Fifteen minutes later, William’s Ferrari was zipping down Highway 101, heading for the Golden Gate Bridge. Neither William nor Elizabeth had said much since leaving Rosings. Elizabeth was far too busy collecting her thoughts to be able to carry on a conversation at the same time.
“Lizzy? Are you awake?”
His voice broke into her reverie, and she started slightly. “Yes. I was just thinking.”
Elizabeth wasn’t ready to open a difficult subject, so she cast about for another topic. “For one thing, about this car. It’s fantastic.”
“I’ve wanted one of these for a long time.”
“Before I met you, I’d never have guessed you had a passion for sports cars. You seemed so serious, so dedicated to your career.”
“I’m entitled to a quirk or two, aren’t I?”
“Oh, absolutely. I’m not complaining.”
He paused. “You said the car was one thing you were thinking about. What else?”
“Well ….” She sighed. “We have some things we need to talk about.”
“I know. Would you like to go somewhere for a glass of wine? It’s getting late, but some places might still be open.”
“Too bad we’re not in New York. Remember La Lanterna, that little café in the Village? They stay open late.”
“Of course I remember it. I went there from time to time over the summer.”
“In fact, I became something of a regular.” He chuckled, a deep, throaty sound that brought a smile to her face.
“Why did you go all the way down there? There are nice places a lot closer to your house.”
“But I hadn’t visited any of those places with a certain lady of my acquaintance.”
She smiled, glancing down at her lap. She couldn’t think of a reply worthy of such a charming compliment.
The Golden Gate Bridge appeared and disappeared from view as the road wound its way toward the bay. “Isn’t the bridge an amazing sight?” she said quietly. “I love this stretch of the highway.”
“That reminds me. On the way over to the party, I saw a sign for an overlook of some sort right by the bridge. I imagine the views back toward the city are spectacular. Would you mind if we stopped for a minute?”
“That’s the vista point near the bridge. You can only get to it when you’re heading out of the city. But the exit right before the bridge takes you up into the Marin headlands. There are beautiful views from up there.”
“You’re cold, aren’t you?” he asked. “I’m sorry, this was a stupid idea.”
He turned back toward the car, but she stopped him. “No, let’s stay for a few minutes,” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Do you want my jacket? Or on second thought, I know a better way to keep you warm.” He drew her into his arms. “This way I can wrap the jacket around you while I’m still wearing it.”
She nestled close to him, her arms around his waist under the jacket. She felt a pang when she noticed again how thin he was.
His fingers brushed the back of her neck tenderly, making her shiver. She raised her head and looked up into his eyes. “Did I happen to mention how beautiful you look tonight?” he murmured.
“No, I don’t think you did.”
“The moment I saw you in the receiving line, you took my breath away.”
“You’re sweet, but I saw the designer dresses and the diamonds. I’m just an ordinary girl, Cinderella in a dress that was on the clearance rack.”
He shook his head. “You don’t need to wear diamonds in order to sparkle.”
“I guess it would be pretty silly for me to argue the point. And by the way, you look very handsome. But I always find you irresistible in formal wear.”
“I’ll have to file that away for future reference,” he murmured.
Their mouths met in a series of warm, lingering kisses that grew gradually deeper until she felt a melting hunger building inside of her. Their kisses by the pool at Rosings had been affectionate and gentle; now, though, heat was building between them at an alarming rate. William tightened his arms around her, and the kiss seemed to explode with passion. Fear tightened her chest, and she abruptly broke off the kiss.
“We should probably get going if we want to stop anywhere,” she said, breathless and quaking.
He released her from his embrace, his eyes downcast. “I’m sorry.” His chest was rising and falling rapidly. “It’s just like the night at the apartment, isn’t it?”
She clutched her shawl around her to prevent it from blowing off her shoulders. “Let’s continue this conversation in the car, where it’s warmer.”
Once back in the car, he was silent, and she realized that he was waiting for her to begin. As often as she had mentally rehearsed this speech, she still wasn’t sure what to say. “About that night in my apartment,” she began in a halting tone. “I know I overreacted. You were moving too fast, but there was no need for me to throw a fit. My only excuse is that I was frightened.”
“Of what? Did you think I was going to overpower you, to force you to do something you weren’t ready for?”
She could tell from the plaintive tone in his voice that he was hurt that she might think him capable of that. She smoothed his hair, which had been tousled by the wind. “It wasn’t you. It was … something that happened a long time ago.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?” he asked in a low voice.
Elizabeth took a slow breath. “I don’t think so.” It was too soon to share her deepest secrets. “I’ll just say that not every man I’ve ever known has been a gentleman.”
“I’m sorry. I hate the thought of anyone treating you badly.” He reached across and caressed her cheek. “But I wish you’d tell me more, so I could avoid doing things that might upset you.”
“I’ve put the past behind me now, so it doesn’t matter. But ….” She took a deep breath. “The thing is, we still don’t know each other that well. We’ve been on, what, three dates? And we’ve seen each other at a few parties, and we’ve talked on the phone a handful of times. And then we spent two months apart.”
“And yet I feel like I know you very well.”
“But you don’t, so you’re probably filling in the blanks with assumptions that aren’t true. And I’m probably doing the same thing.”
“I suppose you’re right. What should do about it?”
“Well, you’re here now, so we can spend time together and really get to know each other. But we need to slow down the other side of things.”
“You mean our physical attraction.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes. Things have been kind of … sparking between us.”
“Sparking? More like a blow torch.”
Elizabeth giggled, and some of her nerves dissipated. “But I’m afraid if we rush into … that too soon, it’ll cause problems.”
”Okay, that’s reasonable.” But he sounded hesitant.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice deceptively quiet. “You’re not willing to wait till the time is right?”
He shook his head. “That’s not the problem. It’s just that we’re on different schedules. For me, the time is already right.”
Elizabeth sighed. “But I need time to get comfortable with you … with us.”
“I understand, and I’ll respect whatever boundaries you set. But sometimes you may need to remind me.”
“And you won’t get angry when I do that? You got angry that night.”
“I wasn’t angry because you stopped me; I was angry that you went on the attack, both physically and verbally. And also that you wouldn’t let me explain; you kept interrupting, assuming that you knew what I was going to say and how I felt.”
She heard the intensity in his voice; obviously this was still a sore point. “Is there anything you want to tell me now?”
He hesitated, staring straight ahead, his lips pressed together. She was about to change the subject when he turned to her and said, “I hated that you thought I was accusing you of … of leading me on, and that I thought you’d somehow lost the right to say, ‘Stop.’ Did you really have such a low opinion of me?”
“No. I was just, I don’t know, crazy by then. I’m sorry.”
“Lizzy, please, from now on, if you’re uncomfortable, just tell me.”
“I will. And thank you for understanding. I know I’m asking a lot.”
“No, you’re not. You just want me to stop behaving like a hormone-crazed teenager.”
They laughed together, breaking the tension.
“By the way,” he murmured, stroking her cheek with his thumb, “I hope kissing is still allowed.”
“Yes,” she said quietly, reaching up to finger the wayward curl that so often fell onto his forehead. “Kissing is definitely allowed. We just need to keep it from ….” She wrinkled her nose and shrugged, at a loss for the right phrase.
“From burning out of control?” he asked, smiling.
His eyes radiated heat as he leaned across and captured her lips in a slow, gentle kiss full of restrained hunger that left Elizabeth trembling.
By the time they reached the city, it was after 2:00 am. “It’s so late. We’d better just call it a night,” Elizabeth said.
“Not until you agree to have dinner with me tomorrow.” He grinned at her.
“I’d love to, but I can’t.”
“Please don’t say that you have a date.”
“Not unless you consider a girls’ night out a date. I’m having dinner with Jane and Char.”
“Any chance you could cancel?”
He asked it with a smile, but she wanted to put a stop to those sorts of expectations up front. She would have to teach him that here in San Francisco, he wouldn’t always get what he wanted. “I think it’s rude to cancel on people just because a better offer comes along.”
“Well, at least you consider me ‘a better offer,’” he said.
“And that’s saying a lot, because I love spending time with Jane and Char. But I have a counter-proposal. Are you free during the day tomorrow?”
He hesitated, and at first she thought he was going to refuse her, but then he nodded. “What did you have in mind?”
“How about if I show you around the city? Not everybody gets a grand tour from a native.”
“A day with you as my tour guide? How can I refuse? What time should I pick you up?”
“How early are you willing to getting started?”
“The earlier, the better.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Really? I thought you weren’t a morning person.”
“I’m not. But with the right inducement, I can get up with the sunrise.”
She smiled, charmed by his boyish enthusiasm but doubting his follow-through. “How about 10:00?” she suggested.
“Much too late. How about 8:00?”
“William Darcy, you’re not going to get home till almost three in the morning. Aren’t you supposed to be resting and recuperating?”
He rolled his eyes, sighing. “You sound like Mrs. Reynolds.”
“Has she been fussing over you nonstop?”
He nodded. “You can’t imagine. Not just her, either; everybody in the house got into the act.”
“Is that why you came out here? Too much adult supervision at home?”
He chuckled. “That was part of it.”
“And the other reasons?”
“I think you know the answer to that.” He stopped the car at a stop sign and turned to look at her, the warmth in his eyes obvious even in the dim light. A car horn behind them broke the spell. With a sheepish grin, he turned his attention back to his driving.
All too soon, they were driving up the hill to her condo building. He helped her out of the car and took her hand as they walked toward the building. “We never decided on a time for tomorrow. I’m still voting for 8:00.”
Elizabeth unlocked the door to the building and they entered the lobby. “Let’s compromise. How about 9:00?”
“8:00. I’m not good at compromising.”
“What a shock. You know, it’s a skill you should probably work on if we’re going to spend time together.”
“All right. 9:00 it is.”
“Good boy,” she said with an indulgent smile.
The elevator opened, and they walked down the hall in silence. She stopped in front of her door. “Well, here we are.”
William drew Elizabeth into his arms. He bent his head to kiss her, but she placed a hand on his chest and pushed gently to stop him.
“Wait. There’s something I have to ask, or I’m going to lie awake for hours worrying about it. Why did you play the Intermezzo for Anne de Bourgh?”
He shook his head slowly. “Lizzy, I played it for you. Didn’t you see the way I looked at you before I started to play?”
“But I didn’t know what it meant. Besides, Bill had just told me about you and Anne supposedly getting married. And then Catherine said you were playing especially for Anne.”
He shook his head emphatically. “Wishful thinking on Catherine’s part. I didn’t know if we’d have a chance to talk privately, and I was trying to find a way to reach you.”
“I must say, I was having trouble imagining you with Anne.”
“I’ve known her since we were kids, but I’ve never felt any attraction to her.”
“I suppose your type is more along the lines of Caroline Bingley?” she teased.
“Hardly.” He drew one hand up from her shoulder and along her neck in a lingering caress. “I seem to have a weakness for brunettes with gorgeous green eyes and a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.”
“Sounds like a good way to get seriously injured,” she joked weakly. His intense gaze was devastating to her composure. She placed her hands on his chest to steady herself, feeling the steady thudding of his heart.
“Yes, I’ve become quite a glutton for punishment,” he drawled, his eyes half-lidded as he gazed down at her. “So, have we dispensed with Anne de Bourgh?” he murmured.
She nodded dreamily.
“Good,” he whispered. “Because that’s not what I want you thinking about after I leave here tonight. I was hoping you’d spend the night thinking about … something else.”
Quick PSA for anyone planning to visit the Marin Headlands: Beware of “smash-and-grab” thieves up there and don’t leave anything visible in your car, not even something of little or no value.