sighed and nestled close to him. Her hair felt soft against his cheek, and he inhaled her scent, slowly breathing in her essence. He tightened his arm around her waist, savoring the light pressure of her body against his, and they swayed to the music as a saxophone moaned a sensuous melody.
He wanted to go on holding her like this forever, to envelop himself in the warmth of her presence. She looked up at him, her eyes soft and luminous.
“This song. isn’t it ‘Prelude to a Kiss’?”2 she asked.
He nodded and lowered his head toward hers. “Quite apropos, I think,” he murmured against her lips.
Marcia Reynolds exited the elevator onto the sixth floor and approached the doors to the roof garden, humming to herself. Everything was going wonderfully this evening. Elizabeth Bennet was charming, and she and William appeared to be having a lovely evening, judging from the happy look on his face when she had served the various courses of their dinner. Now it was time to collect the dessert dishes, and to see if they wanted more coffee or perhaps an after-dinner drink.
If only Allen had been more careful earlier! He had returned to the kitchen, red-faced and flustered, refusing to say anything but, “They didn’t want more wine.” From his embarrassment, Marcia had guessed what must have happened. Men! They were like bulls in china shops, all of them, lumbering around without paying the slightest attention to what was going on.
She stepped into the garden and saw immediately that the candlelit table was unoccupied, but it took a short time for her eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. At last, she saw them a short distance away, wrapped in each other’s arms, in the midst of an intimate kiss.
She drank in this romantic sight as she tiptoed across the garden, still intent on clearing the dishes. Unfortunately, her attention was diverted, and she bumped into the dinner table, causing the dishes to rattle noisily against one another. Marcia winced, standing helplessly beside the table, but William and Elizabeth were too engrossed in each other to notice the sound.
She silently retraced her steps and slipped back through the door. The dishes could wait.
1“When I Fall in Love,” music by Victor Young, lyrics by Edward Heyman. © 1952, Chappell & Co., Inc. Performed by the Bill Evans Trio on Portrait in Jazz. © 1959, Riverside Records. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.
2 Prelude to a Kiss (Mills/Gordon/Ellington). Performed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra on Duke Ellington: 16 Most Requested Songs. © 1994, Sony BMG Music Entertainment. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.