Chapter 106

Elizabeth took a break from the arduous task of trying to pry words out of Georgiana and turned her attention across the room. Eleanor, who had seated herself between Rose and Catherine, deserved a medal for exceptional valor. Since their return to the library she had encouraged Catherine’s name-dropping tendencies with admiring questions and soft exclamations, saving Elizabeth from the lash of Catherine’s acid tongue.

But despite these efforts, the atmosphere remained as brittle as the delicate china cup in Elizabeth’s hand. She watched with increasing impatience for the men to return from the dining room, since it brought closer the moment when she and William could make a graceful exit. Unfortunately, Richard and William loved to linger over good cognac, and the Darcy home was sure to stock only the best.

Elizabeth smiled at Georgiana and excused herself, ostensibly for the powder room. Of course it was mere coincidence that her errand forced her to pass by the dining room.

“Lizzy!” Richard set his glass on the table with a loud clink.

“Had all you can take of the hen party?” Robert asked.

Richard snorted. “Or have the rest pecked one another to death, and you’re the sole survivor?”

She smiled, though without much enthusiasm. “I’m just stretching my legs. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“Of course not.” William extended his hand. “Is it bad in there?”

“Everything’s fine.” The warmth of his fingers entwined with hers gave her a fresh jolt of energy.

“We’ll join you soon, I promise.” William directed a pointed stare at Richard and spoke firmly. “This is our last glass of cognac.”

She released his hand and made her way into the hall, pausing to peek into the kitchen. Mrs. Reynolds, with Allen’s help, was busy stowing leftovers in the refrigerator and didn’t need to be disturbed. Elizabeth continued down the hall and into the living room.

A soft gasp escaped her throat at the sight of Anne de Bourgh huddled in a chair in one corner. When had Anne left the library? Elizabeth hadn’t noticed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was here.”

“It’s all right,” Anne whispered, wiping her eyes. “I just needed a few minutes of quiet.”

“I’ll leave you alone.”

“No. Please, stay. I’d like to talk to you.”

Elizabeth hesitated before crossing the room and seating herself. She and Anne saw each other occasionally in the halls at the conservatory, but their conversations had always been brief and superficial.

Anne took an unsteady breath. “I need to apologize for the way my mother is treating you.”

“You aren’t responsible for her behavior.”

“In a way, I am. She can see how much William loves you, and she’s always hoped that he and I would … well, I’m sure you know.” She gave Elizabeth an awkward smile, little more than a twitch of her cheek muscles.

“But surely you’ve told her that the two of you are just friends.”

Anne’s eyes dropped to her lap and she fidgeted with a tissue in her hand.

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “You’re in love with him?” Immediately she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s all right.” Anne glanced up quickly. “Friendship is the only thing between us, on his side at least. I know that he loves you.” She sighed and stared at the floor. “But I’ve known William since I was a little girl. Daddy had just left us, and Mother was so angry and hurt.”

Elizabeth didn’t feel sorry for Catherine, but it must have devastated Anne to lose her father, and then to hear all the gossip, even if she was too young to understand most of it.

“Aunt Anna invited us over for dinner pretty often back then. William and I were close to the same age, and we used to play together while the adults talked. He must have thought I was an awful bore, but he was always so nice to me. I’d always wanted a brother or sister, and it was like God had finally answered my prayers.”

“And when you were older, you started to see him as more than a brother?”

“How could I help it?” Anne’s voice rose. She swallowed and continued in a subdued tone. “I knew he didn’t feel that way about me. But he was kind and gentle, and ….” Her voice trailed off.

“I understand.”

“It wasn’t just William. Aunt Anna always treated me like a member of the family. Aunt Rose still does. I thought how wonderful it would be if it were true.”

“Did you ever tell anyone how you felt?”

“No, but Mother must have sensed it. She works hard to keep us in close touch with the Darcys. And she talks about him all the time.”

It required all of Elizabeth’s self-control to stifle the comment that Catherine had her own reasons for wanting to snare William as a son-in-law.

“Mother assumed that he and I would see a lot of each other while we were in town for the holiday; that’s why she decided we would come out. But first he wasn’t here, and then yesterday she found out that he was bringing you with him to dinner, and she was upset.”

That was probably an understatement. “But she already knew that William and I were seeing each other.”

“She’d heard about it campus, but she insisted that he was only—” Anne stopped abruptly. “She insisted that it wasn’t serious.”

Elizabeth had heard this sort of talk directly from Catherine. “But once she heard that he was bringing me to meet his family, she must have realized it wasn’t just a casual fling.”

“I never thought it was. About a month ago when he took me to dinner, he seemed so happy, and I could tell it was because of you. He and Roger talked about you constantly.”

“William said you and Roger enjoyed meeting each other.”

It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but Anne appeared to blush. “Yes, I liked him.”

“Roger is a great guy.” Unfortunately, it was hard to imagine friendly, jovial Roger developing any serious interest in someone as glum and silent as Anne.

“We had dinner again last week.”

So much for her instant psychoanalysis. “That’s great! Did you have a good time?”

“I did, and I think maybe he did too.” Anne sounded surprised. “We’re going to have dinner again when I get back from New York.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t ask, but what does your mother think of this?”

“She doesn’t know. She had her own plans for dinner the night I went out with him, and I made sure I got home before she did.”

Elizabeth didn’t comment. It seemed absurd for a single woman who was nearing thirty to be sneaking out for dates, but most women didn’t have Catherine de Bourgh for a mother.

“I thought of inviting him to William’s recital, but there’s no way I could keep that from Mother.”

“I suppose William could request another VIP ticket, but he’s already in trouble for doing that.” Elizabeth processed what she had just said and winced. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound bitter.”

Anne’s watery blue eyes were bottomless wells of sadness, multiplying Elizabeth’s shame. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I know what most people think of her. But she’s my mother, and she loves me in her own way.”

“I know. My mom isn’t exactly Mother of the Year, but she’s still my mom.”

Anne sighed and stood up. “I’d better get back in there. Mother will consider it bad breeding that I’ve been gone this long.”

“I’ll come with you.” There was no sense in giving Catherine fresh material to use against her.

“But, wait, before we go. You don’t ever need to worry. About me ever trying to pursue William, I mean.” Anne shook her head. “Not that you would; why would he ever want to be with me when he has someone like you?”

“He’s very fond of you.” Elizabeth wasn’t sure what else to say.

Anne nodded. “But you’re the one he loves, and I’m glad he found you. I just wish ….” She shook her head and sighed. “We should go back.”


By the time Anne and Elizabeth rejoined the group in the library, the men were scattered around the room, each holding a steaming cup of coffee—except for William, who was absent, as was Georgiana. Eleanor, perhaps noting the way Elizabeth’s eyes combed the room, explained that the two had gone upstairs. Georgiana had learned a new Chopin nocturne and wanted to play it for William, but she had refused to perform it in the library.

This was good news. William needed a few minutes alone with his sister, away from the tension of the gathering, and he had probably chosen this moment due to Elizabeth's absence from the room. Besides, Catherine had seemed to be calming down at last; perhaps she had exhausted her store of insulting remarks. When he came back downstairs, perhaps they could finally escape.

Anne accepted Rose’s offer of coffee, and Robert delivered the cup. “Are you going to any Broadway shows while you’re in town?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.” Anne gave him a ghost of a smile.

“Certainly not,” Catherine proclaimed. “But we do have tickets for the Philharmonic tomorrow night. While I’m sure the Thanksgiving parade crowd finds Broadway musicals an acceptable form of entertainment, Anne and I do not.”

Four pairs of sympathetic eyes turned in Elizabeth’s direction. During dinner, she had shared humorous stories of her time in the national touring company of Les Miserables.

“I’m surprised to hear that,” Robert said, a note of challenge in his voice. “Eleanor and I attend the symphony, but we enjoy musicals too. The singing and dancing, all the energy—I find it exhilarating.”

“If I wish to watch singers and dancers on stage, I will go to the opera and the ballet, where the performers possess talent, training, and above all, discipline. Broadway performers are nothing but glorified amateurs.” Catherine pronounced the last word with an affected French accent.

Elizabeth couldn’t remain silent, but she forced herself to speak calmly. “I’m surprised to hear you belittle Broadway performers when your own conservatory offers a musical theater program.”

Catherine snorted. “We’ve received grants for that purpose from a few misguided arts foundations exhibiting poor judgment. Otherwise the musical theater program, even in its limited form, would not exist.”

Elizabeth could almost hear her self-control shatter. “And of course one must never turn down a grant,” she snapped, her green eyes flashing. “It’s far more honorable to pocket the money and then belittle the donor at every opportunity, even in his own home.”

Catherine raised an eyebrow and then spoke in an imperious tone. “I will not be spoken to this way, particularly by you, Ms. Bennet.”

“And yet you’ll criticize your host and expect us all to sit by and say nothing.”

Rose stood up, stretching herself to her full, regal height. “Catherine, will you join me upstairs in my sitting room? I have a new painting I’d like to show you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Darcy, but that won’t be necessary.” Elizabeth was also on her feet. “I’ve allowed her to insult me without defending myself out of respect for you and the rest of the family. But I will not sit here with a false smile pasted on my face while she insults William’s generosity. As you already know, but others might not, he sponsored my position at the conservatory this semester, teaching musical theater classes.” Her voice shook, but she managed to hold her hands steady.

Rose’s aged but still piercing eyes bored into Elizabeth’s in a blue-eyed replica of her grandson’s stare. “Ms. Bennet—” she began.

But Elizabeth was past listening. “I apologize for leaving so abruptly, but I seem to have developed a sudden headache. Thank you for the lovely dinner.”

“Wait, Lizzy.” William’s voice rang out from the doorway. “I’m coming with you.”

He stepped into the room and wrapped an arm firmly around her waist. They said hasty goodbyes to the Fitzwilliams and to Anne. Then William eyed his grandmother. “Good night, Gran.”

Rose watched him carefully but didn’t speak, perhaps shocked into silence by the coldness in his voice.

Finally, his eyes landed on Catherine, who still sat in her chair. “I’ll play at your recital, Catherine, because I said I would. But from now on you’ll have one less ‘misguided’ arts foundation to worry about. You’ve seen your last dollar from the Darcy Arts Trust.”

Nothing, apparently, could shock Catherine into silence. “Because of one innocent remark on my part?” She shook her head, her expression derisive. “That’s absurd. Sit down and be reasonable.”

Elizabeth had to admit, the woman had moxie. But even Catherine blanched at William’s furious glare.

“I am being reasonable, finally,” he snarled. “You’ve spent the entire evening insulting Elizabeth, and then insulting me for loving her. You’ve spent years trying to order me around based on God knows what imagined authority. I’ve given you far too much leeway out of respect for your friendship with my mother.”

Catherine had regained her nerve. She rose and faced William, her imperious attitude somehow neutralizing the difference in their heights. “I’ve only been trying to point you in the direction your mother would have wanted, since you’ve lost sight of it yourself.”

“My mother would have wanted me to be happy.” William tightened his arm around Elizabeth’s waist. “Once many years ago Mamma was a stranger in this house, hoping to find a warm welcome. If she’d been here tonight, she would have been horrified to witness the way you’ve treated Elizabeth, and she would have been angry with all of us—me included—for not putting a stop to it as soon as it started.”

“I can’t believe the way you’re blowing this out of proportion, simply because I believe that opera is a serious art form, and musical theater is not.”

“An opinion you might better have kept to yourself, considering the circumstances,” Robert said, sitting back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.

“Robert makes a worthwhile point,” Rose said stiffly.

“I am always candid about my views, and if some people are too weak to handle honesty, I’m not to blame.” Catherine planted her hands on her hips. “I merely expressed my opinion—an opinion, I might add, that I’ve heard you yourself voice.”

William stiffened but he recovered quickly. “I’m not going to stand here and argue with you, Catherine. I can’t eject you from my house because you’re Gran’s guest. But if for some incomprehensible reason she ever invites you back here, I will be among the missing.”

Catherine’s lips compressed to an almost microscopic line. Why she hadn’t stormed out the door by now, Elizabeth couldn’t imagine. Then she remembered the six-foot-plus of enraged male standing in the way.

The enraged male in question continued to breathe fire at Catherine. “And as I’ve already said, I can—and will—withdraw the foundation’s support of the conservatory.”


“Not now, Gran. Elizabeth and I are leaving. Good night.”

He turned on his heel and led Elizabeth from the room, nearly colliding with Mrs. Reynolds, who lurked near the doorway holding a tray of coffee cups. The gleam in her eyes made it clear she had heard the confrontation. “I’ll let Allen know you need a ride to the hotel,” she said. “But before you go I’ll put together a little care package. After all, you haven’t had your dessert.”

“Thank you. I’ll give you a hand.” Elizabeth followed Mrs. Reynolds into the kitchen.

“You poor thing.” Mrs. Reynolds patted Elizabeth’s hand. “And poor William, too. That woman would try the patience of a saint even on her best day.”

“She doesn’t think much of me and she’s not shy about sharing that opinion.”

“It’s just jealousy, because it’s obvious how much William loves you. As if that pale ghost of a daughter were good enough for him.” Mrs. Reynolds began to slice through a pumpkin pie with an unnecessary degree of force.

“Poor Anne. I think she’s had a difficult life.”

“She’s a dear girl and I’ve known her for years. But William needs a woman with spirit, like you, not a timid thing who flinches at the sight of her own shadow.” Mrs. Reynolds reached for the apple pie cooling on the counter, “I hope you know that the worst is yet to come.”

“What do you mean?”

Mrs. Reynolds silently inclined her head toward the doorway as Rose Darcy passed, heading toward the front of the house. “I knew she wouldn’t let him leave without a fight. You might as well sit down, dear. We’ll have ourselves a cup of tea and some pie. They’re both stubborn as mules, and tonight he’s in no mood to let her have her way, so this will take a while.”


William, had he heard Mrs. Reynolds’s prediction, would have laughed—a humorless sound, but a laugh all the same. Nothing would keep him in the house any longer than the time it took Allen to fetch their coats and the car keys.

“William.” It was Rose, standing behind him in the foyer.

He spoke without turning around. “Gran, trust me when I say that you don’t want to discuss this with me right now. We can talk tomorrow.”

“I would rather talk now.”

He pivoted slowly and faced her. “Then you’ve been warned.”

“I understand why you’re upset now, but you’ve been angry since the moment you arrived at the house. Why?”

“You honestly don’t know?” He folded his arms across his chest. “Are you saying that you couldn’t predict that Catherine would attack Elizabeth at every opportunity?”

Rose winced, perhaps at his words, or perhaps at the way his deep voice echoed through the foyer. “I knew that Catherine disapproved of Elizabeth. I only learned today that it was mutual.”

“Don’t try to blame any of this on Elizabeth; Catherine has been the sole instigator. But more to the point, you knew that one of your guests, one with a reputation for being rude and tactless, disliked another. And despite that, you let Elizabeth walk into this ambush. Why? To embarrass her?”

“Of course not. When I invited Catherine and Anne to join us, I had no way of knowing that you would reinstate Elizabeth’s invitation. It’s been less than 48 hours since you informed me of your change of plans.”

“Then you’re saying we should have stayed in Barbados? Heaven knows I wish we had.”

Rose’s stern expression, from her tightly-drawn lips to her steely eyes, awoke dozens of childhood memories. “I am saying nothing of the kind. But considering the short notice, perhaps you should have come alone.”

“It might interest you to know that the only reason I’m here today is because Elizabeth talked me into it. She thought it was important for me to be with my family today. And I couldn’t leave her behind in Barbados.”

“Why not? I understood that her aunt and uncle accompanied her there.”

“Because I love her, and I’ve been missing her for weeks. And because I want you and Georgie to get to know her better.” He dragged a hand through his hair. “So I walked her in the door and into this nest of vipers. And there sat my grandmother, the impeccable hostess, who didn’t even bother to warn me.”

Rose paused, fingering the strands of pearls at her throat. “Perhaps I should have.”

“Perhaps?” She could scarcely have made a smaller concession. He inhaled a deep breath, trying to slow the furious pounding of his heart. “Of course you should have. But you knew that I wouldn’t have come home if you’d told me.” He glared at Rose, daring her to contradict him. “I would never have inflicted this kind of torture on poor Lizzy if I’d known in advance. And in spite of everything, she’s been sitting there, doing an admirable job of putting up with Catherine’s insults”

“She handled herself well until a short time ago.”

“Yes, Lizzy finally lost her temper because Catherine said something that questioned my judgment, and I wasn’t there to defend myself. If you’re expecting me to apologize for her, you’re delusional.”

Rose sighed and shook her head. “William, we’ve always seen eye to eye on things. How did we end up like this?”

“I have a better question. Why can’t you be happy for me? I’ve fallen in love with a wonderful, courageous woman who took a lot of abuse today for my sake, and who was willing to go to the mat to defend my honor, despite the fact that she mostly agrees with Catherine’s assessment of what I did. Why should there be anything to argue about?”

Rose didn’t answer immediately. He could see thoughts crystallizing in her clear blue eyes. “Let’s sit down and talk about this.”

William shook his head and held up both hands, palms forward. “Lizzy and I are leaving. Tell Georgie I’ll call her in the morning to finalize our plans.”

He signaled to Allen, who was lurking in the foyer entrance. “Go warm up the car,” he said, taking the coats from the chauffeur’s arms. “Elizabeth and I will be right out.”

“All right,” Rose said, a thoughtful note in her voice. “You’re upset and not listening to reason. Perhaps it’s best that you go. But we will continue this conversation tomorrow.”

“Good night, Gran,” he said, stepping around Rose and heading in the direction of the kitchen. “You’d better get back to your guests.”


Much later, Elizabeth lounged in William’s arms, listening to the sounds of traffic on the streets below. A vague glow from the city lights radiated through the broad picture window, painting the dimly lit bedroom with a faint sheen of light and shadow.

She reached across his bare chest to the nightstand and lifted a half-full champagne flute. Its stem bumped a pair of eyeglasses, which tumbled to the floor.

“Oops,” she whispered, peering down at them.

“It’s okay. I’ll get them.”

She sipped her champagne while he rolled to the edge of the bed. The champagne was too dry for her tastes, but she was thirsty enough not to care.

“Should I put these on again?” he asked with a rakish grin, brandishing the eyeglasses.

“Mmm, maybe you should. That was the sexiest fashion show I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m happy to repeat it as often as you want, as long as you promise it’ll always end the same way.”

She returned the champagne glass to the nightstand and snuggled against his chest, pulling the satiny comforter over her shoulders. Her head rose and fell with his deep sigh.

“I’m sorry, cara,” he whispered. “I know I keep saying it, but you didn’t deserve what happened tonight.”

Elizabeth’s opportunity to speak her mind at the townhouse, combined with hearing William’s diatribe, had helped her to shed the worst of her anger. William, though, was not someone whose anger flashed and then dissipated. On their return to the hotel, she had attempted to cajole him out of his dark mood. At first he had paced the living room, threatening to unleash all manner of mayhem on Catherine and vowing never to speak to Rose again. But Elizabeth had soon coaxed him onto the sofa, exploiting his weakness for back rubs until her angry lion purred beneath her hands. Then they had devoured Mrs. Reynolds’s pumpkin pie and opened the manager’s welcoming bottle of champagne. Afterwards they had moved blithely on to William’s promised turn as an eyeglass model. But now, in the quiet afterglow of their lovemaking, the full impact of the evening’s events seemed to settle around them like a suffocating blanket.

“I’m fine, really.” She stroked his stubble-roughened jaw. “How about you?”

He didn’t seem to have heard her. “I should have kicked Catherine out of the house the minute she started in on you.”

“You couldn’t. She was your grandmother’s guest.”

He shook his head. “I don’t understand Gran at all.”

“Well, we knew she had reservations about me. Is it so surprising she took Catherine’s side?” It wasn’t easy to defend Rose, but for William’s sake she made an effort. “And you’ve told me that she thinks public confrontations are—let’s see, what word would she use … unseemly? Most of the time she can probably keep things under control with meaningful looks and little gestures, but that sort of subtlety escapes Catherine.”

“But she sat there and let Catherine slice you to bits.”

“Only for as long as I was handling it. When I finally lost my temper, she tried to drag Catherine off for a private talk. It’s my fault her gambit didn’t work, because that’s when I said I was leaving.”

“Nothing that happened tonight was your fault. You were the best-behaved person there.”

“I think I lost that title when I yelled at Catherine,” she said with a rueful smile. “But I’d like to nominate your aunt for sainthood. You should have seen the way she kept Catherine on a short leash after dinner while you guys were off snorting cognac.”

The “snorting cognac” remark earned her a gentle pinch on her hip. “Uncle Robert was impressed with you,” he murmured, trailing a caressing hand over her torso. “I’m sure Aunt Eleanor was, too.”

“They’re great.” For at least the tenth time, she wished that Eleanor and Robert were William’s parents. “How did your aunt turn out the way she did, growing up in that house?”

“When she was eighteen, she ran off to San Francisco and joined a hippie colony.”

Elizabeth propped herself up, forearms resting on his chest, and stared at him. “No way.”

“Cross my heart. She paid for her degree at UC Berkeley by working at a head shop in Haight-Ashbury. That’s where she met Uncle Robert.”

“A head shop in the Haight?” She jabbed an accusing finger into his chest. “You never said a word about this! Not even when I took you down there that first time.”

He grabbed her hand, restraining her from poking him further. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure what you’d think. I guess you could say she’s our black sheep.”

“This was during the sixties?”

He nodded.

She shook her head, smiling. “Drugs, free love, flower power, the campus demonstrations … I bet she has some fascinating stories. How on earth did she end up back in the family’s good graces?”

“After she finished college, she and Uncle Robert opened a health food store in Berkeley. Somehow the whole thing snowballed until they ended up with a chain of stores, a manufacturing operation, and hundreds of employees. And by then they had Richard, too.”

“Ah. The curse of adult responsibility.”

“Aunt Eleanor finally decided she still wanted to be a Darcy, as long as she could do it on her own terms.”

“What did that mean?”

“She didn’t want any of the family money, or any involvement in the business. So my father ended up with his inheritance plus hers. And she wasn’t going to live in New York unless she wanted to; as you know, they stayed in San Francisco for several years.”

It explained why so much weight rested on William’s shoulders. With Eleanor all but removed from the line of succession and Georgiana’s parentage hazy, William was Rose’s sole hope to carry the family into the future. “And your grandmother forgave her for leaving?”

“Family is the thing Gran values most. She would have preferred to dictate the terms of Aunt Eleanor’s surrender, but failing that, I think she took what she could get.”

“What does Richard think about missing out on all that money?”

“My grandfather’s will set up a trust fund for each of the grandchildren. Plus, his parents are doing very well on their own. So he has more than he’ll ever need, but he doesn’t have the responsibility that comes with things like shares in the company or a seat on the board. I think it’s the one thing Aunt Eleanor regrets: the trust fund gave Richard the chance to be idle and frivolous. She was thrilled when I asked him to be my manager.”

Elizabeth rolled onto her side and leaned over William, tracing abstract designs on his chest. “I’m sorry to have caused trouble between you and your grandmother. Maybe I should have stayed in Barbados, and we could have found a more gradual way for me to get to know her.”

“Don’t apologize for what Gran did.” His voice was gruff. “None of this is your fault, cara. Besides, I wouldn’t have left Barbados without you.” He sighed. “I wish we’d stayed there.”

“Maybe I should go back to San Francisco tomorrow. That way you could make peace with your grandmother, spend some time with Georgie, and focus on your family.”

“No. I’m not letting you leave.” The imperious William Darcy had spoken, in a tone that brooked no argument.

“Or I can stay but keep myself busy with Sally and Jon, and you can be at the house as much as you need to be.”

“Lizzy, we’re together now.” He propped a pillow against the headboard and leaned back. “Gran needs to accept that.”

“I don’t want to cause a permanent rift between the two of you.” She took one of his hands in hers, toying with his fingers.

“Gran accepted Mamma eventually, and she forgave Aunt Eleanor. It may take time, but she’ll come around.”

It might mean a future of awkward meetings and stilted conversations, but Elizabeth was willing to bear that for William’s sake … as long as Catherine was among the missing in the future. “I’ll say one thing.” She brushed her fingers lightly over his chest. “You don’t get to complain about anything related to my family ever again.”

They fell into a contemplative silence, and she continued her gentle exploration of his torso.

“I almost forgot,” she said, rousing herself from the peaceful fog surrounding her. “How did your conversation with Georgie go?”

“She seemed more relaxed when we went upstairs, but she still didn’t say much. She never used to be so hard to talk to.”

“Don’t take it personally. Fifteen-year-old girls can be secretive. Did she at least tell you what was bothering her?”

“Gran wouldn’t let her invite a friend over for the day.”

“So she was stuck with the adults and bored to death. Did she play for you?”

A fond smile softened his eyes. “Yes. Mamma’s favorite Nocturne.”

“You must be proud of her.”

He nodded. “She played it beautifully.”

Elizabeth decided she didn’t want to talk about Georgiana or Eleanor or Rose any more, or any other Darcy but the one whose body was so warm and vital beneath her hands. She massaged his chest gently. He closed his eyes and exhaled a deep sigh of surrender.

“I’ll give you an hour to stop doing that,” he murmured.

She teased him with kisses along his chest, some slow and wet, others mere butterfly brushes of her lips, and smiled to herself when he groaned. She inhaled slowly, savoring the clean male scent she would always think of as Eau de William.

Then, without warning, she found herself flat on her back. He loomed over her, his eyes dark with passion, the weight of his powerful lower body pinning her to the mattress. For an instant another bed and another night swam before her eyes, but then William’s mouth came down on hers and the image faded. She would know his kiss anywhere: the softness of his lips, the passion mingled with fathomless tenderness. And the taste of him, clean and masculine and … William.

“I love you,” she sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck.

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