Love's Melody Lost
by Radclyffe

 

 

WARNING: The stories on this page are about the love between two women and may contain explicit love scenes. If you are not 21, or are offended by this type of love - do not go any further. By continuing you are consenting that you are of legal age to read further.

COPYRIGHT INFO: All stories are original works and are copyrighted by their respected authors. Please do not copy them, link to them or redistribute them without the author's permission.


 

Chapter One


 


Anna Reid drove with one hand holding a torn scrap of paper against the wheel. As she watched for road signs in the unfamiliar back roads of Cape Cod Bay, she tried to decipher her own scribbled writing. The early spring morning was unseasonably warm, and she had put the canvas top on the old Jeep down to enjoy the sun. The breeze that blew through her hair smelled of salt water, seaweed and ocean creatures. It was a welcome change from the heavy air and city smells she had grown used to over the years in Boston. As she followed the winding road that led ever closer to the sea, she mused over the strange turns her life had taken.

Somehow, much of the story seemed like someone elseís to her now. Looking back on the last ten years of her life, Anna felt as if she had been sleepwalking through her days. When just out of college, she had married a man who shared the same values as she and who seemed to have the same vision for the future. Anna had a degree in botany that she couldnít use, so she worked part-time in a florist shop to help defer the cost of law school for Rob. Eventually, they accumulated all the material trappings of a successful young couple of the eighties, including a renovated brownstone in a gentrified area of the back bay, a new BMW for Rob, and a Jeep for Anna. Anna had financial security, the correct circle of literate female friends, and an adequate, if not particularly exciting, love life.

Rob was content and Anna was bored. As Rob worked longer and longer hours to keep pace with the other young attorneys in his firm, Anna found herself with less and less to do. They had a maid twice a week and every modern convenience available. Neither of them had been eager for children, so Anna couldnít even mingle comfortably with the women of their social set who spent much of their time on the Commons with their strollers and their offspring. The frequent obligatory office socials became more of a burden than a diversion, and she and her husband grew steadily apart.

She couldnít fault Robóneither of them had really stopped to question the direction their life was taking, but had merely followed the conventional path expected of them. It wasnít until they had been married for nine years that Anna began to wonder what she was doing in a life that left her feeling empty. Finally, they admitted that their marriage was in trouble, and they tried counseling. They found, in fact, that over the years they had both changed, and their goals were now very different. Divorce seemed the only reasonable solution. They were both a little confused as to how this had occurred, but their parting was amicable and fair. Anna refused alimony, and Rob arranged an equitable distribution of their property and assets.

So, at thirty-two, Anna had a used Jeep, a third floor walk-up in the student enclave near Boston University, and a microwave oven she rarely used. She was nearing the end of her first year of graduate school in landscape design, and the proceeds from her divorce settlement were nearly exhausted. She needed to find work, and she wasnít certain how she could manage a full-time job and complete graduate school as well. She scoured the newspapers for a part-time position, but none seemed to suit her schedule or her skills. She was beginning to despair when she came across an ad in the classifieds that seemed possible. "Live-in house manager needed. Must do some clerical work and drive. Salary and schedule negotiable."

She called the number listed and arranged an interview. Oddly, the interview was conducted by a senior attorney in one of Bostonís most prestigious law firms. She discovered that the location was forty minutes outside of Boston and required little in the way of advanced secretarial skills. She had been assured she would have ample opportunity to arrange her duties around her class schedule. The job seemed perfect, and it was hers if she wanted it.

She accepted immediately, terminated her lease, and packed the essentials of her life. Everything fit comfortably in the rear of her Jeep. Now she was headed to Yardley Manor, officially in the employ of one Graham Yardley. Her employer, she had learned after insistent probing, was a former musician who lived in a secluded estate on the coast. David Norcross, the attorney who interviewed her, had been reluctant to provide much in the way of details, and Annaís curiosity had been piqued. Despite the mystery surrounding her destination, Anna was elated. She had a job, and her life was headed in a direction of her own choosing.

Anna eventually turned onto a tree-lined lane that led to a large old Victorian edifice. It stood alone on a bluff above the sea. The circular drive was cracked in places with clumps of vegetation attempting to displace the offending concrete. The house also showed signs of disrepair. Shutters hung askew, paint curled from the wood surfaces, and several windows on the upper stories were boarded over. She frowned at the overgrown formal gardens that clearly had not been tended in years. There was an air of sadness reflected in the decline of this once beautiful estate, and Anna felt herself immediately drawn to the place. It was as if it were a living presence in need of care. She pulled to a stop before the grand staircase which led to a wide verandah. She approached the pair of heavy ornate oak doors with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. She took a deep breath as she rang the bell.

Slowly, the doors creaked open and a small gray-haired woman peered up at her.

"Yes?" The woman inquired uncertainly.

"Iím Anna Reid. I was hired by Mr. Norcross as a housekeeper."

The little womanís face broke into a thousand tiny lines as she smiled and extended her hand. "I am Helen Green, and I, my dear, am the housekeeper! You are here to manage our household affairs, and I am so glad you have arrived!"

Anna grasped her hand automatically, her mind in turmoil. "But, Mr. Norcross indicatedó"

Helen pulled her inside, saying, "Iím sure that Mr. Norcross explained things as he knew them, but Graham is not very good at keeping the poor man informed. What we need, my dear, is someone to oversee the property as well as to manage Grahamís personal affairs. Graham will explain it all to you later. Come with me now! Let me show you to your rooms."

Anna hung back in confusion. What exactly was it she was supposed to do here? She had no experience in managing an estate, and from the brief glance she had had of Yardley Manor, it was definitely in need of managing! Still, she instinctively liked the spry elderly woman who hurried down the long hall to a wide central staircase, and the house captured her immediately. Even in its current state of neglect, it was magnificent. As she followed the housekeeper through the dark mahogany-paneled hall, she caught glimpses of the adjoining rooms through partially-opened doors. Thick imported carpets, brocade-covered sofas and ornate, carved tables graced the high-ceilinged rooms. Yardley Manor managed to project an air of elegance even in its present state.

"Perhaps I should speak with Mr. Yardley first," Anna suggested, as Helen stopped before a door on the second floor. "There might be a problem. Iím not sure Iím going to be suitable for the job."

Helen turned toward her with a strangely quiet, penetrating gaze. "Graham will meet with you at tea this afternoon. The two of you can straighten all of this out then. Now, come, my dear, and let me get you settled."

Anna realized that she had no choice but to wait. The room Helen led her into was bright and airy, and the wide windows captured her attention immediately. They faced the heart of the estate - two hundred yards of terraced gardens which gave way to a tangle of wild brush growing up to the edge of a rocky bluff. A tiered stone wall rimmed the edge of the cliff, which fell a hundred feet down into the pounding surf. Beyond that was only the blue of sky and water. The view was breathtaking.

Anna could just make out the garden paths, now narrowed and overrun by the steady encroachment of natural flora untended for years. Here and there stone benches were still visible under the trees, marking the spots which had once provided strollers a place to rest and enjoy the surrounding beauty. To the rear left was a wide flagstone terrace , ringed by a stone balustrade which supported dozens of climbing rose bushes, desperately in need of pruning and cultivation. Beyond that stretched the formal rose gardens, clearly the showpiece of the estate when they had been at their height. Now all she surveyed lay in ruins, a sad reminder of what had been, like a faded photograph of a time long gone. She was amazed to find her throat tighten around sudden tears - she was so moved by the decline of this once proud manor. It was such a waste, when all it needed was care. She shrugged her melancholy aside; she had her own life to worry about resurrecting. She turned back to the room she was hopefully going to inhabit.

"Oh!," Anna exclaimed, observing the room. She was delighted to see a high canopied bed, a lovely antique dresser and matching table. The interior of the house, clearly Helenís domain, had been lovingly maintained. The neglected state of the exterior and grounds was clearly not from lack of funds. From what she had seen so far, most of the furnishings appeared to be priceless estate pieces. She felt like she had stepped back in time, and the otherworldliness of her surroundings appealed to her. Her life was in transition; she herself was transforming into a person of her own choosing. It seemed fitting that her new life should begin in a place so different from her past.

"Itís all so beautiful!" she exclaimed, unable to hide her excitement.

"Isnít it though?" Helen looked up from where she was busily turning down the covers on the bed. "Iíve always loved the view from here. My rooms face that way, too. Iíve come to know the look of the sea in every season."

"Have you been here long?"

"Oh, goodness, yes. My family has been employed by the Yardleys for forty years. I wasnít yet twenty when my husband and I came. This was just the summer house then, of course. We spent most of our time at the Philadelphia home. Itís only sinceówell, Iíve been here for the last fourteen years."

"And Mr. Yardley lives here year round as well?"

Helen hesitated once again, then merely responded, "Yes."

Anna was eager for any information that would clarify the strange circumstances of her new job, but was reluctant to pry. The little housekeeper seemed just as reluctant to discuss the issue of Annaís employment.

"Whatís in here?" Anna called, pointing to a door opposite the large bed.

"Your sitting rooms and bath." Helen pushed the door open, revealing a large room with a stone fireplace. French doors led out to a balcony, and several comfortable chairs and tables formed a sitting area before the hearth. A modern bath adjoined the room.

"Itís wonderful!" Anna exclaimed. "I never expected anything like this!"

She tried to temper her enthusiasm, reminding herself she might not be staying. She realized how much she had been counting on this position, and how comfortable she already felt.

"Are your rooms like this?" she asked, trying to disguise her worry. What am I going to do if I have to leave?

"The very same," Helen exclaimed. "Now, Iíll leave you to get settled. Youíll have to bring your own bags up, though. Iím afraid thereís no butler! Tea will be at four in the library. Iíll come to take you down then."

"I really should wait to unpack until I speak with Mr. Yardley. I might not be staying."

"Posh," Helen replied, giving Anna a quick hug. "Of course youíll be staying!"

Anna hoped that Graham Yardley agreed.
 




Chapter Two

 


"Just make yourself comfortable in here, dear," Helen said as she showed Anna into a large room filled with floor to ceiling bookcases and fine leather furniture. Helen lit a fire in the huge stone fireplace. The evenings by the sea were cool despite the deceptive warmth of the waning afternoon sun. "Graham will join you soon."

When Helen left to prepare the tea, refusing all help from Anna, Anna examined her surroundings. An oil portrait above the fireplace caught her eye. Anna recognized the bluff below Yardley. A lone figure stood on an outcropping of stone, one arm draped over a bent knee, commanding the vista of sea and sky. Deep black hair, wild and windblown, framed chiseled features and piercing dark eyes. A flowing black great coat was open to expose a ruffled white shirt, tailored trousers, and black boots. A pair of black leather gloves, clasped loosely in one hand, completed the picture of the lord of the manor. It was an image from another time, brooding and untamed. Anna was surprised to see by the date that it was done only fifteen years before. Anna imagined this was Mr. Yardley, and he certainly appeared to be all that the master of such an estate should be. Aristocratic, handsome, and austere. She supposed she would soon discover that for herself.

Anna pulled a small footstool in front of one of the large chairs in the central seating area. She extended her legs toward the warmth and leaned back, watching the crackling fire, wondering if she wouldnít soon be headed back to Boston. She was nearly asleep when a deep voice behind her startled her from her reverie.

"Miss Reid?"

Anna turned, stifling a gasp of surprise as she found herself face to face with the figure in the portrait. Standing before her was one of the most striking women Anna had ever seen. Her portrait, however arresting, had not done her justice. She was quite tall, with thick black hair brushed back from an exquisitely sculpted face. Her eyes, perhaps her most compelling feature, were nearly black, as the artist had depicted, and contrasted sharply with her pale, luminescent complexion. The oils however had not conveyed the intensity of her gaze, nor the glacial severity of her bearing. Anna tried not to flinch at the scar which marred the handsome face, running from just below her hairline across the broad forehead to one elegantly arched brow.

Anna stared, completely at a loss as the woman approached. The dark-haired woman leaned slightly on an ornate walking stick, but despite a slight limp, she was imposing in finely tailored black trousers and an open-collared white silk shirt. A gold ring with some sort of crest adorned the long fingered hand that she held out to Anna.

"I am Graham Yardley," the woman stated simply. It was delivered in a tone that left no doubt as to whom was the master of Yardley Manor.

Anna rose quickly, grasping the outstretched had. She was instantly struck by the delicacy of the fingers that held hers briefly. She cleared her throat, which felt suddenly dry, and answered, "How do you do? Iím Anna Reid."

"Sit down, please," Graham said somewhat tersely, turning toward the chair facing Annaís. Anna, still a little stunned, was about to sit when she heard Helen at the door.

"Graham! Be careful!" Helen cried.

Even as Helen called a warning, Graham stumbled over the small footstool in her path and lost her balance. She reached out, struggling not to fall. Instinctively, Anna grasped her about the waist, surprised at the willowy strength in Grahamís reed-slender form. Anna steadied the taller woman against her, aware of the rapid pounding of Grahamís heart.

"Are you all right?" Anna cried in alarm. She could feel her shaking.

Graham pulled away sharply, her dark eyes furious, her body rigid with tension. She steadied herself, her hand nearly white as she clenched her walking stick.

"Helen! How did that footstool get there?" Graham demanded angrily.

"It was my fault. I moved it," Anna said quickly, alarmed more by her employerís physical distress than her anger. The woman was still trembling, though she was trying hard to hide it. "Iím sorry." She looked from Helen to Graham in confusion.

Graham drew a shaky breath, struggling for composure. Suddenly, with horrifying clarity, Anna realized that Graham Yardley was blind. That realization brought a flood of sympathy, and she said without thinking, "Oh God, Iím so sorry. I didnít know!"

"How could you know," Graham rejoined roughly, reaching behind her with one hand to find the armchair. She lowered herself slowly, her expression betraying none of her discomfiture. She would not be humiliated further by enduring empty condolences. "There is no need to dwell on it. Be seated."

Helen came quickly to her side, watching Graham with concern. She extended a hand as if to touch her, then quickly drew back. "Iíve put the tea in its usual place. Will you need anything else?"

"No. Leave us."

As Helen stepped away, Graham held up her hand, her voice softening. "Itís fine, Helen. You neednít worry. On second thought, could you bring us some sherry?"

As she spoke, Anna could see her host relax with effort against the cushions. Her face lost its edge as well, reflecting the sudden gentleness of her tone. Anna found her expressive features captivatingóas well as quite beautiful.

Helen smiled tenderly. "Iíll get it right away."

They sat in silence as Helen brought glasses and poured the sherry. She handed Anna a glass and left Grahamís on the small table near her right hand. The silence continued for a few moments after the housekeeper pulled the heavy library doors closed behind her. When Graham reached for the glass and raised it to her lips, her hand was steady again.

"Forgive me," she began in her deep mellifluous voice, "I havenít asked if your accommodations are suitable."

"The rooms are wonderful," Anna replied "The view of the sea is exquisite." Instantly she regretted her remark, but Graham merely nodded, a distant look on her face.

"I know. I always stayed in that room when I was a child."

Anna willed herself to be calm, and tasted the sherry. It felt warm and comforting as she swallowed. She couldnít stop staring at the woman across from her. Her mere physical presence was imposing - defined less by gender than by the pure elements of beauty and elegance, much as a classical sculpture is often androgynous at first glance. She was aristocratic, her every movement refined. She was scrupulously polite, and obviously used to being in charge. She was aloof, remote, unapproachable. She was more than a little intimidating!

"Did Mr. Norcross explain what your duties are to be?" Graham continued, unaware of Annaís discomfort.

"Not in detail. Iím afraid I may not be what youíre looking for. I have no experience managing a household."

"Really?" Graham remarked dryly, raising an eyebrow. "Mr. Norcross led me to believe that you had been married and now live independently. That sounds as if you have managed at least two."

Anna laughed. "Neither was much of a challenge. Can you tell me what it is that you require?"

Graham sighed slightly, turning toward the fire. In profile signs of fatigue lined her face, and Anna caught glimpses of gray streaking her dark hair. Anna guessed her to be ten years her senior, but despite her commanding tone and rigid control, Anna sensed a weariness that had nothing to do with the years.

"I needóassistanceówith handling correspondence, reviewing accounts, running the day-to-day affairs of the estate. Helen cannot handle all of this any longer, and Iócannot do it alone. I have never had anyone else do it, and I donít want Helen to think that Iíve lost confidence in her. It has simply become too much. You would also have to do some rather menial chores, Iím afraid. Helen no longer drives, and it is difficult getting deliveries out here." She stopped, making an impatient gesture with one graceful hand. "We need someone at Yardley, it seems, who can manage in the world beyond our gates."

Her tone was bitter, and Anna could only imagine how hard it must be for a woman of such obvious independence to admit she needed a stranger to assist her.

"Ms. Yardleyó" she began.

"Please, call me ĎGrahamí," Graham interrupted, "otherwise I will feel truly a relic." She smiled slightly, and Anna caught a fleeting glimpse of her haunting beauty. When she allowed her feelings expression, she was even more intriguing.

"GrahamóI am in something of a desperate situation myself. I want to continue in graduate school full-time. Without this job, I wonít be able to afford to do thatónot and keep a roof over my head, too. Iím afraid Iíll need some help, but I would like to try this very much." She meant every word, and her sincerity showed in her voice. She didnít add how drawn she was to Yardley the moment she saw it, or how right it felt to be here. She couldnít admit even to herself how much the woman before her captured her imagination, and her curiosity. She very much wanted to learn more of Yardley, and itís compelling master.

Graham ran a hand through her hair, leaving it tousled, and sighed again.

"It seems we are both in need of some assistance, then. Shall we agree to try it for a month or two?"

Anna smiled in relief. "Iíd like that very much."

Graham rose, crossing to the door with deliberate steps. "Iíll send for you when I need you. Good evening."

With that she was gone, her footsteps echoing in the quiet house. Anna glanced up at the portrait, wishing it could tell her who Graham Yardley was.
 




Chapter Three

 


Anna awoke very early the next day, as much from excitement as from the strangeness of a new house. It would take a little time to get used to the night noises of the old structure, the rhythmic pounding of the surf, and the absence of city traffic below her window. The quiet seclusion of Yardley Manor had truly transported her to a new world. After Helen retired to her rooms the previous evening, Anna stayed up reading in her sitting room. She must have dozed for it was quite late when she was startled awake by a noise outside in the hall. She listened intently for a few moments, thinking she heard footsteps pause before her door. But then there was only the gentle creak of the shutters in the wind. Smiling to herself, she got ready for bed. As she lay awake, waiting for sleep to come, she mused over her first meeting with her new employer. Rarely had anyone caught her attention quite so dramatically. Graham Yardley was impossible to describe in ordinary terms. Anna was quite sure she had never met anyone like her. As she drifted off to sleep, the image of the dark-haired aristocrat lingered in her mind.

Shaking herself to dispel the last vestiges of sleep, Anna pushed back the heavy comforter and reached for a tee shirt. She moved quickly across the chilly room to the window, anxious for her first glimpse of Yardley in the morning. Looking down across the lawns, she was surprised to see a figure at the edge of the bluff, facing out toward the ocean. She recognized instantly the tall, slender figure of Graham Yardley. As the sun rose, it struck her face, outlining her chiseled profile in stark relief against the sky. Standing so still, her hair windblown, one hand clasping the ebony walking stick, she appeared hauntingly alone.

As Graham began to make her way carefully up the steep slope to the house, Anna stepped back from the window. She didnít want her employer to see her watching. Almost instantaneously she remembered that Graham could not see her. The fact of Grahamís blindness saddened her deeply. She wondered why that should be, since she scarcely knew her. Perhaps it was the poorly concealed pain in her voice or the fierce pride beneath the tightly controlled surface. But more than that, Anna was moved by Grahamís apparent isolation from the world. To Anna, that was the greatest tragedy of all. Anna experienced life as a feast for all the senses. It was that love of life that drew her to the miracle of growing things and motivated her desire to design living spaces where people could exist in harmony with nature. The environment was the canvas of Annaís dreams. It troubled her unaccountably to think that Graham Yardley had withdrawn from that. Anna looked down into the ruins of the Yardley estate, imagining the beauty that once existed there, and she longed to know it as it had once beenóflowering with new growth, rich with the pageantry of life.

She turned to dress with a sigh, reminding herself that the reasons this solitary woman chose to live secluded here by the sea were no concern of hers. What did concern her was that she had work to do, although exactly what that work was to be, she wasnít quite certain she yet understood.

When she entered the kitchen, she found Helen busy baking. The clock over the large oven showed the time as 6:20.

"My goodness," Anna exclaimed, "what time did you get up?"

Helen smiled up at her as she placed biscuits on a tray to cool. "Five oíclock. I canít seem to sleep late, no matter what! Old habits die hard, I guess. When all of the family was about, Iíd have breakfast ready and the table in the dining room set by now. Mr. Yardley was a banker, and he always worked here after breakfast for a few hours before he left for town. He said he couldnít work without my breakfast. Thomas, that was my husband, was the general caretaker. He managed the grounds and oversaw most of the staff. Heís been gone almost twenty years. My son worked here too before he went off to college. Heís a doctor now. Lives in California. Even though everyone is gone, I still stick to my old routines." She pushed wisps of gray hair back from her face and straightened her apron. "How did you sleep?"

"Wonderfully," Anna said, eyeing the biscuits appreciatively. She realized she was starving.

Helen caught her look and laughed. "Have one. Iíll have the rest ready in a minute. I was just taking a tray to Graham."

"Oh, wonít she be joining us?" Anna asked, strangely disappointed.

"Sheís in the music room. She takes all her meals in there," Helen informed her, a fleeting expression of concern crossing her face. "Sheís been up for hours, I imagine. Iím not sure when she sleeps."

"How did she lose her sight?" Anna dared ask.

Undisguised pain crossed the older woman's features fleetingly. "A car accident." She looked as if she might say more, but then quickly busied herself at the stove again. Anna regarded her silently. Helen obviously cared for Graham a great deal. Anna wished there were some way to ask Helen more about her solitary employer, but she knew instinctively that Helen would never discuss anything of Grahamís personal life with her. It was clear that Helen guarded Graham's privacy as carefully as did the woman herself.

After a sumptuous meal of biscuits, eggs and country ham, Anna insisted on helping Helen straighten the kitchen. As they worked, she said, "Youíll have to give me some idea of how I can help, Helen. I want to be useful."

Helen nodded. "I know this all must seem strange for you. Graham told me that you were a student and would need time for your studies. Iíve made a list of things we need, but it shouldnít take too much time."

Anna laughed and said she was sure she could manage. She was touched that both Helen and Graham were concerned about her needs. While she had been married, Rob had acted as if it were a great inconvenience whenever she needed time for herself. She reminded herself that all that was in the past.

"Let me see the list."

**********

It was only 10 A.M. when Anna returned and began unloading the Jeep. It was a clear April morning, the air crisp and fresh. She felt wonderful and hummed as she climbed the steps to the kitchen. She called as she went, "Hello! Helen, Iím back!"

She was surprised when Graham pushed the door open. She was wearing an immaculately tailored pale broadcloth shirt tucked into loose-fitting gray gabardine trousers, somehow managing to look casual and elegant at the same time. Anna recognized the understated quality of her attire, the fit so perfect she must have all her clothing made for her. Despite her informal dress, Graham was the image of sophistication.

"Hello," Anna called softly, wondering why this woman made her feel so shy.

"Good morning," Graham replied, sliding the door back while Anna carried a bag of groceries to the counter. Graham stood listening for a moment, then to Annaís surprise said, "Let me help you."

Anna started to protest, and then stopped herself. She had gleaned from their brief meeting how critical Grahamís independence was to her. Any suggestion that maneuvering the steps with packages in her arms might be dangerous would certainly provoke that formidable temper. "Of course. My Jeep is parked just to the right of the steps. The tailgate is down."

Graham nodded and started down the stairs. Anna watched her, noting that her slight limp was hardly noticeable this morning. Graham moved cautiously but confidently forward, her left hand lightly trailing along the side of the vehicle. When she reached the rear, she looked upward at Anna, who was still standing on the porch.

"Since youíre here, why donít you hand me something to carry in?"

"Of course," Anna said, blushing as she realized she had been staring. Why did it seem like Graham knew that? She hurried to pull a box from the Jeep. She handed it to Graham, who cradled it against her chest. Anna didnít move until she saw Graham up the steps safely and through the door. Then she grabbed up the last of the bags and rushed inside. She found Graham emptying the box onto the long counter top. Now and then Graham would turn an object over and over in her hands, her long fingers exploring the shape. Anna was fascinated by the delicate movement and caught herself once again staring at her enigmatic employer.

"Olive oil," Anna said when Graham frowned over the bottle in her hands. "I think I buy that brand because I love the shape of the bottle."

Graham nodded, caressing the curves of glass, committing the shape to memory. "Sensuous, isnít it?" she remarked quietly, as if speaking aloud without realizing it.

Anna blushed for no reason she could understand. "I never thought of it that way, but youíre right."

Graham set the heavy bottle down abruptly and straightened her back, her face suddenly remote.

"When youíre done here, Iíd like you to join me in my study. Itís the last room on the right."

"Iíll be there in a minute," Anna replied as Graham quickly left the room. She sorted the rest of the parcels, then poured a cup of coffee from the pot Helen had left steeping on the stove. As she headed down the hall, she tried not to think about the fact that it wasnít the bottle she had found so sensuous, but the intimate way those graceful hands had held it.
 
 

Chapter Four


Her attention was immediately drawn to a magnificent grand piano that stood before double French doors. The doors were open to an enormous flagstone patio. It was the same terrace overlooking the long slope to the sea cliffs which Anna had first seen from her bedroom windows. Opposite the piano was another fireplace with a comfortable appearing sitting area. Grahamís breakfast tray lay on a small table before several large leather chairs. Graham sat at a large walnut desk, stacks of papers and envelopes piled before her. Sunlight streamed into the room, highlighting the angular planes of her face.

"What a lovely room," Anna exclaimed.

Graham raised her head, a slight smile softening her features. "Isnít it? Soon, the roses at the edge of the terrace will nearly obscure the view."

Anna glanced at her in surprise before remembering that Graham hadnít always been blind. "How sad," she thought, never to see the roses bloom again.

Perhaps it was the appreciation she heard in Grahamís voice, or the sight of the rose bed Graham alluded to nearly obliterated by wild growth, that prompted her to speak impulsively.

"You know," she began hesitantly, "the grounds are badly in need of attention. All the gardens are overgrown- many of the paths are nearly obliterated. They are literally choking to death. The house is suffering from weathering and could use repair, too."

Grahamís face was remote. "I hadnít realized. We havenít had a gardener here in years," she added absently, unwillingly remembering Yardley in another life. She forced her thoughts back to the present. "Perhaps you could look into it. Make any arrangements you think necessary."

Anna adopted her employerís formal tone, afraid that she had given offense. "I will, thank you. Iíll keep you informed, of course."

Graham waved her hand dismissively, her mind clearly elsewhere. "I thought we might go through some of this correspondence. Itís been neglected for months."

Anna took a seat beside the desk, availing herself of the opportunity to study her employer. Close to her now in the light of day, she could see the fine lines around her eyes, and the abundant gray streaking her coal black hair. The scar on her forehead scarcely detracted from the symmetrical arch of her full, dark brows, the high cheekbones or the strong chin. Her lips were soft and full, in striking contrast to the stark planes of her face. Her eyes were dark and clear, and although Anna knew them to be sightless, the gaze which fell upon her was penetrating nevertheless.

"Why donít we begin with these," Graham said, indicating a stack of unopened envelopes by her left hand. "If you could read them to me, Iíll tell you which ones need a reply. Thereís a tape recorder there for you to make notes."

For the next hour they sorted mail into piles, some to be discarded, some to be forwarded to Grahamís attorney, and some that needed Grahamís personal attention. Anna was surprised at the scope of Grahamís financial involvements, and a little overwhelmed.

"You know, some of this is quite beyond me," she said at length. "You need more than someone who can barely balance her own checkbook."

Graham stretched her long legs out and shrugged, apparently unconcerned. "Never mind. Youíll learn." She stood and walked to the open doors. She leaned into the breeze, her hands in the pockets of her trousers. Anna observed her with interest, trying to imagine how one experienced a world one couldnít see.

"Itís nearly one oíclock, isnít it?"

Anna glanced at her watch. "A few minutes before."

Graham nodded, crossing to the long buffet on the opposite side of the room. She reached into a small refrigerator enclosed within and withdrew a bottle.

"Would you like some champagne? It seems a reward for our efforts would be appropriate."

Anna smiled. "Iíd love some."

Anna watched intently as Graham confidently set two crystal glasses on a silver tray, opened the bottle, and placed it carefully in an ice bucket. Turning to Anna, she held out the engraved silver tray.

"If you could take this, we can sit on the terrace. If you donít mind the slight chill to the air," Graham added, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Reaching for the tray Anna smiled. "Iíd rather be outside no matter what the temperature."

She followed Graham across the flagstone terrace to a round wrought-iron table near the ornate open stone balustrade. The sea breeze blew up from the ocean, ruffling Grahamís hair. Graham faced the water, a slight frown on her face.

"Are you quite sure youíre not cold?"

"Iím wearing a sweater," Anna replied softly, moved by Graham's thoughtfulness. Graham herself was more exposed in her thin silk shirt. "Can I get you something warmer?"

Graham took a seat next to the glass-topped table and shook her head. "It doesnít seem to bother me."

Graham slid her hand across the table to the tray, deftly found the glasses, and expertly poured their champagne.

"Thank you," Anna said, accepting the glass. Graham nodded slightly in response, and together they turned toward the sea. Silently they basked in the spring sun, not quite warm yet, but full of promise. Anna found herself surprisingly content in the presence of her austere employer. Despite her reserve, Graham displayed moments of warmth and quick humor that were quite engaging.

"Graham," Anna began at last, "Iíd like to see what I can do with the gardens. There is so much beauty here, and it needs care. Iíd enjoy doing it myself."

Grahamís expression was guarded. "David Norcross told me that you are a landscaper. Tell me about it."

Anna sketched her history for Graham, passing quickly over her marriage to describe the last year of her life. She explained her classes and found herself revealing her hopes of some day having her own business.

"You mean to be more than a gardener, then," Graham commented seriously.

Anna laughed. "I love the physical work, but I also want to be involved in the actual design."

"Youíll need help with Yardley. There was a time when we employed two gardeners here full-time."

Anna nodded. "And youíll need to hire someone again. But I can handle the formal gardens myself."

"But if I understood you correctly, you have your own work to do!" Graham protested. "My work alone, never mind Helenís needs, will keep you busy enough! It would seem that undertaking to save Yardley too would be quite a task." Although her tone was lightly mocking, her face was quite serious.

Anna was strangely touched that Graham gave any thought to Annaís work, let alone considered it important. What a surprise this woman was!

"I donít need to go to school this summeróin fact, I can really use the break. And, besides, working here at Yardley will give me a chance to practice some of my ideas. Thereís so much that needs to be done. I promise, if I canít handle it, Iíll be the first to say so!"

Graham spoke softly, her voice dreamlike. "You canít imagine how lovely Yardley was in the spring. There were blossoms everywhere, new life seeking the sun. I would walk for hours through the gardens, just looking at the colors. The interplay of the different hues in the sunlight was like a symphony for the eyes. I couldnít wait to get hereóout of the city, away from the crowds. After a long tour we - " She stopped abruptly, a quicksilver flash of pain passing across her face. The hand that held the fine crystal flute tightened. Anna feared for a moment Graham would break it in her hand.

Anna tried to imagine what it would be like to know she would never see another spring. Saddened, she felt an uncommon tenderness for this woman who had lost so much. Impulsively, she said, "Youíll know when the roses bloomóyouíll be able to smell the blossoms in the air."

"Yes." Graham saw no reason to explain that she rarely walked about during the day. At night, in the dark, it didnít matter that she couldnít see. She would not have to imagine what she was missing in the sunlight. Impatiently she shook her head. She thought she was long past such regrets. "Do what you like. If you find that you need help, hire someone. Iíve arranged a household account at the bank in your name."

"Oh, no! You hardly know me!"

"I know what I need to know." Graham rose abruptly, suddenly anxious to be done with this conversation. She did not want to remember - any of it. "Iíd like to see you tomorrow at one oíclock. We can continue with the papers then."

Anna stared after her as Graham disappeared into the house. She wondered how Graham would spend her time until next they met. Each time she saw her, she was left with more questions and greater curiosity about her secretive host.
 




Chapter Five

 


Anna stretched her back, cramped from the long hours in one position. She surveyed her progress. Graham was rightóshe was going to need help. Nevertheless, she was happy with the start she had made in the gardens below the terrace. In two weeks she had pruned back the rose bushes and bordering shrubs, and had rescued most of the perennials from the thick vines that had encroached upon them over the years. Since her mornings had quickly become filled with managing the affairs of the house, she worked mostly from midafternoon until dusk. The Yardley household itself required little attention. Whatever needs Helen had were easily accomplished on Annaís trips into the city for her classes. However, Graham owned property in both Boston and Philadelphia. Much of the financial matters were directed to the attorneys, but Anna found herself becoming quite adept at dealing with building managers, contractors, and accountants over the phone.

Several times a week, she assisted Graham with her business affairs, a task she had come to enjoy. From their afternoon meetings, Anna was slowly gaining an impression of Grahamís many dimensions, despite her carefully guarded exterior. Anna found her to be impatiently dismissive of any and all financial matters, despite the fact that she was clearly wealthy. If engaged in quiet conversation she was attentive, gracious and altogether charming. However, when forced to confront the affairs of the estate she made decisions quickly, occasionally displayed flashes of temper when annoyed, and seemed altogether uninterested in the practical issues that occupied most people. Whatever captured Grahamís mind when she suddenly fell quiet, her attention clearly eclipsed by some internal voice, Anna sensed it had nothing to do with the world she herself was familiar with.

Despite the fact that they spent several hours together nearly every day, Anna knew so little of her. Graham easily drew Anna into discussions of her life, but she never spoke of her own past. Anna became more and more intrigued as the days passed. She wondered what thoughts, and more importantly, what feelings, lay hidden beneath the silent unreadable features.

Anna sighed and tossed her trowel into the toolbox. Despite her fatigue, the hard physical labor satisfied her. Her days were full, and she was coming to view Yardley as her home. She looked forward to breakfast and dinner with Helen, only wishing that Graham would join them. Each evening, Helen took a tray to the music room before serving their own meal. After Anna and she cleaned up together, Anna retired to her rooms, often falling asleep before the fireplace. She never saw Graham in the evening, and she came to realize that she missed her formidable presence.

She carried her tools around to the gardenerís shed in the rear of the property. As she passed by the terrace, she noticed that the doors to Grahamís music room stood open. The lace curtains wafted out on the late afternoon breeze. Glancing in, Anna was surprised to see Graham seated at the piano. It was the first time she had ever seen her playing. The notes of a haunting melody reached her easilyósoft, and gently flowing, but so incredibly sad! Without thinking, she drew nearer, captured by the beautiful music. Standing before the open doors, she watched Graham as she played. This was a Graham she had never seen. Her eyes were nearly closed, and as her body moved commandingly over the keys, her face reflected the essence of the music. She was lost in the melancholy notes, critically alone. Annaís throat constricted as she watched and listened, knowing with certainty that at that moment, Graham Yardley and her music were one. She remained unmoving until Graham finished, then stepped softly away. The image of Graham, staring sightlessly down at her hands on the silent ivory keys, remained etched indelibly in her mind.

"Graham asked that you join her in the music room when youíre free," Helen called to her as she passed through the kitchen.

"Yes, thanks," Anna replied absently, still disquieted by the scene she had just witnessed, unable to say exactly why. She showered quickly and was soon knocking on the closed doors of Grahamís study.

"We need to deal with some of the personal correspondence," Graham said perfunctorily when Anna joined her. "We have been getting too many calls lately."

"Certainly," Anna answered, instantly aware by Graham's tone that she was disturbed about something. She wished she could ask her what troubled her, but Grahamís unapproachable demeanor prevented even that simple inquiry. Ignoring her disquiet, she crossed to her usual seat at the desk and began to peruse the letters Graham had obviously ignored for months. Anna was amazed at the scope of the solicitations. She began to read aloud at random, for all the letters were similar in theme.

"These two conservatories have written several times in the last two years requesting that you teach a masterís class," Anna informed Graham, who had begun pacing soon after Anna began reading messages to her. Anna had never seen her so agitated before.

"Tell them Ďnoí," Graham replied curtly, her face grim.

"There are a number of inquiries regarding your concert availability," Anna said quietly, subdued by the well-known companies seeking to engage Graham as a guest performer.

"Throw them away," Graham said flatly. She stood with her back to Anna in the open terrace doorway, and the hand she rested against the frame was clenched.

"Thereís a graduate student at Juilliard Ė sheís written and called several times. She says sheís writing her doctoral thesis on your early works-" Anna faltered as Graham caught her breath sharply. "She would like to arrange a meeting with you, and perhaps discuss your current-" Anna was stunned to silence as Graham whirled toward her, her face furious.

"I donít perform, I donít compose, and I donít give goddamned interviews. Go through whateverís there and deal with it! I donít want to hear anything more about it!"

Anna stared as Graham searched for her walking stick with a trembling hand. She had never seen Graham misplace anything in her surroundings before. It was heartwrenching to see her falter uncertainly as she tried to orient herself.

"Itís against your chair," Anna said quietly. She looked away, giving Graham time to compose herself. She knew Graham could not see her, but it seemed wrong somehow to watch her private struggles.

"Graham-" she ventured tentatively, not wanting to add to Grahamís obvious distress. "These things look important- I canít just throw them away. I donít think I can answer them without your help."

Graham paused at the door, her back to Anna, rigid with her struggle for control. "Iíve given you my answer to all of them - Ďnoí. Word it any way you want, but handle them yourself in the future. Thatís what Iím paying you for. Donít bring them up to me again."

Anna risked Grahamís ire with one last attempt. "If you could just give me some idea-

"Enough Anna," Graham said wearily as she pushed open the heavy door to the hall. "Itís done."

Anna was more than curious, she was shocked, both by what she had read as well as by Grahamís reactions. She had very little exposure to formal music, but even she could appreciate from the nature of the requests that Graham was no ordinary musician. The magnitude of Grahamís response was even more bewildering. Anna wanted very much to understand what had just happened, but she could not ask Graham. Anna knew Graham well enough by now to know she would never discuss something so obviously personal, let alone something that caused her such anguish. Her pain was clearly evident, but Anna sensed that Graham would never admit to it. It was the nearly palpable intensity of that pain more than anything else that propelled her from the room in search of Helen. She found her sewing in the library.

"We need to talk Helen," Anna said gravely as she joined the older woman in the seating area.

Helen regarded her first with surprise, then, at the sight of Annaís distress, with apprehension. "What is it?"

"Itís Graham," Anna replied. "Tell me who she is."

"Oh my goodness!" Helen pronounced, "That would be quite a task! Iíve known Graham since she was just a baby. Mrs. Yardley died when Graham was only three, and I guess I became the closest thing she ever had to a mother. Lord forgive me, but I think I love her more than my own flesh and blood. I wouldnít know where to begin!"

Anna was beginning to expect Helenís evasions whenever Graham was the subject, but she was too shaken by the strange scene with Graham to accept more non-answers. It was enough that Graham shut her out with her unimpeachable graciousness and impenetrable emotional barriers.

"Start with these!" Anna demanded, holding up a fistful of envelopes. "Carnegie Institute, Paris Conservatory, London Philharmonic Ė and a dozen others. You should have seen what these did to her! Sheís suffering, and you know she wonít admit that, let alone explain it. Iím supposed to be here to assist her. I canít be of any help to her if both of you keep me in the dark!"

Helen regarded her solemnly, a lifetime of guarding Grahamís privacy warring with her concern for Grahamís well-being. In the end she finally conceded that Graham needed someoneís help, and Anna cared enough to ask. She decided the time had come for one of them to trust someone. She set her sewing carefully aside and crossed to the library shelves. She took down several heavy leather bound books and handed them to Anna.

"I think this is what youíre asking about."

Anna opened the cover of the first volume to find press clippings, articles, and reviews, all of them about Graham. The earliest dated back over thirty years. With an increasing sense of wonder, she studied the chronicle of Grahamís life.

Graham Yardley had first come to the attention of the music world when she was only six years old. By then she had studied the piano for three years. The young music teacher her father first employed soon recognized that the headstrong young child was advancing far too rapidly for normal instruction. An interview was arranged with a famous instructor at the Curtis Institute, who accepted the little girl as a pupil. By six she was giving recitals, by her teens she had appeared as a guest soloist with a number of internationally renowned orchestras, and by twenty she had won not only the Tschaikovsky competition, but every prestigious music competition on every continent. Not only had she been lauded for her innovative interpretations of classical works, but for her own compositions as well. Her talent seemingly knew no bounds.

The decade of her twenties was a time of intense international touring and performances. The London Times, the Paris Review, the Tokyo press and dozens of others celebrated her as the next heir to Rubenstein and Horowitz. There didnít seem to be enough superlatives to describe her. Seemingly she had not yet reached her peak when the coverage simply stopped. Anna was left with a void, staring at empty pages, desperately seeking some further glimpse of the great pianist all the world had welcomed.

"My god, Helen," she murmured, closing the books gently, swallowing the urge to cry. Laying them aside, she met Helenís questioning gaze. Just as she knew Helen was waiting for her to comment, she knew that her response would determine what else Helen might share. In the end, all she could do was speak from her heart.

"Sheís really quite special, isnít she?"

Helen smiled softly. "Itís strange that you should say that Ė I always thought of her that way - special. People who didnít know her thought her genius came easily. I knew that whatever she was born with, the music she made came from her heartís blood. When she was working, you couldnít drag her away from the piano. For days and nights unend sheíd go without sleeping - Iíd practically have to force myself into the room with a tray of food. Sheíd be pacing or playingóstruggling with some refrain. When sheíd finally come outóĎstarvingí, sheíd say, -- she would look so happy! I knew she loved it; you could feel her excitement when she had gotten it just right!"

Helen paused, searching for words to portray a personality that by its very uniqueness defied simple description. The icon the world had worshipped was merely the public image of the complex, complicated, and all too human woman Helen had known.

"Sheís been called so many things. A gifted child prodigy they said when she was six, a remarkable composer they said when she was twenty, and at thirty they called her a master. Some things they said arenít written down in those articles. There were those who called her arrogant, temperamental, an egotistical perfectionist. All those things were true, but she was so much more to those who knew her! Whatever she demanded of others, she demanded ten times that from herself. She put all of herself into everything she did, and expected the same from others. She was the force that drove all of us, and in return she gave us beauty beyond belief. We made allowances I suppose, for her temper and her arrogance. She was never cruel or malicious, simply so intense, so consumed by her music! She was the light of our lives!"

Anna sat quietly, trying to imagine Graham like that, wishing she had known her. When she thought of the tormented, anguished woman who would not even hear of the world she had once ruled, Annaís heart ached. Where was that imperious virtuoso now?

"What happened to her Helen?"

"The accident changed everything," Helen said with a finality that warned Anna not to probe for details.

"Helen," Anna began tentatively, "I heard Graham playing todayóit was so beautiful! Why doesnít she perform any longer?"

Helen shook her head. "She wonít play for anyone anymore. Hasnít since the accident. She was in the hospital for months. When she was finally released, she came immediately to Yardley. Sheís lived here since then. Her father was alive back then, of courseóitís been over ten years. He stayed on at the main house in Philadelphia, and I came here to be with Graham. He visited, but I knew it was hard for him to see her so changed. At first friends would call, and so many important people from the music world, but she wouldnít see them. For months she barely spoke, or left her room. After a while, she began to go outside, mostly at night. She wouldnít let me help her. Sheís always been so stubborn, even as a little girl!" Helen smiled at some memory. "It broke my heart to see her stumble. Sometimes she fell, and it was all I could do not to run out to her. But, oh! Such pride-! I knew it would hurt her more if she knew I could see her like that."

It was physically painful for Anna to imagine what Graham had suffered, or the extent of her loss. Neither could she imagine that the stubborn independent woman she was coming to know would simply give up.

"But, Helen! She's still so strong. Whatís happened to her?!"

"She didnít go near the piano for that whole first year, and I feared for her mind, I really did. I can never remember Graham without her music! When at last she began to play again, I thought everything would be all right. But the music was so sad! I donít care about that anymoreóIím just happy that she plays at all."

"It doesnít make sense! She can manage quite well, and with a little helpó"

Helen looked alarmed. "Oh no, my dear. Itís not because of her injuries. I only wish it were. Graham lost something much more than her sight in that accident. She hasnít composed a piece of music since she came home from the hospital. Itís as if the music left her that night Ėafter she had lost so much already!"

"But what--" Anna began, confused.

Helen stood suddenly, gathering her things. "Iíve gone on too long, Iím afraid. I must sound like a silly old woman to you."

"Oh, Helen. I know better. It must have been so hard for you all these years!"

Helen smiled. "To have Graham home, alive, was all I wanted. If only I could see her happy again! I wish you could have known her óso accomplished, so full of life. She loved her music so, and the world loved her! When she toured, the concert halls would be full! People stood for hours to hear her play. Oh, she was something to seeólike a young lion, so graceful and proud!"

"She still is, you know," Anna said softly. "I heard her play, I felt her musicóit was one of the most powerful things I ever experienced."

Helen looked at Anna strangely. "You can see it, then?"

"Oh, yes!" Anna exclaimed. "She has such passionóin her hands, in her voiceóeven in those beautiful eyes!"

Helen touched Annaís face tenderly, then turned quickly away. "I think it will be good for us that you have come."

When Anna found herself awake and restless at midnight, she returned to the library. She curled up in the large leather chair, books open in her lap, compelled to revisit Grahamís past. She searched the newspaper and magazine images of the vigorous artist, struck by her vitality and fierce passion. The photos of Graham on stage, lost in the rhapsody of her music, were among the most arresting portraits Anna had ever seen. Anna was stirred as if by the memory of someone she had once known and now missed. There was a sense of loss that felt deeply personal. As Anna lay tossing later that night, searching for sleep, the strains of Grahamís music echoed in her mind.
 




Chapter Six

 


Reluctantly, Anna conceded to Grahamís wishes. When more than a week had passed with no further overture from Graham to address her personal correspondence, Anna wrote replies. Since she had no specific instructions, she simply stated that Ms.Yardley appreciated the inquiries but was not presently available. She could bring herself to neither leave the letters unanswered nor to close the door on Grahamís previous life. It was too final and felt much too much like death. Grahamís death. It was beyond tragic to accept that the Graham Yardley she had glimpsed in the yellowing pages of history was gone forever. Anna could not accept it, not when Anna heard her walk the halls late into the night, or awoke to the sight of her outlined against the dawn at the cliffsí edge. Stubbornly Anna clung to the hope that Graham herself had abandoned, the hope that the music would someday return to Yardley.

Frustrated that she could not help Graham, she worked instead to restore her home. Summer was approaching, and Anna had taken the task to heart. She hired carpenters and painters to work both outside and in, tending to the multitude of small details that had been neglected for a decade. She finally relented and hired a landscaping crew she had seen advertised in the university paper. They would be helping her clear the wide expanse of nearly wild growth that covered the rear slopes and the bluff above the sea.

When Anna walked down one morning to the sea cliffs where Graham stood nearly every morning at dawn, she was terrified to find the path almost totally obscured with roots and vines. She couldnít imagine how Graham had avoided injury all this time. To make matters worse, the sea wall was crumbling into the surf a hundred feet below. There was precious little safety in that spot, especially for a woman who could not see. Anna knew it would be useless to ask Graham not to go there. Anna could envision the reaction that would produce! And, in truth, Anna didnít have the heart to bring it upówhatever compelled Graham to visit that desolate point of land morning after morning didnít matter. Anna couldnít ask her to give up one more thing in her life. She simply hired a contractor and had the stone abutment repaired.

Late one May morning when Graham entered her music room, she immediately sensed another's presence. She stood still just inside the door, trying to discern the unexpected visitor. Anna had made it clear to the various workers that Grahamís music room was not to be violated.

"Anna?" she inquired with faint surprise.

"Yes," Anna answered uncertainly. She was standing with her back to the door and hadnít realized Graham was there until she spoke. She hadnít expected Graham at all. She was rarely about during the morning.

"What is it that youíre doing?" Graham asked as she crossed the room. Her voice wasnít critical, merely curious.

"Iím putting a vase of flowers on the mantle. I just picked them." she replied quietly. She was well aware that she had not been invited into Grahamís study, but neither had Graham told her she was not welcome to go anywhere in the house she desired.

"To what purpose?" Graham asked darkly, "Did you think I might enjoy the color?" She didnít want reminders of what she could no longer see! Anna caught her breath as Graham stalked to the French doors, flinging them open to stand in the archway, her back to Anna.

"I thought you might enjoy the beauty of their scent. I only wish that you might enjoy the sight of them as well." Her voice quivered with both anger and uncertainty. She didnít want to hurt her, but she couldnít stand to see her deny all that remained to her. She stared at the rigid back, not realizing she was holding her breath, wondering if she had pushed this volatile, wounded woman too far. She waited for the hot flare of temper.

Graham drew a long steadying breath. "Forgive me," she said quietly. "That was unconscionably rude of me. Please accept my apology."

"I didnít mean to upset you," Anna replied. "You neednít apologize."

"I thought I could smell the roses on the wind last night," Graham said softly, her back still to Anna. The rigid stance relaxed, to be replaced by a weariness too often evident in her whip-slender frame.

Anna approached her cautiously, afraid Graham might retreat if startled. "Yes, theyíre in bloom again now. Theyíve been waiting so long."

"Have they?" Graham questioned, her gaze fixed on some distant point beyond the open terrace doors. "I would have thought they had simply perished by now."

"Their roots are deep, and strong," Anna said softly, wondering if they still spoke of the flowers. "The soil of Yardley is rich and fertile; it has nourished them all this time."

Graham stood very still, aware that Anna was close beside her. The air about them was filled with the perfume of new life.

"Nourishment alone is not always enough - living things need more than that. They would not have survived indefinitely without care," Graham said softly.

"No," Anna replied, swallowing the ache in her throat, "but they didnít have to." Impulsively, Anna grasped Grahamís arm. "Walk with meóIíll show you."

Graham tensed at the first touch of Annaís hand upon her arm. The sensation was so foreign it startled her. Then, with the grace born of her breeding, she tucked Annaís hand in the bend of her elbow. "All right," she agreed, allowing Anna to lead the way.
As they strolled the meandering paths, Anna stopped frequently to describe the young flowers, drawing Grahamís hand to the soft buds.

"Daffodils?" Graham asked as Anna brought a petal to her face.

Anna smiled. "Yes, - wait," she said, plucking another blossom. "And this?"

Graham cupped her fingers around Annaís hand, bending her head over the flower nestled there. Softly, she inhaled. "Wisteria?" She looked up to Anna expectantly.

Anna stared into the questioning eyes, struck by there expressiveness. For an instant, she was certain that Graham could see her. She would give anything to make it so! Graham sensed the stirring of her emotionsóAnnaís hand trembled slightly in hers.

"Anna?"

Anna released the breath she hadnít realized she was holding.

"Youíre very good. Right again!" she said, her voice thick with an emotion she couldnít name.

Graham slipped the blossom from Annaís grasp and tucked it into the pocket of her shirt.

The simple gesture touched Anna. It pleased her unaccountably to bring the gardens to life for Graham. Each smile that passed Grahamís lips, however fleeting, felt like a gift. Oddly, she was even enjoying their physical closeness. Even though Graham could maneuver the garden paths perfectly well, she made no move to remove the hand that Anna kept on her arm. Anna found herself curiously aware of the muscles rippling under her fingers as they walked. She forced herself to pay attention to the uneven terrain, trying to ignore the unusual fluttering in her stomach.

Graham stopped suddenly, a puzzled look on her face. She turned to her right and stretched out her hand.

"Where are the lilacs?"

Anna was startled that Graham should know. Grahamís ability to orient herself in her environment continued to astound her. "Youíre right, of course. Theyíre here, but they were so badly overgrown that they havenít flowered in years. I cut them back. In a year or two theyíll flower again."

Graham leaned on her walking stick and sighed. So much was gone! "Iím sorry. They were always so lovelyóthey were my favorites, I think, after the roses."

Anna place her hand over Grahamís, whispering, "Theyíll be back."

Graham shook her head, her expression once again dark. "There are some things, Anna, that once lost, simply cannot be restored. There is no use in struggling to reclaim them. That path leads only to greater disappointment."

"I cannot accept that," Anna insisted. "One must hope."

Graham remained silent as they made their way to the house. She knew only too well that with the passage of time, even hope would die.

********

Helen carried a tray into the music room as she did each evening, placing it on the table beside Graham. Tonight, Graham seemed lost in thought. She held a flower in her hand, tracing the petals absently with a fingertip. As Helen turned to leave, Graham called to her.

"Helen?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Sit a moment, wonít you?"

Surprised by the unusual request, Helen sat anxiously waiting. Although she and Graham spoke often, their conversations were always casual. Graham never discussed her deepest thoughts, and never sought Helenís advice. Even as a child she tended to make announcements about her intentions, such as the time she informed her father she wasnít going back to school. She never did. She had been eight.

"Would you like some champagne?" Graham asked as she filled her glass from the bottle by her side.

"Oh goodness, noóyou know how silly I get when I drink that!"

Graham smiled. "You just talk a little moreóyouíre never silly."

Helen leaned to touch Grahamís arm gently. "Is everything all right, dear? Is there something we need to talk about?"

"Anna," Graham replied after a moment. "Do you think sheís happy here? It must be very lonely for a young woman so far away from the city, with no friends nearby."

Helen had known the woman before her since the day she was born. She had seen her through triumph and great tragedy. She had watched her lock her heart and mind and great talent away in the empty rooms of this house for a dozen years. This was the first time in all those years that Graham had mentioned another person, let alone noticed someone enough to question their happiness. Annaís presence had penetrated Grahamís self-imposed isolation, and that was close to a miracle. Helen chose her words with care.

"She seems to love it here, Graham. Why, I can hardly remember what it was like before she came."

Graham made an impatient gesture. "Nor I. But thatís not the point. Yardley is our homeówe chose this place, this life, you and I. Anna didnít. We mustnít take advantage of her kindness, or herócaring."

Helen thought she had an inkling of what really concerned Graham. Anna was an unusual woman. She appreciated Grahamís notoriety, had understood her fame, and yet she was not overwhelmed by it. In Grahamís entire life, there had been very few who had ever dared approach her with friendship. Her imposing personality and public stature prevented ordinary relationships. People were either afraid of her intensity, or her temper - or they wanted something from her. She had had many followers, and many would-be friends, but it was rare that anyone tried to know her. Grahamís personal attachments had most often been the source of her greatest disappointments. After all these years alone, she would surely distrust any type of intimacy.

"Graham, Anna is a grown woman. And sheís made a lot of hard decisions in her life. Leaving a marriage is hard, even when itís not a good one, and I imagine striking out on her own without much security was hard, too. But, she is strong and independent, and she knows what sheís about. Sheís here because she wants to be, and if she becomes unhappy, I imagine sheíll do something about that herself. I donít think thereís anything to worry about."

Graham relaxed perceptibly. "Helen?"

"Yes, dear?"

"What does she look like?"

Helen appreciated what a difficult question that was for Graham to ask. Graham knew the description of every piece of clothing in her closet, and insisted that each item be returned from the cleaners in a certain order. She never asked for assistance in dressing, never asked for help if she needed something to eat, never asked for any help at all. The only concession she made to her lack of sight was the necessity of keeping the furniture in one place. For her to make a direct reference to her inability to see was unheard of.

"Oh, lord, that is a hard one," Helen exclaimed, nonplused.

Graham rose impatiently, reaching a hand up to the mantle, her face turned toward the fire. "I know that she is almost my height, and strong. I could feel that in her hands when she took my arm in the garden. She laughs softly when something pleases her, and she loves the land. She knew how to bring the flowers to my mindís eyeó" She halted in frustration, unable to complete the picture of the woman who was so often near, but whom she could not see.

"You already know the best parts of her, Grahamóher goodness, and warmth, and her wonderful love of life."

Graham turned around, her fists tight. "Yes, but what does she look like? What color is her hair? Her eyes? What does she wear? Helen, I canít see her!"

Helen longed to go to her, to stroke the anger and frustration away. She knew very well that Graham would not allow it, would not allow any sign of sympathy.

"Her hair is blonde, rather like honey, and cut back away from her face. Her eyes are very blue, like the ocean on an August morning. When sheís excited about something, her skin flushes a light rose and her eyes sparkle. In my day, weíd call her wholesome. She has the kind of strong body women have these days--you can tell sheís fit, but, she flows in the right places, too."

"How long is her hair? What colors does she wear?"

"Her hair just touches her collar, and itís not so much curly as wavy. It blows around in the wind, like your does, all wild and free. When sheís working outside she sometimes ties it back with a bandanna round her forehead. She likes to wear those loose trousers with the drawstrings at the waist, and tee shirts, -or those menís shirts that are made for girls. Lovely colorsópurples, dark greens, deep golds."

Graham had become very still as Helen talked. The tension slowly left her body.

"Does that help?" Helen asked her.

Graham nodded, concentrating on the picture forming in her mind.

"Sheís not at all like Christine, is she?" Graham asked softly.

"Oh my dear, not a bit."

**********

Anna waited impatiently in the kitchen. Helen had been gone for so long! She had been starving when she came in for dinner, but the longer Helen was absent, the more anxious she became. Graham had been so subdued on their way back to the house, Anna was certain something was wrong.

"Is Graham all right?" she asked the moment Helen rejoined her.

Helen looked at her in surprise. What had gotten into the two of them? They were both so jumpy! "Yes, dear, sheís fineóshe just wanted to talk to me about a few household thing. Now, why donít we eat before everything is completely cold."

Forcing herself to relax, Anna poured them each some coffee and joined Helen at the kitchen table. She tried to appear nonchalant.

"I was just a little concerned. She spends so much time alone, and sheís so very sensitiveó"

"Thatís her nature," Helen commented. "All she ever wanted was to play the piano. Her father had to force her to do anything else. He adored her, though. I thought he would go mad himself after the accident. For so long we didn't know if she would live, and then when she finally opened her eyes, he was sitting right there by her bed. She put her hand out to take his. She didnít say anything for the longest time; we didnít know that anything was wrong. It did break his heart when she said, so quietly, that she couldnít see him. Oh, it was a horrible time!"

Anna closed her eyes with the pain of the image, of Graham so brutally injured, of a family so hurt. Some part of her longed to change the past, to undue the horrible suffering.

As if sensing her thoughts, Helen said, "We all felt so helplessó" She shook herself, rising briskly. "It doesnít change things, does it, to wish for the past to be different?"

"What was she like, before the accident," Anna asked quietly. As each day passed she wanted to know more. She was certain that the key to Grahamís silence and her pain was hidden in her past. Anna couldnít stop thinking that if she could only understand what had caused Graham to withdraw from all she had been, she would find some way to reach her. Exactly why that mattered so much to her she couldnít put into words, but she knew she had never been so affected by anyone in her life. Maybe it was just knowing what an incredible genius Graham Yardley possessed, and that the loss of such a gift went beyond personal tragedy.

Helen laughed. "She was a regular hellionóshe never got on well in regular schools. Not that she wasnít bright - she was always good at whatever she tried. Itís just that she never wanted to do anything except play the piano. She said once that when she looked at the world, she heard music. It was her language, as natural to her as talking is to us. All you ever had to do was listen to her play to know what she was feeling. Itís the one place she could never hide. When her father put her in the music school, with tutors at home, she did much better. From the time she was young she was in the company of adults, and she never had a childhood. She had been all over the world by the time she was fifteen. She grew up surrounded by people who wanted things from her - a piece of her fame, a piece of her passion. Her music might have been pure, but the world it thrust her into wasnít. Sometimes I feared it would destroy her!" Helen sighed. "She loved a good party, though, and, oh, what a good dancer! She made up for all the hours she spent lost in her work by being a little wild. But we all forgave her for the times she worried us, because she was such a wonderóshe brought us all so much happiness."

Anna tried to imagine Graham that way, infused with energy and enthusiasm. That there were great depths to her sensitivity Anna had no doubtóbut Grahamís passionate embrace of life had disappeared. What Anna couldnít explain was her own desire to rekindle it.
 




Chapter Seven

 


Anna respected Grahamís wishes, and did not mention the abundant correspondence that still arrived regarding her former career. Graham remained for the most part an easy person to work for, and if it werenít for the fact that Anna was acutely aware of Grahamís deep unhappiness, she would have found Grahamís company more than satisfying. On those occasions when they escaped from the drudgery of paperwork to relax on the terrace, Graham seemed sincerely interested in Annaís life. Anna enjoyed their times together, only wishing for some way to make Grahamís rare smile linger.

Unexpectedly at first, Graham began to appear in the garden while Anna was working. She would stand nearby, often wordless for long lengths of time, and then simply disappear. Eventually she started to ask Anna what it was that she was doing. Graham would listen attentively, then smile to herself as she made a mental note of a new shrub or planting. She was slowly creating a new vision of Yardley with Annaís help. As the days passed, her visits became more frequent. Anna found herself looking forward to these encounters. On those days when Graham didnít appear, Anna finished her work strangely restless and unsatisfied.

Late one morning Anna glanced up to find Graham close by. Her hands were thrust into the front pockets of her trousers, and she leaned forward with a perplexed expression on her face.

"What are you wondering?" Anna asked, leaning back to see her tall companion.

"What youíre planting. This isnít the rose garden, or the English garden, or the perennial bedóin fact, this isnít anything at all as I recall." Graham gestured toward each of the gardens as she spoke.

"Youíre right on all counts. This is the kitchen garden."

Graham frowned. "We donít have a kitchen garden. Helen always said she couldnít grow weeds, and IóI never had the time." Her expression became distant, a response Anna was coming to recognize. Whatever the memory, it was painful.

Anna reached into her carry all. "Here," she said, placing a pair of soft work gloves into Grahamís hand. "Put these on."

Graham turned the gloves over in her hands, clearly at a loss. Anna found her consternation appealingóshe was usually so commanding. Had Graham known her bewilderment was apparent, Anna knew she would have been embarrassed.

"But why?"

"So you can help plant the tomatoes," Anna said matter-of-factly. "Weíre making a garden so we can grow our own vegetables this summer." She knew she was risking alienating her reclusive employer, just when she seemed to be emerging from her isolation, but she had to try. The gardens seemed to bring Graham some peace. Anna only hoped her instincts were correct. She was quite sure that no one had ever suggested to Graham Yardley that she dig in the dirt.

Graham hefted the gloves. "I donít need these."

Anna studied Grahamís hands. They were long-fingered and delicate, ribboned with fine blue veins beneath soft pale skin. The supple fingers suggested strength, but they were not meant for rough work. Anna had seen Grahamís hands on the keyboard, how they moved with certainty and grace. She had heard the music from those hands on the night breeze. She did not need newspaper accolades to know they were exquisite instruments in themselves.

"You do need them," Anna said softly. "Please put them on. I canít let you do this without them."

Graham hesitated for a moment, then nodded. She slipped them on, then asked, "Where do you want me?"

Anna grasped her sleeve. "Here, on my right. Give me your hand." She placed a seedling in Grahamís palm. "There are twelve of these in each flat. Make a hole six inches deep, then put the seedling in, pot and all. Press the earth firmly around the peat pot, so there are no air pockets. Put the plants a foot and a half apart. Move straight to your right back toward the house. All right?"

Graham brought the young plant to her face. It smelled like warm sunshine. For a moment she was lost in the comfort of it.

Anna watched the transformation of her elegant features. Graham cradled the tiny plant reverently, her face losing its stark tension, relaxing into a gentle smile. The tenderness she hid so well was plainly evident now. Abruptly Graham emerged from her reverie, and with a shake of her head, her expression was once again inscrutable.

"I can do that," she said with her usual confidence. With utter disregard for what must be five hundred dollar trousers, she knelt beside Anna as directed.

"Good," Anna replied. She watched Graham work for a while, amazed at her self-assurance and dexterity. She also noted the care with which Graham handled the delicate new life. She was a wealth of contradictionsóremote, emotionally distant, intimidating, and yet she showed such tenderness and sensitivity in the small gestures that she didnít realize were so revealing. Anna found it hard to take her eyes off her. Eventually she forced herself back to work, and the time passed in companionable silence. As the sun climbed above them, Graham paused to roll up the sleeves on her shirt. She leaned back and Anna caught a glimpse of her face.

"Graham," Anna called, "turn towards me."

Graham swiveled around, a questioning look on her face.

"Oh hell. Youíre burning!" Anna cried in consternation. She hadnít thought the sun was that strong, but then it occurred to her that part of Grahamís pallor was from her rare time outside. She knew Graham walked the grounds late into the night. Only recently had she begun to venture out during the day. Anna grabbed a tube of sunscreen and knelt by Grahamís side. "Put this on your faceóand your arms, too."

"Are you sure?" Graham questioned reluctantly.

"Of course Iím sure!" Anna exclaimed, angry at her own carelessness. "You should see how red you are!" The instant the words were spoken, she wanted them back. "Oh, god! Iím sorry!"

Graham opened the tube. "Well, Iím notóI know what I look like with a sunburn."

Anna thought she looked more striking than ever with color in her face. "Itís not that bad, but if it gets any worse, I think Helen will kill me."

"Better now?" Graham asked as she covered her hands and face with the lotion. She lifted her head toward Anna for inspection. Her hair was windblown and tumbled over her forehead in disarray. Sunlight etched the angles of her face in gold, a dazzling contrast to the rich black of her hair and eyes. She was unknowingly stunning, and as Anna gazed at her something visceral shifted in her depths.

Shaken, not wanting it to show, Anna reached for the tube. "Here, give it to me," she said hoarsely.

She brushed the cream across Grahamís jaw and down the side of her neck. "You missed a spot," she said softly, cupping Grahamís chin gently in one hand. Graham struggled not to pull away. Anna sensed her discomfort and wondered why. Was it her blindness that made her so, or something else?

"Thank you," Graham remarked seriously when Anna took her hand away. The touch of Annaís fingers on her skin had startled her. Even Helen rarely touched her, and Graham had not thought she missed it. She had little need of contact with anything save the keys of her piano. Still, her breath caught in her throat at the sensation of Annaís fingers on her face. She struggled to control her expression, aware that she was trembling.

"Youíre welcome," Anna replied, moving away. She had a hard time forgetting the look on Grahamís face when she innocently touched her. It looked like fear.

**********

"Graham!" Helen cried when Graham walked into the kitchen. "Oh my gracious! Did you fall? Are you hurt?"

"Iím fineówhy?" Graham answered in surprise. She felt better than fine, in fact, she felt strangely exhilarated.

"Why, youíve got dirt streaked on your face, and your shirt is a sight!" Graham took meticulous care in dressing, and Helen could never remember her with so much as a crease out of line on her tailored trousers.

Graham frowned. "I was gardeningóapparently rather messily. Just how bad do I look?"

When Helen got over her astonishment, she laughed with delight. God bless Anna for this! "Iím afraid you wouldnít like it. You look - disheveled."

Graham put down the glass she was about to fill. "Iím going to shower," she said stiffly. She left with as much dignity as she could.

Helen looked after her, tears threatening to fall.

**********

Less than a week later Graham was startled by a knock on the door of the master suite. Helen never disturbed her when she was in her rooms. She rose from the chair that faced the open windows, calling, "Yes?"

"Graham, itís Anna. I have something for you."

Graham opened the door to admit her, a question in her eyes. By way of explanation, Anna placed a package in her hands.

"These are for you," she said, suddenly shy. It had seemed like such a good idea when it first occurred to her. With Graham standing in front of her, as unassailable as always, she wasnít sure.

Graham motioned her inside with her usual grace. "Please, sit down."

Anna looked about, surprised by the luxury of Grahamís quarters. Everything from the high four-poster bed to the ornate armoires and antique dressers spoke of cultured refinement. Graham projected such an austere impression that Anna had to remind herself that Graham had grown up in and been part of the very pinnacle of wealthy society. Her only visible concession to that opulent world now was her taste in clothes. Anna watched Graham carefully as she opened the parcel.

Graham stood by her bed, meticulously examining each item, her expression growing more and more perplexed. She said nothing as she carefully arranged the strange gifts. Finally she faced Anna, one elegant eyebrow arched in question.

"And these are?" she queried, her voice carefully uninflected.

Anna took a deep breath. "Two pairs of denim jeans, three blue cotton workshirts, six white cotton tee shirts, crew socks, and a pair of Timberline work boots."

"Interesting," Graham noted, struggling to keep her voice even. "And the purpose?"

"You canít garden in Saville row suits and Italian loafers. Itís criminal," Anna stated. She didnít add that it was also unsafe for Graham on the steep, often muddy slopes in the shoes she usually wore.

"I have never worn blue jeans in my life," was all Graham could think to say. No one had ever been so bold as to comment on anything she had ever worn before. In fact, such an attempt would have drawn her most scathing reply. That Anna had taken it upon herself to actually buy her clothing astounded her.

"Theyíre black," Anna answered smartly. "I thought youíd prefer that."

"And how did you manage the size?" Graham asked, still strangely subdued. Anna was one of the few people she had ever known who did not seem intimidated by her. The other had been Christine, and that had been entirely different.

"I write out your checks," Anna explained. "I called your tailor."

Graham couldnít hide her shock. "You called Max Feinerman about blue jeans? What on earth did he say?"

Anna smiled at the memory. "He told me more than Iíll ever need to know about your inseams, rise and waistbands. I had a hard time convincing him that it wasnít necessary for him to make the jeans, even though he insisted vehemently that he had always made all of your clothes. Heís delightful." She didnít add that he also obviously adored Graham, and had asked anxiously when he might be needed to tailor her next concert suit. He explained her trousers were cut to allow easy movement on a piano bench and that since Graham had an unusually long arm span, she needed extra width in the back and sleeves of her shirts. It was important, he said, that nothing impair her reach on the keyboard. His pride in assisting Graham had not diminished during her years of seclusion. Anna was coming to realize that Graham made an indelible impression on every one she touched.

Graham smiled softly as Anna spoke, one finger aimlessly tracing the cuff of her fine Irish linen shirt. "Poor Max," she said with a hint of laughter. "He probably hasnít yet recovered."

"Try them on," Anna suggested boldly.

Graham started with surprise, then laughed unexpectedly. "All right, Ms. Reid, I will. If you would be so kind as to excuse me for a moment." She gathered the clothes and disappeared into her dressing room, leaving Anna with the memory of her laughter.
 






Chapter Eight

 


Helen opened the music room door with one hand, Grahamís breakfast tray balanced in the other. It was five a.m., and the sky visible through the open terrace was just beginning to lighten. It was the first of June, and although it was still cool in the early mornings, Graham had begun taking her meals outside on the stone patio. She was there at the edge of the balcony now, facing as always down to the sea. At the first sight of her Helen halted in astonishment.

"Graham?" she queried, her voice rising in surprise.

Graham turned, a distracted look on her face. "Yes? What is it?"

Helen collected herself quickly. "I -well, itís - you look quite nice!"

Graham tilted her head, frowning. Helen wasnít making any sense. "I look - ah, the jeans! Youíve noticed the addition to my wardrobe. Iím not sure Iím used to them yet."

"Wherever did you get them?"

"Anna decided my day wear was not suitable," Graham answered.

"Anna bought those clothes?" Helen cried in amazement. No one in Helenís recollection had ever had the audacity to buy apparel for Graham, she was much too particular. That Anna was not only bold enough to do it, but that Graham seemed to have accepted the gesture with aplomb, amazed her.

"And do you approve?" Graham asked testily.

Helen studied her in frank amazement. She was broad in the shoulders, with narrow hips, and naturally sinewy. The white cotton tee shirt highlighted the muscles of her chest and arms. The close fitting jeans accentuated her leanness and height, giving her a tense feline appearance. She looked ten years younger and tautly lithe. In all the years Helen had known her, her appearance had always been refined, dignified, and wholly elegant. She had a kind of natural androgyny that suited her professional persona. Graham as an individual was secondary to her role as a musician. Her gender on the concert stage was of little consequence. This was the first time Helen had ever had a sense of Graham as a sexual being. It was a disconcerting, and at the same time, wonderfully gratifying change.

"You look quite acceptable," Helen managed to say in a tone that belied her astonishment. She was afraid overt enthusiasm would make Graham self-conscious. She knew it would be hard for Graham not to know how she looked.

Graham nodded absently, recalling Annaís reaction when she had emerged from her dressing room. Anna was silent so long Graham began to think she had missed a button in some delicate location.

"Well," Graham had asked with a trace of impatience. "Do they fit or shall we have to call Max?"

Anna had cleared her throat, saying, "The fit is fabulous. You look altogether- handsome."

Handsome she had said. Graham wondered what Anna saw when she looked at her. She had never given it any thought before. How she appeared to others meant nothing to her. It had only been her music that mattered. Why it should matter now, when she had nothing to offer anyone, eluded her. And why she should care what Anna Reid thought of her was even more mystifying. She could not deny however, that she had enjoyed pulling on these clothes when she awoke that morning, and that as she did so, she remembered Annaís soft praise.

"Put the tray down, for heavenís sake, Helen," Graham said brusquely, annoyed with her own reminiscences. What did any of it matter!

When Helen returned an hour later, Graham was gone and her breakfast remained untouched.

**********

Hours later, Graham walked down the garden path to the sea, vaguely aware of the fine salt mist against her skin, absently welcoming the sunís warmth on her face. She had been preoccupied since she awoke that morning. The hint of a refrain trailed in and out of her consciousness, making it impossible for her to concentrate on anything else. The notes were elusive, but ever present, and that was an experience she hadnít had in years. Whereas once music came to her unbidden, demanding expression, that inner voice had been silenced along with the surging rhythms of her once vital life. Why it should return now, she didnít know, and she was afraid to question it, lest the music desert her once again. She was feeling the notes, searching for the form, when she struck something large and unyielding in her path. She had no time to react, emitting a curse as she found herself lying tangled in a thicket by the side of the path.

"Damn!" she swore, struggling to free herself from grasping tendrils of ivy.

"Oh my god, Graham!" Anna cried, rushing to her. "Oh god, are you hurt?" She began frantically pulling at the vines, attempting to pull Graham upright. Please donít let her be hurt!

Graham took firm hold of Annaís hands, stilling her frantic motion. "Iím quite all right. Just take my arm and help me up."

Anna reached for her hand and slipped her other arm around Grahamís waist. She was surprised once again by the strength in the deceptively lithe body. She gasped when her worried eyes searched Grahamís face. "Oh lord, youíve cut yourself," she cried. With trembling fingers she brushed a trickle of blood from Grahamís chin.

"What was it?" Graham asked quietly, trying to regain some semblance of dignity.

Anna looked devastated. "My wheelbarrow! How could I have been so careless!" She was close to tears. "God, you could have really been hurt!"

Graham stared toward Anna. "Your wheelbarrow?"

"Yes," she said miserably. The thought of Graham injured was unbearable. She had begun to see Yardley as a maze of potential obstacles, all waiting for Graham to walk innocently into their midst. Every time she watched Graham maneuver the uneven flagstone path, or climb the crumbling steps from the bluff, her heart pounded with anxiety. Seeing her reach across the stove for the coffee pot, knowing how easily her sleeve could touch the flame, made Anna want to scream out loud. She cursed whatever godless force had stolen Grahamís sight, and exiled this magnificent being from the world. That she might have been the cause of further harm completely undid her. She didnít seem to be able to think quite rationally where Graham was concerned. She held onto her protectively, one hand brushing at the smudges on her tee-shirt.

Graham reached out for Annaís hand, laughing. "Was it a trap?"

Anna cradled the long, delicate fingers in hers, aware of how vulnerable Graham was despite her stubborn independence. "No, just my thoughtlessness," she managed around the tightness in her throat.

Graham was suddenly serious, aware of the trembling in Annaís voice. She grasped Annaís shoulders with both hands, looking intently into her face.

"Itís not the first time Iíve fallen," she said gently. "Iím quite fine, you know."

Anna stepped closer until there was only inches between them. "No, youíre not. You have blood on your face and thistles in your hair."

Graham laughed again, a sound that warmed Annaís heart.

"Well, for heavenís sake, get them out! Havenít I disgraced myself enough for one morning?"

Anna gently disentangled the wisps of vines from the thick, rich hair, whispering softly, "You couldnít be undignified if you tried. I donít know how, but you elevate jeans and a tee shirt to an art form." Her heart was still racing wildly, and for some reason she couldnít quite catch her breath. She was close enough to smell the faint cologne Graham wore. It seemed to flood her senses as the rest of the world receded from her consciousness. She was dimly aware of a faint pounding in her belly.

A faint smile flickered at the corners of Grahamís mouth as she straightened her shoulders, her hands resting lightly on Annaís bare forearms. "Am I presentable now?"

"Youíre beautiful," Anna answered thickly. A pulse beat under the satin skin of Grahamís neck, and for some unfathomable reason, Anna wanted to rest her fingers there. Maybe it was the fear invoked by Grahamís recent fall; maybe it was the sorrow she couldnít dispel after reading the articles about Grahamís previous life; maybe it was the soul wrenching sadness of the only music Graham ever played, alone in the dark - something made her bold enough to brush her fingers gently through the disheveled hair on Grahamís forehead, and stroke the satin skin of her cheek. She rested her hand against the ivory column of her neck, scarcely breathing, her vision narrowed until Graham was all she could see.

At the first light contact of Annaís tentative touch, Graham closed her eyes, a light shiver coursing through her. A faint flush colored her usually pale cheeks. Her words came slowly, with the same caution she used when crossing an unfamiliar room.

"I can feel the salt from the sea and the warmth from the sun on your skin. You smell of the earth- - rich, dark, vital. You are aliveóand that is true beauty."

Anna felt each word, as she had felt Grahamís music, in some deep part of herself she hadnít known existed. Without thinking, she slipped her arms around Grahamís waist, resting her cheek against the thin cotton shirt, embracing her gently.

"Thank you," Anna whispered against Grahamís shoulder.

Graham was acutely aware of Annaís heart beating against her, of the soft swell of Annaís breast against her chest, and the fine tremor in Annaís body. Graham shuddered slightly and stepped back gently, taking a deep breath.

"The stone benchóis it still there, under the sycamore?"

"Yes," Anna said quietly, sensing her withdrawal. She had to let her go, not understanding why it was so difficult.

"If you donít mind the company, Iíd like to sit out here a while." Graham needed distance between them, but she could not bear to leave.

"Iíd love the company," Anna said softly. "Do you know the way?"

Graham laughed. "I used to. Are there any strange obstacles in the path?"

"All clear."

Anna followed Graham with her eyes as she made her way carefully but unerringly to the bench. Only when Anna saw her safely seated could she return to her work. Even then she glanced up every few moments just to look at her. Anna was delighted that Graham accepted Annaís gift of new clothes so magnanimously. Not only were they more practical, she looked terrific in them. As much as she loved the impeccably cut trousers and dress shirts Graham usually wore, this casual garb was unusually compelling. She could still vividly recall her shock when Graham had first appeared in them. Whereas before Grahamís clothes accentuated her ethereal aloofness, these form-fitting casual shirts and pants emphasized her sinewy sensuality. Anna stared while something foreign erupted in her, and her heart began to trip over itself. When Graham asked for her opinion, she couldnít admit that what had come to mind was Ďbreathtakingí. But she was, in that aristocratic way of some women, and each time Anna saw her, she was more aware of just how physically attractive she found Graham to be. She had no reference for what she felt, but it was certainly undeniable.

She pulled roots and transplanted the day lilies that were multiplying in great abundance. Although there was silence between them, she was acutely aware of Grahamís presence and was soothed by it. When she glanced up at one point, she was struck by the distant expression on Grahamís face. She was used to Grahamís lapses in attention, although she was more accustomed to their accompanying some painful memory. Today Graham appeared distracted, but not distressed. Her eloquent hands were moving on her outstretched thighs, delicately, but with purpose.

"Where are you?" Anna called quietly, laying her tools aside.

Graham smiled ruefully. "Iím trying to capture a refrain -not very successfully, Iím afraid. Itís been been plaguing me all day."

"Can you hear it?" Anna asked, aware that Graham had never once spoken to her of music. That she did so now, so casually, made Anna realize that Graham was not fully present.

"Almost. Itís there, like a fine murmur in my ear, but I canít quite bring it into focus."

"Why donít you hum it?" Anna suggested, taking advantage of Grahamís apparently mellow mood. "Maybe that will help."

Graham tilted her head, frowning slightly, "You wonít mind the noise?"

Anna laughed. "Of course not! Go ahead!" She smiled, turning back to her work, enjoying the deep, rich timbre of Grahamís voice. Gradually she became aware of fragments of an enchanting melody and sat back on her heels to listen. Quietly, she laid her tools aside and watched Graham.

Graham sat with her eyes closed, outlined in sunlight. Anna wasnít quite sure which was more beautiful, the music or its composer. She did know she had never been quite so moved, nor quite so content simply to look at another human being.

Graham quieted, fixing her gaze towards Anna. "Youíve stopped working."

"Iím listening," Anna confessed in a voice thick with emotion.

Graham leaned forward, her expression intent. "Do you like it?"

Anna went to her instinctively, kneeling by her side. She placed her hand lightly on Grahamís thigh. She didnít know how to say what she feltóhow the melody enchanted her, soothed her like a gentle caress-- how gracefully the notes flowed around her. She wanted to say that Grahamís music made her hurt somewhere inside; that she welcomed the hurt because she felt it so deeply she knew she was alive. Listening, she had wanted to cry, and dance, and hold someone she loved. "Itís beautifulóI felt things, I wanted things, -- things that Iíve never known, just from listening to you. Itís wonderful."

Graham was silent for a long time. Her gaze drifted beyond Anna, to another place, to another lifetime, when she was whole and her world was filled with music. She had thought then that her world was filled with love, too. She knew now she had been wrong. Annaís innocent response to those faltering notes, not even a fragment of what she once wrote in an instant, reminded her painfully of what she was no more.

Her fingertips just brushed Annaís hand where it lay on her leg. She looked to where she knew Anna knelt, willing herself to see her. When she couldnít, she lifted a hand to Annaís cheek.

"I wondered if you could hear something of what I felt. I think you do. You have been kind in your praise. Thank you."

Anna remained motionless, concentrating on the featherlight stroke of Grahamís hand. Despite its gentleness, it affected her deeply. The sorrow in Grahamís eyes, as they searched her face unseeing, touched her even more. Was there no way at all to ease her endless torment? She didnít realize her hands had moved to Grahamís waist, or that she leaned into Grahamís embrace as she struggled for some words to convey the emotions that threatened to choke her. Graham felt the heat of Annaís body close against her own.

Graham sat back abruptly, letting her hand fall away, breaking their connection.

"I think Iíll go in now. You must have things to doóand I have other matters to attend to."

Anna stifled a protest; she was embarrassed by how much she wanted her to stay. Graham had already begun to make her way back toward the house by the time Anna collected herself. Anna looked after her, confused, and hurt. Had her pitifully inadequate attempts to describe her feelings about Grahamís music offended her?

Whatever the cause of Grahamís withdrawal, Anna returned to her work feeling lonely, a penetrating loneliness she had never before known.
 




Chapter Nine

 


The sun was nearly gone when Graham rounded the corner from the rose garden. She halted abruptly when she heard the kitchen door slam with a bang. Annaís angry voice carried to her clearly.

"Mr. Reynolds," Anna shouted, her voice cold with fury, "do you mind telling me what this is?"

He looked at the canister she held out to him, not particularly disturbed by her anger. He was thinking once again what a good-looking woman she was, especially in those cotton shorts that showed off her nice tight thighs. "Itís a solventóyou spray it onó"

Anna interrupted him in a deadly tone. "What was it doing on the kitchen counter?"

"Guess I left it there when I used the phone." He stared at her, confused. She did seem to be a little irritated. "You did say I could use the phone." He gave her his best grin, the one that always worked with his wife.

"Yes, I did," she said with steely calm. "And I expressly told you that you were to leave no tools lying around, and that you were absolutely not to bring anything into the house." She caught her breath, trying to control her temper. " Is it caustic?"

"Well, youíd get a nasty burn if you sprayed yourself. But, itís clearly markedóanyone can seeó"

"No, Mr. Reynoldsónot anyone," Anna exploded. "Youíre fired. Send me a bill for what youíve done so far." She turned and slammed back into the houseóshe was shaking.

She heard the door open and whirled to confront him. This was not open to discussion. But it was Graham instead who stood inside the door, her face grave.

"That isnít necessary, Anna," she said quietly.

Anna was too distraught for caution. She was still upset over Grahamís fall that morning; she had been upset ever since Graham deserted her so precipitously; and she was sick over finding an open canister of toxic fluid in the kitchen where Graham insisted on preparing her own lunch. "Yes, it is necessary! That was dangerous!"

"I am quite capableó"

"Yes, you are!" Anna interrupted, her voice rising. "You are amazingly capable. I am well aware that there isnít much that you canít do. But, damn it, Graham, you canít see! And thereís no point in putting danger in your path. Youíre so stubborn and --I would hate it so if anything happened to you!" Her voice broke, but she just couldnít help it. She seemed to be on an emotional rollercoaster lately. She was moody, and she never had been before. She woke up in the morning feeling in charge of the world, only to find herself depressed and listless by the afternoon. She hadnít felt this out of sorts in the middle of divorcing her husband! If something happened to Graham! To her horror she felt tears threatening.

From across the room, Graham felt her distress. "Anna," she soothed, reaching out to her, finding her shoulders. "Look at me."

Graham gently cupped Annaís face with her hands, her expression intent. Drawing a tremulous breath, Anna searched Grahamís face.

"I am carefulóI have learned to be. Fire him because he didnít follow your ordersófair enough. But donít let my blindness burden you with unnecessary fears. It is enough that I am a prisoneróat least, in some ways, I deserve it."

"No! You could neveróoh, Graham, no!"

Graham stilled her with the fleeting touch of one finger to Annaís lips. "It doesnít matter nowóitís done." She softly brushed the hair back from Annaís neck, allowing the thick strands to run slowly through her fingers, before dropping her hands. Quietly, she said, "There are things about me you do not know, Anna - things that some might say warrant my fate. There may be truth in that; Iíve stopped asking. Whatever the case, I canít have you become a victim of my past. You must live your life and not worry about mine. Promise me?"

Anna nodded, so affected by Grahamís words that her head was pounding.

"Iíll tryóI promise."

Graham seemed satisfied and stepped back. "Thank you."

"Graham!" Anna called as Graham turned away, loathe for her to leave, "Do you want to finish the accounts tonight?"

Graham shook her head. "No -Iíll send for you when Iím ready."

Anna was oddly disappointed, and suddenly the evening ahead of her loomed long and empty. She waited all that interminably long day and the ones that followed for some word from Graham. None ever came.

**********

By the time Helen entered the kitchen shortly after five am, Anna had made coffee, put bread in the oven, and was pacing restlessly in front of the window. She had barely slept and her nerves were completely frayed.

"What are you doing up so early?" Helen asked in surprise.

Turning abruptly, Anna asked urgently, "Helen, where is Graham? I havenít seen her in three days. I looked for her at the sea wall this morning and yesterday. She hasnít been there, or out to the gardens, and she hasnít sent for me! What is going on?"

Momentarily dismayed by Annaís distress, Helen quickly composed herself. She had been shielding Graham Yardley for a great many years. "Why, sheís in the music room."

"The music room," Anna repeated stonily, trying to contain her temper. "I have never known her not to open the terrace doors when sheís in there. Why now - whatís happening?"

"Sheís perfectly all right," Helen insisted, although her face betrayed her uncertainty.

"Is that why you brought back the dinner trays untouched for the last two nights? Because sheís all right? Damn it, Helen! Tell me!"

Helen sagged slightly, abandoning her facade of disconcern. She sat heavily at the table, motioning for Anna to join her.

"She is in the music room, and sheís workingósheís composingósomething she hasnít done since the accident. Iím not sure itís going well. Itís been so long! I bring her the trays, but she sends them away untouched; she sends me away. I know she hasnít slept. It is starting to frighten me."

Anna looked at her disbelievingly. "Iíve been up to the terrace behind her study. Sheís not playing- the room is dark -" Anna sighed. "Of course it would be, wouldnít it. She doesnít need the light. Itís sound proof, too, isnít it?"

"Yes, as long as the doors are closed." Helen affirmed. "I donít know if you can understand what this means, Anna. Iím not sure I do any longer. Graham hasnít attempted a new work since her injury. Oh, sheís written fragments - those sad melodies she plays. But nothing of any complexity, and nothing thatís ever affected her like this. I used to pray that she would work again, but now Iím not sure itís a good thing. If she canít - Iím not sure how much disappointment one soul can bear!"

"Give me the breakfast tray," Anna said quietly.

"Oh, no, Graham wouldnít like that!" Helen protested.

"Helen, I donít give a damn if Graham likes it or not! Are you going to stand by for the rest of your life and watch her die a little bit more each day!?"

Helen couldnít hide her shock, and the harsh words shook her to her core. She stared at Anna, stricken.

"Oh my God, Helen," Anna cried. "I am so sorry!" She passed a trembling hand across her face, drawing a shaky breath. "I canít begin to apologize! I donít know what Iím saying! Iíve been worried sick about her, and I just - Please, can you forgive me?"

"Itís all right, my dear. I can see that youíre upset for her." She turned to prepare the tray. "Maybe if I hadnít given in to her so easily all these years -" she said uncertainly.

"No, Helen," Anna said compassionately, agonizing over the words she had uttered in anger. "Graham is a formidable woman, and I doubt that you or anyone else could have changed her. My god, if you hadnít been here for her all this time, who knows how she would have survived."

Helen remained silent, thinking that Anna had done more to change Grahamís life in three months than all of her own attention over the years. She knew Anna had spoken from a place of caring, and she was grateful at last for someone who wasnít willing to let Graham simply slip away. Everyone else who had supposedly loved her had either been too devastated by her tragedy or too weak to stand between Graham and her pain. Why Anna was willing to, she didnít know. For now she was just thankful that she did.

"Take this then," Helen said, offering the breakfast tray. "But be prepared. You havenít yet seen Graham when sheís battling her demons. Her temper terrified most people."

**********

Graham stood, shoulders slumped, before the fireplace, her arms folded along the mantle, her forehead resting against them. She stared down into the cold ashes. The back of her linen shirt was rumpled and sweat-stained. From across the room, Anna could see her trembling. Graham waved a hand distractedly, "Just leave it, Helen."

"Not until you eat," Anna said as she placed the tray next to the untouched dinner left from the night before.

Graham turned in surprise. "Anna?"

"Yes," Anna replied, struggling for calm. Grahamís face was creased with fatigue, she was unsteady on her feet, and she looked like she had lost five pounds when what she needed was to gain twenty. Her physical fragility was shocking. Anna had grown accustomed to the force and power of Grahamís presence, and to be confronted so vividly with Grahamís vulnerability frightened Anna more than she could have imagined. My god, this is killing her! The thought was so terrifying Anna clenched her fists to keep from crying out.

"Leave itóplease," Graham repeated softly. She forced a smile, trying to hide her weariness. "Then go."

Anna took a breath, "I want you to eat first."

Graham frowned, her body rigid with tension. "I will. Later."

"No. Now," Anna repeated, knowing she was on dangerous ground. She knew that no one dictated to Graham Yardley, and certainly not when she was in the midst of a creative fury. She steeled herself for the storm that finally arrived. Graham straightened to her full imposing height, her dark eyes flashing fire.

"I donít have time to argue with you, Anna, nor should I have to. I am still master of this house and, if I am correct, you work for me. Donít interfere in something you know nothing about!"

"I know you canít work like this -"

"You presume to speak of my work?!" Graham shouted, slamming the piano lid down in frustration. "What do you know of my work! Could you even begin to recognize a great piece of music, let alone understand what it takes to create one?! Do you have any idea who I --" Graham stopped abruptly, realizing what she was about to say. Do you have any idea who I am? Who was she now?

Anna would have preferred the anger to the agonizing uncertainty that she glimpsed as Graham turned from her. Helen had voiced what Graham obviously feared. What if she canít?

"Of course I donít know what it takes! I canít even begin to fathom what it demands of you to create what you have. I do know who you are, Graham, and I know you can do this. But youíve got to stop driving yourself this way! Itís only making it harder!"

Graham bowed her head, both arms braced on the wide expanse of the silent grand piano. "Please leave me, Anna," she said quietly, her despondency apparent.

"I canít," Anna said desperately. "Not like this."

Graham ran a hand through her disheveled hair. "I didnít know you were so stubborn."

"Thereís a lot you donít know about me," Anna said as she moved quickly to Grahamís side, grasping her hand. "Come, sit down."

Graham allowed herself to be led to the chair. She was truly too tired to protest. She was ready to admit defeat, she should have known better than to try - but the music was still there, so close to her grasp! She leaned her head back with a groan.

"Do you want champagne?" Anna asked.

Graham laughed faintly. "Isnít it morning?"

"Yes, but for you, itís well past time for bed. Youíve been at this three days Graham - you canít keep this up." Anna said reasonably, trying to hide her own deep fear.

"I canít stop now, Anna. Not yet," Graham said frantically. "Iíve been trying so hard to seize the musicóI think I have it, and then itís gone." She dropped her head into both hands. "Perhaps I just canít do it anymore. Perhaps I am the fool."

Anna couldnít bear to hear the defeat in her voice. She had already lost so much!

"Graham, youíre tired, youíre driving yourself. Have something to eat. Rest a while. It will come."

Graham shook her head. "I canít. If I sleep now, I may lose it all." She was riding the thin edge of control, besieged with uncertainty, exhausted, and nearly broken.

Anna couldnít stand by and watch her suffer any longer. "Graham," she said softly, sliding on to the broad arm of the chair, encircling Grahamís shoulder with one protective arm. "You canít lose it. Itís part of youóthe music is you. I know that much from hearing you play."

She slipped a hand into Grahamís thick hair, massaging the cramped muscles in her neck. Graham groaned, leaning her head back into Annaís hands.

"Thatís not fair, but it feels so good," she murmured.

"Close your eyes," Anna whispered, a catch in her throat.

"Just for a second," Graham relented. She was so very tired!

Anna kept Graham in her arms long after she finally gave in to sleep. Gently, Anna pushed the damp hair back from her forehead, wincing at the dark shadows under her eyes. Her skin seemed even paler, if possible. Anna felt a fierce desire to safeguard this delicate spirit. She continued to stroke her hair softly as she slept. She drifted, peaceful for the first time in days, with Graham secure in her arms.

When Graham stirred some time later, she became aware of Annaís body pressed to hers. Grahamís cheek rested against Annaís shoulder, and one arm encircled Annaís firm waist. The heat from Annaís body surprised her. She hadnít known the closeness of another human being, nor wanted it, for more years than she could remember. Annaís nearness stirred memories, in her body and her mind, that she would rather leave buried. She knew she must move away; she was beginning to respond in ways she could not control. Some awakening need, however, cried out for Annaís touch.

"Are you awake?" Anna queried softly, absently sliding her hand down Grahamís neck to rest her fingers lightly against the soft skin left bare by the open collar of Grahamís shirt. She attributed the fine shiver that coursed through Grahamís frame to her lingering fatigue. "Graham?"

"Mmm," Graham murmured, struggling to hide her erratic breathing. All of her consciousness seemed to be focused on the spot where Annaís hand lay. "My headache is gone, and the music is still there." She didnít add that Annaís nearness was making it difficult to concentrate on the distant melody. For some reason it didnít seem quite as urgent right now. She even began to dare hope that the notes would not desert her.

"Ah," Anna smiled. "Some breakfast then, and that champagne."

"I want to work," Graham protested, struggling to rise.

Anna stilled her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"After breakfast!"

Graham shifted in the wide chair so that she was facing Anna, her expression revealing her frustration. Anna longed to smooth the wrinkles from her brow, but now that Graham was awake she was hesitant to touch her. Instead, she regarded her silently, surprised by the emotions just the sight of her stirred.

"What is it?" Graham asked at length, aware of the scrutiny.

"You have the most beautiful eyes," Anna whispered.

Graham blushed faintly. "The scar," she began hesitantly, "is it very bad?"

Anna traced the scar with her finger, at last giving in to her urge to stroke the lovely face. "No. I hardly think of itóexcept that it reminds me of how much youíve been hurt. Then all I want is to undo those hurts. I would give anything to change what happened to you," she finished softly.

"Why?"

"I donít know, Graham," she answered, moved to honesty by the quiet intimacy they shared. "I only know that when I look at you, I want to know youówho you are, what you feel, what makes you happyóand I know that more than anything else, I donít want you to hurt." She laughed rather shakily. "I donít quite understand it, but I can tell you I feel it."

Annaís passionate admission moved Graham profoundly. She could not doubt her sincerity; she could hear the tears in her voice. Suddenly she was awash with conflicting needs. She could no longer ignore her intense response to Annaís touch; her legs were shaking and the blood pounded insistently through her pelvis. This was desire, and that very fact was frightening. Graham drew away slightly, her face once again expressionless.

"You are a very kind woman," she said softly.

Anna stared at her in confusion. Kindness? Whatever she felt for this woman, it was much more than kindness! She sensed Grahamís withdrawal, just as she had that day in the garden. To be so close to her, and in the next moment to have that connection wrenched away, left her with an aching hollowness that was hard to endure.

"If I eat now, will you let me get back to work?" Graham asked, moving away.

"Of course," Anna answered bleakly.
 




Chapter Ten

 




Helen approached the study with some trepidation the next morning. Anna had been subdued the entire previous day after speaking with Graham. Her only comment had been, "She slept a bit and she said she would eat. If she doesnít, call me." Anna had taken herself off to the gardens then and worked ferociously all day. When she finally appeared in the kitchen well after dark, she sank into the chair, eyes already half-closed. Helen had to assure her that Grahamís breakfast tray had come back empty before she could get her to eat anything herself. When Anna dragged herself off to bed, Helen thought sure she saw tears on her cheeks. Helen was beginning to despair that both of them would make themselves sick. Well, something surely has to be done! she thought to herself as she wrapped soundly on Grahamís door.

"Come."

Graham was standing at the open French doors, obviously weary, but smiling.

Helen smiled with relief. "How are you, my dear girl?"

"Iíve finished, Helen- itís only a variation, but Iíve finished," she said with a note of wonder. "The first real work Iíve done in years!"

"Oh, Iím so glad!"

Grahamís expression darkened. "Yes, wellóI canít be sure itís any good. I never gave it any thought before. I never questioned my music, never! God, what arrogance to think I dare to compose anything now!! Music, above all else, must be alive! How can I create anything that lives, while I, I merely exist."

"Oh, but Graham, you are alive!"

"Am I? Iíve forgotten what it means to care about anything, Helenóabout you, about myself, about-- anyone. The sun doesnít warm me, the salt air no longer stings, the touch of anotherís handó" Her voice faltered and she turned away. "My body has become my prison, as surely as my blindness is my jailer! How can these hands make music, when I am captive in this solitude!"

Helen responded instinctively to Grahamís distress, sensing rather than knowing what tormented her. Graham never complained of loneliness before there was someone to remind her of anotherís companionship. "Itís Anna, isnít it? Something has happened."

Graham stiffened, her face inscrutable. "No, nothing," she said sharply. "She pities me because she is kind. Thatís all."

Helen shook her head. "She is kind, you are right in that. But pity you she does not. She is too strong a woman herself to expect that you would need her pity."

"She doesnít know me," Graham said bitterly.

"Then let her know you! You mistake caring for pity, Graham. Let her care about you!"

"No. That is not possible," Graham responded angrily. "For godís sake, Helen. You of all people should know that! Have you forgotten who I am? Or have you merely forgotten what happens when I allow someone to care? Would you wish that for me again?"

Helen shuddered at the angry words, crying, "How can I forget what love cost you, Graham? I see the cost every time I look at you!! But it need not always be that way!"

"Perhaps for me, it does," Graham said faintly, exhausted by too many assaults on her body and her soul. "Perhaps for me there is no other way."

Helen recognized the resignation in her face and wondered if it wasnít too late after all for Graham Yardley to find peace.

**********

It was another two days before Anna saw Graham again. They were two interminable days spent trying not to wonder and worry about her difficult employer. Two days in which she tried to concentrate on her own life, only to find that Yardley, and itís compelling master, had become a large part of her life. When Graham joined Anna on the terrace early one warm afternoon, Graham greeted her cordially, but with obvious distance. To Annaís deep regret, the woman who had walked among the flowers with Anna was gone. Anna sensed there would be no discussion of how she had passed her time, or her plans for Yardleyís renovation, or Grahamís observations on the progress of the gardens. Graham Yardley was as reserved, aloof, and unapproachable as she had been the day they met. Anna keenly missed the small intimacies they had come to share, aware only now of how much those moments with Graham had come to mean to her. Struggling with the crushing disappointment, she tried to accept that Graham wanted nothing more from her than simple secretarial assistance.

"There is a letter here for you," Anna said perfunctorily. "Would you like me to read it to you?"

Graham nodded, her attention obviously elsewhere.

With a sigh, Anna removed several pages of lilac-colored paper, covered in script. She began to read aloud:

My darling Graham,

Forgive me for not writing all this time, but you never seemed to want to hear from me. Iíve called many times, wishing to visit, but Helen always told me you would not see me. All these years you have never left my mind, even though I doubt you will believe that.
 
 

Anna faltered to a halt, uncomfortable with the intimate tone of the message. "This is very personal, Graham. Perhaps Helen should read it to you."

"Finish it," Graham ordered grimly, rising so quickly that her chair toppled to the flagstone surface of the patio. Muttering an oath, she righted it and began pacing along the edge of the balcony.

Reluctantly, Anna continued to read from the perfume scented letter:

Richard must be in Boston for business and will have little need of my company. I know that after so many years it is bold of me to ask, but I want to see you so! I would love to see Yardley again, too. I will be arriving on June 6. Please, darling, say that I may come! I have missed you more than you will ever know!

Until then, Christine

Graham remained silent, her hands clenched into tight fists against the stone railing. From where she was sitting, Anna could see her tremble.

"Graham?" she questioned softly, frightened by her reaction.

"Today is the fifth of June, isnít it?" Graham asked at length, her voice barely a whisper. She kept her face averted, struggling to control her emotions.

"Yes."

Graham turned abruptly, her eyes bleak. She clenched the head of her walking stick so tightly that the fine tendons in her hand strained against the skin. With an effort she forced her voice to be calm.

"If you donít mind, Iíd like to finish the rest of the correspondence another day."

She had clearly been dismissed, and Anna struggled not to call out to her as Graham left. Graham had made it clear that her concern was not wanted. Nevertheless, Anna could not put the disturbing letter, nor the mysterious Christine, from her mind.

**********

Anna spent a restless night, her sleep broken by half-formed dreams. She awoke still tired, with a strange sense of foreboding. As much as she tried to put the infuriating Graham Yardley from her mind, she couldnít. She looked for her at the cliffís edge each morning when she woke; she waited for the time when Graham would push open the doors to her study, affording Anna a glimpse of her; she listened for her footsteps in the hall at night, unable to sleep until Graham retired. She could no more ignore the letter and its affect on Graham than she could ignore her own heartbeat. Whether Graham welcomed it or not, Anna could not seem to stop caring about her. She dressed hurriedly and went to find Helen.

"Good morning," Helen greeted her.

"Who is Christine?" Anna demanded, too stressed for diplomacy.

Helen looked shocked. "Why, sheís just someone Graham knew a long time ago."

"Well," Anna announced grimly, "sheís coming here today."

"What? How do you know?" Helen cried in alarm. This could only mean more trouble for all of them, and goodness only knew what it was going to do to Graham. "Are you sure?"

"A letter came from her yesterday."

"I see," Helen frowned, speaking almost to herself. "Now I understand why Graham was so out of sorts last evening."

"Well, I donít." Anna seethed. "What is going on? And donít give me that Ďold friendí routine. Graham looked like sheíd seen a ghost yesterday when that letter came."

"Well," Helen began carefully, "they are old friends, and they havenít seen each other in years. I imagine Graham was just surprised."

"Helenó" Anna said threateningly. She knew the difference between surprise and shock. "I know this is Grahamís private affair, but I saw what that letter did to her. You know better than I what sheís been through this week. How much more do you think she can take? Please, I just want to help."

Helen realized it wasnít fair not to explain at least as much as she could, although there were some things only Graham could disclose. She motioned for Anna to sit down beside her as she poured them both some coffee. Helen spoke softly, her memories taking her back to a time so different, and a Graham Yardley Anna would scarcely recognize.

"They met at music school, although Christine was quite a bit younger. For a number of years they were inseparable. They were tumultuous years for Graham. She was at the peak of her career and consumed with it. When she toured those last few years, Christine traveled with her. I think Christine resented Grahamís music; it took so much of Grahamís attention. And Christine was the kind of girl who was used to attention. She was always trying to drag Graham off to some party, but Graham never let anything, or anyone, come between her and her music. Believe me, they had some pretty big rows about that. Still Christine came closer to distracting Graham than anyone could. Graham was infatuated with her, in some way, and she tried very hard to balance her career and her friendship with Christine. Donít get me wrong, Christine could be very charming; and I think she genuinely cared for Graham. Still, there were some pretty nasty scenes toward the end. They were together the night of the accident."

"What happened?" Anna asked, forcing her voice to be calm. Something in her rebelled at the thought of anyone having that kind of influence over Graham. Especially not a woman who was determined to see Graham that day.

Helen shook her head sadly. "No one knows for sure. Graham has never spoken of it to anyone. They were on their way home from a post-performance reception for Graham. It was rumored they had fought at the party. When they found the caró" Helen stopped for a second, gathering herself. That horrible night still seemed like yesterday.

"The car was in a ditch." Helen continued. "It had rolled over. It took them a long time to get them out. Grahamís body was covering Christineís. Graham's leg was crushed and she had a severe head injury. Christine was badly bruised, but otherwise untouched. They kept Christine in the hospital for a few day, and as soon as she was released, she left the area. We were all so concerned about Graham, we didnít hear until later that Christine had married within the yearóRichard Blair, an attorney who worked for David Norcross. Graham asked for her soon after she regained consciousness. When we told her that Christine was alive and married, she never mentioned her again." Helen stopped. "Iím sorry, thatís truly all I know. Graham never talked about any of it, and I couldnít bring myself to remind her of it."

"Poor Graham," Anna whispered, shaken by the story. Whatever their relationship had been, Graham had obviously cared deeply for Christine. Was there no end to the losses she had suffered that tragic night?

"I donít know how sheís going to be, seeing Christine again," Helen said worriedly.

Anna wondered just how much power Christine still had over Graham, and exactly how she intended to use it.

**********

Anna was on her knees in the rhododendrons when a sleek black Jaguar pulled up the drive. An attractive redhead slid from the car, the hem of her expensive dress pulling up to reveal shapely legs. The woman glanced about and spied Anna. She walked toward her, looking puzzled.

"Hello," she said, studying Anna curiously. "Where did you come from? Should I remember you ?"

Anna stood, uncomfortable under the womanís appraising gaze. She wiped the dust from her hands as she said, "No, Iíve only been here a few months."

"Do you mean to say you live here?"

"Yes, I do," Anna replied stiffly. "Iím Anna Reid."

"Christine Hunt-Blair." After slight hesitation, the woman offered a soft and well manicured hand. Anna was acutely aware of the calluses on her own palm. Anna regarded the haughty woman before her, trying not to dislike her. After all, they had only just met. The visitor surveyed her critically, then shrugged in dismissal. "Yardley looks rather run down. I suppose it could use a caretaker. Poor old Helen probably canít cope any longer, and Graham wouldnít notice if the house were falling down around her, as long as it didnít fall on the piano." After a moments pause, she added, "From what I understand, of course, Graham has no reason to care what it looks like any more."

Anna was stunned by the heartless remark. It was inconceivable to her that any one could make light of Grahamís injury, especially the woman who had supposedly been so close to Graham. What on earth had Graham found attractive in this shallow, insensitive woman? Maybe itís the fact that sheís exceptionally beautiful, Anna couldnít help thinking, flushed with a possessive anger that only confused her more.

Oblivious to Annaís indignation, Christine announced, "Iíve come to see Graham. Where is she?"

"I imagine sheís in the music room. She usually is this time of day. If youíll give me a moment, Iíll take you in."

"Oh, there's no need," Christine laughed, turning toward the house. "I should have known thatís where sheíd be. I know my way quite well."

Anna watched her retreating back, feeling more than a little foolish. After all, this had nothing to do with her. Her mood did not lighten when she entered the kitchen an hour later to find Helen preparing an elaborate dinner.

"Graham asked that we have dinner in the dining room tonight! I was so surprised; we havenít had a formal meal in there for years. And Iíve barely had time to prepare!" She was clearly harried, hurrying to arrange appetizers on a large silver platter while she watched over other items in the oven and on the stove.

"Can I help?" Anna asked.

"Oh no dear. This is the most excitement Iíve had in years!" Helen laughed. "Of course, in previous years, if Graham were entertaining, I always had help in the kitchen, and a butler to serve! Thank goodness there are only a few of us tonight!"

"I donít think Iíll be joining you," Anna said. She didnít think sheíd enjoy watching Graham and Christine reminisce, and she didnít think she could tolerate Christineís proprietary attitude.

Helen stopped what she was doing, taking conscious notice of Anna for the first time. She had that tight look around her mouth she got when she was upset, and it didnít take much to think what that might be about.

"Have you met Christine?" Helen questioned cautiously. Anna was usually calm and good-natured, but she had a temper where things concerned Graham.

"Briefly, in the drive. Is she with Graham?" Anna couldnít help but ask, as much as she had promised herself she wouldnít think about them.

"Sheís waiting for Graham in the library as Graham instructed," Helen informed her. "Graham specifically asked me to inform you of dinner, my dear. Iím sure she expects you to be there."

"And I donít suppose she would broker any debate," Anna sighed in resignation. Oh well, I can stand it for one meal, she thought as she left for her room.

Anna never would have lingered by the open door if she hadnít caught a glimpse of Graham entering the library. Anna stopped in surprise when she saw her. Graham had obviously dressed with care for her meeting with Christine. She was resplendent in a starched, finely-pleated white tuxedo shirt and formal black-striped trousers. A blood red cummerbund encircled her narrow waist; gold and diamond cuff links sparkled on the stiff French cuffs of her sleeves. Her barber must have come, because her usually unruly mane was trimmed and expertly styled. She looked ready for the concert stage, and Anna knew she had never seen any one so magnificent. If Anna hadnít been so taken by that tantalizing view of the woman she had hitherto only imagined from photographs, she never would have witnessed the scene that would haunt her unmercifully thereafter.

"Graham, darling!" Christine cried as Graham stepped into the room. Christine rushed forward, one arm outstretched, catching Grahamís right hand in hers. "Oh, my darling, you look even more exquisite than I remembered," she said throatily.

Graham lifted Christineís hand, bowing her head to brush her lips across the soft skin.

"Hello, Christine," she murmured.

Christine slid her other hand into Grahamís hair, raising Grahamís head. "Is that any way to greet me after all this time?" she questioned breathlessly. Not waiting for a reply, she stepped forward and pressed her lips to Grahamís.

Anna turned from the door as Graham pulled Christine firmly into her embrace.

**********

Anna stood staring out her bedroom window, seeing nothing of the view. She kept searching for something to erase the image of Grahamís response to Christineís kiss. She kept searching for some way to lessen the terrible desolation the vision produced. She kept asking herself why she felt this way, and she kept running from the answer.

She finally forced herself to perform some normal task. She was after all expected at dinner. She showered and was pulling on one of her fancier blouses when she was surprised by a knock on her door. She finished buttoning hastily as she crossed the room. She was astonished to find Graham standing in the hall. Graham had donned a midnight blue silk dinner jacket. She was more than stunning. Anna tried desperately to quell the surge of jealousy, knowing that Christine had prompted this display from Graham. What in godís name is happening to me? she wondered frantically. I feel like Iím losing my mind!

"Anna?" Graham questioned, surprised by the silence.

"Yes?" Anna responded, more abruptly than she had intended. All she wanted in that moment was to get away from Graham Yardley and the unsettling emotions she provoked. "What is it? Do you need something?"

Graham smiled slightly and shook her head. "May I speak with you a moment?"

"Of course," Anna replied, becoming alarmed. Graham had never come to her room before. She stepped aside to allow Graham entry. "Sit down, please. The chairs are before the fireplace, where theyíve always been."

Anna found Grahamís expression impossible to decipher. She waited while Graham made her way without faltering to the seating area. She followed somewhat reluctantly, sitting anxiously in the opposite chair.

"I wanted to tell you myself that Christine will be staying here at Yardley for some indefinite time," Graham began in a low voice. "Apparently, she is thinking of leaving her husband and needs time to consider her future."

Annaís heart lurched, and for once she was glad that Graham couldnít see her face. Christine to stay at Yardley! As if it werenít perfectly clear what Christine expected her future to be! You only to had to look at the way she looked at Graham to know her intentions. Anna was too upset to notice that Graham did not appear overly happy with her announcement.

"Does this mean that you wonít need my services any longer?" Anna asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice from shaking. Annaís mind recoiled from the thought of leaving Yardley. This was her life!

Graham sat forward in alarm. "Good god, no! Why ever would you think that? You belong here at Yardley, and I would want you to stay as long as you are happy here. I merely wanted to tell you about Christine myself, so you wouldnít be surprised at dinner." She couldnít believe that Anna would imagine she wanted her to leave. That thought was the farthest thing from her mind. In fact, it was unthinkable. "Anna, please donít be upset. It wasnít my intention to concern you. This has been a difficult day for me. Iím sorry."

For the first time, Anna noticed the tremor in Grahamís hands. Her resolve to distance herself from Graham disappeared as soon as she recognized Grahamís distress. She was helpless in the face of Grahamís need. She simply couldnít bear to see her like this. Grasping Grahamís hand, she said softly, "Itís all right. Please donít worry about me."

Graham held Annaís hand for a moment, her head bowed. Abruptly she rose and began pacing. "I couldnít turn her away, Anna. Not afteróafter all weíd been to each other." She sighed, knowing her words were inadequate. How could she begin to explain what she could barely grasp herself? When she heard Christineís letter the day before, she had been plunged instantly back into that dark night, into the twisted wreckage of her car. Her last memory was of Christine trying to escape from her. She had imagined Christineís return so many times, dreamed of Christine telling her it was all a nightmare, that she had come home. Month after torturous month she had waited in the silent darkness of her room, listening for the quick footfalls in the hall that signaled Christineís arrival. More than a year had passed before she would believe that Christine was truly gone. The day she accepted that was the day she accepted her blindness, and the knowledge that the music had abandoned her as well. In an instant her life was devoid of everything that had given it meaning. She had neither the hope nor the desire to fill the emptiness with anything, or anyone, else. And so she had accepted her fate without protest, allowing time to pass unnoticed. These last few months since Annaís arrival were her only clear moments in the long torturous years since her world had shattered. Only the fragrance of the flowers, and the memory of Annaís hand on her arm as they strolled through the gardens, brought a faint smile to her lips.

She had felt only confusion when she thought of confronting Christine, instead of the celebration she imagined she should experience. She spent the previous night awake, leaving the chair where she passed the evening hours to walk through the gardens before dawn. When she felt the first warmth of the sunís rays on her skin she returned to the house for her preparations.

It was important to her that Christine see her as she had once been, not as the shell of a being she had become. Pity from anyone was intolerable, but it would be devastating from the one woman who had claimed to have loved her. It seemed from Christineís greeting that she had succeeded in that at least. Christineís kiss still lingered on her lips, and the words that followed were still fresh in her mind.

"Iíve missed that so much," Christine whispered against her neck. "You were the only one who ever made me feel so alive."

It had seemed the most natural thing in the world to take Christine into her arms, to bend her head to the lips she knew so well, to hear the soft intake of breath she remembered with startling clarity. Christine stirred against her as she had a thousand times before, softly moaning her name. Nothing had changed, and everything was different. Graham saw them together in her mind's eye, but her body remained untouched. Whereas once the mere stroke of Christineís fingers against her skin could make her heart race, now she felt no surging of her blood, no flaring of her senses, no answering passion. Gently, she loosed her hold on the woman in her arms, stepping back from her embrace.

Christine had always been able to read Grahamís mercurial moods. "You donít believe Iíve missed you, do you, darling?"

"Perhaps if it had been a year, or two, or even ten," Graham replied without anger, for strangely she felt none, "I might have."

Christine slowly traced the faint scar across Grahamís forehead, then reached up to kiss her lips once more. "Give me time. Iíll make you believe again," she whispered.

Graham shook her head, in disbelief then, in wordless frustration now. She new Anna was waiting. "Iím sorry, Anna. I wish I could explain. Thereís simply nothing I can say."

"Thatís all right," Anna said stiffly. "You donít need to say anything. She is clearly important to you, and it certainly isnít necessary to justify yourself to me." She knew she sounded cold, but she couldnít help it. She wasnít even certain what bothered her so much about Christineís return. If Christine could ease Grahamís deep desolation, if she could restore some happiness to Grahamís life, Anna should be grateful. Of course, Anna wanted to see Graham happy. Oh, it was all too much to deal with, this whole nightmare of a week! Why was it that the very things that seemed to ease Grahamís discomfort -her physical reserve, her emotional distance, and now Christineís presence - were the same things that made Anna so miserable!!

"Iíll be down for dinner, Graham," Anna said wearily.

Graham started to speak, then merely sighed. "Yes."
 




Chapter Eleven

 


Anna was the first to arrive in the dining room. The long highly polished table was elaborately set with starched handmade linens, antique silver cutlery, fine crystal glassware and china place settings. The formality of the scene was more than a little daunting. Anna reminded herself that there had been much more to Grahamís previous life than she had gleaned from the newspaper accounts. The understated way Graham lived at Yardley now was a far departure from her earlier life. She was a world-renowned artist, recognized in every civilized country, and surely she would have traveled in the most elite circles. She would have been feted at every turn. It made Anna wistful to think she would never know that part of Graham.

Angrily she reminded herself that Graham Yardley obviously had all the companionship she needed with the arrival of Christine. Whatever diversion Anna had provided was surely unnecessary now. The only person who would miss their moments together was herself. She felt at once helpless and irrationally saddened.

"My donít you look nice!" Helen exclaimed as she bustled into the room, mercifully delivering Anna from her introspection.

"Helen!" Anna greeted her with relief. "You must have been working for hours in here! Itís wonderful."

Helen beamed with pleasure as she began setting up the large buffet along one side of the room. "Youíre right, it did! And it couldnít have been a happier chore. For just a moment there this morning, when she was telling me what she wanted done, Graham seemed like her old self."

Helen had no idea that her words had wounded Anna, who instantly thought that all it had taken to motivate Grahamís recovery was Christine's return. Helen continued, unaware of Annaís growing depression. "I do wish she would let me serve, though! She insisted that I prepare a buffet, and that I eat with you, but it just doesnít seem right! If only I had time I could have found help!"

"I donít have much experience, but I could probably manage the serving," Anna said dubiously. In her state of mind, anything seemed preferable to sitting down to dinner with Graham and Christine.

"Nonsense," Graham said from the door, having heard Annaís remark. "Iím sure we can all manage ourselves just this once, Helen."

Anna turned at the sound of Grahamís voice, her heart freezing at the sight of Graham and Christine together. Christine, who had changed into a revealing black evening dress, stood with her arm wrapped through Grahamís, leaning slightly so that her body pressed against Grahamís side. They made a stunningly attractive couple, and Anna had to admit thatís what they were. There was a connection between them that was undeniable, regardless of the years that had separated them. Christine held onto Graham as if she owned her, and Graham seemed content to let her. Anna averted her gaze, unable to tolerate the insurmountable evidence that Graham was still very much involved with Christine.

"At least let me help you set up," she said to Helen, grateful for any diversion.

"Thank you, dear," Helen replied kindly. Annaís reaction to Grahamís entrance had not escaped her. She could only imagine what the poor girl was thinking. And she probably didnít know Graham well enough to know that Graham was behaving exactly as she would with any guest at Yardley.

"You really didnít need to open the guest room for me, Helen," Christine commented as she allowed Graham to seat her to Grahamís right at the table. She smiled without the slightest trace of warmth, her gaze fixed on Anna. "It wasnít necessary, you know."

Anna glanced at Graham, whose face remained expressionless. But Christine had made her point, if she wanted to make it clear where she intended to sleep. Why she felt it necessary that Anna understand her claim on Graham, Anna couldnít imagine. As if it would make a difference even if Anna did care. Anna gritted her teeth and resolved to make this the last meal she shared with Graham Yardley and her Christine.

The dinner proved to be every bit as difficult to endure as Anna feared. Graham, although attentive to Christineís needs and unfailingly courteous, remained distant and distracted throughout the meal. Christine appeared not to notice Grahamís preoccupation, regaling them with social gossip and endless anecdotes of her travels. It did not escape Annaís notice that Christine never mentioned anything remotely to do with music. For her part, Anna had nothing to contribute, and remained silent. She breathed a sigh of relief when at last she could depart with the excuse of helping Helen clear the table.

"You know you donít have to do this, dear," Helen chided when Anna joined her in the kitchen. " But I do appreciate it."

"I work here, too," Anna said, more sharply than she intended. "Believe me, itís a pleasure compared to sitting in there."

Helen studied her speculatively. "I gather the company wasnít to your liking," she commented mildly.

"It was wonderful to finally share a meal with Graham," Anna admitted. Anna had enjoyed Grahamís presence immensely, despite Graham's obvious distraction. She only wished it hadnít required Christineís arrival to prompt Graham to join them.

"Christine can be a bit overbearing, but you must remember sheís always been indulged by every one."

"Including Graham apparently," Anna said ungraciously. She sighed in disgust, as much with herself as the situation. "Oh, I donít know, Helen, it just annoys me the way she hovers over Graham. She poured her wine, she served her food - the next thing you know sheíll be cutting her meat! You know very well Graham doesnít need that kind of help!!"

"Maybe thatís the only kind of help Christine has to offer," Helen suggested sagely.

Anna stopped what she was doing and stared at Helen. "What are you saying, Helen?"

"Christine has always been more glitter than substance. And Graham has always demanded a great deal from people - even before their accident, Christine was frightened by Grahamís intensity. If she were to truly confront Grahamís needs now, she would be overwhelmed. "

Well, she certainly seems to be meeting some of Grahamís needs without any problems! Anna thought angrily. She knew she couldnít discuss Christine rationally, not with the scene in the library so fresh in her memory.

"I donít know what Iím saying any longer," Anna said wearily. "I think I just need to get some rest. Iím going to say goodnight to Graham and head upstairs."

She found Graham and Christine just rising from the table upon her return. Before she could say her goodnights, Christine spoke, seemingly oblivious to Annaís presence.

"Why donít you play something for me, darling?" she asked, grasping Grahamís hand.

Graham could have been carved from marble, she was so still. Slowly, she disengaged Christineís fingers from hers, moving Christineís hand to the crook of her arm. When she spoke, her voice was carefully neutral. "I think not. I need to work."

"Surely youíre not going to work tonight!!" Christine protested, her cheeks flushed with ire.

"Yes," Graham replied with finality.

For an instant Anna thought Christine was about to argue, but the other woman quickly relented.

"All right, if you must. But do promise me youíll breakfast with me!"

Graham nodded. "Of course. Now let me show you to your room." As she led Christine from the room, she said softly, "Goodnight, Anna."

**********

For Anna it was anything but a good night. She tried to read, but she couldnít concentrate. She dozed off in her chair, only to be awakened by a noise in the hall. She knew Grahamís step by now. The person passing by her door toward the master suite was not Graham Yardley.

There was no doubt, of course, about what she had witnessed earlier in the library. It was clear from what Helen had said and from what she herself had witnessed, that Graham and Christine had been lovers before their accident. It seemed apparent that they were about to resume that relationship now. Graham obviously had never stopped loving Christineóthat was the real reason she had secluded herself for so many long and lonely years.

Anna wasnít disturbed by the physical nature of their relationship, but she was stunned by her own response to that kiss. She couldnít bear to think of Graham making love to Christine. That reaction was something she had no reference for, and she was at a loss as to how to cope. She told herself she should be happy that Graham had a chance at happiness, but what she felt instead was a deep sense of loss. Annaís emotions were in turmoil. One thing she knew for certainóshe could not face them together in the morning!

After a fitful few hours of tossing and turning, she rose just before dawn, dressed by the last of the moonlight, and went out for a walk. Unconsciously she followed the path Graham took each morning down the steep slope to the edge of the cliff. She stood where she had seen Graham stand. Anna closed her eyes and tried to imagine what it was that drew Graham to this lonely precipice. After a moment, she thought she knew. Waves crashed below with a deafening roar, sending needles of spray hundreds of feet up the cliff. The air was so sharp it stung her skin. The wind blew harder here, fresh from over the water, carrying the rich scent of sea life. It was much colder there as well. This would be the first place at Yardley where the morning sun would fall. Condensed in this one spot, in the dark just before dawn, ones senses were so assaulted, you did not need to see to know the essence of the world around you. For a brief instant each day, on the edge of this cliff, Graham Yardley was not blind.

Anna leaned against the crumbling stone wall that rimmed the cliff and cried. She cried for Graham, for all she had been, and all she had lost. She cried for herself, because she loved her, and would never know her. She cried for the years she had spent not knowing herself, only to discover too late what form her love truly took. As she cried the harsh wind dried her tears. When the first faint wisps of summer sunlight flickered across her cheeks, she opened her eyes to a day that dawned clearer, and lonelier, than any she had ever known. She sat on a worn weathered bench to watch the sunrise, and thatís where Graham found her.

"Anna?" came the deep voice she could never mistake for another's.

Anna looked up to find Graham beside her, in the same clothes she had worn to dinner, rumpled and exhausted.

"How do you always know?" she asked quietly.

Graham smiled faintly. "The air moves differently when youíre near."

"You should have been a poet, not a pianist," Anna breathed around the tears that threatened again. "Although maybe there isnít any difference. Please, sit down."

Graham acquiesced, stretching her long legs out before her, leaning back with a sigh. Her hand lightly grazed Annaís shoulder where she rested it along the top of the bench.

"How is your work coming?" Anna asked, unsettled by Grahamís nearness, but loath to move away.

Graham shrugged tiredly. "I wish I knew. Iím trying only to capture the essence of what Iím hearing. I donít dare analyze it yet. Iím afraid to discover it is trash."

"Have you slept?"

"Ah, Anna - always so concerned. Why do you care?" she asked not unkindly. Annaís caring confounded her. Many people in her life had professed to care about her, but only Helen remained, and she had loved Graham all her life. Why a stranger should extend kindness now, when she was bereft of all her talents, she could not comprehend.

"Because I -" Anna hesitated over words she was not prepared to face. "Because you deserve to be cared about Graham. And youíre avoiding my question. Did you sleep?"

"As much as one can in one of those godforsaken chairs from the last century," Graham admitted. "Anna," she continued with a weary sigh, "tell me about something you love. Tell me about something beyond my view."

As Anna spoke, Grahamís tension ebbed, and her breathing grew quiet and deep. Anna told of her favorite cities, the movies that made her cry, and the books she had read a dozen times. She talked of her family, and her friends, and her dreams. She talked long after she thought Graham was asleep, because she wanted to keep her near, because it pleased her to imagine that some part of Graham heard her secrets. When at last she fell silent, the day was fully born.

"So," Graham murmured, to Annaís surprise awake after all, "You love New York City, French movies with subtitles, wild flowers, and - what else?"

I love you, she answered from her soul. "Yardley -" Anna whispered with an ache in her heart, "I love Yardley."

"Yes," Graham uttered as she pushed herself upright. "I can tell that you do." She frowned as she turned her gaze toward the old house. "Is it seven-thirty yet?"

"Seven-twenty," Anna confirmed.

"I must say good bye then. I have a breakfast engagement."

Anna spoke without thinking. "Surely Christine will understand if you get some sleep! Youíve been up all night!"

"Iím afraid that Christine never had any patience when my work disrupted her plans," Graham remarked calmly. "Iím sure thatís one thing that hasnít changed."

She leaned to brush her hand along Annaís shoulder. "Thank you for these moments of peace, Anna. Iíll see you at dinner."

With that she was gone, and Anna was left with an empty day looming ahead.

**********

When Anna returned from running errands, grateful for any mindless task to divert her thoughts from Graham, she was unreasonably glad to see that Christineís jaguar was no longer parked in the drive. Just the sight of it was unsettling. Instead, the familiar truck bearing the logo Womenworks was parked in itís place. Daphne Herrald and her two-woman crew were the landscapers she had hired for the heavy clearing and hauling that needed to be done. She not only liked their work, she liked the women. They were working full-time at Yardley now, and Anna planned on keeping them on part-time after the summer. They were fast, efficient and friendly. And most importantly, they seemed to appreciate Grahamís special circumstances. It was impossible to tell when Graham might take it upon herself to stroll down one of the many garden paths, or decide that she wanted something from the kitchen garden. After Grahamís mishaps with her own carelessness, and the near disaster with the painter, Anna was always worried. Without Anna watching over them, these women were meticulous with their tools and careful to clean up after themselves.

Anna noticed Graham and Daphne deep in conversation as she rounded the corner from the drive. Graham, leaning one hip against the balustrade in her familiar stance, hands in pockets, smiled down at Daphne who stood several steps below her on the walk. Daphne looked tanned, fit, and if the expression on her face was any indication, quite taken with the master of Yardley Manor. Daphne and the women on her crew made it no secret that they were lesbians, and it certainly hadnít mattered one way or the other to Annaóuntil now. If Daphne wasnít looking at Graham with something very close to lust in her eyes, Anna was sadly mistaken.

The low-pitched murmur of Grahamís sonorous voice reached her, and as always, Anna was stirred by it. Seeing Graham and Daphne together, as innocent as it surely was, made Anna realize how much Grahamís physical presence affected her. She had thought her strikingly handsome from the first night they met. She found herself captivated by the delicacy and sinewy strength of Grahamís hands as she sketched a phrase in the air. The wind blowing Grahamís hair into disarray always left Anna wanting to brush the locks off her forehead. And she could scarcely look into Graham's fathomless dark eyes without feeling something twist deep within her.

She nearly gasped as all the images which were Graham cascaded through heróand left her unmistakably wanting her. In that instant, she understood fully her aversion to Christine. It was knowing that Graham had once loved heróperhaps did stillóand the fact that Graham touched her with love. Anger raged within her when she thought of Graham wasting her precious passion on someone who did not cherish it - on someone who had abandoned her when Grahamís need was greatest. Anna understood with sudden startling clarity exactly what she wantedóGrahamís passion, in all its forms, for herself. The insight was so undeniable that it left her staggered. She couldnít question her desire, her body ached with it.

She turned away from the women in the garden. Her reaction to the sight of Daphne and Graham together followed too closely on the heels of Christineís arrival. She seemed to be assaulted at every turn with her longing for Graham, and the impossibility of her desire. Foolishly, she had allowed herself to believe that Graham felt something of the connection she herself could not deny each time she saw her, or heard her step in the hall, or her music in the air. She should have known that for a woman of Grahamís intensity and unrelenting passion, her love for Christine would be inextinguishable.

Anna fled into the house, desperately trying to escape her own heart. She stood unpacking groceries, her mind strangely blank when a short rap on the door interrupted her.

"Hey!" Daphne said as she pushed open the door. "I thought I saw you drive upócan I talk to you a sec?"

Anna nodded distractedly. "Sure."

"Youíre getting a lot of soil erosion on the edges of the paths -- especially on the back slopes. What do you think about putting in some ground cover along there? Itís labor intensive to do the planting, but in the end it will preserve the area," Daphne stated. She looked at Anna curiously when she didnít answer. "Anna? You okay?"

Anna forced herself to focus. "Yes, sureóground cover? I had noticed thatóbut thereís so much around here that needs attention, it just slipped my mind. Did you speak to Graham?"

Daphne looked surprised. "No, why would I? You hired me. You make the decisions."

"I just thoughtóI saw you talking to Graham when I came homeó" her voice trailed off uncertainly. God, she was a mess!

"Oh, that was just small talk. I ran into her out back, she asked me how things were going. Sheís always soócharming, you know? Every woman in my crew has a crush on her!" she said with a laugh.

"Including you?" Anna asked, trying to match Daphneís light tone.

Daphne studied Anna carefully. She looked shaken and pale. "Oh hellóis that what youíre thinking? I have a lover Iím nuts about, and weíve got two great kids. Graham is fascinating, not to mention gorgeous, and I do think sheís incredibly attractiveóbut looking is as far it goes with me."

Anna busied herself with unpacking, avoiding Daphneís intense gaze. "Itís none of my business anyway. I didnít mean to put you on the spot."

"I assumed you two were lovers," Daphne said, a question in her voice.

"No," Anna whispered almost to herself. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Daphne. "Why did you think that?"

"I could be on dangerous ground here - lots of room to offend if Iím wrong." Daphne shrugged, flashing her trademark grin. "But what the hell. After twenty years of seeing women in all stages of togetherness, you get a sense for it. Itís the way you are around each other. Your face lights up whenever she appears. Your eyes follow her whenever sheís in sight. I know damn well it kills you every time she heads down that goddamned slope to the cliff. I can tell you stop breathing. It takes more guts than Iíve got to watch her do that without screaming."

"Graham doesnít leave you any choice," Anna murmured, "she doesnít know how to be anything but proud."

Daphne nodded. "Iíve never met anyone like her. She listens for you, you know. In the middle of our conversation just now I saw her smile, and her whole body relaxed just a little. Ten seconds later I heard your jeep. Sheíd been listening for you to come home. She knows how to find you when youíre in the garden. She walks right to you. How does she do that?"

"I donít know," Anna sighed. "I donít think I know anything about anything anymore."

Daphne considered letting it go, but Anna looked so miserable. Graham had seemed pretty frayed too. "First time youíve ever been in love with a woman?" she asked kindly.

Hearing it put so matter of factly gave her pause. "Iíve never been in love before," she said after a moment, knowing it was true.

"Sometimes," Daphne continued cautiously, "itís just a false alarm."

Anna met Daphneís gaze steadily, a muscle tightening in her jaw. "No."

Daphne could tell she meant it. And something was really wrong. Annaís usually clear blue eyes were clouded with pain, her face was drawn and tired, and she looked on the verge of breaking into tears.

"Does she know how you feel about her?"

Anna studied her hands, her cheeks coloring. "Itís not that simple. Graham is - complicated. She was horribly hurt." She took a deep breath, smiling tremulously. "I donít think Graham gives me much thought."

"This is serious, isnít it?" Daphne asked softly.

"Yes."

"I wish I could helpó" Daphne began.

Anna appreciated her sympathy, but she interrupted her with a shake of her head. Even before Christineís arrival, Anna noticed a reticence in the way Graham treated her. She was always welcoming and seemed to enjoy Annaís companyóbut still there was the distance. Just when Anna thought Graham was becoming more comfortable with her, something would cause her to withdraw. Anna was never sure what she had said, or what painful memory she had triggered. Often Annaís encounters with Graham left her unsettled, and she was slowly becoming aware of an inner void that seemed to deepen each day. With Christine here now, and Grahamís apparent attachment to her, there seemed to be little room for Anna in Grahamís life. She smiled at Daphne ruefully.

"The only one who can help is Graham."
 
 



Chapter Twelve

 
 



In the days that followed Anna saw little of Graham. She kept to her usual routine, spending time with Helen in the morning, working on the grounds in the afternoon. Graham had not sent for her, and Anna did not seek her out. She saw Graham and Christine together often as they walked about the grounds, or sat together on the terrace in the afternoons. Graham spent every evening, if not the entire night, alone in her study.

Aside from the times Graham denied Christine entry to the music room, Christine was never far from Grahamís side, and her possessive attitude was intolerable for Anna. Anna tried her best to be polite, but the sight of them together, Christine constantly touching Graham in some way, made her irrationally angry. And that made her even more short-tempered. After all, it was none of her concern if Graham Yardley behaved like a fool around that woman! She began to wonder how much more she could endure. She tried to avoid them as much as possible, even taking her meals with Helen in the late afternoon, offering excuses as to why she couldnít be present for the now routine dinner gatherings.

The worst parts of her day were the evenings. Although she usually worked until she was physically exhausted, she didnít seem able to sleep. Once it had been a comfort to retire to her rooms, and fall asleep with a book open on her lap. Now even that consolation eluded her. Every time someone passed in the hall she couldnít help thinking it was Christine, on her way to the master suite at the opposite end of the hall. Rationally, she knew there were any number of reasons Helen, or Christine, or Graham herself might pass in the hall, but she was anything but rational. She was driving herself crazy imaging Christine in Grahamís bed!

She threw down the book she had been trying to read for three nights in a row and snatched her denim jacket from the coat rack by her door. Despite the warm early summer days, evenings by the sea were still cool. She needed to walk off her anxiety and deepening sense of despair. Unconsciously, she took the meandering path through the lower slopes of the back property, skirting along the sea wall. Yardley stood several hundred yards uphill, and with its lights flickering through the trees, it cast a magical shape against the darkening sky. As if to accompany that otherworldly aura, Anna caught the strains of a wistful melody floating in the air. She began the steep climb up the wildly overgrown track toward the source. The terrace doors stood open to the darkness of the night, which blended into the blackness inside the music room. Graham was alone, playing.

Anna leaned against the balustrade on the far side of the terrace, listening, straining for some glimpse of the woman in the shadows. The melancholy tenor of the music seemed to echo her own internal anguish. She made no effort to stop the tears. She had no idea how long she stood there, joined with Graham in some unnamed longing, when a voice quite near startled her from her reverie.

"She is absolutely magnificent, isnít she?" Christine remarked casually as she joined Anna on the terrace.

"Yes," Anna said softly, having no reason to deny what the entire world had recognized. Only a few of her caliber born each century, one reviewer had said.

"Oh, I wasnít talking about her music," Christine laughed. "But then Iím sure youíve noticed what an exquisite specimen she is. You seem to have developed quite an appreciation for all her attributes. Believe me, in her case, her genius extends beyond the piano. She brings that remarkable intensity to absolutely everything she touches. And everyone. Fortunately Graham was too seduced by her music to notice anyone for more than a night or two- before me of course." She laughed, appraising Anna in the dim light of the moon. She found Anna naturally lovely, with her work hardened body, feminine yet strong, and her clear eyes and shimmering hair. She was the type Christine had amused herself with over the years since Graham. Under other circumstances - she thought briefly, then reminded herself of her intentions.

"Now you did surprise me at first," she continued mockingly. "I wouldnít have thought youíd find Graham to your tastes, although God knows women of all persuasions used to throw themselves at her. And living here with her - I can imagine that would be a temptation even if women werenít your usual pleasure."

"I was just on my way in," Anna said as she made to leave. She had no intention of allowing Christine to goad her into a discussion of her feelings for Graham. And she was in real danger of doing her bodily harm if she stayed.

"Youíre no match for the competition, you know," Christine said lightly.

Anna stopped abruptly, incensed. "I am not competing with you," she seethed.

Christine laughed, tossing her head in dismissal. "Perhaps not, although from the way you look at her I think youíre deluding yourself. Unfortunately, Graham has no way of knowing whatís in your eyes, does she?" She pushed away from the balcony railing, stepping quite close to Anna as she did so. Anna could smell her fragrant perfume. "I wasnít speaking of myself, although knowing Graham, I have no concerns. Iíd wager sheís much too honorable to take you to her bed just for sport. Although Iím sure you wouldnít take much convincing, would you?" She ran a finger lightly down Annaís arm, laughing again when Anna hastily pulled away. "She is too hopelessly romantic to let old passions fade, and unlike you, Iím not above physical persuasion. Regardless of what she says, her body never lies."

She touched Annaís hand ever so lightly as she passed into the night. "I was speaking of the music, my dear innocent - the music is Grahamís true mistress."

With that she was gone, leaving Anna to stare after her with a mixture of anger and pity. She had issued some kind of warning, although Anna couldnít imagine why she felt it necessary. God only knew, Anna was no threat to her claim on Grahamís affections. What amazed her was that a woman who had supposedly loved Graham Yardley for over two decades did not understand what Anna realized the moment she heard Graham play. Music was not Grahamís mistress, music was Grahamís life. To love Graham was to welcome the force that sustained her, even though it threatened to destroy her as she struggled to bring it forth from her soul. Anna could no more be jealous of Grahamís music than she could be jealous of her indomitable will, or her passionate ardor, or her sensitive spirit. The day the music truly deserted her would be the day her heart ceased to beat. Anna prayed for the day the music would flow unbidden from Grahamís soul, for then she would be truly healed.

Anna glanced once more into the darkened room, imagining Graham absorbed in the sound, comforted by her nearness.

**********

Grahamís music lingered in Anna's mind throughout the morning as she occupied herself with outside work. She spent most of the time with contractors and subcontractors and by noon she was ready for a break. She wandered down to the stone bench under the huge sycamore, recalling wistfully the afternoon she and Graham had spent there. She turned from the memory of the brief closeness they had shared. It only made their estrangement harder. She stretched out on the bench in the dappled shade afforded by the overhanging branches, draped one arm over her eyes, and slept.

When she slowly approached consciousness again, she was aware she was not alone. Even without opening her eyes, she sensed her.

"How long have you been here," Anna questioned, rolling onto her side to study the woman seated on the ground, her back against the bench where Anna lay. She looked weary in a way that went beyond fatigue, but the strain belied by a tightness in her fine jaw was absent. She seemed strangely peaceful. Graham turned her head toward Annaís voice with a soft smile, a smile that eased the tension from her face. Annaís heart turned over at the sight of her vulnerable beauty.

"Not long - an hour, I think," Graham replied.

"What have you been doing?" Anna asked tenderly, brushing a stray twig from Graham's dark hair.

Graham shuddered involuntarily at the light touch that strayed unintentionally against her cheek. As often as Christine touched her, nothing she did affected her like this. Graham felt the first tingle of caution even as she warmed to the touch. She must take care where Anna was concerned, yet she couldnít seem to do without her company. These last few weeks since Christineís arrival had been doubly hard. She had to contend with Christineís constant demands for her attention, and her persistent attempts to rekindle Grahamís ardor. Along with that, Graham had little time to spend with Anna. She missed her humor, and her compassion, and her wonderful way of bringing life to Grahamís inner vision. Just her quiet, soothing tone brought Graham some semblance of calm. Graham found she even missed Annaís undauntable insistence that she sleep, or eat, or get out of the sun - the kind of demand Graham had never accepted of anyone. She had been lonely for a kind of connection she no longer thought she needed. She tried to ignore the growing agitation and discomfort for days, but finally, almost against her will, she had gone in search of her young employee. Finding her asleep, she had been content just to be near her.

"I was listening to you breathe, thinking that the cadence was much like a refrain. Suddenly the music Iíve been trying to compose began pouring through my mind." Graham said slowly, as if speaking in a dream. She was amazed at how easily it had come, after all the solitary struggle night after night to no avail, just by sitting quietly with a sleeping woman. "Iíve just been here listening," she finished quietly.

Anna watched the transformation of Graham's face as she spoke. The tense muscles softened, the fine lines about her eyes and lips relaxed, and suddenly she looked years younger. When Graham sighed and leaned her head back, it took all of Annaís control not to guide Grahamís head into her lap. She wanted to hold her desperately. Only her fear that Graham would retreat, as she had so often, stilled her hand.

"Iím so happy for you," Anna said quietly.

Graham reached for Annaís hand, taking her by surprise. "I believe that you are." She brushed her lips softly across Annaís hand, then laid it gently down. With a sigh, she pushed herself upright. There were issues she needed to attend to, no matter how pleasant her moments here had been.

"I have consented to Christineís desire to give a small dinner party in honor of Helenís birthday. I would like you to attend," Graham stated flatly.

"Oh Graham, I donít think so! I donít really belong there -" Anna said in a rush. She couldnít imagine a worse scenario. Trapped with Christine at some formal affair!

Graham shook her head slightly. "You do belong. Helen cares for you a great deal, and you are a part of this household. I want you there."

Still Anna protested. "I work for you, Graham - Iím not part of your social world."

"I have no social world, Anna, " Graham remarked darkly, all semblance of her recent serenity gone. "There will be some family friends, people Helen has known for years, and some recent acquaintances of Christine. If it werenít for the fact that Helen has had precious little thanks for the task of looking after Yardley all this time, I wouldnít hear of it." She ran a hand through her hair, glowering at some distant vision, before she continued wearily, "It will be difficult enough for me - I need you there."

Anna could not fathom the reason, but there was little she could do in the face of Grahamís direct plea. "Of course, Iíll be there."

Graham nodded. "Good." Looking as if she were about to leave, she turned abruptly and cast Anna a serious look. "And Iíll expect you at dinner from now on, Anna. Every night." Not waiting for a reply, she stepped out from the shadow of the tree, disappearing into the bright sunlight, leaving Anna staring after her.
 
 

Chapter Thirteen

 





Guests had gathered in the foyer of the ballroom, which had been opened and refurbished under Annaís watchful direction all that week. Helen, as the honoree, was seated on a plush velvet sofa, conversing with friends and sampling the ample hor díouerves and champagne. Tuxedo-clad young women moved through the crowd offering food and drink. Anna kept one eye on the kitchen, making sure the caterers had every thing they needed, and the other on the grand staircase that flanked the reception area. Even though it was nearly the appointed time for dinner to be served, neither Graham nor Christine had arrived. She was about to signal the maitre d' to begin seating people when a low murmur of excitement rippled throughout the crowd. Anna had no doubt of the cause. She looked to the top of the curving marble staircase for confirmation.

Graham and Christine were descending. Christine, her gloved hand resting on the sleeve of Grahamís extended arm, was dressed in a low-cut evening gown, accentuating her figure while revealing a good deal of décolletage. Graham was a study in understated elegance in a tuxedo of soft dove gray silk, white tie, white silk brocade vest and tails. Whereas Christine, radiantly beautiful, drew the attention of the majority of those gathered, Anna could not take her eyes off Graham. As they reached the bottom stair, Graham handed Christine down into a crowd of well-wishers, obviously friends Christine had acquired since she and Graham parted. Graham moved away, remarking politely to those who stopped to greet her, yet determined to avoid conversation. If you didnít know her, you would not have thought this was her first social gathering since her injury. She looked perfectly composed and entirely in command. Anna, who knew differently, could detect the signs of strain from across the room. As unobtrusively as possible, she made her way through the crowd to Grahamís side.

"Helen is sitting on the divan just to the left of the entrance," Anna said. "I havenít had a chance to talk with her this evening, there have been so many people I donít know. Perhaps you could see me over and pave the way for me?"

"And perhaps rescue myself from the perilous chore of trying to get from here to there on my own?" Graham asked cynically. At Annaís swift intake of breath, Graham realized she had struck out at the wrong person. Anna had offered her a way to preserve her dignity without sacrificing her pride. It had been pride that had gotten her into this situation to begin with. Christine handled the fact of Grahamís sightlessness by ignoring it, and had not considered what the evening would demand of Graham. Graham couldnít bring herself to tell Christine she wouldnít be able to manage in such a large gathering without help. Given enough time to familiarize herself with an area, she could accomplish an astounding degree of independence. With the workers in and out of the dining area and ballroom all week, there simply hadnít been the opportunity. Now she could not safely move about on her own. She had no doubt that Christine would have been solicitous of her every need, and by allowing that, Graham would have been diminished in her own eyes, if not that of every person there. "You are quite astute, Anna. You seem to have gleaned the obstacles my infirmity presents," she continued self-mockingly. "It would not do to have me stumbling about."

Anna, stressed herself from the pressures of the evening as well as the constant visage of Graham and Christine everywhere she turned, didnít even try to control her anger. "You are the least infirm person I know," she seethed. "What you are is too damn pig-headed for your own good. Everyone has some kind of need, Graham - once in a while. Are you so self-sufficient that you consider yourself above that?"

Grahamís only response was to raise one elegant eyebrow. "Clearly I have done something to offend you. Whatever that might be, I sincerely apologize. As to the question of my needs, Ms. Reid, let me assure you they are not a matter for discussion."

"Then you can find your own damn way across the room!" Anna snarled. "Iím too tired to argue you with you when youíre in one of these stubborn, insufferably arrogant moods!"

Graham caught Annaís hand as Anna was about to turn away. Anna stared in amazement at the fingers lightly grasping hers. How on earth does she do that?

"Now is not the time to discuss my moods or your opinion of them. I donít want to argue with you, nor do I wish to offend you further. I would, however, be honored to escort you to the reception line, and to dinner," Graham continued as if Anna hadnít just railed at her in a tone of voice no one else had ever dared use. Graham offered her arm, trying to hide her tension and her increasing disorientation as people pressed around them. After a momentsí hesitation, Anna slipped her fingers around Grahamís forearm.

"What about Christine?" Anna asked as she and Graham made their way through the crowd. Graham was exquisitely sensitive to the pressure of Annaís hand, and had no trouble guiding them through the crowd from the faint cues Anna transmitted through her touch. From the first time Anna had taken her arm to walk with her through the gardens, there had been that effortless communication. She doubted that Anna even realized the extent to which she provided Graham with a sense of her surroundings.

"Christine has never lacked for escorts at these affairs. Sheíll soon have some young woman - or man - enthralled. You need have no concern about her." Anna wasnít so sure as she caught Christineís angry glance at them from across the room.

Nevertheless, the meal passed uneventfully, and Helen was obviously having a wonderful time. She couldnít wait to usher everyone into the ballroom where a string quartet was waiting to provide the music. Graham had made it clear there was to be no piano in the room. Helen laughed with delight when Graham asked her if she would like to have the first dance with her.

"Oh my goodness, no! You are much too tall for me and far too good a dancer! Iíd much rather watch you dance," she cried fondly.

"I think not, Helen," Graham replied flatly.

"You must dance with Anna at least, Graham," Helen chided. "Itís only proper that you do. She is here at your request, after all, and unescorted. Besides, she looks so lovely tonight!"

"Does she?" Graham murmured, thinking of the last time she had danced. It had been with Christine at the reception following what was to be her last concert. To her surprise, she couldnít remember what it had felt like.

"Oh yes," Helen enthused. "She has done something with her hair - itís pinned up in some way, and it shows off her face so nicely. She has beautiful cheekbones, rather like a model. Sheís a golden tan from the sun, and seems to glow- naturally. To my mind sheís one of the most beautiful women here."

"What color is her dress?" Graham asked almost against her will.

"A deep blue, like her eyes, and itís cut down off her shoulders in a - well, I wouldnít exactly say itís revealing, but she does have an attractive figure."

"Where is she?" Graham brought herself to ask.

"Just inside the door- to your right. And thereís no one nearby, if you were to walk directly there from here," Helen added as if it were an afterthought. She knew better than anyone what it took for Graham to make this appearance tonight, and what it required for her to preserve her pride.

"Thank you, Helen," Graham said as she bent to kiss her softly on the cheek.

Helen held her breath as she watched Graham make her way toward Anna. She neednít have worried. Grahamís instinct was unerring. Within a moment she was at Annaís side. The orchestra was just beginning the opening waltz.

"Would you honor me with this dance?" Graham asked as she offered her hand to Anna with a slight bow.

Anna was nearly speechless. She had never danced with a woman before, and to dance with Graham, alone, in front of all these people! "Surely Christine will expect this dance!!" was all she could manage.

Graham straightened, a flicker of ire crossing her fine features. "Christine is neither mistress of this house nor of me. It is not for her to decide. Now will you give me this dance?"

The guests who ringed the room receded from Annaís view. All she could see was the woman before her, hand outstretched, waiting. Graham was imperiously commanding, handsome beyond description, and intently focused on Anna. Anna could no more have denied her than she could have stopped her own heartbeat.

"Yes," Anna said softly, taking the elegant hand. "I would love to."

Graham made it impossible to be nervous. She danced with the same grace and fluidity with which she played. When Anna stepped into her arms, Anna knew only gently swirling motion and the warmth of Grahamís body against her. She was unaware of those watching but she was acutely aware of every facet of Grahamís presence. She felt the rise of Grahamís chest against her own breasts, the faint pressure of Grahamís thigh against her leg, and the possessive press of Grahamís hand on her back. She had never felt so intimately connected to anyone in her life. The sensations slowly coalesced into an ache of desire.

"Youíre shaking," Graham murmured.

Anna laughed unsteadily against Grahamís shoulder, praying her arousal wasnít so obvious. "I think itís nerves. Just donít let go of me."

Graham bent her head until her lips brushed the hair at Annaís temple. "I wouldnít dream of it," she whispered. She drew her close, and their bodies moved effortlessly together.

Christine watched them dance. They fit together well - too well. Graham held Anna protectively within the circle of her arms, her cheek nestled against Annaís fair hair. Annaís eyes were closed, her left hand softly, unconsciously, stroking the stray wisps of Grahamís unruly black mane where it brushed against her collar. She trembled visibly, and Christine knew perfectly well why. She had felt the power of Grahamís presence herself, and knew what it was to melt with desire in her arms. Anna and Graham melded to one another like lovers, although she was certain Graham had not yet conceived of it. Might never accept it. But Christine had no intention of leaving that up to fate. When the dance ended she intended to reassert her claim on the errant master of Yardley Manor.

**********

Anna was the first one awake the next morning. She was glad she wouldnít have to face anyone, not even Helen. She doubted that she would have been able to hide her feelings under any circumstances. Last nights events were still too fresh and her anger too potent.

The dance with Graham had literally left her gasping. When at last other couples began to join them, Graham quickly steered them off the floor and out onto the balcony that extended along one entire side of the ballroom. Candles in glass holders cast a dim light over the area. They walked to the rail and stood side by side facing outward. Their hands were nearly touching on the rail.

"Youíre a wonderful dancer," Anna managed when at last she could control her breathing. She glanced at Graham, who appeared lost in thought. After a long pause Graham seemed to have heard the remark. She smiled faintly.

"Thank you. You are easy to lead," she said. After some hesitation, she continued. "And you are also easy to follow. I must apologize for my Ďpig-headedí behavior earlier this evening. You were right in surmising that I needed help. I couldnít bring myself to ask. There was a time, Anna, when the world was mine to command, and no one ever suggested otherwise. Now, I continue as if I were still that person- stubborn arrogance I think you said."

It was clearly a struggle for her to admit this much, and Anna had no need for her to humble herself. "Itís alright, Graham," Anna interrupted her quietly. "I canít begin to imagine how difficult this evening must have been. It pleased me to help in some small way. Besides, if you werenít so stubborn, I probably wouldnít -" She stopped abruptly, embarrassed by what she had been about to say. She was rapidly losing all semblance of control around this woman! There was no denying what had happened to her as they danced, what was happening to her now. Grahamís nearness aroused her in a way she had never known. She had wanted Graham to touch her so much she was afraid the entire room would know. All she wanted now was to be in her arms again.

Graham tilted her head, waiting for the words that didnít come. She sensed Annaís hesitation, and thought her still offended. She had no way of knowing Anna was struggling to keep from caressing her.

"What is it?" she asked as the silence lengthened. "Anna, have I made you that angry?"

Graham flinched in surprise when Anna stepped closer, Anna's hands on Grahamís shirt front. She had known as they danced that she was on dangerous ground. The feel of Anna in her arms had awakened her senses. She had allowed herself the brief touch of her lips to Annaís temple. What she had wanted was to claim her mouth. Annaís hands on her now rekindled desire so long buried it was almost painful to experience. She caught her breath at the paroxysm of arousal, clenching her jaw against the swift burning spasm.

"Youíve a stud thatís come loose," Anna whispered throatily. She shivered as Grahamís hands came to her waist. She fastened the small diamond stud, aware that they were so close their entire bodies touched lightly. Grahamís body rippled with tension, and her grip on Anna tightened. Anna slid her fingers up to Grahamís collar, her vision suddenly cloudy. "And your tie needs straightening." She gasped as her breasts, swollen with desire, brushed against Grahamís chest.

"Oh god," Anna whispered as Graham drew her slowly against her own tight thigh. She lifted her eyes finally to Grahamís, and saw raw hunger in Grahamís face. Anna needed her kiss like she needed air to breath. She thought she might die with wanting. She slid her hand to the back of Grahamís neck, willing her lips closer. "Please," she implored.

"Anna-" Graham murmured thickly, knowing this was wrong, unable to stop. In another moment she would be beyond caring, she would have to have her. She was seconds away from committing the biggest error of her life when a voice from the past called her irrevocably back to reality.

"Graham, darling!" Christine stated calmly, as if she hadnít just found her in a passionate embrace with another woman. "I know you hate these affairs, but you simply must be civilized about it. You cannot disappear and deprive us all of your company."

Graham straightened slowly, stepping back away from Anna. She spoke into the darkness, her voice cold as ice. "You seem to have managed without my company for quite some time, my dear."

"And more fool I," Christine replied as she stepped to Grahamís side. She pointedly ignored Anna, who was watching Graham in stunned bewilderment. "I have every intention of making it up to you. Now stop being such a cad, and take me back to the party." As she spoke, she slipped one arm about Grahamís waist, unabashedly caressing her with the other, sliding her hand up the length of Grahamís thigh as she pressed against her.

Graham grasped the hand that stroked her, but she did not pull away. Instead, she turned to Anna, her face remote.

"Forgive me, Anna, it seems I have obligations to attend to. Good night."

Anna collapsed against the railing, shaking, dazed by Grahamís departure. Her body was wracked with hunger for a woman who could arouse her with a glance, and then leave her without a second thought. She had come within a whisper of humiliating herself tonight, and yet - Graham had responded, hadnít she?

Anna slammed the cabinet door as the question that had haunted her all night echoed in her mind. What did it matter if Graham had responded - what would it have mattered if sheíd actually kissed her? The fact that Graham was aroused by a woman who was obviously trying to seduce her proved nothing. What mattered was that it took only a word from Christine and Graham forgot everything else. How many times, in how many ways, did she need to have that made clear?

"Iím going down to clear the brush from around the lower fountain," she growled as Helen joined her in the kitchen around seven-thirty. "I wonít be up for lunch."

Helen stared after her in confusion. She had just run into Graham coming out of her study, and she had snarled at Helenís cheery good morning. What had happened to every one overnight!?

**********

As it turned out, Anna was forced to abandon her work early that afternoon. A storm blew up unexpectedly, as was wont to happen on the Cape in summer. Carrying her tools up to the gardenshed, she saw Christine and Graham on the rear terrace. The wind was blowing too hard for Anna to hear their conversation, but Christine was obviously upset. She grasped Grahamís arm, pressing close to her. Anna had no desire to witness any more of their private moments. She was about to turn away when Graham, looking gravely serious, bent her head and kissed Christine. Christine clung to her, pulling Grahamís willowy figure even closer, fervently returning the kiss. Anna did turn from them then; she needed no further proof of Christineís hold on Graham.

"I wonít be down for dinner tonight, Helen," she said when she found Helen in the laundry room. "IóI have some work I need to finish."

"Arenít you feeling well?" Helen asked in concern. "Has something happened?" She was well aware of the changes in Anna since Christine had arrived. She was quiet and reclusive, clearly unhappy. Helen hadnít wanted to intrude, but she was becoming more and more worried, about both Anna and Graham. Despite Christineís constant attention, Graham was restrained and brooding. And it hadnít escaped Helenís attention that Graham absolutely refused to play for Christine. Graham was walking the grounds late at night again, a sure sign that she was troubled. And now, Anna too!

"Iím really fine," Anna said, forcing a light tone. "I just - canít. Not tonight."

Helen watched her retreating form as she hurried from the room and wondered if those hadnít been tears on her cheeks.

**********

Alone in her room, Anna stood for hours looking out to the sea. She struggled to make sense of her confused emotions, but the images of Graham and Christine were all she could envision. She knew she couldnít watch them together day after day. It was too painful, finally more painful than the alternative. Perhaps if last night had never happened she could have learned to live with the reality of Graham loving someone else. Maybe with time, seeing her, but always being apart from her, wouldnít tear her heart out. That was impossible now. Being in her arms last night had changed everything. Their skin may have been separated by the convention of clothing, but what the shear force of Graham's embrace had evoked was irreversible. She had known the length of Grahamís body against hers, had stroked the coiled muscles of her back, and felt the heat of her leg between her own. She would never be able to deny her longing, or control her desire, or tolerate the sight of Christine in Grahamís arms. She was not so big a fool as to believe she could stand that. Just as she reached the only decision open to her, a knock sounded on her door.

"Anna? Itís Grahamómay I come in?"

Anna wiped the tears from her eyes, struggling to compose herself.

"Hello," she said softly as she opened the door.

Graham looked concerned. "Are you all right? Helen said not to expect you for dinner."

"Yes. Iím fine."

"I see," Graham replied. She gestured with her hand. "May I come in?"

"Of course." Anna remained standing, too restless to sit.

Graham sensed Annaís distress, and she worried she was the cause of it. She had agonized over her lapse the evening before, finally leaving the gathering over Christineís protests to spend the night pacing in her study. She had overstepped her bounds, and she had no excuse for it. For a brief moment she had forgotten everything - the loss of her sight, the loss of Christine, even the loss of her music - all had faded into the awareness of Anna against her, breathing life into her with her desire. She had succumbed to the physical demands of her body, and God only knew what she might have done if Christine hadnít interrupted them. She had been perilously close to making love to Anna right there on the balcony. The vestiges of arousal lingered throughout the night, and even now, with Anna near, she struggled to maintain her distance. She had hoped Anna might overlook her indiscretion, but now she wasnít sure. "What is it, Anna?" she asked seriously.

Anna spoke the painful words before she lost courage. "Graham, Iíve been meaning to speak with you for some time. Iíve decided to move back to the city."

Grahamís head jerked as if she had been slapped, her face draining of color. "But why?" she gasped. She felt the words like a physical blow. Her chest ached, and she struggled for breath. "Is it because of my behavior last night? Anna?! I have no excuse - Iím sorry, I - what can I say? It wonít happen again, you have my word! Please believe me!""

Anna laughed at the bitter irony. "I do believe you. Itís not about last night, and if it were, it is I who should apologize."

"Then what, for Godís sake?" Graham demanded, her voice hoarse with strain.

Anna looked away, unable to face her suffering. She knew her resolve would weaken if she saw Graham in pain. "I need to be closer to the university, and Iím ó"

Sheís young and she wants a life, you fool! Graham stopped her, unable to stand the crushing truth. "You donít need to explain," she said harshly. "This is no life for you here, isolated on this godforsaken pinnacle of forgotten land! I understand, of course you must leave."

No you donít understand! Anna wanted to scream. But how can I tell you that I canít stand to see you with Christine? How can I sayí I love youí when I know it will only drive you away! Graham looked so vulnerable, Anna bit her lip to keep back the words. She longed to bring the smile back to Graham's face, to stroke the lines from her brow. She wanted to fling herself into her arms. Oh god! Must she really leave?

Graham summoned every ounce of her formidable will, forcing the pain into the recesses of her soul. That was something she had grown used to doing, and now it served her well. She would not let Anna know this was destroying her; she would save her pride.

"Christine will be leaving tomorrow. Can you stay until I arrange some business affairs?" Grahamís tone was empty of any emotion, and her expression revealed nothing of her inner despair. She had expected this, but now that it had happened, it was so much worse than she had imagined! For a short time Anna had brought life to this desolate place, to her desolate heart. She had not dared to hope that Anna would stay. Yardley, and all it held within its walls, was dying. It was selfish and foolhardy to think that Anna would have any reason to remain.

"Leaving?" Anna cried. "But I thoughtó"

Graham looked toward her, a question in her eyes. "You thought what?"

Anna was more confused than ever. She could do nothing save tell the truth.

"I thought you and she were lovers. I thought thatís why she had come back."

Graham walked to the fireplace, extending one long arm along the mantle, facing the empty grate. "Yesówe were, once. I was twenty-five years old and my whole life was music. I never knew, nor wanted -anything more. Oh, I didnít lack for company. There were -dalliances- usually with women impressed by my reputation. The reality generally proved much less to their liking. Then suddenly Christine entered my life. She was so young, so beautiful, so vital. She showed me a passion that nearly matched my music. I was mad about her, mad for her. But it was my passion, not hers. She never really felt the same, but I refused to see that. I wouldnít believe that my love was more than she wanted, or, as it turned out, not the kind of love she wanted. She tried to tell me that I was too demanding, too possessiveótoo intense for her, I think she said. I have yet to understand how love can be too intense."

Graham laughed bitterly. "I wouldnít hear what she was trying to tell me. I was so certain of myself. I thought with my music and Christine by my side I had all I needed in this life." She paused, her hand clenched tightly around the mantleís edge. When she spoke again, her voice was tight with pain. "The night of the accident, she told me she was leaving me to get married. I nearly went mad, thinking of her with him - all the time she had been with me. I was wild, raging with jealousy. I swore I wouldnít let her leave me. I frightened her, although god knows I never would have touched her in anger. She tried to jump from the car, and when I grabbed for her I lost control of the wheel. I just managed to pull her under me when we started to roll. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. I heard my fatherís voice. When I opened my eyes, I knew instantly that I was blind. The darkness was everywhere, but nowhere deeper than in my heart. It was all my fault, you see. I had been too proud and too arrogant to hear that she was unhappy, that she in fact did not share my passion. She did not love me, and I nearly killed her."

Grahamís voice broke with the all too familiar bitter memories. She had almost killed Christine, the woman she swore she loved with all her heart. Losing her sight had seemed like a small price to pay. And now Anna would be gone too. She tried unsuccessfully to hide the tears that coursed down her cheeks. She fought desperately to seal the pain away once more. She flinched when Anna brushed the tears from her face.

"Please donít," Graham managed. "I didnít mean for you to see this. Please forget it, wonít you?"

"Iím so sorry, Graham. I didnít know," Anna whispered tenderly. All thoughts of her own despair dissipated in the face of Grahamís agony. "I saw you together in the garden today. I saw you kissing her. I canít believe she could leave you again."

Graham shook her head, not comprehending Annaís words. "I told her today that I had no wish for us to be together again. Anna, I was kissing her good bye."

Anna could only imagine that Graham was afraid to trust Christine again. Regardless of her own tangled emotions, she had no desire to see Graham suffer any more than she already had. "Graham, you mustnít be afraid. You can try again. Perhaps youíve both changed. It could be different now. You neednít be aloneó"

"Anna," Graham said vehemently, "you donít understand. I donít love ChristineóI donít want to love her. She has come here to escape her boredom, or to torture her husband with the reminder of our affair, but eventually she would tire of the charade, and she would leave. If I let her stay, it would be a mockery of love. I wonít have that!" She shook her head fiercely, her voice strident in protest. "No! Christine does not love me - perhaps she never did."

The words brought both a deep sadness and a curious sense of relief as she spoke them. Exhausted, Graham sank into the chair, trying to find a way to cope with Annaís leaving. She bowed her head into her hand, too weary to struggle any longer. "Iím sorry. Please excuse my outburst. All of this has been - hard for me. Just give me a moment, then Iíll go."

Anna took a deep breath. "Graham, I donít want to leave Yardley. This last month has been difficult, especially when I thought you and Christine were reuniting. I didnít think Iíd be needed any longer. But I have been happy here, happier than I have ever been, and I donít want to leave."

Graham drew a shuddering breath. "Are you sure?" The eyes she turned to Anna were wounded, nearly devoid of hope. She hadnít the strength to contain her despair, and the sight of it ripped at Annaís heart.

Her situation with Graham was no clearer, but at least she wouldnít have to face Christine every day. She knew she would be miserable if she left. She couldnít imagine never seeing Graham again. At least now she would have time to make some sense of her tumultuous desires. Anna cupped Grahamís face gently in her hands. "Iím very sure. I want to stay."

Graham pressed her lips to Annaís palm, her relief nearly palpable. Only time would tell if Anna had made the right decision.
 
 

Chapter Fourteen




With Christineís departure, a semblance of harmony returned to Yardley. With the end of summer, Anna resumed her classes three days a week, which left more than ample time to manage the household needs and Grahamís business requirements. She met with Graham at the end of her day, and more often than not, they merely talked. Graham was keenly interested in Annaís studies, and Anna found herself recounting her days in detail while they shared a glass of sherry. It was something she looked forward to each day, and it seemed that Graham did as well. Their relationship had developed into a comfortable but reserved companionship.

Neither of them made further mention of the episode on the balcony the night of Helenís party. Anna did not know how to broach it, and Graham seemed to avoid any possibility of intimacy. Although Graham welcomed their conversations, she was physically remote. She was careful not to touch Anna even when it would have been natural to. Her caution in this regard did not escape Annaís notice, and Anna interpreted it as an unspoken declaration from Graham that their brief physical interlude had been an aberration of circumstance. It had been a tense and stressful period for both of them, and in the intensity of the moment that night, Graham had responded to Annaís overture. Obviously, it was not something Graham wished to repeat.

Anna for her part tried her best to forget what had passed between them, and to content herself with the relationship they were slowly, carefully building. Graham was not so quick to withdraw from her at the slightest mention of her past; in fact, to Annaís amazement, Graham occasionally alluded to some previous event with an ease that was absent a few months before. Graham was beginning to trust her, and for now that appeared to be the most she could hope for. Anna resigned herself to what they could share together, because she knew in the final analysis, she would be miserable without Graham in her life. She tried not to think of what she would do if what they had now was all Graham ever wanted.

Perhaps the only person at Yardley who was able to see just what was happening between the two of them was Helen. She knew the extent to which Graham was capable of closing off parts of herself, and of denying her own wants and needs. Graham had deluded herself for years with Christine. Helen wondered if she would be as successful disavowing her feelings for Anna.

When Helen brought tea into Graham late one afternoon, Graham greeted her warmly. She was at work at the piano, as relaxed as Helen had seen her in many years. Helen thought approvingly of how good Graham looked. She was no longer unnaturally pale, nor wraithlike thin. Her lean form was stronger from the time she spent outside. She had taken to joining Helen and Anna most evenings for dinner, and their conversations were light and easy. Helen thought she understood the reason for Grahamís emergence from the torpor that had enveloped her, but she wondered if Graham truly did. As Graham grew more peaceful, Helen couldnít help but notice that Anna became more despondent.

"Thank you, Helen," Graham said fondly as she rose, stretching from her seat at the piano. She felt wonderfulóher world was filled with sound, the way it had been when she was young. Her blood stirred with long-forgotten excitement. She attributed it to the ease with which she was working and the satisfaction that brought her. She refused to admit to herself that Annaís return was the moment she waited for all day.

"You look happy, Graham," Helen remarked.

"Happy?" Graham said, wondering if that was what she felt. "Yes, perhaps thatís it. At any rate, Helen, the music is returningóand that is more than I ever expected to have again in this life."

"Iím happy for you," Helen said, and she truly rejoiced in the change in Graham over the last few months. But she couldnít help but wonder if that was all Graham wanted from life. The passionate woman she had known would never have been content alone. Graham had needed the sustenance of love to balance the soul-draining demands of her work. She had made a disastrous misjudgment in relying on Christine so completely, and she had paid a dreadful price for it. Helen only hoped that that disappointment had not destroyed Grahamís ability to accept love when it was offered from the heart.

**********

Anna tossed her knapsack on the hall table, waving to Helen as she headed toward the music room. She knew Graham would be there, as she always was at this time of day. She tapped lightly on the door before entering. Graham lifted one hand, the other poised over the piano keys.

"Just a minute. Iíve nearly finished."

Anna crossed quietly to stand beside Graham, watching as she played, marveling at the graceful sweep of her fingers on the keys. As her hands literally caressed the instrument, her face reflected all the emotions the music gave form to. The combination of watching Grahamís face and hearing her creation stirred Anna unexpectedly. As the notes dissipated in the air, Graham became motionless, her hands lying still on her thighs.

"Itís wonderful," Anna breathed softly.

Graham lifted her face to Anna, an uncharacteristic uncertainty clouding her features. "Do you really think so?" she asked quietly.

Sometimes Anna felt as much a prisoner of Grahamís blindness as Graham certainly was. She felt so much more than her words could communicate, and she wished that Graham could read in her face how deeply she was moved. As it stood alone, Grahamís music could bring her to tears. She knew that from standing outside this room, stilled in mid-step by what she heard. She knew because she had sought out the recordings Graham had made years before. She played them when she was alone, imaging Grahamís face as she listened. For her, nothing was more heart-rending than watching Graham play, raw passions exposed, as the music swirled in the air. For Graham not to see what she was capable of stirring in others pierced her heart.

Instinctively, she placed both hands gently on Grahamís shoulders, leaning over to whisper, "It makes me ache. Will you play it for me from the beginning?" She had never asked before.

Graham reached up to cover Annaís hand with her own, surprised once again by the warmth of her skin. She lingered like that for a moment, then settled her hands on the keys.

"Yes."

Anna moved reluctantly away, not wanting to dispel that rare moment of affection. Still, she knew Graham had taken another step toward allowing Anna into her life. Graham had not been willing for anyone to hear more than fragments of a work in progress for years. Anna settled into a nearby chair from which she could watch Graham play. She found herself holding her breath as the melody swelled to fill the air. She would not have believed that there could be such a thing as too much beauty, but the sight and sounds of Graham Yardley overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and let the golden tones carry her away. When the room stilled, it took her a moment to find her composure. She was trembling, and her voice seemed to have deserted her. When she opened her eyes, she found that Graham had turned to face her, her head bent, waiting.

"I've never imagined anything so exquisite," Anna said quietly. "Your music is a gift to the world, Graham. Thank you so much for sharing it with me."

Graham lifted her head, her face wet with tears.

"I thought it was gone forever," she murmured, her voice breaking.

The sight of her tears was Annaís undoing. She meant only to take Grahamís hand in hers, but she found herself pulling Graham up into her arms instead. She held her close, whispering, "Oh god, Grahamóyour music breaks my heart. You break my heart."

Graham struggled with the response Annaís embrace wrought. Annaís body was pressed to hers; she felt the rise and fall of Annaís soft breasts with each breath; their hearts seemed to race as one. Annaís nearness, and her words, filled her with a longing so intense her carefully maintained barricades threatened to crumble. And she feared that if she gave rein to her emotions, she would be captive to them as she had been with Christine. She knew she could not survive another disappointment. If such pain ever returned anew, she would surely break. What Anna touched in her was a place too dangerous to expose. For the sake of whatever sanity she had left, she could not let that happen.

Anna felt Graham stiffen, but she only pulled her tighter. Was there no way for Anna to show her how precious she was? "You are so rare! There is such grace and beauty and tenderness in your soul. And you donít even know it, do you?! You are so specialóI canít begin to tell youó" She had no words, only sensations. Admiration, respect, protectiveness, sympathy, and sweet, swift longing. Everything condensed at once until Anna had to give form to her feelings or explode. Her hands moved from Grahamís back to cup her jaw, then slid into her hair as she groaned softly, "If only I could tell you-" Her lips met Grahamís as the words escaped her in a rush.

Graham gasped at the contact, her control all but shattered. For an instant she knew only the well-spring of desire that rippled through her, the moist heat that flooded from her. With a groan she opened herself to the raging fire, embracing its source. Even as she pulled Anna roughly to her, giving herself fully to the kiss, a suffocating dread began to eclipse her passion. She felt more vulnerable than she had during the first seconds of her blindness, when she opened her eyes to a darkness more terrifying than anything she had ever experienced. This was what she truly had isolated herself from all these years - this horrible power that love wielded over her.

"Anna, no-" Graham rasped, catching the hands that brushed down her shirt front toward her breasts. She grasped Annaís wrists softly, gently disengaging from their embrace. She struggled for air for an instant, her brain whirling, then finally managed to whisper hoarsely, "You honor me, Anna. With your appreciation, with your deep kindness. I am only too glad to give you what I can with my music. That it pleases you means more to me than I can say. But that is all I can give, Anna - Iím sorry."

**********

Grahamís withdrawal was like a knife slashing through Anna's depths. Must she always be left with this terrible emptiness? She didnít want to let her go, but she knew she must. She could not force Graham to feel as she felt, to want what she wanted.

"Itís I that am sorry," she replied shakily. "I canít seem to stop throwing myself at you. Youíve made it perfectly clear -"

"Anna, donít," Graham murmured. "There is no need for an apology."

Anna drew a long breath, steadying herself. When she spoke again her voice had a steely calm. "Thank you, Graham, for trusting me with your music. It meant more to me than I can ever say." She turned to leave, but couldnít help but ask, "Will I see you at dinner?"

Graham shook her head, "Not tonight, Anna."

**********

"Is Graham coming for dinner?" Helen asked as she set out the hot rolls to cool.

Anna shook her head, busying herself with the dishes. She didnít trust herself to speak, she was still shaking.

"Working still, is she?"

"Yes," Anna managed.

Helen gave her a concerned look. The girl was completely white. "Everything going all right?" she asked cautiously.

"She finished something this afternoon," Anna replied hollowly. After a pause, she added softly, "It was unbelievable."

"Oh?" Helen asked in surprise. "She played it for you?"

"Yes, she did," Anna replied, her voice devoid of emotion.

Helen gave Anna her full attention, setting aside the roast she was carving. For Graham to have played for Anna was nothing short of a miracle, but it seemed to have produced anything but a happy response.

"Graham can be very self-absorbed when sheís working. Sometimes she forgets about common civility and other peoples feelings," she ventured, thinking that Grahamís notoriously volatile nature may have given offense.

"She was perfectly charming, as always," Anna remarked somewhat harshly. Graham raised even rejection to an art form. Damn her pristine control! Isnít there anything that affects her iron clad self-discipline? Anna was only too afraid she knew the answer to that.

"Well, sheís done something, now hasnít she?" Helen persisted softly.

"No, Helen," Anna began, surrendering to her frustration. "Iíve done something." Iíve fallen in love with her! She closed her eyes, searching for calm. She couldnít very well tell Helen that she wanted Graham to make love to her, now could she?

"I canít seem to reach her," she said carefully. "She is always polite, always cordial and her distance is driving me crazy. She wonít accept one compliment; she canít hear one kind word, without mistrusting it! Itís so hard when you care about her!" She caught back a sob, struggling for the tatters of her own self-control.

"Graham has been alone a very long time," Helen said carefully. "She has forgotten how to get on with people." She sensed it was more serious than that, but Helen didnít want to embarrass Anna if her assumptions were wrong. Annaís moodiness hadnít escaped her notice, and neither had Grahamís growing reliance on Anna. She had been expecting some kind of confrontation for weeks.

"Well, she certainly seemed to know how to get along with Christine!" Anna said angrily. She certainly didnít have any problems kissing her! she wanted to shout. Oh god, I really am losing my mind!

"Christine?" Helen responded dismissively, "Graham suffered her presence, thatís all."

"Iím not so sure about that," Anna responded, her anger escalating, too hurt for caution. "She suffered a lot more than her presence. She allowed that woman to fall all over her, and she could deny her nothing!! I think sheís still in love with her and is just too damn stubborn to admit it!"

"So she told you about them, did she?" Helen asked, beginning to get a better idea about the source of Annaís distress.

"Yes, she told me!!" Anna barked. "The love affair to end all love affairs. Whether Christine is here or not, she will always have that hold on Graham! God, Iím such a fool!"

Helen shook her head adamantly, "Oh no, my dear. You are wrong. Graham made a fool out of herself over that girl, but she wasnít so much a fool that she would do it twice!! When Christine left Graham for Richard Blair, she not only broke Graham's heart, she betrayed everything Graham believed love to be. As hard as it was, at some point even Graham had to accept that she was only an exciting and forbidden diversion for Christine. Love her still? No my dear, Graham would never have forgiven the betrayal."

"Then what is it that keeps her so apart?" Anna beseeched. "She is so talented, so sensitive, so kindóhow can she bury all of that as if it meant nothing? As if she herself meant nothing? What is she hiding from??"

Helen had never seen Anna so distraught, and she knew the only words that might help her would also reveal Grahamís deepest secrets. It was not for her to expose Graham in that way.

"Perhaps she just needs time, Anna. These last months, since youíve come, sheís changed so much. Oh, I know you canít see itóbut I can. She no longer sits for hours, alone in her rooms, or wanders the bluff at all hours of the night. There is life in her now, Anna, life that has been missing for more than a decade! Just listen to her music if you donít believe me. You led her back into the world. You put a flower in her hand and showed her there was life that she could experience still. Such a simple thing as a flower! It took you to do that!"

Anna shook her head, feeling sad and defeated. "Whatever else she needs, I canít seem to give her. And I donít know how much more I can take." She looked at Helen with despair in her eyes. "Iím sorry, Helen, you donít deserve this. I donít even know why Iím so upsetóI donít even know what Iím feeling half the time. Itís foolish of me to be carrying on like this. Maybe Iím just being selfish - Graham certainly seems content." She gave Helen a tremulous smile and a swift hug. "Donít wait dinner for me," she said as she hurried from the room.

Helen looked after her, conflicting loyalties warring in her mind. As much as she adored Graham Yardley, she couldnít stand by and watch Anna suffer.

**********

"Graham?" Helen called at the music room door. She entered to find the room deserted. The doors to the terrace were open, despite the brisk October wind. A few leaves fluttered through and clustered on the floor. Grahamís body was outlined in moonlight as she leaned against the balustrade, facing out to the night. Her light shirt whipped about her thin form in the wind.

Helen wrapped her shawl tighter around herself and ventured out. She was shocked by the chill in Grahamís fingers when she covered her hand where it lay on the railing.

"Graham! Youíre freezing. Come inside!"

"Iím fine, Helen," Graham answered hollowly. "Go backóitís too cold here for you."

"And youíre made of stone?" Helen snapped, her patience perilously close to gone. First Anna, and now Grahamóthe two of them suffering was more than she could watch in silence.

"It seems that I am," replied Graham with a cynical smile.

"I know better than that, and you would too if youíd let yourself admit it."

"Helen," Graham said warningly, "I love you like my own parent, but this is something you know nothing about. Let it alone, pleaseófor my sake."

"I have!! All these years when you locked yourself away hereóbut thereís not just you anymoreóthereís Anna."

"Helenó" Graham growled harshly, "leave Anna out of this!"

"I would if I could, but thatís not up to me, is it? Iíve watched you dying slowly right before my eyes for too many yearsóyou who I cherish with all my heart, and Iíve never said a word, never tried to change your mind. I know how much you lost - and your sight was the least of it!"

"Helen, please," Graham whispered, her fists clenched against the stone rail, "please, donít do this now. Please let me have some peace."

"This is not peace, Graham! You may be blind, but your heart is notóyou may think love deserted you, but you know as well as I do that wasnít love! I wonít believe you canít recognize it when you feel it! Anna loves youó"

"Anna pities meó"

"No, Graham. For once your blindness has trapped you! I can see what you refuse to feeló I only have to look at her look at you to know! She loves you, Graham!"

A groan escaped Graham as she turned away. "You know me Helen! You know what my life demands, what I demand! Do you truly think anyone, especially someone as young and vital as Anna, would stay, once she knew what it really meant? I might have killed Christine in the car that night, because she couldnít give me what I wanted- because she was leaving me. I believed once, and it destroyed me. I will not believe again-I cannot survive the loss."

"You underestimate her, Grahamóand itís not just yourself youíre hurting now. Youíre breaking her heart."

"No!" Graham shouted, her fists pounding the unyielding stone. "I cannot, I will not, let this happenóit would destroy us both! I will not bind her to this barren world that is my heart. Now leave me, pleaseóI beg of you." Her last words came in a choked whisper, and tears streaked down her anguished face.

Helen bent her head in defeat, longing to take the trembling woman in her arms. But she knew that Graham would not allow even that sympathy. What Graham feared was inside herself, and nothing could assuage her inconsolable grief.
 




Chapter Fifteen

 


Silence descended on Yardley Manor as each of them struggled to accept their disappointments. Anna went about her work with quiet resignation, an aching hollowness her constant companion. Whereas once the time she spent with Graham eased her loneliness, now seeing her only seemed to heighten it. And Graham, if possible, was even more remote. They spent less time together, as Graham often absented herself from the music room in the afternoons. Instead she worked late into the night, after the others were asleep. She had begun taking her meals alone again, although the trays came back barely touched. The music that echoed in the corridors was dark and melancholyóthe one place Graham could not hide her emotions was in her music. It was truly the mirror of her soul. Helen stood by helplessly, knowing that only Graham could change the course of their lives.

Late one evening, to Helenís surprise, Graham came to the door of her sitting room.

"Graham, good gracious!" she exclaimed. "Whatís wrong?"

"Helen," Graham said urgently, without preamble. "Where is Anna?"

Helen glanced at the clock on her mantle. It was almost eleven, and it occurred to her she hadnít seen Anna all evening. "I donít know. She wasnít here for dinner. Hasnít she come up?"

"No, and I havenít heard the Jeep return," Graham remarked, barely able to hide her anxiety. In some part of her consciousness she waited for the day Anna would not return. It was impossible for her to work freely when Anna wasnít about the house or grounds. Especially recently, since their estrangement, she found herself listening for Anna's step in the hall or the distinctive crunch of gravel in the drive. As much as she expected Anna to leave, she feared it. When it happened, she would lose whatever small purchase on life she had left.

Helen could read the fear in Grahamís face. Ordinarily she wouldnít have worried, but Anna hadnít been herself lately. Since the night they talked in the kitchen, Anna had been distracted and almost dazed. Helen worried she might have had an accident.

It was hard for Helen not to think of that awful night when the call had come about Graham. She remembered only too well the agonizing hour they had all spent while men worked to free her from the wreckage. It was an hour spent not knowing if she were still alive. Helen struggled to dispel the image and quell the surge of alarm. Anna must simply have forgotten to mention her plans. Any other possibility was more than she could bear to contemplate.

She struggled to keep her voice even. "Iím sure sheís fine, Graham. Go on to bed. Iíll be up. If thereís any problem, sheíll call."

A look of panic flickered across Grahamís face. Helen knew as well as she that Anna never absented herself without word. With effort she said evenly, "Of course, youíre right. Just the same, Iíll wait in the library in case she calls."

Helen listened to the echo of her retreating steps, losing sight of her as she descended the dark stairway with a measured step. She knew Graham was every bit as stretched to the limit as Anna seemed to be. She wondered fearfully which one of them would lose the thin rein of control first.

The hallway was dark when Anna let herself into the house just after one in the morning. She jumped when a voice called out to her.

"Anna?"

Anna fumbled for the light switch as she stepped into the library. Graham was seated in a chair before the window that fronted the main drive, as she had been for hours.

"Graham?" Anna asked in surprise "What are you doing in here?"

"We were worriedóHelen and I. I was waiting in case you called." Graham rose, and began to pace restlessly. "Although god knows what I thought I could do about it if you were in trouble," she laughed bitterly. "We make a fine pair, Helen and I. One who canít drive, and the other one blind!"

"Oh god, Graham," Anna cried. "I stayed to have dinner with my graduate advisoróit wasnít planned. I should have called, but we started talking and I lost track of the time!" She felt miserable for having worried either of them.

Graham made an impatient gesture, infuriated with her helplessness, embarrassed by her near panic. "Nonsense. You donít owe either of us an explanation. Your private life is none of our affair. Where you spend your time- and with whom, does not concern us."

Anna gaped at her. She had to be the most infuriating woman she had ever met! "Is that what you think? That I was out on a date for godís sake?"

Graham straightened her shoulders, anger replacing her worry. There was no need for Anna to know she had spent several anxious hours fearing she had left for good. "I donít think anything one way or the other, nor do I care. As I said-"

"I know damn well what you said, Graham," Anna seethed, absolutely beyond caring whether she offended Graham or not. "What I donít understand is why you said it! You know very well how I feel about you, whether you chose to acknowledge it or not. Iíve done everything short of begging you!! Donít insult me by suggesting I would simply wander off and find consolation elsewhere. Do you think youíre the only one capable of a true and honorable emotion?? Damn your arrogance!"

"It was not my intention to insult you, Anna," Graham replied in an amazingly calm tone. She couldnít remember the last time someone raised their voice to her, other than Christine. Annaís sincere distress had a greater affect on her than Christineís tirades ever had. "I did not mean for us to come to this," she said softly. "I never meant to misrepresent myself to you in any way."

"Donít worry, Graham. You havenít," Anna snapped. "It is I who have been mistaken, but I assure you, I will not trouble you again!" She grabbed her knapsack, intent on retreating before she completely lost the last vestige of restraint. She had tried so hard to be patient, to accept the depth of Grahamís loss and disappointment, but it hadnít made any difference and she doubted it ever would.

"I have legal matters that require your assistance. Iíll need to meet with you tomorrow," Graham said as Anna stepped out into the hall. She hated this animosity between them, but there seemed no other way.

"Certainly," Anna rejoined coldly. "Iíll see you in the afternoon."

Anna left her there, but she could not bring herself to turn out the light, even though the darkness would not matter to Graham.

**********

Anna worked furiouslyódigging up buried roots with a spade, slashing through briars with a machete, flinging clods of earth aside with a vengeance. Her pace matched her moodóshe was still boiling. She wasnít sure whom she was angrier withóGraham or herself. What had she expected? Graham Yardley was a wealthy, gifted woman who had known both fame and great passion in her life. Under any circumstances she would hardly be expected to notice someone like Anna, and now, after all she had suffered, she had no special feeling for Anna. Anna struggled for acceptance, but it was so hard! What she felt for Graham went so far beyond anything she had experienced, or dreamed of experiencing. The wanting surpassed simple desireóshe felt inextricably linked to her, body and soul. When she saw Graham across the room, when the sound of her voice carried out into the garden, when she heard her piano whisper in the night, fire surged through Annaís being. Some primal part of her had been called forth by this woman. The combination of Grahamís great strength and her great need had awakened Annaís deepest passion. To be near her, and so apart, was unendurable.

She was beginning to contemplate the unthinkable. She might need to leave Yardley. She didnít have the strength to subjugate her desires to reason - she simply couldnít be around Graham and not want her. For a few months she had managed to be content with their carefully contained relationship, but since the instant they had kissed, all that had changed. She couldnít forget it, and she couldnít stop wanting it again. She would lose her mind if she stayed, and if she left she would lose her soul. It was a choice that was no choice at all, and she cursed her own indecisiveness under her breath. She rubbed the tears from her face and grabbed her ax. She intended to cut down every dead limb at Yardley before the day was out!!

While Anna warred with her emotions and the tangled undergrowth, Graham paced the flagstone terrace fighting her own demons. She knew she was hurting Anna by refusing to acknowledge what was between them, and she had no answer for it. Anna had restored life to Yardley, and to herówith Anna had come the scent of fresh flowers and the teasing sound of notes in the air. Graham had responded to both as if light had suddenly been returned to her world. Her heart lifted to the sounds of Annaís footsteps in the hall. Annaís presence had muted the pain of years of loneliness. But Anna had awakened other senses as wellóGraham knew the touch of her hands, the warmth of her skin, the soft fullness of her breasts. She knew the bruising demand of Annaís kiss as her lips searched against Grahamís mouth. If she made love to her, she would have to acknowledge what was in her heart. If she gave freedom to everything Anna ignited in her, she would never be able to live without her. That was what Graham retreated fromóshe dared not entrust her soul again, and she could not love any other way.

They sat thus, separated not by distance, but by uncertainty.

**********

Anna sighed and stepped back from the line of trees she had been pruning. She could hear the delicate strains of the music Graham was playing wafting on the breeze. She glanced up at the sky, noting absently that clouds were amassing out over the ocean. She reached for her worn denim work jacket as the sudden wind off the water brought a brisk chill to the air. She didnít want to return to the house yet, she still felt too unsettled. She needed to fortify herself before she joined Graham in her music room for their late afternoon meeting.

Graham looked up from the keyboard as the curtains floated into the room on a chill breeze. The weight of the air on her face was dense and wet. Something ominous was stirring, and one word clamored in her mind - Anna! She bolted up from the piano bench in a rush, pushing the terrace doors wide as she stormed through them. From the top of the stairs leading down the flagstone path to the lower reaches of the property, she called out into the gathering wind.

"Anna!!"

Anna looked up at the sound of Grahamís voice, amazed to see the sky blackening around her. The rain and heavy winds were upon her before she knew it. In an instant a blinding wall of water blew in from the sea, drenching her and turning the garden path into a hundred yards of steep, slippery mud. To her horror she saw Graham start down toward her.

"Graham! No, go back!!" she cried, paralyzed with fear at the thought of Graham exposed in the storm. "Go back! Iím coming up."

Abandoning her tools, Anna began to climb the path, struggling to keep her balance in the buffeting winds and pounding rain. Tree branches bent and broke in the wind, hurtling by in the swirling gale. Lightening flashed around her, and the house seemed impossibly far away. She heard a tremendous crash to her left and knew, even as she knew she could not move quickly enough to avoid it, that the old sycamore had been struck by lightening. She threw up an arm to shield her face and cried out as falling branches and limbs engulfed her. There was an instant of white-hot pain in her shoulder just as she met the ground with a jarring thud.

Her first sensation after the initial shock was of the penetrating cold that encompassed her. The ground beneath her cheek was sodden, and her denim jeans and shirt clung to her clammy skin. The cold was almost instantly replaced with a stabbing pain in her left side and a throbbing ache in the back of her head. Her next thought was even more terrifying. Where was Graham!? Oh my god! Sheís out in this storm alone!

She pushed at the overlying branches holding her captive, managing only to worsen the pain in her arm. She fought against the need to vomit, finally ceasing her ineffective struggles. She dropped her head back to the wet ground and waited for the nausea to subside. Time seemed to slow as water dripped through the fallen treeís leaves onto her face. At some point through her disorientation she thought she could hear voices.

"For godís sake man, hurry!"

Anna recognized Grahamís deep voice, harsh with fear. Anna struggled to call Graham's name, to tell her she was all right, but all that emerged was a faint groan. She shouldnít be out here, she thought hysterically.

"Graham," she finally croaked. "be careful!"

"Anna- thank god!" Graham shouted, her voice choked with anxiety. "Are you hurt, love?"

"I donít think so," Anna said as steadily as she could. In truth she was more worried about Graham than she was about her own scrapes and bruises. "Go inside - call someone to help. Please Graham, please donít stay out here- go back to the house! Just do it for me!"

"Damn if I will!! Weíll have you free in a moment. Just hang on, Anna!" Graham called from somewhere quite close. "Damn it, John, canít you go any faster?" She pulled at the tree limbs in front of her, nearly mad with frustration at her inability to reach Anna. She was impervious to the branches that slashed at her hands and face. God, how she hated her blindness!

"I almost have the limb free, maíam, but it would help if youíd move back. We donít need both of you under this damn tree."

Graham turned angry eyes toward the man beside her and growled, "Iím not moving until you get her out."

A tremendous creak accompanied the shifting of the huge fork of limb that imprisoned Anna, and she cried out as the weight of the tree shifted off her tender body. Suddenly Graham was beside her, reaching a tentative, trembling hand toward her.

"Donít move," Graham whispered softly, "youíre safe now. John will have the rest of it off in a minute."

Graham settled on the muddy slope, unmindful of the water or the cold, and very gently lifted Annaís head into her lap. Despite her pain, Anna lifted both arms around Grahamís neck, pressing her face against her chest.

"Iím so glad youíre here," Anna whispered, clutching her tightly.

"Iíll not leave you," Graham replied, struggling to contain tears. She rocked Anna tenderly as she buried her face in Annaís damp hair. "Iím here."

Anna scarcely felt any pain as she thrilled to the comfort of Grahamís presence. As more of the tree was removed she tried moving her legs. Everything worked but she gasped as a multitude of small cuts began to burn.

"Where are you hurt?" Graham asked when she had control of herself again.

"My shoulder, but I donít think anythingís broken." Anna began to realize that both of them were shivering nearly uncontrollably. "Graham," she chattered, "you have to get inside. Let me stand up."

"Weíd better wait for the doctor. And Iím not leaving you." Graham swore inwardly at her own helplessness, even as she began to believe Anna was safe. For a few agonizing minutes she had feared she had lost her. She heard the tree cracking and Annaís cry as it fell. Helen had confirmed her fear that Anna had been trapped under the downed tree, and the panic that followed almost proved to be Grahamís undoing. All she could think of was that Anna was gone, a realization so painful she thought she would go mad. It was Helen who had the presence of mind to call both the family doctor as well as an old friend who lived nearby for help. She couldnít stop Graham from rushing headlong down the treacherous path, only to be unable to find Anna in the tangle of branches, flailing with anguished despair at obstacles she couldnít see. Helen feared that Graham would do herself real harm in her rage to find the girl.

Even with Anna in her arms, Graham was afraid to loosen her hold. Her hands ceaselessly roamed over Annaís body, seeking reassurance that Anna was safe. She didnít realize that each shaking breath bordered on a sob. She hadnít felt such panic since the night of the car crash, when she drifted in and out of consciousness, calling for Christine, getting no answer. She had lain in the twisted wreckage blinded by the blood in her eyes, trapped by the metal that pierced her leg, wondering frantically if she had killed Christine in her jealous rage. Had that been true, in all likelihood she would have taken her own life. Tonight, for those agonizing minutes before she heard Annaís voice, she thought that all that remained to her of life had been taken. Her relief was so enormous, she acted without thinking. She raised Annaís head with a hand cupped to her chin, capturing her mouth with a deep groan. Oblivious to all else, Anna returned her kiss with a hunger long denied. She gasped when Graham pulled away with a shaky laugh.

"We canít wait any longer, Anna. Youíre hurt and cold. We must get you inside." Raising her head, but maintaining her fierce hold on the woman in her arms, she called out, "John, help me to get her up!"

A tall man pulled the last of the debris free and moved through the darkness to their side. He carefully lifted Anna to her feet. Graham rose unsteadily beside them, her hand clasped in Annaís. Together they made their way slowly up to Yardley Manor.
 




Chapter Sixteen

 


The doctor spoke to Graham outside Annaís room after finishing his examination.

"Sheís badly bruised, and I suspect thereís a sprain of the left shoulder, but no permanent damage. She needs to be kept warm and to get plenty of rest for the next few days. Sheís going to be fine." He observed the strained, pale face of the woman before him and added, "You could use a hot bath and some rest yourself, Ms. Yardley."

"Yes, of course," Graham replied absently, her mind occupied only with her concern for Anna. She turned to push open Annaís door and found Helen in her path.

"What is it?" she asked in exasperation. All she wanted was to be alone with Anna. She needed to be certain that she was safe.

"Youíre soaked through and shaking. You need a hot bath and youíre not going in there until you have one." Helen steeled herself for what she knew was coming. As expected, Grahamís well-known temper ignited.

"Please step aside, Helen," Graham ordered, reaching toward the door. "I intend to see her, and I intend to see her now."

Very quietly, Helen responded, "Sweetheart, your face and hands are scratched and bleeding. Youíre going to scare her to death if you donít get cleaned up. Do you want her worrying about you when she should be resting?"

Graham paused, wanting to argue but knowing Helen was right. "All right, a quick one," she relented. "Please tell her I wonít be long."

It was in fact only a few moments before she approached Annaís door once again, and smelled the aroma of hot tea. She followed the scent into Annaís room.

Helen efficiently set up a tray and pulled a chair close to the bedside, carefully directing Graham to it.

"Now, both of you drink some of this tea," she instructed. "Thereís biscuits there as well." She poured two cups, guiding Grahamís hand to them, and turned to leave. Annaís face was white, but the eyes she fixed on Grahamís face appeared free of pain. Neither woman noticed as Helen pulled the door gently closed behind her.

"Anna?" Graham asked uncertainly, leaning forward on the edge of the bed, "Are you all right?"

"Iím much better now," Anna answered softly. Graham had a welt under her right eye and a scrape on her chin where a tree limb had struck her. Even worse were the many little cuts on her hands. Thank god none of them appeared serious. "You really shouldnít be doing that sort of thing with your hands, you know. Theyíre too precious."

"Yes, well so are you," Graham replied in a moment of unguarded honesty. She was still shaken from the accident, and not being able to see Anna, to assure herself she was truly all right, was driving her mad. She attempted to rein in her emotions, teasing lightly, "I promise I wonít do it again if you promise to stay away from falling trees."

"On my honor," Anna whispered. Grahamís tenderness after their weeks of estrangement, combined with the memory of her kiss moments before, had her emotions in turmoil. She needed Grahamís comfort, and here she was, gentle and attentive.

"You should rest now," Graham murmured. She edged closer carefully, finding Annaís hand with her own. She traced the fragile network of veins with her sensitive fingertips, allowing her hands to trail slowly up Annaís bare arms. Anna lay transfixed, scarcely able to breathe. She had the feeling that Graham was not aware of her actions, and that as soon as Graham realized what she was doing, she would stop. Anna fervently did not want her to stop. Now that Graham had relaxed her rigid vigilance, Anna felt the full power of Grahamís emotional intensity for the first time. The possessive look on Grahamís face combined with the touch of her hands was melting her with longing. The heat rising in her body overpowered the pain of her bruises.

"I have some pills for the pain," Graham said at length. She held Annaís hand against her cheek, her fingers folded about Annaís. She was very slowly brushing the backs of Annaís fingers against her skin.

"I donít need them," Anna whispered, her throat tight with desire.

Graham brought one hand to Annaís face and slowly ran a few strands of her hair through her fingers. It was so soft, silken - mesmerizing in its simple beauty. She wanted nothing more than to sit here like this with Anna safe beside her.

"You should sleep. Iíll be here," she murmured.

Anna drew a shuddering breath. Graham was so tender, and her touch was piercing. Anna knew she had never been touched like this before.

"You should go, Graham," Anna said with effort. She couldnít bear the thought of Graham leaving, but Graham had been through as much as she. The hand that held hers trembled. "You look exhausted."

"Not yet," Graham said in a tone that broached no argument.

"Then at least lie down with me," Anna demanded boldly, "or I wonít sleep either."

Graham frowned. "You are rather pig-headed yourself," she remarked darkly. No one had ever been able to sway her the way Anna seemed to. Not even Christine with all her wiles had been as hard to resist.

"Iím serious, Graham," Anna persisted, detecting a rare moment of weakness in Grahamís usually impenetrable defenses. "Either you lie down with me or Iíll stay awake, too."

Graham could not bring herself to leave, although she refused to consider why. With a sigh of exasperation she stretched out beside Anna, her back against the broad head-board, one arm around Annaís shoulders.

"All right now," Graham insisted, "close your eyes."

Almost instinctively, Anna moved so that she was reclining in Grahamís arms, her cheek against Grahamís chest. She wrapped her uninjured arm around Grahamís waist and closed her eyes. To her amazement, she soon began to drift.

"Donít leave," she murmured groggily. If she hadnít been compromised by physical and emotional stress, she never would have asked.

"I wonít," Graham promised, kissing the top of her head. If she hadnít been so recently terrified for Annaís life, she never would have stayed.

**********

It was fully dark when Anna opened her eyes. Graham was still beside her, her cheek resting against Annaís hair, one hand rhythmically stroking the bare skin of her shoulder. In her sleep Anna had thrown one leg over Grahamís, and she lay tightly pressed to her now. Anna knew she was wet, and wondered if Graham could feel it. Anna shifted beneath the light sheet so her breasts rested more fully against Grahamís chest. She was rewarded with a swift gasp from Graham.

"Graham," she whispered, raising herself until their lips were nearly touching. She could feel the heat radiate from Graham now, too. Graham was scarcely breathing, straining for control. Anna shifted deliberately until her entire length rested upon Grahamís body. Her nipples tensed, and she rubbed them slowly back and forth across Graham's chest. When Anna rocked against Grahamís leg, a fine shudder passed through Grahamís form. Relentless now with need, Anna slipped one hand along the front of Grahamís trousers, trailing her fingers down Graham's thigh.

"Make love to me," Anna whispered in a voice husky with desire. "Please, Graham, please -I need you so much."

"I canít," Graham choked, shaking with the effort to contain her arousal.

Annaís hand pressed into Graham's thigh, sliding higher with deliberate strokes.

"Oh god, Annaódonít," Graham groaned, her hips rising to Anna's touch of their own volition. She was losing focus, the aching in her pelvis traveling in waves into her belly and beyond. "You canít know what youíre asking!"

Graham was wet against Anna's palm where she held her, and Anne saw a hunger in Graham's face that was undeniable. She sensed Grahamís fear and resistance too, but she was too far gone to care. Anna was completely at the mercy of her own driving need, motivated by an instinct as essential as that to breathe.

"I do know what Iím asking," she gasped, " and so do you! Do you want me to beg?"

Graham hesitated still, her head pounding, trying to ignore the building pressure to move against Annaís hand. Her body was in mutiny. She was afraid she might come at the slightest touch. "Anna, youíre hurt!" she protested weakly.

"All I can feel is how much I need you to touch me. I'm ready to explode Ė I'm so swollen Ė oh, god Ė Graham-- " Anna groaned through a haze of overwhelming need, her body surging against the reed slender woman in her arms. She caught Grahamís hand and brought it to the aching fullness of her breast. "Please-"

With that touch Grahamís restraint broke at last. She yielded to a tidal wave of lust with a strangled cry. Her hands were upon Anna with a force that took the breath from Annaís body. Sweeping like wildfire down the planes of Annaís abdomen, along her thighs, ascending just as quickly to stroke her neck and breasts, Grahamís touch stirred a searing heat that set Annaís nerve ends burning. She felt herself dissolving into molten liquid, her speech reduced to small cries that became incoherent whimpers as her body arched to Graham, desperately offering all of herself. Grahamís lips were on her neck, murmuring her name like a benediction. She eased her body over Annaís, brushing the covers aside, one hand seeking between Anna's legs. She thrilled to the welcoming warmth, parting the engorged lips, groaning as she slipped into Annaís silken depths. She clenched her jaw, willing herself to go slowly, struggling with the shattering urge to claim Anna with all the power of her passion.

"Oh god, Graham," Anna cried out as Graham filled her, willing her deeper, thrusting to contain all of her. Grahamís mouth bruised her lips, the fabric of Grahamís shirt chaffed her swollen nipples, and the exquisite motion of Grahamís fingers within her inflamed her senses.

"Oh, no," she gasped urgently as her hips began to rock involuntarily. Her clit was tingling, jumping with the rhythm of Graham's thrusting fingers. Oh god Ė not so soon! "Graham wait!" It was already too late. Muscles clenched and tightened, she sobbed as her body, long denied, found release. She clutched Grahamís shoulders, strangling on her own throaty cries. Endlessly, her peaked, only to be driven to a higher plateau by the insistent stroking of Grahamís finely tuned hands, until she lay exhausted, able only to murmur, "Enough, my darling, Iíll die from you."

Graham laughed gently, her fingers quieting, but not withdrawing. She settled Anna firmly against her, breathing into her hair, "Oh no, love, you wonít die from this. Never from this."

Through a curtain of languorous fatigue, Anna saw Grahamís dark eyes upon her face, tender and deep with passion. To see her so stopped the breath in her throat, she loved her so much. Anna pressed closer to her, whispering, "Just hold me, please."

"Anything," Graham murmured as Anna drifted into sleep.

**********
Anna awakened slowly, her body still pulsing with sensation. Graham still held her tightly. She lay with her eyes closed, savoring the sweet satisfaction of Grahamís nearness and the lingering aftermath of their lovemaking. She didnít move when she felt a featherlight touch upon her cheek, remaining silent as Grahamís fingers traced her face. As gently as butterflies on spring blossoms, Graham stroked her brows, each eyelid, and the line of her lips and nose. With both hands she cupped Annaís face, her thumbs brushing across the bones of her cheek to sweep along her jaw and chin. A fingertip pressed against the pulse beating in her neck, then moved to circle the curve of her ear. When at last the gently probing hands quieted on her skin, Anna questioned softly, "Can you see me?"

Graham smiled faintly. "Yes."

"You make me feel beautiful," Anna confessed shyly.

"You are beautiful, Anna." Graham kissed her softly, reverently.

Anna smiled, then stretched indolently, trying to dispel the intoxicating lethargy Grahamís touch induced. She shifted on the bed, one hand resting on Grahamís abdomen. Muscles fluttered beneath her fingers. Being this close to Graham kept her constantly aroused. It was a new experience, one that left her breathless. Graham, ever sensitive, raised one questioning eyebrow.

"What is it?"

"I want to look at youóall of you," Anna replied, tugging at Grahamís shirt, brushing her fingers along the taut muscles beneath. She slipped her hand beneath the waistband of the tailored linen trousers, her pulse racing as Graham groaned and shuddered faintly at the touch.

"Let me touch you," Anna whispered against Graham's neck. Anna's need to have this enigmatic woman was as great as her need to be taken by her just a short time ago.

Graham flushed, but sat up slightly and began to unbutton her shirt. She shrugged the soft material from her shoulders and reached for the zipper on her trousers. Annaís hand grasped hers as Anna whispered, "Let me."

Graham raised her hips as Anna slid the last of her clothing away.

"God, youíre perfect," Anna breathed, gazing at the sweeping planes of Grahamís long form. As slowly as she knew how, Anna began to touch her, lingering over each curve and hollow of her body, exploring her with her hands and lips. Anna wanted to make this moment last forever, and even as Grahamís breathing quickened, her body undulating under Annaís caresses, Anna went slowly. With her mouth she began a slow descent from Grahamís neck, teasing each nipple before she traced a path down Grahamís quivering abdomen. Graham opened before her, arching gently up to meet her tongue, her breath rasping in her throat. As Annaís lips drew on her engorged clitoris, she moaned softly, her fingers entwining in Annaís hair. Anna had never known such tender power before. She thrilled to her ability to please this woman who had given her such exquisite pleasure. Her tongue stroked each ripe fold, moving with the surges of Grahamís body, matching her rhythm to that of her beloved. She was drunk with the taste of her, drowning in her rich nectar.

Graham groaned, grasped Anna's hands tightly, and arched against her lips. "Ah, Anna Ė my love," she whispered brokenly, finally giving in to the relentless driving pressure to come.

Anna struggled to hear her through the deafening roar of her own raging lust. She moaned with each quake that rippled through Grahamís body, holding fast to the slender hips until Graham quieted. Were it not for Graham calling her name, she would have gladly stayed there, senses overflowing, for time out of mind. Eventually Graham's hands gently drawing her upwards brought her back to herself.

"Come here," Graham whispered, "let me feel you close to me."

Anna moved to lie beside her, her heart contracting at the sight of tears streaking Grahamís cheeks. She thought she might come apart. She wanted so much to ease the pain Graham had suffered for so long. Softly she brushed the tears away. Her lips caressed the scar on Grahamís brow, lingering over each translucent eyelid. Grahamís lips parted in silent pleasure and a long sigh escaped her.

"You make me feel more than I ever imagined possible," Anna murmured against the ivory column of Grahamís neck. "Itís almost more than my heart can contain."

Graham caressed her gently as Anna slipped once more into satisfied sleep. Graham lay quietly for a long time, trying to absorb every sensation, every sound, every scent that was Anna. She filled her heart, and her mind, and her memory with her. At last she slipped from the bed, leaning down to softly kiss the sleeping woman.

"You are more beautiful than any music I have ever heard," she whispered.

**********

The sun rose over Yardleyís grand expanses, but the brilliance of the changing dawn colors was lost on the woman who stood high above the sea. The brisk ocean breeze tossed her hair into her eyes, but she did not lift a hand to shield them. The tears on her face were not from the wind, nor the shivering in her body from the piercing cold. In the long years of her exile, she had never been so alone. Her defenses had been breached, her heart wrent by the gentle touch of a womanís lips. She remembered with shattering clarity each sensation - the longing, and the wonder, and the miracle of communion, body and soul. She could not drive the memory of the past from her thoughts - the complete desolation of the spirit she had suffered when Christine left her. She feared that ultimately her need would force Anna to leave her, too. She knew with utter certainty that this would be a pain she could not bear a second time in her life. Despite the years, the wounds still bled, and she could not banish the fear. She had not sought this love, in fact she had hidden herself from the very possibility of it all this time. She cried for what she had done, and what she must do. Finally, she returned to the house to await Annaís awakening, and to seal her own fate.

Anna knew instinctively as she reached out that she was alone.

"Graham?" she called.

"Iím here, Anna," Graham answered from her place by the window. "How do you feel?

Anna rolled over and pushed herself up in bed. She regarded Graham carefully. She had grown too used to the nuances of Grahamís posture and tone of voice not to know when she was distressed.

"Iím stiff, and sore just about everywhere, but nothing feels serious," she replied cautiously.

"Good," Graham sighed. She gathered herself for the hardest words she would ever say. "Anna, I must talk to you about last night."

Anna closed her eyes, her stomach tightening. Last night she didnít need to thinkóall she knew was the joy of Grahamís presence. She didnít need to think now to know she had been more deeply moved by Grahamís touch than any other event in her life. She didnít need words to capture the ecstasy of loving this woman. Her skin still tingled from the stroke of Grahamís hands, her body stirred with desire at the sight of her. She loved her, more passionately than she would have believed possible. Graham Yardley had claimed her, willingly or notóheart, body and soul.

"You donít need to say anything, Graham," Anna replied. "Last night, with you, was more beautiful than anything Iíve ever experienced. No one has ever touched me -"

Graham interrupted her harshly. She could not bear to hear these words! "Anna, you were hurt, vulnerableóyou needed comforting! IóI was frightenedóI forgot myself. It wasnít meant. Iím sorry."

"What are you saying? Are you trying to tell me last night was some kind of mistake?!" Anna asked incredulously. She stared at Graham uncomprehendingly. "You canít mean that! For Godís sake, Graham-"

"We were both frightened, exhausted - I took advantage," Graham stated flatly.

"Graham! I asked you into my bedóIíve been wanting, needing you, for so long! God Graham! I love you," Anna cried vehemently.

Graham groaned. "AnnaóAnna, you must not!" She drew a deep breath, her face set. "Last night should never have happened. I have no desire for it to be repeated. I do not want that kind of relationship with you."

"And you expect me to simply forget it? What we shared- the way it felt to touch you?" Anna questioned grimly, her hurt and bewilderment giving way to anger. "And what am I supposed to do with my feelings for you, Graham? Am I to ignore them the way you seem to be able to? "

Graham gave no sign that Annaís words affected her at all. "There can be no question of anything other than a friendship between us. If Iíve misled you, I apologize."

Anna wanted to scream; part of her wanted to beg. How could she be alone in this? She had felt love in Grahamís touchóshe had heard it as Graham whispered her name! She stared at Graham, a cold hand gripping her heart. "Are you sure?" she asked at last.

"Iím quite sure." Her face betrayed not a flicker of emotion.

"Then Iíll be leaving Yardley as soon as I can make arrangements," Anna replied hollowly, her mind numb with pain.

Graham clenched her hands, steeling herself against the crushing desolation. "Of course, if you think you must."

Anna watched her cross to the door, knowing this might be the last time she saw her. As Grahamís hand touched the knob, Anna said coldly, "Damn you for a coward, Graham Yardley! How can you do this!"

Graham faltered for a second before wordlessly closing the door gently behind her.

**********

"At least tell me whatís sheís done!" Helen cried frantically as she watched Anna pile boxes into the back of her Jeep.

"She hasnít done anything," Anna replied woodenly. "Sheís exactly the same as sheís always been - I was the one who made the mistake."

"Let me talk to her," Helen pleaded. "Just tell me what happened!"

Anna stifled a laugh that verged on tears. She felt dangerously out of control. Poor Helen, this is almost as hard on her as it is on me! The only one who seems unaffected is Graham.

"Thereís nothing you can do, Helen," she responded when she could find her voice.

Helen stopped her hurried motions with a hand on her arm, forcing Anna to look at her. "Anna," she said quietly, "it will kill her if you leave."

"No, Helen," Anna said as she gently removed her hand and stepped up into the Jeep. "It will kill me."

She did not look back as she drove away from all she loved.
 
 



Chapter Seventeen

 


She woke before the alarm after another restless night. She turned toward the window, seeking a hint of the sun through the glass. Even after all this time she still missed the smell of the ocean. She lay quietly, waiting for the ache in her to lessen. It was there each day when she opened her eyes, arising from some deep wound that would not heal. Pain was her constant companion, a raw burning grief that clouded even the most simple pleasures. She had learned to accept itóas she accepted that there was a place in her soul which would remain forever empty. That she loved Graham still, would always love her, was the truth and the agony she lived with.

After the first desolate weeks alone again in Boston, she tried to reclaim her life. She immersed herself in her studies and had only to complete her thesis to have her degree. She had no social life and desired none. There was no question of re-entering the world she had known during her marriageóa world now foreign to her. Loving Graham had taught her that she could only have loved with such deep passion and paralyzing desire because Graham was a woman. And she knew without doubt that no other woman could ever eclipse Graham in her heart. She had wanted Graham with a ferocity that still stunned her. She need only to recall some fleeting image, and she would be ambushed by desireóher need to touch her, to taste her, to lose herself in her was palpable. Anna welcomed these moments, despite the bitter pain of loss, because it was only their presence that convinced her some part of her still lived. Otherwise, she moved through her days numb and scarcely present. The future stretched before her with no hint of joy.

The alarm sounded, a reminder that each day would come, and that she would somehow survive. As she moved about her small studio apartment gathering her things, she tried to dispel the lingering memories of her past. Woven through the tapestry of loss was a hard bitter thread of anger, anger over the life, and the love, she might have had - things too painful to dwell on now.

She still found it hard to believe the direction her life had taken. She now worked for a landscape design firm, a job that a year ago she would have been overjoyed to have. She did enjoy her work, in fact, it was her salvation, but the pleasure was diminished by the emptiness of the rest of her life. She barely remembered how she had gotten through that initial interview.

Lauren Parker, a nationally renowned landscape architect and one of a very few women to head her own firm, had interviewed her personally. Anna recalled that she had been both direct and personable, questioning Anna thoroughly but in an easy relaxed manner. Apparently she had been impressed by Annaís graduate work on historic estate renovations, an area she said her firm was interested in exploring. Although it seemed now to Anna that she had floated through the interview in a daze, she must have made a favorable impression. She had been there six months. She grabbed her briefcase and hurried toward the door. She needed this job, but more importantly, she needed to work. It was the only thing which provided brief respite from her memories.

Anna was sketching in the details of an outdoor theatre when someone tapped on the wall of her work cubicle. She looked up to find Lauren leaning against the partition. It wasnít unusual for Lauren Parker to supervise the work of her staff personally, but she managed to do it in a way that was both non-threatening and non-intrusive. Those who worked for her knew how fortunate they were to have an employer who was talented as well as fair-minded.

Anna smiled a greeting, laying her work aside. "Hi."

"Hi. Howís the prospectus for the Randolph estate?"

Lauren was dressed casually in a navy linen pants suit that accentuated her trim athletic build. She could have been thirty-five, although Anna knew she was at least ten years older. She radiated confidence and vigorous good health. Her blonde hair was stylishly short, and she wore almost no makeup.

"Good, I think. I have some things to run by Don, and then it should be ready for you to look at."

Lauren nodded. "Excellent. Weíre ahead of schedule, which should appease those elements on Randolphís board of directors who thought the project should go to Tom Langdon across town." Despite her firms national reputation, there were always those who mistrusted the ability of a woman to excel in a manís field. This job was her entree into the realm of historic renovation she had been waiting for.

Lauren hesitated a second, then asked, "How about a working dinner tonight? Iíd like to hear what youíve come up with so far, but Iíve got clients scheduled all afternoon. If you donít have other plans? I know itís Friday night."

A shadow flickered across Annaís face and was quickly gone. "No," she said quietly, "I donít have any plans. Dinner would be fine. Should I meet you somewhere?"

"Why donít we just grab a cab from here?" Lauren hadnít missed the reaction her invitation had provoked. Whatever the memory, it had hurt. She said nothing further, knowing Anna was intensely private.

Anna nodded, "Okay."

Lauren smiled warmly. "GoodóIím looking forward to it."

**********

At six oíclock Lauren stopped in the corridor beside Annaís desk. "Are you ready to finish up? The cab should be downstairs in about fifteen minutes."

Anna smiled up at her, nodding. "Iím more than ready. Iíll just freshen up and meet you outside."

Lauren held the cab door open while Anna slid in, then instructed the driver, "The Copely Plaza, please," as she settled next to Anna with a sigh. "God, Iíve been looking forward to this all day."

"I might be a little under-dressed for the Copely," Anna said, indicating her casual slacks and sweater.

Lauren turned her head to look at Anna. "Nonsense. You look terrific," she said softly. The woman beside her had lost the deep tan that had accentuated her blue eyes and blond hair so strikingly six months before, but she had also lost the haunted look that seemed to shadow her every moment. She smiled occasionally now, a blazing smile that never failed to capture Laurenís attention for just long enough to be distracting. Pleasantly distracting.

Anna blushed under Laurenís warm, appraising glance. It was nothing like the way men had looked at her, still did in fact. She didnít feel as if she were being assessed like a painting about to be purchased, or a fine wine about to be consumed. Laurenís glance was appreciative, and intimate in a respectful way. It was the first time Anna had ever been aware of a woman looking at her in quite that manner. Would Graham have, if she could have seen her? Without warning she remembered the way Graham had stroked her face after they made love, Ďseeingí her in the only way she could. Anna recognized the sensuality of Laurenís gaze because she had felt it, magnified a thousand times, in Grahamís hands on her skin. The image was so painful she closed her eyes with a small gasp.

"What is it?" Lauren asked in concern.

"Just a headache," Anna said with a shaky laugh. "I think I forgot lunch and itís catching up with me."

"Well, dinner is on the company," Lauren said, almost as if she didnít own it. "Letís enjoy it!" She doubted the headache story; she had seen the same thing happen to Anna before. Some word or gesture would inexplicably cause her to pale, visibly shaken. Something had hurt her badly, and Lauren guessed that Anna kept the anguish at bay through sheer strength of will. Annaís struggle touched some deep cord in Lauren, as she watched the younger woman slowly rise above her pain over the past months. "Come on," she said, touching Annaís hand briefly. "Let me buy you a drink."

Anna forced herself to relax, wanting to forget everything for just a little while. She decided to try to enjoy herself, and before she knew it, she was seated with Lauren at a cozy table sipping a very fine wine.

At Laurenís suggestion, they got business out of the way while they waited for appetizers, so that by the time their meal came, their conversation was casual. Anna found Lauren an easy companion. Her interests beyond the professional were varied, and she had a way of bringing images to life with her enthusiasm. She was bright, gracious and altogether charming. For the first time in months Anna found she could actually distance herself from the despair that seemed to be the undercurrent of her life. She was grateful for the brief surcease of pain.

"Anna," Lauren said as she reached to fill Annaís wine glass, "you have been doing excellent work at the firm, and I consider us lucky to have you. I hope you plan to stay on with us for the long-term. There will be plenty of opportunity for advancement."

Anna stared at her in surprise. She hadnít expected Lauren to notice her work, let alone comment so favorably upon it. She was pleased and said so.

Lauren nodded, her face uncharacteristically subdued. She fidgeted briefly with her straw, then tossed it onto the table with a sigh. "Thereís never an easy way to do this, at least none that Iíve ever found," she said at length. "But I want you to understand that this has absolutely nothing to do with work, and never will. No matter what you say to me, your position at the firm is based upon your production, and your skill - nothing else."

Anna looked at her quizzically. "I donít have the faintest idea what youíre talking about," she said.

Lauren blushed and laughed lightly. "How could you? Iím not saying anything!" She leaned forward slightly, her intense grey eyes fixed on Annaís. "AnnaóI think you are a very attractive woman, and I like you. I would very much like to spend more time with youósocially. Well, romantically actually."

Anna stared at her, at a loss for words. Lauren was highly attractive in many ways - bright, accomplished, physically compelling, and Anna was more comfortable with her than she had been in months. Part of her wanted this woman to make her forget Graham Yardley.

Lauren waited in silence, then asked softly, "Have I misread you? If I have, I apologize."

Anna cleared her throat, then responded, "No, you havenítóI mean, I am a lesbian."

Lauren added in concern, "I have never asked an employee out before. I meant it, Annaódonít think for a second that this has any bearing on your position at the firm. Please!"

Anna searched for her voice. "I donítóit doesnít feel that way, and neither do you."

She looked at the woman across from her, imagining her touch, her kiss. She had grown to admire and respect Lauren, and after tonight she knew she liked her. She wondered if she could let Lauren make love to her body, if the physical sensation might even be welcome, if it somehow might dull her memory of Graham even briefly. She longed for some relief from the endless torment, but she knew without a shred of doubt she could never give Lauren her heart. That was no longer hers to own, or to give. She was Grahamís, in every fiber of her being, and always would be. She looked at Lauren helplessly, " Itís not that -itís just-, I canít, Lauren, Iím sorryó"

Lauren thought she detected tears in her eyes. "Hey," she said softly, "itís okay. I didnít mean to upset you."

Anna shook her head, brushing impatiently at the moisture on her cheeks. "You havenítóthis has been the best night Iíve spent in months. And if things were differentó"

Lauren hurried to state, "I donít want to get in the middle of anything if youíre already involved with someone. Iíve never heard you mention anyone."

"No," Anna answered, the pain in her voice impossible to hide. "Iím not involved with anyone."

"But?" Lauren questioned gently.

Annaís gaze was wounded. "But there is someone I love, very muchósomeone who apparently doesnít love me. But that doesnít stop the wantingódoes it?"

Lauren looked at her sympathetically. "No, it doesnít. Perhaps time will help. Iíve enjoyed our evening together. And Iíd like to do it again sometime. I appreciate your honesty, Anna, and if the time comes that you might feel differently about seeing me, Iíll consider myself lucky. ĎTil thenófriends?"

Anna smiled tremulously. "I could use a friend. Thank you, Lauren."
 




Chapter Eighteen

 


As time passed Lauren proved true to her word. On the average of once a week, she invited Anna to the theatre or out for dinner. The only place Anna refused to accompany her was to the symphony. Anna hadnít been able to listen to any kind of music that reminded her of Graham, and the thought of a concert hall brought twisting pain to her depths. In her mind, the concert stage would always belong to Graham; her memory held so many images of her there. Seeing Annaís response the first time she asked her, Lauren never asked her again.

Anna enjoyed their time together, coming to value their relationship immensely. She would not speak of her past, and Lauren did not press her. When they parted, Lauren kissed her lightly on the cheek. It didnít escape Annaís notice that occasionally Lauren would look at her with a question in her eyes, but Anna never felt pressured to move their relationship onto a more intimate level. Anna hoped that their friendship was as rewarding to Lauren as it had come to be to her.

Early one morning the phone on her desk rang. It was Lauren.

"Can I see you in my office for a minute?"

"Iíll be right there," Anna replied, rolling up the plan she had been working on.

When Anna entered, Lauren motioned for Anna to join her at the large drafting table situated before the enormous windows overlooking the Boston Commons. She indicated a layout pinned to the board. She was clearly excited.

"The Randolph renovations have progressed exceptionally well. The article featuring our work in the Times last weekend has really fostered interest in estate reclamation. This area is ripe for it. I think itís time to push the promotional we discussed when you first interviewed. Iíd like to use your work at Yardley as the centerpiece. Itís one of the oldest estates on the Cape and will be easily recognized by prospective clients. Since Yardley is so well known to you, and the concept of marketing estate landscape restoration is really yours as well, Iíd like you to oversee the project. Weíll need detailed plans, as well as photodocumentation. I want you to put your other projects on hold until this is off the ground."

Anna stood stunned and speechless, while Lauren looked at her expectantly. Of course she should be honored that Lauren would entrust such an important project to her direction, and it was what she had been training to doóbut, oh god, not at Yardley! Her composure threatened to give way under a wave of panic.

"I canít," she finally whispered.

Lauren stared at her in astonishment. "What do you mean, Ďyou canít?í Is it because of your thesis? I thought you had that nearly wrapped up."

"No," Anna forced herself to say calmly. "Iíll work on the promotionalóanything else you want. Anything. But I canít do the work on Yardley."

"But Anna, I want Yardley as the main work. Thatís where I need you!"

Anna passed a trembling hand across her face, trying to gather her wits. Just the mention of Yardley had brought a flood of memories, and such pain she thought she might be ill. God, what would she do if she actually had to see Graham? It was impossible! She couldnít do it!

"Anna, weíre friends. Tell me what this is all about." Lauren laid her hand gently on Annaís arm, her concern genuine. Anna was trembling.

Anna turned to face her, an agony of despair clearly visible. Lauren had never seen such desolation, and her heart surged with compassion.

"Tell me, sweetheart."

"I canít go back to Yardley," Anna said at last, her voice shaking.

"Why not?"

"Grahamó" Anna began, barely able to say her name. "I canít see her. I canít." She looked at Lauren pleadingly. "Please donít ask me to, Lauren. It would kill me."

Lauren studied her for long moments, the pieces slowly falling into place. She knew that Anna had lived at Yardley but had never given it any thought. Now Annaís isolation and depression were more understandable.

"Graham Yardley - the composer," Lauren said softly. "Sheís the woman youíre in love with, isnít she?"

Anna closed her eyes, trying to stem the tears, failing. "Yes," she choked out, turning from her friend, struggling for control. She felt a tender hand on her shoulder, heard a soft voice murmur her name, and she turned into the arms that waited for her. Lauren held her gently, letting her cry, not trying to tell her it as all right when it so obviously wasnít. At length Anna drew away, fumbling for a tissue, embarrassed.

"Iím sorry," she said. "I didnít expect this - if I donít think about her, I seem to be able to manage. You took me by surprise."

Lauren let out a long breath. "Anna, youíve always been honest with me and I care about you. I donít want to see you suffer like this any longer, and Iíll admit not all of my reasons are selfless ones. I wonít pretend that I donít want more from our relationship, but this isnít about that. This is destroying you. You need to give her upóyou have the rest of your life, donít allow it to be an empty one. Maybe if you work on the project, it will help you heal."

Anna laughed almost hysterically. "Heal? You canít heal whatís already dead, and thatís what I am inside, Lauren. Dead. All Iím trying to do now is make it from day to day. If I have to see Graham, I wonít even be able to do that! Sheís not something I can just Ďgive upí! Sheís in every part of me. You canít imagine what being near her is like for me!"

Lauren winced at the truth of Annaís words. It wasnít easy to be faced with the extent of Annaís passion for another woman, but nevertheless her tone was kind as she offered, "You wonít have to see her. She isnít there."

Anna grasped the edge of the table, her head suddenly light. "Oh, dear god, has something happened to her? Is she all right?"

"As far as I know, she is. David Norcross told me that no one had been in residence at Yardley since last fall, but that he would provide us with keys if we needed access." Seeing the look of panic on Annaís face, she added gently, "Thatís really all I know."

Anna forced down the surge of panic. "I canít make a decision about this now, Lauren. Give me a little timeójust a few day, please."

Lauren nodded, reluctantly accepting that Annaís heart still belonged completely to Graham Yardley. Despite her own disappointment, as a friend, she would have to let Anna find her own way.

"Iíll need your answer by the end of next week ," she conceded.

**********

That night Anna dreamed of Yardley, and of Graham. A storm was coming, like the storm that brought down the sycamore. She was in the garden, the sky darkening around her. Turning to the sea, she saw Graham standing at the edge of the cliff, struggling to stay upright in the gale. She seemed even thinner in the distant gloom, wraithlike, and in danger of being swept from the earth by the force of the snarling winds. Annaís cries to her were flung back in her face by the howling blasts. She must reach her!!

"Graham, Iím coming," she screamed soundlessly, "Iím coming, my darling!!" She fought to move, choking with panic, able only to watch in horror as Graham was flung by the whirlwind into the raging waters.

"No!" she wailed into the night, finally dragging herself to consciousness. She lay gasping, soaked in sweat, her face streaked with tears. The aftermath of her dream left her awash with loss. "Oh God Graham," she whispered into the darkness, "I love you so much."

**********

Anna drove slowly up the drive to Yardley Manor, her heart pounding. Yardley appeared abandoned, dark and foreboding. The shutters were all closed, and windswept debris littered the walks and the wide front porch. She parked her Jeep behind the house by the kitchen and walked down the steep garden path toward the sea. She stopped at the site of the fallen sycamore, thinking of how that accident had finally brought Graham into her arms. Oh, god, she thought she had found heaven. How could she have been so wrong!

She stood for many minutes looking out to the sea, images flashing through her mind like slides on a screen. She recalled how Graham had looked that first day in the library, pale and stern, and so stubborn and proud! She had been drawn to her even then. She remembered the slow building of her love as she had come to know more of the gentle, tortured soul Graham kept hidden within. What finally started tears flowing was the memory of Grahamís musicóits haunting beauty and the even more beautiful image of Graham playing. As the music cascaded through her mind, so too did the remembrance of their lovemaking. She ached for Grahamís touch, and to touch her in return.

Watching the waves crash below, ominous in their fury, she was reminded of the desolation she had felt in her dream. She couldnít continue to live like this. Anna felt a strange steeling of her heart, and a new determination. Replacing the pain that accompanied each breath was a rising anger, and the resolution to put an end to this torment. As she turned and began the long climb back, Anna became aware of another sensations in her heart. She finally recognized that it was hope.
 




Chapter Nineteen

 


"Iím afraid I simply cannot reveal that information. Iím truly sorry."

Anna looked at David Norcross and repeated determinedly, "I must see her. Where has she gone?"

Norcross sighed. "I have strict instructions that no one is to be given that information. If youíd like, you can leave a message." His look suggested there was little chance that Graham would return anyoneís message.

Anna shook her head. "No, I need to talk to her in person."

"If it were a matter of life or death, perhaps."

"Mr. Norcross, it is a matter of life or death. My life and hers." Seeing the surprised look on his face, Anna continued, her eyes locked on his. "I love Graham Yardley. And she loves meóI hope. I let her drive me away, but I canít believe thatís what she really wants. Please, I must see her. Now, before itís too late." Even as she spoke, she struggled with a strange sense of foreboding. She couldnít dispel the feeling that something was terribly wrong.

David Norcross pushed his chair back and went to stand at the windows that rose above Boston Harbor. As his silence grew, Anna remained still, scarcely daring to breathe.

When he spoke at last, it was as if to himself. "I have known Graham Yardley since she was a young girl. Her father was one of my closest friends. Grahamís accident nearly killed him, but you must know that," he said, turning to look fully at Anna. "Graham survived, but something vital was lost óher joy, her incredible passion, her great talentóall gone. We all lost something as a result - and the world lost a great artist."

Anna nodded. "I know thatóbut it doesnít have to be that way. Itís still part of her, Mr. Norcross - undiminished. Sheís been hurt, and sheís afraid. I was afraid, and I failed us both. Please help us."

Norcross bent over his desk, wrote quickly on a piece of stationery and handed the slip of paper across the desk to Anna.

"I wish you luck, my dear. For all of our sakes."

**********

"Oh my lord, is it really you?"

Anna swept Helen up into her arms, hugging her fiercely. "Yes, Helen, itís really me." She stepped back to gaze at the older woman, instantly struck by the distress and worry in her face. For the first time since Anna had known her, she looked every one of her sixty-five years. Something was wrong. "Is she here, Helen?"

Helen nodded. "Sheís out in the gazebo." Helenís voice caught on a sob, and she turned away to hide her tears. "I was just taking her tea. Iíll ask her if sheíll see you."

Anna gently restrained her with a hand on her arm. "No you wonít. This time it isnít up to her. I intend to talk to her."

"Then youíd better prepare yourselfósheís ill."

Something in the way Helen looked told more than her words. Icy fear gripped Annaís heart. "Tell me."

Helenís voice trembled as she recounted the events of the last few terrifying weeks. "She came down with pneumoniaósix weeks ago, I think. For some reason the doctors couldnít explain to me, she didnít respond the way they expected to the medicines. They said there was something wrong with her resistanceóbutó"

"What do you think?" Anna asked, her throat painfully tight.

Helen looked at Anna sadly, then replied, "I think she didnít care if she got well. Iíve seen Graham through what I thought were the worst times of her life, and Iíve never seen her like this."

"Why are you here? Why did you leave Yardley?" Anna asked, fighting her panic, struggling to understand what was happening.

Helen tried not to sound harsh, but her fear outweighed her concern for Annaís feelings. "I told you what would happen if you left her! She wouldnít stay there a day after you moved out. Ordered a car, told me to close the house, and left for Philadelphia that night. Sheís been alone with her piano day and night, worse than Iíve ever seen her. One final work, she said - and sheís been at it frantically for months. No wonder the doctors couldnít help! I know whatís sheís doing! When this is done, she means to leave us!" Helen broke into quiet sobs.

"Oh Jesus," Anna whispered, her eyes closed tightly against the thought. "Why didnít you call me? You must have known I would come!"

"I almost did, especially those few days when she was so ill it looked like we might lose heró"

"Oh, god," Anna groaned. Please donít let this be happening!

"But she made me promise that I wouldnít. She didnít want your pity, she said."

"My god, sheís a foolóbut no more so than I," Anna said harshly. "I called her a coward, but it was I who was the cowardó. I knew what she had been through. I knew about Christine! Eventually she would have accepted that I loved her, if only I had stayed!"

"It wasnít your love she doubted," Helen corrected gently.

"Then what?" Anna cried in frustration.

"She was afraid of her love for you - afraid it would be too much. She never believed that you would stay."

"And I left her, didnít I?" Anna said bitterly. "This is madness - I have to make her hear me, Helen. I love her so much!"

"Just donít let her send you away," Helen said firmly, beginning to hope for the first time in months. "Sheíll try to, you know."

Anna shook her head grimly. "I wonít leave if thereís any part of her that loves me - no matter what she says."

Helen smiled, "Then I neednít worry. Just go to her, my dear girl."

**********

Graham stood at the rear of the open gazebo, her back to the entrance. Anna paused at the threshold, paralyzed with the reality of seeing her again. She appeared even thinner; Anna could see that she had lost weight. Each tendon in the fine hand that rested on the rail stood out in stark contrast to the overlying skin, stretched to near translucency. Even from a distance Anna saw the tremor in the delicate fingers. She wanted so much to hold her, but she held back. They must talk.

"Thank you, Helenójust leave it, please," Graham said in a low voice. After a moment she tilted her head, listening, "Helen?"

"Hello, darling," Anna called softly, her voice catching in her throat.

Graham swayed slightly and the hand that clutched the railing turned white.

"Anna?" she whispered in disbelief. Abruptly she turned, her dark eyes searching for a figure she would never see, "Anna?"

Anna gasped and took an uncertain step forward. Graham looked so ill! Her normally brilliant gaze was clouded with pain. Her face was gaunt and lined with fatigue. But even more frightening than the dark circles smudging her normally clear skin was her obvious physical weakness. She leaned heavily on her walking stick, and without it Anna was sure she would fall.

"Yes, itís me," she said, struggling to keep the fear from showing in her voice. "Iím sorry itís taken me so long to get here."

Graham straightened with difficulty. She would not have Anna here because of her weakness! With a semblance of her previous authority she demanded, "Did Helen send for you?"

"No, darling, she didnít. I came because I couldnít bear being separated from you any longer. Iíve missed you so much."

"I donít want your pity, Anna," Graham snapped, her tone harsh. "And I donít want you here because of my needs." Sagging slightly despite her best efforts, she passed a trembling hand across her face. In a strained voice, she pleaded, "I have little left but my pride, Anna. Please leave me that."

Anna crossed the distance between them to grasp Grahamís shoulders in her hands. "Not your needs, Grahamómine. I need youómore than youíll ever know. I need your strength and your passion and your desire. And, oh god, I need your music!" She tightened her hold, fearing that Graham would somehow slip away. "My life is so barren without you! Please wonít you let me come home?"

Graham bowed her head, eyes closed. "Anna, I donít know if I can- I donít know if I dare."

This time Anna would not be denied - she would not give up. "What canít you do, darling? Is it that you donít want me?"

Graham couldnít resist a fleeting caress against Annaís cheek. She had thought never to feel her again. She had tried so hard to deny what she knew to be true - that she loved her with the last beat of her heart. As her touch lingered, she remembered each moment of their last night together. Her breath caught painfully in her throat. Softly she said, "Yes, I want you -more than life itself."

"Then what?" Anna persisted, catching Grahamís fingers, bestowing a fleeting kiss to her palm. "Tell me why you wonít let me love you."

Graham drew a shuddering breath, her eyes closed against the pain. "Iím afraid that if I do, it will happen again. I am everything Christine accused me of being - possessive, demanding, consuming in my need -Iím afraid if I take you into my life, all of my life - Iíll drive you away just as I did Christine. It would be worse than death if I lost you then, Anna."

The last words emerged as a strangled whisper, and the anguish in Grahamís voice fueled Annaís anger. Christine had ruled Grahamís life, even in her absence, for far too long! She would not rule her future, nor Annaís!

"I am not Christine, Graham! I love you, and I will go on loving you whether you will have me or not. There is nothing you could do, short of not loving me, that would ever make me leave you. I am not afraid of your needs, or your wants, or your passions. I want you! I want to spend my life with youóloving you, being loved by you!" She stepped closer until her body pressed lightly against Grahamís, forcing her to feel her passion. "Tell me you donít love me, Graham - tell me you donít want me - and Iíll go."

"I canít," Graham groaned, trembling at Annaís nearness. She hadnít been born strong enough to resist this torture!

"I have made my choice, Graham, and I choose you." Anna kissed her, a kiss too quickly ended. "You have to choose whether or not you want me. But choose for the right reasons! Choose out of loveónot out of fear!"

It was the kiss that undid her. It stirred every emotion she had tried to bury since the day Anna left her. She needed her, she wanted her, and she could not go on without her. She had no choice; Anna offered her life. With a moan deep in her throat, she surrendered. Her lips sought Annaís and were answered with an urgency that matched her own. They kissed fervently, their bodies fusing, swaying together as they reaffirmed their possession of one another. Anna felt herself begin to surge out of control, and leaned back unsteadily, her arms locked around Grahamís waist, trying to reduce the shaking of her legs. Graham gasped against her neck, groaning in protest at her withdrawal.

"I want you so much," Graham murmured, insistent, one hand sliding under the loose fabric at Annaís waist. Her hand moved lower, seeking the hot welcoming wetness.

"Graham, wait!" Anna said with effort. "We canít do this here!"

"I donít intend to let you go," Graham growled, her lips seeking Annaís again.

"Does this mean you love me?" Anna teased gently, pressing both hands against Grahamís chest, restraining her for a moment.

"Eternally, my love," Graham affirmed, pulling her close. "Eternally."

**********

The room Graham led her to was dimly lit by a fire burning in a huge fireplace. A four posted canopy bed faced the hearth from the opposite side of the room. Two glasses and a chilled bottle of champagne stood on the bedside table. Graham stopped inside the door, suddenly uncertain, her face questioning. Anna smiled softly as her grip on Grahamís hand tightened.

"I havenít changed my mind. Iíll never change my mind about loving you," Anna whispered gently. "Donít make me wait to show you how much I love you, darling. Itís been far too long already."

They undressed with urgent hands, caressing each other with the wonder of newly discovered love. It was Anna who drew them to the bed, guiding Graham down, resting upon her gently. She wanted her, the want like a fierce hunger in her soul. She ached with the urgency to touch her. Her body screamed for the release only those exquisite hands could give her. She left a pool of moisture on Graham's leg where it pressed to her. Her clitoris threatened to burst from the blood coursing into it. She resisted her demanding need, aware of Grahamís physical fragility. She shook with the effort it required for her to hold back.

Graham pulled her nearer with surprising strength. "I need you, Anna - now," she whispered. "Itís all I need. Please."

As gently as she knew how, Anna took her. Her lips caressed the hollow of Graham's neck and the rise of her breast, pausing to suckle a nipple, explore her navel. Her hands stroked firm muscles and trembling limbs, coming to rest gently in the moist warm sanctuary between her thighs. Tenderly she parted the full, silky folds, breathing her scent, stroking the length of her, tonguing softly the quivering clitoris. She was aware only of the heat of Grahamís flesh beneath her lips, and the breathtaking wonder of her cries filling the air. After the long months of waiting, Anna didnít think she could ever touch her enough. She was amazed to feel her own body climb nearer and nearer toward orgasm with each thrust of Graham's hips against her face, each contraction of Graham's muscles around her fingers. Anna groaned as the spasms began at the base of her clitoris and traveled down her legs, into her belly , and finally coalesced into one continuous explosion behind her tightly closed eyes. When she came, Graham murmured her name, and Anna knew a joy beyond anything she had ever dreamed.

Long into the night they loved, stopping only to whisper their devotion, seeking and giving the reassurances they needed to heal. As morning broke, Graham pushed herself up on the pile of pillows at the head of the bed, exhausted but content. Anna lay curled around her, her head resting against Grahamís shoulder.

"Will you pour us some champagne now, my love?"

Anna kissed her, loath to move away even for an instant. "Of course, darling."

Graham sipped the fine wine and sighed. "Are you sure that this is what you want? For a lifetime? I can be - difficult."

"Graham Yardley! I would not have thought you capable of such understatement!" Anna laughed softly, tenderly caressing Grahamís cheek. Serious again, she swept her lips across Grahamís. "I want this and much, much more."

Graham raised an eyebrow, her face questioning. "And exactly what are your requirements? Perhaps I should consider them before we proceed any further."

Again she laughed, rejoicing in the return of the light in Grahamís eyes. "First of all, I want to see you well again," Anna stated quietly.

Graham looked uncomfortable, turning her face away. "Itís nothing that having you here wonít cure."

"Tell me about it, Graham. Iím with you now. Please let me help," Anna urged, pulling Graham close against her.

"After you left, I couldnít stay at Yardley. Nothing, not even losing my sight, was as devastating as losing you." Grahamís voice was low and halting. Just recounting the desolation of those days was agonizing.

"Oh, my darling!" Anna cried, near tears. "Iím so sorry! Never, never did I mean to hurt you so!" Had she not come now, had Graham not recovered - "Oh god," she gasped involuntarily.

"Shh, my love. Itís over now," Graham soothed, silencing Anna with a kiss. "All that matters is that you are here." She didnít tell Anna of how close she had been to death, and how death had seemed like a welcome friend, offering her surcease from a loneliness she could no longer endure. But though her soul had longed for delivery, her body had rallied, and although weak, she was indeed recovering.

"I will never leave you, Grahamóyou have my promise. Please, I want to go home, to Yardley. I want to live with you there, and I want to hear you play for me again. Please take me home!"

"I will my love," Graham murmured, her lips finding Annaís, finally daring to hope that love could be hers.
 




Chapter Twenty

 


"They look good," Anna called as she pulled the Jeep along side Daphne and her crew. She indicated the new shrubs the women were putting in beside the entrance at Yardley.

Daphne leaned down to the window, smiling at her boss. "Theyíre great specimens! We should be done here soon. I thought weíd start the plantings on the rear terrace tomorrow. The photographers will be out on Friday to do the front gardens."

Anna raised a shoulder nonchalantly. "Whatever you decide."

Daphne grinned. "The view is better from the terrace, too. If youíre watching women!"

Anna caught the mischievous glint in her eye, and replied smartly, "You had better not be talking about Graham! And besides, I thought you were happily married."

Daphne laughed. "Completely domesticated - and even if I werenít I know better than to lust after Graham. She doesnít know thereís another woman on earth besides you, and youíd have my hide just for the thought! I was talking about my new kid, Loriósheís got a bad case for Grahamís assistant. She seems to find all kinds of excuses to wander by the music room when theyíre working."

Anna glanced at her watchóit was almost five in the afternoon. "Are Graham and Sheila still at it? They were up most of the night! Graham promised me sheíd get some rest!!" she finished worriedly. The memory of the long agonizing months alone in Boston still lingered. Grahamís recent illness left her terrified that something would take Graham from her.

Daphne saw the fear flicker across Annaís face, and remembered how frail Graham had seemed not long ago. She reflected on the change six months had brought. "Anna," she said softly, "Graham looks great. Iíve never seen her like she is now. Sheís strong and healthy. And the music that comes out of that room! I have to practically drag my crew from the terrace."

Anna forced herself to relax, knowing what Daphne said was true. "Itís helped Graham to have Sheila hereósheís transcribing Grahamís new work and cataloging her unpublished pieces. Itís just that the two of them can get lost when theyíre working. Sheilaís almost as bad as Graham!"

"Sheís writing her graduate thesis on Grahamís compositions, right?"

"Yesóactually, sheís a student-in-residence with Graham for the rest of the year." Anna could scarcely believe it when Graham had asked her to contact the graduate student who had written so many times requesting an interview. Sheila had been with them for two months and had quickly become devoted to Graham. Her assistance was invaluable to Graham, and it soon became apparent that she had an innate sense of Grahamís other needs as well. She dealt with Grahamís blindness in an understated way that did not impinge on Grahamís need for independence. Anna trusted her with her most valuable possession - her loversí well-being.

"Well a year ought to give Lori enough time to win her heartó"

Anna laughed. "You have a one-track mind."

"Oh, and you donít?" Daphne rejoined.

Anna blushed, recalling the urge she had had on the drive home to feel Grahamís hands on her body. Even now she couldnít believe the turn her life had taken. She hadnít imagined she could be this happy. She put the Jeep in gear and pulled away smiling.

**********

She tapped lightly at the door to the music roomóit stood open and as she listened, she knew it was Graham playing without looking. Graham said that Sheila was a very gifted musician, but Anna never confused the two. When Graham played, the combination of grace and power was unmistakableóit was her signature, a complete reflection of her self. Anna knew the cadence and the rhythm of her music with the same certainty as she knew the sound of her voice, or her caress.

She entered and watched from across the room. Graham was in motion, the notes flowing from her hands, her essence transformed into sound. It still took Annaís breath away and often kindled desire so intense that she shook.

She cleared her throat as the refrain ended and called, "Hey, you twoóare you ready to take a break any time soon?"

Graham swiveled toward her, smiling a greeting. "Youíre home early, arenít you, love?" She looked fresh and energized, a sure sign that her work was going well. She clearly had no idea of the time, and Anna was willing to bet they hadnít stopped for lunch. Anna cast a stern glance at Sheila, who shrugged her shoulders sheepishly as she escaped toward the door.

"Youíre both impossible," Anna muttered. She crossed the room to Graham, draping her arms around her from behind, breathing a kiss into her hair. Graham reached up to cover Annaís hands where they lay on her chest. She turned Annaís palm up, pressing her lips to the soft skin before resting her cheek in the curve of Annaís hand. She sighed contentedly.

"Iím glad youíre home," she murmured.

"Are you all right?" Anna whispered, tightening her hold on the woman who meant more to her than her very life.

"Fine," Graham replied. "But I have news."

"What?"

Graham hesitated, her fingers caressing Annaís, the expression on her face contemplative. "I have agreed to give a performance for the symphony in July."

Anna gasped. "Oh darling, thatís wonderful!" It was more than she had ever imagined possible.

"You donít mind?" Graham asked in a subdued tone. "It wonít be a problem?"

Anna slid onto the piano bench beside Graham, slipping an arm about her waist. "What makes you think I would mind?" she asked quietly.

"It will mean Iíll be working moreóand when Iím preparing for a performance, I tend to get absorbed."

Anna thought she understood what Graham wasnít saying. "And you think Iíll come to resent that?"

"Perhaps."

"Graham," Anna began carefully, "I know what youíre like when you work, and sometimes I do worryóbut not about us,- about you. You forget to eat, you forget to sleep, you lose weight you donít have to spare. I have never felt, not once, that I didnít matter to youóor that you had stopped loving me, even for a moment."

"I couldnít stop loving you, not and still draw a breath," Graham whispered, her fingers tightening their grip on Annaís. "You are my light, and my heart. You are the reason there is music in my soul."

"As long as that is true, weíll be fine," Anna assured her. "But you must promise me that you will take care of yourself. I need you so much, Graham. Without youóthereís no pointó"

Graham stilled her words with a kiss. "I promise, my love."

There was something else. Anna could sense it in the tension of Grahamís body, the quiet tone of her voice. Something worried her lover still.

"Now tell me the rest," she ordered gently, fitting herself closer against Grahamís side.

"If I perform," Graham began uncertainly, then finished firmly, "Iíve been here before, Anna. Thereís no point pretending it wonít create an uproar. Once I make an appearance, the demands for my time will intensify. There will be pressure for me to tour."

Anna took her time, thinking of the ramifications of Grahamís words. She welcomed the changes in Graham over the last months. Graham was suffused with energy, her creative powers seemingly unleashed by the security of Annaís presence. She was vital, dynamic, almost intoxicating in her passionate embrace of life. Her ardor for Anna, her muse, was boundless. Anna hadnít imagined she could be this happy. Now she was faced with the reality of Grahamís true stature in the world. She was a peerless artist, one whom the world would not let go lightly yet again. If she returned to the concert stage, she would be resuming the life she had led before Anna. What Anna said now would determine the course of both their lives. Graham took her silence to mean Anna was opposed to the idea.

"Itís no matter," Graham said decisively. "Iíll simply tell them Ďnoí."

"You canít do that, Graham. And I wouldnít ask you to," Anna began quietly. "I love you - and I have always known who you are - what you are. You donít belong just to me-"

"I do belong just to you," Graham interrupted fiercely.

Anna laughed gently, resting her hand possessively on Grahamís thigh. "I know that, my darling. I was speaking of your music. I wouldnít keep you from it, and you canít keep it from the world - youíll have to tour, Graham."

Graham stood, pacing by the piano, formulating plans. Anna realized that other than her blindness, Graham was very nearly the woman she had been before her accident. When she stepped onto the stage, her return would be complete. She was about to reclaim the world she once ruled, and Anna could see that it was destined. Graham was transformed before her eyes into the impresario she had only glimpsed in faded newspaper clippings. It was breathtaking, and a little terrifying.

Graham ran a hand through her hair, thinking aloud. "Sheila would almost certainly want to come. That would be a great help. I can limit foreign travel- but itís still going to be unbearable being apart from you -"

Anna rose, stilling Grahamís restless motion with a hand on her arm. She grasped her about the waist, holding her firmly. "You canít think Iíd let you go without me? Not only would I go mad with worry, I have no intention of leaving you unattended with all those glamorous society women! You seem to have no idea of the effect you have on women, but I certainly do! "

Graham looked at her in confusion. "You canít think I could ever want anyone but you? Donít you know you are my life?"

"Iím not taking any chances," Anna uttered as she kissed her swiftly.

"But your job?"

"Iíll try to work something out with Lauren when the time comes - maybe I can freelance for her. Work part time - I donít know. I donít care. Where you need to be is where Iíll be. Youíre what I need."

Graham pulled her near, admitting in a low voice, "Iím not worried about the music - thatís never been the hard part. But the people - the promoters, the agents, the press - they want so much from me. Itís hard to keep from being consumed. Iím not sure I could do it again- especially now, when I canít see."

It was so unlike Graham to voice any concern, particularly regarding her blindness, Anna was instantly protective. She tightened her hold, her voice unflinching. "You wonít have to worry; youíre not alone any more."

The tension finally eased from Grahamís body as she gentled under Annaís caresses. She kissed Anna lingeringly, before murmuring quietly, "Thank you for my life, Anna."

Anna grasped the slender fingers that made magic the entire world laid claim to. She drew them to her breast, where they played only for her. "Thank me upstairs," she whispered urgently.

Graham lowered her lips to Annaís ear as she stroked her tauntingly. "A command performance - my favorite thing."

"It had better be," Anna gasped. "And I canít wait any longer for you to begin."

Grahamís laughter echoed through the halls as she led her love to their bed.
 
 



Chapter Twentyone

 


"What time will the car be here, dear?" Helen asked anxiously for the third time since Anna had arrived home early from work.

"Five-thirty." Anna replied with a smile.

"My goodness, itís one oíclock! Iíd better get ready!"

"You have plenty of timeóyouíll end up waiting," Anna suggested as if it would make a difference.

"Iíve been waiting nearly fifteen years for thisóa few hours is nothing! I still think we should take the Bentley. Graham always went to a performance in the Bentley!"

"I know, Helen," Anna said patiently. "But Graham wanted it this way."

"Well, I guess it will be all right then," Helen relented. Then she continued with concern, "You did interview the chauffeur?"

Anna laughed. "I did, and itís a woman. She understands exactly what we need. It will be perfect."

"And you double checked that the invitations went out for the reception? I could have done that, you know. I always did that before."

"I know," Anna replied gently, "and I would have been lost without your help this time. I know they arrived, because Lauren got hers. It was more important that you look after Graham." Anna was nearly as anxious as Helen, and she desperately needed to see Graham. "Now, where is she?"

"Sheís upstairs in the master suite. Max brought your gown and her suit. I had them sent up."

"Good. How does she seem?"

"Calm. She slept late, she didnít even practice. She rarely did the day of a performance. The barber has come and gone. Oh, I do hope it goes well! This is so important to her!"

"Helen," Anna reminded her with conviction, "this is what Graham was born for. Donít worry, sheíll be magnificent."

"You believe that, donít you?"

"Absolutely. I know it."

"I give thanks every day that you came to us," Helen whispered, tears in her eyes.

Anna hugged her. "No more than I."

**********

She entered their bedroom to find her lover reclining in one of the chairs before the open window. She was in a black silk dressing jacket, looking impossibly relaxed. And impossibly beautiful. In repose, her features always reminded Anna of a classical sculptureócool, remote, elegantly refined. It was the same handsome face that looked back at her from the posters all over the city announcing Grahamís concert that night. Anna admired her from a distance before Grahamís expression softened with recognition at the sound of her step on the parquet floor.

"Hello, my love," Graham called softly.

"Hello, darling. What were you just thinking of?"

Graham looked surprised. "The music."

Anna settled onto the arm of Grahamís chair, resting her fingers in the thick hair at the base of Grahamís neck. She leaned to give her a swift kiss. "I should have guessed."

"Why?" Graham asked, pulling Anna down into her lap.

"Because you looked like you were lost somewhere, somewhere no one can follow."

"Does that bother you?" Graham murmured as her lips sought the sensitive spot beneath Annaís ear.

"It might," Anna breathed as she turned her lips to Grahamís. The kiss deepened, and soon they were both gasping. Annaís head felt light and her body burned. "If I couldnít call you back to me," she said, her voice husky with desire.

Graham got to her feet, pulling Anna up into her arms. "You can always call me back," she whispered against the warm skin of Annaís neck. "Because I am yours." With one hand she held Anna close, with the other she parted the front of Annaís blouse, slipping her hand inside to cup her breast.

Anna groaned, feeling the length of Grahamís naked thigh pressing against her. "Graham, stopówe canítóyou need to get ready." She gasped as Grahamís hand dropped lower, finding her rising heat. "Oh no - thatís not fair! You make me want you so much!"

Graham laughed, pulling Anna toward the bed. "Donít you know Iíve been waiting all morning for this? You are the only thing I need right now.

**********

"Is that some sort of pre-performance ritual?" Anna asked as she toweled off from the shower. Grahamís lovemaking was always a reflection of her emotional state, and this time she had been explosively intense, consuming in her hunger.

Graham grinned. "Now thereís an idea. It certainly could be arranged."

"It did wonders for my nerves," Anna said with a smile. "How are yours?"

Graham held out a perfectly steady hand as her grin deepened. "Where are the studs for my shirt?"

"On your dresserójust to the right of your brushes."

Anna watched the graceful fingers expertly fit the small mother-of-pearl studs through the holes in the starched formal shirtóthe same fingers that just an hour ago had claimed her, relentlessly, until they had drawn the last trembling shudders from her body.

"Youíre watching me," Graham remarked, reaching for the white silk tie. She turned the length of it in her fingers, orienting it so she could tie it.

Anna laughed softly, drawing the delicate fabric into her hands, reaching up to fit it around her lover's neck.

"Was I doing that wrong?" Graham asked, her face puzzled.

"You never do anything wrong," Anna admonished gently. "Iím doing it because it pleases me to do it." She finished the knot and brushed a kiss across Grahamís lips. "I love youóand Iím so proud of you."

Graham returned the kiss, her expression serious. "I love youówith all my heart. Now, tell me about your dress. I want to have a picture of you in my mind tonight."

Anna stepped away, lifting the flowing fabric from the hanger, settling it over her body. "Why donít you come see for yourself," she teased.

A faint smile flickered at the corner of Grahamís fine mouth. No one in her life could command her the way Anna did.

"All right."

She crossed to Anna, who stood still as Graham gently traced the material that fell from her shoulders, following the lines along her bodice and down to her waist. Her exploring touch rekindled the fire in Annaís body, and Anna battled the urge to draw those gently stroking fingers to her again. They absolutely did not have time for this now!

"And the color?" Graham murmured huskily, her hands resting on Annaís hips.

"Midnightóon a clear night in October," Anna managed, sliding her arms around Grahamís neck.

Graham nodded, holding her close. "Beautiful."

Anna touched a finger to her own lips, then to Grahamís. "Thank you.

*********

They rode in silence to the symphony hall. Annaís hand rested gently in Grahamís. Grahamís hand was warm and steady. As they slowed to glide up to the curb, Anna glanced out the window.

"Tell me," Graham said calmly.

"There are a lot of peopleóquite a number of photographers. The sidewalk is roped off, though."

"How far?" came the quiet question.

"The same distance as from our front door to your music room. Four steps upóthen five steps to the door. Sheila is waiting back stage in your dressing room."

Graham didnít ask how Anna knew the precise distance Graham would have to travel in front of a curious crowd, a walk she had taken so many times before, but never in darkness. Anna didnít tell her she had been there the day before just to be certain. Anna couldnít even begin to imagine how difficult this first public appearance since the accident must be for Graham. She wanted to make it as easy as she could for her. She squeezed Grahamís hand reassuringly.

"Thank you," Graham said softly, knowing instinctively what Anna had done.

"You can do this easily by yourself, Graham."

"Yes," Graham said as she pushed the limo door open, stepping out to a barrage of camera flashes and a cacophony of voices calling to heró"Ms. Yardley! Meistrin! Over here!"

Oblivious to the demands of the crowd, she reached down and handed Anna from the car, tucking Annaís hand firmly into the curve of her arm. "But I donít have to do it alone any longer, do I?" she whispered to Anna as they turned and began the walk Graham was born to make.

*********

The concert hall was filled to capacity. The news of Grahamís return to the concert stage had created a stir in the music world, and her performance was eagerly awaited. Anna sat with Helen, trying to quell her nerves. They were in the VIP box to the left of the stage, seats that were situated so one could watch the pianistsí hands on the keyboard. Shortly after they were seated a young usher approached, a bouquet of long-stemmed white roses in his arms. He stopped before Anna, saying, "For you, madam."

Anna cradled the flowers, opening the card with trembling hands. In Grahamís bold hand the message read, "You are my strength and my inspiration. You are my heart. All the music is for you. Yours eternally, Graham."

"Oh, Graham," she murmured, tears suddenly wetting her cheeks.

"Are you all right, dear?" Helen asked in concern.

Anna took her hand, squeezing it gently while she tried to contain her tears. "When I think that I could have lost her - that we all might have lost her. Oh, Helen!"

Helen patted her hand reassuringly. "You neednít worry, Anna. Sheís stronger for having you than ever she was before the accident."

The house lights dimmed and suddenly Graham was on stage - tall, elegant, perfectly composed. She bowed once in acknowledgement to the orchestra and the audience, then settled herself before the piano as if she had never been away.

Anna watched the slender form bend to the strains of the music that filled the hall; a refrain that carried all the beauty and tender passion of Grahamís heart to those who listened. At last she witnessed what she had only imagined from faded images in a dusty scrapbook. Alone in the muted spotlight, center stage, the impresario gifted them with her genius. The audience was on its feet just as the last notes faded away, strewing the stage with flowers, welcoming Graham home. Graham stood to acknowledge the applause, turning toward the seats where she knew Anna sat. She bowed first to her, one hand to her heart, offering her thanks. Through her tears, Anna looked into the dark eyes that she knew could see into her very soul.

When finally the ovation began to abate, Graham left the stage, and found herself immediately surrounded by people requesting a statement or an interview. A hand unobtrusively took her elbow, steadying her in the jostling crowd.

"Letís get back to your dressing room," Sheila suggested. She had been waiting offstage at Annaís request. They both knew what would happen the moment Graham appeared in the wings. There would be no way for her to orient herself there, especially when she would be exhausted from the rigors of her performance.

"Where is Anna?" Graham asked immediately, grateful for Sheilaís presence in the demanding press of people.

"Sheís coming," Sheila replied grimly as she shouldered a path through a throng of reporters and fans. The crowd was at a fever pitch of excitement, everyone wanting to get to Graham, pushing forward despite the security peopleís best efforts. It was worse than Sheila expected, and she was beginning to fear for Grahamís safety.

Suddenly the hallway in front of them began to clear as Annaís vehement voice rang out, "You will all have a chance to speak with her at the reception - and not until then! Now if youíll just give us a moment alone, please."

And then she was there. " Thank you, Sheila," Anna said quietly as she stepped up to Graham, not caring that dozens of people surrounded them. She reached for Grahamís hand and brought it gently to her lips. "Hello darling."

Graham lifted her free hand to Annaís cheek. It was still moist with tears. "Hello my love." She drew Anna gently near and rested her forehead against Annaís hair. She closed her eyes with a sigh.

"Were you pleased?" Graham asked at last.

"Much more than pleased," Anna answered. "The only thing in this world I love more than your music is you." She stepped back with effort, for all she wanted to do was hold onto her. Grahamís jacket and shirt were soaked with sweat, and for the first time all day, her hands trembled. Anna slipped an arm about her waist.

"Letís get you out of here," Anna said, looking over her shoulder at the amazingly quiet group in the corridor. "Sheila, tell them ten minutes please."

When the door finally closed behind them, Anna drew off Grahamís coat and loosened her tie.

"You neednít do that, Anna," Graham protested when Anna began pulling the studs from her shirt.

"Graham, hush," Anna said in exasperation. "Iíll give you up to the demands of your music when I must, but not for one minute longer. You need a dry shirt and jacket if youíre going to the reception." She brushed the damp hair back from Grahamís face with concern. "Are you up to it? Because Iíll just tell them all to be damned if youíre too tired."

Graham grasped her hands. "Iím fine. And I would appreciate a dry shirt very much."

"Thank you for the flowers," Anna said softly as she fitted the diamond cufflinks into Grahamís sleeves. "You make me feel so loved."

"I couldnít do this - any of this, without you," Graham murmured, exhausted from her performance. "Iíll never be able to tell you how much I love you-"

"You donít have to tell me," Anna whispered, "I can see it in your face, and in the way you touch me, and in the music that you write." She paused her ministrations to slide her fingers into Grahamís hair, pulling her head down for a kiss. After a moment she said gently, "Now stand still so I can fix this tie."

As Anna straightened her tie, Graham asked quietly, "Will you be all right in there? There are likely to be questions - about us. There was always speculation about Christine."

"If they donít know after my little scene in the hall, they never will," Anna laughed tightly. She hated to be reminded that once Christine had shared moments like these with Graham. She still grew angry whenever she remembered the kiss she had witnessed in the library. "And I couldnít give a damn about their questions. There - now you are your handsome self. Letís go finish your duties so I can take you home."

*********

Lauren maneuvered through the crush of people toward Anna. She had been trying unsuccessfully to catch Annaís attention since she entered with Graham. Lauren soon realized that would be impossible. Even though Anna was separated from Graham by a roomful of people, she managed to carry on polite conversation while never taking her eyes off her tall lover. Lauren knew how frightened Anna had been by Grahamís recent illness, and she doubted that anything would distract her from her ever vigilant watch over her now. The instant Graham arrived, she was surrounded and swept away by luminaries from the music community and the ever-present press. In a throng like this she was quite helpless to fend off anyone who wanted her attention. Graham looked calm and remotely detached, but Lauren could imagine the effort it required for her to satisfy the escalating demands of those gathered about her. And she was quite sure that Anna had no intention of allowing Graham to be inundated like this for long.

"Thanks for the invitation to the reception," Lauren managed when at last she reached Annaís side. She slipped her arm around the pretty red-head at her side. "Anna, this is Lisa McCleary. Lisa is a music instructor at UMass, as well as - well, my -"

"Girlfriend," Lisa finished for her with a kilowatt smile.

Anna smiled with true pleasure, offering her hand. "It sounds trite to say Iíve heard a lot about you, but Iím glad to have finally met you."

"And I you," Lisa responded. "I guess I donít need to tell you how exciting this is, to have Graham Yardley performing again. Sheís wonderful!"

"Isnít she," Anna responded, her eyes returning to where Graham stood. At that moment she was in deep conversation with the governor, who appeared to be as enchanted with her as everyone else in the room. "Even I can say that without prejudice," she laughed softly. "Iím so glad you both could come. Lauren has had to excuse my distractibility a good deal lately. Iíve been more anxious than Graham!"

"It sounds like you didnít need to be! From what Iím hearing around the room, sheís even better than before! I donít know how thatís possible, but Iíve never heard anyone like her."

"Yes," Anna said simply. "And I think sheís probably worked enough for one night. Will you excuse me while I attempt a rescue?"

Before she could move away, a reporter blocked her path. "Ms. Reid, is it true that you are Graham Yardleyís lover?" he asked bluntly.

Anna appraised him coolly, leaning forward slightly to read the name on the press card pinned to his lapel. "Mr. Phillips," she replied calmly, "Graham Yardley is inarguably one of the greatest artists of this century. I would think that fact alone would offer much more of interest to your readers than speculation about her personal life."

"Am I to take it then that you deny any intimate relationship with her?" he persisted, a smug grin on his face.

"There is nothing about my relationship with Graham I would deny," Anna answered firmly, "least of all my love."

"And is it also true that Christine Hunt-Blair was once her lover as well?"

Anna fixed him with a steely stare. "You would have to ask Mrs. Hunt-Blair about their past relationship." She pointedly turned her back, determined not to reveal her wrath at the mention of Christine. Would she never be done hearing of her?!

As Anna made her way slowly across the large room, Graham was approached by yet another admirer. From where she was, Anna could only watch, anger combining with an unexpected surge of possessiveness.

"Hello, darling," a sultry voice beside Graham murmured as a hand trailed down her arm in a flagrant caress.

Graham turned to the woman beside her, lifting the hand from her sleeve with a slight bow. "Hello, Christine," Graham said neutrally.

"You were magnificent, as usual!" Christine purred, stepping close enough for Graham to catch the scent of her perfume. Her breasts lightly grazed Grahamís chest.

"Thank you," Graham replied, raising her head, casting a glance about the room. Her eyes fell so unerringly on her lover in the midst of the crowd, anyone looking at her would have sworn that she could see. Graham relaxed perceptibly when she sensed an answering gaze upon her face.

"Why so formal, darling," Christine admonished, taking advantage of the crush of people to move closer still. She toyed with a stud on the front of Grahamís shirt. "As I recall, you used to rather like my presence after a performance. As a matter of fact you were quite demanding about your requirements. I remember you could barely wait to get me alone. Not that I minded of course. You were always at your best after a concert." As she spoke, she curled her fingers ever so slightly under the waistband of Grahamís trousers.

"That was a long time ago," Anna said succinctly as she stepped to Grahamís side, taking Grahamís hand in hers, forcing Christine back a step. Graham laced her fingers gently through Annaís.

"Things are very different for Graham now," Anna continued, furious at Christineís suggestive remarks, but struggling for calm. This was no place for a scene, as dearly as she would like to make it clear that Christine had no rights to Graham any longer.

"But some things never change, do they Graham?" Christine questioned softly, her eyes on Grahamís face, ignoring Anna entirely. Necessity had made her bold. If she were to reclaim Graham, it would have to be here, now, on the stage she had always shared with Graham. "Donít tell me youíve forgotten what it was like, darling -adored by everyone,- the celebrity, the excitement, the lovemaking - donít expect me to believe youíve forgotten that! I havenít forgotten, I could never forget! We could have it all again, Graham - just as it was, the two of us. You could have everything you ever wanted."

Graham tightened her hold on Anna, drawing her close against her side. "I already have everything I want - more than I ever dreamed possible. More than I deserve. What we had is over Christine. I have everything I need right here. Now, if youíll excuse us, Iíd like Anna to take me home."

"I had the limo brought around back," Anna said as Christine stared after them in shock. "Just turn around and we can sneak out."

When they were settled at last in the expansive rear seat of the stretch limo, Helen happily directing the chauffeur from her seat up front beyond the smoked-glass partition, Graham spoke quietly. "Iím terribly sorry about Christine. I had no idea she would be there."

"I doubt thereís any event where Christine Hunt-Blair is not invited," Anna said acerbically, reminding herself of her resolution to remain calm. She failed. "God, I hate the way she touches you! She acts like she owns you!"

"Well, she doesnít. And she hasnít for a long time," Graham responded gently.

"Well I wish someone would tell her that!!" Anna railed.

Graham raised an eyebrow. "I thought I just did," she said dryly.

Anna stared at her imperious lover, struggling to hold onto her anger. Helplessly, she laughed, moving closer to drape an arm around Grahamís body. "Yes, you did."

In a calmer light she knew she would only pity Christine and her desperate attempt to renew her affair with Graham, but at the moment she was still stinging from the sight of Christine openly caressing her lover! She was a good deal less than rational where Graham was concerned, and not above making her claim very clear. She slipped a hand along the inside of Grahamís thigh, smiling as Graham gasped at the light caress. "Was she serious about the effect a performance has on you?" she asked innocently, very aware of the tension in Grahamís body.

"Yes," Graham said tightly as Annaís hand strayed higher. It would be useless to deny it, Anna could read her responses too well. She pressed back against the seat, torn between wanting Annaís touch to continue and trying to save some semblance of control.

"Now thatís something you might have mentioned," Anna remarked as her fingers pressed a particularly sensitive spot, rubbing the faint prominence through the fabric. Her pulse hammered as she felt Graham shudder.

"Anna," Graham warned unconvincingly, struggling to maintain her composure. They were in a limousine, for Godís sake!

"Definitely an unexpected benefit," Anna mused as if Graham hadnít spoken. She tormented her by touching her with no particular rhythm, moving away when she felt Grahamís breath quicken. She wanted to be sure she had Grahamís full attention.

"Why didnít you tell me?" Anna inquired as if asking the time, returning to the spot that caused Graham to quiver.

Graham groaned softly. "It wasnít foremost in my mind," she managed to gasp, completely under Annaís spell. She reached for Annaís hand, holding it to her, urging her to continue. "Ahh Ė god Ė"

"Is it now?" Anna questioned, increasing the pressure of her hand slightly. Graham moaned, a low strangled plea. Anna knew just how close Graham was to coming Ė she knew, and she pushed a little harder, grasping her between her fingers.

Graham shivered involuntarily, trembling in Annaís embrace. "Yes," she whispered, "please donít stop."

"Oh, I donít intend to stop," Anna breathed into her ear, easing her fingers away slightly, "not ever. But since Iím conducting this particular piece, youíll have to wait until we get home for the finale."

"Ah Jesus," Graham rasped, her voice catching. "Is that a promise? Because youíre killing me."

Anna held Graham fiercely, her lips urgent against her skin. "As I am yours, so are you mine. Thatís a pledge, and a promise, my darling."

The End
 
 
 
 
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