Page 17

Author: Tracy Wolff

It had been worth it though. Quinn’s face had been priceless. She felt a little bad that Jared and Ryder had gotten caught in the middle of the game, but all in all, she figured they were acceptable collateral damage. Besides, if they’d listened to Jamison like they’d promised, none of that would have happened.

Deciding to take half a pain pill—she wanted to doze, not sleep the day away—Elise did just that, then crawled beneath the covers. As she drifted to sleep, an image of Quinn’s face, sharp-eyed, a little annoyed, and a lot impressed, was the last thought she had for quite a while.

She woke up hours later, with a dry mouth and a nap hangover. Even before she looked at the clock, Elise knew she had slept too long. Her body was heavy and her head pounding the way it only did when she’d allowed herself to sleep too hard over too many hours.

Tossing the covers aside, she pushed to her feet. Then went into the bathroom and rinsed out her mouth. Splashed cold water on her face. Rinsed off the make-up she’d put on that morning that had pooled under her eyes during her nap. A quick glance in the mirror told her she looked better than she had in the hospital a couple days before. Still not great, but at least she had some color in her cheeks. That had to count for something.

She turned away, started to head downstairs to search for Quinn, but a little squiggle of vanity reared its head. So she reached for her small toiletries case on the side of the sink. Pulled out a light pink lip gloss and ran it over her mouth. Added a quick swipe of nude eye shadow and a little mascara. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make her feel better. And to give her a little armor when she went down to face Quinn.

She was the wary one now. He’d had hours to hatch a plan to get back at her. And while she knew he wouldn’t hurt her, she knew something was coming. There was no way Quinn would let the Great Twinkie Debacle go unanswered.

The house was gray and shadowy as she made her way down the stairs. She wasn’t sure where Quinn was, but figured she’d look around a little. See if she could find him. And hope he wasn’t lying in wait for her somewhere.

She had just started down the hallway that led to the kitchen when she heard the music. Not the beginnings of a new song. Not an old familiar one. No, the music pouring down the hallway was the soaring, bombastic sound of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. Considered by most to be one of the most difficult—if not the most difficult—pieces ever composed for any instrument, ever, the first movement was filled with massive chords and multiple climaxes. And Quinn was playing it like it was nothing.


She crept up the hallway that led to the music room, then stood, frozen, in the doorway looking in because she was determined not to disturb him.

He was seated at the piano, head down and fingers moving over the keys so quickly they were almost a blur. His shoulders were lifting and falling with each chord change, the muscles of his arms standing out in stark definition, each shift and movement made more obvious by the tattoos that covered his arms. His back was straight, his ass and thighs tensing and relaxing with the movement of the music. He played with his whole body, with his whole mind and his whole heart. It was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen—he was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen—and she wanted him more in that moment than she ever had before.

Maybe it was because she hadn’t heard him play—not like this—in so long. She didn’t know. All she knew was she was hungry for him. Desperate for the strength and the power and the beauty of the music he created. Because the truth was, when it came to the technical aspect of playing the piano, she had always been better than Quinn—only because she’d practiced all the time, until her fingers cramped and ached and bled. But in sheer talent, in the ability to play the hell out of a piece of music—to own it—he had her beat hands down.

And this concerto right here, tonight, was no exception. She’d struggled with it for years, her hands not big enough to make the chords and her talent not strong enough to make up for that fact. With his huge hands and towering talent, Quinn didn’t have that problem. He was making the concerto his bitch, slapping it—and the piano—around until all she could see or hear or feel was him.

He ended the first movement with a huge display of power, his fingers pounding away at the piano keys like they’d somehow personally offended him, then slid right into the rich and whimsical second movement. This one was all technical form, lightning quick keystrokes followed by deep, lush chords. She’d played this movement herself many times—had been told her recording of it was brilliant—but she knew that in her entire career she had never played it or heard it played better than she was at this very moment. By a man who hadn’t played the grand piano professionally or in competition in over ten years.

It was an earth-shattering thought, and a humbling one. Part of her wanted to close her eyes so she could listen without being distracted by the sight of him. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it, not when he looked so strong and beautiful and drop-dead sexy. His eyes were closed, his lips parted. He was absorbed, wholly absorbed, in the music that both seduced and entrapped.

The second movement ended, shifted into the third and final movement, with its towering, thunderous crescendos. As the music stormed through the room, wound itself around her and took her over completely, she finally did close her eyes. This was her favorite part—to listen to and to play—and it was finally sinking in. Really sinking in.

Never again would she play this concerto—or any other. Never again would she coax impossible sounds, impossible chords, from the keys of a grand piano. Never again would she play. Truly play.

The thought nearly brought her to her knees. For while she hated performing, hated the judgment and the prying eyes that came with sitting on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands, of people, she loved making music. Pitting herself against a composition, with nothing but herself and her instrument to bring it to heel.

All that was gone now, in the careless turn of a wheel. In the crash of steel against steel.

Tears leaked from underneath her eyes, silent but no less real for the lack of sound that came with them. Impatiently, she wiped them away. She had no use for self-pity, no use for moaning and wailing about what could have, should have, would have been. Not when Ellington was dead. Not when things, for her, could have turned out so much worse.

There they were, the last chords of the concerto—ringing through the room, through the house. She opened her eyes, watched as he devoured the ending then spit it out, one powerful note at a time. Up, up, up he built it until she could feel it in her every breath, her every cell. And then he took it even higher, his fingers slamming down on the piano keys in a show of strength that she would remember for the rest of her life.

And then it was done.

For long seconds after the music died out, Quinn didn’t move. And neither did she. She was spellbound, heartbroken, caught between what was and what should have been. And in those moments, she wouldn’t have traded it for the world. How could she, when emotions soared through her, filling up the empty shell she’d allowed herself to become for so long.

Quinn moved then, lowering his hands from the piano to his lap. She turned away, thought to slip out of the room before he realized she was there. She wasn’t hiding, but what she’d seen—what he’d done—had been intensely personal, for both of them. She didn’t want to intrude if he needed time to rein his emotions back in.

But she had barely stepped outside the doorway when he called her name in a voice that was as hoarse and open and aching as she herself felt.

Elise froze, her body going so completely still in the gathering dusk that he had trouble distinguishing her from the shadows all around her. But he knew she was there, that she’d been there for a while.

He’d sensed her presence at the beginning of the second movement, but he hadn’t stopped playing. He couldn’t. Not when he was playing her favorite concerto by her favorite composer.

When he’d sat down at the piano after walking Ryder out to his car, he’d thought to just fool around for a little while. To play some familiar songs to maybe jog his creativity, get it flowing again. They’d had a good day, had written quite a bit. But there was a lot more to do, especially if they expected this album to do what it needed to do. To cement the world tour that their management even now was planning. It would start after Christmas, a week after the album hit, and continue for six months. In the meantime, they were trying to extend the American tour they’d already had planned for the fall. To hit some of the places they’d missed when they’d been forced to pull out of the Rock On tour. To do that and do it well, they needed to release a hit single, if not two. And that meant he and Ryder and Jared had a whole shitload of work to do.

But then he’d found himself playing Rachmaninoff and he’d known that he was doing it for Elise. Because she couldn’t play it—not now and maybe not ever again. He’d wanted to give her something to hold onto, something she loved that she could hold close and know that the dark wouldn’t last forever.

But now, as she stood there in the doorway, trembling, he couldn’t help wondering if he’d f**ked up again. If instead of giving her hope, he’d taken it away in the cruelest manner possible.

Just the thought had him pushing back from the piano and crossing the room to her. He was terrified of what he’d find when he reached her, devastated at the idea that he had once again hurt her with his own twisted view of the world. But he couldn’t not go to her, not when everything inside him was screaming that she was hurting. And that she needed him.

“Lissy? Baby?” He spoke to her softly, not wanting to spook her when her tense body language screamed that she was one second away from making a run for it. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.” Her voice was low, a little scratchy. But he didn’t know if that was because she’d gone too long without speaking or if it was because she’d been crying. “I slept too long.”

“You needed it.” He took a risk, reached out and clasped her uninjured hand gently between his own. “Come, sit with me.”

Somehow she knew that he was talking about the piano and not the couch, because her whole body tensed up and she instinctively protested. Tried to pull away. “I don’t want to interrupt.”

“I’d finished the concerto—I know you know that. Besides, you’re never an interruption.”

“You say that now,” she told him, trying her hand at a joke that might lesson the awkwardness of their situation.

“I’ve always said it, will always say it. Now come on, I want you to sit next to me.”

If possible, she stiffened even more. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“Why? Don’t you like this room?”

“You know that’s not the problem.” She glanced around at the other instruments he had in here. Not the keyboards he was famous for—those were in the recording studio out back. No, here he had the instruments he played for pure pleasure—a violin, a harp, a few guitars, a saxophone. And the piano, of course, which sat dead center in the middle of the room in a place of honor.

“So, what is?” He knew, of course he knew, but years of dealing with Wyatt told him that letting her avoid the issue now would only cause problems later.

“I can’t be here. I can’t be so close and not play.”

“Who says you can’t play?”

“Are you trying to be funny?” she demanded, pulling away from him.

“No, sweetheart, never. But there are all kinds of ways to play the piano. It doesn’t all have to be perfection, you know.”

“It does for me.” The resolve in her voice broke his heart. She was working so hard to convince herself that she was okay with the way she thought things had to be, with never playing again. But he could hear the hurt buried deep in her voice and it gutted him.