Saturday, November 15, 2008

Joanna Waugh/Blind Fortune


Cerridwen Press

“It must have been difficult learning to play the pianoforte by ear,” Charles observed in a neutral tone.
Her slender shoulders rose and fell. “Yes. But since I could neither stitch nor paint, music was my only creative outlet.”
“That explains the reason you initially learned to play, not why you continue to do so.”
“It’s necessary now. A part of my soul,” Fortuna whispered. “My…” Her voice trailed off.
“Passion?” Charles finished.
Her brows knitted together. “And you, my lord. I understand from Richard that you also play.”
He feigned a dramatic sigh. “I thought we agreed you’re to call me Charles.”
“Very well.” Her chin lifted a fraction higher. “Why do you love music, Charles?”
“I took up the harpsichord and later the pianoforte, to irritate my father. He thought it an unmanly occupation.”
Only Richard knew the truth. That, as a boy, Charles used music to escape his lonely existence at Lowden Hall.
“Now I play because it pleases me.” His lips curled in a sardonic smile. “Have you never heard that, ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage breast. To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak’?”
Fortuna cocked her head as if hearing something beyond the mere words he’d spoken. “You think yourself a brute?”
“Rude, certainly. And sometimes cruel,” he drawled. “You, of all people, must agree with that assessment of my nature.”
Fortuna shook her head. A copper corkscrew cascaded over her shoulder and curled like a question mark around one breast. Charles gaped at it.
“You’re more of a knotted oak,” she finally said.
His skin prickled with low level panic. He’d spent a lifetime hiding behind cold disdain and arrogance, allowing no one a glimpse beyond that facade. Yet with guileless perception and uncanny accuracy, Fortuna had managed to pierce the protective shield Charles had erected.
A hunger to reveal more of the person at his core welled up, seeped through him and sunk soul-deep. Ruthlessly, he suppressed it.
“I take it you’re a student of the London School.”
She considered his words, then said, “Yes.”
They were conversing on two levels now. Instinct told Charles she recognized and accepted his inability to share more of himself at the moment. Relieved that she understood, he said, “I find Field’s sonatas rather one dimensional. Are you familiar with Herr Beethoven?”
Fortuna shook her head and, like a puff of smoke, the emotional tension between them dissipated.
Charles felt a twinge of regret at its passing. Out loud, he said, “His Quasi una fantasia—Almost a fantasy—is just as somber but much more full-bodied. I’d be honored to play it for you.”
Rising from the piano, she stood aside so he could take it.
Charles shot her an assessing look as he stepped forward. “I have an idea, something that might enhance your enjoyment of the piece.”
He crooked one arm around her waist, then bent to hook the other behind her knees. She squeaked a protest as he lifted her against his chest. Flexing his fingers in the flimsy material along her rib cage, he savored the warm supple body beneath his hands.
Striding down the side of the piano, he swung Fortuna onto its lid. Seated upright with her legs stretched out, she wore a dumbfounded expression.
Charles tucked her nightgown around her limbs and stepped back. “Lie down, with your head toward the music stand.”
He then returned to the piano stool. Releasing the buttons of his jacket, he sat and ran through a set of scales to limber his fingers.
As the notes reverberated through the mahogany lid, Fortuna uttered a small cry of surprise and turned her wide, cat’s eyes his direction.
He grinned. “They say Beethoven was out one evening for a walk when he passed a cobbler’s shop and heard someone practicing one of his compositions. He went inside and found a blind girl struggling with the piece.”
Tentatively, Fortuna scooted forward, then laid down on her back with her arms at her sides. Bronze curls snaked through the music stand to hang over the keys. Spellbound, Charles stared at them. Then, swallowing hard, he cleared his throat and continued.
“Herr Beethoven offered to demonstrate how the piece was meant to be played. He became so caught up in the beauty of the moonlight falling through the open window on the blind girl that he went home and composed this sonata.”
With that, he began to play.
As Charles’ fingers flew over the keys, he let his gaze rest on the copper froth dangling just above his hands. He tried to imagine the sensations Fortuna was experiencing. How each keystroke pulsed through her body and sent vibrations quivering along her limbs. Especially when he came to the fast-paced, accentuated finale.
He ended the movement in one abrupt crashing stroke. Hands suspended above the keyboard, Charles waited for the last note to reverberate through the music room.
“Fortuna?” he quietly breathed.
She lay still, as thought she hadn’t heard him. At last it registered that the piece had ended. With a heartfelt sigh, she pulled herself upright.
Charles leaped to his feet. In two swift steps, he was beside the piano.
Fortuna swiveled toward him on her bottom, until her legs hung over the lid’s edge. She wore a dazed expression, like that of a well-loved, satiated woman.
Desire spiked through Charles. Deliberately, he pressed his chest against her knees, then slid the palms of both hands up over each rounded hip until he clasped her slender waist. Lifting her off the piano, he stepped away and let her slippers slowly slide to the floor.
Her legs seemed incapable of support. “That was…so…” she whispered breathlessly.
Fire burned a trail straight to his groin. Charles barely managed to stifle a groan. Unable to resist the sexual pull between them and accepting the inevitability of his actions, he lowered his head and captured Fortuna’s rosy mouth with his own.

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