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.
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?
“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.
“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.
August 24, 2012
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One of “The Melody Thief.” A quick look back at Cary Reddings childhood (not a very happy one, either). When I wrote this scene, I imagined a young Cary, back to me, facing the audience, all alone on the stage. Lonely. Awkward. Feeling unloved and undeserving of the audience’s applause.
First, the blurb:
Cary Redding is a walking contradiction. On the surface he’s a renowned cellist, sought after by conductors the world over. Underneath, he’s a troubled man flirting with addictions to alcohol and anonymous sex. The reason for the discord? Cary knows he’s a liar, a cheat. He’s the melody thief.
Cary manages his double life just fine until he gets mugged on a deserted Milan street. Things look grim until handsome lawyer Antonio Bianchi steps in and saves his life. When Antonio offers something foreign to Cary—romance—Cary doesn’t know what to do. But then things get even more complicated. For one thing, Antonio has a six-year-old son. For another, Cary has to confess about his alter ego and hope Antonio forgives him.
Just when Cary thinks he’s figured it all out, past and present collide and he is forced to choose between the family he wanted as a boy and the one he has come to love as a man.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change….
—“Serenity Prayer,” Reinhold Niebuhr
Chapter One: The Melody Thief
He screwed up his face, trying to ignore the bright lights at the edge of the stage, which burned his eyes and left multicolored imprints on his retinas. Cary Redding was barely fifteen years old, but he sat straight-backed, schooling his expression to reveal only calm resolve. Unlike some of the well-known performers he had watched on video, he did not move his body in time to the music, nor did he bend and sway. The cello became a physical extension of his body, and he had no need to move anything more than his fingers on the fingerboard and his bow over the strings.
When he played, he was transported to a place where it didn’t matter that his face had begun to break out or that he seemed to grow out of his shoes every other month. When he played, he forgot his fear that he was different—that he was far more interested in Jerry Gabriel than in Jerry’s sister Martha. When he played, he felt the kind of warmth he had horsing around with his brother in the backyard, chasing after a football.
For the past three years, he had studied the Elgar Cello Concerto, a soulful, intensely passionate composition, and one he adored. His cello teacher had explained that it had been composed at the end of World War I, and the music reflected the composer’s grief and disillusionment. At the time, Cary hadn’t been really sure what that meant, but he felt the music deep within his soul, in a place he hid from everyone. In that music, he could express what he could not express any other way, and somehow nobody ever seemed to understand that although the music was Elgar’s, the sadness and the melancholy were his own.
At times he was terrified the audience would discover his secret: that he was unworthy of the music. But then his fingers would follow their well-worn path across the fingerboard, and his bow would move of its own accord. The music would rise and fall and engulf him entirely, and the audience would be on their feet to acknowledge the gangly, awkward teenager who had just moved them to tears.
Tonight was no exception. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center was packed with pillars of the community come to hear the young soloist The Chicago Sun-Times had proclaimed “one of the brightest new talents in classical music.” Cries of “bravo” punctuated the applause, and a shy little girl in a white dress with white tights and white shoes climbed the steps to the stage with her mother’s encouragement and handed him a single red rose.
He stood with his cello at his side and bowed as he had been taught not long after he learned to walk. The accompanist bowed as well, smiling at him with the same awed expression he had seen from pianists and conductors alike.
In that moment, he felt like a thief. A liar. The worst kind of cheat.
“Young man,” the woman in the red cocktail dress with the double strand of pearls said as she laid her hand on his shoulder, “you are truly a wonder. You must come back soon and play for us again.”
He knew how to respond; he’d been taught this, as well. “Thank you, ma’am.” His voice cracked, as it had on and off for the past six months. His face burned. He was embarrassed he could not control this as well as he could his performance.
“He’s booked through the next year,” his mother told the woman, “but if there’s an opening, we’ll be sure to let you know.” She would find an opening, no doubt, even if it meant sacrificing his one free weekend at home. His mother never passed up a chance to promote his career.
Back in the green room, his mother looked on as he wiped down the fingerboard of his instrument and gently replaced it in its fiberglass case, then carefully secured his bow in the lid. He’d barely looked at his mother since they’d left the small crowd of well-wishers who had gathered in the wings. He didn’t need to see her face to know she was displeased. He didn’t really want to know what he’d done wrong this time, so he started to hum a melody from a Mozart sonata he’d been studying. Humming helped take his mind off his guilt at letting her down again.
“You rushed through the pizzicato in the last movement,” she said. “We’ve been over that section so many times, Cary Taylor Redding. You let your mind wander again.”
He tried not to cringe; she only used his full name when she was very disappointed in him. “I’m sorry.” His voice cracked again, and he inwardly winced. He didn’t have to fight back the tears anymore. He’d stopped crying years ago.
“We’ll just have to practice it some more.”
He’d also long since stopped asking her why she always said “we” would practice something when he was the one doing the practicing. The one and only time he had pressed the issue, she had responded with a look of long-suffering patience. For days after, the guilt had pierced his gut and roiled around inside until he had apologized for several days running.
“Hurry up now,” she told him. “We have a long drive back home.”
“Did Justin call?” he asked with a hopeful expression.
“Why would your brother call?”
“He said he’d let me know if his team won tonight.” He pulled on his thick winter jacket, grabbed the handle of the cello case, and dragged it across the floor on its roller-skate wheels.
“He can tell you all about it tomorrow.”
He fell asleep in the front seat of the minivan as they headed back to Missouri. He did not dream, or at least, he didn’t remember what he had dreamed about. He never did.
August 24, 2012
Happy Friday and welcome to my celebration of release day for my new Blue Notes Series novel, “The Melody Thief!” I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the second book in the series in print at last, especially with the gorgeous cover by Catt Ford and that wicked little grin on Cary Redding’s face. I’m running several giveaways on my blogthis weekend, so stop by and comment to be entered to win.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Blue Notes Series, each book is a standalone novel that takes place in the same classical music universe. What does a “classical music” universe look like? It’s a place where performers share connections and friendships through their music. Characters include performers, entertainment lawyers, agents, and the people they know and love. Stories are often set in places where performers congregate—large cities like Paris, New York, Milan, and Chicago feature prominently in the series.
The original book in the series, “Blue Notes,” features a jazz violinist and a former musician turned lawyer, and is set in Paris. This new installment, “The Melody Thief,” features a classical cellist with an international career and an entertainment lawyer, and is set in Milan.
“The Melody Thief” is the story of cellist Cary Redding, a former child prodigy and a budding superstar on the classical music scene. Cary’s career is skyrocketing, but his personal life is a disaster. He’s addicted to anonymous sex and flirts with alcohol addiction. Everything comes crashing down around Cary when he’s mugged on a deserted Milan street while coming home from a gay bar. Things look grim until he’s rescued by Antonio Bianchi, an Italian lawyer (for those of you who have read “Blue Notes,” you’ll recognize Antonio as Rosalie’s lawyer).
Cary doesn’t want a relationship, although he’d be happy to end up in bed with Antonio. Things get complicated because Cary lies about who he is and pretends to be an out of work composer. The last thing Cary expects is to fall for Antonio. There’s also another complication: Antonio has a five year old son, Massimo. But when Antonio adds a little romance to Cary’s life, Cary falls hard. Now if he could only come clean about who and what he is.
I hope you’ll enjoy “The Melody Thief!” Be sure to stop by my blog today at www.shiraanthony.com for a few contests. Comment to be entered to win an ebook copy of the original “Blue Notes” or a “Blue Notes” t-shirt (your choice of covers). And join me here throughout the day for excerpts from the story. -Shira
December 30, 2011
Here’s a sneak preview of the next in the “Blue Notes” series of books, “The Melody Thief.”
Blurb: Cary Taylor Redding, former child prodigy and international cello soloist, has a problem: he’s falling for sexy Italian lawyer, Antonio Bianchi. Which wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, really, except that Cary’s been lying about who he is since he met Antonio. If he comes clean, he figures he has no chance of sleeping with the man, let alone a relationship. But then again, he isn’t really looking for a relationship, is he?
Excerpt from Chapter Two:
Cary awoke in an unfamiliar bed with the muffled sound of voices at the periphery of his consciousness. “…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 and where it was taped onto his hand, the light yellow curtains at the sides of the bed, and the white plaster cast on his left arm.
Fuck. His wrist ached, throbbing to a dull beat like an insistent drum. His head felt like it was filled with jagged rocks.
The last time he had been in a hospital was when he had 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 never had been able to do anything right by her.
As his vision cleared, 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 other man through a haze of pain killers. Italian, judging by his accent. Blond hair, blue eyes, a few inches taller than he, a few years older, too, perhaps in his mid-thirties, and hot as hell.
“Do I know you?” he asked in a tentative voice.
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 said. “How long have I been here?” he asked.
“A day,” the Italian answered. “Perhaps I must introduce myself,” he added, as if realizing that he was being rude. “I am Antonio Bianchi.”
“C…,” Cary hesitated, then finished, “Connor Taylor.”
It was the name that he used in the clubs. Or at least it had been, after 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 posted bond, “but you must at least use another name. I won’t have you toss your career in the poubelle.”
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 had decided that he enjoyed being “Connor.” Unlike Cary, 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 his excuse for the late nights and anonymous fucks—when he wasn’t practicing or performing, Cary was Connor.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Antonio said, after a slight hesitation.
“Thanks,” Cary replied. “For last night, I mean.”
The broad-shouldered Italian nodded in reply. “The doctor,” Antonio said, “he says that you may leave when you are ready, but that you have this”—he struggled to find the word—“commozione cerebrale,” he finally said in Italian. He pointed to his head. “You know, from falling?”
“A concussion?” It explained the killer headache.
“Si. A concussion. He says you must not be alone for one or two days. Is there somewhere I can take you? A person who can look by you, then?”
Cary hesitated. He supposed he could ask Rowena to stay with him.
“If you wish, you may stay with me,” Antonio offered.
Cary realized with some surprise that the Italian had guessed—albeit incorrectly—that he had nowhere to go. You shouldn’t be surprised. You look like street trash. He repressed a smirk at the thought that he looked a bit like one of the street hustlers he sometimes paid for sex. He wondered what kind of man would willingly take in someone like that, 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 was far more tempting—no, make that Antonio was far more tempting—than returning to his apartment and asking his housekeeper to play nurse and mother. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he answered.
“Not at all, Signore Taylor. It would be my pleasure,” Antonio responded.
An hour later, having spoken with the doctor, Cary was released from the hospital with a bottle of pain killers, anti-inflammatories, and instructions to come back in six weeks to have the cast removed and begin physical therapy, if needed.
Cary’s face was tense as they rode the elevator down to the ground floor. “This broken wrist,” Antonio said, sensing Cary’s dark mood, “it will make it difficult for your work, no?”
“You could say that.”
“What kind of work do you do?” the Italian asked.
“I’m between jobs now,” he replied. The truth, although not the entire truth. His next gig was in Rome in four weeks, and he had been scheduled to teach a series of master classes in Toulouse, France, in early December.
Antonio’s apartment was nearly as big as his own. The high-ceilinged rooms were tastefully decorated in an eclectic mixture of modern Italian furniture and antiques. Pictures of smiling children and adults adorned the tabletops and bookshelves. From the abundance of blue eyes and blond hair in those photographs, Cary guessed these were Antonio’s family.
“You look tired,” the Italian said as he shut the door behind them. “Perhaps I make dinner while you sleep?”
“Thanks,” Cary answered as he 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?” He 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?” Antonio suggested. Cary stared blankly at the other man. “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, of course. They were brothers, after all. But why bother him and his family? And Georges—the guy’d have a cow when he learned that 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 Rowena. She’s your employee. What does she care if you stay away for a few nights? It’s not like you haven’t before.
Something akin to compassion—pity, perhaps?—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 lecherous grin in response to the Italian’s faulty turn of phrase. It wasn’t all that difficult, really, since he was damn near asleep already and his wrist hurt like hell.
December 30, 2011
Here’s another excerpt to whet your appetite- this time from Chapter Two of ”Blue Notes.”
Note: Pre-publication excerpt, may differ from final publication
BACK at the apartment several hours later, Jason sat on the chaise portion of the sleek, Italian sectional (another of Rosalie’s sophisticated touches) and checked his e-mail, while Jules prepared dinner in the kitchen. Jules had insisted on cooking, and Jason—knowing that the kid saw this as a way to thank him for his generosity—had obliged. They had stopped at a small supermarket on the way back, where Jason had let Jules select the ingredients for their meal. Now, as the smell of butter and shallots wafted from the kitchen to the living room, Jason pondered whether he should ask Jules to spend the night again.
It’s already getting late, he told himself as he gazed out onto the dark street. Tomorrow, I’ll send him on his way. As soon as he made the decision, he felt better: in control again, as he preferred to be.
DINNER was delicious and quite simple: chicken breasts in a delicate cream sauce, pureed vegetables, a leafy salad with Jules’s homemade vinaigrette and, of course, the obligatory bread and cheese to follow. For his part, Jason had purchased several bottles of wine, choosing the white Pouilly-Fumé with its dry, smoky flavor to pair with the chicken. John Coltrane’s classic jazz album, Blue Train, played softly in the background. But for the fact that his companion was a man, Jason was reminded of the intimate dinners he and Diane had shared when they had first dated. They talked about less personal things this time—of how Coltrane’s style had changed after he’d quit drugs, of trends in jazz and classical music, and of the difference between French and American cuisines. Jules surprised Jason with his understanding of each subject and his wit. There was no mistaking that Jules had lived on the rough streets of the Paris suburbs, but it was just as clear that Jules had transcended his difficult surroundings.
Over coffee, Jules asked Jason about the recent negotiations in the US Congress over the budget, easily comparing the American system of governance to the French parliamentary system. They discussed the latest French political sex scandal, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and its implications for the US military, and the financial crisis in the European Union. During, and even after the dinner, Jules did not flirt with Jason, although Jason found it difficult to separate Jules’s outgoing personality with some of his more flamboyant behavior. Agreeing with little comment that Jules would spend one more night in the guest bedroom, the two men cleared the table, Jason insisting on doing the dishes over Jules’s vocal protests.
The dishes done, they returned to the living room, and Jason settled back onto the couch. Jules pulled out his neon violin case and asked, “Mind if I play a little?”
“You kidding?” Jason replied. “I’d love to hear you play.”
Jules grinned and clicked open the fiberglass case, pulling his bow out first, tightening and rosining the hairs, then picking up the violin and planting it beneath his chin. He closed his eyes to tune the instrument and opened them again to ask, “What should I play for you?”
Jason had not been expecting the question. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I guess something that you love to play.”
“D’accord,” replied Jules, his mismatched eyes glittering in anticipation. “Bach. Sonata no. 2 in A Minor.”
The choice surprised Jason, but he said nothing, instead propping a pillow behind his head and leaning further back against the sofa. Jules took a deep breath and closed his eyes once more, gently laying bow to string and beginning the opening phrases with their insistent, rhythmic repetition sounding below the melodic line. The simplicity of the piece was both stunning and heart wrenching. Each phrase built upon the next, rising in intensity and in pitch. It reminded Jason of a prayer, powerful in its stark beauty, and he heard Jules’s soul poured out into every note. And then it was over, and Jason was left sitting in silence, staring at Jules as he had in the club, transfixed.
“Well? What did you think?” asked Jules.
The words woke Jason from his reverie. “That was… beautiful, Jules.” There were tears in his eyes, and yet he could not put into words why the music had so stirred his heart. In that moment, he saw the boy in a different light—no, “boy” definitely was not the right word—the look in Jules’s eyes was anything but childlike.
What are you thinking, Greene? he asked himself. You’re letting this get away from you.
Jules rested the violin and bow on the case and sat down next to Jason. He hesitated for a moment, watching the older man with uncomfortable intensity, then reached for Jason and brushed a single tear from his cheek. For Jason, the touch was electric, and his physical response unexpected.
“Bach always touches my soul,” Jules half whispered. His fingers still rested against Jason’s cheek. “He must have known great love, and great pain, to write something so powerful.”
Jason realized that his own pain must be showing on his face, because Jules, too, looked sad.
“I’ve never been religious,” Jules said, his eyes never leaving Jason’s, “but I played this piece in a tiny church once. It was like God was there with me, speaking through me.”
When Jason remained silent, Jules leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. At a loss to explain the intense emotional and sexual response of his own body and equally unable to stop himself, Jason reached for Jules and returned the kiss. The younger man’s lips tasted of wine and musk, and Jason realized that he was hungry for more.
What are you doing? With this thought, he pulled abruptly away from Jules, stared at him for a moment, then frowned and stood up. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt dizzy. You’re straight, remember?
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his throat dry. “I shouldn’t have… I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”
“Of course,” Jules said, appearing to be just as stunned by their brief embrace as Jason was.
IT TOOK Jason nearly an hour to fall asleep, and even then, his sleep was restless. He could not fathom his reaction to Jules’s music, at first telling himself (as he had before) that his response could be blamed on alcohol and jet lag. And yet he knew that he was only denying the truth: he was attracted to the younger man. In that moment, he had wanted Jules. He had wanted to feel Jules’s body against his own. He had wanted all of him.
It’s not as if you’ve never considered what it might be like with a man.
The vague memory of Robbie Jansen’s blue eyes, the feel of the other boy’s chest under his fingers, a high school party and the drunken hand job afterward in a friend’s basement came to mind. It had felt damn good, but then it hadn’t happened again, either. It had just been easier to be with women—they had always been plentiful and eager. Still, he couldn’t help but recall the feel of his lips on Jules’s and the scent of his skin.
Damn, he smelled good.
At last his mind slipped into sleep, succumbing to his body’s deep exhaustion.
December 30, 2011
So, if you haven’t figured it out already, “Blue Notes” is about music and musicians, among other things. While I was writing the book, I listened to a lot of different music, mostly classical. There are three pieces that formed the basic soundtrack for the book:
1) Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, no. 2. The American protagonist in the story, Jason, is a former classical pianist whose favorite piece of music is the Brahms. It’s a totally romantic, angsty piece which I can listen to a million times and still turns me to Jell-O! I can’t even count how many times I listened to it while writing the book (until my husband and kids finally told me to stop!).
2) Sibelius Violin Concerto This concerto is the first piece that appears in “Symphony,” one of the other books in the Blue Notes series (co-authored with my buddy, Venona Keyes). And, good lord, that first movement is SOOOO romantic!
3) Tenor/Baritone duet from Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers”: This is the “theme” for “Aria,” a WIP and another music-themed novel (about an opera singer), and is sung by the two male leads in the opera, who are best friends and rivals for the same woman’s love (talk about the closest thing to M/M sex in opera!) Bromance at its best! They should just have ditched the girl and walked off into the sunset together…
All the links are to recordings you can listen to for free. And don’t forget that you can win enter a download of my favorite Brahms recording from Amazon by leaving a message on the blog. Enjoy! -Shira
December 30, 2011
“Blue Notes” is a love story about musicians Jason Greene and Jules Bardon, and the first in a series of music themed romances with interconnected characters (spinoffs). Most of the stories involve classical music, and “Blue Notes” is no exception. So what’s so sexy about classical music? For some people, maybe this is a no-brainer, but for me, a former opera singer, it wasn’t such an easy concept – that classical music IS sexy. Strange, I know!
I grew up on classical music. Sure, my dad listened to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin in the Sixties and Seventies. But the heart of our home, the soundtrack (because there always one) was classical: Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and, later, when my mother switched from playing piano to harpsichord, Bach, Scarlatti, and Rameau.
I studied music theory from about the time I could read. I began playing the violin when I was four or five years old. My younger sister followed with cello. My mother, whose perfect pitch I wished I had, would accompany us. We sang in the car on long trips from Ohio to New York. My dad, not to be left out in spite of his tin ear, would “sing” along. Out of tune. Every time. But even he would play classical music on his stereo, graduating from a turntable to CD’s, and later a Sony Digital Audio Tape Recorder and, finally, internet streaming. Years later, my dad still listens to music on his tablet, and my mother has a harpsichord in New York and France. She still performs.
And me? I hated it. Or at least, that’s what I told myself for years. Forget Bach. I wanted Elton John, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper. So what changed? I stopped thinking of classical music as “work” and started to listen to it for fun after I stopped singing professionally. And then my friend and fellow Dreamspinner author, Venona Keyes, suggested we co-author a story about a violinist and a conductor. I pulled out recordings of the violin music I remembered playing through in high school, starting with the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and I was hooked.
“Blue Notes” features one particular piano work prominently, Brahms’s Intermezzo, Opus 118, no. 2. It’s in your face romantic, brooding, and an absolutely perfect representation of Jason Greene, the American lawyer. Strong, but with a deep emotional connection he doesn’t show others often. Sexy, understated. Just like the Brahms. Want to hear what I mean? Take a listen to Nikolai Lugansky playing the piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iF4Rn2b4T8&feature=related
Would you like to win an mp3 download of my favorite recording of the piece and the other intermezzos? Leave a comment on DSP’s blog, on Goodreads, or on my blog, and you’re automatically entered to win “My Favorite Brahms,” by Van Cliburn, from Amazon.com. One winner will be drawn on January 31st. -Shira
December 30, 2011
Here’s an excerpt – Chapter One in its entirety. Pre-publication, of course – the final version may differ slightly. Enjoy!
HE LEANED back against the headrest and watched the clouds beneath the wing of the airplane. Used to traveling business class, with all six foot three of him now wedged into the narrow coach seat, he cursed every aeronautical engineer who had ever suggested refitting wide-bodied jets to accommodate more passengers.
He eyed the center section of the cabin with longing, regretting that he had chosen a window seat. College students, clearly with more foresight than he, were already stretched out over three or four seats to sleep during the long flight from Philadelphia to Paris. In the final analysis, however (and, exceptional lawyer that he was, he always analyzed), he knew it was his fault alone that he should suffer the indignities of traveling like an eighteen-year-old again; it was his last minute, foolhardy decision that had landed him here.
What the hell were you thinking?
The thought had run like an endless loop through his exhausted mind for the past three hours. He knew the answer, of course: he hadn’t thought at all, he had just reacted. He’d done a lot of that lately.
A female flight attendant—blonde, attractive, and in her midthirties—stopped at his row with a stack of plastic cups and a pitcher of water. “Something to drink?” she offered, her voice a sensual undertone. No doubt she appreciated the lone, well-dressed man amidst the myriad students wired to iPods, iPads, and other devices.
He had come to dismiss such attention; he had long engendered this kind of response from women. With his wavy auburn hair, strong jaw, and bright green eyes, he was, as his grandmother often reminded him, “Quite a catch.” Add to that a salary well into the six-figure range and his job as an equity partner in a large Philadelphia law firm, and Jason Greene was a man any mother would die to have her daughter bring home. Except that he hadn’t quite managed to keep the one woman he had fallen in love with happy.
“Yes—some water, please,” he replied, offering the flight attendant the same pleasant, reassuring smile that he had offered his clients for the past ten years. The same smile that he had offered Diane upon his return home to their high-rise apartment each night, having missed dinner yet again. The smile was far more effective with the flight attendant.
She handed him a cup of water. “Business or pleasure?” she asked, mistaking his politeness for something more like interest. (He wasn’t interested—he’d had enough of women to last him a lifetime, he reminded himself.)
“Neither,” he answered, foreclosing any further discussion. She responded with a slight chuckle, then moved on to the next row back.
He closed his eyes and pressed the button to recline his seat. It only moved about an inch. He looked around. He hadn’t noticed that his seat was right in front of an exit row. Figures, he thought with a snort and a shake of the head. Resigned to his fate, he grabbed the extra pillow off the empty seat next to his and pushed up the armrest to give himself more room. Pulling the slippery blue polyester blanket over himself, he shifted on an angle to tuck his long legs under the aisle seat in front of him. It was not comfortable, but it would do.
He looked out the window once more. It was dark now, and here, above the clouds, he could see stars. He closed his eyes and rearranged the pillows so that his head rested against the cool bulkhead. A few minutes later, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep with the drone of the engines in his ears.
ONLY a day before, he had been dressed in a charcoal-gray Armani suit with a yellow striped Brooks Brothers tie, looking out a wall of windows at the thickening gray clouds over the city of Philadelphia. The forecast was for snow. Again.
“You want what?” Scott Reston, the managing partner of Halwell, Richardson & Dailey, leaned back in his chair and gaped at Jason as though he were an alien.
“I’m taking a leave of absence,” Jason repeated calmly. “Starting tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” The other man’s voice resonated with shock. “Jason, I know you’re pissed that Diane—”
“I’ve worked my ass off for this firm, Scott,” he countered before the other man could complete his sentence, all the while maintaining his calm resolve. In spite of his control, his jaw tightened. “I’ve been pulling in enough billables to more than cover a few months off.”
“Months?” The word came in a half-strangled gasp. “You want months? Look, Jaz, if you need help, I can put the new kid—what’s his name, Sanderson?—on some of your cases.”
“It’s not about the caseload. I haven’t taken time off in years, except the trip with Diane to her sister’s wedding. I need—”
“Then take a few weeks,” Scott interrupted, hoping this settled the matter. “Go somewhere warm. You can use our apartment in Cancun, if you want. Maybe you can pick up some cute Mexican babe while you’re—”
“Two months, Scott,” Jason insisted as he lapsed into his commanding courtroom voice without a second thought. “The other partners won’t question it if you’re on board. Hell, if you want, I’ll take a smaller draw this year.” One of the paperweights on Scott’s desk vibrated with the resonant baritone.
“Hell, Jaz Man. It’s me, remember? The guy you pulled all-nighters with in law school? That lawyer shit won’t work here. And since when do you let a bitch like Diane—”
“Drop it,” Jason responded, his tone colder than the icicles that hung on the eaves outside of the building. “This wasn’t her fault.”
“The fuck! She cheated on you.”
“I said, drop it. Whatever she did, she had her reasons.”
Reason one: too many hours spent at the office. Reason two: too few hours spent at home. Both my fault.
“Jaz Man….” Scott groaned, leaning back in his chair with the same party-boy look that Jason remembered from law school. “Jaz, you’re killing me. I’m up to my neck in depos in the Alvarez case, and TransAllied just sent me a class-action complaint in a race case out of Cleveland. You’re the only one licensed up there.”
“Nothing’ll happen in the next two months on the Cleveland case, and you know it,” he shot back. “I’ll remove it to federal court, and one of your new hires can start on a motion for summary judgment and getting documents together for discovery. And if the judge wants a local guy in on the scheduling conference, you can call my buddy Phil Lane up there to handle it. He owes me one.”
Scott’s frown deepened. “I can’t convince you that you’re a crazy asshole, can I, Jaz Man?”
“Unlikely,” he replied with a self-deprecating laugh. “You’ve had more than ten years to try.” He took a deep breath, allowing his shoulders to relax a bit and softening his expression. “Look, Scotty… I need this. It’ll only be for two months. I promise I’ll come back and make it up to you. Just two months.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Scott acknowledged after a pause. He exhaled, sounding a bit like a pipe releasing steam. “Fine. You got it. I’ll take the heat from the big guns. With all the money you’ve been pulling in for the past few years, they’ll squawk a little, but they’ll be more worried about losing you for good.”
“Thanks,” Jason answered, turning to leave.
“So, where’re you going? Backpacking in South America? Some desert island in the Caribbean?” Scott asked. “Buddhist retreat in Tibet?”
“Paris,” Jason responded, stopping at the door with his fingers curled around the handle.
“Paris in January?”
“Cold as hell, I hear.”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
THE plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport on time in a misting rain. Pulling his small suitcase behind him and heading for the line of taxis, Jason laughed to himself—it was considerably warmer here than in Philly. It had snowed in this part of France a few weeks before, but nothing remained of the drifts that had paralyzed the region.
A taxi pulled to the curb, and the driver got out, putting Jason’s bag in the trunk. “À 146 rue d’Assas,” he told the driver in unaccented French.
“Oui, monsieur,” came the curt response.
He leaned forward, elbow on one knee, and watched the dull procession of warehouses that stretched between the airport and the city. It didn’t look all that much different than the outskirts of Philly except for the tiny cars and road signs in French announcing various autoroutes. It wasn’t until he saw the white stone basilica of Sacré- Cœur perched high atop Montmartre that he relaxed back into the seat.
It’s been too long.
The rain picked up as the taxi turned the corner onto rue d’Assas, affording a quick view of the grand fountain at the end of the Jardins du Luxembourg with its immense horses. The park looked gray, lifeless. He handed the driver a fifty euro bill, pulled up the door code on his smartphone, and entered it into the silver keypad, then walked into the tiled vestibule when the wooden door clicked open. Rummaging briefly in his pockets, he pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the door to the courtyard, his suitcase clattering across the uneven flagstones toward yet another doorway. Tiny vines of delicate yellow flowers climbed the side of the building in spite of the cold. In spring, the entire courtyard would be full of colorful blooms tended by the building’s various residents.
The second door opened without a key, and he walked a few more feet to an apartment door painted a bright shade of blue, almost turquoise. He tapped the automatic lights, illuminating the corridor, and plunged his key into the lock. The apartment was cold—colder even than outside. It had been unoccupied for months, and the frigid air from the courtyard leaked in through the ancient windows.
He left his suitcase by the front door and flipped a switch to light the entryway. A burst of color on the dining room table caught his eye as he turned up the thermostat. Rosie, he thought with a smile. She must have asked the building superintendent to set the flowers there for him.
The edges of his mouth turned up as he inhaled the sweet scent of the bouquet. Freesia and irises. There was an envelope propped against the vase, with a typewritten message inside:
Looks like I’ll be in Milan until late March. Call me on my cell when you get in. I’ll take the TGV up for a weekend when you’re ready for visitors. I’ve had Rémy stock the fridge for a few days. The place is yours for as long as you need it. Remember to relax!
Three years older than he, Rosalie had purchased the Paris apartment years ago, having done quite well in her work as a fashion designer. Jason had stayed here once, more than ten years before, in between law school and his first job as an attorney.
She’s right—you need to relax. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? he thought as he showered a short time later. But he knew that this trip was about more than just needing time off to relax. He was running—running from everything that was wrong with his life: the long hours, the loving relationship that had slipped through his hands, the pain of betrayal, and the desire to do something with his life other than earn more money than he could ever find the time to spend. Toweling off a few minutes later, he clicked the remote on Rosalie’s sound system. Fifties jazz filled the apartment and, for the first time in weeks, he smiled.
For a half an hour he lay on the couch, just letting the music wash over him. At last, drawing inspiration from the music, he threw on a pair of jeans and a warm sweater, shoved his wallet and phone into his pocket, and grabbed his jacket and umbrella. With thoughts of a long walk, something to eat, and perhaps even listening to some live music later on, he was out the door minutes later, damp hair and all.
“OY! HENRI!” the dark-haired young man shouted over the din of clattering dishes. “You said you’d get your drums set up before you started working.”
Henri, blond hair flopping into his eyes and up to his arms in soapsuds, shouted back, “You can do it for a change, you lazy ass! You want to get me fired, Jules? If I lose my job, you lose a place to sleep, remember?”
Jules Bardon scowled, walking over to the sinks and planting himself behind the lanky blond. “And whose fault is it that you’re so late getting to work? You spent the night with Pascal again, didn’t you?”
“Is that a problem?” Henri retorted without looking up from his task. “Maybe you’re just jealous. Since you dumped”—he paused for effect—“what’s his name…?”
“Philippe,” Jules supplied.
“Right. Since you dumped Philippe, you haven’t gotten any.”
“Philippe was a shit,” Jules countered, only half joking.
“I’m sure I could convince Pascal to let you join us, if you’d like,” Henri added, smirking. A soap bubble rose from the sink and Jules flicked an angry finger by his friend’s face to pop it.
“Not interested,” said Jules. “But if you’re going to spend the whole night fucking, the least you could do is set an alarm. What the hell do I know about putting together a drum set?”
“You’ve watched me do it a hundred times,” the other young man shot back, laughing and plunking several plates down on the side of the sink. Tiny rivers of water ran from the counter down to the drain. More bubbles floated up toward the ceiling. The place reeked of grease, cigarette smoke, and soap.
“Maurice doesn’t let us play here very often,” Jules retorted, half tempted to throttle his roommate. “You have to take this seriously. You never know who might be listening.”
Henri turned and put a soapy hand on Jules’s shoulder, ignoring the look of irritation on the other man’s face. “Dreamer,” he said. Then, biting his cheek, he added, “Fine. I’ll set up my drums if you finish the dishes.”
“You got gloves somewhere?”
“Gloves?” Henri held up his bare hands and smirked. His fingers were puckered and white.
“If I do the dishes, my calluses will—” protested Jules.
“You’re a fucking prima donna, Jules,” Henri grumbled. He shrugged, turned back to the sink, and laughed again. “It’s all right. There are gloves on the shelf to your left.” He looked over his shoulder and winked.
Jules shook his head, reaching for the gloves. He snapped the rubber menacingly at Henri before giving him a shove in the direction of the nightclub’s stage, just beyond the kitchen.
THE night sky had begun to clear as Jason left the small café where he had eaten dinner, and he wandered up toward Île de la Cité, hoping to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower. Crossing the Seine at ten o’clock, he watched as the tower was illuminated in a shower of sparkles. His sister had told him that the Parisians had so enjoyed the lighting for the millennium that they had insisted the special effects continue for the foreseeable future. Leaning against the wall that ran along the river’s edge, Jason sat back and thought of nothing but the lights, ignoring the damp chill of the evening.
When the light show ended, he headed back down boulevard Saint-Michel in search of some of the jazz clubs that he had discovered in this area years ago, hidden amongst the tiny streets.
He had nowhere to go, nobody waiting for him, no deadlines to meet. He could sleep later. A few drinks and some good music would help him sleep a lot better too. With a roguish grin he walked onward, cold hands shoved into his pockets.
Why the hell not?
He spotted a club as he turned the corner—a small, grayish-looking dive with a purple neon sign above the entrance, nestled between a bakery and a store that sold Japanese manga. Inhaling the fragrance of baking bread from the boulangerie, he walked over to peer inside. He couldn’t see anything, but the sounds of modern jazz wafted onto the street. He glanced up and read the sign: “Le Loup-Garou.” The Werewolf.
A fitting name for a hole like this, he thought with a chuckle. And just the kind of place where you’d expect to hear great music.
JULES glanced over at Henri and their pianist, David. David grinned and nodded, caressing the keys of the upright piano, his touch so delicate that Jules could hear the man breathe with each phrase. David complained that the instrument was out of tune and a “piece of shit,” but the sound he managed to coax from it was astonishingly sweet. Henri’s mellow brush strokes over the surface of the snare drum joined the soft piano, much like the sound of the rain on the city streets—understated, yet insistent. Sexy.
Jules gripped the neck of his violin, placing the instrument under his chin and against the rough patch of skin there, much like the mark of a lover. He drew his bow above the strings, allowing it to hover there for an instant before lightly catching the D string. The sound of the violin flickered like a candle flame blown by an unseen breeze, then grew and melded with the muted piano, sultry and inviting. Jules closed his eyes, letting the sound wash over him, responding to the slow harmonic progression on the piano weaving the ghostly melody.
IN A dim alcove only a dozen feet or so from the musicians, Jason sat nursing his drink, transported by the sound of the violin. It wasn’t jazz in the purest of forms—it was more of a hybrid, combining the traditional jazz rhythms of the fifties with a modern, yet classical approach. But whatever you might call the music, he found it transcendent. In between pieces, Jason glanced around the room to discover the group’s name, but found no mention of it anywhere.
The set ended, and the club erupted in applause. The musicians nodded, their manner casual, aloof, even a bit embarrassed. The violinist’s eyes met Jason’s and, for a brief instant, lingered there. Jason’s mouth parted slightly, his cheeks flushed. Breaking their eye contact to look down at his empty glass, he told himself that the heat in his cheeks was from the alcohol and the lack of sleep. He motioned to the lone waiter for a refill. When he turned back toward the stage, he found himself sitting face to face with the violinist.
“May I join you?” the violinist asked, a coy grin on his delicate lips. Jason figured that he might be nineteen, tops. As his companion brushed a stray lock of shoulder-length black hair from his eyes, Jason realized that he had one brown eye and one green. He was a waif of a kid, barely taller than Jason’s own sister. His face was uniquely French, from the slightly pronounced nose to the sharper edge of his jaw, and his body swam in a large pair of jeans that hung low on his hips, exposing blue plaid boxers. On top, he wore a body-hugging black T-shirt with the word “Quoi?” splashed across the front in bright red.
“Be my guest,” Jason replied in French, still unsure of what to think about the boy.
“Seems as though you’ve already invited yourself.”
“You’re French Canadian?” the newcomer inquired, grin widening.
“American,” came the gruff answer. Jason noted the homemade tattoo on the boy’s right forearm.
“Really? Your French is excellent,” the young man replied.
“Your music’s good,” Jason countered playfully. “What’s your trio called?”
“Dunno. We haven’t named it yet—we just don’t play that much. Wouldn’t have played tonight, except the group Maurice had booked canceled, and he couldn’t find a replacement. My roommate’s the dishwasher here.” He gestured at the drummer, who was watching them with interest from the edge of the small stage. “So, do you live in Paris?” he added after a moment’s pause.
The waiter deposited two drinks on the table and winked at the violinist.
“My name’s Jules,” the boy said. “Jules Bardon.”
“Enchanté.” Jules took Jason’s hand across the table. The gesture was far too friendly. Flirtatious. Jason pulled his hand away and raised an eyebrow. Jules was unfazed. “Here on business?”
Jules laughed—a soft, almost girlish laugh. “Do I make you uncomfortable?” he asked, his eyes fixed on Jason’s.
“No,” lied Jason, finding the boy’s gaze a bit too intense.
“I could make this a pleasure visit for you,” Jules said as he absentmindedly traced a long finger across his own lips.
“I don’t bat for that team,” Jason said, borrowing the American expression wholesale as his high school French failed him at last. It was not the first time that he had spoken the words, although it was the first time he had spoken them in French. They were also not entirely true; it was simply that the right opportunity had never presented itself.
The dark-haired young man looked at him for a moment, uncomprehending, then laughed again.
“What’s so funny?” Jason demanded, noting a hint of licorice on the air as his companion replaced his drink on the table.
“Oh,” he said, “I understand.” He laughed again. “Sorry. I’ve just never heard it put that way before. At first I thought you were asking me about baseball.” He took a swig of his drink and shrugged. “Too bad. You looked like you could use a good—”
“I have to go,” Jules sighed, disappointed. “Time for the next set. It was nice to meet you, Jason.” He tripped over the name, and it came out sounding something like “Jah-sohn.” Jason chuckled in spite of himself, reminded of the various ways in which his name had been mangled by French speakers through the years.
Jules sucked down the rest of his drink in one swallow and stood up. “If you change your mind…,” he began, but the blond-haired drummer grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back toward the stage.
Not likely, kid, Jason thought, chuckling again. He had enough shit to deal with.
IT WAS nearly two in the morning when Jason left the club—a full twenty-four hours since he had really slept well. The rain had begun to fall again, this time in torrents. In spite of the downpour, Jason decided against taking the Métro. He liked the rain; it helped clear his mind.
He headed down boulevard Saint-Germain toward boulevard Saint-Michel, past the darkened storefronts and the few cafés that were still open. He crossed a side street, glancing to his left to see the impressive Panthéon with its white stone surface still lit. In that moment, he realized that he had never taken the time to explore Paris as an adult—he had chosen instead to get wasted and hang out in clubs rather than do any serious sightseeing. No, most of his memories of the city were those from his childhood when his parents had dragged him and Rosalie around to all the museums and tourist destinations.
He reached the corner of Saint-Michel and waited for the light to turn. On the other side of Saint-Germain, he spotted a lone figure waiting at a bus stop. “Jules?” he called out as he stepped onto the other curb.
“Jason,” the boy replied, looking surprised but pleased nonetheless. Jason noticed that he was shouldering a neon-green violin case with a few peeling Rolling Stones stickers. He had no umbrella and no jacket, and was soaked to the skin, his dark hair plastered to his pale cheeks as he shivered. His lips were already slightly blue.
“I enjoyed the music,” was all Jason said. Damn, but the kid looks young. He reminded Jason of a street kid. How do you know he’s not?
“Thanks,” Jules mumbled as he wiped the rain from his cheeks.
“Missed your bus?”
“Yeah,” Jules answered. “There’s another in about an hour. They don’t run often this time of night.”
“You can spend the night at my apartment,” Jason heard himself offer. “I’ve got a place nearby.” He immediately regretted these words—what the hell was he doing, asking a kid who had been hitting on him just hours before to spend the night? But he was too tired to think straight, and the kid looked terrible. “In the guest bedroom,” he added quickly to clarify the sleeping arrangements.
Jules’s expression turned to one of astonishment. “I… I…,” he stammered. “Sure.” Then, “Hey, I thought you were visiting.”
“It’s a long story,” Jason replied, motioning Jules under his umbrella. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.”
“I’d like that, Jason.” Jules pushed the hair out of his face. Jason said nothing, but kept on walking. “Oh, and Jason?”
December 30, 2011
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the release day blog for “Blue Notes!” All day long, I’ll be taking names for three contests: 1) to win an ebook copy of the book, 2) to win an Amazon gift card for $10.00 to purchase your own music (or whatever), and 3) to win an mp3 download of “My Favorite Brahms,” a fabulous recording of Brahms piano music by Van Cliburn. All you need to do to enter is post on the DSP blog, on my own blog, or on my Goodreads blog. Winners will be chosen at random on January 31st from all of those entered. And if you would like a shot at winning a paperback copy of the book, there’s an ongoing contest on Goodreads you can sign up for (that one is only open to residents of the U.S.).
I’ll be posting excerpts throughout the day, and giving you an idea of what inspired the novel, as well as some of the background for the story. Since “Blue Notes” is the first in a series of interrelated (spinoff) novels with music themes, I’ll be posting a preview of the next novel in the series, “The Melody Thief.” And if you have questions or comments, please feel free to ask them – I’ll be checking in regularly.
So don’t forget to sign up for contests and check back from time to time! Until next time,
September 26, 2011
Thanks again for checking in throughout the day here on Dreamspinner Press’ blog! Before I sign off from the blogosphere, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about what I have in the pipeline.
Of course, a writer is full of stories waiting to be written, and there are plenty more in my head, some already completed, and others still works in progress. My next Dreamspinner publication, “Blue Notes,” is scheduled to be released sometime in December, 2011 or January, 2012. Unlike “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” “Blue Notes” is a modern romance set mainly in Paris and is loosely based on my own experiences growing up in France.
Here’s the blurb: Blame it on jet-lag. Jason Greene thought he had everything: a dream job as a partner in a large Philadelphia law firm, a beautiful fiancé, and more money than he could ever hope to spend. But when he finds his future wife in bed with another man, he’s forced to rethink his life and his choices. On a moment’s notice, he runs away to Paris, hoping to make peace with his life. But Jason’s leave of absence becomes a true journey of the heart when he meets Jules, a struggling jazz violinist with his own pain to shoulder. And when Jason wakes up in the young Frenchman’s arms, will he take a chance and follow his heart?
I’m also working on several other books with musical themes that are interrelated to the “Blue Notes” characters, including the story of a conductor and a violinist (working title, “Symphony”), as well as an opera singer and a lawyer (working title, “Aria”).
And I haven’t forgotten about “Dream,” either. I’ve just started work on a new story in the same universe (working title, “The Jinn and the Thief”) that features one of the secondary characters from “Dream,” Amir, and a twink of a half-human/half-Jinn named Rafiel, who causes a great deal of trouble for the Jinn (not to mention the powerful Amir!).
I look forward to sharing all of these with you in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” as much as I enjoyed writing it!