Excerpt: “The Melody Thief,” Chapter Two

August 24, 2012

Here’s Chapter Two of “The Melody Thief.”  It’s meant to be read back to back with the first chapter, and, oh what a contrast Cary Redding’s adult life is to his childhood!  This one is 18+ for sexual situations and language.

Don’t forget to stop over at my blog and comment to enter to win a t-shirt of your choice of the Blue Notes Series books covers and an ebook copy of the original novel in the series, “Blue Notes.”

Enjoy! -Shira

***************

Chapter Two: Best Laid Plans

Milan, Italy—Thirteen years later

“Oh fuck, yeah!” Cary shouted in English as he pushed back against the other man’s hips. The skinny Italian kid he’d picked up grunted and thrust harder, ratcheting up the pace, so Cary gripped the toilet to keep his balance. Sweat dripped down his neck. He never enjoyed kissing. He didn’t need it. He liked it like this: rough, fast, and anonymous.

Someone in the next stall laughed, but Cary didn’t give a shit. This was how it was supposed to be in a place like this, and someone else listening in only made it so much hotter. Here, he was just another nameless fuck, and that suited him just fine.

“That’s it. Oh God, yes!” he cried as the kid nailed his gland again. He stroked himself in rhythm with the young man’s thrusts, groaning as he came with a strangled gasp into his sweaty palm. The smell of come mingled with the faint scent of urine and toilet deodorizer. Years ago, the combination made him sick. Now, the seediness of it just made it more of a turn-on.

His partner grunted as he came hard, his body shuddering and his breaths coming in stutters. A minute later, the kid pulled out. Cary saw the used condom hit the water of the commode, and heard the sounds of a zipper and the latch being released on the stall door. He had already forgotten the kid’s face. It was better this way. He didn’t want anything but sex anyhow, and he didn’t want to be forced to make small talk. In Italian, no less.

He leaned against the grimy wall and wiped himself with the cheap toilet paper, then added it to the condom in the water and flushed it down. His stomach rumbled—a few more drinks and he wouldn’t remember he was hungry. He’d reheat something when he got back, or maybe he’d just sleep it off and grab something in the morning instead. It was usually better to nurse a hangover with an empty stomach. He knew from experience.

He walked back into the bar and sat at a table in the corner, making eye contact with the bartender. A minute or two later, he nursed a scotch and soda, his fourth that night, and leaned over to the man at the next table.

Sigaretta?” Cary asked.

The man grunted and handed him a cigarette, then lit it for Cary as they leaned toward each other to span the short gap between tables.

Cary hated cigarettes. He only smoked in bars, and only after sex. At least that was what he told himself. He preferred the unfiltered variety—it gave him a more immediate buzz. They were easier to find here than in the States.

His hand shook slightly as he brought the cigarette to his lips and inhaled the acrid smoke. It was better than the drugs, right? He’d tried those too, but he’d given them up because they interfered with his playing. He could always sleep off the booze and the nicotine.

One of the regulars walked through the entrance, and their eyes met. Silvio. Nice ass. Terrific bottom.

It was turning out to be a great night.

***************

At nearly three in the morning, Cary stumbled out onto the empty Milan side street. His ass was sore and his thigh muscles were tight. He liked it that way. He needed to feel it in his bones the next morning or he hadn’t gotten enough.

A light fog hung over the city, the fall air cool and damp. Cary shivered, his thin T-shirt little help against the chilly breeze. His housekeeper was right—curse Roberta, she was always right—he should have worn his leather jacket. He looked around for a cab, but there were none in sight. He’d walk over to the main avenue, via Padova, to catch one.

Fuck, he thought, tripping over the uneven pavement as he turned the corner onto another small street. He didn’t notice the two men huddled in the doorway of a darkened building until one of them grabbed him by the neck. He caught the glint of a knife in his peripheral vision. Fucking hell.

Soldi,” hissed one of the thugs, the one standing in front of him smoking the remainder of a joint.

“I don’t understand,” Cary said in English. It was a lie. He was fluent in Italian. “I’m American.”

“Money,” the man repeated, in English this time. “Give.”

“Don’t have any.” He didn’t pull his wallet out and hand it over. Maybe it was the aftereffects of the alcohol. Or maybe it was the rough sex and the feeling of empowerment that still lingered at his frayed edges. Either way, he wasn’t going to let these assholes push him around.

The man’s response came in the form of a knee to his gut. Cary doubled over, coughing and spluttering. Shit. Was that blood he tasted on his tongue?

“Money. Now.”

“You’re fucking insistent, aren’t you?” he blustered. The man behind him wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him upright once more, pressing hard on his Adam’s apple and making his vision swim with tiny specks of silver.

The man standing in front of him nodded. A hand reached into Cary’s jeans pocket, pulled out the soft calfskin wallet, and held it up to the light. “Expensive,” he told his partner in Italian.

“You come with us.” The other thug’s expression was one of triumphant glee. He pulled Cary’s ATM card out of the wallet and waved it in his face. “Bank.”

“No fucking way,” Cary shouted. He wrenched himself free of the headlock and backed toward the curb.

The lights of via Padova were visible a scant block away. If he could just make it there, he might be able to get help or maybe scare them off. He turned to run, but something hard hit him in the kidneys, and he fell to his knees. He struggled back to his feet.

Before he could defend himself, one of the thugs’ fists connected with his chin, and he staggered backward. He tried to maintain his balance but failed miserably. He hit the concrete hands first, and something in his left wrist snapped. He vomited up what little food was left in his stomach as a wave of intense pain washed over him.

“Asshole,” he spat.

“Get away from him,” someone warned in Italian. The voice came from nearby, but the pain in Cary’s gut was still so bad he couldn’t look up at the newcomer’s face. He heard what sounded like a scuffle, a groan, and then footsteps running down the pavement.

“Are you all right?”

He pushed the hand on his shoulder away without thinking. The world spun and the pain in his wrist shot up his arm. “Oh shit,” he groaned, clutching the wrist.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said, this time in lightly accented English. “You need help.” The voice was calm, reassuring. “You need a hospital.”

“No hospital,” Cary gasped and tried to stay alert. “Leave me alone.”

He got back to his feet, and the lights from the boulevard blurred at the edges. The last thing he remembered before he passed out was two strong arms as they caught him.

***************

Cary awoke in an unfamiliar bed to the sound of muffled voices speaking in Italian. “… found him off via Padova. No identification. The man who brought him says he’s an American.”

He forced his eyes open and saw the metal sides of the hospital bed, the IV hanging from the pole, the needle taped to his hand, and the light-yellow curtains at the sides of the bed. The place smelled of disinfectant.

The last time he’d been in a hospital was when he’d watched his mother wither and die, her body wracked with pain from the chemo and radiation. He remembered his own guilt as he had sat by her bed, helpless to do anything. It had been the final insult, a coda, as it were, to their tumultuous relationship. He had never done anything right by her.

He reached for his right earlobe, jostling the IV, but not caring. The small diamond stud in his ear was still there, thank God. It had been a gift from his brother on his twenty-first birthday and was the only piece of jewelry he wore.

As he was getting his bearings, the shadows in the room shifted. No, not shadows—a man, seated in the corner. “How are you feeling?” he asked in English as he stood up and walked over to the bed.

Cary studied the newcomer through a haze of painkillers. Italian, judging by his accent, although his appearance was not classically Italian: blond hair, blue eyes, about the same height as Cary, early thirties, and hot as hell. Not that a man like that would ever look twice at Cary. Guys like him never did, and who could blame them?

“Do I know you?” Cary’s voice was hoarse, and his mouth felt full of cotton.

The man looked back at him with a mixture of concern and humor. “You could say we’ve met.”

“You… you’re the man from the street.” Cary recognized the voice. “How long have I been here?”

“A day,” the Italian answered. “Perhaps I must introduce myself,” he added. “I am Antonio Bianchi.”

Cary hesitated. “Connor Taylor.”

It was the name he used in the clubs. Or at least it had been since his agent had bailed him out of jail when a not-so-rainbow-friendly gendarme had caught him quite literally with his pants down outside a shithole of a Paris bar.

What you do with your life off the concert stage isn’t my business, Georges Duhamel had told him after he’d bailed Cary out, but you must at least use another name. I won’t have you toss your career in the toilet.

When all was said and done (and after he’d had a fake New York State driver’s license made under the name “Connor L. Taylor”), Cary enjoyed being Connor. Nobody gave a shit if Connor liked to fuck men in the restrooms or alleyways behind rundown bars. Why would anyone care? After a few years, Connor had become Cary’s excuse for the late nights and anonymous fucks—when he wasn’t practicing or performing, Cary Redding was Connor Taylor.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Antonio said.

“Thanks. For last night, I mean.”

His wrist ached, throbbing to a dull beat like an insistent drum. His head felt like it was filled with jagged rocks. He looked down and saw the cast on his left arm. He vaguely remembered falling. Right, he had tried to catch himself before he hit the pavement.

Oh God.

“My wrist.” He spoke the words aloud and his voice cracked. He tried to move his fingers, but the pain was so bad he gasped. A broken wrist meant he couldn’t play. Without his cello, he was nothing. His stomach clenched and his eyes burned. In an effort to master his emotions, he turned away and bit his cheek.

“The doctor says your wrist will be fine,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s distress.

This can’t be real. I’m going to wake up and….

“I need to get out of here.” The hospital room was suddenly too small. Panicked, Cary tried to sit up, but Antonio put a firm hand on his shoulder.

“The doctor… he says you may leave when you are ready, but you have this—” He struggled to find the word. “—commozione cerebrale,” he finally said. He pointed to his head. “You know, from falling?”

“A concussion?” It explained the killer headache. Cary lay back in the bed. He felt overwhelmed, defeated. He lifted his hand to his face, and the IV line caught on the edge of the bed.

“Sí. A concussion,” Antonio said as he freed the line for Cary. “He says you must not be alone tonight. Is there somewhere I can take you? A person who can look by you, then?”

There was no one. No family or close friends. He had no one, really, except his housekeeper, Roberta.

“If you wish, you may stay with me.”

Cary realized Antonio had guessed, correctly, that Cary had no one to stay with him.

You shouldn’t be surprised. You look like street trash.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He knew he looked like one of the hustlers he sometimes paid for sex, and he wondered what kind of man would willingly take someone like that in, knowing nothing about them.

But then again, it’s not like someone with a broken wrist and a concussion would be a danger to a big guy like him.

He considered the offer for a moment. It wasn’t as if he had anything to fear from Antonio, either. The guy had taken him to the hospital, after all. The offer was far more tempting—no, make that Antonio was far more tempting—than asking his housekeeper to play nurse and mother.

He looked away from Antonio. He hoped it would come across as though he were thinking things through, but the truth was that the realization that he was entirely alone hit him harder than he’d expected. He’d never been weak. He’d been on his own for years. He hadn’t needed anybody’s help. And yet now, he felt vulnerable. He hated feeling vulnerable.

He took a slow breath, doing his best to hide his emotional turmoil. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he said, trying to sound casual, confident.

“Not at all, Signor Taylor. It would be my pleasure.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” Antonio said. Then, as if realizing why Cary might hesitate to accept the invitation of a complete stranger, he added, “But if you are not confortevole—ah, what is it?—comfortable with this, I think you can stay here longer. I will not be insulted.”

Was it any different to go home with a stranger for a night of fucking? Guys who come charging in on white horses don’t usually rape you the next day.

He closed his eyes and saw his mother’s face. She had predicted this. You won’t be happy living that way, Cary, she said when he came out to her. It’s not natural. It’s a sexual… perversion. It’s sinful. An addiction.

He had defended himself. I’m not a pervert, Mom. This is me. This is what I am.

How can you say that, Cary Taylor Redding? How can you risk everything we’ve worked so hard for?

Funny, how he’d starting cruising the bars to show her he didn’t give a shit about what she thought. But he’d come to crave the sex, booze, and smokes. They satisfied a hunger his music could not. She hadn’t wanted to listen, and in the end he’d just proved her right. He had lost the only thing that really mattered to him: his music.

It’s not forever. It’ll heal. The thought did little to allay his fear, and he moaned softly.

“Are you all right?” That voice again. Right. Antonio.

“Sorry,” Cary said, embarrassed. “I guess I’m still a little sleepy.”

“It’s okay. I will ask about getting you to leave this place and perhaps something for the pain. You must rest now.”

“Thank you.” Cary watched as Antonio pulled the covers back over him and walked out of the room. His white knight.

And you’re about as far from a princess as they come.

***************

A few hours later, having spoken with the doctor, Cary was released from the hospital with a bottle of painkillers and instructions to come back in six weeks to have the cast removed and begin physical therapy. While Antonio went to retrieve his car, Cary quickly provided the hospital staff with his home address. He was grateful the police had taken him to a public hospital—there was no bill to speak of for emergency patients. He wasn’t sure how he’d have felt if Antonio had insisted on paying for his stay.

Cary said little as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor. The painkillers had begun to wear off, and he was feeling anxious, tense.

“This broken wrist,” Antonio said, perhaps sensing Cary’s dark mood, “it will make it difficult for your work, no?”

“You could say that.” Impossible, really. He pushed the thought from his mind. He would get through this. He reminded himself again that the doctor had said his wrist would be fine in a few months.

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m between jobs now.” The truth, although not the entire truth. It was late October, and his next gig was in Rome in four weeks. He had also been scheduled to teach a series of master classes in early December.

It could have been worse, he reminded himself as he climbed into Antonio’s car a few minutes later. A hell of a lot worse.

So why was his gut tense? He tried to focus on something else. It wasn’t that difficult. Antonio’s broad shoulders were an easy distraction.

***************

Antonio’s apartment was nearly as big as Cary’s own. The high-ceilinged rooms were tastefully decorated in an eclectic mixture of modern Italian furniture and antiques. Photographs of smiling children and adults adorned the tabletops and bookshelves. From the abundance of blue eyes and blond hair, Cary guessed these were Antonio’s family.

“You look tired,” Antonio said as he shut the door behind them. “Perhaps I make dinner while you sleep?”

“Thanks.” Cary caught a glimpse of a large bed through a doorway to their right. He rubbed his arm above his broken wrist without thinking and winced. The dull ache had now become an angry throb.

“May I get you some pills? For your arm?” Antonio held up the doggie bag of chemicals the hospital had sent home with Cary.

“That would be great.”

“Perhaps you like to use the telephone while I get it for you?”

Cary stared blankly at Antonio.

“You know,” Antonio continued, “if there is a person who might… ah—” He struggled to find the word. “—worry for you?”

“No,” Cary answered as understanding came. “I’m fine. There’s nobody.”

Worry about me? Other than a geezer of an agent and a brother halfway around the world?

Justin would care. In fact, he would worry a lot. They were brothers, after all. But Cary didn’t want to bother him and his family. And Georges, Cary’s agent, would have a cow when he learned Cary had broken his wrist, but only because he’d need to cancel a few months of gigs while it healed. Yeah, he’d have to tell the idiot at some point, but why rush it?

He thought briefly of Roberta. She’s your housekeeper. What does she care if you stay away for a few nights? It’s not like you haven’t before. But he knew he was lying to himself. Roberta was far more than an employee. He’d call her after he’d had a chance to rest. He’d tell her he was spending the night out so she wouldn’t worry.

Something akin to compassion or maybe pity flashed through Antonio’s eyes, but he said only, “Please. Use the bed. I will bring you the medicine.”

Cary was almost asleep when Antonio came back into the room with a glass of water and a few pills. “This will help with pain,” he told Cary. “I will arouse you when dinner is ready.”

“Mmm,” Cary murmured, repressing a grin in response to Antonio’s faulty turn of phrase. It wasn’t all that difficult to control himself, since he was damn near asleep already and his wrist hurt like hell. Still, the thought made for some very sweet dreams.

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