Shelves: historical-romance 3 stars or 3. Were given a delicious beta hero, a lovely widow, and a natural-feeling romance. Then, the plot deteriorates with critical revelations and nonsensical behavior. The some- kind-of-wonderful feeling turns into what-the-heck is happening. Sighs turn into groans.

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But this… This was diabolical, this demand David made of him. To give up the one mistress Val loved, the one place he was happy and competent. He closed his eyes and drew breath into his lungs by act of will. Beside him, David appeared to be making a polite pretense of surveying the paddocks and fields around them. Not just days, not just weeks, and by then you will have lost some of the dexterity you hone so keenly now. If you catch it early it might admit of less extensive treatment.

The test will be if you do rest it, and see improvement. That is not the signal to resume spending all hours on the piano bench, Valentine. All I do is spend hours on the piano bench, and occasionally escort my sisters about Town. Kiss some pretty girls, sniff a few roses, go see the Lakes.

And you are not to let some idiot surgeon talk you into bleeding it. No bleeding, no blisters, no surgery, and no peculiar nostrums. You tend it as you would any other inflammation. But what would it matter, really? He might get the use of his hand back in a year, but how much conditioning and skill would he have lost by then?

He loved his mistress, his muse, but she was jealous and unforgiving as hell. If you can find a position where the hand is comfortable, you might consider sleeping with it splinted like that. Massage, if you can stand it. Val nodded once, as much of an admission as he would make.

Not regularly. The pain goes away, but so does both manual and mental dexterity. And I can still see my hand is swollen and the wrong color. If you treat it right now, someday you might be able to make music with it again. In addition to height and blond good looks, David Worthington, Viscount Fairly, had one blue eye and one green eye. The numbness in his hand was apparently spreading to the rest of him—just not quickly enough.

The last thing she needed was to admit vulnerability to him, or to let him see he had any impact on her existence at all. She smoothed her hair back with a steady hand, and leveled guileless eyes at her guest, enemy and de facto landlord.

Nor in a league with Roxbury Hall. Would you like more tea? How he maintained his fashionable dark curls, she could only guess. And still to Ellen he would always be the gangly, awkward adolescent whose malice she had sorely underestimated.

There was only five years difference in their ages, but she felt decades his senior in sorrow and regret. A fellow has expenses and the solicitors are deuced tightfisted with the Roxbury funds.

The new owner might allow her to stay on. A tiger held the reins of the matched bays and Ellen could only wonder how such spirited horses navigated the little track leading to her door. Any present from Frederick was bound to bring ill will, if not worse. Frederick bent into his curricle and withdrew a small potted plant. And ye gods, ye gods, was Ellen ever glad to see the last of the man. She glanced at the plant in her hand, rolled her eyes and walked around to the back of her property to toss it pot and all on her compost heap.

And now all that accomplishment was to be taken from her. She poured herself a cup of tea and took it to her back porch, where the vista was one of endless, riotous flowerbeds. They were her livelihood and her solace, her greatest joy and her most treasured necessity. Sachets and soaps, herbs for cooking, and bouquets for market, they all brought a fair penny and the pennies added up.

Fruits and vegetables created yet still more income as did the preserves and pies made from them. She sipped her tea in the waning afternoon light and brought forth the memories that pleased her most.

And she thought about a chance visit from that handsome Mr. Windham, though it had been just a few moments stolen in the evening sunshine, and more than a year had passed since those moments. Ellen set her chair to rocking, hugged the memory closer still, and banished all thoughts of Frederick, homelessness and poverty from her mind. A life devoted to music did not develop in one any ability to appreciate idleness, much less vice.

Val had run his errands, paid his duty calls to family—and that had been particularly difficult, as family was spread all over the Home Counties—and tended to every detail of his business he could think to tend to.

And amid all this peripatetic activity, his head was full of music. One for grands, one for uprights. They did a surprisingly brisk trade, and as the Americans in particular had decided snobbery required well made English goods, many of the grands were shipped overseas at very significant cost to the buyers.

The temptation to just sit down and dabble a little… Dabbling, for Val, could go on literally for days. Had been his life. For the first time, Val was forced to consider what younger sons of the nobility actually did with themselves. They could apparently drink, whore, duel and what? The Corsican had met his match at Waterloo, which left gambling. Glancing at his cards, Val felt a wave of despair. A fucking, bedamned nursery rhyme was denied him.

In the two weeks since Val had stopped making music, his luck had become uncannily good at all games of chance. The pile of chips before him was obscenely ample, but Val was comforted to note Lindsey was managing fairly well too. Not so, young Baron Roxbury, seated across from Val. The man was playing too deep, visibly sweating in the candlelight. The smoke is rather thick.

Lord Val, you coming? Do yourself a favor and call it a night, Roxbury. One more hand Val thought, the irony quirking his lips. With his peripheral vision, Val noted both sidled over to the corner and topped off those drinks.

Witnesses, Val thought, realizing Lindsey brought a certain sophistication Val lacked to the suddenly dangerous business of gentlemanly idleness.

He could throw the game, of course. Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns. If it required attention, so much the better as nobody sane spent the entire summer sweltering in Town.

Surrounded by pianos at every turn. Val looked at his cards and almost smiled. Of course, a full house, queens over jacks. How fitting.


The Virtuoso

The Season of Dreams January 17, In a few weeks I will be 57, the age at which my dear brother Richard had a stroke. This guy is a PhD nutritionist, and was out for his obligatory morning jog when he began having trouble completing sentences. In other words—the picture of health. Exercised regularly, watched his diet like a very well educated hawk, went to the docs and did what they told him to do. Since the stroke, Richard has written a book, become a master of foxhounds, ridden in competitive horse shows against people one fourth his age, and generally recovered in fine style. The part of growing older nobody likes is that our health becomes unreliable; rather, our health is unreliable—always has been—but now we know it. In every other regard, my fifties have been a better time for dreams coming true than any other time in my life.



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