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Excerpt: Count Toussaint’s Pregnant Mistress/Count Toussaint's Baby

The applause had ended and a hushed silence came over the concert hall, a wonderful expectancy that gave the room—and Abigail Summers—an almost electric excitement.

She took a breath, her fingers poised over the keys of the grand piano on the center stage of the Salle Pleyel in Paris, closed her eyes, and then began to play.

The music flowed from her soul through her fingers, filling the room with the haunting, tormented sounds of Beethoven’s twenty-third Sonata. Abby was never conscious of the audience who sat in enthralled silence, who had paid nearly a hundred euros simply to listen to her. They melted away as the music took over her body, mind, and soul, a passionate force both inside her and yet separate from herself. Seven years of professional playing and a lifetime of lessons had taught her complete and utter focus on the music.

Yet halfway through the Appassionata she became… aware. There was no other word for the feeling that someone was watching her—of course, several hundreds were watching her, but this—he, for she knew instinctively it was a he—was different. Unique. She could feel his eyes on her… even though she didn’t know how. Why.

Who.

Yet she didn’t dare look up or lose her focus, even as her cheeks warmed and her skin prickled, her body reacting with sensual pleasure to a kind of attention she’d never experienced and couldn’t even be certain was real.

She found herself longing for the piece—all twenty-four minutes of it—to end, so she could look up and see who was watching her. How could this be happening, she wondered with a detached part of her mind, even as the music rippled from under her fingers. She’d never wanted a piece to end, never felt the attention of one person like a spotlight on her soul.

Who was he?

Or was she just being fanciful, thinking that someone was there? Someone different? Someone, she felt strangely, she’d been waiting her whole life for.

Finally the last notes died away into the stillness of the hushed hall, and Abby looked up.

She saw—and felt—him immediately. Despite the glare of the stage lights and the sea of blurred faces, her eyes focused immediately on him, her gaze drawn to him as if by a magnet. And there was something almost magnetic about it, about him. She felt as if her body were being irresistibly pulled towards him even though she remained seated on the piano bench.

He gazed back, and in the few seconds she’d had to look upon him, her buzzing brain gathered only a few details: a mane of dark, slightly raggedly kept hair, a chiselled face, and most of all, blue eyes, bright, intense, burning as he gazed at her.

Abby was conscious of the rustling of concert programs, people shifting in their seats, the wave of speculative concern that rippled through the room. She should have started her next piece, a fugue by Bach, and instead she was sitting here motionless, transfixed, wondering.

She didn’t have the luxury of asking questions or seeking answers. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to focus once more, to think of nothing but the music. The beauty.

And yet even as she began the piece by Bach, the audience seeming to sit back in their seats with a collective sigh of relief, she was still conscious of him, and she wondered if—hoped—she would see him again.

 

Jean-Luc Toussaint sat in his seat, every muscle tense with anticipation, with awareness, with hope. It was an emotion he hadn’t felt in a long time, months at the very least, most likely years. He hadn’t felt anything at all, yet when Abigail Summers, the world renowned pianist prodigy, had come onto the stage, he’d felt hope leap to life inside of him, felt the ashes of his old self stir to life in a way he had never thought to experience again.

He’d seen pictures of her, of course; there was a rather artistic photograph of her outside the Salle Pleyel, a graceful silhouette of her at the piano. Yet nothing had prepared him for the sight of her coming onto the stage, her head held high, her glossy dark hair pulled into an elegant chignon, the unrelieved black evening gown she wore swishing about her ankles. Nothing had prepared him for the response he’d felt in his own soul, for the emotions—hope, even joy—to course through him.

He’d tried to dismiss the feelings as mere desperate imaginings, for surely he was desperate. It was six months since Suzanne had died, little more than six hours since he’d discovered her letters and realized the truth of her death. Felt the blame and the guilt, corrosive and consuming.

He’d left the chateau and all of its memories for Paris, avoiding his flat or any of the remnants of his former life. He’d come to this concert as an act of impulse, because he’d seen a billboard advert and he’d wanted to lose himself in something else, to not have to think at all, or even to feel.

He couldn’t feel—he was poured out, empty, barren of emotion… until Abigail Summers had crossed the stage.

And when she’d played… admittedly, the Appassionata was one of his favourite sonatas; he understood Beethoven’s frustration, the inevitability of the composer’s disability and his own inability to stop its relentless development. He felt that way about his own life, the way things had spiraled downward, out of his control… and without him even realizing it until it was too late. Far, far too late.

Yet Abigail Summers brought a new energy and emotion to the piece, so much so that Luc found his hands clenching into fists, his eyes burning as he gazed at her as if he could compel her to look up and see him.

And then she did. Luc felt a sudden jolt of recognition, which seemed impossible as he’d never met or even seen her before. Yet as their eyes met he felt as if something long missing had finally slid into place, as if the world had righted itself, as if he had finally righted himself and been made whole.

He felt hope.

It was a heady, wonderful, addictive feeling. It was also frightening—feeling so much—and yet still he wanted more. He wanted to forget everything that had happened, all the mistakes he’d made in the last six years. He wanted that blissful oblivion, to lose himself in this look, this woman, even if only for a time. Even if it couldn’t last.

Their eyes met and locked, the moment stretching and spiraling between them. Then, as the audience grew restless, she looked back down and after a tense moment—he didn’t think he was imagining that hesitation—she began to play.

Luc sat back and let the music wash over him. That one look had caused a deep hunger to open up inside of him, a restless longing to connect with another person—with her, as he had never truly had with anyone. Yet even as the hunger took hold of him, he felt the more familiar hopelessness wash over him. How could he want someone—have someone—when he had nothing, absolutely nothing left to give?

Excerpt From: COUNT TOUSSAINT’S PREGNANT MISTRESS/COUNT TOUSSAINT’S BABY by Kate Hewitt
Copyright © 2010 by Kate Hewitt
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. All rights reserved.

January 2008