Sneak Peek at “Prelude” (Blue Notes #4)

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all recovered from the holiday insanity.  I still feel as though I’m walking around in a fog, and I’ve got this nagging feeling at the back of my brain that I’d better hurry up and push the fog away, or I’m going to get trampled with work.  For me at least, I’m pretty sure January and February are going to kick me in the ass.  But it’s all good, really.   I have a lot going on with writing projects.

First up, and probably the most exciting of the bunch:  I just got the first round of edits for “Lighting the Way Home,” the contemporary novel I co-authored with Dreamspinner author E.M. Lynley.  It’s a sweet and sexy story about coming home to realize that everything you’ve always wanted was there all along.  It’s part of E.M.’s “Delectable” series, and features a chef who runs away from a broken heart and lands in Paris, France.  But when his mother needs surgery, he flies home to New York City to help his parents run their family restaurant while she recovers.  Release date is March, 2013.

Just behind that one is the fourth book in the Blue Notes Series, “Prelude,” which was co-authored with Venona Keyes.  The third book in the series, “Aria,” was just released on December 24th.  One of the secondary characters in “Aria,” David Somers (conductor of the Chicago Symphony), is the main character in “Prelude.”  “Prelude” takes place several years before the prior Blue Notes books.  The series is meant to be read in any order, though, and each novel is standalone.

Lastly, I’m finishing up work on a manuscript for tentative publication in the summer of 2013.  This one is a bit of a departure from my angsty musicians.  “Stealing the Wind” is a pirate/shifter novel which will likely have a sequel.  These shifters are a bit different from the usual weres:  they are merfolk.  The story is sexy (it has a little M/M/M, although the romance is strictly M/M) and romantic, with a bit of adventure on the high seas.  If you click on the link, you can read an excerpt.

A few more updates for me.  I’ll be chatting this Saturday, January 5th, from 7-9 p.m. EST, on Dawn Roberto’s Love Romances Cafe Yahoo Group.  You need to be a member, but it’s easy to sign up!  Just click on the link.  I’ll be doing some giveaways on the chat, so be sure to stop by and comment to be entered to win.  I’ll also be making a few more blog stops to talk about “Aria” and the rest of my writing over the next few weeks.

A few readers have asked for more of a preview of “Prelude,” so I thought I’d leave you all with an excerpt from the novel.  This is an unedited, prepublication excerpt, so I am totally to blame for any typos/mistakes (not my wonderful Dreamspinner editors!).  Have a wonderful weekend!  Hope to see you all at Dawn’s tomorrow night. -Shira

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Blurb:  David Somers, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is one of the best-known conductors in the classical music world. He helps young performers like Cary Redding (The Melody Thief) and Aiden Lind (Aria) with their careers. He’s sophisticated, richer than God, handsome, and outrageously successful. But there’s something about David that his public personality doesn’t come close to hinting at: underneath it all, he’s insecure.

When crossover violinist Alex Bishop fills in at the last minute on a CSO concert, David isn’t expecting much. After all, Alex has long hair, tattoos, and plays rock ‘n roll when he’s not playing Beethoven. But when David hears Alex perform, he begins to wonder if he hasn’t underestimated the man.

It takes some time, but the two men fall hard for each other. But each has his own measure of pain to shoulder, and when David’s insecurities threaten to tear them apart, it’s up to Alex to show David that not all love is conditional.

********

Chapter Two

Chicago, Present Day

David Somers had a headache.  He’d hoped it would pass, but it had only gotten worse in the past fifteen minutes.  He waited stage left as the orchestra finished tuning. 

Deep breath.  Focus.

The concertmaster sat back down again—the signal for David to walk onto the stage of Orchestra Hall.  His hall.  His orchestra, he reminded himself.  He breathed in slowly before walking onto the stage, his expression schooled, utterly focused.  The Armani tux he wore was perfectly pressed, his posture perfect, and his stride confident.  The orchestra stood as he entered.  The hall, filled to capacity, rang with polite applause. 

But David’s disinterested poise was merely a sham—he was irritated to the extreme.  It was only his strong sense of duty that had brought him back to the stage tonight for the second half of the program.  That, and the potential sponsors of his modern music series whom he knew sat in the center box seats—the box that had been owned by Somers Industries for more than sixty years.

He glanced stage-left to where the soloist waited to make his entrance.  David had seen him for the first time only moments before, and he’d been left with the distinct impression of a street thug.  Tattoos, indeed, he thought with disdain.  There was no place for such a thing in the refined world of classical music.  True, the soloist had worn the traditional tails of an artist making a solo appearance with the Chicago Symphony, one of the finest symphony orchestras in the world.  But that was de rigueur, expected of him, regardless of his personal tastes.  No, it had been the telltale ink visible at the other man’s throat as he buttoned up his shirt that had taken David by surprise.

“Lastislav Voitavich is ill,” his personal assistant, James Roland, had told him as he arrived at the back entrance to Symphony Center that afternoon, “but we’ve managed to find a replacement.”

David hadn’t been concerned.  Such last-minute substitutions were rare, but not unheard of.  He knew there were plenty of violinists who would give their eyeteeth to take the stage under his baton and with such a prestigious orchestra.  There were few conductors on the classical music scene with his reputation, let alone as young as he.

“Has the replacement performed the piece before?”

“Of course, Maestro,” James assured him. “Several times, I’m told.”

“That will be sufficient.”  It would be just that—sufficient—nothing more and nothing less.  That was the way of all last-minute substitutions.  It would not be a memorable evening, but David would ensure that his audience did not leave disappointed.  The orchestra’s performance would, at least, be outstanding.

“There is one thing you should know, though,” James added in a quavering voice.  It meant little that they’d worked together for nearly five years; David had never been an easy man to please.  But then, one didn’t get a reputation like his by having lax standards.  David was a perfectionist, and proud of it.

He glared at the young man—he didn’t appreciate being troubled with such nonsense before a performance—he needed time to prepare, to focus on the music, and review the score.  “What do you wish to tell me?”

“Th… the… the soloist… he… ah—”

“I don’t care who he is, as long as he can play the Sibelius.”  David ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

“He… he can, of course!” the assistant squeaked as beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

Five minutes before he’d taken the stage for the second half of the concert, when he read through the bio James had handed him, David realized what a mistake he’d made by not pressing the issue further.   It’s a concert, he reminded himself.  Nothing more.  There will be time to kowtow in apology to the board tomorrow, if need be.  He detested kowtowing, but he also knew he did it quite well.

It was rare that he had to make any public speech, let alone an announcement in the middle of a concert.  He despised public speaking, but there was nothing to do for it—the substitution had been too eleventh-hour to print something to add into the programs.

“Good evening,” he began with a practiced smile.  “There has been a slight change in tonight’s program. Our featured soloist, Lastislav Voitavich, has taken ill.”   There were murmurs from the audience, so David waited until the hall was silent before continuing, “Alexander Bishop has graciously agreed to perform the Sibelius.”  Instead of voicing their disappointment, the audience applauded with surprising enthusiasm.  “Thank you,” David finished, unsure of what to make of the response.   He nodded toward the wings.  There was renewed applause as the violinist took to the stage. 

Alex BishopA rock star masquerading as a classical violinistTattoos and groupies.  He didn’t doubt that the man was competent—his assistant was young, not stupid.  Still, David loathed this “new breed” of musician who all too often graced the covers of magazines like Time and, more recently, Rolling Stone.  Tattoos, indeed.  In David’s estimation, the term “crossover artist” was merely a marketing tool, meant to exploit an artist’s good looks and increase sales. 

He signaled for the concertmaster to provide the soloist with an opportunity to tune before turning to face the orchestra, his back to the audience.  The Sibelius violin concerto was a challenging but not an overly taxing piece, and he’d rehearsed his orchestra well.   The orchestra will shine, despite any deficit in the quality of fiddle playing. He raised his baton and did his best to ignore the auburn hair that fell onto the soloist’s shoulders in a tumble. 

Alex Bishop was attractive enough, he noted.  Tall and muscular—taller than David himself.  Still, in spite of Alex’s apparent ease in front of the large crowd and his undeniable stage-presence, David knew Alex was no more than a pretender to the world of classical music.  All hype and no substance—a creation of Hollywood agents and a second-rate player, no doubt.  He’d heard so-called “crossover” artists perform before, and he hadn’t been impressed.

Alex glanced over to David, his instrument tucked under his chin.  Their eyes met for a brief moment.  It surprised David to note that Alex’s dark brown eyes simmered with passion and focus.  David raised his baton higher, the signal to the orchestra for the downbeat.  One deft flick of the baton later, the orchestra began the first measures of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor.

As a conductor, David had always preferred the less emotional, modern repertoire to the sweeping romanticism of Brahms, Mahler, or Sibelius.  Tonight’s program had been a nod to the wealthy patrons who kept the orchestra’s finances in the black.  It was a tedious thing, to be required to accommodate the common musical tastes of his benefactors, but David tolerated it, knowing he’d been able to include a less tonal, more challenging piece of music later in the symphony’s performance schedule.  In David’s opinion, the Sibelius concerto was no exception.  He was unmoved by its soaring and plaintive melodies, although he knew that his audience would respond to it enthusiastically.

David glanced over at Alex.  Their eyes met again as Alex began the first few notes of the solo line and the heady tones of Alex’s violin filled the concert hall.  With practiced concentration, David returned his focus to the score that sat on the podium in front of him.  He didn’t need to read the music to conduct the piece—he had committed every measure to memory—but he sought the distraction. 

StrangeHe’s better than I expected.  Far better, really, although David would hardly admit it to himself.

Alex finished the opening phrase of the movement with obvious ease.  Once again, David found himself taken aback by the intensity of the other man’s playing, as well as the natural musicality and the warm tone he was able to coax from the fiddle.  The violin Alex played was serviceable, but it was no Stradivarius or Guarneri.  Still, David found it remarkable that the instrument sounded nearly as resonant the finest instruments he had heard through the years.  “A good instrument can make the performer,” his old friend and predecessor, John Fuchs, had once told him.  “But without talent, it is only an instrument.” 

As the evening progressed, Alex began the second movement: a slow and sensual adagio.  Again, David found himself transported by the artistry with which Alex conveyed the depth of the composition, and again David found himself struggling to maintain his focus and not lose himself in the music.  After the third and final movement, the crowd jumped to its feet.  Amidst the enthusiastic applause were resounding calls of “Bravo!” from some of the patrons.  Including, David noted with pleasure, the two men and one woman seated in the Somers’s box.

The audience was satisfied with no fewer than four bows, each time calling back both soloist and maestro to the stage with more cheers and applause.  As they walked back and forth across the stage for each bow, David watched with interest, half-expecting Alex to react as a rock star might and toss an article of clothing to his adoring fans.  Alex did nothing of the sort, instead bowing with surprising grace and maintaining the decorum expected from a soloist performing with a world-renowned symphony orchestra.  David noticed that rather than basking in the glow of the audience’s response, Alex appeared slightly ill at ease with the adulation, although he smiled personably and with genuine appreciation.

After the final bow, David followed Alex offstage.  He had intended to retreat to his dressing room, but several fans already crowded the wings, blocking the way.  Irritated by the lack of security, David attempted to walk around the gathering crowd by taking a path through the wings instead of directly out to the corridor.  Several orchestra members milled about, clearly anxious to congratulate Alex on his performance.  Seeing David, they nodded in a formal manner—they had long since learned that the maestro did not wish to be disturbed after a performance.  David returned each gesture with a curt nod, then sidestepped the approaching fans before slipping out the door and into the hallway.

He closed the door behind him and looked up into a pair of dark eyes.  Alex, it appeared, had also sought to avoid the backstage chaos.  He smiled at David, holding his violin and bow in his right hand.  “Maestro,” he said.  Transferring his instrument to his left hand, he offered his right hand to David. 

The two men shook hands in silence.  There was a moment’s hesitation before David withdrew his hand and said, “We appreciate your willingness to fill in at the last minute.”

“It was my pleasure,” Alex murmured.  He watched David as if unsure what to make of the man.  “I’ve played the concerto a few times, although never with such a skillful conductor.”

David, used to compliments, was unmoved.  “Thank you.”

Alex shifted inelegantly on his feet.  “Listen,” he said, “we’re having a little party at my place.  Just a few friends, a couple of beers, that sort of thing.  Nothin’ fancy.  Would you like to join us?”

“I appreciate the invitation, but I’m expected at a donors’ party in a few minutes.”

“No problem,” Alex said with a smile and a nod.  “I understand.” 

Was that disappointment David saw in the other man’s face?  Unlikely.  He’s relieved.  Besides, can you see yourself at a party with a few friends and a ‘couple of beers’?  He’s just trying to be kind.  Then, realizing that his response had been quite rude, David said, “Perhaps another ti—”  His words were cut short by shouts and giggles as two teenage girls launched themselves at Alex, nearly knocking his violin from his hand. 

David stepped backward to avoid the onslaught and almost collided with a woman with long blond hair who swooped in to protect Alex from the girls.  The girlfriend, no doubt.  Time to leave.  He turned and strode quickly down the hallway to his dressing room, closing the door and taking a deep breath on the other side.

*********

Alex bent down and managed to catch his instrument before it hit the ground, but when he stood up once again David had vanished.  He managed a self-conscious smile as another woman planted a wet kiss on his cheek, missing his lips by a hair’s breadth.

That was strange, he thought, disappointed to see David had disappeared.  There was something appealing about David Somers, not the least of which his command of the orchestra and his unique musical voice.  He had heard David conduct before, of course, but performing under his baton had been a refreshing experience.

“Thanks for the rescue, Mar,” he said after he’d signed the girls’ programs.

“You looked like you needed it.”  She laughed as the girls headed off toward the exit.

He took his roommate’s arm and led her down the hallway to the green room, where he’d left his coat and case.  Marla waited as he wiped the rosin from the strings, fingerboard, and bridge of his violin with a small white cloth.  Satisfied with his handiwork, he gently laid the instrument in its case, loosened the hair of his bow and locked it into place in the lid.  He clicked the case closed and picked up his coat without a word.

“You’re quiet tonight,” Marla observed, watching him with obvious interest.  “Disappointed with the performance?”

“Nah. It was one of the best concerts I’ve played.”

“Sounded pretty good to me, too, but then I’m no musician.” She pressed a pensive finger to her lips and cocking her head to the side, asked, “So, how was he?”

“He?”

“The maestro,” she laughed.  “David Somers.  You said it yourself, he’s probably the best young conductor on the classical music scene.  Did he live up to his reputation?”

“He….”  Alex hesitated.  He honestly wasn’t sure how to describe David.  “He’s certainly a difficult man to approach.  Still….”

Marla’s musical laughter filled the room.  “I wasn’t talking about his personality, silly boy, I was talking about his musical ability.” She eyed him with suspicion, then added, “But it seems as though he might have made more than just a musical impression on you.”

In spite of himself, Alex’s jaw tightened.  “You’re playing matchmaker again.”

“Can’t help a girl for wanting a Michigan Avenue apartment of her own, can you?”

“You couldn’t afford it without a roommate.”

She sighed and shook her head.  “No, probably not.” He’d been paying the rent and utilities on the condo they’d shared for more than a year—he had insisted on it now that he was making good money performing.  The advance on his last recording hadn’t hurt, either.

“Besides,” he added with a smile, “I’ve got a least a few more year’s rent to pay you back before we’re even.”

“Eh, you’re right.” She tossed her hand in the air, as she often did when he let her win.  “I figure I’ve got about a year left before I’m out on the street.  So how about the maestro?”

“Don’t think he’s my type.” Alex emphasized the word and glared at her, shaking his head.

“You never know.” 

There was an open challenge in her expression that he chose to ignore. Instead, he opened the door to the green room and picked up the violin case.  With her arm firmly wrapped around his waist, they walked back into the crowded hallway.  He signed a few more autographs until Marla began to push through the crowd, leading him to the stage door.  The fans, assuming that Marla was his girlfriend, looked more than disappointed, some openly hostile.  He ignored this.  He was used to it.  Besides, Marla was quite adept at fending off the women she affectionately called “simpering spineless sluts.”

As they walked out of the Adams Street entrance, Alex spotted a limousine waiting a few yards away.  The driver held the door open and a lone figure walked quickly over, avoiding any contact with the public.  David Somers, dressed in a dark coat with a white scarf flung about his neck, ducked into the limo.  As he sat down, he glanced back to where Alex stood.  Their eyes met for an instant before the driver closed the door.

Marla eyed Alex with suspicion. 

“What?” He shot her a look of mock irritation.

“Nothing.” She grinned at him.  “Nothing at all.”

They crossed the street and headed the half block to Michigan Avenue for the shortcut through Millennium Park to their apartment.

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