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Authors: Linda Francis Lee

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Swan's Grace

BOOK: Swan's Grace
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Swan's Grace
By
Linda Francis Lee
Contents

 

 

 

 

    No one knew the real reason she couldn't marry. Yes, she didn't know how to be a wife. True, she didn't know how to live as society expected. But the truth was, it was too late to learn. Learning wouldn't change what happened the night she went to Grayson's cramped garret in Cambridge, needing him. But her plans had gone awry.

    "I always wondered why you didn't say goodbye."

    His words surprised her since she hadn't gone there intending to say good-bye. At the time she didn't know how wrong things were about to go. But she didn't tell him that.

    "I knew I couldn't have been so wrong about you," he said.

    His joy was contagious. And the late-night visit was suddenly in the past. She felt his joy, felt that old bond as if they were connected. Before she knew what she was doing, she pelted him with another handful of snow.

    This time he wasn't surprised. He grabbed some up himself, and when she tried to scramble away, he held her with his free hand. But he didn't pelt her. He pinned her in the snow. His smile faded, that deep intensity filling his features.

    She could only stare back. Then he tossed the snow aside and lowered himself until they lay face-to-face.

    "I'm going to kiss you, Sophie…"

    By Linda Francis Lee

    Published by Ivy Books
    :

    DOVE'S WAY

    SWAN'S GRACE

    An Ivy Book

    Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

    Copyright © 2000 by Linda Francis Lee

    Excerpt from
    Nightingale's Gate
    by Linda Francis Lee

    Copyright © 2000 by Linda Francis Lee

    ISBN 0-449-00206-3

    I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Stephanie Vial, DMA and Fred Raimi, MM, Duke University, and Gloria Dale Skinner, who read
    Swan's Grace
    in its early stages and offered invaluable insight.

    And, as always, to Michael.

    Prologue

    Boston 1892

    No one who met Sophie Wentworth could forget her, though Grayson Hawthorne had tried his damnedest.

    Leaning back in the chair behind the massive desk of his Boylston Street office, Grayson steepled his strong hands in front of him and thought of Sophie.

    When the two of them were young, she had followed him around with the tenacity of a bulldog. Always awkward, she never quite fit in—her knees scraped, her curls wild and unruly, her three-quarter-size cello never far from her side. A prodigy, they had called her. Not what proper Boston Brahmins wanted their daughters to be.

    But as an adult, she was captivating. More alluring than simply beautiful.

    Grayson glanced at the magazine that lay open on his desk.
    The Century
    was one of the new weekly publications that had become so popular with the masses. Each issue was filled with different stories of famous people and carefully copied sepia photographs.

    Upper-crust Bostonians wouldn't be caught dead reading such a thing. But somehow the feature article on Sophie was the main topic of conversation at every social event since it hit the newsstands.

    Boston's prodigal daughter had grown up and become famous. Grayson nearly smiled at the thought of Sophie causing such a stir. Though thankfully, if she had to be famous, it was as a classical musician and not as some provocative singing star or flamboyant stage actress.

    He had a flicker of thought that he had never seen her perform as an adult. In fact, he didn't think anyone in Boston had. But how many ways were there to play the cello?

    Until a year ago, Grayson hadn't seen Sophie in ages. But at a party for her father she had sailed into town, arriving late in a whirlwind of velvet cape and shimmering gown, jewels at her ears and neck. No longer the awkward child.

    She had kissed cheeks and held her father's arm, teasingly setting too-forward men in their place. Laughing. Always laughing.

    He had thought that his heart had hardened long ago, leaving no room for sentiment. But at the sight of Sophie he had felt something shift inside him, something undeniable, elemental and raw, drawing him in.

    Grayson hadn't been able to forget about her since.

    In truth, he knew he shouldn't be surprised. Glancing across his office, he caught sight of a polished wooden box, its brass funnel attached at the top reflecting the morning sun. A gramophone, or a talking machine, as it was commonly called. He'd had the box for years—saw it every day, sometimes hated the sentiment it represented.

    Regardless, he had never been able to get rid of it—all because of the words imbedded in the tin cylinder. Sophie's words from so long ago, words he couldn't forget. And staring at the talking machine now, Grayson finally conceded that he never would.

    Turning away, he picked up a file that lay on the walnut desk. Sophie's father, Conrad Wentworth, had discreetly set out to sell the Wentworth family home, Swan's Grace.

    Grayson wanted the redbrick-and-limestone house on Commonwealth Avenue, had for some time. Glancing out into the busy, carriage-lined street, he conceded that he also wanted Conrad's daughter.

    He wanted her passion; he wanted her fearless charging through life.

    A wry smile pulled at his lips. She also would never bore him.

    Picking up the document, Grayson read each line with an attention to detail that belied the fact that he had drafted the agreement himself only days before.

    Everything was in order.

    But when he came to the end he hesitated. If he put his name to the pages he would change his life forever.

    Then he remembered Sophie. The feel of her in his arms as he danced her across the floor. The sound of her laughter.

    With that, he took the pen from its holder and signed.

    There was no turning back. In a matter of months, Sophie Wentworth would return to Boston and become his bride.

    Chapter One

    Vienna

    The lights went down.

    Voices in the opulent gilt hall quieted to a buzz of anticipation. Standing behind the long velvet curtain, Sophie Wentworth could feel their desire. Unrelenting, intense.

    With a slow, sensual pull, like strong male hands to a woman's velvet gown, the draperies slid back. Sophie stood onstage, but she stood in darkness, waiting, her heart pounding in her chest, excitement and anticipation swirling together in a heady mix. She could sense the sea of faces in the dark, sense the hundreds of people who filled the concert hall, waiting for her.

    Then it happened, that one piercing stream of light, capturing her, tangling in her upswept hair, reflecting off the black satin cape she wore around her shoulders, and the crowd erupted in a roar of applause.

    She smiled into the light, her head tilting back as if she were soaking up the sun, her throat tight with exhilarating joy.

    This was the moment she lived for—the wave of excitement that swept through an audience when she appeared.

    It was the end of her first tour, and over the past months she had taken Paris by storm. Stockholm and Salzburg.

    Geneva. Even London, with its strict Victorian ways, had adored her.

    Only Vienna, the crowning jewel of the music world, remained. It was the city where the greatest had composed and played. Bach and Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn.

    And now she would play there, too.

    She stood without moving in the Grand Hall of Vienna's Musikverein, the deafening applause feeding her soul. It hadn't started out this way six months ago when she first began the tour. In the beginning she had played as she was taught, proper and decorous—played as she should. And critics had dismissed her as yet another former child prodigy who played the cello with a small, quaint sound.

    But she had changed all that, had changed her show. And she had surprised herself by reveling in the change. She loved the extravagant gowns and the glittering jewels. The drama. The deep, throbbing pulse of excitement.

    Boston would no doubt keel over from shock if they saw her perform now. She started to cringe, but determinedly held it at bay. Boston was the past. Europe was her future.

    Pushing back whatever remnants of inhibition she felt, Sophie let the satin cape drop from her shoulders. A gasp rose from the rows of velvet-cushioned seats up through the ornate tiers of elegant boxes at the sight of her creamy white skin revealed from her low-cut, crimson gown.

    And Sophie could feel the instant that they started wanting her even more.

    Confidence filled her like wine poured into a glass, and she took her cello from its stand, then gave a discreet nod for the pianist to join her onstage. The excited buzz ceased abruptly, encapsulating the concert hall in silence, complete and clear—not even a whisper was heard.

    She could feel the audience, feel their anticipation like a touch as she sat down with the grace of a perfect lady, then slowly pulled the instrument between her legs in the manner one of her more persistent admirers had called a provocative mix of bold abandon and startling titillation.

    No one seemed to breathe. Sophie savored the moment, closing her eyes in that crystalline space of perfect quiet while the audience waited, her bow poised. Then she began with a flourish, the faces and adoration forgotten, the world set back as she brought the bow to the strings and pulled a dazzling G major from a lively, popular tune that ensnared every man and woman there. She drew out the music with such passion and beauty that no one in the audience gave a thought to the fact that the piece she played wasn't technically difficult—so different from the pieces she had played when the world had considered her a prodigy. There was no more Beethoven. No more of her beloved Bach.

    After that she flew through a repertoire of favorite operatic pieces that had been adapted for the cello, mixing in a few heart-stirring waltzes, and captured the one remaining citadel of Europe with her dazzling up-bow staccato that wowed the crowd.

    The night was exhilarating. She could feel their desire— for her music, for her. But toward the end of the show, during a piece that was different from the rest, a more complicated composition she had thrown in because she couldn't help it, she started to savor a note, shaping it. For one unexpected second she tumbled back in time to Boston and long hours of devoted study. Playing and practicing. Striving to be perfect.

    But then she remembered where she was, and what her audience was there for. Flourish and vibrato. Spectacle and show. And she leaped into a Danzi duet with a flutist who joined her onstage.

    Then it was over, the repertoire complete, two encores played. And Sophie found herself in a dressing room back-stage filled with flowers from admirers and compliments from her entourage, who traveled with her everywhere she went.

    "You were spectacular!"

    "You were beyond spectacular!"

    Sophie smiled euphorically, adrenaline pulsing through her veins as Henry Chambers kissed her extravagantly on both cheeks. He was a slight man with dark brown eyes and sandy blond hair. And he was devoted to Sophie.

    Deandra Edwards lounged on a sofa, her auburn hair art-fully arranged, a glass of champagne between her long, manicured fingers. "Yes, you were fabulous. But you'd best freshen up,
    ch
    é
    rie
    . The crème de la crème are here. Powerful politicians. Wealthy industrialists. An assortment of men."

    Indeed within minutes the suite was filled with dignitaries and important politicians sipping the finest of wines and vying to get closer to Sophie.

    "Miss Wentworth," the mayor of Vienna called out in a grand and courtly manner when she entered, quieting the room. "You were divine."

    "Thank you, sir." Her voice wrapped around the guests like honeyed velvet. "Your city is a jewel, and I am thrilled to have been given the chance to play here."

    "Of course we want you! And now with the article in
    The Century
    magazine, all the more people are becoming aware of your talent. We could not let you end your spectacular first tour without playing for our city."

    Deandra had arranged for the article, saying that publicity would be just the thing to catapult her career from moderately successful to wildly triumphant. Deandra was a genius at garnering attention. She was also right. The magazine had run the glowing article highlighted with printed woodcut impressions of Sophie, making her the musician everyone had to see.

    Only Sophie seemed to notice that there was not one mention of the specifics of her playing, no review of her skill—only a broad sweeping statement that she was a talent that one could not miss. Deandra and Henry had been ecstatic over such complimentary sentiments.

    Sophie, however, understood the hidden meaning. She was something to see, but she was little more than spectacle and show. Put her up against a cellist the caliber of Pablo Casals, who had made his debut only a year before her and already was lauded as a genius musician, and she wouldn't stand a chance.

    She pushed the thought away. The fact was, she couldn't please everyone. She had made her decision to play this way six months ago after her disappointing first concert, and there was no turning back. She needed this. She needed to perform, and Europe had given her the chance.

    An older man stepped forward, his manners old-world and charming as he took her fingers in his white-gloved hand and pressed a kiss to the air just above her knuckles. "Miss Wentworth. You leave me breathless."

    "Thank you," she said, her smile seductive.

    "You must not remember me."

    Sophie tilted her head in surprise, the light catching in her ruby earrings.

    "I see you don't. I am Herr Wilhelm," he explained in a heavy German accent. "We met once before. In Boston."

    She went still.

    The man gave a slight bow of his head. "It was years ago, of course. You were perhaps sixteen or seventeen. I saw you play for a small group in the governor's home."

    The memory of that night leaped out in her mind. It was all she could do not to close her eyes, to hug herself tight like the foolish, naive child she had been.

    "As I recall," he continued, his light eyes boring into her, "you played quite differently back then. You played Johann Sebastian Bach. His third suite for cello in C major. The andante was superb. I remember your performance distinctly."

    As did she. She had been born to play Bach, and she had that night. It had been a night of triumph and glory, a night that was to have been one of the first intimate concerts she was to give leading up to her eighteenth birthday and her performance in the Grand Debut.

    The Grand Debut was a much-anticipated concert created to introduce Boston's finest talent. Only one student a year was awarded the coveted solo position.

    The conductor of Boston's prestigious Music Hall had promised her mother that he would ask Sophie to perform the solo—an event she had dreamed of her whole life. But the recital never happened.

    Glancing away, she focused on the crystal glasses and sparkling wines. She didn't want to think about Boston, not tonight of all nights when crowds of people loved her. But Boston was relentless, leading her as always to Grayson.

    Grayson Hawthorne, the oldest of the well-known Hawthorne brothers. The powerful man whom all of Boston either feared or greatly respected.

    He was also the object of her most devoted childhood infatuation.

    She couldn't remember a time she hadn't known Grayson. Just the thought of him made her smile, made her heart settle in a way only he had the ability to do. Where was he now? she wondered. What was he doing?

    Some months ago while she and her entourage had been in Paris, Margaret Brimley, the woman who kept Sophie and her entourage together, on time, and on schedule, had received word from her cousin in Boston that Grayson had finally turned his attentions to choosing a wife. For half a second, Sophie had felt a young girl's wish that he would choose her. But she had just as quickly stamped out the thought. She would be no man's wife. Not even Grayson Hawthorne's. Or perhaps especially not Grayson Hawthorne's. The past had ensured that.

    She felt the familiar flare of guilt and despair, followed quickly by anger. But she turned away from the feelings. It was futile to feel anything about the past. And the fact was, she didn't want to return to Boston, she told herself forcefully.

    As to Grayson, it was rumored that the lady he chose had to be of unquestioned virtue, impeccable lineage, and high-minded principles. In short, the woman had to be as dull as the waters in Boston Harbor.

    Sophie shuddered at the thought of what he would think of her now if he ever saw her perform. Grayson Hawthorne might have smiled indulgently at her childhood antics, but she had learned the night of her father's birthday party that he had become a man who would not find outrageous behavior from a wife tolerable—much less charming. He would expect her to do as he wished, when he wished it, and without question.

    Shaking her head ruefully, she wondered who the poor woman was whom Grayson had chosen to be his bride.

    "Why don't you include Bach in the pieces you play now?"

BOOK: Swan's Grace
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