For the last day of the blog hop, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my upcoming release, “The Melody Thief (Blue Notes #2).” Release date is 8/24/12 from Dreamspinner Press. This is from Chapter Four. A little background – Antonio rescues Cary from a mugging on a Milan street and offers Cary spend the night at his place so there’s someone to watch him after he suffers a concussion. Cary wakes up the next morning to a little complication.
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Blurb: Cary Taylor Redding, former child prodigy and international cello soloist, has a problem: he’s falling for sexy Italian lawyer, Antonio Bianchi. Which wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, really, except that Cary’s been lying about who he is ever since he met Antonio. If he comes clean, he figures he has no chance of sleeping with the man, let alone a relationship. But then again, he isn’t really looking for a relationship, is he?
About the Series: The “Blue Notes” series is comprised of interrelated contemporary romance novels based on characters inhabiting the same musical universe. Each book can be read independently of the others (“spinoff”) and in any order.
Pre-publication Excerpt, final version may change!
Chapter Four: Little Stinkers
“Would you like to take a bath before bed?” Antonio put the last of the dishes away in the kitchen as Cary leaned against the counter and watched.
They’d been discussing the soccer season and Italy’s prospects for the World Cup. It had been a comfortable, relaxed conversation, and Cary realized he’d actually been flirting with Antonio.
“Is that a hint?” Cary said with a playful grin.
“I hadn’t meant it that way. Although since you put it like that… yes. You smell bad.” Antonio’s grin belied his words, and Cary realized he too was flirting.
“I’m hurt that you’d say that.” Cary put his good hand against his chest and tried to look insulted. He knew he smelled like stale cigarettes, sweat, and worse, even.
Antonio laughed. “No, you’re not hurt. And you do need a bath.”
“Does that mean you’re willing to help me?” He needed the help, he reminded himself with a wry grin. The doctor told him not to get the cast wet, hadn’t he? He was pretty sure he wasn’t imagining Antonio’s interest.
Antonio smiled, closed his eyes briefly, and let out a long breath. “I suppose it does.”
Cary did his best to appear just appreciative of Antonio’s assistance, although judging by Antonio’s wary look, Cary realized he wasn’t that convincing.
When Antonio emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, Cary waited in the bedroom, naked. (Unbuttoning a shirt one-handed was far easier than buttoning it). If this surprised Antonio, he didn’t show it. Still, he kept his gaze fixed on Cary’s face with obvious effort, something Cary noticed with smug satisfaction.
Cary didn’t consider himself classically handsome, but he knew he was attractive in a comfortable guy-next-door way. Years of faithful trips to the gym had transformed his gangly body into a more muscular one. He prided himself on his flat stomach and narrow waist and on the hint of definition in his arms. He had never been shy about showing his body, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to start now. He was having too much fun. And, he realized, he wanted Antonio.
“The bruising looks painful,” said Antonio as Cary climbed gingerly into the bathtub.
“It’s not that bad. The medicine helped.”
Antonio dipped a washcloth in the warm water and began to wash Cary with clinical detachment. “Keep your wrist on the side. You don’t want to get the plaster wet.”
“Feels good.” Cary closed his eyes and leaned back against the tub.
“What? Can’t a guy enjoy himself?”
“You’re trying too hard.” Antonio ran the cloth down Cary’s chest.
“Does that mean you’re going to join me in here?” Well, a guy could dream, couldn’t he?
Antonio finished up with the washcloth, then took the sprayer and proceeded to wet and wash Cary’s hair.
“Here,” Antonio said a few minutes later, handing Cary the washcloth. “You can get the last spot.” Cary noticed the hint of blush that stained Antonio’s pale cheeks.
“About tonight,” Cary began, determined to make the most of the situation. “We can sleep—”
“I’ll be sleeping on the couch,” Antonio interrupted with calm resolve, having clearly anticipated the question.
Cary frowned. “But it’d be a lot more comfortable if you slept with me in the bed.” He stood up and faced Antonio, knowing his arousal was as obvious as the come-on. “You could dry me off and then—”
“It’s quite comfortable,” Antonio interrupted again. “You can take my word for it.”
And with that pronouncement, he offered Cary a hand out of the tub and wrapped the towel around him as fast as he could.
“Sure you don’t want to join me in the bed?” Cary asked a few minutes later, as Antonio came out of the bathroom in sweatpants and a T-shirt. He carried a glass of water and more pain pills. “I could warm you up, you know.”
“That’s very kind of you, Connor, but I’ll be quite all right on the couch.”
Cary swallowed the pills in silence. He knew the pain in his wrist made sex pretty much a nonstarter anyway. Still, he had enjoyed messing with his scrupulously polite host. And when he was feeling better, who knew? What difference would another twenty-four hours make in the grand scheme of things?
Cary expected Antonio would head back to the living room, but as he picked up a pillow from the bed, he stopped. For a moment, Cary thought Antonio might touch him, but then he sat down on the edge of the bed.
“How are you feeling?” Antonio asked.
“I’m fine.” Well it was true, wasn’t it?
“I….” Antonio hesitated as if he were trying to say something but thought better of it. “It’s just that it must be hard for you. The broken wrist. The bruises. It’ll make things difficult for your… work.”
Cary glanced at the cast and shrugged. “I’ll be okay. I’m sure.”
At that moment, though, Cary wasn’t so sure. A wave of fear rose within him, and he reminded himself that the doctor had said he’d be fine. He would play again. There wasn’t another option, was there? It was everything to him, his music. Without it, what was he? Cary brushed the thought away, as he had done earlier.
“If there is something I can do for you, please let me know.” Antonio looked genuinely concerned.
“I’ll be fine. Really.” Antonio squeezed his shoulder, and Cary wished he could fall into those powerful arms. He imagined what it might feel like to bury his face in Antonio’s chest, to feel that body pressed against his own….
Antonio pulled his hand away far sooner than Cary wanted and stood up again, pillow in hand. “You need to get some rest,” he said.
“Good night, Antonio. And thanks,” Cary added in a serious tone, “for saving my ass.”
“Sogni d’oro, Connor.” Antonio closed the door behind him.
“Zummm, zummm, zummm….” The sound grated on Cary’s ears, and he pulled an extra pillow over his head. He had been dreaming about something really nice, and…. He felt the sharp pain in his wrist and realized he had completely forgotten about the events of two nights before.
“Zummm, zummm, zummm….”
“What the hell?” he snapped in English as he threw the pillow off the bed with his good arm.
From under heavy eyelids, he focused on a small metal airplane about three inches from his nose. The eyes that met his were a vivid blue—not Antonio’s, although the similarity in color was quite remarkable—and belonged to a child of four or five.
“Who are you?” Cary demanded in Italian. He hated kids almost as much as he hated being woken up from a good dream, and this particular dream had prominently featured a certain blond Italian.
The little hand began to move again, making the toy airplane glide and bank. “Zummm, zummm, zummm….” The little boy, whose long blond curls ended at his shoulders, smiled at him.
“Who are you?” Cary repeated, long past the end of his patience.
“Who are you?” the boy countered. Then, as if putting the pieces of a particularly complicated puzzle together, he said, “Oh. You’re Papà’s guest!”
The kid was giggling now. “Is your name Corrie? No,” he said as he chewed his bottom lip. “Papà told me, but I forgot—”
“Connor,” Cary supplied. Anything to get that high, squeaky voice out of his I’m-grumpy-don’t-mess-with-me-in-the-morning ears.
“Connore! That’s it! Connore!”
“Connore,” the boy repeated, again adding the final e. His face was screwed up in a frown, as if he were challenging Cary to correct him one more time.
“Fine.” Who was he to argue with a bratty kid at eight in the morning?
“I’m Massimo,” he announced with his chin held high. “Massimo Bianchi. I’m five years old. Almost six.”
“Nice to meet you,” Cary answered, more out of resignation than politeness.
“Daddy said you spoke Italian.” Massimo didn’t seem convinced. “He said you were American. I don’t think they speak Italian in America.” The expression on his face was defiant.
“They don’t. I learned to speak it here, in Italy.”
This seemed to appease Massimo. He shrugged and went back to buzzing Cary’s head again with the airplane.
“Would you stop that?”
“You didn’t say ‘please’,” Massimo said with an expression of calm irritation that immediately called to mind Antonio.
“Would you please stop that?” Little brat.
Massimo appeared to consider the question. Then, apparently deciding he was having too much fun to stop, he dive-bombed Cary’s face.
“Massimo?” a woman’s voice called from outside the bedroom.
“Don’t tell her I woke you up.” Massimo raised his eyebrows and bit his lip.
“You didn’t say ‘please’,” Cary said with satisfaction. Chalk one up for the grown-up!
“Please, Connore, don’t tell her I woke you up.”
The door to the bedroom opened, and a woman peered inside. “Oh,” she gasped, shooting a look of reproach at the little boy, “he woke you up, didn’t he?”
“No,” Cary lied. “I was already awake when he came in.”
“Massimo,” the woman said with narrowed eyes, “go back into the living room. Let Signor Taylor sleep.” She kissed Massimo on the top of his head and sighed theatrically.
“Yes, Mamma.” Massimo flashed Cary a bright grin as though they were now best friends, then scampered off the bed and out the door.
“I am so sorry,” the woman said as she pushed her long brown hair from her face. “I was making breakfast, and I didn’t realize he had come in here. Massimo is just so curious.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Cary told her. “It’s fine, really.”
“He’s a lot like his father, always curious about things.”
“So Antonio is his father?”
Great. Mr. Perfect has a kid. Way too complicated. His hope for a mind-blowing one-night stand was fading fast.
“Oh, yes.” She smiled and shook her head. “They’re very much alike.” Then, as if suddenly realizing something, she clapped a hand over her mouth and said, “Oh! I’m being so rude! I didn’t even introduce myself. I’m Francesca Fratelli.”
“Connor Taylor.” Cary’s heart did a nosedive for his stomach. Francesca wore a wedding band on her right hand in the European custom.
No wonder he wasn’t interested.
“So you’re Antonio’s wife?”
She laughed, a light, musical laugh that rang about the bedroom. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “No, no. We’ve been friends since we were children—he’s like my brother.”
The extent to which it relieved Cary to hear this surprised him. Why would you care, anyhow? You only wanted to sleep with the guy, not marry him.
“I see” was all he said.
“Speaking of work,” she continued, “Tonino asked me to make you some breakfast. He left for the office about an hour ago.”
That’s right. Today is Monday, isn’t it? He really needed to call Georges and let him know about canceling the upcoming gigs.
“That’s very kind of you.”
“Antonio and I grew up together near Stradella, not far from here,” Francesca explained as they sat down for a breakfast comprised of a variety of fruit, cheese, and bread. “His family still lives there.”
The apartment was quiet, for which Cary was more than grateful. Massimo was now lying on his stomach on the couch, feet up in the air, reading a book.
“So you live in Milan?”
“Yes. I moved here a few years ago with my partner, Marissa. I’m a painter.” She filled his coffee cup and passed him a tray of cheese and prosciutto. “I’ve had a few shows in Milan and Rome. I work at a gallery in the city.” She gestured to a painting hanging on the wall.
“Interesting piece,” he said, noting the splashes of bright colors on the mostly dark background and the hint of a human shape they combined to create. It was a sensual, unusual work. Something he could see hanging on a wall in his own apartment. “I like it.”
She blushed charmingly. “Thank you, signore.”
“Please, call me Connor.”
“Connor. Your Italian is very good,” she added as she offered him some more bread.
“I’ve got a pretty good ear. And I love the sound of the language.”
“I’m so sorry about what happened to you. Tonino told me about those horrible men. Does it hurt much?” she asked.
“Just the wrist. But it’s better today. I just look worse.” He touched two fingers to his jaw.
“So I hear you’re a waiter.”
Cary nodded as he sipped his coffee.
“What restaurant do you work at?”
Cary tried not to choke. Lies were easier to stomach if you didn’t have to go into a lot of detail. They were also easier when you were drunk. “I sort of fill in at a few places.”
He felt like a total shit now. He needed to go home.
“Tonino left you some clothing.” She pointed to a chair by the front door. A pair of pants hung over the back, along with a neatly folded shirt and socks. “He was sorry he couldn’t stay. He’ll be back at lunch.”
“He’s already done a lot for me. And I really should be going. The doctor was just worried about last night.”
Her expression was almost wistful, as if she were disappointed to hear this. “I’m sure he would want you to stay,” she said. “At least until he comes home.”
“That’s really nice, but I’ll leave him my number. I’d like to thank him.”
And I have some great ideas about how I can do that, if he’ll let me.