“Georgie, it’s Elizabeth. May I come in?”
Elizabeth had been in Georgiana’s room the previous Friday searching for hints as to the girl’s whereabouts, but she hadn’t paid much attention to the décor at the time. Tonight, she took a moment to glance around. While the furniture looked expensive and well-made, the room seemed to have been designed for a younger girl than its current occupant. The walls were a soft shade of pink, as was the quilted bedspread piled at the foot of Georgiana’s bed. The bed’s canopy and skirt, in white ruffles and eyelet lace, were no doubt Mrs. Reynolds’s handiwork. The curtains at both windows echoed the ruffles-and-eyelet theme, this time in white cotton sprinkled with pink rosebuds. A child-sized rocking chair sat in a remote corner, occupied by a large teddy bear wearing a pink tutu and satin ballet shoes.
But there were also hints of the room’s current occupant. Four Harry Potter novels stood together on a shelf, with a small boombox serving as a bookend. Elizabeth didn’t recognize some of the CDs in haphazard piles, but she spotted recordings by Destiny’s Child, 3 Doors Down, and, of course, William Darcy. Georgiana’s backpack lay on the floor, school books and papers spilling out along with the CD Walkman and headphones Elizabeth had frequently seen her use during their travels. The dresser was littered with tubes of lip gloss and mascara, scattered alongside a collection of beaded bracelets. A pair of artfully tattered designer jeans hung drunkenly from the closet doorknob. And the most discordant note—a zebra-print beanbag chair—slouched in the corner closest to the bookshelf, as though trying not to be noticed.
Georgiana was lounging in bed, two pillows propped behind her. She wore an oversized Gryffindor tee shirt, and Elizabeth could see a hint of red plaid flannel pajama pants above the sheet and blanket covering her legs. An open book sat on her lap.
“What are you reading?”
“The Great Gatsby. We’re supposed to read it over spring break and write an essay about it, but I’m just starting. Good thing it’s so short.”
Elizabeth perched on a corner of the bed. “How are you doing, now that we’re back home?”
Georgiana shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
“You were really quiet at dinner.”
“I was afraid Gran would start interrogating me, or lecturing, or whatever. I thought if I didn’t say anything, maybe she wouldn’t notice I was there.”
“I expect she’s going to lecture you a little. Frankly, you’ve done some things that deserve a lecture. I know you’re tired of hearing me say that, but you know it’s true, right?”
“Yeah, I know.” The eye-roll that accompanied Georgiana’s sigh was at least a subtle one, which was a sign of progress.
“And you can handle it, right? Because things are going to get better. What’s our mantra?”
“Don’t. Give. Up. Hope.” Georgiana executed a much larger eye-roll this time, but despite her pursed lips she couldn’t completely banish a smile.
“That’s right!” Elizabeth exclaimed, grinning. “Are you ready to strangle me for being so annoyingly optimistic?”
Georgiana snickered. “Sometimes.” But then she spoke in a softer voice. “Seriously, though, it kind of helps.”
“Good. Because I know things are going to be awkward for a while, especially the next few days. Anything you want to talk about?”
Georgiana stared down at her book for a long moment, sighed, and then began to speak. “I guess I’ve been thinking about what you said on the plane, about how I probably upset Gran a lot, and scared her, and stuff. And Will, too. And probably Mrs. Reynolds.” Georgiana looked directly at Elizabeth. “And you missed a trip with Will, and you had to meet with Wickham, and with Aunt Catherine, and I know she’s really nasty to you every chance she gets. I never said, ‘I’m sorry’ for any of that stuff. But I am.”
Elizabeth was surprised and gratified that her words had hit their mark. “Apology accepted. And at least you thanked me a few times along the way, which impressed me. But what about your grandmother? Are you ready to apologize to her?”
Georgiana’s gaze lowered again. At last, she looked up. “Maybe. I guess so. But I feel like she should apologize to me, too.”
Elizabeth thought so, too, but kept her opinion to herself. “For what? I’m not arguing with you; I just think you need to be specific.”
“I don’t know how to explain it; I just feel that way. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because she’ll just lecture and she won’t let me say anything. She never listens.”
“Maybe we can figure out a way to get her to listen, as long as you promise to listen to her, too. I’ll think about that. And meanwhile, you need to think about what you want to say to her—both the apology and the things you want to ask her to do differently.”
Georgiana nodded. “If I think about it tonight, can we talk about it tomorrow morning?”
“Absolutely. Maybe we could even role-play the conversation, to give you some practice explaining things.”
Georgiana wrinkled her nose. “Whatever. But we have to do it early, okay? She might start in on me at breakfast.”
“Early it is. Come down and knock on my door when you’re ready to talk. And you know, we could eat our breakfast together upstairs. That would give us some extra time.”
“That’s perfect!” Georgiana’s eager smile made her look much younger, giving life to an echo of the child for whom the room had been decorated.
“Okay, then,” Elizabeth said, rising to her feet. “If we’re getting up early, we’d better get some sleep.”
“When you came in, I wasn’t actually reading. I was thinking about that song, the one Mamma sang to me.”
“Yeah. I want to hear it. I looked around online but I couldn’t find it.”
“Maybe tomorrow we can go out and buy the CD. I bet Tower Records has it.”1
“Okay.” Georgiana sighed. “I wish I could remember Mamma singing it to me.”
“Close your eyes.”
“Just do it, please.”
Georgiana shrugged and shut her eyes. Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed again and began to sing.
I see your true colors shining through,
I see your true colors, and that’s why I love you,
So don’t be afraid to let them show.
Your true colors, true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow.
Georgiana opened her eyes slowly, smiling. “That was really pretty, probably just like Mamma would have sung it.”
“And then she would have kissed you goodnight.” Elizabeth leaned over and kissed Georgiana’s forehead. “Sleep well, Georgie girl.”
“Good night.” A look of mild embarrassment flitted across Georgiana’s face, but as she settled back, snuggling into her pillow, she looked completely at peace.
Elizabeth inspected herself in the bathroom mirror. For someone who had traveled thousands of miles in the last five days, across four time zones, she looked fresher than she would have expected. I guess I’d better get used to it if I’m going to travel with William.
William. The thought of him filled her with warm contentment. After months of phone calls and stolen weekends, they might finally have a chance to settle into a more normal existence—at least, as normal as his profession allowed. Although the wedding was still almost three months away, this day, and especially this evening, felt like the start of their life together.
William’s gentle entreaty echoed in her head: I don’t suppose you’d consider coming back downstairs afterwards and spending the night with me. Since her arrival in New York, he had never questioned her unwillingness to sleep with him at the townhouse until tonight, and even then he had phrased it as a statement, not a question. And here she was, preparing to spend another night alone, longing to be in the arms of the man she loved, while the man in question lay in his bed just one floor below, longing for her.
Are you insane?
No, I’m not. There are good reasons why we shouldn’t sleep together here. A house full of people. A teenager who notices things. An old woman with definite ideas about proper behavior. None of that has changed.
But something had changed. She didn’t quite understand what was different, but acting on instinct, she grabbed a robe from her closet and headed for the stairs.
William poked at the logs in his fireplace without success. He glowered at them, waving the poker as though trying to frighten the uncooperative fire into action. Finally, he surrendered and added some tinder from the small pile in a copper bucket next to the fireplace. At first, he feared he had smothered the glowing embers, but as he watched, fiery tendrils began to curl around the logs. Soon, a warm blaze cast flickering shadows around the room.
He wasn’t sure what instinct had led him to build a fire that night, but somehow it felt right. Despite the late hour, he wasn’t ready to sleep; he would sit on the sofa, read a book, and enjoy the firelight. He would be alone, but …. He sighed, involuntarily glancing up at the ceiling. He had heard her a few minutes before, moving around her room.
William settled onto the sofa. He had read only a few pages of his book, an introduction to ancient Roman architecture, when he heard a tentative knock at the door. Perhaps Gran couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk about Georgie. The floor boards creaked under his bare feet as he strode to the door.
To his astonishment, Elizabeth stood at the threshold. “Hi,” she said. She wore a robe he had often seen in San Francisco, and he caught a glimpse of her amethyst nightshirt beneath it.
“Hi.” He wasn’t sure what else to say.
She flashed an awkward smile. “May I come in?”
“Oh, of course!” He stepped aside to admit her and then shut the door.
They made their way down the narrow hallway to his bedroom. She glanced around the room. “I’ve never been in here before.”
He quickly switched on a lamp, surprised at how awkward he felt. “There. You’ll be able to see things better now.”
“I was in your bathroom once, the night I came for dinner last June.”
“I remember. Right after I played the Intermezzo for you and we shared that amazing kiss.”
She nodded and smiled. “I never imagined then that someday the bathroom would be ours, not just yours.”
“And this room, too.” He scanned the surroundings, trying to see them through her eyes. “I guess the decor is kind of masculine. But we can change it however you want.”
She inclined her head toward a doorway near the bathroom. “Is that your closet, over there?”
He nodded, and she moved in that direction. “Wow,” she said. “This is as big as some of the apartments I’ve lived in.” She scanned the neat rows of shirts, suits, and shoes. “I was right! I always knew you had dozens of identical white shirts somewhere, all neatly pressed and waiting their turns to be worn. Oh--and there’s the black shirt I gave you for your birthday, hanging all by its lonesome.”
“You’ve always loved teasing me about my wardrobe,” he retorted, taking her hand.
“Yup, and now I’ve seen it up close.” She glanced around again. “Ooh, and it looks like that tiny corner over there is vacant. I guess my clothes might fit there.”
He lowered his brow and pursed his lips, acknowledging her teasing tone. “I can make lots more space; I’m sure we’ll do fine sharing it. And if not, we’ll figure out a way to expand it.”
Hands clasped, they exited the dressing room. William still had no idea what she wanted. “Would you … like to sit on the sofa for a while?”
“That would be lovely; the fire looks so nice.”
As she seated herself, he turned off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness relieved only by the firelight. When he sat down, she scooted close to him and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “This reminds me of Valentine’s Day weekend in Lake Tahoe,” she said.
“Mmm.” He kissed her forehead. “Some of my favorite memories are from that weekend.”
“The bearskin rug in front of the fire?” She gave him a knowing smile.
“We did a little skiing that weekend, too.”
He chuckled. “A little, but we put a lot more energy into the indoor sports.”
“Can we go back next winter? Maybe make it a Valentine’s Day tradition?”
“I don’t see why not. The cabin sits empty so much of the time; I’m sure Eleanor and Robert would be happy for us to use it whenever we want.”
Silence fell between them, relieved only by the crackling of the fire. William sighed, relaxing into the warmth and comfort of her presence. She seemed to be doing the same, her head resting on his shoulder as she traced abstract designs on his chest.
A log broke in two, sending up a shower of sparks. It seemed to arouse her from her reverie. “You seemed surprised that I came down to see you.”
“I wasn’t expecting you, but I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too.” She sat up and faced him. “I had a couple of reasons. There was something I wanted to talk about, but I didn’t have time earlier; I needed to check on Georgie before it got any later.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Not exactly. But there are some things Catherine told me that I left out of the story down in the dining room. Your grandmother knows there’s more to the story and I said I’d tell her tomorrow. But I wanted to talk to you first, because it concerns you.”
“Oh?” He frowned and eyed her, waiting for more.
She hesitated. “This may be hard for you to hear, but I think you have a right to know the truth.”
“This sounds bad.”
She took his hand and laced her fingers in his. “Here’s the thing. As I explained at dinner, your parents both had reasons—different reasons—for wanting a second child.”
“That surprised me. I always assumed, if Georgie was my father’s child, that it was an accident, maybe the result of a drunken fling, though I didn’t like thinking of my parents that way. Because, if they each wanted another child, why not get divorced and have babies with other people? Downstairs, you only explained Mamma’s side—she was Catholic and didn’t believe in divorce, and she was afraid of losing custody. But what about my father?” His grandmother would have disapproved, but he doubted that would have stopped his father from pursuing a divorce.
“It’s a simple answer, and so ironic. They didn’t have a prenup. A divorce would have been very expensive for Edmund and potentially catastrophic for the business.”
“Seriously?” He stared at her.
“Seriously. Catherine said that prenups weren’t customary in Italy back then, so the question probably never came up. And I think your grandparents didn’t find out about the marriage until it was a done deal, so it was too late for them to intervene.”
William shook his head. “I would never have guessed that my father had anything in common with Charles Bingley.”
“Well,” she replied, smiling, “now you have proof that once upon a time, your father was young, foolish, and very much in love.”
“That’s actually comforting, to be reminded that at the beginning, they loved each other.” He shook his head. “I only remember them later, when they didn’t.”
“Catherine was of the opinion that your father never completely got over your mother.”
“Hmm.” He couldn’t remember any signs of affection—for anyone in the house—from his father. He shrugged. “Okay, so they were stuck in the marriage, and they both wanted another child. And maybe my father still cared about Mamma. That sounds straightforward.”
“Yes and no.” She hesitated, and when she spoke, it was in a diffident tone. “Were you aware that your father wanted to send you away to military school?”
He nodded, surprised by the question. “Mamma told me about it. She was furious with him. But then he changed his mind, and she must have forgiven him because she got pregnant not long afterwards.”
Elizabeth licked her lips, wearing a pained expression.
“What’s wrong? He didn’t actually change his mind? Did Gran stop him, like she did when he tried to end my musical training?”
“No,” she said gently. “This time, your grandmother sided with your father.”
“She thought your father should have some say in your education. And she thought the discipline might be good for you. But Catherine said it would have been devastating to your musical development.”
He paused to contemplate this unexpected information. “Catherine is right. It would have severely reduced my practice time, which would definitely have hurt. But perhaps Gran thought the discipline would help me later in my career, and would make up for ….” He frowned and shook his head; something didn’t seem right. “But I didn’t go to military school, so I don’t understand ….” He paused again, still trying to grapple with Elizabeth’s news. “And why did Catherine tell you all of this? What does it have to do with Georgie?”
Elizabeth’s pained expression returned and she was silent for a moment. “Your mother negotiated a deal with your father. A second child, to become the business leader he wanted, if he’d leave you alone.”
William swallowed hard, his eyes widening. He pulled his hand from her grasp. “You mean she … she had Georgie to protect me?”
“Bear in mind, she wanted a second child, regardless. But ….” Elizabeth paused, bit her lip, and sighed. “Basically, yes. In return, there would be no military school, and no interference with your musical training.”
His mind was racing, sorting through a mental Rolodex of memories of his parents. He became aware that he was breathing rapidly and tried to calm himself.
“Will, are you okay?” She stroked his cheek.
“It’s just ….” He licked his lips and dragged a hand through his hair. “I don’t know what’s worse, that my mother made such a huge sacrifice for my sake, or that I disgusted my father even more than I realized.”
“No, Will. Don’t say that.” She reached for him, drawing him into her arms. “I’m sorry—maybe I was wrong to tell you. I gave it a lot of thought, because I knew this would be upsetting. But I don’t want to keep secrets from you.”
“No, you were right to tell me. We agreed—no secrets.” He kissed her gently. “I’m okay; it was just a shock. And, really, it explains so much.”
“Like the way he made a formal announcement at a family get-together, right around the time Mamma told everyone she was pregnant, that he no longer wanted to involve me in the business. And after that, he rarely saw me or spoke to me, not that we’d spent that much time together before.”
“I’m so sorry.” She stroked his hair. “Tell me more about your father.”
“I don’t know if I can right now.” Despite his hard-won outward calm, he was shaken by her news. “Suffice it to say I was a huge disappointment to him from the day I was born. I had a defective heart, I didn’t play sports, and I wasn’t interested in business. It’s no wonder he wanted another child. I’m surprised he didn’t disinherit me and leave everything to Georgie.” As he blinked back the tears that were trying to form, he heard the familiar voice in his head: Men who cry are weaklings.
“My poor William.” She took his face into her hands and spoke with authority. “Listen to me. He was the problem, not you. You are a wonderful man, someone any father would be proud to call ‘my son.’ Just like I’m going to be proud to call you my husband.”
He kissed her then, his heart full. “I love you so much,” he whispered. They nestled together in silence, both staring into the fireplace, and gradually he relaxed.
After a few minutes, she rose to her feet and drew him up to join her. “Telling you this … it wasn’t my only reason for coming down here tonight. I was upstairs in my room, thinking about all the excellent reasons why I shouldn’t spend the night with you. But then, I realized there was a far more important reason why I should.”
“Because it’s our life together, and it’ll be our marriage, and it’s time for me to stop letting other things interfere. I’ve missed you so much, and I’ve longed to be in your arms, and that’s where I should be. Just like we said earlier, when we’re together, we’re home. That’s what matters.”
He exhaled a deep breath and regarded her, shaking his head. “What did I do to deserve the most amazing woman in the world?” He wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Just lucky, I guess.” She drew his face down to hers.
After a long, delicious interval, he lifted his head. “So you’re staying with me tonight?”
She nodded. “We need to set an alarm; I promised to have an early breakfast with Georgie in the morning. But until then ….” Her smile was full of promise.
“Does that mean …?”
She took his hand and led him to the bed. Once there, she shrugged off her robe. He watched with rapt attention as she unbelted his robe and slipped it off his shoulders. Then she drew him into her arms. “It means that it’s time for bed,” she whispered.
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1 The iTunes Store didn’t exist yet—it was created about a year after these events. Neither did Spotify or YouTube or the many other places where you can hear music online. Napster, a file sharing site used mainly to share music, had been forced to shut down in mid-2001 due to multiple legal challenges. While there were other such sites still in existence, they generally kept a low profile in an attempt to avoid Napster’s fate. The iPod had been introduced, but not yet the iTunes store, so you loaded it mainly by “ripping” MP3s from your CD collection. So, yes, Georgie really would have needed to buy the CD. New York had several record stores at the time, Tower Records probably being the best-known.