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 yearsin 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 likesomeone else's to her now. Looking back on the last ten years of her life, Annafelt 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 seemedto have the same vision for the future. Anna had a degree in botany that shecouldn't 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 trappingsof 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, andan 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 couldn't even mingle comfortably with the women of theirsocial set who spent much of their time on the Commons with their strollers andtheir offspring. The frequent obligatory office socials became more of a burden than a diversion, and she and her husband grew steadily apart.
She couldn't fault Rob—neither of them had really stopped to question the direction their life was taking, but had merely followed the conventional path expected of them. It wasn't 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 introuble, and they tried counseling. They found, in fact, that over the yearsthey 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, athird 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 ofgraduate school in landscape design, and the proceeds from her divorce settlement were nearly exhausted. She needed to find work, and she wasn't 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 arrangedan interview. Oddly, the interview was conducted by a senior attorney in one ofBoston's most prestigious law firms. She discovered that the location was fortyminutes outside of Boston and required little in the way of advancedsecretarial skills. She had been assured she would have ample opportunity toarrange her duties around her class schedule. The job seemed perfect, and itwas hers if she wanted it.
She accepted immediately, terminated herlease, and packed the essentials of her life. Everything fit comfortably in therear of her Jeep. Now she was headed to Yardley Manor, officially in the employof 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 muchin the way of details, and Anna's 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 abovethe 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, andAnna 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 whichled to a wide verandah. She approached the pair of heavy ornate oak doors witha mixture of excitement and trepidation. She took a deep breath as she rang the bell.
Slowly, the doors creaked open and a smallgray-haired woman peered up at her.
"Yes?" The woman inquired uncertainly.
"I'm Anna Reid. I was hired by Mr. Norcross as a housekeeper. "
The little woman's face broke into athousand tiny lines as she smiled and extended her hand. "I am HelenGreen, and I, my dear, am the housekeeper! You are here to manageour household affairs, and I am so glad you have arrived!"
Anna grasped her hand automatically, hermind in turmoil. "But, Mr. Norcross indicated—"
Helen pulled her inside, saying, "I'msure that Mr. Norcross explained things as he knew them, but Graham is not verygood at keeping the poor man informed. What we need, my dear, is someone tooversee the property as well as to manage Graham's personal affairs. Grahamwill explain it all to you later. Come with me now! Let me show you to your rooms. "
Anna hung back in confusion. What exactlywas 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 elderlywoman 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 wasmagnificent. As she followed the housekeeper through the dark mahogany-paneled hall, she caught glimpses of the adjoining rooms through partially-openeddoors. Thick imported carpets, brocade-covered sofas and ornate, carved tablesgraced the high-ceilinged rooms. Yardley Manor managed to project an air ofelegance even in its present state.
"Perhaps I should speak with Mr. Yardley first, " Anna suggested, as Helen stopped before a door on thesecond floor. "There might be a problem. I'm not sure I'm going to besuitable for the job. "
Helen turned toward her with a strangelyquiet, 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 letme 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 - twohundred yards of terraced gardens which gave way to a tangle of wild brushgrowing up to the edge of a rocky bluff. A tiered stone wall rimmed the edge ofthe 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 enjoythe surrounding beauty. To the rear left was a wide flagstone terrace , ringedby 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 attheir height. Now all she surveyed lay in ruins, a sad reminder of what hadbeen, 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. Sheshrugged her melancholy aside; she had her own life to worry aboutresurrecting. She turned back to the room she was hopefully going to inhabit.
"Oh!, " Anna exclaimed, observingthe room. She was delighted to see a high canopied bed, a lovely antique dresser and matching table. The interior of the house, clearly Helen's 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 thefurnishings appeared to be priceless estate pieces. She felt like she hadstepped back in time, and the otherworldliness of her surroundings appealed to her. Her life was in transition; she herself was transforming into a person ofher own choosing. It seemed fitting that her new life should begin in a placeso different from her past.
"It's all so beautiful!" sheexclaimed, unable to hide her excitement.
"Isn't it though?" Helen lookedup from where she was busily turning down the covers on the bed. "I've always loved the view from here. My rooms face that way, too. I've come to know the look of the sea in every season. "
"Have you been here long?"
"Oh, goodness, yes. My family hasbeen employed by the Yardleys for forty years. I wasn't yet twenty when myhusband and I came. This was just the summer house then, of course. We spentmost of our time at the Philadelphia home. It's only since—well, I've been herefor the last fourteen years. "
"And Mr. Yardley lives here yearround 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 topry. The little housekeeper seemed just as reluctant to discuss the issue ofAnna's employment.
"What's 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.
"It's wonderful!" Annaexclaimed. "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 beencounting on this position, and how comfortable she already felt.
"Are your rooms like this?" sheasked, trying to disguise her worry. What am I going to do if I have to leave?
"The very same, " Helen exclaimed. "Now, I'll leave you to get settled. You'll have to bring your own bags up, though. I'm afraid there's no butler! Tea will be at four in the library. I'll come to take you down then. "
"I really should wait to unpack untilI speak with Mr. Yardley. I might not be staying. "
"Posh, " Helen replied, givingAnna a quick hug. "Of course you'll be staying!"
Anna hopedthat Graham Yardley agreed.
"Just make yourself comfortable inhere, dear, " Helen said as she showed Anna into a large room filled withfloor to ceiling bookcases and fine leather furniture. Helen lit a fire in thehuge stone fireplace. The evenings by the sea were cool despite the deceptivewarmth 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 portraitabove the fireplace caught her eye. Anna recognized the bluff below Yardley. Alone 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 wasopen to expose a ruffled white shirt, tailored trousers, and black boots. Apair of black leather gloves, clasped loosely in one hand, completed thepicture of the lord of the manor. It was an image from another time, broodingand untamed. Anna was surprised to see by the date that it was done onlyfifteen years before. Anna imagined this was Mr. Yardley, and he certainlyappeared 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 ofone of the large chairs in the central seating area. She extended her legstoward the warmth and leaned back, watching the crackling fire, wondering ifshe wouldn't soon be headed back to Boston. She was nearly asleep when a deepvoice behind her startled her from her reverie.
Anna turned, stifling a gasp of surpriseas she found herself face to face with the figure in the portrait. Standingbefore 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 thickblack hair brushed back from an exquisitely sculpted face. Her eyes, perhapsher most compelling feature, were nearly black, as the artist had depicted, andcontrasted sharply with her pale, luminescent complexion. The oils however hadnot conveyed the intensity of her gaze, nor the glacial severity of herbearing. 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 elegantlyarched brow.
Anna stared, completely at a loss as thewoman approached. The dark-haired woman leaned slightly on an ornate walkingstick, but despite a slight limp, she was imposing in finely tailored blacktrousers and an open-collared white silk shirt. A gold ring with some sort ofcrest adorned the long fingered hand that she held out to Anna.
"I am Graham Yardley, " the womanstated simply. It was delivered in a tone that left no doubt as to whom was themaster of Yardley Manor.
Anna rose quickly, grasping theoutstretched had. She was instantly struck by the delicacy of the fingers thatheld hers briefly. She cleared her throat, which felt suddenly dry, andanswered, "How do you do? I'm Anna Reid. "
"Sit down, please, " Graham saidsomewhat tersely, turning toward the chair facing Anna's. Anna, still a littlestunned, was about to sit when she heard Helen at the door.
"Graham! Be careful!" Helencried.
Even as Helen called a warning, Grahamstumbled over the small footstool in her path and lost her balance. She reachedout, struggling not to fall. Instinctively, Anna grasped her about the waist, surprised at the willowy strength in Graham's reed-slender form. Anna steadiedthe taller woman against her, aware of the rapid pounding of Graham's heart.
"Are you all right?" Anna criedin alarm. She could feel her shaking.
Graham pulled away sharply, her dark eyesfurious, her body rigid with tension. She steadied herself, her hand nearlywhite as she clenched her walking stick.
"Helen! How did that footstool getthere?" Graham demanded angrily.
"It was my fault. I moved it, "Anna said quickly, alarmed more by her employer's physical distress than heranger. The woman was still trembling, though she was trying hard to hide it. "I'm sorry. " She looked from Helen to Graham in confusion.
Graham drew a shaky breath, struggling forcomposure. Suddenly, with horrifying clarity, Anna realized that Graham Yardleywas blind. That realization brought a flood of sympathy, and she said withoutthinking, "Oh God, I'm so sorry. I didn't know!"
"How could you know, " Grahamrejoined roughly, reaching behind her with one hand to find the armchair. Shelowered herself slowly, her expression betraying none of her discomfiture. Shewould not be humiliated further by enduring empty condolences. "There isno need to dwell on it. Be seated. "
Helen came quickly to her side, watchingGraham with concern. She extended a hand as if to touch her, then quickly drewback. "I've put the tea in its usual place. Will you need anythingelse?"
"No. Leave us. "
As Helen stepped away, Graham held up herhand, her voice softening. "It's fine, Helen. You needn't worry. On secondthought, could you bring us some sherry?"
As she spoke, Anna could see her hostrelax with effort against the cushions. Her face lost its edge as well, reflecting the sudden gentleness of her tone. Anna found her expressivefeatures captivating—as well as quite beautiful.
Helen smiled tenderly. "I'll get itright away. "
They sat in silence as Helen broughtglasses and poured the sherry. She handed Anna a glass and left Graham's on thesmall table near her right hand. The silence continued for a few moments afterthe housekeeper pulled the heavy library doors closed behind her. When Grahamreached for the glass and raised it to her lips, her hand was steady again.
"Forgive me, " she began in herdeep mellifluous voice, "I haven't asked if your accommodations aresuitable. "
"The rooms are wonderful, " Annareplied "The view of the sea is exquisite. " Instantly she regrettedher remark, but Graham merely nodded, a distant look on her face.
"I know. I always stayed in that roomwhen I was a child. "
Anna willed herself to be calm, and tastedthe sherry. It felt warm and comforting as she swallowed. She couldn't stopstaring 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, muchas a classical sculpture is often androgynous at first glance. She wasaristocratic, her every movement refined. She was scrupulously polite, andobviously used to being in charge. She was aloof, remote, unapproachable. Shewas more than a little intimidating!
"Did Mr. Norcross explain what yourduties are to be?" Graham continued, unaware of Anna's discomfort.
"Not in detail. I'm afraid I may notbe what you're 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 beenmarried and now live independently. That sounds as if you have managed at leasttwo. "
Anna laughed. "Neither was much of achallenge. Can you tell me what it is that you require?"
Graham sighed slightly, turning toward thefire. In profile signs of fatigue lined her face, and Anna caught glimpses ofgray streaking her dark hair. Anna guessed her to be ten years her senior, butdespite her commanding tone and rigid control, Anna sensed a weariness that hadnothing to do with the years.
"I need—assistance—with handlingcorrespondence, reviewing accounts, running the day-to-day affairs of theestate. Helen cannot handle all of this any longer, and I—cannot do it alone. Ihave never had anyone else do it, and I don't want Helen to think that I'velost confidence in her. It has simply become too much. You would also have todo some rather menial chores, I'm afraid. Helen no longer drives, and it isdifficult getting deliveries out here. " She stopped, making an impatientgesture with one graceful hand. "We need someone at Yardley, it seems, whocan manage in the world beyond our gates. "
Her tone was bitter, and Anna could onlyimagine how hard it must be for a woman of such obvious independence to admitshe needed a stranger to assist her.
"Ms. Yardley—" she began.
"Please, call me 'Graham', "Graham interrupted, "otherwise I will feel truly a relic. " She smiledslightly, and Anna caught a fleeting glimpse of her haunting beauty. When sheallowed her feelings expression, she was even more intriguing.
"Graham—I am in something of adesperate situation myself. I want to continue in graduate school full-time. Without this job, I won't be able to afford to do that—not and keep a roof overmy head, too. I'm afraid I'll need some help, but I would like to try this verymuch. " She meant every word, and her sincerity showed in her voice. Shedidn't add how drawn she was to Yardley the moment she saw it, or how right itfelt to be here. She couldn't admit even to herself how much the woman beforeher captured her imagination, and her curiosity. She very much wanted to learnmore of Yardley, and it's compelling master.
Graham ran a hand through her hair, leaving it tousled, and sighed again.
"It seems we are both in need of someassistance, then. Shall we agree to try it for a month or two?"
Anna smiled in relief. "I'd like thatvery much. "
Graham rose, crossing to the door withdeliberate steps. "I'll send for you when I need you. Good evening. "
With that shewas gone, her footsteps echoing in the quiet
house. Anna glanced up at theportrait, wishing it could
tell her who Graham Yardley was.
Anna awoke very early the next day, asmuch from excitement as from the strangeness of a new house. It would take alittle time to get used to the night noises of the old structure, the rhythmicpounding of the surf, and the absence of city traffic below her window. Thequiet seclusion of Yardley Manor had truly transported her to a new world. After Helen retired to her rooms the previous evening, Anna stayed up readingin her sitting room. She must have dozed for it was quite late when she wasstartled awake by a noise outside in the hall. She listened intently for a fewmoments, thinking she heard footsteps pause before her door. But then there wasonly the gentle creak of the shutters in the wind. Smiling to herself, she gotready for bed. As she lay awake, waiting for sleep to come, she mused over herfirst meeting with her new employer. Rarely had anyone caught her attentionquite so dramatically. Graham Yardley was impossible to describe in ordinaryterms. Anna was quite sure she had never met anyone like her. As she driftedoff to sleep, the image of the dark-haired aristocrat lingered in her mind.
Shaking herself to dispel the lastvestiges of sleep, Anna pushed back the heavy comforter and reached for a teeshirt. She moved quickly across the chilly room to the window, anxious for herfirst glimpse of Yardley in the morning. Looking down across the lawns, she wassurprised to see a figure at the edge of the bluff, facing out toward theocean. She recognized instantly the tall, slender figure of Graham Yardley. Asthe sun rose, it struck her face, outlining her chiseled profile in stark reliefagainst the sky. Standing so still, her hair windblown, one hand clasping theebony walking stick, she appeared hauntingly alone.
As Graham began to make her way carefullyup the steep slope to the house, Anna stepped back from the window. She didn'twant her employer to see her watching. Almost instantaneously she rememberedthat Graham could not see her. The fact of Graham's blindness saddened herdeeply. She wondered why that should be, since she scarcely knew her. Perhapsit was the poorly concealed pain in her voice or the fierce pride beneath thetightly controlled surface. But more than that, Anna was moved by Graham'sapparent isolation from the world. To Anna, that was the greatest tragedy ofall. Anna experienced life as a feast for all the senses. It was that love oflife that drew her to the miracle of growing things and motivated her desire todesign living spaces where people could exist in harmony with nature. Theenvironment was the canvas of Anna's dreams. It troubled her unaccountably tothink that Graham Yardley had withdrawn from that. Anna looked down into theruins of the Yardley estate, imagining the beauty that once existed there, and she longed to know it as it had once been— flowering with new growth, rich withthe pageantry of life.
She turned to dress with a sigh, remindingherself that the reasons this solitary woman chose to live secluded here by thesea 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 wasn't quite certain she yetunderstood.
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 placedbiscuits on a tray to cool. "Five o'clock. I can't seem to sleep late, nomatter what! Old habits die hard, I guess. When all of the family was about, I'd 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 hoursbefore he left for town. He said he couldn't work without my breakfast. Thomas, that was my husband, was the general caretaker. He managed the grounds andoversaw most of the staff. He's been gone almost twenty years. My son workedhere too before he went off to college. He's a doctor now. Lives in California. Even though everyone is gone, I still stick to my old routines. " Shepushed wisps of gray hair back from her face and straightened her apron. "How did you sleep?"
"Wonderfully, " Anna said, eyeingthe biscuits appreciatively. She realized she was starving.
Helen caught her look and laughed. "Have one. I'll have the rest ready in a minute. I was just taking a trayto Graham. "
"Oh, won't she be joining us?"Anna asked, strangely disappointed.
"She's in the music room. She takesall her meals in there, " Helen informed her, a fleeting expression ofconcern crossing her face. "She's been up for hours, I imagine. I'm notsure when she sleeps. "
"How did she lose her sight?"Anna dared ask.
Undisguised pain crossed the older woman'sfeatures fleetingly. "A car accident. " She looked as if she might saymore, but then quickly busied herself at the stove again. Anna regarded hersilently. Helen obviously cared for Graham a great deal. Anna wished there weresome way to ask Helen more about her solitary employer, but she knew instinctively that Helen would never discuss anything of Graham's personal life with her. It was clear that Helen guarded Graham's privacy as carefully as didthe woman herself.
After a sumptuous meal of biscuits, eggs and country ham, Anna insisted on helping Helen straighten the kitchen. As theyworked, she said, "You'll have to give me some idea of how I can help, Helen. I want to be useful. "
Helen nodded. "I know this all mustseem strange for you. Graham told me that you were a student and would needtime for your studies. I've made a list of things we need, but it shouldn'ttake too much time. "
Anna laughed and said she was sure shecould manage. She was touched that both Helen and Graham were concerned abouther 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 thatall that was in the past.
"Let me see the list. "
It was only 10 A. M. when Anna returned andbegan unloading the Jeep. It was a clear April morning, the air crisp andfresh. She felt wonderful and hummed as she climbed the steps to the kitchen. She called as she went, "Hello! Helen, I'm back!"
She was surprised when Graham pushed thedoor open. She was wearing an immaculately tailored pale broadcloth shirttucked into loose-fitting gray gabardine trousers, somehow managing to lookcasual and elegant at the same time. Anna recognized the understated quality ofher 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 Anna's surprise said, "Let me help you. "
Anna started to protest, and then stoppedherself. She had gleaned from their brief meeting how critical Graham'sindependence was to her. Any suggestion that maneuvering the steps withpackages in her arms might be dangerous would certainly provoke that formidabletemper. "Of course. My Jeep is parked just to the right of the steps. Thetailgate is down. "
Graham nodded and started down the stairs. Anna watched her, noting that her slight limp was hardly noticeable thismorning. Graham moved cautiously but confidently forward, her left hand lightly trailing along the side of the vehicle. When she reached the rear, she lookedupward at Anna, who was still standing on the porch.
"Since you're here, why don't youhand me something to carry in?"
"Of course, " Anna said, blushingas 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 cradledit against her chest. Anna didn't move until she saw Graham up the steps safelyand through the door. Then she grabbed up the last of the bags and rushedinside. She found Graham emptying the box onto the long counter top. Now andthen 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 ofglass, committing the shape to memory. "Sensuous, isn't it?" sheremarked quietly, as if speaking aloud without realizing it.
Anna blushed for no reason she couldunderstand. "I never thought of it that way, but you're right. "
Graham set the heavy bottle down abruptlyand straightened her back, her face suddenly remote.
"When you're done here, I'd like youto join me in my study. It's the last room on the right. "
"I'll be there in a minute, "Anna replied as Graham
quickly left the room. She sorted the rest of theparcels,
then poured a cup of coffee from the pot Helen had left
steeping onthe stove. As she headed down the hall, she
tried not to think about the factthat it wasn't the
bottle she had found so sensuous, but the intimate way
thosegraceful hands had held it.
Her attention was immediately drawn to amagnificent grand piano that stood before double French doors. The doors wereopen to an enormous flagstone patio. It was the same terrace overlooking thelong slope to the sea cliffs which Anna had first seen from her bedroomwindows. Opposite the piano was another fireplace with a comfortable appearingsitting area. Graham's breakfast tray lay on a small table before several largeleather chairs. Graham sat at a large walnut desk, stacks of papers andenvelopes piled before her. Sunlight streamed into the room, highlighting theangular planes of her face.
"What a lovely room, " Annaexclaimed.
Graham raised her head, a slight smilesoftening her features. "Isn't it? Soon, the roses at the edge of theterrace will nearly obscure the view. "
Anna glanced at her in surprise beforeremembering that Graham hadn't always been blind. "How sad, " shethought, never to see the roses bloom again.
Perhaps it was the appreciation she heardin Graham's voice, or the sight of the rose bed Graham alluded to nearlyobliterated by wild growth, that prompted her to speak impulsively.
"You know, " she beganhesitantly, "the grounds are badly in need of attention. All the gardensare overgrown- many of the paths are nearly obliterated. They are literallychoking to death. The house is suffering from weathering and could use repair, too. "
Graham's face was remote. "I hadn'trealized. We haven't had a gardener here in years, " she added absently, unwillingly remembering Yardley in another life. She forced her thoughts backto the present. "Perhaps you could look into it. Make any arrangements youthink necessary. "
Anna adopted her employer's formal tone, afraid that she had given offense. "I will, thank you. I'll keep youinformed, of course. "
Graham waved her hand dismissively, hermind clearly elsewhere. "I thought we might go through some of this correspondence. It's been neglected for months. "
Anna took a seat beside the desk, availingherself of the opportunity to study her employer. Close to her now in the lightof day, she could see the fine lines around her eyes, and the abundant graystreaking her coal black hair. The scar on her forehead scarcely detracted fromthe symmetrical arch of her full, dark brows, the high cheekbones or the strongchin. Her lips were soft and full, in striking contrast to the stark planes ofher face. Her eyes were dark and clear, and although Anna knew them to besightless, the gaze which fell upon her was penetrating nevertheless.
"Why don't we begin with these, "Graham said, indicating a stack of unopened envelopes by her left hand. "If you could read them to me, I'll tell you which ones need a reply. There's a tape recorder there for you to make notes. "
For the next hour they sorted mail intopiles, some to be discarded, some to be forwarded to Graham's attorney, andsome that needed Graham's personal attention. Anna was surprised at the scopeof Graham's financial involvements, and a little overwhelmed.
"You know, some of this is quitebeyond me, " she said at length. "You need more than someone who canbarely balance her own checkbook. "
Graham stretched her long legs out andshrugged, apparently unconcerned. "Never mind. You'll learn. " Shestood and walked to the open doors. She leaned into the breeze, her hands inthe pockets of her trousers. Anna observed her with interest, trying to imaginehow one experienced a world one couldn't see.
"It's nearly one o'clock, isn'tit?"
Anna glanced at her watch. "A fewminutes before. "
Graham nodded, crossing to the long buffeton the opposite side of the room. She reached into a small refrigeratorenclosed within and withdrew a bottle.
"Would you like some champagne? Itseems a reward for our efforts would be appropriate. "
Anna smiled. "I'd love some. "
Anna watched intently as Grahamconfidently set two crystal glasses on a silver tray, opened the bottle, andplaced it carefully in an ice bucket. Turning to Anna, she held out theengraved silver tray.
"If you could take this, we can siton the terrace. If you don't mind the slight chill to the air, " Grahamadded, raising a questioning eyebrow.
Reaching for the tray Anna smiled. "I'd rather be outside no matter what the temperature. "
She followed Graham across the flagstoneterrace to a round wrought-iron table near the ornate open stone balustrade. The sea breeze blew up from the ocean, ruffling Graham's hair. Graham faced thewater, a slight frown on her face.
"Are you quite sure you're notcold?"
"I'm wearing a sweater, " Annareplied softly, moved by Graham's thoughtfulness. Graham herself was moreexposed in her thin silk shirt. "Can I get you something warmer?"
Graham took a seat next to theglass-topped table and shook her head. "It doesn't seem to botherme. "
Graham slid her hand across the table tothe tray, deftly found the glasses, and expertly poured their champagne.
"Thank you, " Anna said, accepting the glass. Graham nodded slightly in response, and together theyturned toward the sea. Silently they basked in the spring sun, not quite warmyet, but full of promise. Anna found herself surprisingly content in the presenceof her austere employer. Despite her reserve, Graham displayed moments ofwarmth and quick humor that were quite engaging.
"Graham, " Anna began at last, "I'd like to see what I can do with the gardens. There is so much beautyhere, and it needs care. I'd enjoy doing it myself. "
Graham's 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. Sheexplained her classes and found herself revealing her hopes of some day havingher own business.
"You mean to be more than a gardener, then, " Graham commented seriously.
Anna laughed. "I love the physicalwork, but I also want to be involved in the actual design. "
"You'll need help with Yardley. Therewas a time when we employed two gardeners here full-time. "
Anna nodded. "And you'll need to hiresomeone 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 Helen's needs, will keep you busy enough! It would seem thatundertaking to save Yardley too would be quite a task. " Although her tonewas lightly mocking, her face was quite serious.
Anna was strangely touched that Grahamgave any thought to Anna's work, let alone considered it important. What asurprise this woman was!
"I don't need to go to school thissummer—in fact, I can really use the break. And, besides, working here atYardley will give me a chance to practice some of my ideas. There's so muchthat needs to be done. I promise, if I can't handle it, I'll be the first tosay so!"
Graham spoke softly, her voice dreamlike. "You can't imagine how lovely Yardley was in the spring. There were blossomseverywhere, new life seeking the sun. I would walk for hours through thegardens, just looking at the colors. The interplay of the different hues in thesunlight was like a symphony for the eyes. I couldn't wait to get here—out ofthe city, away from the crowds. After a long tour we - " She stoppedabruptly, a quicksilver flash of pain passing across her face. The hand thatheld the fine crystal flute tightened. Anna feared for a moment Graham wouldbreak it in her hand.
Anna tried to imagine what it would belike to know she would never see another spring. Saddened, she felt an uncommontenderness for this woman who had lost so much. Impulsively, she said, "You'll know when the roses bloom—you'll be able to smell the blossoms inthe air. "
"Yes. " Graham saw no reason toexplain that she rarely walked about during the day. At night, in the dark, itdidn't matter that she couldn't see. She would not have to imagine what she wasmissing in the sunlight. Impatiently she shook her head. She thought she was longpast such regrets. "Do what you like. If you find that you need help, hiresomeone. I've 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. Shedid not want to remember - any of it. "I'd like to see you tomorrow at oneo'clock. We can continue with the papers then. "
Anna staredafter her as Graham disappeared into the house.
She wondered how Graham wouldspend her time until next
they met. Each time she saw her, she was left withmore
questions and greater curiosity about her secretive
Anna stretched her back, cramped from thelong hours in one position. She surveyed her progress. Graham was right—she wasgoing to need help. Nevertheless, she was happy with the start she had made inthe gardens below the terrace. In two weeks she had pruned back the rose bushesand bordering shrubs, and had rescued most of the perennials from the thickvines that had encroached upon them over the years. Since her mornings hadquickly become filled with managing the affairs of the house, she worked mostlyfrom midafternoon until dusk. The Yardley household itself required littleattention. Whatever needs Helen had were easily accomplished on Anna's tripsinto 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 Grahamwith her business affairs, a task she had come to enjoy. From their afternoon meetings, Anna was slowly gaining an impression of Graham's 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, graciousand altogether charming. However, when forced to confront the affairs of theestate 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 Graham's mind when she suddenly fell quiet, her attention clearly eclipsed by some internal voice, Anna sensed ithad nothing to do with the world she herself was familiar with.
Despite the fact that they spent several hourstogether nearly every day, Anna knew so little of her. Graham easily drew Annainto discussions of her life, but she never spoke of her own past. Anna becamemore and more intrigued as the days passed. She wondered what thoughts, andmore importantly, what feelings, lay hidden beneath the silent unreadablefeatures.
Anna sighed and tossed her trowel into thetoolbox. Despite her fatigue, the hard physical labor satisfied her. Her dayswere full, and she was coming to view Yardley as her home. She looked forwardto 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 ownmeal. After Anna and she cleaned up together, Anna retired to her rooms, oftenfalling asleep before the fireplace. She never saw Graham in the evening, andshe came to realize that she missed her formidable presence.
She carried her tools around to thegardener's shed in the rear of the property. As she passed by the terrace, shenoticed that the doors to Graham's music room stood open. The lace curtainswafted out on the late afternoon breeze. Glancing in, Anna was surprised to seeGraham seated at the piano. It was the first time she had ever seen herplaying. The notes of a haunting melody reached her easily—soft, and gentlyflowing, but so incredibly sad! Without thinking, she drew nearer, captured bythe beautiful music. Standing before the open doors, she watched Graham as sheplayed. This was a Graham she had never seen. Her eyes were nearly closed, andas her body moved commandingly over the keys, her face reflected the essence ofthe music. She was lost in the melancholy notes, critically alone. Anna'sthroat constricted as she watched and listened, knowing with certainty that at that moment, Graham Yardley and her music were one. She remained unmoving untilGraham finished, then stepped softly away. The image of Graham, staring sightlessly down at her hands on the silent ivory keys, remained etchedindelibly in her mind.
"Graham asked that you join her inthe music room when you're free, " Helen called to her as she passedthrough the kitchen.
"Yes, thanks, " Anna replied absently, still disquieted by the scene she had just witnessed, unable to sayexactly why. She showered quickly and was soon knocking on the closed doors of Graham's study.
"We need to deal with some of thepersonal 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. Shewished she could ask her what troubled her, but Graham's unapproachabledemeanor prevented even that simple inquiry. Ignoring her disquiet, she crossedto her usual seat at the desk and began to peruse the letters Graham hadobviously ignored for months. Anna was amazed at the scope of thesolicitations. She began to read aloud at random, for all the letters weresimilar in theme.
"These two conservatories havewritten several times in the last two years requesting that you teach amaster's class, " Anna informed Graham, who had begun pacing soon afterAnna began reading messages to her. Anna had never seen her so agitated before.
"Tell them 'no', " Graham repliedcurtly, her face grim.
"There are a number of inquiriesregarding your concert availability, " Anna said quietly, subdued by thewell-known companies seeking to engage Graham as a guest performer.
"Throw them away, " Graham saidflatly. She stood with her back to Anna in the open terrace doorway, and thehand she rested against the frame was clenched.
"There's a graduate student atJuilliard - she's written and called several times. She says she's writing herdoctoral thesis on your early works-" Anna faltered as Graham caught herbreath sharply. "She would like to arrange a meeting with you, and perhapsdiscuss your current-" Anna was stunned to silence as Graham whirledtoward her, her face furious.
"I don't perform, I don'tcompose, and I don't give goddamned interviews. Go through whatever'sthere and deal with it! I don't want to hear anything more about it!"
Anna stared as Graham searched for herwalking stick with a trembling hand. She had never seen Graham misplaceanything in her surroundings before. It was heartwrenching to see her falteruncertainly as she tried to orient herself.
"It's against your chair, " Annasaid quietly. She looked away, giving Graham time to compose herself. She knewGraham could not see her, but it seemed wrong somehow to watch her privatestruggles.
"Graham-" she venturedtentatively, not wanting to add to Graham's obvious distress. "Thesethings look important- I can't just throw them away. I don't think I can answerthem without your help. "
Graham paused at the door, her back toAnna, rigid with her struggle for control. "I've given you my answer toall of them - 'no'. Word it any way you want, but handle them yourself in thefuture. That's what I'm paying you for. Don't bring them up to me again. "
Anna risked Graham's ire with one lastattempt. "If you could just give me some idea-
"Enough Anna, " Graham saidwearily as she pushed open the heavy door to the hall. "It's done. "
Anna was more than curious, she wasshocked, both by what she had read as well as by Graham's reactions. She hadvery little exposure to formal music, but even she could appreciate from thenature of the requests that Graham was no ordinary musician. The magnitude ofGraham's response was even more bewildering. Anna wanted very much tounderstand 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 painwas clearly evident, but Anna sensed that Graham would never admit to it. Itwas the nearly palpable intensity of that pain more than anything else thatpropelled her from the room in search of Helen. She found her sewing in the library.
"We need to talk Helen, " Annasaid gravely as she joined the older woman in the seating area.
Helen regarded her first with surprise, then, at the sight of Anna's distress, with apprehension. "What isit?"
"It's Graham, " Anna replied. "Tell me who she is. "
"Oh my goodness!" Helenpronounced, "That would be quite a task! I've known Graham since she wasjust a baby. Mrs. Yardley died when Graham was only three, and I guess I becamethe closest thing she ever had to a mother. Lord forgive me, but I think I loveher more than my own flesh and blood. I wouldn't know where to begin!"
Anna was beginning to expect Helen'sevasions whenever Graham was the subject, but she was too shaken by the strangescene with Graham to accept more non-answers. It was enough that Graham shuther 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 - and a dozen others. You should have seen what these did to her! She's suffering, and you know she won't admit that, let alone explain it. I'm supposed to be here to assist her. I can't be of any help to her if both of you keep me in the dark!"
Helen regarded her solemnly, a lifetime ofguarding Graham's privacy warring with her concern for Graham's well-being. In the end she finally conceded that Graham needed someone's 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 you're asking about. "
Anna opened the cover of the first volumeto find press clippings, articles, and reviews, all of them about Graham. The earliest dated back over thirty years. With an increasing sense of wonder, shestudied the chronicle of Graham's life.
Graham Yardley had first come to theattention of the music world when she was only six years old. By then she hadstudied the piano for three years. The young music teacher her father first employed soon recognized that the headstrong young child was advancing far toorapidly 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 soloistwith a number of internationally renowned orchestras, and by twenty she had wonnot 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 ofintense international touring and performances. The London Times, the ParisReview, the Tokyo press and dozens of others celebrated her as the next heir toRubenstein and Horowitz. There didn't seem to be enough superlatives todescribe her. Seemingly she had not yet reached her peak when the coveragesimply stopped. Anna was left with a void, staring at empty pages, desperatelyseeking 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 Helen's questioning gaze. Just as she knew Helen was waiting for her to comment, she knew that her response would determine what else Helen mightshare. In the end, all she could do was speak from her heart.
"She's really quite special, isn'tshe?"
Helen smiled softly. "It's strangethat you should say that - I always thought of her that way - special. Peoplewho didn't know her thought her genius came easily. I knew that whatever she was born with, the music she made came from her heart's blood. When she was working, you couldn't drag her away from the piano. For days and nights unend she'd go without sleeping - I'd practically have to force myself into the room with a tray of food. She'd be pacing or playing—struggling with some refrain. When she'd finally come out—'starving', she'd say, -- she would look so happy! Iknew she loved it; you could feel her excitement when she had gotten it justright!"
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.
"She's been called so many things. Agifted child prodigy they said when she was six, a remarkable composer theysaid when she was twenty, and at thirty they called her a master. Some thingsthey said aren't written down in those articles. There were those who calledher arrogant, temperamental, an egotistical perfectionist. All those thingswere true, but she was so much more to those who knew her! Whatever shedemanded of others, she demanded ten times that from herself. She put all ofherself 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 thelight of our lives!"
Anna sat quietly, trying to imagine Grahamlike 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, Anna's 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 today—it was so beautiful! Why doesn't she performany longer?"
Helen shook her head. "She won't playfor anyone anymore. Hasn't since the accident. She was in the hospital formonths. When she was finally released, she came immediately to Yardley. She'slived here since then. Her father was alive back then, of course—it's been overten 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 wouldn't see them. For months she barely spoke, or left her room. After a while, she began to go outside, mostly at night. She wouldn't let me help her. She's 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 toimagine what Graham had suffered, or the extent of her loss. Neither could sheimagine that the stubborn independent woman she was coming to know would simplygive up.
"But, Helen! She's still so strong. What's happened to her?!"
"She didn't go near the piano forthat whole first year, and I feared for her mind, I really did. I can neverremember Graham without her music! When at last she began to play again, Ithought everything would be all right. But the music was so sad! I don't careabout that anymore—I'm just happy that she plays at all. "
"It doesn't make sense! She canmanage quite well, and with a little help—"
Helen looked alarmed. "Oh no, mydear. It's not because of her injuries. I only wish it were. Graham lostsomething much more than her sight in that accident. She hasn't composed apiece of music since she came home from the hospital. It's as if the music left her that night -after she had lost so much already!"
"But what--" Anna began, confused.
Helen stood suddenly, gathering her things. "I've gone on too long, I'm 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 couldhave known her —so accomplished, so full of life. She loved her music so, andthe 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 see—like a young lion, so graceful and proud!"
"She still is, you know, " Annasaid softly. "I heard her play, I felt her music—it was one of the most powerful things I ever experienced. "
Helen looked at Anna strangely. "Youcan see it, then?"
"Oh, yes!" Anna exclaimed. "She has such passion—in her hands, in her voice—even in those beautifuleyes!"
Helen touched Anna's face tenderly, thenturned quickly away. "I think it will be good for us that you havecome. "
When Annafound herself awake and
restless at midnight, she returned to the library. Shecurled up in the large
leather chair, books open in her lap, compelled torevisit Graham's past. She
searched the newspaper and magazine images of thevigorous artist, struck by
her vitality and fierce passion. The photos ofGraham on stage, lost in the rhapsody
of her music, were among the mostarresting portraits Anna had ever seen. Anna
was stirred as if by the memory ofsomeone 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, thestrains of Graham's music echoed in her
Reluctantly, Anna conceded to Graham'swishes. When more than a week had passed with no further overture from Grahamto address her personal correspondence, Anna wrote replies. Since she had nospecific instructions, she simply stated that Ms. Yardley appreciated theinquiries but was not presently available. She could bring herself to neitherleave the letters unanswered nor to close the door on Graham's previous life. It was too final and felt much too much like death. Graham's death. It was beyond tragic to accept that the Graham Yardley she had glimpsed in theyellowing pages of history was gone forever. Anna could not accept it, not whenAnna heard her walk the halls late into the night, or awoke to the sight of heroutlined against the dawn at the cliffs' 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 hadtaken the task to heart. She hired carpenters and painters to work both outsideand in, tending to the multitude of small details that had been neglected for adecade. She finally relented and hired a landscaping crew she had seenadvertised in the university paper. They would be helping her clear the wideexpanse of nearly wild growth that covered the rear slopes and the bluff abovethe sea.
When Anna walked down one morning to thesea cliffs where Graham stood nearly every morning at dawn, she was terrifiedto find the path almost totally obscured with roots and vines. She couldn'timagine how Graham had avoided injury all this time. To make matters worse, thesea 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 knewit would be useless to ask Graham not to go there. Anna could envision the reaction that would produce! And, in truth, Anna didn't have the heart to bring it up—whatever compelled Graham to visit that desolate point of land morning after morning didn't matter. Anna couldn't 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 enteredher music room, she immediately sensed another's presence. She stood still justinside the door, trying to discern the unexpected visitor. Anna had made it clear to the various workers that Graham's music room was not to be violated.
"Anna?" she inquired with faintsurprise.
"Yes, " Anna answereduncertainly. She was standing with her back to the door and hadn't realized Graham was there until she spoke. She hadn't expected Graham at all. She wasrarely about during the morning.
"What is it that you're doing?" Graham asked as she crossed the room. Her voice wasn't critical, merelycurious.
"I'm putting a vase of flowers on themantle. I just picked them. " she replied quietly. She was well aware that she had not been invited into Graham's study, but neither had Graham told hershe was not welcome to go anywhere in the house she desired.
"To what purpose?" Graham askeddarkly, "Did you think I might enjoy the color?" She didn't 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, he rback to Anna.
"I thought you might enjoy the beauty of their scent. I only wish that you might enjoy the sight of them aswell. " Her voice quivered with both anger and uncertainty. She didn't wantto hurt her, but she couldn't 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 waitedfor 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 didn't mean to upset you, "Anna replied. "You needn't apologize. "
"I thought I could smell the roses onthe wind last night, " Graham said softly, her back still to Anna. Therigid stance relaxed, to be replaced by a weariness too often evident in herwhip-slender frame.
Anna approached her cautiously, afraidGraham might retreat if startled. "Yes, they're in bloom again now. They've 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, andstrong, " Anna said softly, wondering if they still spoke of the flowers. "The soil of Yardley is rich and fertile; it has nourished them all thistime. "
Graham stood very still, aware that Annawas close beside her. The air about them was filled with the perfume of newlife.
"Nourishment alone is not always enough - living things need more than that. They would not have survivedindefinitely without care, " Graham said softly.
"No, " Anna replied, swallowingthe ache in her throat, "but they didn't have to. " Impulsively, Anna grasped Graham's arm. "Walk with me—I'll show you. "
Graham tensed at the first touch of Anna'shand upon her arm. The sensation was so foreign it startled her. Then, with thegrace born of her breeding, she tucked Anna's hand in the bend of her elbow. "All right, " she agreed, allowing Anna to lead the way. As they strolled the meandering paths, Annastopped frequently to describe the young flowers, drawing Graham's hand to thesoft buds.
"Daffodils?" Graham asked asAnna brought a petal to her face.
Anna smiled. "Yes, - wait, " shesaid, plucking another blossom. "And this?"
Graham cupped her fingers around Anna'shand, 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 Grahamcould see her. She would give anything to make it so! Graham sensed thestirring of her emotions—Anna's hand trembled slightly in hers.
Anna released the breath she hadn'trealized she was holding.
"You're very good. Right again!"she said, her voice thick with an emotion she couldn't name.
Graham slipped the blossom from Anna'sgrasp and tucked it into the pocket of her shirt.
The simple gesture touched Anna. Itpleased her unaccountably to bring the gardens to life for Graham. Each smilethat passed Graham's lips, however fleeting, felt like a gift. Oddly, she waseven enjoying their physical closeness. Even though Graham could maneuver the garden paths perfectly well, she made no move to remove the hand that Anna kepton her arm. Anna found herself curiously aware of the muscles rippling underher fingers as they walked. She forced herself to pay attention to the uneventerrain, 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. Graham's ability to orient herself in her environment continued to astound her. "You're right, of course. They're here, but they were so badly overgrownthat they haven't flowered in years. I cut them back. In a year or two they'llflower again. "
Graham leaned on her walking stick andsighed. So much was gone! "I'm sorry. They were always so lovely—they weremy favorites, I think, after the roses. "
Anna place her hand over Graham's, whispering, "They'll be back. "
Graham shook her head, her expression onceagain dark. "There are some things, Anna, that once lost, simply cannot berestored. There is no use in struggling to reclaim them. That path leads onlyto greater disappointment. "
"I cannot accept that, " Anna insisted. "One must hope. "
Graham remained silent as they made theirway to the house. She knew only too well that with the passage of time, evenhope would die.
Helen carried a tray into the music roomas 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.
"Sit a moment, won't you?"
Surprised by the unusual request, Helensat anxiously waiting. Although she and Graham spoke often, their conversationswere always casual. Graham never discussed her deepest thoughts, and neversought Helen's advice. Even as a child she tended to make announcements about he rintentions, such as the time she informed her father she wasn't 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, no—you know how silly Iget when I drink that!"
Graham smiled. "You just talk alittle more—you're never silly. "
Helen leaned to touch Graham's arm gently. "Is everything all right, dear? Is there something we need to talkabout?"
"Anna, " Graham replied after amoment. "Do you think she's happy here? It must be very lonely for a youngwoman so far away from the city, with no friends nearby. "
Helen had known the woman before her sincethe day she was born. She had seen her through triumph and great tragedy. Shehad 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. Anna's presence had penetrated Graham's self-imposed isolation, and that was close to a miracle. Helen chose her wordswith 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 that's not the point. Yardley is our home—we chose this place, this life, you and I. Anna didn't. We mustn't take advantage of her kindness, or her—caring. "
Helen thought she had an inkling of whatreally concerned Graham. Anna was an unusual woman. She appreciated Graham'snotoriety, had understood her fame, and yet she was not overwhelmed by it. InGraham's entire life, there had been very few who had ever dared approach herwith friendship. Her imposing personality and public stature prevented ordinary relationships. People were either afraid of her intensity, or her temper - orthey wanted something from her. She had had many followers, and many would-be friends, but it was rare that anyone tried to know her. Graham's 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. Andshe's made a lot of hard decisions in her life. Leaving a marriage is hard, even when it's not a good one, and I imagine striking out on her own withoutmuch security was hard, too. But, she is strong and independent, and she knowswhat she's about. She's here because she wants to be, and if she becomesunhappy, I imagine she'll do something about that herself. I don't thinkthere's anything to worry about. "
Graham relaxed perceptibly. "Helen?"
"What does she look like?"
Helen appreciated what a difficultquestion that was for Graham to ask. Graham knew the description of every pieceof clothing in her closet, and insisted that each item be returned from thecleaners in a certain order. She never asked for assistance in dressing, neverasked 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 keepingthe furniture in one place. For her to make a direct reference to her inabilityto see was unheard of.
"Oh, lord, that is a hard one, "Helen exclaimed, nonplused.
Graham rose impatiently, reaching a handup to the mantle, her face turned toward the fire. "I know that she isalmost my height, and strong. I could feel that in her hands when she took myarm in the garden. She laughs softly when something pleases her, and she lovesthe land. She knew how to bring the flowers to my mind's eye—" She haltedin frustration, unable to complete the picture of the woman who was so oftennear, but whom she could not see.
"You already know the best parts ofher, Graham—her 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? Hereyes? What does she wear? Helen, I can't see her!"
Helen longed to go to her, to stroke theanger 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 likehoney, and cut back away from her face. Her eyes are very blue, like the ocean on an August morning. When she's excited about something, her skin flushes alight rose and her eyes sparkle. In my day, we'd call her wholesome. She has the kind of strong body women have these days--you can tell she's fit, but, she flows in the right places, too. "
"How long is her hair? What colorsdoes she wear?"
"Her hair just touches her collar, and it's not so much curly as wavy. It blows around in the wind, like yourdoes, all wild and free. When she's working outside she sometimes ties it backwith a bandanna round her forehead. She likes to wear those loose trousers with the drawstrings at the waist, and tee shirts, - or those men's shirts that are made for girls. Lovely colors—purples, dark greens, deep golds. "
Graham had become very still as Helentalked. The tension slowly left her body.
"Does that help?" Helen askedher.
Graham nodded, concentrating on thepicture forming in her mind.
"She's not at all like Christine, isshe?" 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. Grahamhad been so subdued on their way back to the house, Anna was certain something was wrong.
"Is Graham all right?" she askedthe moment Helen rejoined her.
Helen looked at her in surprise. What hadgotten into the two of them? They were both so jumpy! "Yes, dear, she'sfine—she just wanted to talk to me about a few household thing. Now, why don'twe eat before everything is completely cold. "
Forcing herself to relax, Anna poured themeach some coffee and joined Helen at the kitchen table. She tried to appearnonchalant.
"I was just a little concerned. Shespends so much time alone, and she's so very sensitive—"
"That's 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 madhimself 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 didn't say anything for the longest time;we didn't know that anything was wrong. It did break his heart when she said, so quietly, that she couldn't see him. Oh, it was a horrible time!"
Anna closed her eyes with the pain of theimage, of Graham so brutally injured, of a family so hurt. Some part of herlonged to change the past, to undue the horrible suffering.
As if sensing her thoughts, Helen said, "We all felt so helpless—" She shook herself, rising briskly. "It doesn't change things, does it, to wish for the past to bedifferent?"
"What was she like, before the accident, "Anna asked quietly. As each day passed she wanted to know more. She was certainthat the key to Graham's silence and her pain was hidden in her past. Anna couldn't 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 couldn't put into words, but sheknew 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 lossof such a gift went beyond personal tragedy.
Helen laughed. "She was a regularhellion—she never got on well in regular schools. Not that she wasn't bright -she was always good at whatever she tried. It's just that she never wanted todo anything except play the piano. She said once that when she looked at theworld, she heard music. It was her language, as natural to her as talking is tous. All you ever had to do was listen to her play to know what she was feeling. It's 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 wasn't. 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 allthe 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 wonder—she brought usall so much happiness. "
Anna tried toimagine Graham that way, infused with energy
and enthusiasm. That there weregreat depths to her
sensitivity Anna had no doubt—but Graham's
passionateembrace of life had disappeared. What Anna
couldn't explain was her own desireto rekindle
Anna respected Graham's wishes, and didnot mention the abundant correspondence that still arrived regarding her formercareer. Graham remained for the most part an easy person to work for, and if itweren't for the fact that Anna was acutely aware of Graham's deep unhappiness, she would have found Graham's company more than satisfying. On those occasionswhen they escaped from the drudgery of paperwork to relax on the terrace, Graham seemed sincerely interested in Anna's life. Anna enjoyed their timestogether, only wishing for some way to make Graham's rare smile linger.
Unexpectedly at first, Graham began toappear in the garden while Anna was working. She would stand nearby, oftenwordless for long lengths of time, and then simply disappear. Eventually shestarted to ask Anna what it was that she was doing. Graham would listenattentively, then smile to herself as she made a mental note of a new shrub orplanting. She was slowly creating a new vision of Yardley with Anna's help. Asthe days passed, her visits became more frequent. Anna found herself lookingforward to these encounters. On those days when Graham didn't appear, Annafinished her work strangely restless and unsatisfied.
Late one morning Anna glanced up to findGraham 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?" Annaasked, leaning back to see her tall companion.
"What you're planting. This isn't therose garden, or the English garden, or the perennial bed—in fact, this isn'tanything at all as I recall. " Graham gestured toward each of the gardensas she spoke.
"You're right on all counts. This isthe kitchen garden. "
Graham frowned. "We don't have akitchen garden. Helen always said she couldn't grow weeds, and I—I never hadthe time. " Her expression became distant, a response Anna was coming torecognize. Whatever the memory, it was painful.
Anna reached into her carry all. "Here, " she said, placing a pair of soft work gloves into Graham'shand. "Put these on. "
Graham turned the gloves over in herhands, clearly at a loss. Anna found her consternation appealing—she wasusually so commanding. Had Graham known her bewilderment was apparent, Annaknew she would have been embarrassed.
"So you can help plant thetomatoes, " Anna said matter-of-factly. "We're making a garden so wecan grow our own vegetables this summer. " She knew she was riskingalienating her reclusive employer, just when she seemed to be emerging from herisolation, 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 hadever suggested to Graham Yardley that she dig in the dirt.
Graham hefted the gloves. "I don'tneed these. "
Anna studied Graham's hands. They werelong-fingered and delicate, ribboned with fine blue veins beneath soft paleskin. The supple fingers suggested strength, but they were not meant for roughwork. Anna had seen Graham's hands on the keyboard, how they moved withcertainty and grace. She had heard the music from those hands on the nightbreeze. She did not need newspaper accolades to know they were exquisiteinstruments in themselves.
"You do need them, " Anna saidsoftly. "Please put them on. I can't let you do this without them. "
Graham hesitated for a moment, thennodded. She slipped them on, then asked, "Where do you want me?"
Anna grasped her sleeve. "Here, on myright. Give me your hand. " She placed a seedling in Graham's palm. "There are twelve of these in each flat. Make a hole six inches deep, thenput 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. Movestraight to your right back toward the house. All right?"
Graham brought the young plant to herface. It smelled like warm sunshine. For a moment she was lost in the comfortof it.
Anna watched the transformation of herelegant features. Graham cradled the tiny plant reverently, her face losing itsstark tension, relaxing into a gentle smile. The tenderness she hid so well wasplainly evident now. Abruptly Graham emerged from her reverie, and with a shakeof her head, her expression was once again inscrutable.
"I can do that, " she said withher usual confidence. With utter disregard for what must be five hundred dollartrousers, she knelt beside Anna as directed.
"Good, " Anna replied. Shewatched 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. Shewas a wealth of contradictions—remote, emotionally distant, intimidating, andyet she showed such tenderness and sensitivity in the small gestures that shedidn't 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 incompanionable silence. As the sun climbed above them, Graham paused to roll upthe sleeves on her shirt. She leaned back and Anna caught a glimpse of herface.
"Graham, " Anna called, "turn towards me. "
Graham swiveled around, a questioning lookon her face.
"Oh hell. You're burning!" Annacried in consternation. She hadn't thought the sun was that strong, but then itoccurred to her that part of Graham's pallor was from her rare time outside. She knew Graham walked the grounds late into the night. Only recently had shebegun to venture out during the day. Anna grabbed a tube of sunscreen and kneltby Graham's side. "Put this on your face—and your arms, too. "
"Are you sure?" Grahamquestioned reluctantly.
"Of course I'm sure!" Annaexclaimed, angry at her own carelessness. "You should see how red youare!" The instant the words were spoken, she wanted them back. "Oh, god! I'm sorry!"
Graham opened the tube. "Well, I'mnot—I know what I look like with a sunburn. "
Anna thought she looked more striking thanever with color in her face. "It's not that bad, but if it gets any worse, I think Helen will kill me. "
"Better now?" Graham asked asshe covered her hands and face with the lotion. She lifted her head toward Annafor inspection. Her hair was windblown and tumbled over her forehead indisarray. Sunlight etched the angles of her face in gold, a dazzling contrastto the rich black of her hair and eyes. She was unknowingly stunning, and asAnna gazed at her something visceral shifted in her depths.
Shaken, not wanting it to show, Annareached for the tube. "Here, give it to me, " she said hoarsely.
She brushed the cream across Graham's jawand down the side of her neck. "You missed a spot, " she said softly, cupping Graham's chin gently in one hand. Graham struggled not to pull away. Anna sensed her discomfort and wondered why. Was it her blindness that made herso, or something else?
"Thank you, " Graham remarkedseriously when Anna took her hand away. The touch of Anna's fingers on her skinhad startled her. Even Helen rarely touched her, and Graham had not thought shemissed it. She had little need of contact with anything save the keys of herpiano. Still, her breath caught in her throat at the sensation of Anna'sfingers on her face. She struggled to control her expression, aware that shewas trembling.
"You're welcome, " Anna replied, moving away. She had a hard time forgetting the look on Graham's face when sheinnocently touched her. It looked like fear.
"Graham!" Helen cried whenGraham walked into the kitchen. "Oh my gracious! Did you fall? Are youhurt?"
"I'm fine—why?" Graham answeredin surprise. She felt better than fine, in fact, she felt strangelyexhilarated.
"Why, you've got dirt streaked onyour face, and your shirt is a sight!" Graham took meticulous care indressing, and Helen could never remember her with so much as a crease out ofline on her tailored trousers.
Graham frowned. "I wasgardening—apparently rather messily. Just how bad do I look?"
When Helen got over her astonishment, she laughedwith delight. God bless Anna for this! "I'm afraid you wouldn't like it. You look - disheveled. "
Graham put down the glass she was about tofill. "I'm going to shower, " she said stiffly. She left with as muchdignity as she could.
Helen looked after her, tears threateningto fall.
Less than a week later Graham was startledby a knock on the door of the master suite. Helen never disturbed her when shewas in her rooms. She rose from the chair that faced the open windows, calling, "Yes?"
"Graham, it's Anna. I have somethingfor you. "
Graham opened the door to admit her, aquestion in her eyes. By way of explanation, Anna placed a package in herhands.
"These are for you, " she said, suddenly shy. It had seemed like such a good idea when it first occurred toher. With Graham standing in front of her, as unassailable as always, shewasn't sure.
Graham motioned her inside with her usualgrace. "Please, sit down. "
Anna looked about, surprised by the luxuryof Graham's quarters. Everything from the high four-poster bed to the ornatearmoires and antique dressers spoke of cultured refinement. Graham projectedsuch an austere impression that Anna had to remind herself that Graham hadgrown up in and been part of the very pinnacle of wealthy society. Her onlyvisible concession to that opulent world now was her taste in clothes. Annawatched Graham carefully as she opened the parcel.
Graham stood by her bed, meticulouslyexamining each item, her expression growing more and more perplexed. She saidnothing 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 pairsof denim jeans, three blue cotton workshirts, six white cotton tee shirts, crewsocks, and a pair of Timberline work boots. "
"Interesting, " Graham noted, struggling to keep her voice even. "And the purpose?"
"You can't garden in Saville rowsuits and Italian loafers. It's criminal, " Anna stated. She didn't addthat it was also unsafe for Graham on the steep, often muddy slopes in theshoes she usually wore.
"I have never worn blue jeans in mylife, " was all Graham could think to say. No one had ever been so bold asto comment on anything she had ever worn before. In fact, such an attempt wouldhave drawn her most scathing reply. That Anna had taken it upon herself toactually buy her clothing astounded her.
"They're black, " Anna answeredsmartly. "I thought you'd prefer that. "
"And how did you manage thesize?" Graham asked, still strangely subdued. Anna was one of the fewpeople she had ever known who did not seem intimidated by her. The other hadbeen Christine, and that had been entirely different.
"I write out your checks, " Annaexplained. "I called your tailor. "
Graham couldn't hide her shock. "Youcalled Max Feinerman about blue jeans? What on earth did he say?"
Anna smiled at the memory. "He toldme more than I'll ever need to know about your inseams, rise and waistbands. Ihad a hard time convincing him that it wasn't necessary for him to makethe jeans, even though he insisted vehemently that he had always made all ofyour clothes. He's delightful. " She didn't add that he also obviouslyadored Graham, and had asked anxiously when he might be needed to tailor hernext concert suit. He explained her trousers were cut to allow easy movement ona piano bench and that since Graham had an unusually long arm span, she neededextra 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 Grahamhad not diminished during her years of seclusion. Anna was coming to realizethat Graham made an indelible impression on every one she touched.
Graham smiled softly as Anna spoke, onefinger aimlessly tracing the cuff of her fine Irish linen shirt. "PoorMax, " she said with a hint of laughter. "He probably hasn't yetrecovered. "
"Try them on, " Anna suggestedboldly.
Grahamstarted with surprise, then laughed unexpectedly.
"All right, Ms. Reid, Iwill. If you would be so kind as to
excuse me for a moment. " She gatheredthe clothes and
disappeared into her dressing room, leaving Anna with
thememory of her laughter.
Helen opened the music room door with onehand, Graham's breakfast tray balanced in the other. It was five a. m. , and thesky visible through the open terrace was just beginning to lighten. It was thefirst of June, and although it was still cool in the early mornings, Graham hadbegun taking her meals outside on the stone patio. She was there at the edge ofthe balcony now, facing as always down to the sea. At the first sight of herHelen halted in astonishment.
"Graham?" she queried, her voicerising in surprise.
Graham turned, a distracted look on herface. "Yes? What is it?"
Helen collected herself quickly. "I-well, it's - you look quite nice!"
Graham tilted her head, frowning. Helenwasn't making any sense. "I look - ah, the jeans! You've noticed theaddition to my wardrobe. I'm not sure I'm used to them yet. "
"Wherever did you get them?"
"Anna decided my day wear was notsuitable, " Graham answered.
"Anna bought thoseclothes?" Helen cried in amazement. No one in Helen's recollection hadever 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 haveaccepted the gesture with aplomb, amazed her.
"And do you approve?" Grahamasked testily.
Helen studied her in frank amazement. Shewas broad in the shoulders, with narrow hips, and naturally sinewy. The whitecotton tee shirt highlighted the muscles of her chest and arms. The closefitting 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 knownher, her appearance had always been refined, dignified, and wholly elegant. Shehad a kind of natural androgyny that suited her professional persona. Graham asan individual was secondary to her role as a musician. Her gender on theconcert stage was of little consequence. This was the first time Helen had everhad a sense of Graham as a sexual being. It was a disconcerting, and at thesame time, wonderfully gratifying change.
"You look quite acceptable, "Helen managed to say in a tone that belied her astonishment. She was afraidovert enthusiasm would make Graham self-conscious. She knew it would be hardfor Graham not to know how she looked.
Graham nodded absently, recalling Anna'sreaction when she had emerged from her dressing room. Anna was silent so longGraham began to think she had missed a button in some delicate location.
"Well, " Graham had asked with atrace 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 whenshe looked at her. She had never given it any thought before. How she appearedto others meant nothing to her. It had only been her music that mattered. Whyit should matter now, when she had nothing to offer anyone, eluded her. And whyshe should care what Anna Reid thought of her was even more mystifying. Shecould not deny however, that she had enjoyed pulling on these clothes when sheawoke that morning, and that as she did so, she remembered Anna's soft praise.
"Put the tray down, for heaven'ssake, Helen, " Graham said brusquely, annoyed with her own reminiscences. What did any of it matter!
When Helen returned an hour later, Grahamwas gone and her breakfast remained untouched.
Hours later, Graham walked down the gardenpath to the sea, vaguely aware of the fine salt mist against her skin, absentlywelcoming the sun's warmth on her face. She had been preoccupied sinceawakening that morning. The hint of a refrain trailed in and out of herconsciousness, making it impossible for her to concentrate on anything else. The notes were elusive, but ever present, and that was an experience she hadn'thad in years. Whereas once music came to her unbidden, demanding expression, that inner voice had been silenced along with the surging rhythms of her oncevital life. Why it should return now, she didn't know, and she was afraid toquestion 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 herpath. She had no time to react, emitting a curse as she found herself lyingtangled in a thicket by the side of the path.
"Damn!" she swore, struggling tofree herself from grasping tendrils of ivy.
"Oh my god, Graham!" Anna cried, rushing to her. "Oh god, are you hurt?" She began frantically pullingat the vines, attempting to pull Graham upright. Please don't let her behurt!
Graham took firm hold of Anna's hands, stilling her frantic motion. "I'm quite all right. Just take my arm andhelp me up. "
Anna reached for her hand and slipped her otherarm around Graham's waist. She was surprised once again by the strength in thedeceptively lithe body. She gasped when her worried eyes searched Graham'sface. "Oh lord, you've cut yourself, " she cried. With tremblingfingers she brushed a trickle of blood from Graham's chin.
"What was it?" Graham askedquietly, trying to regain some semblance of dignity.
Anna looked devastated. "Mywheelbarrow! How could I have been so careless!" She was close to tears. "God, you could have really been hurt!"
Graham stared toward Anna. "Yourwheelbarrow?"
"Yes, " she said miserably. Thethought of Graham injured was unbearable. She had begun to see Yardley as amaze of potential obstacles, all waiting for Graham to walk innocently intotheir 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 hersleeve could touch the flame, made Anna want to scream out loud. She cursedwhatever godless force had stolen Graham's sight, and exiled this magnificentbeing from the world. That she herself might have been the cause of furtherharm completely undid her. She didn't seem to be able to think quite rationallywhere Graham was concerned. She held onto Graham protectively, one handbrushing at the smudges on her tee-shirt.
Graham reached out for Anna's hand, laughing. "Was it a trap?"
Anna cradled the long, delicate fingers inhers, aware of how vulnerable Graham was despite her stubborn independence. "No, just my thoughtlessness, " she managed around the tightness inher throat.
Graham was suddenly serious, aware of thetremor in Anna's voice. She grasped Anna's shoulders with both hands, lookingintently into her face.
"It's not the first time I'vefallen, " she said gently. "I'm quite fine, you know. "
Anna stepped closer until there was onlyinches between them. "No, you're not. You have blood on your face andthistles in your hair. "
Graham laughed again, a sound that warmedAnna's heart.
"Well, for heaven's sake, get themout! Haven't I disgraced myself enough for one morning?"
Anna gently disentangled the wisps ofvines from the thick, rich hair, whispering softly, "You couldn't beundignified if you tried. I don't know how, but you elevate jeans and a teeshirt to an art form. " Her heart was still racing wildly, and for somereason she couldn't quite catch her breath. She was close enough to smell thefaint cologne Graham wore. It seemed to flood her senses as the rest of theworld receded from her consciousness. She was dimly aware of a distant poundingin her belly.
A faint smile flickered at the corners ofGraham's mouth as she straightened her shoulders, her hands resting lightly onAnna's bare forearms. "Am I presentable now?"
"You're beautiful, " Annaanswered thickly. A pulse beat under the delicate skin of Graham's neck, andfor some unfathomable reason, Anna wanted to rest her fingers there. Maybe itwas the fear invoked by Graham's recent fall; maybe it was the sorrow shecouldn't dispel after reading the articles about Graham's previous life; maybeit was the soul wrenching sadness of the only music Graham ever played, alonein the dark. Something made her bold enough to brush her fingers gently throughthe disheveled hair on Graham's forehead, and stroke the satin skin of hercheek. She rested her hand along the curve of Graham's strong jaw, scarcelybreathing, her vision narrowed until Graham was all she could see.
At the first light contact of Anna'stentative touch, Graham closed her eyes, a light shiver coursing through her. Afaint flush colored her usually pale cheeks. Her words came slowly, with thesame caution she used when crossing an unfamiliar room.
"I can feel the salt from the sea andthe warmth from the sun on your skin. You smell of the earth- - rich, dark, vital. You are alive—and that is true beauty. "
Anna felt each word, as she had feltGraham's music, in some deep part of herself she hadn't known existed. Withoutthinking, she slipped her arms around Graham's waist, resting her cheek againstthe thin cotton shirt, embracing her gently.
"Thank you, " Anna whisperedagainst Graham's shoulder.
Graham was acutely aware of Anna's heartbeating against her, of the soft swell of Anna's breast against her chest, andthe fine tremor in Anna's body. Graham shuddered slightly and stepped backgently, taking a deep breath.
"The stone bench—is it still there, under the sycamore?"
"Yes, " Anna said quietly, sensing Graham's withdrawal. She had to let her go, not understanding why itwas so difficult.
"If you don't mind the company, I'dlike to sit out here a while. " Graham needed distance between them, butshe could not bear to leave.
"I'd love the company, " Anna saidsoftly. "Do you know the way?"
Graham laughed. "I used to. Are thereany strange obstacles in the path?"
"All clear. "
Anna followed Graham with her eyes as shemade her way carefully but unerringly to the bench. Only when Anna saw hersafely seated could she return to her work. Even then she glanced up every fewmoments just to look at her. Anna was delighted that Graham accepted Anna'sgift of new clothes so magnanimously. Not only were they more practical, shelooked terrific in them. As much as she loved the impeccably cut trousers anddress shirts Graham usually wore, this casual garb was unusually compelling. Anna could still vividly recall her shock when Graham had first appeared inthem. Whereas before Graham's clothes accentuated her ethereal aloofness, theseform-fitting casual shirts and pants emphasized her sinewy sensuality. Annastared while something foreign erupted in her, and her heart began to trip overitself. When Graham asked for her opinion, she couldn't admit that what hadcome to mind was 'breathtaking'. But she was, in that aristocratic wayof some women, and each time Anna saw her, she was more aware of just howphysically attractive she found Graham to be. She had no reference for what shefelt, but it was certainly undeniable.
She pulled roots and transplanted the daylilies that were multiplying in great abundance. Although there was silencebetween them, she was acutely aware of Graham's presence and was soothed by it. When she glanced up at one point, she was struck by the distant expression onGraham's face. She was used to Graham's lapses in attention, although she wasmore accustomed to their accompanying some painful memory. Today Grahamappeared distracted, but not distressed. Her eloquent hands were moving on heroutstretched thighs, delicately, but with purpose.
"Where are you?" Anna calledquietly, laying her tools aside.
Graham smiled ruefully. "I'm tryingto capture a refrain -not very successfully, I'm afraid. It's been beenplaguing 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. It's there, like a finemurmur in my ear, but I can't quite bring it into focus. "
"Why don't you hum it?" Annasuggested, taking advantage of Graham's apparently mellow mood. "Maybethat will help. "
Graham tilted her head, frowning slightly, "You won't mind the noise?"
Anna laughed. "Of course not! Goahead!" She smiled, turning back to her work, enjoying the deep, richtimbre of Graham's voice. Gradually she became aware of fragments of anenchanting melody and sat back on her heels to listen. Quietly, she laid hertools aside once again, abandoning any pretense of work, and simply watchedGraham.
Graham sat with her eyes closed, outlinedin sunlight. Anna wasn't quite sure which was more beautiful, the music or itscomposer. 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 towardsAnna. "You've stopped working. "
"I'm listening, " Anna confessedin a voice thick with emotion.
Graham leaned forward, her expressionintent. "Do you like it?"
Anna went to her instinctively, kneeling byher side. She placed her hand lightly on Graham's thigh. She didn't know how tosay what she felt—how the melody enchanted her, soothed her like a gentlecaress-- how gracefully the notes flowed around her. She wanted to say thatGraham's music made her hurt somewhere inside; that she welcomed the hurtbecause she felt it so deeply she knew she was alive. Listening, she had wantedto cry, and dance, and hold someone she loved. "It's beautiful—I feltthings, I wanted things, -- things that I've never known, just fromlistening to you. It's wonderful. "
Graham was silent for a long time. Hergaze drifted beyond Anna, to another place, to another lifetime, when she waswhole and her world was filled with music. She had thought then that her worldwas filled with love, too. She knew now she had been wrong. Anna's innocentresponse to those faltering notes, not even a fragment of what she once wrotein an instant, reminded her painfully of what she was no more.
Her fingertips just brushed Anna's handwhere it lay on her leg. She looked to where she knew Anna knelt, willingherself to see her. When she couldn't, she lifted a hand to Anna's cheek.
"I wondered if you could hearsomething of what I felt. I think you do. You have been kind in your praise. Thank you. "
Anna remained motionless, concentrating onthe featherlight stroke of Graham's hand. Despite its gentleness, it affectedher deeply. The sorrow in Graham's eyes, as they searched her face unseeing, touched her even more. Was there no way at all to ease her endless torment? Shedidn't realize her hands had moved to Graham's waist, or that she leaned intoGraham's embrace as she struggled for some words to convey the emotions thatthreatened to choke her. Graham felt the heat of Anna's body close against herown.
Graham sat back abruptly, letting her handfall away, breaking their connection.
"I think I'll go in now. You musthave things to do—and I have other matters to attend to. "
Anna stifled a protest; she wasembarrassed by how much she wanted Graham to stay. Graham had already begun tomake her way back toward the house by the time Anna collected herself. Annalooked after her, confused, and hurt. Had her pitifully inadequate attempts todescribe her feelings about Graham's music offended her?
Whatever thecause of Graham's withdrawal, Anna
returned to her work feeling lonely, apenetrating
loneliness she had never before known.
The sun was nearly gone when Grahamrounded the corner of the house from the rose garden. She halted abruptly whenshe heard the kitchen door slam with a bang. Anna's angry voice carried to herclearly.
"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 tohim, not particularly disturbed by her anger. He was thinking once again what agood-looking woman she was, especially in those cotton shorts that showed offher nice tight thighs. "It's a solvent—you spray it on—"
Anna interrupted him in a deadly tone. "What was it doing on the kitchen counter?"
"Guess I left it there when I usedthe phone. " He stared at her, confused. She did seem to be a littleirritated. "You did say I could use the phone. " He gave her his bestgrin, the one that always worked with his wife.
"Yes, I did, " she said withsteely calm. "And I expressly told you that you were to leave no toolslying around, and that you were absolutely not to bring anything into thehouse. " She caught her breath, trying to control her temper. "Is itcaustic?"
"Well, you'd get a nasty burn if yousprayed yourself. But, it's clearly marked—anyone can see—"
"No, Mr. Reynolds—not anyone, "Anna exploded. "You're fired. Send me a bill for what you've done sofar. " She turned and slammed back into the house. She was shaking.
She heard the door open and whirled toconfront him. This was not open to discussion. But it was Graham instead whostood inside the door, her face grave.
"That isn't necessary, Anna, "she said quietly.
Anna was too distraught for caution. Shewas still upset over Graham's fall that morning; she had been upset ever sinceGraham deserted her so precipitously; and she was sick over finding an opencanister of toxic fluid in the kitchen where Graham insisted on preparing herown lunch. "Yes, it is necessary! That was dangerous!"
"I am quite capable—"
"Yes, you are!" Annainterrupted, her voice rising. "You are amazingly capable. I am well awarethat there isn't much that you can't do. But, damn it, Graham, you can'tsee! And there's no point in putting danger in your path. You're so stubbornand --I would hate it so if anything happened to you!" Her voice broke, but she just couldn't help it. She seemed to be on an emotional rollercoasterlately. She was moody, and she never had been before. She woke up in themorning feeling in charge of the world, only to find herself depressed andlistless by the afternoon. She hadn't felt this out of sorts in the middle ofdivorcing her husband! If something happened to Graham! To her horror she felttears threatening.
From across the room, Graham felt herdistress. "Anna, " she soothed, reaching out to her, finding hershoulders. "Look at me. "
Graham gently cupped Anna's face with herhands, her expression intent. Drawing a tremulous breath, Anna searchedGraham's face.
"I am careful—I have learned to be. Fire him because he didn't follow your orders—fair enough. But don't let my blindnessburden you with unnecessary fears. It is enough that I am a prisoner—at least, in some ways, I deserve it. "
"No! You could never—oh, Graham, no!"
Graham stilled her with the fleeting touchof one finger to Anna's lips. "It doesn't matter now—it's done. " Shesoftly brushed the hair back from Anna's neck, allowing the thick strands torun slowly through her fingers, before dropping her hands. Quietly, she said, "There are things about me you do not know, Anna - things that some mightsay warrant my fate. There may be truth in that; I've stopped asking. Whateverthe case, I can't have you become a victim of my past. You must live your lifeand not worry about mine. Promise me?"
Anna nodded, so affected by Graham's wordsthat her head was pounding.
"I'll try—I promise. "
Graham seemed satisfied and stepped back. "Thank you. "
"Graham!" Anna called as Grahamturned away, loathe for her to leave, "Do you want to finish the accountstonight?"
Graham shook her head. "No. I'll sendfor you when I'm ready. "
Anna was oddly disappointed, and suddenlythe evening ahead of her loomed long and empty. She waited all thatinterminably long day and the ones that followed for some word from Graham. None ever came.
By the time Helen entered the kitchenshortly after five am, Anna had made coffee, put bread in the oven, and waspacing restlessly in front of the window. She had barely slept and her nerveswere completely frayed.
"What are you doing up soearly?" Helen asked in surprise.
Turning abruptly, Anna asked urgently, "Helen, where is Graham? I haven't seen her in three days. I looked forher at the sea wall this morning and yesterday. She hasn't been there, or outto the gardens, and she hasn't sent for me! What is going on?"
Momentarily dismayed by Anna's distress, Helen quickly composed herself. She had been shielding Graham Yardley for agreat many years. "Why, she's in the music room. "
"The music room, " Anna repeatedstonily, trying to contain her temper. "I have never known her not to openthe terrace doors when she's in there. Why now - what's happening?"
"She's perfectly all right, "Helen insisted, although her face betrayed her uncertainty.
"Is that why you brought back thedinner trays untouched for the last two nights? Because she's all right?Damn it, Helen! Tell me!"
Helen sagged slightly, abandoning herfacade of disconcern. She sat heavily at the table, motioning for Anna to joinher.
"She is in the music room, andshe's working—she's composing—something she hasn't done since the accident. I'mnot sure it's going well. It's been so long! I bring her the trays, but shesends them away untouched; she sends me away. I know she hasn't slept. It is starting to frighten me. "
Anna looked at her disbelievingly. "I've been up to the terrace behind her study. She's not playing- the roomis dark -" Anna sighed. "Of course it would be, wouldn't it. Shedoesn't need the light. It's sound proof, too, isn't it?"
"Yes, as long as the doors areclosed. " Helen affirmed. "I don't know if you can understand whatthis means, Anna. I'm not sure I do any longer. Graham hasn't attempted a newwork since her injury. Oh, she's written fragments - those sad melodies sheplays. But nothing of any complexity, and nothing that's ever affected her likethis. I used to pray that she would work again, but now I'm not sure it's agood thing. If she can't - I'm not sure how much disappointment one soul canbear!"
"Give me the breakfast tray, "Anna said quietly.
"Oh, no, Graham wouldn't like that!"Helen protested.
"Helen, I don't give a damn if Grahamlikes it or not! Are you going to stand by for the rest of your life and watchher die a little bit more each day!?"
Helen couldn't hide her shock, and theharsh 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, drawinga shaky breath. "I can't begin to apologize! I don't know what I'm saying!I've been worried sick about her, and I just - Please, can you forgiveme?"
"It's all right, my dear. I can seethat you're upset for her. " She turned to prepare the tray. "Maybe ifI hadn't given in to her so easily all these years -" she saiduncertainly.
"No, Helen, " Anna saidcompassionately, agonizing over the words she had uttered in anger. "Graham is a formidable woman, and I doubt that you or anyone else couldhave changed her. My god, if you hadn't been here for her all this time, whoknows how she would have survived. "
Helen remained silent, thinking that Annahad done more to change Graham's life in three months than all of her ownattention over the years. She knew Anna had spoken from a place of caring, andshe was grateful at last for someone who wasn't willing to let Graham simplyslip away. Everyone else who had supposedly loved her had either been toodevastated by her tragedy or too weak to stand between Graham and her pain. WhyAnna was willing to, she didn't know. For now she was just thankful that shedid.
"Take this then, " Helen said, offering the breakfast tray. "But be prepared. You haven't yet seen Grahamwhen she's battling her demons. Her temper terrified most people. "
Graham stood before the fireplace, shoulders slumped, her arms folded along the mantle, her forehead restingagainst them. She stared down into the long cold ashes. The back of her linenshirt was rumpled and sweat-stained. From across the room, Anna could see hertrembling. Graham waved a hand distractedly, "Just leave it, Helen. "
"Not until you eat, " Anna saidas she placed the tray next to the untouched dinner left from the night before.
Graham turned in surprise. "Anna?"
"Yes, " Anna replied, strugglingfor calm. Graham's 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 gaintwenty. Her physical fragility was shocking. Anna had grown accustomed to theforce and power of Graham's presence, and to be confronted so vividly withGraham's vulnerability frightened Anna more than she could have imagined. Mygod, this is killing her! The thought was so terrifying Anna clenched herfists to keep from crying out.
"Leave it—please, " Grahamrepeated softly. She forced a smile, trying to hide her weariness. "Thengo. "
Anna took a breath, "I want you toeat first. "
Graham frowned, her body rigid withtension. "I will. Later. "
"No. Now, " Anna repeated, knowing she was on dangerous ground. She knew that no one dictated to GrahamYardley, and certainly not when she was in the midst of a creative fury. Shesteeled herself for the storm that finally arrived. Graham straightened to herfull imposing height, her dark eyes flashing fire.
"I don't have time to argue with you, Anna, nor should I have to. I am still master of this house and, if I amcorrect, you work for me. Don't interfere in something you know nothingabout!"
"I know you can't work like this-"
"You presume to speak of mywork?!" Graham shouted, slamming the piano lid down in frustration. "What do you know of my work! Could you even begin to recognize agreat piece of music, let alone understand what it takes to create one?! Do youhave any idea who I --" Graham stopped abruptly, realizing what she wasabout to say. Do you have any idea who I am? Who was she - now?
Anna would have preferred the anger to theagonizing uncertainty that she glimpsed as Graham turned from her. Helen hadvoiced what Graham obviously feared. What if she can't?
"Of course I don't know what ittakes! I can't even begin to fathom what it demands of you to create what youhave. I do know who you are, Graham, and I know you can do this. Butyou've got to stop driving yourself this way! It's only making it harder!"
Graham bowed her head, both arms braced onthe wide expanse of the silent grand piano. "Please leave me, Anna, "she said quietly, her despondency apparent.
"I can't, " Anna saiddesperately, her voice breaking. "Not like this. "
Graham ran a hand through her disheveledhair. "I didn't know you were so stubborn. "
"There's a lot you don't know aboutme, " Anna said as she moved quickly to Graham's side, grasping her hand. "Come, sit down. "
Graham allowed herself to be led to thechair. She was truly too tired to protest. She was ready to admit defeat, sheshould have known better than to try - but the music was still there, so closeto her grasp! She leaned her head back with a groan.
"Do you want champagne?" Annaasked.
Graham laughed faintly. "Isn't itmorning?"
"Yes, but for you, it's well pasttime for bed. You've been at this three days Graham - you can't keep thisup. " Anna said reasonably, trying to hide her own deep fear.
"I can't stop now, Anna. Notyet, " Graham said frantically. "I've been trying so hard to seize themusic—I think I have it, and then it's gone. " She dropped her head intoboth hands. "Perhaps I just can't do it anymore. Perhaps I am thefool. "
Anna couldn't bear to hear the defeat inher voice. She had already lost so much!
"Graham, you're tired, you're drivingyourself. Have something to eat. Rest a while. It will come. "
Graham shook her head. "I can't. If Isleep now, I may lose it all. " She was riding the thin edge of control, besieged with uncertainty, exhausted, and nearly broken.
Anna couldn't stand by and watch hersuffer any longer. "Graham, " she said softly, sliding on to the broadarm of the chair, encircling Graham's shoulder with one protective arm. "You can't lose it. It's part of you—the music is you. I know thatmuch from hearing you play. "
She slipped a hand into Graham's thickhair, massaging the cramped muscles in her neck. Graham groaned, leaning herhead back into Anna's hands.
"That's not fair, but it feels sogood, " she murmured.
"Close your eyes, " Annawhispered, a catch in her throat.
"Just for a second, " Grahamrelented. She was so very tired!
Anna kept Graham in her arms long aftershe finally gave in to sleep. Gently, Anna pushed the damp hair back from herforehead, 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. Shecontinued to stroke her hair softly as she slept. She drifted, peaceful for thefirst time in days, with Graham secure in her arms.
When Graham stirred some time later, shebecame aware of Anna's body pressed to hers. Graham's cheek rested againstAnna's shoulder, and one arm encircled Anna's firm waist. The heat from Anna'sbody surprised her. She hadn't known the closeness of another human being, norwanted it, for more years than she could remember. Anna's nearness stirredmemories, in her body and her mind, that she would rather leave buried. Sheknew she must move away; she was beginning to respond in ways she could notcontrol. Some awakening need, however, cried out for Anna's touch.
"Are you awake?" Anna queriedsoftly, absently sliding her hand down Graham's neck to rest her fingerslightly against the soft skin left bare by the open collar of Graham's shirt. She attributed the fine shiver that coursed through Graham's frame to herlingering fatigue. "Graham?"
"Mmm, " Graham murmured, struggling to hide her erratic breathing. All of her consciousness seemed to befocused on the spot where Anna's hand lay. "My headache is gone, and themusic is still there. " She didn't add that Anna's nearness was making itdifficult to concentrate on the distant melody. For some reason it didn't seemquite as urgent right now. She even began to dare hope that the notes would notdesert her.
"Ah, " Anna smiled. "Somebreakfast then, and that champagne. "
"I want to work, " Grahamprotested, struggling to rise.
Anna stilled her with a gentle hand on hershoulder.
Graham shifted in the wide chair so thatshe was facing Anna, her expression revealing her frustration. Anna longed tosmooth the wrinkles from her brow, but now that Graham was awake she washesitant to touch her. Instead, she regarded her silently, surprised by theemotions just the sight of her stirred.
"What is it?" Graham asked atlength, aware of the scrutiny.
"You have the most beautifuleyes, " Anna whispered.
Graham blushed faintly. "Thescar, " she began hesitantly, "is it very bad?"
Anna traced the scar with her finger, atlast giving in to her urge to stroke the lovely face. "No. I hardly thinkof it—except that it reminds me of how much you've been hurt. Then all I wantis to undo those hurts. I would give anything to change what happened toyou, " she finished softly.
"I don't know, Graham, " she answered, moved to honesty by the quiet intimacy they shared. "I only know that whenI look at you, I want to know you—who you are, what you feel, what makes youhappy—and I know that more than anything else, I don't want you to hurt. "She laughed rather shakily. "I don't quite understand it, but I can tellyou I feel it. "
Anna's passionate admission moved Grahamprofoundly. She could not doubt Anna's sincerity; she could hear the tears inher voice. Suddenly she was awash with conflicting needs. She could no longerignore her intense response to Anna's touch; her legs were shaking and theblood pounded insistently through her pelvis. This was desire, and that veryfact was frightening. Graham drew away slightly, her face once againexpressionless.
"You are a very kind woman, " shesaid softly.
Anna stared at her in confusion. Kindness?Whatever she felt for this woman, it was much more than kindness! She sensedGraham's withdrawal, just as she had that day in the garden. To be so close toher, and in the next moment to have that connection wrenched away, left herwith an aching hollowness that was hard to endure.
"If I eat now, will you let me getback to work?" Graham asked, moving away.
"Ofcourse, " Anna answered bleakly.
Helen approached the study with sometrepidation the next morning. Anna had been subdued the entire previous dayafter speaking with Graham. Her only comment had been, "She slept a bitand she said she would eat. If she doesn't, call me. " Anna had takenherself off to the gardens then and worked ferociously all day. When shefinally appeared in the kitchen well after dark, she sank into the chair, eyesalready half-closed. Helen had to assure her that Graham's breakfast tray hadcome back empty before she could get Anna to eat anything herself. When Annadragged 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 wrappedsoundly on Graham's door.
Graham was standing at the open Frenchdoors, obviously weary, but smiling.
Helen smiled with relief. "How areyou, my dear girl?"
"I've finished, Helen- it's only avariation, but I've finished, " she said with a note of wonder. "Thefirst real work I've done in years!"
"Oh, I'm so glad!"
Graham's expression darkened. "Yes, well—I can't be sure it's any good. I never gave it any thought before. I neverquestioned my music, never! God, what arrogance to think I dare to composeanything now!! Music, above all else, must be alive! How can I create anythingthat lives, while I, I merely exist. "
"Oh, but Graham, you arealive!"
"Am I? I've forgotten what it meansto care about anything, Helen—about you, about myself, about-- anyone. The sundoesn't warm me, the salt air no longer stings, the touch of another'shand—" Her voice faltered and she turned away. "My body has become myprison, 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 Graham'sdistress, sensing rather than knowing what tormented her. Graham nevercomplained of loneliness before there was someone to remind her of another's companionship. "It's Anna, isn't it? Something has happened. "
Graham stiffened, her face inscrutable. "No, nothing, " she said sharply. "She pities me because she iskind. That's all. "
Helen shook her head. "She is kind, you are right in that. But pity you she does not. She is too strong a womanherself to expect that you would need her pity. "
"She doesn't know me, " Grahamsaid bitterly.
"Then let her know you! You mistakecaring for pity, Graham. Let her care about you!"
"No. That is not possible, "Graham responded angrily. "For god's sake, Helen. You of all people shouldknow that! Have you forgotten who I am? Or have you merely forgotten whathappens 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 Ilook 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 herface and wondered if it wasn't too late after all for Graham Yardley to findpeace.
It was another two days before Anna sawGraham again. They were two interminable days spent trying not to wonder andworry about her difficult employer. Two days in which she tried to concentrateon her own life, only to find that Yardley, and it's compelling master, hadbecome a large part of her life. When Graham joined Anna on the terrace early onewarm afternoon, Graham greeted her cordially, but with obvious distance. ToAnna's deep regret, the woman who had walked among the flowers with Anna wasgone. Anna sensed there would be no discussion of how she had passed her time, or her plans for Yardley's renovation, or Graham's observations on the progressof the gardens. Graham Yardley was as reserved, aloof, and unapproachable asshe had been the day they met. Anna keenly missed the small intimacies they hadcome to share, aware only now of how much those moments with Graham had come tomean to her. Struggling with the crushing disappointment, she tried to acceptthat Graham wanted nothing more from her than simple secretarial assistance.
"There is a letter here foryou, " Anna said perfunctorily. "Would you like me to read it toyou?"
Graham nodded, her attention obviouslyelsewhere.
With a sigh, Anna removed several pages oflilac-colored paper, covered in script. She began to read aloud:
My darling Graham,
Forgive mefor not writing all this time, but you
never seemed to want to hear from me. I've called
many times, wishing to visit, but Helen always told me you
wouldnot see me. All these years you have never left my
mind, even though I doubtyou will believe
Anna faltered to a halt, uncomfortable with the intimate tone of the message. "This is verypersonal, Graham. Perhaps Helen should read it to you. "
"Finish it, " Graham orderedgrimly, rising so quickly that her chair toppled to the flagstone surface ofthe patio. Muttering an oath, she righted it and began pacing along the edge ofthe balcony.
Reluctantly, Anna continued to read fromthe perfume scented letter:
Richard must be in Boston for business and will have little need of mycompany. I know that after so many years it is bold of me to ask, but I want tosee you so! I would love to see Yardley again, too. I will be arriving on June6. Please, darling, say that I may come! I have missed you more than you willever know!
Graham remained silent, her hands clenched into tight fists against the stone railing. From where shewas sitting, Anna could see her tremble.
"Graham?" she questioned softly, frightened by her reaction.
"Today is the fifth of June, isn'tit?" Graham asked at length, her voice barely a whisper. She kept her faceaverted, struggling to control her emotions.
Graham turned abruptly, her eyes bleak. She clenched the head of her walking stick so tightly that the fine tendons inher hand strained against the skin. With an effort she forced her voice to becalm.
"If you don't mind, I'd like tofinish the rest of the correspondence another day. "
She had clearly been dismissed, and Annastruggled not to call out to her as Graham left. Graham had made it clear thather concern was not wanted. Nevertheless, Anna could not put the disturbingletter, nor the mysterious Christine, from her mind.
Anna spent a restless night, her sleepbroken by half-formed dreams. She awoke still tired, with a strange sense offoreboding. As much as she tried to put the infuriating Graham Yardley from hermind, she couldn't. She looked for her at the cliff's edge each morning whenshe woke; she waited for the time when Graham would push open the doors to herstudy, affording Anna a glimpse of her; she listened for her footsteps in thehall at night, unable to sleep until Graham retired. She could no more ignorethe 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 abouther. She dressed hurriedly and went to find Helen.
"Good morning, " Helen greetedher.
"Who is Christine?" Annademanded, too stressed for diplomacy.
Helen looked shocked. "Why, she'sjust someone Graham knew a long time ago. "
"Well, " Anna announced grimly, "she's coming here today. "
"What? How do you know?"Helen cried in alarm. This could only mean more trouble for all of them, andgoodness only knew what it was going to do to Graham. "Are you sure?"
"A letter came from heryesterday. "
"I see, " Helen frowned, speakingalmost to herself. "Now I understand why Graham was so out of sorts lastevening. "
"Well, I don't. " Anna seethed. "What is going on? And don't give me that 'old friend' routine. Grahamlooked like she'd seen a ghost yesterday when that letter came. "
"Well, " Helen began carefully, "they are old friends, and they haven't seen each other in years. Iimagine Graham was just surprised. "
"Helen—" Anna saidthreateningly. She knew the difference between surprise and shock. "I knowthis is Graham's private affair, but I saw what that letter did to her. Youknow better than I what she's been through this week. How much more do youthink she can take? Please, I just want to help. "
Helen realized it wasn't fair not toexplain at least as much as she could, although there were some things onlyGraham could disclose. She motioned for Anna to sit down beside her as shepoured them both some coffee. Helen spoke softly, her memories taking her backto 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 withher. I think Christine resented Graham's music; it took so much of Graham'sattention. And Christine was the kind of girl who was used to attention. Shewas always trying to drag Graham off to some party, but Graham never letanything, or anyone, come between her and her music. Believe me, they had some pretty big rows about that. Still Christine came closer to distracting Grahamthan anyone could. Graham was infatuated with her, in some way, and she triedvery hard to balance her career and her friendship with Christine. Don't get mewrong, Christine could be very charming; and I think she genuinely cared forGraham. Still, there were some pretty nasty scenes toward the end. They weret ogether the night of the accident. "
"What happened?" Anna asked, forcing her voice to be calm. Something in her rebelled at the thought ofanyone having that kind of influence over Graham. Especially not a woman whowas 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 wayhome from a post-performance reception for Graham. It was rumored they had fought at the party. When they found the car—" Helen stopped for a second, gathering herself. That horrible night still seemed like yesterday.
"The car was in a ditch. " Helencontinued. "It had rolled over. It took them a long time to get them out. Graham's body was covering Christine's. 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 didn't hear untillater that Christine had married within the year—Richard 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. "I'm sorry, that's truly all Iknow. Graham never talked about any of it, and I couldn't bring myself t o 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 sufferedthat tragic night?
"I don't know how she's 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 rhododendronswhen 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 woman's appraising gaze. She wiped the dust from her hands as she said, "No, I've only been here a few months. "
"Do you mean to say you live here?"
"Yes, I do, " Anna replied stiffly. "I'm 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 can't cope any longer, and Graham wouldn't notice if the house were falling down around her, as long as it didn't fall on the piano. " After amoments 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 Graham's injury, especially the woman who had supposedly been so close to Graham. What on earth had Grahamfound attractive in this shallow, insensitive woman? Maybe it's the fact that she's exceptionally beautiful, Anna couldn't help thinking, flushed with a possessive anger that only confused her more.
Oblivious to Anna's indignation, Christineannounced, "I've come to see Graham. Where is she?"
"I imagine she's in the music room. She usually is this time of day. If you'll give me a moment, I'll take youin. "
"Oh, there's no need, " Christinelaughed, turning toward the house. "I should have known that's where she'd 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. Hermood 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 haven't had a formal meal in there for years. And I've 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 I've 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 don't think I'll be joining you, " Anna said. She didn't think she'd enjoy watching Graham and Christine reminisce, and she didn't think she could tolerate Christine's 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 didn't 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 couldn't help but ask, as much as she had promised herselfshe wouldn't think about them.
"She's waiting for Graham in the library as Graham instructed, " Helen informed her. "Graham specifically asked me to inform you of dinner, my dear. I'm sure she expects you to be there. "
"And I don't 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 opendoor if she hadn't caught a glimpse of Graham entering the library. Annastopped in surprise when she saw her. Graham had obviously dressed with carefor her meeting with Christine. She was resplendent in a starched, finely-pleated white tuxedo shirt and formal black-striped trousers. A bloodred cummerbund encircled her narrow waist; gold and diamond cuff links sparkledon the stiff French cuffs of her sleeves. Her barber must have come, becauseher usually unruly mane was trimmed and expertly styled. She looked ready forthe concert stage, and Anna knew she had never seen any one so magnificent. IfAnna hadn't 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!" Christinecried as Graham stepped into the room. Christine rushed forward, one arm outstretched, catching Graham's right hand in hers. "Oh, my darling, you look even more exquisite than I remembered, " she said throatily.
Graham lifted Christine's hand, bowing her head to brush her lips across the soft skin.
"Hello, Christine, " shemurmured.
Christine slid her other hand into Graham's hair, raising Graham's head. "Is that any way to greet me after all this time?" she questioned breathlessly. Not waiting for a reply, shestepped forward and pressed her lips to Graham's.
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 imageof Graham's response to Christine's kiss. She kept searching for some way to lessen the terrible desolation the vision produced. She kept asking herself whyshe felt this way, and she kept running from the answer.
She finally forced herself to perform somenormal task. She was after all expected at dinner. She showered and was pullingon 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 tofind Graham standing in the hall. Graham had donned a midnight blue silk dinnerjacket. She was more than stunning. Anna tried desperately to quell the surge of jealousy, knowing that Christine had prompted this display from Graham. Whatin god's name is happening to me? she wondered frantically. I feel likeI'm losing my mind!
"Anna?" Graham questioned, surprised by the silence.
"Yes?" Anna responded, moreabruptly than she had intended. All she wanted in that moment was to get awayfrom 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 asideto allow Graham entry. "Sit down, please. The chairs are before the fireplace, where they've always been. "
Anna found Graham's expression impossibleto 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 thatChristine will be staying here at Yardley for some indefinite time, " Grahambegan in a low voice. "Apparently, she is thinking of leaving her husband and needs time to consider her future. "
Anna's heart lurched, and for once she wasglad that Graham couldn't see her face. Christine to stay at Yardley! As if it weren't 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 wastoo upset to notice that Graham did not appear overly happy with her announcement.
"Does this mean that you won't needmy services any longer?" Anna asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice from shaking. Anna's 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 wouldwant you to stay as long as you are happy here. I merely wanted to tell youabout Christine myself, so you wouldn't be surprised at dinner. " She couldn't believe that Anna would imagine she wanted her to leave. That thought wasthe farthest thing from her mind. In fact, it was unthinkable. "Anna, please don't be upset. It wasn't my intention to concern you. This has been a difficult day for me. I'm sorry. "
For the first time, Anna noticed the tremor in Graham's hands. Her resolve to distance herself from Graham disappeared as soon as she recognized Graham's distress. She was helpless inthe face of Graham's need. She simply couldn't bear to see her like this. Grasping Graham's hand, she said softly, "It's all right. Please don't worry about me. "
Graham held Anna's hand for a moment, her head bowed. Abruptly she rose and began pacing. "I couldn't turn her away, Anna. Not after—after all we'd been to each other. " She sighed, knowingher words were inadequate. How could she begin to explain what she could barelygrasp herself? When she heard Christine's letter the day before, she had been plunged instantly back into that dark night, into the twisted wreckage of hercar. Her last memory was of Christine trying to escape from her. She hadimagined Christine's 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 Christine's 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 desireto 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 Anna's arrival were her only clear moments in the long torturous years since her world had shattered. Only the fragrance of the flowers, and thememory of Anna's 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 sheshould 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 sun's rays on her skin she returned to the house for her preparations.
It was important to her that Christine seeher 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 hadclaimed to have loved her. It seemed from Christine's greeting that she hadsucceeded in that at least. Christine's kiss still lingered on her lips, andthe words that followed were still fresh in her mind.
"I've 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 inthe world to take Christine into her arms, to bend her head to the lips sheknew 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 Christine's 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 Graham's mercurial moods. "You don't believe I've missed you, do you, darling?"
"Perhaps if it had been a year, or two, or even ten, " Graham replied without anger, for strangely she feltnone, "I might have. "
Christine slowly traced the faint scar across Graham's forehead, then reached up to kiss her lips once more. "Give me time. I'll make you believe again, " she whispered.
Graham shook her head, in disbelief then, in wordless frustration now. She new Anna was waiting. "I'm sorry, Anna. I wish I could explain. There's simply nothing I can say. "
"That's all right, " Anna saidstiffly. "You don't need to say anything. She is clearly important to you, and it certainly isn't necessary to justify yourself to me. " She knew shesounded cold, but she couldn't help it. She wasn't even certain what botheredher so much about Christine's return. If Christine could ease Graham's deep desolation, if she could restore some happiness to Graham's life, Anna shouldbe 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 verythings that seemed to ease Graham's discomfort - her physical reserve, heremotional distance, and now Christine's presence - were the same things thatmade Anna so miserable!!
"I'll be down for dinner, Graham, " Anna said wearily.
Grahamstarted to speak, then merely sighed. "Yes. "
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 placesettings. The formality of the scene was more than a little daunting. Anna reminded herself that there had been much more to Graham's previous life thanshe had gleaned from the newspaper accounts. The understated way Graham lived at Yardley now was a far departure from her earlier life. She was aworld-renowned artist, recognized in every civilized country, and surely she would have traveled in the most elite circles. She would have been feted atevery turn. It made Anna wistful to think she would never know that part ofGraham.
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. Theonly person who would miss their moments together was herself. She felt at oncehelpless and irrationally saddened.
"My don't you look nice!" Helen exclaimed as she bustled into the room, mercifully delivering Anna from her ntrospection.
"Helen!" Anna greeted her with relief. "You must have been working for hours in here! It's wonderful. "
Helen beamed with pleasure as she began setting up the large buffet along one side of the room. "You're right, it did! And it couldn't have been a happier chore. For just a moment there this morning, when she was telling me what she wanted done, Graham seemed like herold self. "
Helen had no idea that her words had wounded Anna, who instantly thought that all it had taken to motivate Graham's recovery was Christine's return. Helen continued, unaware of Anna's 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 doesn't seem right! Ifonly I had time I could have found help!"
"I don't have much experience, but Icould 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 thedoor, having heard Anna's remark. "I'm sure we can all manage ourselves just this once, Helen. "
Anna turned at the sound of Graham's voice, her heart freezing at the sight of Graham and Christine together. Christine, who had changed into a revealing black evening dress, stood with herarm wrapped through Graham's, leaning slightly so that her body pressed againstGraham's side. They made a stunningly attractive couple, and Anna had to admit that's 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 muchinvolved with Christine.
"At least let me help you setup, " she said to Helen, grateful for any diversion.
"Thank you, dear, " Helen replied kindly. Anna's reaction to Graham's entrance had not escaped her. She could only imagine what the poor girl was thinking. And she probably didn't know Graham well enough to know that Graham was behaving exactly as she would withany guest at Yardley.
"You really didn't need to open the guest room for me, Helen, " Christine commented as she allowed Graham toseat her to Graham's right at the table. She smiled without the slightest trace of warmth, her gaze fixed on Anna. "It wasn't necessary, you know. "
Anna glanced at Graham, whose faceremained expressionless. But Christine had made her point, if she wanted tomake it clear where she intended to sleep. Why she felt it necessary that Annaunderstand her claim on Graham, Anna couldn't 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 Christine's needs and unfailingly courteous, remained distant and distracted throughout the meal. Christine appeared not to notice Graham's preoccupation, regaling them withsocial gossip and endless anecdotes of her travels. It did not escape Anna'snotice that Christine never mentioned anything remotely to do with music. Forher part, Anna had nothing to contribute, and remained silent. She breathed asigh of relief when at last she could depart with the excuse of helping Helen clear the table.
"You know you don't have to do this, dear, " Helen chided when Anna joined her in the kitchen. " But I doappreciate it. "
"I work here, too, " Anna said, more sharply than she intended. "Believe me, it's a pleasure compared tositting in there. "
Helen studied her speculatively. "Igather the company wasn't to your liking, " she commented mildly.
"It was wonderful to finally share ameal with Graham, " Anna admitted. Anna had enjoyed Graham's presenceimmensely, despite Graham's obvious distraction. She only wished it hadn'trequired Christine's arrival to prompt Graham to join them.
"Christine can be a bit overbearing, but you must remember she's 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 don't 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 she'll be cutting her meat! You know very well Graham doesn't need that kind of help!!"
"Maybe that's 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 Graham's intensity. If she were to truly confront Graham's needs now, she would be overwhelmed. "
Well, she certainly seems to be meeting some of Graham's needs without any problems! Anna thought angrily. She knew she couldn't discuss Christine rationally, not with the scene in the library so fresh in her memory.
"I don't know what I'm saying any longer, " Anna said wearily. "I think I just need to get some rest. I'm 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 Anna's presence.
"Why don't you play something for me, darling?" she asked, grasping Graham's hand.
Graham could have been carved from marble, she was so still. Slowly, she disengaged Christine's fingers from hers, moving Christine's hand to the crook of her arm. When she spoke, her voice was carefully neutral. "I think not. I need to work. "
"Surely you're 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 you'll 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 couldn't concentrate. She dozed off in her chair, only to be awakened by a noise in the hall. She knew Graham's 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 Christine—thatwas the real reason she had secluded herself for so many long and lonely years.
Anna wasn't disturbed by the physical nature of their relationship, but she was stunned by her own response to that kiss. She couldn't 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 tohow 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. Anna's emotions were in turmoil. One thing she knew for certain—she 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, andwent 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 offeet up the cliff. The air was so sharp it stung her skin. The wind blew harderhere, 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 ofthis cliff, Graham Yardley was not blind.
Anna leaned against the crumbling stonewall that rimmed the cliff and cried. She cried for Graham, for all she hadbeen, 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 criedthe harsh wind dried her tears. When the first faint wisps of summer sunlightflickered 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 that's where Graham found her.
"Anna?" came the deep voice shecould 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?" sheasked quietly.
Graham smiled faintly. "The air movesdifferently when you're near. "
"You should have been a poet, not apianist, " Anna breathed around the tears that threatened again. "Although maybe there isn't any difference. Please, sit down. "
Graham acquiesced, stretching her longlegs out before her, leaning back with a sigh. Her hand lightly grazed Anna'sshoulder where she rested it along the top of the bench.
"How is your work coming?" Annaasked, unsettled by Graham's nearness, but loath to move away.
Graham shrugged tiredly. "I wish Iknew. I'm trying only to capture the essence of what I'm hearing. I don't dareanalyze it yet. I'm afraid to discover it is trash. "
"Have you slept?"
"Ah, Anna - always so concerned. Whydo you care?" she asked not unkindly. Anna's caring confounded her. Manypeople 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 kindnessnow, when she was bereft of all her talents, she could not comprehend.
"Because I -" Anna hesitatedover words she was not prepared to face. "Because you deserve to be caredabout Graham. And you're avoiding my question. Did you sleep?"
"As much as one can in one of thosegodforsaken chairs from the last century, " Graham admitted. "Anna, " she continued with a weary sigh, "tell me about somethingyou love. Tell me about something beyond my view. "
As Anna spoke, Graham's tension ebbed, andher breathing grew quiet and deep. Anna told of her favorite cities, the moviesthat made her cry, and the books she had read a dozen times. She talked of herfamily, and her friends, and her dreams. She talked long after she thoughtGraham was asleep, because she wanted to keep her near, because it pleased herto imagine that some part of Graham heard her secrets. When at last she fellsilent, the day was fully born.
"So, " Graham murmured, to Anna'ssurprise awake after all, "You love New York City, French movies withsubtitles, 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 shepushed herself upright. "I can tell that you do. " She frowned as sheturned her gaze toward the old house. "Is it seven-thirty yet?"
"Seven-twenty, " Anna confirmed.
"I must say good bye then. I have abreakfast engagement. "
Anna spoke without thinking. "SurelyChristine will understand if you get some sleep! You've been up allnight!"
"I'm afraid that Christine never hadany patience when my work disrupted her plans, " Graham remarked calmly. "I'm sure that's one thing that hasn't changed. "
She leaned to brush her hand along Anna'sshoulder. "Thank you for these moments of peace, Anna. I'll see you atdinner. "
With that she was gone, and Anna was leftwith an empty day looming ahead.
When Anna returned from running errands, grateful for any mindless task to divert her thoughts from Graham, she wasunreasonably glad to see that Christine's jaguar was no longer parked in thedrive. Just the sight of it was unsettling. Instead, the familiar truck bearingthe logo Womenworks was parked in it's place. Daphne Herrald and hertwo-woman crew were the landscapers she had hired for the heavy clearing andhauling that needed to be done. She not only liked their work, she liked thewomen. They were working full-time at Yardley now, and Anna planned on keepingthem on part-time after the summer. They were fast, efficient and friendly. Andmost importantly, they seemed to appreciate Graham's special circumstances. Itwas impossible to tell when Graham might take it upon herself to stroll downone of the many garden paths, or decide that she wanted something from thekitchen garden. After Graham's mishaps with her own carelessness, and the neardisaster with the painter, Anna was always worried. Without Anna watching overthem, these women were meticulous with their tools and careful to clean upafter themselves.
Anna noticed Graham and Daphne deep inconversation as she rounded the corner from the drive. Graham, leaning one hipagainst the balustrade in her familiar stance, hands in pockets, smiled down atDaphne 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 themaster of Yardley Manor. Daphne and the women on her crew made it no secretthat they were lesbians, and it certainly hadn't mattered one way or the otherto Anna—until now. If Daphne wasn't looking at Graham with something very closeto lust in her eyes, Anna was sadly mistaken.
The low-pitched murmur of Graham'ssonorous voice reached her, and as always, Anna was stirred by it. SeeingGraham and Daphne together, as innocent as it surely was, made Anna realize howmuch Graham's physical presence affected her. She had thought her strikinglyhandsome from the first night they met. She found herself captivated by thedelicacy and sinewy strength of Graham's hands as she sketched a phrase in theair. The wind blowing Graham's hair into disarray always left Anna wanting tobrush the locks off her forehead. And she could scarcely look into Graham'sfathomless dark eyes without feeling something twist deep within her.
She nearly gasped as all the images whichwere Graham cascaded through her—and left her unmistakably wanting her. In thatinstant, she understood fully her aversion to Christine. It was knowing thatGraham had once loved her—perhaps did still—and the fact that Graham touchedher with love. Anger raged within her when she thought of Graham wasting herprecious passion on someone who did not cherish it - on someone who hadabandoned her when Graham's need was greatest. Anna understood with suddenstartling clarity exactly what she wanted—Graham's passion, in all its forms, for herself. The insight was so undeniable that it left her staggered. Shecouldn't question her desire, her body ached with it.
She turned away from the women in thegarden. Her reaction to the sight of Daphne and Graham together followed tooclosely on the heels of Christine's arrival. She seemed to be assaulted atevery turn with her longing for Graham, and the impossibility of her desire. Foolishly, she had allowed herself to believe that Graham felt something of theconnection she herself could not deny each time she saw her, or heard her stepin the hall, or her music in the air. She should have known that for a woman ofGraham's intensity and unrelenting passion, her love for Christine would beinextinguishable.
Anna fled into the house, desperatelytrying to escape her own heart. She stood unpacking groceries, her mind strangelyblank when a short rap on the door interrupted her.
"Hey!" Daphne said as she pushedopen the door. "I thought I saw you drive up—can I talk to you asec?"
Anna nodded distractedly. "Sure. "
"You're getting a lot of soil erosionon the edges of the paths -- especially on the back slopes. What do you thinkabout putting in some ground cover along there? It's labor intensive to do theplanting, but in the end it will preserve the area, " Daphne stated. Shelooked at Anna curiously when she didn't answer. "Anna? You okay?"
Anna forced herself to focus. "Yes, sure—ground cover? I had noticed that—but there's so much around here thatneeds attention, it just slipped my mind. Did you speak to Graham?"
Daphne looked surprised. "No, whywould I? You hired me. You make the decisions. "
"I just thought—I saw you talking toGraham when I came home—" her voice trailed off uncertainly. God, she wasa mess!
"Oh, that was just small talk. I raninto her out back, she asked me how things were going. She's always so—charming, you know? Every woman in my crew has a crush on her!" she said with alaugh.
"Including you?" Anna asked, trying to match Daphne's light tone.
Daphne studied Anna carefully. She lookedshaken and pale. "Oh hell—is that what you're thinking? I have a lover I'mnuts about, and we've got two great kids. Graham is fascinating, not to mentiongorgeous, and I do think she's incredibly attractive—but looking is asfar it goes with me. "
Anna busied herself with unpacking, avoiding Daphne's intense gaze. "It's none of my business anyway. I didn'tmean to put you on the spot. "
"I assumed you two were lovers, "Daphne said, a question in her voice.
"No, " Anna whispered almost toherself. 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 I'm wrong. " Daphne shrugged, flashing hertrademark grin. "But what the hell. After twenty years of seeing women inall stages of togetherness, you get a sense for it. It's the way you arearound each other. Your face lights up whenever she appears. Your eyes followher whenever she's in sight. I know damn well it kills you every time she headsdown that goddamned slope to the cliff. I can tell you stop breathing. It takesmore guts than I've got to watch her do that without screaming. "
"Graham doesn't leave you anychoice, " Anna murmured, "she doesn't know how to be anything butproud. "
Daphne nodded. "I've never met anyonelike her. She listens for you, you know. In the middle of our conversation justnow I saw her smile, and her whole body relaxed just a little. Ten secondslater I heard your jeep. She'd been listening for you to come home. She knowshow to find you when you're in the garden. She walks right to you. How does shedo that?"
"I don't know, " Anna sighed. "I don't think I know anything about anything anymore. "
Daphne considered letting it go, but Annalooked so miserable. Graham had seemed pretty frayed too. "First timeyou've ever been in love with a woman?" she asked kindly.
Hearing it put so matter of factly gaveher pause. "I've never been in love before, " she said after a moment, knowing it was true.
"Sometimes, " Daphne continuedcautiously, "it's just a false alarm. "
Anna met Daphne's gaze steadily, a muscle tighteningin her jaw. "No. "
Daphne could tell she meant it. Andsomething was really wrong. Anna's usually clear blue eyes were clouded withpain, her face was drawn and tired, and she looked on the verge of breakinginto tears.
"Does she know how you feel abouther?"
Anna studied her hands, her cheekscoloring. "It's not that simple. Graham is - complicated. She was horriblyhurt. " She took a deep breath, smiling tremulously. "I don't thinkGraham gives me much thought. "
"This is serious, isn't it?"Daphne asked softly.
"I wish I could help—" Daphnebegan.
Anna appreciated her sympathy, but sheinterrupted her with a shake of her head. Even before Christine's arrival, Annanoticed a reticence in the way Graham treated her. She was always welcoming andseemed to enjoy Anna's company—but still there was the distance. Just when Annathought Graham was becoming more comfortable with her, something would causeher to withdraw. Anna was never sure what she had said, or what painful memoryshe had triggered. Often Anna's encounters with Graham left her unsettled, andshe was slowly becoming aware of an inner void that seemed to deepen each day. With Christine here now, and Graham's apparent attachment to her, there seemedto be little room for Anna in Graham's life. She smiled at Daphne ruefully.
"Theonly one who can help is Graham. "
In the days that followed Anna saw littleof Graham. She kept to her usual routine, spending time with Helen in themorning, 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 asthey walked about the grounds, or sat together on the terrace in theafternoons. Graham spent every evening, if not the entire night, alone in herstudy.
Aside from the times Graham deniedChristine entry to the music room, Christine was never far from Graham's side, and her possessive attitude was intolerable for Anna. Anna tried her best to bepolite, but the sight of them together, Christine constantly touching Graham insome way, made her irrationally angry. And that made her even moreshort-tempered. After all, it was none of her concern if Graham Yardley behavedlike a fool around that woman! She began to wonder how much more she couldendure. She tried to avoid them as much as possible, even taking her meals withHelen in the late afternoon, offering excuses as to why she couldn't be presentfor the now routine dinner gatherings.
The worst parts of her day were theevenings. Although she usually worked until she was physically exhausted, shedidn't 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 eludedher. Every time someone passed in the hall she couldn't help thinking it wasChristine, 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, orGraham herself might pass in the hall, but she was anything but rational. Shewas driving herself crazy imaging Christine in Graham's bed!
She threw down the book she had beentrying to read for three nights in a row and snatched her denim jacket from thecoat rack by her door. Despite the warm early summer days, evenings by the seawere still cool. She needed to walk off her anxiety and deepening sense ofdespair. Unconsciously, she took the meandering path through the lower slopesof the back property, skirting along the sea wall. Yardley stood severalhundred yards uphill, and with its lights flickering through the trees, it casta magical shape against the darkening sky. As if to accompany that otherworldlyaura, Anna caught the strains of a wistful melody floating in the air. Shebegan the steep climb up the wildly overgrown track toward the source. Theterrace doors stood open to the darkness of the night, which blended into theblackness inside the music room. Graham was alone, playing.
Anna leaned against the balustrade on thefar side of the terrace, listening, straining for some glimpse of the woman inthe shadows. The melancholy tenor of the music seemed to echo her own internalanguish. She made no effort to stop the tears. She had no idea how long shestood there, joined with Graham in some unnamed longing, when a voice quitenear startled her from her reverie.
"She is absolutely magnificent, isn'tshe?" Christine remarked casually as she joined Anna on the terrace.
"Yes, " Anna said softly, havingno reason to deny what the entire world had recognized. Only a few of hercaliber born each century, one reviewer had said.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about hermusic, " Christine laughed. "But then I'm sure you've noticed what anexquisite specimen she is. You seem to have developed quite an appreciation forall her attributes. Believe me, in her case, her genius extends beyond thepiano. She brings that remarkable intensity to absolutely everything shetouches. And everyone. Fortunately Graham was too seduced by her music tonotice anyone for more than a night or two- before me of course. " Shelaughed, appraising Anna in the dim light of the moon. She found Anna naturallylovely, with her work hardened body, feminine yet strong, and her clear eyesand shimmering hair. She was the type Christine had amused herself with overthe years since Graham. Under other circumstances - she thought briefly, then reminded herself of her intentions.
"Now you did surprise me atfirst, " she continued mockingly. "I wouldn't have thought you'd findGraham to your tastes, although God knows women of all persuasions used tothrow themselves at her. And living here with her - I can imagine thatwould be a temptation even if women weren't your usual pleasure. "
"I was just on my way in, " Annasaid as she made to leave. She had no intention of allowing Christine to goadher into a discussion of her feelings for Graham. And she was in real danger ofdoing her bodily harm if she stayed.
"You're no match for the competition, you know, " Christine said lightly.
Anna stopped abruptly, incensed. "Iam not competing with you, " she seethed.
Christine laughed, tossing her head indismissal. "Perhaps not, although from the way you look at her I thinkyou're deluding yourself. Unfortunately, Graham has no way of knowing what's inyour eyes, does she?" She pushed away from the balcony railing, steppingquite close to Anna as she did so. Anna could smell her fragrant perfume. "I wasn't speaking of myself, although knowing Graham, I have no concerns. I'd wager she's much too honorable to take you to her bed just for sport. Although I'm sure you wouldn't take much convincing, would you?" She ran afinger lightly down Anna's arm, laughing again when Anna hastily pulled away. "She is too hopelessly romantic to let old passions fade, and unlike you, I'm not above physical persuasion. Regardless of what she says, her body neverlies. "
She touched Anna's hand ever so lightly asshe passed into the night. "I was speaking of the music, my dear innocent- the music is Graham's true mistress. "
With that she was gone, leaving Anna tostare after her with a mixture of anger and pity. She had issued some kind ofwarning, although Anna couldn't imagine why she felt it necessary. God onlyknew, Anna was no threat to Christine's claim on Graham's affections. Whatamazed her was that a woman who had supposedly loved Graham Yardley for overtwo decades did not understand what Anna realized the moment she heard Grahamplay. Music was not Graham's mistress, music was Graham's life. To love Grahamwas to welcome the force that sustained her, even though the struggle to createit threatened to destroy her. Anna could no more be jealous of Graham's musicthan she could be jealous of Graham's indomitable will, or her passionateardor, or her sensitive spirit. The day the music truly deserted her would bethe day Graham's heart ceased to beat. Anna prayed for the day the music wouldflow again from Graham's soul, for only then would she truly be healed.
Anna glanced once more into the darkenedroom, imagining Graham absorbed in the sound, comforted by her nearness.
Graham's music lingered in Anna's mindthroughout the morning as she occupied herself with outside work. She spentmost of the time with contractors and subcontractors and by noon she was readyfor a break. She wandered down to the stone bench under the huge sycamore, recalling wistfully the afternoon she and Graham had spent there. She turnedfrom the memory of the brief closeness they had shared. It only made their estrangementharder. She stretched out on the bench in the dappled shade afforded by theoverhanging branches, draped one arm over her eyes, and slept.
When she slowly approached consciousnessagain, she was aware she was not alone. Even without opening her eyes, shesensed 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. Graham looked weary in a way thatwent beyond fatigue, but the strain belied by a tightness in her fine jaw wasabsent. She seemed strangely peaceful. Graham turned her head toward Anna'svoice with a soft smile, a smile that eased the tension from her face. Anna'sheart turned over at the sight of her vulnerable beauty.
"Not long - an hour, I think, "Graham replied.
"What have you been doing?" Annaasked tenderly, brushing a stray twig from Graham's dark hair.
Graham shuddered involuntarily at thelight touch that strayed unintentionally against her cheek. As often asChristine touched her, nothing she did affected her like this. Graham felt thefirst tingle of caution even as she warmed to the touch. She must take carewhere Anna was concerned, yet she couldn't seem to do without her company. These last few weeks since Christine's arrival had been doubly hard. She had tocontend with Christine's constant demands for her attention, and her persistentattempts to rekindle Graham's ardor. Along with that, Graham had little time tospend with Anna. She missed her humor, and her compassion, and her wonderfulway of bringing life to Graham's inner vision. Just her quiet, soothing tonebrought Graham some semblance of calm. Graham found she even missed Anna'sundauntable insistence that she sleep, or eat, or get out of the sun - the kindof demand Graham had never accepted of anyone. She had been lonely for a kindof connection she no longer thought she needed. She tried to ignore the growingagitation and discomfort for days, but finally, almost against her will, shehad gone in search of her young employee. Finding her asleep, she had beencontent just to be near her.
"I was listening to you breathe, thinking that the cadence was much like a refrain. Suddenly the music I've beentrying to compose began pouring through my mind, " Graham said slowly, asif speaking in a dream. She was amazed at how easily it had come, after all thesolitary struggle night after night to no avail, just by sitting quietly with asleeping woman. "I've just been here listening, " she finished quietly.
Anna watched the transformation ofGraham's face as she spoke. The tense muscles softened, the fine lines abouther eyes and lips relaxed, and suddenly she looked years younger. When Grahamsighed and leaned her head back, it took all of Anna's control not to guideGraham's head into her lap. She wanted to hold her desperately. Only her fearthat Graham would retreat, as she had so often, stilled her hand.
"I'm so happy for you, " Annasaid quietly.
Graham reached for Anna's hand, taking herby surprise. "I believe that you are. " She brushed her lips softlyacross Anna's hand, then laid it gently down. With a sigh, she pushed herselfupright. There were issues she needed to attend to, no matter how pleasant hermoments here had been.
"I have consented to Christine'sdesire to give a small dinner party in honor of Helen's birthday. I would likeyou to attend, " Graham stated flatly.
"Oh Graham, I don't think so! I don'treally belong there -" Anna said in a rush. She couldn't imagine a worsescenario. Trapped with Christine at some formal affair!
Graham shook her head slightly. "You dobelong. Helen cares for you a great deal, and you are a part of this household. I want you there. "
Still Anna protested. "I workfor you, Graham - I'm not part of your social world. "
"I have no social world, Anna, "Graham remarked darkly, all semblance of her recent serenity gone. "Therewill be some family friends, people Helen has known for years, and some recentacquaintances of Christine. If it weren't for the fact that Helen has hadprecious little thanks for the task of looking after Yardley all this time, Iwouldn't hear of it. " She ran a hand through her hair, glowering at somedistant vision, before she continued wearily, "It will be difficult enoughfor me - I need you there. "
Anna could not fathom the reason, butthere was little she could do in the face of Graham's direct plea. "Ofcourse, I'll be there. "
Grahamnodded. "Good. " Looking as if she were about to
leave, she turnedabruptly and cast Anna a serious look.
"And I'll expect you at dinner fromnow on, Anna.
Every night. " Not waiting for a reply, she stepped out
fromthe shadow of the tree, disappearing into the bright
sunlight, leaving Annastaring after her.
Guests had gathered in the foyer of theballroom, which had been opened and refurbished under Anna's watchful directionall that week. Helen, as the honoree, was seated on a plush velvet sofa, conversing with friends and sampling the ample hor d'ouerves and champagne. Tuxedo-clad young women moved through the crowd offering food and drink. Annakept one eye on the kitchen, making sure the caterers had every thing theyneeded, 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, neitherGraham nor Christine had arrived. She was about to signal the maitre d' tobegin seating people when a low murmur of excitement rippled throughout thecrowd. Anna had no doubt of the cause. She looked to the top of the curvingmarble staircase for confirmation.
Graham and Christine were descending. Christine, her gloved hand resting on the sleeve of Graham's extended arm, wasdressed in a low-cut evening gown, accentuating her figure while revealing agood deal of décolletage. Graham was a study in understated elegance in atuxedo of soft dove gray silk, white tie, white silk brocade vest and tails. Whereas Christine, radiantly beautiful, drew the attention of the majority ofthose gathered, Anna could not take her eyes off Graham. As they reached thebottom stair, Graham handed Christine down into a crowd of well-wishers, obviously friends Christine had acquired since she and Graham parted. Grahammoved away, remarking politely to those who stopped to greet her, yetdetermined to avoid conversation. If you didn't know her, you would not havethought this was her first social gathering since her injury. She lookedperfectly composed and entirely in command. Anna, who knew differently, coulddetect the signs of strain from across the room. As unobtrusively as possible, she made her way through the crowd to Graham's side.
"Helen is sitting on the divan justto the left of the entrance, " Anna said. "I haven't had a chance totalk with her this evening, there have been so many people I don't know. Perhaps you could see me over and pave the way for me?"
"And perhaps rescue myself from theperilous chore of trying to get from here to there on my own?" Grahamasked cynically. At Anna's swift intake of breath, Graham realized she hadstruck out at the wrong person. Anna had offered her a way to preserve herdignity without sacrificing her pride. It had been pride that had gotten herinto this situation to begin with. Christine handled the fact of Graham'ssightlessness by ignoring it, and had not considered what the evening woulddemand of Graham. Graham couldn't bring herself to tell Christine she wouldn'tbe able to manage in such a large gathering without help. Given enough time tofamiliarize herself with an area, she could accomplish an astounding degree ofindependence. With the workers in and out of the dining area and ballroom allweek, there simply hadn't been the opportunity. Now she could not safely moveabout on her own. She had no doubt that Christine would have been solicitous ofher every need, and by allowing that, Graham would have been diminished in herown eyes, if not that of every person there. "You are quite astute, Anna. You seem to have gleaned the obstacles my infirmity presents, " she continuedself-mockingly. "It would not do to have me stumbling about. "
Anna, stressed herself from the pressuresof the evening as well as the constant visage of Graham and Christineeverywhere she turned, didn't even try to control her anger. "You are the leastinfirm person I know, " she seethed. "What you are is too damnpig-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 abovethat?"
Graham's only response was to raise oneelegant eyebrow. "Clearly I have done something to offend you. Whateverthat 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 wayacross the room!" Anna snarled. "I'm too tired to argue you with youwhen you're in one of these stubborn, insufferably arrogant moods!"
Graham caught Anna's hand as Anna wasabout to turn away. Anna stared in amazement at the fingers lightly graspinghers. How on earth does she do that?
"Now is not the time to discuss mymoods or your opinion of them. I don't want to argue with you, nor do I wish tooffend you further. I would, however, be honored to escort you to the receptionline, and to dinner, " Graham continued as if Anna hadn't just railed ather 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 pressedaround them. After a moments' hesitation, Anna slipped her fingers aroundGraham's forearm.
"What about Christine?" Annaasked as she and Graham made their way through the crowd. Graham wasexquisitely sensitive to the pressure of Anna's hand, and had no troubleguiding them through the crowd from the faint cues Anna transmitted through hertouch. From the first time Anna had taken her arm to walk with her through thegardens, there had been that effortless communication. She doubted that Annaeven realized the extent to which she provided Graham with a sense of her surroundings.
"Christine has never lacked forescorts at these affairs. She'll soon have some young woman - or man -enthralled. You need have no concern about her. " Anna wasn't so sure asshe caught Christine's angry glance at them from across the room.
Nevertheless, the meal passeduneventfully, and Helen was obviously having a wonderful time. She couldn'twait to usher everyone into the ballroom where a string quartet was waiting toprovide 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 thefirst dance with her.
"Oh my goodness, no! You are much tootall for me and far too good a dancer! I'd much rather watch you dance, "she cried fondly.
"I think not, Helen, " Grahamreplied flatly.
"You must dance with Anna at least, Graham, " Helen chided. "It's only proper that you do. She is here atyour request, after all, and unescorted. Besides, she looks so lovelytonight!"
"Does she?" Graham murmured, thinking of the last time she had danced. It had been with Christine at thereception following what was to be her last concert. To her surprise, shecouldn't remember what it had felt like.
"Oh yes, " Helen enthused. "She has done something with her hair - it's pinned up in some way, and itshows off her face so nicely. She has beautiful cheekbones, rather like amodel. She's a golden tan from the sun, and seems to glow- naturally. To mymind she's 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 it'scut down off her shoulders in a - well, I wouldn't exactly say it's revealing, but she does have an attractive figure. "
"Where is she?" Graham broughtherself to ask.
"Just inside the door- to your right. And there's 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 ittook for Graham to make this appearance tonight, and what it required for herto preserve her pride.
"Thank you, Helen, " Graham saidas she bent to kiss her softly on the cheek.
Helen held her breath as she watchedGraham make her way toward Anna. She needn't have worried. Graham's instinctwas unerring. Within a moment she was at Anna's side. The orchestra was justbeginning the opening waltz.
"Would you honor me with thisdance?" Graham asked as she offered her hand to Anna with a slight bow.
Anna was nearly speechless. She had neverdanced with a woman before, and to dance with Graham, alone, in front of allthese people! "Surely Christine will expect this dance!!" was all shecould manage.
Graham straightened, a flicker of irecrossing her fine features. "Christine is neither mistress of this housenor of me. It is not for her to decide. Now will you give me thisdance?"
The guests who ringed the room recededfrom Anna's view. All she could see was the woman before her, handoutstretched, waiting. Graham was imperiously commanding, handsome beyonddescription, and intently focused on Anna. Anna could no more have denied herthan she could have stopped her own heartbeat.
"Yes, " Anna said softly, takingthe 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 Annastepped into her arms, Anna knew only gently swirling motion and the warmth ofGraham's body against her. She was unaware of those watching but she wasacutely aware of every facet of Graham's presence. She felt the rise ofGraham's chest against her own breasts, the faint pressure of Graham's thighagainst her leg, and the possessive press of Graham's hand on her back. She hadnever felt so intimately connected to anyone in her life. The sensations slowlycoalesced into an ache of desire.
"You're shaking, " Grahammurmured.
Anna laughed unsteadily against Graham'sshoulder, praying her arousal wasn't so obvious. "I think it's nerves. Just don't let go of me. "
Graham bent her head until her lipsbrushed the hair at Anna's temple. "I wouldn't dream of it, " shewhispered. She drew her close, and their bodies moved effortlessly together.
Christine watched them dance. They fittogether well - too well. Graham held Anna protectively within the circle ofher arms, her cheek nestled against Anna's fair hair. Anna's eyes were closed, her left hand softly, unconsciously, stroking the stray wisps of Graham'sunruly black mane where it brushed against her collar. She trembled visibly, and Christine knew perfectly well why. She had felt the power of Graham'spresence herself, and knew what it was to melt with desire in her arms. Annaand Graham melded to one another like lovers, although she was certain Grahamhad not yet conceived of it. Might never accept it. But Christine had nointention of leaving that up to fate. When the dance ended she intended toreassert her claim on the errant master of Yardley Manor.
Anna was the first one awake the nextmorning. She was glad she wouldn't have to face anyone, not even Helen. Shedoubted that she would have been able to hide her feelings under anycircumstances. Last nights events were still too fresh and her anger toopotent.
The dance with Graham had literally left hergasping. When at last other couples began to join them, Graham quickly steeredthem off the floor and out onto the balcony that extended along one entire sideof the ballroom. Candles in glass holders cast a dim light over the area. Theywalked to the rail and stood side by side facing outward. Their hands werenearly touching on the rail.
"You're a wonderful dancer, "Anna managed when at last she could control her breathing. She glanced atGraham, who appeared lost in thought. After a long pause Graham seemed to haveheard the remark. She smiled faintly.
"Thank you. You are easy tolead, " she said. After some hesitation, she continued. "And you arealso easy to follow. I must apologize for my 'pig-headed' behavior earlier thisevening. You were right in surmising that I needed help. I couldn't bringmyself to ask. There was a time, Anna, when the world was mine to command, andno one ever suggested otherwise. Now, I continue as if I were still thatperson- stubborn arrogance I think you said. "
It was clearly a struggle for her to admitthis much, and Anna had no need for her to humble herself. "It's alright, Graham, " Anna interrupted her quietly. "I can't begin to imagine howdifficult this evening must have been. It pleased me to help in some small way. Besides, if you weren't so stubborn, I probably wouldn't -" She stoppedabruptly, embarrassed by what she had been about to say. She was rapidly losingall semblance of control around this woman! There was no denying what hadhappened to her as they danced, what was happening to her now. Graham'snearness aroused her in a way she had never known. She had wanted Graham totouch her so much she was afraid the entire room would know. All she wanted nowwas to be in her arms again.
Graham tilted her head, waiting for thewords that didn't come. She sensed Anna's hesitation, and thought her stilloffended. She had no way of knowing Anna was struggling to keep from caressingher.
"What is it?" she asked as thesilence lengthened. "Anna, have I made you that angry?"
Graham flinched in surprise when Annastepped closer, Anna's hands on Graham's shirt front. She had known as theydanced that she was on dangerous ground. The feel of Anna in her arms hadawakened her senses. She had allowed herself the brief touch of her lips toAnna's temple. What she had wanted was to claim her mouth. Anna's hands on hernow rekindled desire so long buried it was almost painful to experience. Shecaught her breath at the paroxysm of arousal, clenching her jaw against theswift burning spasm.
"You've a stud that's comeloose, " Anna whispered throatily. She shivered as Graham's hands came toher waist. She fastened the small diamond stud, aware that they were so closetheir entire bodies touched lightly. Graham's body rippled with tension, andher grip on Anna tightened. Anna slid her fingers up to Graham's collar, hervision suddenly cloudy. "And your tie needs straightening. " Shegasped as her breasts, swollen with desire, brushed against Graham's chest.
"Oh god, " Anna whispered asGraham drew her slowly against her own tight thigh. She lifted her eyes finallyto Graham's, and saw raw hunger in Graham's face. Anna needed her kiss like sheneeded air to breath. She thought she might die with wanting. She slid her handto the back of Graham's neck, willing her lips closer. "Please, " sheimplored.
"Anna-" Graham murmured thickly, knowing this was wrong, unable to stop. In another moment she would be beyondcaring, she would have to have her. She was seconds away from committing thebiggest error of her life when a voice from the past called her irrevocablyback to reality.
"Graham, darling!" Christinestated calmly, as if she hadn't just found her in a passionate embrace with anotherwoman. "I know you hate these affairs, but you simply must be civilizedabout it. You cannot disappear and deprive us all of your company. "
Graham straightened slowly, stepping backaway from Anna. She spoke into the darkness, her voice cold as ice. "Youseem to have managed without my company for quite some time, my dear. "
"And more fool I, " Christinereplied as she stepped to Graham's side. She pointedly ignored Anna, who waswatching Graham in stunned bewilderment. "I have every intention of makingit up to you. Now stop being such a cad, and take me back to the party. "As she spoke, she slipped one arm about Graham's waist, unabashedly caressingher with the other, sliding her hand up the length of Graham's thigh as shepressed 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 haveobligations to attend to. Good night. "
Anna collapsed against the railing, shaking, dazed by Graham's departure. Her body was wracked with hunger for awoman who could arouse her with a glance, and then leave her without a secondthought. She had come within a whisper of humiliating herself tonight, and yet- Graham had responded, hadn't she?
Anna slammed the cabinet door as thequestion that had haunted her all night echoed in her mind. What did it matterif Graham had responded - what would it have mattered if she'd actually kissedher? The fact that Graham was aroused by a woman who was obviously trying to seduceher proved nothing. What mattered was that it took only a word from Christineand Graham forgot everything else. How many times, in how many ways, did sheneed to have that made clear?
"I'm going down to clear the brushfrom around the lower fountain, " she growled as Helen joined her in thekitchen around seven-thirty. "I won't be up for lunch. "
Helen stared after her in confusion. Shehad just run into Graham coming out of her study, and she had snarled atHelen's cheery good morning. What had happened to every one overnight!?
As it turned out, Anna was forced toabandon her work early that afternoon. A storm blew up unexpectedly, as waswont 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 hardfor Anna to hear their conversation, but Christine was obviously upset. Shegrasped Graham's arm, pressing close to her. Anna had no desire to witness anymore of their private moments. She was about to turn away when Graham, lookinggravely serious, bent her head and kissed Christine. Christine clung to her, pulling Graham's willowy figure even closer, fervently returning the kiss. Annadid turn from them then; she needed no further proof of Christine's hold onGraham.
"I won't be down for dinner tonight, Helen, " she said when she found Helen in the laundry room. "I—I havesome work I need to finish. "
"Aren't you feeling well?" Helenasked in concern. "Has something happened?" She was well aware of thechanges in Anna since Christine had arrived. She was quiet and reclusive, clearly unhappy. Helen hadn't wanted to intrude, but she was becoming more andmore worried, about both Anna and Graham. Despite Christine's constantattention, Graham was restrained and brooding. And it hadn't escaped Helen'sattention that Graham absolutely refused to play for Christine. Graham waswalking the grounds late at night again, a sure sign that she was troubled. Andnow, Anna too!
"I'm really fine, " Anna said, forcing a light tone. "I just - can't. Not tonight. "
Helen watched her retreating form as shehurried from the room and wondered if those hadn't been tears on her cheeks.
Alone in her room, Anna stood for hourslooking 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 knewshe couldn't watch them together day after day. It was too painful, finallymore painful than the alternative. Perhaps if last night had never happened shecould have learned to live with the reality of Graham loving someone else. Maybe with time, seeing her, but always being apart from her, wouldn't tear herheart 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 theshear force of Graham's embrace had evoked was irreversible. She had known thelength of Graham's body against hers, had stroked the coiled muscles of herback, and felt the heat of her leg between her own. She would never be able todeny her longing, or control her desire, or tolerate the sight of Christine inGraham's 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? It's Graham—may I comein?"
Anna wiped the tears from her eyes, struggling to compose herself.
"Hello, " she said softly as sheopened the door.
Graham looked concerned. "Are you allright? Helen said not to expect you for dinner. "
"Yes. I'm fine. "
"I see, " Graham replied. Shegestured with her hand. "May I come in?"
"Of course. " Anna remainedstanding, too restless to sit.
Graham sensed Anna's distress, and sheworried she was the cause of it. She had agonized over her lapse the eveningbefore, finally leaving the gathering over Christine's protests to spend thenight pacing in her study. She had overstepped her bounds, and she had noexcuse for it. For a brief moment she had forgotten everything - the loss ofher sight, the loss of Christine, even the loss of her music - all had fadedinto the awareness of Anna against her, breathing life into her with herdesire. She had succumbed to the physical demands of her body, and God onlyknew what she might have done if Christine hadn't interrupted them. She hadbeen perilously close to making love to Anna right there on the balcony. Thevestiges of arousal lingered throughout the night, and even now, with Annanear, she struggled to maintain her distance. She had hoped Anna might overlookher indiscretion, but now she wasn't sure. "What is it, Anna?" sheasked seriously.
Anna spoke the painful words before shelost courage. "Graham, I've been meaning to speak with you for some time. I've decided to move back to the city. "
Graham's head jerked as if she had beenslapped, her face draining of color. "But why?" she gasped. She feltthe words like a physical blow. Her chest ached, and she struggled for breath. "Isit because of my behavior last night? Anna?! I have no excuse - I'm sorry, I -what can I say? It won't happen again, you have my word! Please believeme!""
Anna laughed at the bitter irony. "Ido believe you. It's not about last night, and if it were, it is I who shouldapologize. "
"Then what, for God's sake?"Graham demanded, her voice hoarse with strain.
Anna looked away, unable to face hersuffering. She knew her resolve would weaken if she saw Graham in pain. "Ineed to be closer to the university, and I'm —"
She's young and she wants a life, youfool! Graham stopped her, unableto stand the crushing truth. "You don't need to explain, " she saidharshly. "This is no life for you here, isolated on this godforsakenpinnacle of forgotten land! I understand, of course you must leave. "
No you don't understand! Anna wanted to scream. But how can Itell you that I can't stand to see you with Christine? How can I say' I loveyou' 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 toGraham's face, to stroke the lines from her brow. She wanted to fling herselfinto her arms. Oh god! Must she really leave?
Graham summoned every ounce of herformidable will, forcing the pain into the recesses of her soul. That wassomething she had grown used to doing, and now it served her well. She wouldnot 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?" Graham's tone wasempty 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 thanshe had imagined! For a short time Anna had brought life to this desolateplace, 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 andfoolhardy to think that Anna would have any reason to remain.
"Leaving?" Anna cried. "ButI thought—"
Graham looked toward her, a question inher eyes. "You thought what?"
Anna was more confused than ever. Shecould do nothing save tell the truth.
"I thought you and she were lovers. Ithought that's why she had come back. "
Graham walked to the fireplace, extendingone long arm along the mantle, facing the empty grate. "Yes—we were, once. I was twenty-five years old and my whole life was music. I never knew, norwanted -anything more. Oh, I didn't lack for company. There were -dalliances-usually with women impressed by my reputation. The reality generally provedmuch less to their liking. Then suddenly Christine entered my life. She was soyoung, so beautiful, so vital. She showed me a passion that nearly matched mymusic. I was mad about her, mad for her. But it was my passion, not hers. Shenever really felt the same, but I refused to see that. I wouldn't believe thatmy love was more than she wanted, or, as it turned out, not the kind of loveshe wanted. She tried to tell me that I was too demanding, too possessive—toointense for her, I think she said. I have yet to understand how love can be toointense. "
Graham laughed bitterly. "I wouldn'thear what she was trying to tell me. I was so certain of myself. I thought withmy music and Christine by my side I had all I needed in this life. " Shepaused, her hand clenched tightly around the mantle's edge. When she spokeagain, her voice was tight with pain. "The night of the accident, she toldme she was leaving me to get married. I nearly went mad, thinking of her withhim - all the time she had been with me. I was wild, raging with jealousy. Iswore I wouldn't let her leave me. I frightened her, although god knows I neverwould have touched her in anger. She tried to jump from the car, and when Igrabbed for her I lost control of the wheel. I just managed to pull her underme when we started to roll. The next thing I remember was waking up in thehospital. I heard my father's voice. When I opened my eyes, I knew instantlythat I was blind. The darkness was everywhere, but nowhere deeper than in myheart. It was all my fault, you see. I had been too proud and too arrogant tohear that she was unhappy, that she in fact did not share my passion. She didnot love me, and I nearly killed her. "
Graham's voice broke with the all toofamiliar bitter memories. She had almost killed Christine, the woman she sworeshe loved with all her heart. Losing her sight had seemed like a small price topay. And now Anna would be gone too. She tried unsuccessfully to hide the tearsthat coursed down her cheeks. She fought desperately to seal the pain away oncemore. She flinched when Anna brushed the tears from her face.
"Please don't, " Graham managed. "I didn't mean for you to see this. Please forget it, won't you?"
"I'm so sorry, Graham. I didn'tknow, " Anna whispered tenderly. All thoughts of her own despair dissipatedin the face of Graham's agony. "I saw you together in the garden today. Isaw you kissing her. I can't believe she could leave you again. "
Graham shook her head, not comprehendingAnna's words. "I told her today that I had no wish for us to be togetheragain. Anna, I was kissing her good bye. "
Anna could only imagine that Graham wasafraid to trust Christine again. Regardless of her own tangled emotions, shehad no desire to see Graham suffer any more than she already had. "Graham, you mustn't be afraid. You can try again. Perhaps you've both changed. It couldbe different now. You needn't be alone—"
"Anna, " Graham said vehemently, "you don't understand. I don't love Christine—I don't want to loveher. She has come here to escape her boredom, or to torture her husband withthe reminder of our affair, but eventually she would tire of the charade, andshe would leave. If I let her stay, it would be a mockery of love. I won't havethat!" 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 anda curious sense of relief as she spoke them. Exhausted, Graham sank into thechair, trying to find a way to cope with Anna's leaving. She bowed her headinto her hand, too weary to struggle any longer. "I'm sorry. Please excusemy outburst. All of this has been - hard for me. Just give me a moment, thenI'll go. "
Anna took a deep breath. "Graham, Idon't want to leave Yardley. This last month has been difficult, especiallywhen I thought you and Christine were reuniting. I didn't think I'd be neededany longer. But I have been happy here, happier than I have ever been, and I don'twant to leave. "
Graham drew a shuddering breath. "Areyou sure?" The eyes she turned to Anna were wounded, nearly devoid ofhope. She hadn't the strength to contain her despair, and the sight of itripped at Anna's heart.
Her situation with Graham was no clearer, but at least she wouldn't have to face Christine every day. She knew she wouldbe miserable if she left. She couldn't imagine never seeing Graham again. Atleast now she would have time to make some sense of her tumultuous desires. Anna cupped Graham's face gently in her hands. "I'm very sure. I want tostay. "
Graham pressed her lips to Anna's palm, her relief
nearly palpable. Only time would tell if Anna had made the
With Christine's departure, a semblance ofharmony returned to Yardley. With the end of summer, Anna resumed her classesthree days a week, which left more than ample time to manage the householdneeds and Graham's business requirements. She met with Graham at the end of herday, and more often than not, they merely talked. Graham was keenly interestedin Anna's studies, and Anna found herself recounting her days in detail whilethey 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 acomfortable but reserved companionship.
Neither of them made further mention ofthe episode on the balcony the night of Helen's party. Anna did not know how tobroach it, and Graham seemed to avoid any possibility of intimacy. AlthoughGraham welcomed their conversations, she was physically remote. She was carefulnot to touch Anna even when it would have been natural to. Her caution in thisregard did not escape Anna's notice, and Anna interpreted it as an unspokendeclaration from Graham that their brief physical interlude had been anaberration of circumstance. It had been a tense and stressful period for bothof them, and in the intensity of the moment that night, Graham had responded toAnna's overture. Obviously, it was not something Graham wished to repeat.
Anna for her part tried her best to forgetwhat had passed between them, and to content herself with the relationship theywere slowly, carefully building. Graham was not so quick to withdraw from herat the slightest mention of her past; in fact, to Anna's amazement, Grahamoccasionally alluded to some previous event with an ease that was absent a fewmonths before. Graham was beginning to trust her, and for now that appeared tobe the most she could hope for. Anna resigned herself to what they could sharetogether, because she knew in the final analysis, she would be miserablewithout Graham in her life. She tried not to think of what she would do if whatthey had now was all Graham ever wanted.
Perhaps the only person at Yardley who wasable to see just what was happening between the two of them was Helen. She knewthe extent to which Graham was capable of closing off parts of herself, and ofdenying her own wants and needs. Graham had deluded herself for years withChristine. Helen wondered if she would be as successful disavowing her feelingsfor Anna.
When Helen brought tea into Graham lateone afternoon, Graham greeted her warmly. She was at work at the piano, asrelaxed as Helen had seen her in many years. Helen thought approvingly of howgood 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 joiningHelen and Anna most evenings for dinner, and their conversations were light andeasy. Helen thought she understood the reason for Graham's emergence from thetorpor that had enveloped her, but she wondered if Graham truly did. As Grahamgrew more peaceful, Helen couldn't help but notice that Anna became moredespondent.
"Thank you, Helen, " Graham saidfondly as she rose, stretching from her seat at the piano. She feltwonderful—her world was filled with sound, the way it had been when she wasyoung. Her blood stirred with long-forgotten excitement. She attributed it tothe ease with which she was working and the satisfaction that brought her. Sherefused to admit to herself that Anna's return was the moment she waited forall day.
"You look happy, Graham, " Helenremarked.
"Happy?" Graham said, wonderingif that was what she felt. "Yes, perhaps that's it. At any rate, Helen, the music is returning—and that is more than I ever expected to have again inthis life. "
"I'm happy for you, " Helen said, and she truly rejoiced in the change in Graham over the last few months. Butshe couldn't help but wonder if that was all Graham wanted from life. Thepassionate woman she had known would never have been content alone. Graham hadneeded 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 thatdisappointment had not destroyed Graham's ability to accept love when it wasoffered from the heart.
Anna tossed her knapsack on the halltable, waving to Helen as she headed toward the music room. She knew Grahamwould be there, as she always was at this time of day. She tapped lightly onthe door before entering. Graham lifted one hand, the other poised over thepiano keys.
"Just a minute. I've nearlyfinished. "
Anna crossed quietly to stand besideGraham, watching as she played, marveling at the graceful sweep of her fingerson the keys. As her hands literally caressed the instrument, her face reflectedall the emotions the music gave form to. The combination of watching Graham'sface and hearing her creation stirred Anna unexpectedly. As the notesdissipated in the air, Graham became motionless, her hands lying still on herthighs.
"It's wonderful, " Anna breathedsoftly.
Graham lifted her face to Anna, anuncharacteristic uncertainty clouding her features. "Do you really thinkso?" she asked quietly.
Sometimes Anna felt as much a prisoner ofGraham's blindness as Graham certainly was. She felt so much more than herwords could communicate, and she wished that Graham could read in her face howdeeply she was moved. As it stood alone, Graham's music could bring her totears. She knew that from standing outside this room, stilled in mid-step bywhat she heard. She knew because she had sought out the recordings Graham hadmade years before. She played them when she was alone, imaging Graham's face asshe listened. For her, nothing was more heart-rending than watching Grahamplay, raw passions exposed, as the music swirled in the air. For Graham not tosee what she was capable of stirring in others pierced her heart.
Instinctively, she placed both handsgently on Graham's 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 Anna's handwith her own, surprised once again by the warmth of her skin. She lingered likethat for a moment, then settled her hands on the keys.
Anna moved reluctantly away, not wantingto dispel that rare moment of affection. Still, she knew Graham had takenanother step toward allowing Anna into her life. Graham had not been willingfor anyone to hear more than fragments of a work in progress for years. Annasettled into a nearby chair from which she could watch Graham play. She foundherself holding her breath as the melody swelled to fill the air. She would nothave believed that there could be such a thing as too much beauty, but thesight and sounds of Graham Yardley overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and letthe golden tones carry her away. When the room stilled, it took her a moment tofind 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, herhead bent, waiting.
"I've never imagined anything soexquisite, " 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 withtears.
"I thought it was gone forever, "she murmured, her voice breaking.
The sight of her tears was Anna's undoing. She meant only to take Graham's hand in hers, but she found herself pullingGraham up into her arms instead. She held her close, whispering, "Oh god, Graham—your music breaks my heart. You break my heart. "
Graham struggled with the response Anna'sembrace wrought. Anna's body was pressed to hers; she felt the rise and fall ofAnna's soft breasts with each breath; their hearts seemed to race as one. Anna's nearness, and her words, filled her with a longing so intense hercarefully maintained barricades threatened to crumble. And she feared that ifshe gave rein to her emotions, she would be captive to them as she had beenwith Christine. She knew she could not survive another disappointment. If suchpain ever returned anew, she would surely break. What Anna touched in her was aplace too dangerous to expose. For the sake of whatever sanity she had left, shecould not let that happen.
Anna felt Graham stiffen, but she onlypulled 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 don't even know it, do you?! You are so special—I can't begin to tellyou—" She had no words, only sensations. Admiration, respect, protectiveness, sympathy, and sweet, swift longing. Everything condensed atonce until Anna had to give form to her feelings or explode. Her hands movedfrom Graham's back to cup her jaw, then slid into her hair as she groanedsoftly, "If only I could tell you-" Her lips met Graham's as thewords escaped her in a rush.
Graham gasped at the contact, her controlall but shattered. For an instant she knew only the well-spring of desire thatrippled through her, the moist heat that flooded from her. With a groan sheopened herself to the raging fire, embracing its source. Even as she pulledAnna roughly to her, giving herself fully to the kiss, a suffocating dreadbegan to eclipse her passion. She felt more vulnerable than she had during thefirst seconds of her blindness, when she opened her eyes to a darkness moreterrifying than anything she had ever experienced. This was what shetruly had isolated herself from all these years - this horrible power that lovewielded over her.
"Anna, no-" Graham rasped, catching the hands that brushed down her shirt front toward her breasts. Shegrasped Anna's wrists softly, gently disengaging from their embrace. Shestruggled for air for an instant, her brain whirling, then finally managed towhisper hoarsely, "You honor me, Anna. With your appreciation, with yourdeep kindness. I am only too glad to give you what I can with my music. That itpleases you means more to me than I can say. But that is all I can give, Anna -I'm sorry. "
Graham's withdrawal was like a knifeslashing through Anna's depths. Must she always be left with this terribleemptiness? She didn't want to let her go, but she knew she must. She could notforce Graham to feel as she felt, to want what she wanted.
"It's I that am sorry, " shereplied shakily. "I can't seem to stop throwing myself at you. You've madeit perfectly clear -"
"Anna, don't, " Graham murmured. "There is no need for an apology. "
Anna drew a long breath, steadyingherself. 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 eversay. " She turned to leave, but couldn't help but ask, "Will I see youat 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 withthe dishes. She didn't trust herself to speak, she was still shaking.
"Working still, is she?"
"Yes, " Anna managed.
Helen gave her a concerned look. The girlwas completely white. "Everything going all right?" she askedcautiously.
"She finished something thisafternoon, " 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 wasnothing short of a miracle, but it seemed to have produced anything but a happyresponse.
"Graham can be very self-absorbedwhen she's working. Sometimes she forgets about common civility and otherpeoples feelings, " she ventured, thinking that Graham's notoriouslyvolatile nature may have given offense.
"She was perfectly charming, asalways, " Anna remarked somewhat harshly. Graham raised even rejection toan art form. Damn her pristine control! Isn't there anything thataffects her iron clad self-discipline? Anna was only too afraid she knewthe answer to that.
"Well, she's done something, nowhasn't she?" Helen persisted softly.
"No, Helen, " Anna began, surrendering to her frustration. "I've done something. " I'vefallen in love with her! She closed her eyes, searching for calm. Shecouldn't very well tell Helen that she wanted Graham to make love to her, nowcould she?
"I can't seem to reach her, " shesaid carefully. "She is always polite, always cordial and her distance isdriving me crazy. She won't accept one compliment; she can't hear one kindword, without mistrusting it! It's so hard when you care about her!" Shecaught back a sob, struggling for the tatters of her own self-control.
"Graham has been alone a very longtime, " Helen said carefully. "She has forgotten how to get on withpeople. " She sensed it was more serious than that, but Helen didn't wantto embarrass Anna if her assumptions were wrong. Anna's moodiness hadn'tescaped her notice, and neither had Graham's growing reliance on Anna. She hadbeen expecting some kind of confrontation for weeks.
"Well, she certainly seemed to knowhow to get along with Christine!" Anna said angrily. Shecertainly didn't have any problems kissing her! she wanted to shout. Ohgod, I really am losing my mind!
"Christine?" Helen respondeddismissively, "Graham suffered her presence, that's all. "
"I'm not so sure about that, "Anna responded, her anger escalating, too hurt for caution. "She suffereda lot more than her presence. She allowed that woman to fall all overher, and she could deny her nothing!! I think she's still in love with her andis just too damn stubborn to admit it!"
"So she told you about them, didshe?" Helen asked, beginning to get a better idea about the source ofAnna's distress.
"Yes, she told me!!" Annabarked. "The love affair to end all love affairs. Whether Christine ishere or not, she will always have that hold on Graham! God, I'm such afool!"
Helen shook her head adamantly, "Ohno, my dear. You are wrong. Graham made a fool out of herself over that girl, but she wasn't so much a fool that she would do it twice!! When Christine leftGraham for Richard Blair, she not only broke Graham's heart, she betrayedeverything Graham believed love to be. As hard as it was, at some point evenGraham had to accept that she was only an exciting and forbidden diversion forChristine. Love her still? No my dear, Graham would never have forgiven thebetrayal. "
"Then what is it that keeps her soapart?" Anna beseeched. "She is so talented, so sensitive, sokind—how can she bury all of that as if it meant nothing? As if she herselfmeant 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 Graham'sdeepest secrets. It was not for her to expose Graham in that way.
"Perhaps she just needs time, Anna. These last months, since you've come, she's changed so much. Oh, I know youcan't see it—but I can. She no longer sits for hours, alone in her rooms, orwanders 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 ifyou don't believe me. You led her back into the world. You put a flower in herhand and showed her there was life that she could experience still. Such asimple thing as a flower! It took you to do that!"
Anna shook her head, feeling sad anddefeated. "Whatever else she needs, I can't seem to give her. And I don'tknow how much more I can take. " She looked at Helen with despair in hereyes. "I'm sorry, Helen, you don't deserve this. I don't even know why I'mso upset—I don't even know what I'm feeling half the time. It's foolish of meto be carrying on like this. Maybe I'm just being selfish - Graham certainlyseems content. " She gave Helen a tremulous smile and a swift hug. "Don't wait dinner for me, " she said as she hurried from the room.
Helen looked after her, conflictingloyalties warring in her mind. As much as she adored Graham Yardley, shecouldn't stand by and watch Anna suffer.
"Graham?" Helen called at themusic room door. She entered to find the room deserted. The doors to theterrace were open, despite the brisk October wind. A few leaves flutteredthrough and clustered on the floor. Graham's body was outlined in moonlight asshe leaned against the balustrade, facing out to the night. Her light shirtwhipped about her thin form in the wind.
Helen wrapped her shawl tighter aroundherself and ventured out. She was shocked by the chill in Graham's fingers whenshe covered her hand where it lay on the railing.
"Graham! You're freezing. Comeinside!"
"I'm fine, Helen, " Grahamanswered hollowly. "Go back—it's too cold here for you. "
"And you're made of stone?"Helen snapped, her patience perilously close to gone. First Anna, and nowGraham—the two of them suffering was more than she could watch in silence.
"It seems that I am, " repliedGraham with a cynical smile.
"I know better than that, and youwould too if you'd let yourself admit it. "
"Helen, " Graham said warningly, "I love you like my own parent, but this is something you know nothingabout. Let it alone, please—for my sake. "
"I have!! All these years when youlocked yourself away here—but there's not just you anymore—there's Anna. "
"Helen—" Graham growled harshly, "leave Anna out of this!"
"I would if I could, but that's notup to me, is it? I've watched you dying slowly right before my eyes for toomany years—you who I cherish with all my heart, and I've never said a word, never tried to change your mind. I know how much you lost - and your sight wasthe least of it!"
"Helen, please, " Grahamwhispered, her fists clenched against the stone rail, "please, don't dothis now. Please let me have some peace. "
"This is not peace, Graham! You maybe blind, but your heart is not—you may think love deserted you, but you knowas well as I do that wasn't love! I won't believe you can't recognize it whenyou feel it! Anna loves you—"
"Anna pities me—"
"No, Graham. For once your blindness hastrapped you! I can see what you refuse to feel— I only have to look ather 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 Idemand! Do you truly think anyone, especially someone as young and vital asAnna, would stay, once she knew what it really meant? I might have killedChristine in the car that night, because she couldn't give me what Iwanted- because she was leaving me. I believed once, and it destroyed me. Iwill not believe again-I cannot survive the loss. "
"You underestimate her, Graham—andit's not just yourself you're hurting now. You're breaking her heart. "
"No!" Graham shouted, her fistspounding the unyielding stone. "I cannot, I will not, let thishappen—it would destroy us both! I will not bind her to this barren world thatis my heart. Now leave me, please—I beg of you. " Her last words came in achoked whisper, and tears streaked down her anguished face.
Helen benther head in defeat, longing to take the
trembling woman in her arms. But sheknew that Graham would
not allow even that sympathy. What Graham feared wasinside
herself, and nothing could assuage her inconsolable
Silence descended on Yardley Manor as eachof them struggled to accept their disappointments. Anna went about her workwith quiet resignation, an aching hollowness her constant companion. Whereasonce the time she spent with Graham eased her loneliness, now seeing her onlyseemed to heighten it. And Graham, if possible, was even more remote. Theyspent less time together, as Graham often absented herself from the music roomin the afternoons. Instead she worked late into the night, after the otherswere asleep. She had begun taking her meals alone again, although the trayscame back barely touched. The music that echoed in the corridors was dark andmelancholy—the 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 thatonly Graham could change the course of their lives.
Late one evening, to Helen's surprise, Graham came to the door of her sitting room.
"Graham, good gracious!" sheexclaimed. "What's wrong?"
"Helen, " Graham said urgently, without preamble. "Where is Anna?"
Helen glanced at the clock on her mantle. Itwas almost eleven, and it occurred to her she hadn't seen Anna all evening. "I don't know. She wasn't here for dinner. Hasn't she come up?"
"No, and I haven't heard the Jeepreturn, " Graham remarked, barely able to hide her anxiety. In some part ofher consciousness she waited for the day Anna would not return. It wasimpossible for her to work freely when Anna wasn't about the house or grounds. Especially recently, since their estrangement, she found herself listening forAnna's step in the hall or the distinctive crunch of gravel in the drive. Asmuch as she expected Anna to leave, she feared it. When it happened, she wouldlose whatever small purchase on life she had left.
Helen could read the fear in Graham'sface. Ordinarily she wouldn't have worried, but Anna hadn't been herselflately. Since the night they talked in the kitchen, Anna had been distractedand almost dazed. Helen worried she might have had an accident.
It was hard for Helen not to think of thatawful night when the call had come about Graham. She remembered only too wellthe agonizing hour they had all spent while men worked to free her from thewreckage. It was an hour spent not knowing if she were still alive. Helenstruggled to dispel the image and quell the surge of alarm. Anna must simplyhave forgotten to mention her plans. Any other possibility was more than shecould bear to contemplate.
She struggled to keep her voice even. "I'm sure she's fine, Graham. Go on to bed. I'll be up. If there's anyproblem, she'll call. "
A look of panic flickered across Graham'sface. Helen knew as well as she that Anna never absented herself without word. With effort she said evenly, "Of course, you're right. Just the same, I'llwait in the library in case she calls. "
Helen listened to the echo of herretreating steps, losing sight of her as she descended the dark stairway with ameasured step. She knew Graham was every bit as stretched to the limit as Annaseemed to be. She wondered fearfully which one of them would lose the thin reinof control first.
The hallway was dark when Anna let herselfinto the house just after one in the morning. She jumped when a voice calledout to her.
Anna fumbled for the light switch as shestepped into the library. Graham was seated in a chair before the window thatfronted the main drive, as she had been for hours.
"Graham?" Anna asked in surprise"What are you doing in here?"
"We were worried—Helen and I. I waswaiting in case you called. " Graham rose, and began to pace restlessly. "Although god knows what I thought I could do about it if you werein trouble, " she laughed bitterly. "We make a fine pair, Helen and I. One who can't drive, and the other one blind!"
"Oh god, Graham, " Anna cried. "I stayed to have dinner with my graduate advisor—it wasn't planned. Ishould 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 don't owe either of us an explanation. Your private life isnone of our affair. Where you spend your time- and with whom, does not concernus. "
Anna gaped at her. She had to be the mostinfuriating woman she had ever met! "Is that what you think? That I wasout on a date for god's sake?"
Graham straightened her shoulders, angerreplacing her worry. There was no need for Anna to know she had spent severalanxious hours fearing she had left for good. "I don't think anything oneway 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 offendedGraham or not. "What I don't understand is why you said it! You know verywell how I feel about you, whether you chose to acknowledge it or not. I'vedone everything short of begging you!! Don't insult me by suggesting I wouldsimply wander off and find consolation elsewhere. Do you think you're the onlyone capable of a true and honorable emotion?? Damn your arrogance!"
"It was not my intention to insultyou, Anna, " Graham replied in an amazingly calm tone. She couldn'tremember the last time someone raised their voice to her, other than Christine. Anna's sincere distress had a greater affect on her than Christine's tiradesever 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. "
"Don't worry, Graham. Youhaven't, " Anna snapped. "It is I who have been mistaken, but I assureyou, I will not trouble you again!" She grabbed her knapsack, intent onretreating before she completely lost the last vestige of restraint. She hadtried so hard to be patient, to accept the depth of Graham's loss anddisappointment, but it hadn't made any difference and she doubted it everwould.
"I have legal matters that requireyour assistance. I'll need to meet with you tomorrow, " Graham said as Annastepped out into the hall. She hated this animosity between them, but thereseemed no other way.
"Certainly, " Anna rejoinedcoldly. "I'll see you in the afternoon. "
Anna left her there, but she could notbring herself to turn out the light, even though the darkness would not matterto Graham.
Anna worked furiously—digging up buriedroots with a spade, slashing through briars with a machete, flinging clods ofearth aside with a vengeance. Her pace matched her mood—she was still boiling. She wasn't sure whom she was angrier with—Graham or herself. What had sheexpected? Graham Yardley was a wealthy, gifted woman who had known both fameand great passion in her life. Under any circumstances she would hardly beexpected to notice someone like Anna, and now, after all she had suffered, shehad no special feeling for Anna. Anna struggled for acceptance, but it was sohard! What she felt for Graham went so far beyond anything she had experienced, or dreamed of experiencing. The wanting surpassed simple desire—she feltinextricably 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 herpiano whisper in the night, fire surged through Anna's being. Some primal partof her had been called forth by this woman. The combination of Graham's greatstrength and her great need had awakened Anna's deepest passion. To be nearher, and so apart, was unendurable.
She was beginning to contemplate theunthinkable. She might need to leave Yardley. She didn't have the strength tosubjugate her desires to reason - she simply couldn't be around Graham and notwant her. For a few months she had managed to be content with their carefullycontained relationship, but since the instant they had kissed, all that hadchanged. She couldn't forget it, and she couldn't stop wanting it again. She wouldlose her mind if she stayed, and if she left she would lose her soul. It was achoice that was no choice at all, and she cursed her own indecisiveness underher breath. She rubbed the tears from her face and grabbed her ax. She intendedto cut down every dead limb at Yardley before the day was out!!
While Anna warred with her emotions andthe tangled undergrowth, Graham paced the flagstone terrace fighting her owndemons. She knew she was hurting Anna by refusing to acknowledge what wasbetween them, and she had no answer for it. Anna had restored life to Yardley, and to her—with Anna had come the scent of fresh flowers and the teasing soundof notes in the air. Graham had responded to both as if light had suddenly beenreturned to her world. Her heart lifted to the sounds of Anna's footsteps inthe hall. Anna's presence had muted the pain of years of loneliness. But Annahad awakened other senses as well—Graham knew the touch of her hands, thewarmth of her skin, the soft fullness of her breasts. She knew the bruisingdemand of Anna's kiss as her lips searched against Graham's mouth. If she madelove to her, she would have to acknowledge what was in her heart. If she gavefreedom to everything Anna ignited in her, she would never be able to live withouther. That was what Graham retreated from—she 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 lineof trees she had been pruning. She could hear the delicate strains of the musicGraham was playing wafting on the breeze. She glanced up at the sky, notingabsently that clouds were amassing out over the ocean. She reached for her worndenim work jacket as the sudden wind off the water brought a brisk chill to theair. She didn't 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 fortheir late afternoon meeting.
Graham looked up from the keyboard as thecurtains floated into the room on a chill breeze. The weight of the air on herface was dense and wet. Something ominous was stirring, and one word clamoredin 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 thestairs leading down the flagstone path to the lower reaches of the property, she called out into the gathering wind.
Anna looked up at the sound of Graham'svoice, amazed to see the sky blackening around her. The rain and heavy windswere upon her before she knew it. In an instant a blinding wall of water blewin from the sea, drenching her and turning the garden path into a hundred yardsof steep, slippery mud. To her horror she saw Graham start down toward her.
"Graham! No, go back!!" shecried, paralyzed with fear at the thought of Graham exposed in the storm. "Go back! I'm coming up. "
Abandoning her tools, Anna began to climbthe path, struggling to keep her balance in the buffeting winds and poundingrain. Tree branches bent and broke in the wind, hurtling by in the swirlinggale. 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 couldnot move quickly enough to avoid it, that the old sycamore had been struck bylightening. She threw up an arm to shield her face and cried out as fallingbranches and limbs engulfed her. There was an instant of white-hot pain in hershoulder just as she met the ground with a jarring thud.
Her first sensation after the initialshock was of the penetrating cold that encompassed her. The ground beneath hercheek was sodden, and her denim jeans and shirt clung to her clammy skin. The coldwas almost instantly replaced with a stabbing pain in her left side and athrobbing ache in the back of her head. Her next thought was even moreterrifying. Where was Graham!? Oh my god! She's out in this storm alone!
She pushed at the overlying branchesholding her captive, managing only to worsen the pain in her arm. She foughtagainst the need to vomit, finally ceasing her ineffective struggles. Shedropped her head back to the wet ground and waited for the nausea to subside. Time seemed to slow as water dripped through the fallen tree's leaves onto herface. At some point through her disorientation she thought she could hearvoices.
"For god's sake man, hurry!"
Anna recognized Graham's deep voice, harshwith fear. Anna struggled to call Graham's name, to tell her she was all right, but all that emerged was a faint groan. She shouldn't be out here, shethought hysterically.
"Graham, " she finally croaked. "be careful!"
"Anna- thank god!" Grahamshouted, her voice choked with anxiety. "Are you hurt, love?"
"I don't think so, " Anna said assteadily as she could. In truth she was more worried about Graham than she wasabout her own scrapes and bruises. "Go inside - call someone to help. Please Graham, please don't stay out here- go back to the house! Just do it forme!"
"Damn if I will!! We'll have you freein a moment. Just hang on, Anna!" Graham called from somewhere quiteclose. "Damn it, John, can't you go any faster?" She pulled at thetree limbs in front of her, nearly mad with frustration at her inability toreach Anna. She was impervious to the branches that slashed at her hands andface. God, how she hated her blindness!
"I almost have the limb free, ma'am, but it would help if you'd move back. We don't need both of you under this damntree. "
Graham turned angry eyes toward the manbeside her and growled, "I'm not moving until you get her out. "
A tremendous creak accompanied theshifting of the huge fork of limb that imprisoned Anna, and she cried out asthe weight of the tree shifted off her tender body. Suddenly Graham was besideher, reaching a tentative, trembling hand toward her.
"Don't move, " Graham whisperedsoftly, "you're safe now. John will have the rest of it off in aminute. "
Graham settled on the muddy slope, unmindful of the water or the cold, and very gently lifted Anna's head into herlap. Despite her pain, Anna lifted both arms around Graham's neck, pressing herface against her chest.
"I'm so glad you're here, " Annawhispered, clutching her tightly.
"I'll not leave you, " Grahamreplied, struggling to contain tears. She rocked Anna tenderly as she buriedher face in Anna's damp hair. "I'm here. "
Anna scarcely felt any pain as shethrilled to the comfort of Graham's presence. As more of the tree was removedshe tried moving her legs. Everything worked but she gasped as a multitude ofsmall cuts began to burn.
"Where are you hurt?" Grahamasked when she had control of herself again.
"My shoulder, but I don't thinkanything's broken. " Anna began to realize that both of them were shiveringnearly uncontrollably. "Graham, " she chattered, "you have to getinside. Let me stand up. "
"We'd better wait for the doctor. AndI'm not leaving you. " Graham swore inwardly at her own helplessness, evenas she began to believe Anna was safe. For a few agonizing minutes she hadfeared she had lost her. She heard the tree cracking and Anna's 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 Graham's undoing. All she couldthink of was that Anna was gone, a realization so painful she thought she wouldgo mad. It was Helen who had the presence of mind to call both the familydoctor as well as an old friend who lived nearby for help. She couldn't stop Grahamfrom rushing headlong down the treacherous path, only to be unable to find Annain the tangle of branches, flailing with anguished despair at obstacles shecouldn't see. Helen feared that Graham would do herself real harm in her rageto find the girl.
Even with Anna in her arms, Graham wasafraid to loosen her hold. Her hands ceaselessly roamed over Anna's body, seeking reassurance that Anna was safe. She didn't realize that each shakingbreath bordered on a sob. She hadn't felt such panic since the night of the carcrash, 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 inher eyes, trapped by the metal that pierced her leg, wondering frantically ifshe had killed Christine in her jealous rage. Had that been true, in alllikelihood she would have taken her own life. Tonight, for those agonizingminutes before she heard Anna's voice, she thought that all that remained toher of life had been taken. Her relief was so enormous, she acted withoutthinking. She raised Anna's head with a hand cupped to her chin, capturing hermouth with a deep groan. Oblivious to all else, Anna returned her kiss with ahunger long denied. She gasped when Graham pulled away with a shaky laugh.
"We can't wait any longer, Anna. You're hurt and cold. We must get you inside. " Raising her head, butmaintaining her fierce hold on the woman in her arms, she called out, "John, help me to get her up!"
A tall manpulled the last of the debris free and moved
through the darkness to theirside. He carefully lifted
Anna to her feet. Graham rose unsteadily beside them, her
hand clasped in Anna's. Together they made their way
slowly up to YardleyManor.
The doctor spoke to Graham outside Anna'sroom after finishing his examination.
"She's badly bruised, and I suspectthere's a sprain of the left shoulder, but no permanent damage. She needs to bekept warm and to get plenty of rest for the next few days. She's going to befine. " He observed the strained, pale face of the woman before him andadded, "You could use a hot bath and some rest yourself, Ms. Yardley. "
"Yes, of course, " Graham repliedabsently, her mind occupied only with her concern for Anna. She turned to pushopen Anna's door and found Helen in her path.
"What is it?" she asked inexasperation. All she wanted was to be alone with Anna. She needed to becertain that she was safe.
"You're soaked through and shaking. You need a hot bath and you're not going in there until you have one. "Helen steeled herself for what she knew was coming. As expected, Graham'swell-known temper ignited.
"Please step aside, Helen, "Graham ordered, reaching toward the door. "I intend to see her, and Iintend to see her now. "
Very quietly, Helen responded, "Sweetheart, your face and hands are scratched and bleeding. You're goingto scare her to death if you don't get cleaned up. Do you want her worryingabout you when she should be resting?"
Graham paused, wanting to argue butknowing Helen was right. "All right, a quick one, " she relented. "Please tell her I won't be long. "
It was in fact only a few moments beforeshe approached Anna's door once again, and smelled the aroma of hot tea. Shefollowed the scent into Anna's room.
Helen efficiently set up a tray and pulleda chair close to the bedside, carefully directing Graham to it.
"Now, both of you drink some of thistea, " she instructed. "There's biscuits there as well. " Shepoured two cups, guiding Graham's hand to them, and turned to leave. Anna'sface was white, but the eyes she fixed on Graham's face appeared free of pain. Neither woman noticed as Helen pulled the door gently closed behind her.
"Anna?" Graham askeduncertainly, leaning forward on the edge of the bed, "Are you allright?"
"I'm much better now, " Annaanswered softly. Graham had a welt under her right eye and a scrape on her chinwhere a tree limb had struck her. Even worse were the many little cuts on herhands. Thank god none of them appeared serious. "You really shouldn't bedoing that sort of thing with your hands, you know. They're 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 allright, was driving her mad. She attempted to rein in her emotions, teasing lightly, "I promise I won't do it again if you promise to stay away from falling trees. "
"On my honor, " Anna whispered. Graham's tenderness after their weeks of estrangement, combined with the memoryof her kiss moments before, had her emotions in turmoil. She needed Graham's comfort, and here she was, gentle and attentive.
"You should rest now, " Grahammurmured. She edged closer carefully, finding Anna's hand with her own. Shetraced the fragile network of veins with her sensitive fingertips, allowing herhands to trail slowly up Anna's bare arms. Anna lay transfixed, scarcely ableto 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. Annafervently did not want her to stop. Now that Graham had relaxed her rigid vigilance, Anna felt the full power of Graham's emotional intensity for thefirst time. The possessive look on Graham's face combined with the touch of herhands was melting her with longing. The heat rising in her body overpowered the pain of her bruises.
"I have some pills for thepain, " Graham said at length. She held Anna's hand against her cheek, herfingers folded about Anna's. She was very slowly brushing the backs of Anna'sfingers against her skin.
"I don't need them, " Annawhispered, her throat tight with desire.
Graham brought one hand to Anna's face andslowly 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. I'll 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 couldn't 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 won't sleep either. "
Graham frowned. "You are rather pig-headed yourself, " she remarked darkly. No one had ever been able tosway her the way Anna seemed to. Not even Christine with all her wiles had beenas hard to resist.
"I'm serious, Graham, " Annapersisted, detecting a rare moment of weakness in Graham's usually impenetrable defenses. "Either you lie down with me or I'll stay awake, too. "
Graham could not bring herself to leave, although she refused to consider why. With a sigh of exasperation she stretchedout beside Anna, her back against the broad head-board, one arm around Anna'sshoulders.
"All right now, " Graham insisted, "close your eyes. "
Almost instinctively, Anna moved so thatshe was reclining in Graham's arms, her cheek against Graham's chest. She wrappedher uninjured arm around Graham's waist and closed her eyes. To her amazement, she soon began to drift.
"Don't leave, " she murmured groggily. If she hadn't been compromised by physical and emotional stress, shenever would have asked.
"I won't, " Graham promised, kissing the top of her head. If she hadn't been so recently terrified forAnna's life, she never would have stayed.
It was fully dark when Anna opened hereyes. Graham was still beside her, her cheek resting against Anna's hair, one hand rhythmically stroking the bare skin of her shoulder. In her sleep Anna hadthrown one leg over Graham's, and she lay tightly pressed to her now. Anna knew she was wet, and wondered if Graham could feel it. Anna shifted beneath thelight sheet so her breasts rested more fully against Graham's 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 Graham's body. Her nipples tensed, and she rubbed them slowly back and forth across Graham's chest. When Anna rocked against Graham's leg, a fine shudder passed through Graham's form. Relentless now with need, Anna slipped one hand along the frontof Graham's trousers, trailing her fingers down Graham's thigh.
"Make love to me, " Anna whispered in a voice husky with desire. "Please, Graham, please - I needyou so much. "
"I can't, " Graham choked, shaking with the effort to contain her arousal.
Anna's hand pressed into Graham's thigh, sliding higher with deliberate strokes.
"Oh god, Anna—don't, " 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 can't know what you're 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 Graham's fear and resistance too, but she was too far gone to care. Anna wascompletely at the mercy of her own driving need, motivated by an instinct asessential as that to breathe.
"I do know what I'masking, " 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 Anna's hand. Her bodywas in mutiny. She was afraid she might come at the slightest touch. "Anna, you're hurt!" she protested weakly.
"All I can feel is how much I need you to touch me. I'm ready to explode - I'm so swollen - oh, god - Graham--" Anna groaned through a haze of overwhelming need, her body surging against the reed slender woman in her arms. She caught Graham's hand and brought it to the aching fullness of her breast. "Please-"
With that touch Graham's restraint brokeat last. She yielded to a tidal wave of lust with a strangled cry. Her handswere upon Anna with a force that took the breath from Anna's body. Sweepinglike wildfire down the planes of Anna's abdomen, along her thighs, ascendingjust as quickly to stroke her neck and breasts, Graham's touch stirred asearing heat that set Anna's nerve ends burning. She felt herself dissolving into molten liquid, her speech reduced to small cries that became incoherentwhimpers as her body arched to Graham, desperately offering all of herself. Graham's lips were on her neck, murmuring her name like a benediction. She eased her body over Anna's, 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 Anna's 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. Graham's mouth bruised her lips, the fabric of Graham's shirt chaffed her swollen nipples, and the exquisite motion of Graham's fingers within her inflamed her senses.
"Oh, no, " she gasped urgently asher hips began to rock involuntarily. Her clit was tingling, jumping with therhythm of Graham's thrusting fingers. Oh god - not so soon! "Graham wait!" It was already too late. Muscles clenched and tightened, she sobbedas her body, long denied, found release. She clutched Graham's shoulders, strangling on her own throaty cries. Endlessly, her peaked, only to be driven to a higher plateau by the insistent stroking of Graham's finely tuned hands, until she lay exhausted, able only to murmur, "Enough, my darling, I'll 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 won't die from this. Never from this. "
Through a curtain of languorous fatigue, Anna saw Graham's 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 Graham's nearness and the lingering aftermath of their lovemaking. She didn't move when she felt afeatherlight touch upon her cheek, remaining silent as Graham's fingers tracedher 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 shecupped Anna's 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 herneck, 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 Graham's touch induced. She shifted on the bed, one hand resting on Graham's 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 you—all of you, " Anna replied, tugging at Graham's 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 andbegan to unbutton her shirt. She shrugged the soft material from her shoulders and reached for the zipper on her trousers. Anna's hand grasped hers as Anna whispered, "Let me. "
Graham raised her hips as Anna slid the last of her clothing away.
"God, you're perfect, " Anna breathed, gazing at the sweeping planes of Graham's long form. As slowly as she knew how, Anna began to touch her, lingering over each curve and hollow of herbody, exploring her with her hands and lips. Anna wanted to make this momentlast forever, and even as Graham's breathing quickened, her body undulating under Anna's caresses, Anna went slowly. With her mouth she began a slow descent from Graham's neck, teasing each nipple before she traced a path downGraham's quivering abdomen. Graham opened before her, arching gently up to meet her tongue, her breath rasping in her throat. As Anna's lips drew on her engorged clitoris, she moaned softly, her fingers entwining in Anna's hair. Anna had never known such tender power before. She thrilled to her ability toplease this woman who had given her such exquisite pleasure. Her tongue stroked each ripe fold, moving with the surges of Graham's body, matching her rhythm to that of her beloved. She was drunk with the taste of her, drowning in her richnectar.
Graham groaned, grasped Anna's handstightly, and arched against her lips. "Ah, Anna - 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 Graham's 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 heartcontracting at the sight of tears streaking Graham's cheeks. She thought shemight come apart. She wanted so much to ease the pain Graham had suffered forso long. Softly she brushed the tears away. Her lips caressed the scar onGraham's brow, lingering over each translucent eyelid. Graham's lips parted insilent pleasure and a long sigh escaped her.
"You make me feel more than I ever imagined possible, " Anna murmured against the ivory column of Graham's neck. "It's 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 herheart, 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 anymusic I have ever heard, " she whispered.
The sun rose over Yardley's 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 hereyes, 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 woman's 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 pastfrom her thoughts - the complete desolation of the spirit she had suffered when Christine left her. She feared that ultimately her need would force Anna toleave 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 criedfor what she had done, and what she must do. Finally, she returned to the house to await Anna's awakening, and to seal her own fate.
Anna knew instinctively as she reached out that she was alone.
"Graham?" she called.
"I'm 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 Graham's posture and tone of voice not to know when she was distressed.
"I'm stiff, and sore just abouteverywhere, 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 didn't need to think—all she knew was the joy of Graham's presence. She didn't need to think now to know she had been more deeply moved by Graham's touch than any other event in her life. She didn't need words to capture the ecstasy of loving this woman. Her skin still tingled from the stroke of Graham's hands, her body stirred with desire at the sight ofher. She loved her, more passionately than she would have believed possible. Graham Yardley had claimed her, willingly or not—heart, body and soul.
"You don't need to say anything, Graham, " Anna replied. "Last night, with you, was more beautiful than anything I've ever experienced. No one has ever touched me -"
Graham interrupted her harshly. She could not bear to hear these words! "Anna, you were hurt, vulnerable—you needed comforting! I—I was frightened—I forgot myself. It wasn't meant. I'm sorry. "
"What are you saying? Are you tryingto tell me last night was some kind of mistake?!" Anna asked incredulously. She stared at Graham uncomprehendingly. "You can't mean that! For God's sake, Graham-"
"We were both frightened, exhausted - I took advantage, " Graham stated flatly.
"Graham! I asked you into my bed—I've been wanting, needing you, for so long! God Graham! I loveyou, " Anna cried vehemently.
Graham groaned. "Anna—Anna, you must not!" She drew a deep breath, her face set. "Last night should neverhave 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 Anna's words affected her at all. "There can be no question of anything other than a friendship between us. If I've 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 Graham's touch—she 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.
"I'm quite sure. " Her face betrayed not a flicker of emotion.
"Then I'll 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 Graham's 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 what's she's done!" Helen cried frantically as she watched Anna pile boxes into the back of her Jeep.
"She hasn't doneanything, " Anna replied woodenly. "She's exactly the same as she's 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.
"There's 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
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 it—as she accepted that there was aplace 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 againin 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 knownduring her marriage—a world now foreign to her. Loving Graham had taught herthat 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 womancould 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 shewould be ambushed by desire—her need to touch her, to taste her, to loseherself in her was palpable. Anna welcomed these moments, despite the bitter pain of loss, because it was only their presence that convinced her some partof 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 eachday would come, and that she would somehow survive. As she moved about hersmall 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 - thingstoo painful to dwell on now.
She still found it hard to believe thedirection her life had taken. She now worked for a landscape design firm, a jobthat 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 thatinitial interview.
Lauren Parker, a nationally renowned landscape architect and one of a very few women to head her own firm, hadinterviewed 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 Anna's graduate work on historic estaterenovations, an area she said her firm was interested in exploring. Although itseemed now to Anna that she had floated through the interview in a daze, shemust have made a favorable impression. She had been there six months. Shegrabbed her briefcase and hurried toward the door. She needed this job, butmore importantly, she needed to work. It was the only thing which providedbrief 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 lookedup to find Lauren leaning against the partition. It wasn't 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 forher knew how fortunate they were to have an employer who was talented as wellas fair-minded.
Anna smiled a greeting, laying her workaside. "Hi. "
"Hi. How's 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. We'reahead of schedule, which should appease those elements on Randolph's 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 man's field. This job was her entree intothe realm of historic renovation she had been waiting for.
Lauren hesitated a second, then asked, "How about a working dinner tonight? I'd like to hear what you've come upwith so far, but I've got clients scheduled all afternoon. If you don't have other plans? I know it's Friday night. "
A shadow flickered across Anna's face andwas quickly gone. "No, " she said quietly, "I don't have anyplans. Dinner would be fine. Should I meet you somewhere?"
"Why don't we just grab a cab fromhere?" Lauren hadn't 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. "Good—I'm looking forward to it. "
At six o'clock Lauren stopped in thecorridor beside Anna's desk. "Are you ready to finish up? The cab shouldbe downstairs in about fifteen minutes. "
Anna smiled up at her, nodding. "I'm more than ready. I'll just freshen up and meet you outside. "
Lauren held the cab door open while Annaslid in, then instructed the driver, "The Copely Plaza, please, " asshe settled next to Anna with a sigh. "God, I've been looking forward tothis all day. "
"I might be a little under-dressedfor 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 herhad 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 seemedto shadow her every moment. She smiled occasionally now, a blazing smile that never failed to capture Lauren's attention for just long enough to be distracting. Pleasantly distracting.
Anna blushed under Lauren's warm, appraising glance. It was nothing like the way men had looked at her, still didin fact. She didn't feel as if she were being assessed like a painting about tobe purchased, or a fine wine about to be consumed. Lauren's glance was appreciative, and intimate in a respectful way. It was the first time Anna hadever been aware of a woman looking at her in quite that manner. Would Grahamhave, if she could have seen her? Without warning she remembered the way Graham had stroked her face after they made love, 'seeing' her in the only way she could. Anna recognized the sensuality of Lauren's gaze because she had felt it, magnified a thousand times, in Graham's hands on her skin. The image was so painful she closed her eyes with a small gasp.
"What is it?" Lauren asked inconcern.
"Just a headache, " Anna said with a shaky laugh. "I think I forgot lunch and it's catching up withme. "
"Well, dinner is on thecompany, " Lauren said, almost as if she didn't own it. "Let's enjoyit!" 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, visiblyshaken. Something had hurt her badly, and Lauren guessed that Anna kept the anguish at bay through sheer strength of will. Anna's struggle touched somedeep cord in Lauren, as she watched the younger woman slowly rise above herpain over the past months. "Come on, " she said, touching Anna's handbriefly. "Let me buy you a drink. "
Anna forced herself to relax, wanting toforget 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 avery fine wine.
At Lauren's suggestion, they got business out of the way while they waited for appetizers, so that by the time their mealcame, their conversation was casual. Anna found Lauren an easy companion. Herinterests 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 shereached to fill Anna's 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 withus for the long-term. There will be plenty of opportunity foradvancement. "
Anna stared at her in surprise. She hadn't expected Lauren to notice her work, let alone comment so favorably upon it. Shewas 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. "There's never an easy way to do this, at least none that I've 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. "Idon't have the faintest idea what you're talking about, " she said.
Lauren blushed and laughed lightly. "How could you? I'm not saying anything!" She leaned forward slightly, her intense grey eyes fixed on Anna's. "Anna—I think you are avery attractive woman, and I like you. I would very much like to spend more time with you—socially. 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 haven't—I mean, I am a lesbian. "
Lauren added in concern, "I have never asked an employee out before. I meant it, Anna—don't think for a secondthat this has any bearing on your position at the firm. Please!"
Anna searched for her voice. "Idon't—it doesn't 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 Graham's, in every fiber of her being, and always would be. She lookedat Lauren helplessly, "It's not that -it's just-, I can't, Lauren, I'm sorry—"
Lauren thought she detected tears in her eyes. "Hey, " she said softly, "it's okay. I didn't mean to upset you. "
Anna shook her head, brushing impatiently at the moisture on her cheeks. "You haven't—this has been the best night I've spent in months. And if things were different—"
Lauren hurried to state, "I don'twant to get in the middle of anything if you're already involved with someone. I've never heard you mention anyone. "
"No, " Anna answered, the pain in her voice impossible to hide. "I'm not involved with anyone. "
"But?" Lauren questioned gently.
Anna's gaze was wounded. "But thereis someone I love, very much—someone who apparently doesn't love me. But that doesn't stop the wanting—does it?"
Lauren looked at her sympathetically. "No, it doesn't. Perhaps time will help. I've enjoyed our evening together. And I'd like to do it again sometime. I appreciate your honesty, Anna, and if the time comes that you might feel differently about seeing me, I'll consider myself lucky. 'Til then—friends?"
Anna smiled tremulously. "I could use a friend. Thank you,
As time passed Lauren proved true to herword. On the average of once a week, she invited Anna to the theatre or out fordinner. The only place Anna refused to accompany her was to the symphony. Anna hadn't 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 manyimages of her there. Seeing Anna's response the first time she asked her, Lauren never asked her again.
Anna enjoyed their time together, comingto value their relationship immensely. She would not speak of her past, andLauren did not press her. When they parted, Lauren kissed her lightly on the cheek. It didn't escape Anna's 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?"
"I'll be right there, " Anna replied, rolling up the plan she had been working on.
When Anna entered, Lauren motioned forAnna to join her at the large drafting table situated before the enormous windows overlooking the Boston Commons. She indicated a layout pinned to theboard. 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 it's time to push the promotional we discussed when you firstinterviewed. I'd like to use your work at Yardley as the center piece. It's 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, I'd like you to overseethe project. We'll need detailed plans, as well as photo documentation. I wantyou to put your other projects on hold until this is off the ground. "
Anna stood stunned and speechless, whileLauren 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 shehad been training to do—but, oh god, not at Yardley! Her composure threatened to give way under a wave of panic.
"I can't, " she finallywhispered.
Lauren stared at her in astonishment. "What do you mean, 'you can't?' Is it because of your thesis? I thought you had that nearly wrapped up. "
"No, " Anna forced herself to say calmly. "I'll work on the promotional—anything else you want. Anything. But I can't do the work on Yardley. "
"But Anna, I want Yardley as the mainwork. That's where I need you!"
Anna passed a trembling hand across herface, trying to gather her wits. Just the mention of Yardley had brought aflood of memories, and such pain she thought she might be ill. God, what wouldshe do if she actually had to see Graham? It was impossible! She couldn't doit!
"Anna, we're friends. Tell me whatthis is all about. " Lauren laid her hand gently on Anna's 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 can't go back to Yardley, "Anna said at last, her voice shaking.
"Graham—" Anna began, barely able to say her name. "I can't see her. I can't. " She looked atLauren pleadingly. "Please don't 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 buthad never given it any thought. Now Anna's isolation and depression were moreunderstandable.
"Graham Yardley - the composer, "Lauren said softly. "She's the woman you're in love with, isn't 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. Laurenheld her gently, letting her cry, not trying to tell her it as all right whenit so obviously wasn't. At length Anna drew away, fumbling for a tissue, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, " she said. "I didn't expect this - if I don't think about her, I seem to be able to manage. You took me by surprise. "
Lauren let out a long breath. "Anna, you've always been honest with me and I care about you. I don't want to see you suffer like this any longer, and I'll admit not all of my reasons are selflessones. I won't pretend that I don't want more from our relationship, but thisisn't about that. This is destroying you. You need to give her up—you have therest of your life, don't 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 can't heal what's already dead, and that's what I am inside, Lauren. Dead. All I'm trying to do now is make it from day to day. If I have tosee Graham, I won't even be able to do that! She's not something I can just'give up'! She's in every part of me. You can't imagine what being near her islike for me!"
Lauren winced at the truth of Anna'swords. It wasn't easy to be faced with the extent of Anna's passion for anotherwoman, but nevertheless her tone was kind as she offered, "You won't haveto see her. She isn't there. "
Anna grasped the edge of the table, herhead suddenly light. "Oh, dear god, has something happened to her? Is sheall 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 thelook of panic on Anna's face, she added gently, "That's really all I know. "
Anna forced down the surge of panic. "I can't make a decision about this now, Lauren. Give me a little time—just a few day, please. "
Lauren nodded, reluctantly accepting thatAnna's heart still belonged completely to Graham Yardley. Despite her own disappointment, as a friend, she would have to let Anna find her own way.
"I'll need your answer by the end of next week , " she conceded.
That night Anna dreamed of Yardley, and ofGraham. A storm was coming, like the storm that brought down the sycamore. Shewas in the garden, the sky darkening around her. Turning to the sea, she sawGraham 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 dangerof being swept from the earth by the force of the snarling winds. Anna's criesto her were flung back in her face by the howling blasts. She must reach her!!
"Graham, I'm coming, " shescreamed soundlessly, "I'm 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 YardleyManor, her heart pounding. Yardley appeared abandoned, dark and foreboding. Theshutters were all closed, and windswept debris littered the walks and the widefront 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 tothe sea, images flashing through her mind like slides on a screen. She recalledhow Graham had looked that first day in the library, pale and stern, and sostubborn and proud! She had been drawn to her even then. She remembered thes low 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 thememory of Graham's music—its haunting beauty and the even more beautiful imageof Graham playing. As the music cascaded through her mind, so too did the remembrance of their lovemaking. She ached for Graham's touch, and to touch her in return.
Watching thewaves crash below, ominous
in their fury, she was reminded of the desolation she had felt in her dream.
She couldn't continue to live like this. Anna felt astrange 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 tothis torment. As she
turned and began the long climb back, Anna became aware of another sensation
in her heart. She finally recognized that it was hope.
"I'm afraid I simply cannot reveal that information. I'm truly sorry. "
Anna looked at David Norcross and repeated determinedly, "I must see her. Where has she gone?"
Norcross sighed. "I have strictinstructions that no one is to be given that information. If you'd like, you can leave a message. " His look suggested there was little chance that Graham would return anyone's 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 matterof 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 me—I hope. I let her drive me away, but I can't believe that's whatshe really wants. Please, I must see her. Now, before it's too late. " Even as she spoke, she struggled with a strange sense of foreboding. She couldn't 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. Graham's accident nearly killed him, but you must know that, " he said, turning to look fully at Anna. "Graham survived, but something vital was lost —her joy, her incredible passion, her great talent—all gone. We all lost something as a result - and the world lost a great artist. "
Anna nodded. "I know that—but itdoesn't have to be that way. It's still part of her, Mr. Norcross - undiminished. She's been hurt, and she's 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, huggingher fiercely. "Yes, Helen, it's really me. " She stepped back to gazeat the older woman, instantly struck by the distress and worry in her face. Forthe 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. "She's out in the gazebo. " Helen's voice caught on a sob, and she turned away to hide her tears. "I was just taking her tea. I'll ask her if she'll see you. "
Anna gently restrained her with a hand on her arm. "No you won't. This time it isn't up to her. I intend to talk to her. "
"Then you'd better prepareyourself—she's ill. "
Something in the way Helen looked told more than her words. Icy fear gripped Anna's heart. "Tell me. "
Helen's voice trembled as she recounted the events of the last few terrifying weeks. "She came down with pneumonia—six weeks ago, I think. For some reason the doctors couldn't explain to me, she didn't respond the way they expected to the medicines. Theysaid there was something wrong with her resistance—but—"
"What do you think?" Annaasked, her throat painfully tight.
Helen looked at Anna sadly, then replied, "I think she didn't care if she got well. I've seen Graham through what Ithought were the worst times of her life, and I've never seen her like this. "
"Why are you here? Why did you leave Yardley?" Anna asked, fighting her panic, struggling to understand whatwas happening.
Helen tried not to sound harsh, but herfear outweighed her concern for Anna's feelings. "I told you whatwould happen if you left her! She wouldn't stay there a day after you moved out. Ordered a car, told me to close the house, and left for Philadelphia thatnight. She's been alone with her piano day and night, worse than I've ever seen her. One final work, she said - and she's been at it frantically for months. Nowonder the doctors couldn't help! I know what's she's 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 didn't 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 her—"
"Oh, god, " Anna groaned. Please don't let this be happening!
"But she made me promise that I wouldn't. She didn't want your pity, she said. "
"My god, she's a fool—but no more sothan I, " Anna said harshly. "I called her a coward, but it was I whowas the coward—. 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 wasn't your love she doubted, " Helen corrected gently.
"Then what?" Anna cried infrustration.
"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, didn't I?" Anna said bitterly. "This is madness - I have to make her hear me, Helen. I love her so much!"
"Just don't let her send you away, " Helen said firmly, beginning to hope for the first time in months. "She'll try to, you know. "
Anna shook her head grimly. "I won'tleave if there's any part of her that loves me - no matter what she says. "
Helen smiled, "Then I needn't 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, Helen—just 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 indisbelief. 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, it's me, " she said, struggling to keep the fear from showing in her voice. "I'm sorry it's 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 herprevious authority she demanded, "Did Helen send for you?"
"No, darling, she didn't. I camebecause I couldn't bear being separated from you any longer. I've missed you somuch. "
"I don't want your pity, Anna, "Graham snapped, her tone harsh. "And I don't want you here because of myneeds. " Sagging slightly despite her best efforts, she passed a tremblinghand 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 tograsp Graham's shoulders in her hands. "Not your needs, Graham—mine. I need you—more than you'll 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 won't you let me come home?"
Graham bowed her head, eyes closed. "Anna, I don't know if I can- I don't know if I dare. "
This time Anna would not be denied - she would not give up. "What can't you do, darling? Is it that you don't want me?"
Graham couldn't resist a fleeting caress against Anna's cheek. She had thought never to feel her again. She had tried sohard 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 Graham's fingers, bestowing a fleeting kiss to her palm. "Tell me why you won't let me love you. "
Graham drew a shuddering breath, her eyes closed against the pain. "I'm afraid that if I do, it will happen again. Iam everything Christine accused me of being - possessive, demanding, consuming in my need - I'm afraid if I take you into my life, all of my life - I'll 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 strangledwhisper, and the anguish in Graham's voice fueled Anna's anger. Christine had ruled Graham's life, even in her absence, for far too long! She would not ruleher future, nor Anna's!
"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 you—loving you, being loved by you!" She stepped closer until her body pressed lightly against Graham's, forcing her to feel her passion. "Tell me you don't love me, Graham - tell me you don't want me - and I'll go. "
"I can't, " Graham groaned, trembling at Anna's nearness. She hadn't been born strong enough to resist thistorture!
"I have made my choice, Graham, and Ichoose 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 outof love—not 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. Herlips sought Anna's 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 Graham's 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, " Grahammurmured, insistent, one hand sliding under the loose fabric at Anna's waist. Her hand moved lower, seeking the hot welcoming wetness.
"Graham, wait!" Anna said with effort. "We can't do this here!"
"I don't intend to let you go, "Graham growled, her lips seeking Anna's again.
"Does this mean you love me?"Anna teased gently, pressing both hands against Graham's chest, restraining herfor a moment.
"Eternally, my love, " Grahamaffirmed, 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, suddenlyuncertain, her face questioning. Anna smiled softly as her grip on Graham's hand tightened.
"I haven't changed my mind. I'llnever change my mind about loving you, " Anna whispered gently. "Don'tmake me wait to show you how much I love you, darling. It's been far too long already. "
They undressed with urgent hands, caressing each other with the wonder of newly discovered love. It was Anna whodrew 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 couldgive 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 Graham's 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. "It's all Ineed. Please. "
As gently as she knew how, Anna took her. Herlips 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 andtrembling 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 Graham's flesh beneath her lips, and the breathtaking wonder of her cries filling the air. After the long months of waiting, Annadidn't 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 herlegs, 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 neededto 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, herhead resting against Graham's 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 havethought you capable of such understatement!" Anna laughed softly, tenderly caressing Graham's cheek. Serious again, she swept her lips across Graham's. "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 Graham's eyes. "First of all, I want to see you wellagain, " Anna stated quietly.
Graham looked uncomfortable, turning herface away. "It's nothing that having you here won't cure. "
"Tell me about it, Graham. I'm withyou now. Please let me help, " Anna urged, pulling Graham close against her.
"After you left, I couldn't stay at Yardley. Nothing, not even losing my sight, was as devastating as losing you. " Graham's voice was low and halting. Just recounting the desolation of those days was agonizing.
"Oh, my darling!" Anna cried, near tears. "I'm 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. It's over now, "Graham soothed, silencing Anna with a kiss. "All that matters is that youare here. " She didn't tell Anna of how close she had been to death, andhow death had seemed like a welcome friend, offering her surcease from aloneliness she could no longer endure. But though her soul had longed fordelivery, her body had rallied, and although weak, she was indeed recovering.
"I will never leave you, Graham—you 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 willmy love, " Graham murmured, her lips finding
Anna's, finally daring to hopethat love could be
"They look good, " Anna called as she pulled the Jeep along side Daphne and her crew. She indicated the newshrubs the women were putting in beside the entrance at Yardley.
Daphne leaned down to the window, smiling at her boss. "They're great specimens! We should be done here soon. I thought we'd 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 you're watching women!"
Anna caught the mischievous glint in hereye, 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 weren't I know better than to lust after Graham. She doesn't know there's another woman on earth besides you, and you'd have my hide just for the thought! I was talking about my new kid, Lori—she's got a bad case for Graham's assistant. She seems to find all kinds of excuses to wanderby the music room when they're working. "
Anna glanced at her watch—it was almost five in the afternoon. "Are Graham and Sheila still at it? They were upmost of the night! Graham promised me she'd get some rest!!" she finished worriedly. The memory of the long agonizing months alone in Boston still lingered. Graham's recent illness left her terrified that something would take Grahamfrom her.
Daphne saw the fear flicker across Anna's 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. I've never seen her like she is now. She's strong andhealthy. 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. "It's helped Graham to have Sheila here—she's transcribing Graham's new work and cataloging her unpublished pieces. It's justthat the two of them can get lost when they're working. Sheila's almost as bad as Graham!"
"She's writing her graduate thesis on Graham's compositions, right?"
"Yes—actually, she's astudent-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 withthem 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 Graham's other needs as well. She dealt with Graham's blindness in an understated way that did not impinge on Graham's need for independence. Annatrusted her with her most valuable possession - her lovers' well-being.
"Well a year ought to give Lori enough time to win her heart—"
Anna laughed. "You have a one-trackmind. "
"Oh, and you don't?" Daphne rejoined.
Anna blushed, recalling the urge she hadhad on the drive home to feel Graham's hands on her body. Even now she couldn't believe the turn her life had taken. She hadn't imagined she could be this happy. She put the Jeep in gear and pulled away smiling.
She tapped lightly at the door to themusic room—it stood open and as she listened, she knew it was Graham playing without looking. Graham said that Sheila was a very gifted musician, but Annanever confused the two. When Graham played, the combination of grace and powerwas unmistakable—it 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 Anna's breath away and often kindled desire so intense that she shook.
She cleared her throat as the refrainended and called, "Hey, you two—are you ready to take a break any timesoon?"
Graham swiveled toward her, smiling a greeting. "You're home early, aren't you, love?" She looked fresh andenergized, a sure sign that her work was going well. She clearly had no idea of the time, and Anna was willing to bet they hadn't stopped for lunch. Anna cast a stern glance at Sheila, who shrugged her shoulders sheepishly as she escaped toward the door.
"You're 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 Anna's hands where they lay on her chest. She turned Anna's palm up, pressing her lips to the soft skin before resting her cheek in the curve of Anna's hand. She sighed contentedly.
"I'm glad you're home, " shemurmured.
"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 Anna's, the expression on her face contemplative. "I have agreed to give a performance for the symphony in July. "
Anna gasped. "Oh darling, that's wonderful!" It was more than she had ever imagined possible.
"You don't mind?" Graham askedin a subdued tone. "It won't 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 I'll be working more—andwhen I'm preparing for a performance, I tend to get absorbed. "
Anna thought she understood what Grahamwasn't saying. "And you think I'll come to resent that?"
"Graham, " Anna began carefully, "I know what you're like when you work, and sometimes I do worry—but not about us, - about you. You forget to eat, you forget to sleep, you lose weight you don't have to spare. I have never felt, not once, that I didn't matter toyou—or that you had stopped loving me, even for a moment. "
"I couldn't stop loving you, not and still draw a breath, " Graham whispered, her fingers tightening their grip on Anna's. "You are my light, and my heart. You are the reason there is music in my soul. "
"As long as that is true, we'll befine, " Anna assured her. "But you must promise me that you will take care of yourself. I need you so much, Graham. Without you—there's no point—"
Graham stilled her words with a kiss. "I promise, my love. "
There was something else. Anna could senseit in the tension of Graham's body, the quiet tone of her voice. Something worried her lover still.
"Now tell me the rest, " she ordered gently, fitting herself closer against Graham's side.
"If I perform, " Graham began uncertainly, then finished firmly, "I've been here before, Anna. There's no point pretending it won't create an uproar. Once I make an appearance, the demands for my time will intensify. There will be pressure for me totour. "
Anna took her time, thinking of the ramifications of Graham's words. She welcomed the changes in Graham over the last months. Graham was suffused with energy, her creative powers seemingly unleashed by thesecurity of Anna's presence. She was vital, dynamic, almost intoxicating in her passionate embrace of life. Her ardor for Anna, her muse, was boundless. Annahadn't imagined she could be this happy. Now she was faced with the reality of Graham's true stature in the world. She was a peerless artist, one whom the world would not let go lightly yet again. If Graham 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.
"It's no matter, " Graham saiddecisively. "I'll simply tell them 'no'. "
"You can't do that, Graham. And Iwouldn't ask you to, " Anna began quietly. "I love you - and I havealways known who you are - what you are. You don't belong just to me-"
"I do belong just toyou, " Graham interrupted fiercely.
Anna laughed gently, resting her hand possessively on Graham's thigh. "I know that, my darling. I was speaking of your music. I wouldn't keep you from it, and you can't keep it from the world - you'll 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 thestage, her return would be complete. She was about to reclaim the world sheonce 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 greathelp. I can limit foreign travel- but it's still going to be unbearable being apart from you -"
Anna rose, stilling Graham's restless motion with a hand on her arm. She grasped her about the waist, holding her firmly. "You can't think I'd 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 can't think I could ever want anyone but you? Don't you know you are my life?"
"I'm not taking any chances, "Anna uttered as she kissed her swiftly.
"But your job?"
"I'll try to work something out with Lauren when the time comes - maybe I can freelance for her. Work part time - Idon't know. I don't care. Where you need to be is where I'll be. You're what Ineed. "
Graham pulled her near, admitting in a lowvoice, "I'm not worried about the music - that's never been the hard part. But the people - the promoters, the agents, the press - they want so much from me. It's hard to keep from being consumed. I'm not sure I could do it again-especially now, when I can't 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 won't have to worry;you're not alone any more. "
The tension finally eased from Graham's body as she gentled under Anna's 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 Anna's ear asshe stroked her tauntingly. "A command performance - my favoritething. "
"It had better be, " Anna gasped. "And I can't wait any longer for you to begin. "
Graham's 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 witha smile.
"My goodness, it's one o'clock! I'dbetter get ready!"
"You have plenty of time—you'll endup waiting, " Anna suggested as if it would make a difference.
"I've been waiting nearly fifteenyears for this—a few hours is nothing! I still think we should take theBentley. 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 rightthen, " Helen relented. Then she continued with concern, "You didinterview the chauffeur?"
Anna laughed. "I did, and it's awoman. She understands exactly what we need. It will be perfect. "
"And you double checked that theinvitations went out for the reception? I could have done that, you know. Ialways did that before. "
"I know, " Anna replied gently, "and I would have been lost without your help this time. I know theyarrived, because Lauren got hers. It was more important that you look after Graham. " Anna was nearly as anxious as Helen, and she desperately neededto see Graham. "Now, where is she?"
"She's 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 didn'teven practice. She rarely did the day of a performance. The barber has come andgone. Oh, I do hope it goes well! This is so important to her!"
"Helen, " Anna reminded her withconviction, "this is what Graham was born for. Don't worry, she'll bemagnificent. "
"You believe that, don't you?"
"Absolutely. I know it. "
"I give thanks every day that youcame to us, " Helen whispered, tears in her eyes.
Anna hugged her. "No more thanI. "
She entered their bedroom to find herlover reclining in one of the chairs before the open window. She was in a blacksilk dressing jacket, looking impossibly relaxed. And impossibly beautiful. Inrepose, her features always reminded Anna of a classical sculpture—cool, remote, elegantly refined. It was the same handsome face that looked back ather from the posters all over the city announcing Graham's concert that night. Anna admired her from a distance before Graham's expression softened with recognition at the sound of her step on the parquet floor.
"Hello, my love, " Graham calledsoftly.
"Hello, darling. What were you just thinking of?"
Graham looked surprised. "The music. "
Anna settled onto the arm of Graham's chair, resting her fingers in the thick hair at the base of Graham's 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 werelost somewhere, somewhere no one can follow. "
"Does that bother you?" Grahammurmured as her lips sought the sensitive spot beneath Anna's ear.
"It might, " Anna breathed as she turned her lips to Graham's. The kiss deepened, and soon they were bothgasping. Anna's head felt light and her body burned. "If I couldn't cal lyou back to me, " she said, her voice husky with desire.
Graham got to her feet, pulling Anna upinto her arms. "You can always call me back, " she whispered againstthe warm skin of Anna's neck. "Because I am yours. " With one hand she held Anna close, with the other she parted the front of Anna's blouse, slippingher hand inside to cup her breast.
Anna groaned, feeling the length ofGraham's naked thigh pressing against her. "Graham, stop—we can't—you needto get ready. " She gasped as Graham's hand dropped lower, finding herrising heat. "Oh no - that's not fair! You make me want you so much!"
Graham laughed, pulling Anna toward thebed. "Don't you know I've been waiting all morning for this? You are theonly thing I need right now.
"Is that some sort of pre-performanceritual?" Anna asked as she toweled off from the shower. Graham'slovemaking was always a reflection of her emotional state, and this time shehad been explosively intense, consuming in her hunger.
Graham grinned. "Now there's 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 asher grin deepened. "Where are the studs for my shirt?"
"On your dresser—just to the right ofyour brushes. "
Anna watched the graceful fingers expertlyfit the small mother-of-pearl studs through the holes in the starched formalshirt—the same fingers that just an hour ago had claimed her, relentlessly, until they had drawn the last trembling shudders from her body.
"You're watching me, " Grahamremarked, reaching for the white silk tie. She turned the length of it in herfingers, orienting it so she could tie it.
Anna laughed softly, drawing the delicatefabric into her hands, reaching up to fit it around her lover's neck.
"Was I doing that wrong?" Grahamasked, her face puzzled.
"You never do anything wrong, "Anna admonished gently. "I'm doing it because it pleases me to doit. " She finished the knot and brushed a kiss across Graham's lips. "I love you—and I'm so proud of you. "
Graham returned the kiss, her expressionserious. "I love you—with all my heart. Now, tell me about your dress. Iwant to have a picture of you in my mind tonight. "
Anna stepped away, lifting the flowingfabric from the hanger, settling it over her body. "Why don't you come seefor yourself, " she teased.
A faint smile flickered at the corner ofGraham's fine mouth. No one in her life could command her the way Anna did.
"All right. "
She crossed to Anna, who stood still asGraham gently traced the material that fell from her shoulders, following thelines along her bodice and down to her waist. Her exploring touch rekindled thefire in Anna's body, and Anna battled the urge to draw those gently strokingfingers to her again. They absolutely did not have time for this now!
"And the color?" Graham murmuredhuskily, her hands resting on Anna's hips.
"Midnight—on a clear night inOctober, " Anna managed, sliding her arms around Graham's neck.
Graham nodded, holding her close. "Beautiful. "
Anna touched a finger to her own lips, then to Graham's. "Thank you.
They rode in silence to the symphony hall. Anna's hand rested gently in Graham's. Graham's hand was warm and steady. Asthey slowed to glide up to the curb, Anna glanced out the window.
"Tell me, " Graham said calmly.
"There are a lot of people—quite anumber of photographers. The sidewalk is roped off, though. "
"How far?" came the quietquestion.
"The same distance as from our frontdoor to your music room. Four steps up—then five steps to the door. Sheila iswaiting back stage in your dressing room. "
Graham didn't ask how Anna knew theprecise distance Graham would have to travel in front of a curious crowd, awalk she had taken so many times before, but never in darkness. Anna didn'ttell her she had been there the day before just to be certain. Anna couldn'teven begin to imagine how difficult this first public appearance since theaccident must be for Graham. She wanted to make it as easy as she could forher. She squeezed Graham's 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 pushedthe limo door open, stepping out to a barrage of camera flashes and a cacophonyof voices calling to her—"Ms. Yardley! Meistrin! Over here!"
Oblivious to the demands of the crowd, shereached down and handed Anna from the car, tucking Anna's hand firmly into thecurve of her arm. "But I don't have to do it alone any longer, do I?"she whispered to Anna as they turned and began the walk Graham was born tomake.
The concert hall was filled to capacity. The news of Graham's return to the concert stage had created a stir in themusic 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 pianists' hands on thekeyboard. Shortly after they were seated a young usher approached, a bouquet oflong-stemmed white roses in his arms. He stopped before Anna, saying, "Foryou, madam. "
Anna cradled the flowers, opening the cardwith trembling hands. In Graham's bold hand the message read, "You are mystrength and my inspiration. You are my heart. All the music is for you. Yourseternally, Graham. "
"Oh, Graham, " she murmured, tears suddenly wetting her cheeks.
"Are you all right, dear?" Helenasked in concern.
Anna took her hand, squeezing it gentlywhile she tried to contain her tears. "When I think that I could have losther - that we all might have lost her. Oh, Helen!"
Helen patted her hand reassuringly. "You needn't worry, Anna. She's stronger for having you than ever she wasbefore the accident. "
The house lights dimmed and suddenlyGraham was on stage - tall, elegant, perfectly composed. She bowed once inacknowledgement to the orchestra and the audience, then settled herself beforethe piano as if she had never been away.
Anna watched the slender form bend to thestrains of the music that filled the hall; a refrain that carried all thebeauty and tender passion of Graham's heart to those who listened. At last shewitnessed what she had only imagined from faded images in a dusty scrapbook. Alone in the muted spotlight, center stage, the impresario gifted them with hergenius. The audience was on its feet just as the last notes faded away, strewing the stage with flowers, welcoming Graham home. Graham stood toacknowledge the applause, turning toward the seats where she knew Anna sat. Shebowed first to her, one hand to her heart, offering her thanks. Through hertears, Anna looked into the dark eyes that she knew could see into her verysoul.
When finally the ovation began to abate, Graham left the stage, and found herself immediately surrounded by peoplerequesting a statement or an interview. A hand unobtrusively took her elbow, steadying her in the jostling crowd.
"Let's get back to your dressingroom, " Sheila suggested. She had been waiting offstage at Anna's request. They both knew what would happen the moment Graham appeared in the wings. Therewould be no way for her to orient herself there, especially when she would beexhausted from the rigors of her performance.
"Where is Anna?" Graham askedimmediately, grateful for Sheila's presence in the demanding press of people.
"She's coming, " Sheila repliedgrimly as she shouldered a path through a throng of reporters and fans. Thecrowd was at a fever pitch of excitement, everyone wanting to get to Graham, pushing forward despite the security people's best efforts. It was worse thanSheila expected, and she was beginning to fear for Graham's safety.
Suddenly the hallway in front of thembegan to clear as Anna's vehement voice rang out, "You will all have achance to speak with her at the reception - and not until then! Now ifyou'll 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 thatdozens of people surrounded them. She reached for Graham's hand and brought itgently to her lips. "Hello darling. "
Graham lifted her free hand to Anna'scheek. It was still moist with tears. "Hello my love. " She drew Annagently near and rested her forehead against Anna's hair. She closed her eyeswith a sigh.
"Were you pleased?" Graham askedat last.
"Much more than pleased, " Annaanswered. "The only thing in this world I love more than your music isyou. " She stepped back with effort, for all she wanted to do was hold ontoher. Graham's jacket and shirt were soaked with sweat, and for the first timeall day, her hands trembled. Anna slipped an arm about her waist.
"Let's get you out of here, "Anna said, looking over her shoulder at the amazingly quiet group in thecorridor. "Sheila, tell them ten minutes please. "
When the door finally closed behind them, Anna drew off Graham's coat and loosened her tie.
"You needn't do that, Anna, "Graham protested when Anna began pulling the studs from her shirt.
"Graham, hush, " Anna said inexasperation. "I'll 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 you're goingto the reception. " She brushed the damp hair back from Graham's face withconcern. "Are you up to it? Because I'll just tell them all to be damnedif you're too tired. "
Graham grasped her hands. "I'm 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 Graham's sleeves. "You make me feel so loved. "
"I couldn't do this - any of this, without you, " Graham murmured, exhausted from her performance. "I'llnever be able to tell you how much I love you-"
"You don't 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 slideher fingers into Graham's hair, pulling her head down for a kiss. After amoment she said gently, "Now stand still so I can fix this tie. "
As Anna straightened her tie, Graham askedquietly, "Will you be all right in there? There are likely to be questions- about us. There was always speculation about Christine. "
"If they don't know after my littlescene in the hall, they never will, " Anna laughed tightly. She hated to bereminded that once Christine had shared moments like these with Graham. Shestill grew angry whenever she remembered the kiss she had witnessed in thelibrary. "And I couldn't give a damn about their questions. There - nowyou are your handsome self. Let's go finish your duties so I can take youhome. "
Lauren maneuvered through the crush ofpeople toward Anna. She had been trying unsuccessfully to catch Anna'sattention since she entered with Graham. Lauren soon realized that would beimpossible. 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 hertall lover. Lauren knew how frightened Anna had been by Graham's recentillness, and she doubted that anything would distract her from her evervigilant watch over her now. The instant Graham arrived, she was surrounded andswept 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 herattention. Graham looked calm and remotely detached, but Lauren could imaginethe effort it required for her to satisfy the escalating demands of thosegathered about her. And she was quite sure that Anna had no intention ofallowing Graham to be inundated like this for long.
"Thanks for the invitation to thereception, " Lauren managed when at last she reached Anna's side. Sheslipped her arm around the pretty red-head at her side. "Anna, this isLisa McCleary. Lisa is a music instructor at UMass, as well as - well, my-"
"Girlfriend, " Lisa finished forher with a kilowatt smile.
Anna smiled with true pleasure, offeringher hand. "It sounds trite to say I've heard a lot about you, but I'm gladto have finally met you. "
"And I you, " Lisa responded. "I guess I don't need to tell you how exciting this is, to have GrahamYardley performing again. She's wonderful!"
"Isn't she, " Anna responded, hereyes returning to where Graham stood. At that moment she was in deepconversation with the governor, who appeared to be as enchanted with her aseveryone else in the room. "Even I can say that without prejudice, "she laughed softly. "I'm so glad you both could come. Lauren has had toexcuse my distractibility a good deal lately. I've been more anxious thanGraham!"
"It sounds like you didn't need tobe! From what I'm hearing around the room, she's even better than before! Idon't know how that's possible, but I've never heard anyone like her. "
"Yes, " Anna said simply. "And I think she's probably worked enough for one night. Will you excuseme while I attempt a rescue?"
Before she could move away, a reporterblocked her path. "Ms. Reid, is it true that you are Graham Yardley'slover?" he asked bluntly.
Anna appraised him coolly, leaning forwardslightly to read the name on the press card pinned to his lapel. "Mr. Phillips, " she replied calmly, "Graham Yardley is inarguably one ofthe greatest artists of this century. I would think that fact alone would offermuch more of interest to your readers than speculation about her personallife. "
"Am I to take it then that you denyany intimate relationship with her?" he persisted, a smug grin on hisface.
"There is nothing about myrelationship with Graham I would deny, " Anna answered firmly, "leastof all my love. "
"And is it also true that ChristineHunt-Blair was once her lover as well?"
Anna fixed him with a steely stare. "You would have to ask Mrs. Hunt-Blair about their pastrelationship. " She pointedly turned her back, determined not to reveal herwrath at the mention of Christine. Would she never be done hearing of her?!
As Anna made her way slowly across thelarge room, Graham was approached by yet another admirer. From where she was, Anna could only watch, anger combining with an unexpected surge ofpossessiveness.
"Hello, darling, " a sultry voicebeside 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, asusual!" Christine purred, stepping close enough for Graham to catch thescent of her perfume. Her breasts lightly grazed Graham's chest.
"Thank you, " Graham replied, raising her head, casting a glance about the room. Her eyes fell so unerringlyon her lover in the midst of the crowd, anyone looking at her would have swornthat she could see. Graham relaxed perceptibly when she sensed an answeringgaze upon her face.
"Why so formal, darling, "Christine admonished, taking advantage of the crush of people to move closerstill. She toyed with a stud on the front of Graham's shirt. "As I recall, you used to rather like my presence after a performance. As a matter of factyou were quite demanding about your requirements. I remember you couldbarely wait to get me alone. Not that I minded of course. You were always atyour best after a concert. " As she spoke, she curled her fingers ever soslightly under the waistband of Graham's trousers.
"That was a long time ago, " Annasaid succinctly as she stepped to Graham's side, taking Graham's hand in hers, forcing Christine back a step. Graham laced her fingers gently through Anna's.
"Things are very different for Grahamnow, " Anna continued, furious at Christine's suggestive remarks, butstruggling for calm. This was no place for a scene, as dearly as she would liketo make it clear that Christine had no rights to Graham any longer.
"But some things never change, dothey Graham?" Christine questioned softly, her eyes on Graham's face, ignoring Anna entirely. Necessity had made her bold. If she were to reclaimGraham, it would have to be here, now, on the stage she had alwaysshared with Graham. "Don't tell me you've forgotten what it was like, darling -adored by everyone, - the celebrity, the excitement, the lovemaking -don't expect me to believe you've forgotten that! I haven't forgotten, Icould never forget! We could have it all again, Graham - just as it was, thetwo of us. You could have everything you ever wanted. "
Graham tightened her hold on Anna, drawingher close against her side. "I already have everything I want - more thanI ever dreamed possible. More than I deserve. What we had is over Christine. Ihave everything I need right here. Now, if you'll excuse us, I'd like Anna totake me home. "
"I had the limo brought aroundback, " Anna said as Christine stared after them in shock. "Just turnaround and we can sneak out. "
When they were settled at last in theexpansive rear seat of the stretch limo, Helen happily directing the chauffeurfrom her seat up front beyond the smoked-glass partition, Graham spoke quietly. "I'm terribly sorry about Christine. I had no idea she would bethere. "
"I doubt there's any event whereChristine Hunt-Blair is not invited, " Anna said acerbically, remindingherself of her resolution to remain calm. She failed. "God, I hatethe way she touches you! She acts like she owns you!"
"Well, she doesn't. And she hasn'tfor a long time, " Graham responded gently.
"Well I wish someone would tell herthat!!" Anna railed.
Graham raised an eyebrow. "I thoughtI 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 Graham's 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 Grahamwas concerned, and not above making her claim very clear. She slipped a handalong the inside of Graham's 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 Graham's body.
"Yes, " Graham said tightly asAnna's 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 wantingAnna's touch to continue and trying to save some semblance of control.
"Now that's something you might have mentioned, " Anna remarked as her fingers pressed a particularly sensitive spot, rubbing the faint prominence through the fabric. Her pulsehammered as she felt Graham shudder.
"Anna, " Graham warned unconvincingly, struggling to maintain her composure. They were in a limousine, for God's sake!
"Definitely an unexpected benefit, " Anna mused as if Graham hadn't spoken. She tormented her by touching her with no particular rhythm, moving away when she felt Graham's breath quicken. She wanted to be sure she had Graham's full attention.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Annainquired as if asking the time, returning to the spot that caused Graham toquiver.
Graham groaned softly. "It wasn't foremost in my mind, " she managed to gasp, completely under Anna's spell. She reached for Anna's hand, holding it to her, urging her to continue. "Ahh - god -"
"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 - she knew, and she pushed alittle harder, grasping her between her fingers.
Graham shivered involuntarily, tremblingin Anna's embrace. "Yes, " she whispered, "please don't stop. "
"Oh, I don't intend to stop, "Anna breathed into her ear, easing her fingers away slightly, "not ever. But since I'm conducting this particular piece, you'll have to wait until we get home for the finale. "
"Ah Jesus, " Graham rasped, hervoice catching. "Is that a promise? Because you're killing me. "
Anna held Graham fiercely, her lips urgent against her skin. "As I am yours, so are you mine. That's a pledge, and a promise, my darling. "
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This story is a work of fiction and is not intended to represent any particular individual, alive or dead. This work may not be printed or distributed for profit without the express written permission of the author.
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