Georgiana Darcy wanted one thing, and one thing alone, in the course of her afternoon at Pemberley. She wanted ten minutes alone with Tye Bertram.
Easier said than done. There were loads of people gathered at Pemberley to celebrate Georgiana's graduation from Cambridge. In fact, the afternoon party looked more like a family reunion than a simple celebration.
Given the fine weather and the mild temperature, they decided to host the party on the patio---the very same place they'd hosted Will and Elizabeth's wedding reception years ago. Even now, all these years later, Georgiana suspected that memory was vivid in the couples' mind as well. Elizabeth, with baby William on her hip, would offer soft smile to her husband as she set a basket of flatware on the buffet table. Will, in the middle of entertaining his little boys, would catch sight of Elizabeth and find himself staring.
All of the Bennets were here---Elizabeth's parents, her many brothers, their spouses, and their children. Andie and Richard had arrived as well. Currently they were immersed in conversation with the Knightleys and the Wentworths. Will and Elizabeth kept drifting in and out of their orbit as time and hosting duties aloud. Will was also keeping an eye on Elise. Lizzie had her arms full as it was with the baby---now ten months old.
And at any given moment, either the Knightleys, the Wentworths, or the Fitzwilliams, were keeping an eye on the assorted children running around the patio.
Richard and Andie's eight-year-old twins, Jason and Annie were here, as were the Knightley's three children, Bella, now ten, eight-year old Laura, and seven year old Noah. The Wentworths had brought their trio of children---ten-year-old Adrian, eight year old Michael, and six year old Lucy.
The kids did seem quite content to play together. Annie Fitzwilliam was playing dolls with Bella and Laura Knightley and Lucy Wentworth. Jason Fitzwilliam was playing with Adrian Wentworth. Meanwhile, the younger boys in the group---Michael Wentworth, Noah Knightley, and Will and Lizzie's two young boys, eight year old Nicholas and seven year old Bennet Darcy, were keeping each other entertained with a game that involved a rubber ball.
Four-year-old Elise Darcy-Lissie, to the family-remained her father's shadow. And, of course, ten-month-old William was still a fixture in his mother's arms. Given Elizabeth's medical history, it was miraculous that Elizabeth had ended up giving birth to any children at all. The oldest of the boys, Nicholas, was adopted. Raised in his infancy in an Eastern Europe orphanage, he'd been twelve months old when he became a Darcy. Surprisingly, despite their precautions, Elizabeth had found herself pregnant within three short months of their adoption of Nicholas.
The pair had braced themselves for all the many complications Elizabeth had been warned about for so many years. Lupus was an unpredictable disease, and when it struck her, it struck hard. Miraculously, Elizabeth's body defied every prediction. Lizzie coped beautifully with her first pregnancy. Bennet-Ben, they called him---was delivered safely in hospital, with both Elizabeth and Ben surrounded by the finest medical care Will could buy. Elizabeth's second and third pregnancies arrived with more planning and preparation-with blood tests to make sure she could safely be pregnant again, and lab work while her pregnancies progressed. But she'd given birth to three beautiful children in all, and she'd returned to health following each experience.
Thank goodness, Georgiana thought, watching the couple. Four children was enough, Georgie had heard both Will and Elizabeth say it privately. Will didn't want Lizzie risking herself again with another pregnancy. And they'd decided the addition of a fifth child to their family, even through adoption, would be too much for Elizabeth's health to cope with. As it was, Will now rarely traveled for work. Elizabeth had given up the stage after her pregnancy with Ben. Lizzie continued to run her foundation, Dancing Differently, and Will often worked from his Pemberley office. They were content with their family of four.
Little Lissie had squirmed down from her daddy's arms and was now hiding her face in his trouser leg. Baby William was dozing on his mother's shoulder, largely undisturbed by the chatter all around him. Meanwhile, Will was now whispering something in his wife's ear. Whatever he said, it caused Elizabeth to laugh. And to blush. And to whisper what looked like an equally playful response in return.
Even now, a decade into their marriage, they still acted like a pair of lovestruck newlyweds.
In fact, Georgiana realized she was currently surrounded by couples. Her best friend, opera singer Margaret Dashwood had arrived to Georgiana's graduation party with her long-time boyfriend Theodore Lawrence as her date. Teddy Lawrence was a part-time jazz pianist, and a full-time executive in his grandfather's company. It was a good match; both were playful and clever, and very kind.
Margaret wasn't her only Bardwell friend attending her party. Ewan was here--with his wife. Unlike Georgiana, he'd opted out of attending university, as many of her Bardwell classmates had. Instead, he'd moved to America and made a name for himself with an orchestra in Texas. Luck and good timing had allowed both Ewan and his Texan wife to return in time for Georgiana's graduation party. Georgiana took a small sip of her punch, taking in the sight of Ewan talking with his wife. She was happy he'd found someone to love and appreciate him.
Georgiana had successfully managed the appreciation part--just not the love. After years of friendship, Georgie and Ewan had tried dating during their final year at Bardwell. She was glad they'd made a go of it; they were great friends, and intellectually they'd always have a good rapport. She had to admit, though, kissing Ewan had been an experience entirely without sparks. She could only let that relationship carry on for so long before she'd gently broken up with him.
He hadn't handled it well, initially. After they'd completed their studies at Bardwell, and for the first year afterward, he'd ignored all of her emails. And then, one day, he'd written to say he'd met someone. Tina was her name. Tina was now his wife.
So all was well that ended well with that relationship. It was certainly more than she could say about her Cambridge romance with Jim Thorpe.
Unlike Ewan, she hadn't continued a teenage friendship with Jim. In fact, the mild, childish flirting they'd engaged in at age fourteen had sputtered out quickly. It wasn't until they both attended Cambridge---in the middle of Georgiana's second year at university---that the pair fell into an actual romance. During their first few years at Cambridge, they got together, broke up, and got together again. And then, last year, they'd broken up for good. She'd instigated the last breakup. He'd accused her of being in love with Tye Bertram. It was an accusation she couldn't deny, to Jim or to herself.
Jim wasn't here today.
"Congratulations, Geogie!" One of her Cambridge classmates, Jane Harper, called out. "Great cake. Have you tried it?"
"Oh--" Georgiana forced herself to smile. "Yes, it's very good, isn't it? Thank you so much for coming."
This was her university graduation party, she should participate in it. Time to mingle. There were a lot of people around here wanting a few minutes of her time. And somewhere in this crowd she knew she should be able to find Tye again.
Ah, there he is, she realized, catching sight of him in the garden below. Talking to Will?
The two men were far enough away from the crowd to afford some privacy. Whatever they were discussing, it looked serious. After many-many---years, Will had finally come to a hard-earned respect for Tye. But of course, it helped that Tye had grown to be a very focused young man. Will seemed impressed by that. And by his record as a teacher--in Canada for the first eight years of his career, and in Paris for these last two. Tye had managed his teaching commitments with his touring schedule, all while managing time to compose.
And Tye had managed to stay stalwartly sober all the while. It was a huge accomplishment.
She wished she saw more of him. He rarely had time to return to England, unless it was for some familial obligations. Or for her. Somehow, he always managed to find time for Georgiana.
It was childish, perhaps, but she wanted to interrupt his conversation with Will. To approach the pair, and pull Tye away and hear his thoughts, and tell him hers in return.
"Auntie Georgie!" a little voice called out. Four-year-old Elise was running to her. Elizabeth was a few yards behind, holding the baby. "Can I have some more cake?"
"Of course you can, sweetie," Georigana assured the little girl. That little face was the very image of Elizabeth's prettily delicate features, and deep green eyes. The child inherited Will's beautiful curls, though, and Will's dimpled smile. She was a beauty. "If it's okay with your mother."
"It's fine, if it's a small piece. Say thank you, Lissie, and let's go to the kitchen," Elizabeth said, shifting baby William in her arms. The little boy was awake now, and fussy. He was starting to cry. "Georgie, all the other children have eaten buffet food for lunch, but I have to get the baby fed. Want to come to the kitchen with me?"
"But--" Georgiana glanced longingly at Tye. He was still talking quietly with Will.
"Let them talk," Elizabeth urged gently. "Come, Georgie, I could use your help with Elise while I manage the baby."
Once in the kitchen, Elizabeth permitted Georgiana to cut a very small piece of extra cake for four-year-old Elise. While Elise began digging into it, Elizabeth arranged baby William in the high chair, put a bib around him, and quietly preparing his lunch---very small pieces of string cheese, some soft, steamed vegetables, and some pureed squash.
"Are you still breastfeeding?" Georgiana asked, sliding into a seat beside Elise.
"You can't tell?" Elizabeth laughed. "Yes, I'm still supplementing his meals with breastmilk. I'll keep doing that until he's twelve months old. But we're doing a mixture of both. I start him with this food, and see if he's still hungry afterward."
Currently, the baby seemed more intent on flattening the cheese and the steamed vegetables with his little round hands than he was in eating. As with all the Darcy children, he was a beautiful child---with Elizabeth's long, black lashes and Will's warm, dark eyes. The moment Elizabeth returned with a bowl of squash and a small, plastic baby spoon, he began squealing excitedly.
"He knows what he likes," Elizabeth said with a laugh. "Just like his father." While she quietly spooned mashed squash into the baby's open mouth, Elizabeth glanced back at her daughter. "Lissie, my love, do you want some juice?"
"I'm not thirsty," Elise said, playing with her fork.
"Try just a little," Elizabeth reminded her. "You'll be having your nap soon. Georgie, if you wouldn't mind getting something for her to drink?"
"Oh!" Georgiana blinked. She'd gotten distracted by the sight of baby William yawning as he ate. It seemed Elise wasn't the only Darcy child ready for a nap. "Yes, certainly. I'll get her some juice."
"Cut it with water," Elizabeth advised.
"Georgiana, never you mind. I'll get the juice for the wee girl," Finola Bennet announced as she walked into the kitchen. "And Elizabeth, while your father and I are staying at Pemberley for the weekend, I want you to know we'll keep an eye on the children tonight and tomorrow."
"You don't have to do that, Mum," Elizabeth assured her, setting her bowl and baby spoon aside. Soon she was taking off William's bib, and gently wiping excess squash from his round chin.
"I want to. We love to spend time with the children. Your Da and I will be sleeping here at Pemberley, right down the hall. We'll manage them just fine. I can handle wee Elise, and the baby, and your father will do just fine with the older boys."
"Mum--" Elizabeth said with a laugh, hoisting William from the highchair. She began rubbing his back. "Truly, you don't have to. I didn't fly you all this way just so you could babysit."
By now Finola Bennet had poured juice into a small plastic cup, halved it with water, and handed it to Elise. "Elizabeth, I see the way you and your husband look at each other, even at a party, in front of a crowd of people. You two could use a few uninterrupted hours. Just take my offer and say thank you."
Elizabeth, now thirty-three, was still capable of blushing. Shifting baby William in her arms, she offered her mother a pretty smile. "Thank you, Mum."
With that managed, Finola Bennet pulled out a tray of canapes from the fridge and left the kitchen, intent on returning to the party.
Finola's was a kind offer, and one the married couple would certainly take advantage of. But Georgiana also knew that Will and Elizabeth managed to find plenty of creative ways to carve out alone time for themselves. When Elise and the baby were down for a nap, and the boys were at school in Lambton, Georgiana had accidentally walked in on various moments of passion between Will and Lizzie more than once. It was always mortifying when it happened, but they were all adults capable of laughing it off. Or simply ducking until they could shrug off their embarrassment. Georgie quickly remembered the importance of knocking first, no matter what room she was entering.
"Georgiana," Elizabeth spoke once her other had left, "you're looking as lovely as can be in that dress of yours. Is it new?"
Georgiana smiled, looking own at the summery, flower patterned dress. "Yes. I was hoping it would make me look a bit older. Does it?"
"It makes you look like exactly what you are," Elizabeth reminded her. "You look your own age, twenty-three. It's a great age, you should enjoy it."
"I'm the same age you were when you married Will," Georgiana said. "I always thought you had the most exciting life when you were twenty-three. You always seemed to be going to interesting parties, and wearing beautiful clothes."
"Truly, Georgie," Elizabeth laughed again, "it didn't feel like an endless series of parties at the time. Will and I were both working so hard to sustain our careers...and we were working even harder to figure out who we could be together. But we did have a lot of fun along the way, I grant you that."
The baby was growing sleepy again. And Elise was due for her nap, too. Elizabeth shifted her baby in her arms, dropping the bowl and spoon she'd used for William into the sink. Eager to assist in the cleanup, Georgiana picked the paper plate Elise had used, and carried it over to the trash bin.
"Will and I wanted to give you a graduation party, Georgie," Elizabeth announced, "and it was grand of you to agree to it, but the party should wrap up soon. If you want to go out on a date tonight, your brother and I won't be offended."
"With who?" Georgie laughed.
"A date? With Tye? I don't-I wouldn't-" Startled, and suddenly foolishly nervous, Georgiana accidentally dumped the fork in the bin along with the paper plate. She bent down to fish it out. "Why would you think I might have a date with Tye tonight? He wouldn't-he's never---"
"Would you want him to?" Elizabeth asked gently.
Will strode into the kitchen just as Lizzie finished her statement. Both boys, Nicholas and Ben, trailed him. Will pressed a quick kiss to his wife's cheek, and offered a curious look to Georgiana.
"You're alright?" Will asked with a frown.
"Yes," Georgiana said with a nod, tucking a curly lock behind her ear. "I'm fine."
"Daddy!" Elise beamed. As Elizabeth's arms were occupied with the baby, it was Will that received the 'up' signal with Elise's arms outstretched. Taking note of this, Will bent down, hoisting the four-year-old easily into his arms.
"Hey, sweetheart," Will greeted Elise. "Ready for your nap?"
Little Elise shook her head. "I don't wanna nap."
"Will, how was your chat with Tye?" Elizabeth asked quietly.
"It was---fine." Will offered a distracted glance at their two boys. "Nick, Ben-what do you two need?"
Fair-haired, blue-eyed Nicolas, the oldest, was digging into the refrigerator. Beside him, Bennet-the very image his father, but with his mother's playful green eyes---was giggling.
"Dad," Bennet poked his head out from the fridge. "Noah Knightley and Michael Wentworth and Jason Fitzwilliam-they all want to know, do we have any seltzer water?"
"No," Elizabeth and Will said at once. Elizabeth continued, "Boys, why don't you find that card game you were playing over breakfast and show it to the other children?"
That seemed a fair enough suggestion. Both boys were willing to go along with it. Before the boys could dash out of the kitchen though, Will reminded them, "And show the Knightley girls, and Lucy Wentworth, and Annie Fitzwilliam how to play, too."
"But...we really have to?" Bennet asked with a frown.
"It's only fair, Ben," Will reminded him.
Bennet dashed off first. When Nicholas moved to follow him, Will added, "Nick-I watched you get a spider away from Laura Knightley earlier today. That was kindly done, son."
Nicholas smiled. "Thanks, Dad."
"Daddy, I don't want to go take a nap," Elise spoke up.
"And here I thought naps were your favorite thing," Will teased his little girl quietly. "That doesn't sound fun? A nice, long nap..."
"Nu-uh. You and Mummy like naps," Elise said, hiding her yawn. "But I don't like naps."
"Mo chroŃ, I have to put the baby down, too," Elizabeth spoke up quietly. Their son had settled his cheek on her shoulder; he was nearly asleep in her arms. "We should go upstairs together. Georgiana, could you give our excuses to our guests? Will and I will be a little while..."
Georgiana nodded. "But-Will, what were you and Tye talking about for so long outside?"
Will had one hand occupied holding little Elise. With his free hand, he was holding the door open for his wife. "Georgiana, why don't you go ask him?"
"If Tye doesn't ask you first," Elizabeth added with a smile.
It was very easy for Will and Elizabeth to be calm about these sorts of things. They'd been married for ten whole years. They had four children. They could practically finish each other's sentences by this point.
And yet Will still looked at his wife with such fire in his dark eyes-Georgiana had seen it in the kitchen right before they'd gone upstairs to put their children down for a nap. There had been that familiar spark in his eyes as he held open the door for his wife. And Will could certainly enchant Elizabeth faster than any man on earth.
The trick, Georgiana knew, was finding a love that could sustain itself over time. A love that could change and mature as the couple did. It should have been exhilarating to know she'd already found that, and with one of the men at this very party. With Tye. Her oldest friend. Her one confidante. The one man she would trust with anything.
Except with the knowledge that she was desperately, completely, wholeheartedly and utterly in love with him. That she had been for a few years now.
Returning to the patio, Georgiana found herself searching for the sight of him once more.
She saw three of her Cambridge professors talking quietly with the former headmaster of Bardwell. Near the potted ferns was Mrs. Reynolds, speaking with a handful of other Pemberley staff that were close to the family. Mr. Reynolds was sharing a joke with Tighe Bennet. The two had planted themselves near the buffet table and chosen to stay there for the duration of the party. And then there were the children. Little Annie Fitzwilliam, a beauty with her father's bright blue eyes and her mothers glossy dark hair, was debating about something with the Wentworths' equally stunning oldest boy, Adrian Wentworth. As for the other children, they'd settled on the patio's edge, busily playing the card game Will had suggested. Half the boys looked terrified of lovely Lucy Wentworth and the gorgeous, golden-haired Knightley girls, Bella and Laura. The other boys, Nicholas and Ben Darcy included, looked determined to impress them.
At last, she saw Tye again. Somehow he'd been roped into conversation with Elizabeth's four brothers.
"Much for fishing, Tye?" Seamus Bennet demanded.
"I, uh--" Fixed with Seamus's critical gaze, Tye managed to hold his own. "Can't say I've ever had the chance. No opportunity for fishing or sailing growing up at Mansfield Park."
"Your father owns a shipping company," Killian reminded him flatly.
Tye laughed. "Right. He's also largely unfamiliar with the word irony. But I'm willing to try most things once. Georgiana tells me how much she loves Ireland."
"We wish she could come visit more often," Liam remarked.
"Uncle Liam," Georgiana spoke up with a smile as she approached them, "you know I would love to. I just haven't had time."
The pilot, who was now a husband and father himself, offered Georgiana a playful smile. "You're done with your fancy degree. Seems your schedule just got wide open."
"For now," Georgiana agreed steadily, allowing her gaze to connect to Tye's. "I'm booked for a concert tour starting at the end of the summer."
"Where will your tour take you?" Magnus asked.
Tye remained silent. She could feel him looking her over as he took a slow sip of his drink. While the other men were enjoying Guinness, Tye was calmly drinking the same non-alcoholic punch the children enjoyed. Georgiana looked down at the drink in her own hand. She was twenty-three, now. She'd had alcohol before, and could have certainly chosen to enjoy a glass of wine this afternoon.
But she hadn't. She'd chosen the non-alcoholic punch, too. In deference to him.
"Sorry," she blinked, looked up at the deaf man. "Uncle Magnus, I didn't-what did you say?"
Ironic words for any deaf man. Grinning, Magnus chose to clarify in sign. Georgie and Will might never have the complete fluency in sign that Elizabeth possessed, but after ten years, Magnus was confident enough in Georgie's abilities to know she'd understand him. He signed, I asked which cities your concert tour would take you to. I'd also ask why your attention keeps wandering, but I think I already know the answer. If it helps any, the lad here is as taken by the sight of you as you are with him.
"Uncle Magnus--" Georgiana blushed.
"Magnus is right," Liam interjected. "I've noticed it, too."
Tye, noticing the exchange, offered Georgiana a wry smile to Georgiana. "I, uh-feel like I've missed a step here. Mind explaining the joke?"
"Oh, they're just-teasing me," Georgiana assured him quickly. "Only--Tye, maybe we should....go somewhere and talk?"
They abandoned their drinks on one of the nearby tables, and went to the gardens. It was a lovely afternoon, cool for late June, and with a soft breeze in the air. The pair walked until they were far enough from the party that the sounds of laughter and conversation faded. And then they began to talk.
"Your brother has a great spot of land here," Tye said.
"Yes," Georgiana agreed with a smile. "Pemberley was always beautiful. But Will and Elizabeth have really turned it into something special. And the children love living here. Everything Will and Elizabeth have faced---with Lizzie's health, and Will raising me...I'm so happy they've had so much joy these past ten years."
"Will wasn't the only one who faced a loss," Tye reminded her. "You've suffered too, Georgie."
"Yes," Georgiana agreed, settling on a bench at the edge of the garden. "But there are many types of families. Mine just looks a little different. Will and Elizabeth, and Andie and Richard, they all did a wonderful job raising me. And the Bennet family considers me one of their own..."
"I noticed," Tye admitted, seating himself beside her. "I got the third degree from the Bennet men."
"I was afraid of that," she said with a wince, reaching for his hand. "What did they ask you?"
"What didn't they ask?" Tye said with a laugh. "I practically had to hand over my passport. Between that and your brother--"
"I noticed Will talking to you. What did he have to say?"
He looked down, where their hands joined together. "Your brother's a decent guy. He did nothing less than what I would do for my sisters." Tye cleared his throat. "He asked me how I felt about you."
Suddenly, her heart was thudding in her chest.
This was what she wanted, wasn't it? To talk, freely and openly?
If she could manage the task herself. Margaret Dashwood would make a game of it. She would \ dance around the issue until she forced Tye to say whatever was in his heart.
Georgiana was not Margaret. All she could do was be herself.
Ask him how he feels, she reminded herself. Will had advised that. So had Elizabeth. Actually doing it, though, was terrifying...
"And--" Georgiana hesitated, "what did you tell him?"
"I said that you and I have been friends for a long time. That we've always been honest with each other." Tye hesitated. "I said that you trust me. And that when you're around me, the most important thing to me is honoring that trust. It's important for me that your family believes I have your best interest at heart. I never want to hurt you, Georgiana."
"You never have," she insisted.
He took her other hand. "You've just finished Cambridge. You're twenty-three. You have a long and successful career ahead of you. I'm twenty-nine, Georgie, and I live in Paris."
"Paris isn't so far away," she reminded him quickly. "I'll be there this autumn myself, remember? I'm scheduled for a handful of concerts there. And you and I--we're only six years apart. That's practically the same age Will and Elizabeth were when they--"
A spark of curiosity warmed his dark eyes. "When they what, Georgiana?"
"When they fell in love," she admitted softly.
There. She'd managed to say the word 'love' out loud. Finally. Perhaps she was braver than she thought.
"Tye, I've been in love with you since---since I was twenty-years-old. That's three whole years."
"Very funny," he said with a chuckle. When he realized she was serious, amusement quickly morphed to genuine surprise. "But-really? Georgie, you were too young for me then."
"I didn't care. I couldn't help it. And you were only twenty-six, remember? You came to Cambridge for a weekend, as a guest lecturer. You were scheduled to conduct the Cambridge symphony orchestra. I'd been chosen by the musical faculty to be your accompanist. Downpour was the title of the piece."
"I remember it," Tye said with a frown. Quietly, he traced her long, elegant fingers with his own. "But Georgie, I barely saw you that weekend. That trip was work. Business. At which point during my stay could you possibly have decided that you--"
"During rehearsal," she said plainly. "You showed up looking impossibly handsome---like no lecturer any of my peers had ever seen. One rehearsal, and suddenly every girl in Cambridge's music program was sighing over you. You wore jeans, and trainers, and looking like the coolest headboy imaginable."
Was he actually blushing? He was blushing. She'd never seen Tye blush before.
"Georgie--" he said with a laugh. "I was still so young. My only focus was getting the students to listen to me at all."
"Well, you needn't have worried. They were all hanging on your every word. And at one point, one of the cello players was having a terrible time with the overture. You probably don't remember this."
"I don't," he admitted.
"Anyway, you sat beside her and quietly explained the bowing that was needed for the beginning of the piece. You even showed her how to do it. You weren't like so many conductors---impatient or belittling, or out to prove anything. You were gentle with her, and you were kind and patient. When she looked up at you, I could just see this adoration in her eyes. And you smiled back at her, and instead of feeling proud of you, I felt this--" she hesitated, choking out the words, "this overwhelming jealousy. It was absolutely awful. I wanted you to smile at me the way you smiled at her. Even though I knew you were my friend, even though you and I were set to go to lunch after rehearsal, I was still jealous. I wanted you to look at me like that so badly that I even considered messing up on purpose, just to get your attention. I'd never intentionally misplayed anything in my whole life. It was childish and--"
"I would have been annoyed if you had," he said frankly.
"Yes, well that was when it hit me--why I was jealous of the way the girls whispered about you and swooned over you. I had a massive crush on you, Tye. I didn't know it was love, of course, but I knew it was---something. I could never look at you the same way after that."
Tye was still blushing. "I didn't suspect it."
She shrugged. "I thought you weren't interested. That you never would be. I went on to date other boys at Cambridge, of course, but none of those relationships lasted. Jim Thorpe even accused me of being in love with you. And he was right. It was a terrible thing, feeling like I'd cheated on Jim with someone I'd never even kissed. And even though I was dreading the day when you'd announce that you'd fallen in love with some beautiful Parisian, I was so grateful for the time I did have with you. Your letters, and your phone calls, and your messages. Your friendship. And I thought if I could just hold on to that happiness, than I would be okay. However it all ended up."
For awhile he said nothing. It was the first time she'd ever seen him hesitant to speak his mind. Tye Bertram, the young Peter Pan who could make compositions that left grown theorists speechless. The grown man whose mere presence could intimidate the finest players in any orchestra across the world.
"Georgiana," he said slowly, "I've told you part of my conversation with your brother, but I haven't told you all of it. He's protective of you, and he has the right to be. Because you deserve--"
He swallowed, struggling through the words. He'd never struggled to say anything the way he struggled to say this. The simple truth. Even years ago, hospitalized with that punctured lung, it had felt easier for him to speak than it felt now.
Georgiana's soft, sandy brown eyes were pleading with him. "Please tell me, Tye. I feel like I've waited so long for this. Right now I'd take-just about anything."
"I'd give you anything--" Tye rasped. "Anything at all, Georgie. It took me a long time to figure that out. You were so young for so long---you were a sister to me. It was as simple as that. Even after you entered Cambridge as a student, I still thought of you as---as someone I needed to watch out for. I understood Will's protectiveness for you, because I wanted to protect you. From teachers who might take advantage of you. From guys who would try to break your heart. It wasn't until a few months ago, when I met you and your family for dinner, that I recognized-" He breathed in, a slow, pained breath. "That I realized how I felt for you. I was meeting you for dinner, and then returning to Paris the next morning, remember? I had a huge premiere coming up at the Palais Garnier in Paris. Which meant all these thoughts were running through my head about the piece when I arrived at the restaurant. I was distracted. I kept wondering how I was going to manage two hours of conversation with your brother, when I could barely think of anything at all but music. And then you arrived."
She remembered that night. She'd driven down from Cambridge to meet Lizzie and Will for dinner at Ciao Claretta's. Her brother had arranged a babysitter for the evening. As Tye was coming as well, she'd done everything she could to wow him that night. She'd pinned her curls up, and slipped on a new dress--a gold evening dress that showed off her figure and gave her skin a warm glow. Margaret had teased that every man she met that night would be staring at her.
She hadn't thought her plan had succeeded.
"You barely looked at me that night," she reminded him. "You talked with Lizzie most of the evening. Even Will got more eye contact with you than I did--"
"Georgiana, I barely looked at you that night because-because suddenly I couldn't ignore the fact that you'd grown into the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life. And you were my oldest friend. You trusted me. But it was more than your dress, that evening. You were talking about all your ideas on music theory, and your plans for the future, and your thoughts on politics, and much of that we'd discussed before, but---I realized...I realized I'd traveled all the way from Paris on the eve of one of the biggest nights of my career for you. That I cared more about your plans and your thoughts and your ideas than I cared about my premiere. I realized that I didn't want to leave you to return to Paris. I didn't know what to do-especially with your brother and sister-in-law for company. Do you understand?"
She shook her head. She didn't understand. But she wanted to. She wanted it so desperately...
"I'd spent all afternoon wondering how I was going to manage talking about anything but music," Tye continued. "Then I spent the whole of our dinner wondering how I was going to manage focusing on music at all. I should have told you how I felt sooner."
"Yes," she agreed gently. "But I could have been more honest, too. I shouldn't have tried to trick you into noticing me that night with the dress..."
He actually laughed. "Believe me, Georgiana, there was no trick about it. Once I realized that I loved you, I couldn't not think about the fact that I--"
"Tye," she interjected. "You love me?" Somehow, fingers intertwined, they'd drawn closer to one another as the conversation progressed. He was, in fact, so close to her now that she could even see the curl of his lashes.
"Georgiana..." Tye said, "I think the better question is, after all this time, how could I not?"
"I think you know that I love you, too," Georgiana said quietly. "Could you kiss me, Tye?"
She watched a slow smile grace his face. Again, the question was-how could he not? He slipped his hands from hers. Carefully, he let his fingers graze her cheeks. It was a feather-light touch, as slow as her shaky breath. Gently, he tilted her face up. Softly, he let his lips touch hers.
Though neither knew it yet, by her 24th birthday in September, they would be engaged. By the New Year, Will and Elizabeth would be hosting the couple's wedding reception at Pemberley. By the next summer, Georgiana and Tye would be one of classical music's most famous duos.
But they would start here, with the warmth of a tender, loving kiss.