Love's Melody Lost
See part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
"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.
"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."
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?"
"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.
"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.
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."
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