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BOOK: Pamela Sherwood
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She moistened her lips. “I do. When I can, that is.”

“In Hyde Park?”

She nodded confirmation, aware of the press of people around them, the escalating buzz of countless voices praising, exclaiming, criticizing…

He leaned in, his voice pitched for her ears alone. “The Rotten Row, then? Between the hours of nine and ten o’clock?”

“Yes.” The lone syllable emerged more as a breath than as a word, but he appeared to have no difficulty hearing it.

He drew back, spoke in the same low tone. “Until then, Miss Tresilian.”

A sketch of a bow, then he was gone, threading his way through the crowd. Hemmed in by the throng, Sophie could only watch as he attained the doorway and disappeared through it.

As completely as he’d disappeared from her life four years ago.

***

The dining room at the Savoy shone with the steady, even radiance that only electrical lighting could give. Tables shrouded in pale damask all but groaned under the weight of platters heaped high with delicacies concocted by the hotel’s many French chefs. Champagne, claret, and other wines flowed freely. Crystal sparkled, china gleamed, and silver chimed, while the near-constant murmur of conversation filled the air.

Standing in the thick of it all, her nerves already at full stretch, Sophie wondered just what would happen if she threw back her head and screamed at the top of her lungs. Given her training, it would be a scream of truly operatic proportions. Waiters would drop their trays, diners stop with forks halfway to their mouths, and all would turn to stare at the mad soprano in their midst. The prospect alone was almost enough to tempt her to such a breach of decorum, but inherent good sense restrained her.


Bachgen
. Are you all right?” David’s voice, low and solicitous, spoke at her ear.

Sophie took a breath before turning her head to smile at him. “I’m fine, David. Simply weary, that’s all. And perhaps I have a bit of a headache coming on.”

“No wonder, that, given the racket we endured tonight.” He gave his engaging lopsided smile. “It’s exaggerating I thought they were, about the echo in the Albert Hall.”

A little laugh escaped Sophie; they were both familiar with the old joke: that the Albert Hall was the one place where every composer could be assured of hearing his work twice. “It could have been worse, I suppose. Imagine if we’d been singing Wagner!”

David pulled a face. “Nobody should have to endure ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ more than once.”

“My sentiments exactly, so I hope they find a way to fix the sound problem someday.” Sophie glanced about the dining room. “People seem to be leaving. Do you think anyone would mind if I slipped away myself?”

“Not if you’re discreet about it,” he replied. “And I’d say most of the ones still remaining are more intent on their supper than on us.”

“Well, it was a very good supper, and a splendid party too,” Sophie conceded, feeling a little guilty that she hadn’t enjoyed it more. “But I can barely keep my eyes open. Would you help me find a carriage to take me home?”

“I’ll do better than that. I’ll ride back and see you home personally.”

“You don’t have to do that!” she protested. “Truly, I don’t wish to drag you away from all this.”

“From my adoring public, you mean? I think we’ll both survive it.” David took her lightly by the elbow. “Now, no argument, my girl. It’s white as a sheet you’ve gone, and no mistake. You don’t want to keel over in front of half of London, do you?”

She managed a smile. “No, no, you’re quite right. Thank you, David.”

Within minutes, he’d managed to get both their cloaks and summon a carriage. They climbed in together, heading back to Mayfair. Blessedly, David made no attempt to engage her in conversation, but leaned back against the seat and maintained a companionable silence.

Grateful for his understanding, Sophie stole a glance at him. Brown hair, brown eyes, just a finger above average height—pleasantly ordinary in looks, but he grew in stature and presence the moment he set foot on the concert stage and that golden tenor rang out.

He’d been a good friend to her, David—ever since her first tour in the autumn of ’92. London gossip conjectured he was more than that, but they’d never crossed that line between being friends and being lovers. Sometimes she wished they had, because the prospect of a love affair with David seemed so straightforward: they were both singers, they understood and respected each other’s work, and they’d built up a strong mutual trust from their shared years on the concert circuit. Sophie had known of many romances that were based on far less.

Except that she’d never felt that sort of love for David, nor he for her. But they still had that unbreakable trust. If she were to confide in him about… what had happened tonight—or four years ago, for that matter—she knew he would be sympathetic and discreet.

But she wasn’t quite ready to share this latest occurrence in her life, with him or anyone else. How could she, when she could scarce believe it herself? Sitting here in this quiet carriage, as it bowled along the gaslit streets, she found it easy to believe that she had imagined the whole encounter. She’d been under so much pressure these last few months—first those concerts abroad, and now her first appearance at the Albert Hall. Perhaps in the furor and excitement following the concert, she’d only
thought
she’d seen Robin Pendarvis, much less spoken to him and agreed to meet tomorrow in Hyde Park. A fantasy brought on by overwork and loneliness, nostalgia for times past…

The carriage came to a stop, jolting her back to the present.

“We’re here,” David announced. “19 Curzon Street.”

Sophie roused, blinking like an owl in sunlight as she gathered the folds of her cloak around her. “Yes, yes, of course.”

They alighted from the carriage, David going first and offering Sophie a hand down to the pavement.

“You look half-asleep already,” he observed, eyeing her with concern. “Best go straight up to bed, then.”

Sophie shook her head, knowing just how elusive sleep was likely to prove that night. “Not yet. I’ve so much going round and round in my head. Do you want to come in for a bit?”

He shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m bound for my brother’s house now—all the family’s staying there. An age it’s been since we’ve had time to talk.”

“Then go—enjoy your time with them. I’ll be fine.”

He searched her face. “If you’re sure, then?”

Sophie nodded. “I am. Good night, David—and thank you.”

He gave her hand a light squeeze, then climbed back into the carriage, which rolled off into the night.

Sophie turned toward the house, a tall terraced shape in the shadows, made her way slowly up the walk, and let herself in. The house received her in its silent embrace, so comforting after the noise and bustle of the Albert Hall and the Savoy.

Not for the first time, she was glad to have this refuge. While she’d come into her inheritance two years ago, she still thought living in hotels while not on tour would be far too extravagant. During her first years as a professional singer, she’d taken rooms at a respectable boardinghouse, not wanting to impose too much on the Sheridans or other friends in London. But since her coming of age
and
the success of the
Figaro
tour, she found herself with the means to move into something better, where she could have more independence and a greater degree of privacy: a flat, perhaps, or even a small house, if she could afford the rent.

The Sheridans had approved her scheme, and after some hesitation, so had Sophie’s own family. Thomas Sheridan had located the house on Curzon Street last autumn, while Sophie had been in America, and managed to negotiate quite a reasonable rate with the landlord. Sophie suspected that, as a duke’s grandson, Sheridan had been able to pull a number of strings to secure such a price, but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Meanwhile, with Sophie’s blessing, Amy had interviewed and engaged the staff just before the Season began. The small household ran with clockwork smoothness, and the unflappable servants appeared untroubled by a mistress who spent her mornings on musical technique and her evenings at theatres and concert halls—when she was even in London, that was. Likewise, no one had yet handed in his or her notice on hearing the piano or violin at all hours, even on nights when Sophie found herself unable to sleep.

The servants had long since retired, as she’d expected them to, given the lateness of the hour. But the hall lamps had been left on to show her the way. Like one in a dream, she slowly mounted the stairs, gripping the banister to keep herself moored to her bearings. The thick carpeting muffled her footsteps; she felt almost as if she were entering a tomb.

A foolish fancy, she chided herself, for the Curzon Street house was nothing like a tomb. While she hadn’t been in residence long, she’d taken considerable pains to make it both comfortable and tasteful: a real home, not a showplace. And for the most part, she felt she had succeeded, even if, at times, she found herself… lonely.

Sophie shook her head to dislodge that most unwelcome thought, and quickened her pace until she reached her chamber on the second floor. The lamps were on there as well, and her maid, Letty, was waiting up for her, looking sleepy but determined. Feeling a little guilty, Sophie let the girl divest her of her evening gown, help her don her nightdress of fine cotton batiste, and brush out her hair before dismissing her for the night.

Alone, she sat at her dressing table, carefully removing the last traces of powder and rouge with a clean linen facecloth. After inspecting the results in the glass, she leaned back in her chair, idly toying with a bottle of perfume, a custom blend of rose, lavender, and neroli. From Paris—she could afford such luxuries now. Indeed, there were precious few that were beyond her means. She glanced down, noticing as though for the first time the array of cosmetics laid out for her particular use: more bottles of scent, jars of face cream and delicately tinted face powder, pots of rouge, and a rose-colored salve for her lips.
Painted
lady
—her mouth quirked at the thought. How astonished, even scandalized, Mama and Cecily would be to see all this!

The drawers of her dressing table held a similar treasure trove: a silver-backed hairbrush and tortoiseshell comb, a rainbow of silk ribbons, sprays of artificial flowers, velvet snoods, feather aigrettes, fans of lace or painted silk, even a few brooches. All the accoutrements of a lady of fashion.

Bemused, she turned to study her chamber, a cocoon of comfort and elegance around her. A selection of watercolors and tasteful prints adorned the pale aquamarine walls, and the bedspread and curtains were the same sea-blue twilled silk. A cheval glass set in a polished walnut frame stood in the corner opposite the bed beside an enormous wardrobe hung with more gowns than she’d ever dreamed of owning, even as a debutante newly come to London for her first—and only—Season. The chest of drawers was likewise laden, filled with dainty lace-trimmed undergarments, embroidered handkerchiefs, and countless pairs of stockings and gloves, the latter fashioned of every material from silk to kid.

Other niceties as well: a glass-fronted bookcase holding a selection of volumes—novels, poetry, even plays—to beguile the time not spent in music; a music stand for her violin, which she still practiced regularly, although her voice was her main instrument now; a Sheraton escritoire in one window alcove, and a wing chair upholstered in dark blue brocade in the other. And in the corner nearest the bed, her Russian Blue cat, Tatiana—a recent present from an admirer—lay slumbering, curled up like a velvety grey question mark, in a sumptuous basket lined with blue silk.

The bedchamber of a successful, sophisticated woman. The woman she’d made herself become, first as a defense against everything that had happened four years ago—and then because she’d grown comfortable in that armor. A carapace constructed of training, poise, and yes, carefully honed talent. She did have that, had taken care of it, and it had repaid her effort and taken care of her. She was lauded as an
artiste
now, one poised on the brink of greatness, or so some of her critics claimed, though she tried not to let their praise go to her head. Today’s sensation was tomorrow’s has-been in the music world, and she still had much to learn. But it was encouraging nonetheless to know she’d come this far in a fairly short time.

She gazed into the glass again, seeing a poised, reasonably pretty young woman of twenty-three. Even without the aid of cosmetics, her complexion was good, her color healthy, and her skin presently free of blemishes. In the last couple of years, she’d lost the last traces of childish roundness about her cheeks and chin, and the faint widow’s peak at her hairline had become more pronounced. The resulting shape was more elegant, a heart tapering to a slightly pointed chin. But it was her eyes that held her attention now: if experience could be traced in one’s face at all, surely it must appear in the eyes.

But the eyes that stared back at her, though heavy-lidded and slightly shadowed with fatigue, were the same ones she remembered from four years ago.

The eyes of the girl who had loved Robin Pendarvis.

And still did?

She looked away, unwilling to answer that question, and rose from her chair, taking a quick turn about the room in an effort to compose herself. Her pulse had quickened, a light but rapid beat of blood in her veins, and she swallowed convulsively, feeling as if her heart had literally risen in her throat.

Her gaze darted about her chamber again. The life she’d built these last four years was all around her. A busy, fulfilling life that included new and fascinating places to visit, exciting friendships with like-minded people, and music, always music. Her calling—and her comfort.

Was it truly worth it, to risk that life, that hard-won peace, by opening old wounds?

Something
that
may
concern
us
both
.

His words echoed in her memory, and for a moment, she almost hated them—and him—for the dormant hope they roused in her. Hope, that most dangerous of emotions, seductive and treacherous at once.

BOOK: Pamela Sherwood
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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