Graham motioned her inside with her usual grace. "Please, sit down."

Anna looked about, surprised by the luxury of Grahamís quarters. Everything from the high four-poster bed to the ornate armoires and antique dressers spoke of cultured refinement. Graham projected such an austere impression that Anna had to remind herself that Graham had grown up in and been part of the very pinnacle of wealthy society. Her only visible concession to that opulent world now was her taste in clothes. Anna watched Graham carefully as she opened the parcel.

Graham stood by her bed, meticulously examining each item, her expression growing more and more perplexed. She said nothing as she carefully arranged the strange gifts. Finally she faced Anna, one elegant eyebrow arched in question.

"And these are?" she queried, her voice carefully uninflected.

Anna took a deep breath. "Two pairs of denim jeans, three blue cotton workshirts, six white cotton tee shirts, crew socks, and a pair of Timberline work boots."

"Interesting," Graham noted, struggling to keep her voice even. "And the purpose?"

"You canít garden in Saville row suits and Italian loafers. Itís criminal," Anna stated. She didnít add that it was also unsafe for Graham on the steep, often muddy slopes in the shoes she usually wore.

"I have never worn blue jeans in my life," was all Graham could think to say. No one had ever been so bold as to comment on anything she had ever worn before. In fact, such an attempt would have drawn her most scathing reply. That Anna had taken it upon herself to actually buy her clothing astounded her.

"Theyíre black," Anna answered smartly. "I thought youíd prefer that."

"And how did you manage the size?" Graham asked, still strangely subdued. Anna was one of the few people she had ever known who did not seem intimidated by her. The other had been Christine, and that had been entirely different.

"I write out your checks," Anna explained. "I called your tailor."

Graham couldnít hide her shock. "You called Max Feinerman about blue jeans? What on earth did he say?"

Anna smiled at the memory. "He told me more than Iíll ever need to know about your inseams, rise and waistbands. I had a hard time convincing him that it wasnít necessary for him to make the jeans, even though he insisted vehemently that he had always made all of your clothes. Heís delightful." She didnít add that he also obviously adored Graham, and had asked anxiously when he might be needed to tailor her next concert suit. He explained her trousers were cut to allow easy movement on a piano bench and that since Graham had an unusually long arm span, she needed extra width in the back and sleeves of her shirts. It was important, he said, that nothing impair her reach on the keyboard. His pride in assisting Graham had not diminished during her years of seclusion. Anna was coming to realize that Graham made an indelible impression on every one she touched.

Graham smiled softly as Anna spoke, one finger aimlessly tracing the cuff of her fine Irish linen shirt. "Poor Max," she said with a hint of laughter. "He probably hasnít yet recovered."

"Try them on," Anna suggested boldly.

Graham started with surprise, then laughed unexpectedly. "All right, Ms. Reid, I will. If you would be so kind as to excuse me for a moment." She gathered the clothes and disappeared into her dressing room, leaving Anna with the memory of her laughter.
 






Chapter Eight


 


Helen opened the music room door with one hand, Grahamís breakfast tray balanced in the other. It was five a.m., and the sky visible through the open terrace was just beginning to lighten. It was the first of June, and although it was still cool in the early mornings, Graham had begun taking her meals outside on the stone patio. She was there at the edge of the balcony now, facing as always down to the sea. At the first sight of her Helen halted in astonishment.

"Graham?" she queried, her voice rising in surprise.

Graham turned, a distracted look on her face. "Yes? What is it?"

Helen collected herself quickly. "I -well, itís - you look quite nice!"

Graham tilted her head, frowning. Helen wasnít making any sense. "I look - ah, the jeans! Youíve noticed the addition to my wardrobe. Iím not sure Iím used to them yet."

"Wherever did you get them?"

"Anna decided my day wear was not suitable," Graham answered.

"Anna bought those clothes?" Helen cried in amazement. No one in Helenís recollection had ever had the audacity to buy apparel for Graham, she was much too particular. That Anna was not only bold enough to do it, but that Graham seemed to have accepted the gesture with aplomb, amazed her.

"And do you approve?" Graham asked testily.

Helen studied her in frank amazement. She was broad in the shoulders, with narrow hips, and naturally sinewy. The white cotton tee shirt highlighted the muscles of her chest and arms. The close fitting jeans accentuated her leanness and height, giving her a tense feline appearance. She looked ten years younger and tautly lithe. In all the years Helen had known her, her appearance had always been refined, dignified, and wholly elegant. She had a kind of natural androgyny that suited her professional persona. Graham as an individual was secondary to her role as a musician. Her gender on the concert stage was of little consequence. This was the first time Helen had ever had a sense of Graham as a sexual being. It was a disconcerting, and at the same time, wonderfully gratifying change.

"You look quite acceptable," Helen managed to say in a tone that belied her astonishment. She was afraid overt enthusiasm would make Graham self-conscious. She knew it would be hard for Graham not to know how she looked.

Graham nodded absently, recalling Annaís reaction when she had emerged from her dressing room. Anna was silent so long Graham began to think she had missed a button in some delicate location.

"Well," Graham had asked with a trace of impatience. "Do they fit or shall we have to call Max?"

Anna had cleared her throat, saying, "The fit is fabulous. You look altogether- handsome."

Handsome she had said. Graham wondered what Anna saw when she looked at her. She had never given it any thought before. How she appeared to others meant nothing to her. It had only been her music that mattered. Why it should matter now, when she had nothing to offer anyone, eluded her. And why she should care what Anna Reid thought of her was even more mystifying. She could not deny however, that she had enjoyed pulling on these clothes when she awoke that morning, and that as she did so, she remembered Annaís soft praise.

"Put the tray down, for heavenís sake, Helen," Graham said brusquely, annoyed with her own reminiscences. What did any of it matter!

When Helen returned an hour later, Graham was gone and her breakfast remained untouched.

**********

Hours later, Graham walked down the garden path to the sea, vaguely aware of the fine salt mist against her skin, absently welcoming the sunís warmth on her face. She had been preoccupied since she awoke that morning. The hint of a refrain trailed in and out of her consciousness, making it impossible for her to concentrate on anything else. The notes were elusive, but ever present, and that was an experience she hadnít had in years. Whereas once music came to her unbidden, demanding expression, that inner voice had been silenced along with the surging rhythms of her once vital life. Why it should return now, she didnít know, and she was afraid to question it, lest the music desert her once again. She was feeling the notes, searching for the form, when she struck something large and unyielding in her path. She had no time to react, emitting a curse as she found herself lying tangled in a thicket by the side of the path.

"Damn!" she swore, struggling to free herself from grasping tendrils of ivy.

"Oh my god, Graham!" Anna cried, rushing to her. "Oh god, are you hurt?" She began frantically pulling at the vines, attempting to pull Graham upright. Please donít let her be hurt!

Graham took firm hold of Annaís hands, stilling her frantic motion. "Iím quite all right. Just take my arm and help me up."

Anna reached for her hand and slipped her other arm around Grahamís waist. She was surprised once again by the strength in the deceptively lithe body. She gasped when her worried eyes searched Grahamís face. "Oh lord, youíve cut yourself," she cried. With trembling fingers she brushed a trickle of blood from Grahamís chin.

"What was it?" Graham asked quietly, trying to regain some semblance of dignity.

Anna looked devastated. "My wheelbarrow! How could I have been so careless!" She was close to tears. "God, you could have really been hurt!"

Graham stared toward Anna. "Your wheelbarrow?"

"Yes," she said miserably. The thought of Graham injured was unbearable. She had begun to see Yardley as a maze of potential obstacles, all waiting for Graham to walk innocently into their midst. Every time she watched Graham maneuver the uneven flagstone path, or climb the crumbling steps from the bluff, her heart pounded with anxiety. Seeing her reach across the stove for the coffee pot, knowing how easily her sleeve could touch the flame, made Anna want to scream out loud. She cursed whatever godless force had stolen Grahamís sight, and exiled this magnificent being from the world. That she might have been the cause of further harm completely undid her. She didnít seem to be able to think quite rationally where Graham was concerned. She held onto her protectively, one hand brushing at the smudges on her tee-shirt.

Graham reached out for Annaís hand, laughing. "Was it a trap?"

Anna cradled the long, delicate fingers in hers, aware of how vulnerable Graham was despite her stubborn independence. "No, just my thoughtlessness," she managed around the tightness in her throat.

Graham was suddenly serious, aware of the trembling in Annaís voice. She grasped Annaís shoulders with both hands, looking intently into her face.

"Itís not the first time Iíve fallen," she said gently. "Iím quite fine, you know."

Anna stepped closer until there was only inches between them. "No, youíre not. You have blood on your face and thistles in your hair."

Graham laughed again, a sound that warmed Annaís heart.

"Well, for heavenís sake, get them out! Havenít I disgraced myself enough for one morning?"

Anna gently disentangled the wisps of vines from the thick, rich hair, whispering softly, "You couldnít be undignified if you tried. I donít know how, but you elevate jeans and a tee shirt to an art form." Her heart was still racing wildly, and for some reason she couldnít quite catch her breath. She was close enough to smell the faint cologne Graham wore. It seemed to flood her senses as the rest of the world receded from her consciousness. She was dimly aware of a faint pounding in her belly.

A faint smile flickered at the corners of Grahamís mouth as she straightened her shoulders, her hands resting lightly on Annaís bare forearms. "Am I presentable now?"

"Youíre beautiful," Anna answered thickly. A pulse beat under the satin skin of Grahamís neck, and for some unfathomable reason, Anna wanted to rest her fingers there. Maybe it was the fear invoked by Grahamís recent fall; maybe it was the sorrow she couldnít dispel after reading the articles about Grahamís previous life; maybe it was the soul wrenching sadness of the only music Graham ever played, alone in the dark - something made her bold enough to brush her fingers gently through the disheveled hair on Grahamís forehead, and stroke the satin skin of her cheek. She rested her hand against the ivory column of her neck, scarcely breathing, her vision narrowed until Graham was all she could see.

At the first light contact of Annaís tentative touch, Graham closed her eyes, a light shiver coursing through her. A faint flush colored her usually pale cheeks. Her words came slowly, with the same caution she used when crossing an unfamiliar room.

"I can feel the salt from the sea and the warmth from the sun on your skin. You smell of the earth- - rich, dark, vital. You are aliveóand that is true beauty."

Anna felt each word, as she had felt Grahamís music, in some deep part of herself she hadnít known existed. Without thinking, she slipped her arms around Grahamís waist, resting her cheek against the thin cotton shirt, embracing her gently.

"Thank you," Anna whispered against Grahamís shoulder.

Graham was acutely aware of Annaís heart beating against her, of the soft swell of Annaís breast against her chest, and the fine tremor in Annaís body. Graham shuddered slightly and stepped back gently, taking a deep breath.

"The stone benchóis it still there, under the sycamore?"

"Yes," Anna said quietly, sensing her withdrawal. She had to let her go, not understanding why it was so difficult.

"If you donít mind the company, Iíd like to sit out here a while." Graham needed distance between them, but she could not bear to leave.

"Iíd love the company," Anna said softly. "Do you know the way?"

Graham laughed. "I used to. Are there any strange obstacles in the path?"

"All clear."

Anna followed Graham with her eyes as she made her way carefully but unerringly to the bench. Only when Anna saw her safely seated could she return to her work. Even then she glanced up every few moments just to look at her. Anna was delighted that Graham accepted Annaís gift of new clothes so magnanimously. Not only were they more practical, she looked terrific in them. As much as she loved the impeccably cut trousers and dress shirts Graham usually wore, this casual garb was unusually compelling. She could still vividly recall her shock when Graham had first appeared in them. Whereas before Grahamís clothes accentuated her ethereal aloofness, these form-fitting casual shirts and pants emphasized her sinewy sensuality. Anna stared while something foreign erupted in her, and her heart began to trip over itself. When Graham asked for her opinion, she couldnít admit that what had come to mind was Ďbreathtakingí. But she was, in that aristocratic way of some women, and each time Anna saw her, she was more aware of just how physically attractive she found Graham to be. She had no reference for what she felt, but it was certainly undeniable.

She pulled roots and transplanted the day lilies that were multiplying in great abundance. Although there was silence between them, she was acutely aware of Grahamís presence and was soothed by it. When she glanced up at one point, she was struck by the distant expression on Grahamís face. She was used to Grahamís lapses in attention, although she was more accustomed to their accompanying some painful memory. Today Graham appeared distracted, but not distressed. Her eloquent hands were moving on her outstretched thighs, delicately, but with purpose.

"Where are you?" Anna called quietly, laying her tools aside.

Graham smiled ruefully. "Iím trying to capture a refrain -not very successfully, Iím afraid. Itís been been plaguing me all day."

"Can you hear it?" Anna asked, aware that Graham had never once spoken to her of music. That she did so now, so casually, made Anna realize that Graham was not fully present.

"Almost. Itís there, like a fine murmur in my ear, but I canít quite bring it into focus."

"Why donít you hum it?" Anna suggested, taking advantage of Grahamís apparently mellow mood. "Maybe that will help."

Graham tilted her head, frowning slightly, "You wonít mind the noise?"

Anna laughed. "Of course not! Go ahead!" She smiled, turning back to her work, enjoying the deep, rich timbre of Grahamís voice. Gradually she became aware of fragments of an enchanting melody and sat back on her heels to listen. Quietly, she laid her tools aside and watched Graham.

Graham sat with her eyes closed, outlined in sunlight. Anna wasnít quite sure which was more beautiful, the music or its composer. She did know she had never been quite so moved, nor quite so content simply to look at another human being.

Graham quieted, fixing her gaze towards Anna. "Youíve stopped working."

"Iím listening," Anna confessed in a voice thick with emotion.

Graham leaned forward, her expression intent. "Do you like it?"

Anna went to her instinctively, kneeling by her side. She placed her hand lightly on Grahamís thigh. She didnít know how to say what she feltóhow the melody enchanted her, soothed her like a gentle caress-- how gracefully the notes flowed around her. She wanted to say that Grahamís music made her hurt somewhere inside; that she welcomed the hurt because she felt it so deeply she knew she was alive. Listening, she had wanted to cry, and dance, and hold someone she loved. "Itís beautifulóI felt things, I wanted things, -- things that Iíve never known, just from listening to you. Itís wonderful."

Graham was silent for a long time. Her gaze drifted beyond Anna, to another place, to another lifetime, when she was whole and her world was filled with music. She had thought then that her world was filled with love, too. She knew now she had been wrong. Annaís innocent response to those faltering notes, not even a fragment of what she once wrote in an instant, reminded her painfully of what she was no more.

Her fingertips just brushed Annaís hand where it lay on her leg. She looked to where she knew Anna knelt, willing herself to see her. When she couldnít, she lifted a hand to Annaís cheek.

"I wondered if you could hear something of what I felt. I think you do. You have been kind in your praise. Thank you."

Anna remained motionless, concentrating on the featherlight stroke of Grahamís hand. Despite its gentleness, it affected her deeply. The sorrow in Grahamís eyes, as they searched her face unseeing, touched her even more. Was there no way at all to ease her endless torment? She didnít realize her hands had moved to Grahamís waist, or that she leaned into Grahamís embrace as she struggled for some words to convey the emotions that threatened to choke her. Graham felt the heat of Annaís body close against her own.

Graham sat back abruptly, letting her hand fall away, breaking their connection.

"I think Iíll go in now. You must have things to doóand I have other matters to attend to."

Anna stifled a protest; she was embarrassed by how much she wanted her to stay. Graham had already begun to make her way back toward the house by the time Anna collected herself. Anna looked after her, confused, and hurt. Had her pitifully inadequate attempts to describe her feelings about Grahamís music offended her?

Whatever the cause of Grahamís withdrawal, Anna returned to her work feeling lonely, a penetrating loneliness she had never before known.
 




Chapter Nine


 


The sun was nearly gone when Graham rounded the corner from the rose garden. She halted abruptly when she heard the kitchen door slam with a bang. Annaís angry voice carried to her clearly.

"Mr. Reynolds," Anna shouted, her voice cold with fury, "do you mind telling me what this is?"

He looked at the canister she held out to him, not particularly disturbed by her anger. He was thinking once again what a good-looking woman she was, especially in those cotton shorts that showed off her nice tight thighs. "Itís a solventóyou spray it onó"

Anna interrupted him in a deadly tone. "What was it doing on the kitchen counter?"

"Guess I left it there when I used the phone." He stared at her, confused. She did seem to be a little irritated. "You did say I could use the phone." He gave her his best grin, the one that always worked with his wife.

"Yes, I did," she said with steely calm. "And I expressly told you that you were to leave no tools lying around, and that you were absolutely not to bring anything into the house." She caught her breath, trying to control her temper. " Is it caustic?"

"Well, youíd get a nasty burn if you sprayed yourself. But, itís clearly markedóanyone can seeó"

"No, Mr. Reynoldsónot anyone," Anna exploded. "Youíre fired. Send me a bill for what youíve done so far." She turned and slammed back into the houseóshe was shaking.

She heard the door open and whirled to confront him. This was not open to discussion. But it was Graham instead who stood inside the door, her face grave.

"That isnít necessary, Anna," she said quietly.

Anna was too distraught for caution. She was still upset over Grahamís fall that morning; she had been upset ever since Graham deserted her so precipitously; and she was sick over finding an open canister of toxic fluid in the kitchen where Graham insisted on preparing her own lunch. "Yes, it is necessary! That was dangerous!"

"I am quite capableó"

"Yes, you are!" Anna interrupted, her voice rising. "You are amazingly capable. I am well aware that there isnít much that you canít do. But, damn it, Graham, you canít see! And thereís no point in putting danger in your path. Youíre so stubborn and --I would hate it so if anything happened to you!" Her voice broke, but she just couldnít help it. She seemed to be on an emotional rollercoaster lately. She was moody, and she never had been before. She woke up in the morning feeling in charge of the world, only to find herself depressed and listless by the afternoon. She hadnít felt this out of sorts in the middle of divorcing her husband! If something happened to Graham! To her horror she felt tears threatening.

From across the room, Graham felt her distress. "Anna," she soothed, reaching out to her, finding her shoulders. "Look at me."

Graham gently cupped Annaís face with her hands, her expression intent. Drawing a tremulous breath, Anna searched Grahamís face.

"I am carefulóI have learned to be. Fire him because he didnít follow your ordersófair enough. But donít let my blindness burden you with unnecessary fears. It is enough that I am a prisoneróat least, in some ways, I deserve it."

"No! You could neveróoh, Graham, no!"

Graham stilled her with the fleeting touch of one finger to Annaís lips. "It doesnít matter nowóitís done." She softly brushed the hair back from Annaís neck, allowing the thick strands to run slowly through her fingers, before dropping her hands. Quietly, she said, "There are things about me you do not know, Anna - things that some might say warrant my fate. There may be truth in that; Iíve stopped asking. Whatever the case, I canít have you become a victim of my past. You must live your life and not worry about mine. Promise me?"

Anna nodded, so affected by Grahamís words that her head was pounding.

"Iíll tryóI promise."

Graham seemed satisfied and stepped back. "Thank you."

"Graham!" Anna called as Graham turned away, loathe for her to leave, "Do you want to finish the accounts tonight?"

Graham shook her head. "No -Iíll send for you when Iím ready."

Anna was oddly disappointed, and suddenly the evening ahead of her loomed long and empty. She waited all that interminably long day and the ones that followed for some word from Graham. None ever came.

**********

By the time Helen entered the kitchen shortly after five am, Anna had made coffee, put bread in the oven, and was pacing restlessly in front of the window. She had barely slept and her nerves were completely frayed.

"What are you doing up so early?" Helen asked in surprise.

Turning abruptly, Anna asked urgently, "Helen, where is Graham? I havenít seen her in three days. I looked for her at the sea wall this morning and yesterday. She hasnít been there, or out to the gardens, and she hasnít sent for me! What is going on?"

Momentarily dismayed by Annaís distress, Helen quickly composed herself. She had been shielding Graham Yardley for a great many years. "Why, sheís in the music room."

"The music room," Anna repeated stonily, trying to contain her temper. "I have never known her not to open the terrace doors when sheís in there. Why now - whatís happening?"

"Sheís perfectly all right," Helen insisted, although her face betrayed her uncertainty.

"Is that why you brought back the dinner trays untouched for the last two nights? Because sheís all right? Damn it, Helen! Tell me!"

Helen sagged slightly, abandoning her facade of disconcern. She sat heavily at the table, motioning for Anna to join her.

"She is in the music room, and sheís workingósheís composingósomething she hasnít done since the accident. Iím not sure itís going well. Itís been so long! I bring her the trays, but she sends them away untouched; she sends me away. I know she hasnít slept. It is starting to frighten me."

Anna looked at her disbelievingly. "Iíve been up to the terrace behind her study. Sheís not playing- the room is dark -" Anna sighed. "Of course it would be, wouldnít it. She doesnít need the light. Itís sound proof, too, isnít it?"

"Yes, as long as the doors are closed." Helen affirmed. "I donít know if you can understand what this means, Anna. Iím not sure I do any longer. Graham hasnít attempted a new work since her injury. Oh, sheís written fragments - those sad melodies she plays. But nothing of any complexity, and nothing thatís ever affected her like this. I used to pray that she would work again, but now Iím not sure itís a good thing. If she canít - Iím not sure how much disappointment one soul can bear!"

"Give me the breakfast tray," Anna said quietly.

"Oh, no, Graham wouldnít like that!" Helen protested.

"Helen, I donít give a damn if Graham likes it or not! Are you going to stand by for the rest of your life and watch her die a little bit more each day!?"

Helen couldnít hide her shock, and the harsh words shook her to her core. She stared at Anna, stricken.

"Oh my God, Helen," Anna cried. "I am so sorry!" She passed a trembling hand across her face, drawing a shaky breath. "I canít begin to apologize! I donít know what Iím saying! Iíve been worried sick about her, and I just - Please, can you forgive me?"

"Itís all right, my dear. I can see that youíre upset for her." She turned to prepare the tray. "Maybe if I hadnít given in to her so easily all these years -" she said uncertainly.

"No, Helen," Anna said compassionately, agonizing over the words she had uttered in anger. "Graham is a formidable woman, and I doubt that you or anyone else could have changed her. My god, if you hadnít been here for her all this time, who knows how she would have survived."

Helen remained silent, thinking that Anna had done more to change Grahamís life in three months than all of her own attention over the years. She knew Anna had spoken from a place of caring, and she was grateful at last for someone who wasnít willing to let Graham simply slip away. Everyone else who had supposedly loved her had either been too devastated by her tragedy or too weak to stand between Graham and her pain. Why Anna was willing to, she didnít know. For now she was just thankful that she did.

"Take this then," Helen said, offering the breakfast tray. "But be prepared. You havenít yet seen Graham when sheís battling her demons. Her temper terrified most people."

**********

Graham stood, shoulders slumped, before the fireplace, her arms folded along the mantle, her forehead resting against them. She stared down into the cold ashes. The back of her linen shirt was rumpled and sweat-stained. From across the room, Anna could see her trembling. Graham waved a hand distractedly, "Just leave it, Helen."

"Not until you eat," Anna said as she placed the tray next to the untouched dinner left from the night before.

Graham turned in surprise. "Anna?"

"Yes," Anna replied, struggling for calm. Grahamís face was creased with fatigue, she was unsteady on her feet, and she looked like she had lost five pounds when what she needed was to gain twenty. Her physical fragility was shocking. Anna had grown accustomed to the force and power of Grahamís presence, and to be confronted so vividly with Grahamís vulnerability frightened Anna more than she could have imagined. My god, this is killing her! The thought was so terrifying Anna clenched her fists to keep from crying out.

"Leave itóplease," Graham repeated softly. She forced a smile, trying to hide her weariness. "Then go."

Anna took a breath, "I want you to eat first."

Graham frowned, her body rigid with tension. "I will. Later."

"No. Now," Anna repeated, knowing she was on dangerous ground. She knew that no one dictated to Graham Yardley, and certainly not when she was in the midst of a creative fury. She steeled herself for the storm that finally arrived. Graham straightened to her full imposing height, her dark eyes flashing fire.

"I donít have time to argue with you, Anna, nor should I have to. I am still master of this house and, if I am correct, you work for me. Donít interfere in something you know nothing about!"

"I know you canít work like this -"

"You presume to speak of my work?!" Graham shouted, slamming the piano lid down in frustration. "What do you know of my work! Could you even begin to recognize a great piece of music, let alone understand what it takes to create one?! Do you have any idea who I --" Graham stopped abruptly, realizing what she was about to say. Do you have any idea who I am? Who was she now?

Anna would have preferred the anger to the agonizing uncertainty that she glimpsed as Graham turned from her. Helen had voiced what Graham obviously feared. What if she canít?

"Of course I donít know what it takes! I canít even begin to fathom what it demands of you to create what you have. I do know who you are, Graham, and I know you can do this. But youíve got to stop driving yourself this way! Itís only making it harder!"

Graham bowed her head, both arms braced on the wide expanse of the silent grand piano. "Please leave me, Anna," she said quietly, her despondency apparent.

"I canít," Anna said desperately. "Not like this."

Graham ran a hand through her disheveled hair. "I didnít know you were so stubborn."

"Thereís a lot you donít know about me," Anna said as she moved quickly to Grahamís side, grasping her hand. "Come, sit down."

Graham allowed herself to be led to the chair. She was truly too tired to protest. She was ready to admit defeat, she should have known better than to try - but the music was still there, so close to her grasp! She leaned her head back with a groan.

"Do you want champagne?" Anna asked.

Graham laughed faintly. "Isnít it morning?"

"Yes, but for you, itís well past time for bed. Youíve been at this three days Graham - you canít keep this up." Anna said reasonably, trying to hide her own deep fear.

"I canít stop now, Anna. Not yet," Graham said frantically. "Iíve been trying so hard to seize the musicóI think I have it, and then itís gone." She dropped her head into both hands. "Perhaps I just canít do it anymore. Perhaps I am the fool."

Anna couldnít bear to hear the defeat in her voice. She had already lost so much!

"Graham, youíre tired, youíre driving yourself. Have something to eat. Rest a while. It will come."

Graham shook her head. "I canít. If I sleep now, I may lose it all." She was riding the thin edge of control, besieged with uncertainty, exhausted, and nearly broken.

Anna couldnít stand by and watch her suffer any longer. "Graham," she said softly, sliding on to the broad arm of the chair, encircling Grahamís shoulder with one protective arm. "You canít lose it. Itís part of youóthe music is you. I know that much from hearing you play."

She slipped a hand into Grahamís thick hair, massaging the cramped muscles in her neck. Graham groaned, leaning her head back into Annaís hands.

"Thatís not fair, but it feels so good," she murmured.

"Close your eyes," Anna whispered, a catch in her throat.

"Just for a second," Graham relented. She was so very tired!

Anna kept Graham in her arms long after she finally gave in to sleep. Gently, Anna pushed the damp hair back from her forehead, wincing at the dark shadows under her eyes. Her skin seemed even paler, if possible. Anna felt a fierce desire to safeguard this delicate spirit. She continued to stroke her hair softly as she slept. She drifted, peaceful for the first time in days, with Graham secure in her arms.

When Graham stirred some time later, she became aware of Annaís body pressed to hers. Grahamís cheek rested against Annaís shoulder, and one arm encircled Annaís firm waist. The heat from Annaís body surprised her. She hadnít known the closeness of another human being, nor wanted it, for more years than she could remember. Annaís nearness stirred memories, in her body and her mind, that she would rather leave buried. She knew she must move away; she was beginning to respond in ways she could not control. Some awakening need, however, cried out for Annaís touch.

"Are you awake?" Anna queried softly, absently sliding her hand down Grahamís neck to rest her fingers lightly against the soft skin left bare by the open collar of Grahamís shirt. She attributed the fine shiver that coursed through Grahamís frame to her lingering fatigue. "Graham?"

"Mmm," Graham murmured, struggling to hide her erratic breathing. All of her consciousness seemed to be focused on the spot where Annaís hand lay. "My headache is gone, and the music is still there." She didnít add that Annaís nearness was making it difficult to concentrate on the distant melody. For some reason it didnít seem quite as urgent right now. She even began to dare hope that the notes would not desert her.

"Ah," Anna smiled. "Some breakfast then, and that champagne."

"I want to work," Graham protested, struggling to rise.

Anna stilled her with a gentle hand on her shoulder.

"After breakfast!"

Graham shifted in the wide chair so that she was facing Anna, her expression revealing her frustration. Anna longed to smooth the wrinkles from her brow, but now that Graham was awake she was hesitant to touch her. Instead, she regarded her silently, surprised by the emotions just the sight of her stirred.

"What is it?" Graham asked at length, aware of the scrutiny.

"You have the most beautiful eyes," Anna whispered.

Graham blushed faintly. "The scar," she began hesitantly, "is it very bad?"

Anna traced the scar with her finger, at last giving in to her urge to stroke the lovely face. "No. I hardly think of itóexcept that it reminds me of how much youíve been hurt. Then all I want is to undo those hurts. I would give anything to change what happened to you," she finished softly.

"Why?"

"I donít know, Graham," she answered, moved to honesty by the quiet intimacy they shared. "I only know that when I look at you, I want to know youówho you are, what you feel, what makes you happyóand I know that more than anything else, I donít want you to hurt." She laughed rather shakily. "I donít quite understand it, but I can tell you I feel it."

Annaís passionate admission moved Graham profoundly. She could not doubt her sincerity; she could hear the tears in her voice. Suddenly she was awash with conflicting needs. She could no longer ignore her intense response to Annaís touch; her legs were shaking and the blood pounded insistently through her pelvis. This was desire, and that very fact was frightening. Graham drew away slightly, her face once again expressionless.

"You are a very kind woman," she said softly.

Anna stared at her in confusion. Kindness? Whatever she felt for this woman, it was much more than kindness! She sensed Grahamís withdrawal, just as she had that day in the garden. To be so close to her, and in the next moment to have that connection wrenched away, left her with an aching hollowness that was hard to endure.

"If I eat now, will you let me get back to work?" Graham asked, moving away.

"Of course," Anna answered bleakly.
 




Chapter Ten


 




Helen approached the study with some trepidation the next morning. Anna had been subdued the entire previous day after speaking with Graham. Her only comment had been, "She slept a bit and she said she would eat. If she doesnít, call me." Anna had taken herself off to the gardens then and worked ferociously all day. When she finally appeared in the kitchen well after dark, she sank into the chair, eyes already half-closed. Helen had to assure her that Grahamís breakfast tray had come back empty before she could get her to eat anything herself. When Anna dragged herself off to bed, Helen thought sure she saw tears on her cheeks. Helen was beginning to despair that both of them would make themselves sick. Well, something surely has to be done! she thought to herself as she wrapped soundly on Grahamís door.

"Come."

Graham was standing at the open French doors, obviously weary, but smiling.

Helen smiled with relief. "How are you, my dear girl?"

"Iíve finished, Helen- itís only a variation, but Iíve finished," she said with a note of wonder. "The first real work Iíve done in years!"

"Oh, Iím so glad!"

Grahamís expression darkened. "Yes, wellóI canít be sure itís any good. I never gave it any thought before. I never questioned my music, never! God, what arrogance to think I dare to compose anything now!! Music, above all else, must be alive! How can I create anything that lives, while I, I merely exist."

"Oh, but Graham, you are alive!"

"Am I? Iíve forgotten what it means to care about anything, Helenóabout you, about myself, about-- anyone. The sun doesnít warm me, the salt air no longer stings, the touch of anotherís handó" Her voice faltered and she turned away. "My body has become my prison, as surely as my blindness is my jailer! How can these hands make music, when I am captive in this solitude!"

Helen responded instinctively to Grahamís distress, sensing rather than knowing what tormented her. Graham never complained of loneliness before there was someone to remind her of anotherís companionship. "Itís Anna, isnít it? Something has happened."

Graham stiffened, her face inscrutable. "No, nothing," she said sharply. "She pities me because she is kind. Thatís all."

Helen shook her head. "She is kind, you are right in that. But pity you she does not. She is too strong a woman herself to expect that you would need her pity."

"She doesnít know me," Graham said bitterly.

"Then let her know you! You mistake caring for pity, Graham. Let her care about you!"

"No. That is not possible," Graham responded angrily. "For godís sake, Helen. You of all people should know that! Have you forgotten who I am? Or have you merely forgotten what happens when I allow someone to care? Would you wish that for me again?"

Helen shuddered at the angry words, crying, "How can I forget what love cost you, Graham? I see the cost every time I look at you!! But it need not always be that way!"

"Perhaps for me, it does," Graham said faintly, exhausted by too many assaults on her body and her soul. "Perhaps for me there is no other way."

Helen recognized the resignation in her face and wondered if it wasnít too late after all for Graham Yardley to find peace.

**********

It was another two days before Anna saw Graham again. They were two interminable days spent trying not to wonder and worry about her difficult employer. Two days in which she tried to concentrate on her own life, only to find that Yardley, and itís compelling master, had become a large part of her life. When Graham joined Anna on the terrace early one warm afternoon, Graham greeted her cordially, but with obvious distance. To Annaís deep regret, the woman who had walked among the flowers with Anna was gone. Anna sensed there would be no discussion of how she had passed her time, or her plans for Yardleyís renovation, or Grahamís observations on the progress of the gardens. Graham Yardley was as reserved, aloof, and unapproachable as she had been the day they met. Anna keenly missed the small intimacies they had come to share, aware only now of how much those moments with Graham had come to mean to her. Struggling with the crushing disappointment, she tried to accept that Graham wanted nothing more from her than simple secretarial assistance.

"There is a letter here for you," Anna said perfunctorily. "Would you like me to read it to you?"

Graham nodded, her attention obviously elsewhere.

With a sigh, Anna removed several pages of lilac-colored paper, covered in script. She began to read aloud:

My darling Graham,

Forgive me for not writing all this time, but you never seemed to want to hear from me. Iíve called many times, wishing to visit, but Helen always told me you would not see me. All these years you have never left my mind, even though I doubt you will believe that.
 
 

Anna faltered to a halt, uncomfortable with the intimate tone of the message. "This is very personal, Graham. Perhaps Helen should read it to you."

"Finish it," Graham ordered grimly, rising so quickly that her chair toppled to the flagstone surface of the patio. Muttering an oath, she righted it and began pacing along the edge of the balcony.

Reluctantly, Anna continued to read from the perfume scented letter:

Richard must be in Boston for business and will have little need of my company. I know that after so many years it is bold of me to ask, but I want to see you so! I would love to see Yardley again, too. I will be arriving on June 6. Please, darling, say that I may come! I have missed you more than you will ever know!

Until then, Christine

Graham remained silent, her hands clenched into tight fists against the stone railing. From where she was sitting, Anna could see her tremble.

"Graham?" she questioned softly, frightened by her reaction.

"Today is the fifth of June, isnít it?" Graham asked at length, her voice barely a whisper. She kept her face averted, struggling to control her emotions.

"Yes."

Graham turned abruptly, her eyes bleak. She clenched the head of her walking stick so tightly that the fine tendons in her hand strained against the skin. With an effort she forced her voice to be calm.

"If you donít mind, Iíd like to finish the rest of the correspondence another day."

She had clearly been dismissed, and Anna struggled not to call out to her as Graham left. Graham had made it clear that her concern was not wanted. Nevertheless, Anna could not put the disturbing letter, nor the mysterious Christine, from her mind.

**********

Anna spent a restless night, her sleep broken by half-formed dreams. She awoke still tired, with a strange sense of foreboding. As much as she tried to put the infuriating Graham Yardley from her mind, she couldnít. She looked for her at the cliffís edge each morning when she woke; she waited for the time when Graham would push open the doors to her study, affording Anna a glimpse of her; she listened for her footsteps in the hall at night, unable to sleep until Graham retired. She could no more ignore the letter and its affect on Graham than she could ignore her own heartbeat. Whether Graham welcomed it or not, Anna could not seem to stop caring about her. She dressed hurriedly and went to find Helen.

"Good morning," Helen greeted her.

"Who is Christine?" Anna demanded, too stressed for diplomacy.

Helen looked shocked. "Why, sheís just someone Graham knew a long time ago."

"Well," Anna announced grimly, "sheís coming here today."

"What? How do you know?" Helen cried in alarm. This could only mean more trouble for all of them, and goodness only knew what it was going to do to Graham. "Are you sure?"

"A letter came from her yesterday."

"I see," Helen frowned, speaking almost to herself. "Now I understand why Graham was so out of sorts last evening."

"Well, I donít." Anna seethed. "What is going on? And donít give me that Ďold friendí routine. Graham looked like sheíd seen a ghost yesterday when that letter came."

"Well," Helen began carefully, "they are old friends, and they havenít seen each other in years. I imagine Graham was just surprised."

"Helenó" Anna said threateningly. She knew the difference between surprise and shock. "I know this is Grahamís private affair, but I saw what that letter did to her. You know better than I what sheís been through this week. How much more do you think she can take? Please, I just want to help."

Helen realized it wasnít fair not to explain at least as much as she could, although there were some things only Graham could disclose. She motioned for Anna to sit down beside her as she poured them both some coffee. Helen spoke softly, her memories taking her back to a time so different, and a Graham Yardley Anna would scarcely recognize.

"They met at music school, although Christine was quite a bit younger. For a number of years they were inseparable. They were tumultuous years for Graham. She was at the peak of her career and consumed with it. When she toured those last few years, Christine traveled with her. I think Christine resented Grahamís music; it took so much of Grahamís attention. And Christine was the kind of girl who was used to attention. She was always trying to drag Graham off to some party, but Graham never let anything, or anyone, come between her and her music. Believe me, they had some pretty big rows about that. Still Christine came closer to distracting Graham than anyone could. Graham was infatuated with her, in some way, and she tried very hard to balance her career and her friendship with Christine. Donít get me wrong, Christine could be very charming; and I think she genuinely cared for Graham. Still, there were some pretty nasty scenes toward the end. They were together the night of the accident."

"What happened?" Anna asked, forcing her voice to be calm. Something in her rebelled at the thought of anyone having that kind of influence over Graham. Especially not a woman who was determined to see Graham that day.

Helen shook her head sadly. "No one knows for sure. Graham has never spoken of it to anyone. They were on their way home from a post-performance reception for Graham. It was rumored they had fought at the party. When they found the caró" Helen stopped for a second, gathering herself. That horrible night still seemed like yesterday.

"The car was in a ditch." Helen continued. "It had rolled over. It took them a long time to get them out. Grahamís body was covering Christineís. Graham's leg was crushed and she had a severe head injury. Christine was badly bruised, but otherwise untouched. They kept Christine in the hospital for a few day, and as soon as she was released, she left the area. We were all so concerned about Graham, we didnít hear until later that Christine had married within the yearóRichard Blair, an attorney who worked for David Norcross. Graham asked for her soon after she regained consciousness. When we told her that Christine was alive and married, she never mentioned her again." Helen stopped. "Iím sorry, thatís truly all I know. Graham never talked about any of it, and I couldnít bring myself to remind her of it."

"Poor Graham," Anna whispered, shaken by the story. Whatever their relationship had been, Graham had obviously cared deeply for Christine. Was there no end to the losses she had suffered that tragic night?

"I donít know how sheís going to be, seeing Christine again," Helen said worriedly.

Anna wondered just how much power Christine still had over Graham, and exactly how she intended to use it.

**********

Anna was on her knees in the rhododendrons when a sleek black Jaguar pulled up the drive. An attractive redhead slid from the car, the hem of her expensive dress pulling up to reveal shapely legs. The woman glanced about and spied Anna. She walked toward her, looking puzzled.

"Hello," she said, studying Anna curiously. "Where did you come from? Should I remember you ?"

Anna stood, uncomfortable under the womanís appraising gaze. She wiped the dust from her hands as she said, "No, Iíve only been here a few months."

"Do you mean to say you live here?"

"Yes, I do," Anna replied stiffly. "Iím Anna Reid."

"Christine Hunt-Blair." After slight hesitation, the woman offered a soft and well manicured hand. Anna was acutely aware of the calluses on her own palm. Anna regarded the haughty woman before her, trying not to dislike her. After all, they had only just met. The visitor surveyed her critically, then shrugged in dismissal. "Yardley looks rather run down. I suppose it could use a caretaker. Poor old Helen probably canít cope any longer, and Graham wouldnít notice if the house were falling down around her, as long as it didnít fall on the piano." After a moments pause, she added, "From what I understand, of course, Graham has no reason to care what it looks like any more."

Anna was stunned by the heartless remark. It was inconceivable to her that any one could make light of Grahamís injury, especially the woman who had supposedly been so close to Graham. What on earth had Graham found attractive in this shallow, insensitive woman? Maybe itís the fact that sheís exceptionally beautiful, Anna couldnít help thinking, flushed with a possessive anger that only confused her more.

Oblivious to Annaís indignation, Christine announced, "Iíve come to see Graham. Where is she?"

"I imagine sheís in the music room. She usually is this time of day. If youíll give me a moment, Iíll take you in."

"Oh, there's no need," Christine laughed, turning toward the house. "I should have known thatís where sheíd be. I know my way quite well."

Anna watched her retreating back, feeling more than a little foolish. After all, this had nothing to do with her. Her mood did not lighten when she entered the kitchen an hour later to find Helen preparing an elaborate dinner.

"Graham asked that we have dinner in the dining room tonight! I was so surprised; we havenít had a formal meal in there for years. And Iíve barely had time to prepare!" She was clearly harried, hurrying to arrange appetizers on a large silver platter while she watched over other items in the oven and on the stove.

"Can I help?" Anna asked.

"Oh no dear. This is the most excitement Iíve had in years!" Helen laughed. "Of course, in previous years, if Graham were entertaining, I always had help in the kitchen, and a butler to serve! Thank goodness there are only a few of us tonight!"

"I donít think Iíll be joining you," Anna said. She didnít think sheíd enjoy watching Graham and Christine reminisce, and she didnít think she could tolerate Christineís proprietary attitude.

Helen stopped what she was doing, taking conscious notice of Anna for the first time. She had that tight look around her mouth she got when she was upset, and it didnít take much to think what that might be about.

"Have you met Christine?" Helen questioned cautiously. Anna was usually calm and good-natured, but she had a temper where things concerned Graham.

"Briefly, in the drive. Is she with Graham?" Anna couldnít help but ask, as much as she had promised herself she wouldnít think about them.

"Sheís waiting for Graham in the library as Graham instructed," Helen informed her. "Graham specifically asked me to inform you of dinner, my dear. Iím sure she expects you to be there."

"And I donít suppose she would broker any debate," Anna sighed in resignation. Oh well, I can stand it for one meal, she thought as she left for her room.

Anna never would have lingered by the open door if she hadnít caught a glimpse of Graham entering the library. Anna stopped in surprise when she saw her. Graham had obviously dressed with care for her meeting with Christine. She was resplendent in a starched, finely-pleated white tuxedo shirt and formal black-striped trousers. A blood red cummerbund encircled her narrow waist; gold and diamond cuff links sparkled on the stiff French cuffs of her sleeves. Her barber must have come, because her usually unruly mane was trimmed and expertly styled. She looked ready for the concert stage, and Anna knew she had never seen any one so magnificent. If Anna hadnít been so taken by that tantalizing view of the woman she had hitherto only imagined from photographs, she never would have witnessed the scene that would haunt her unmercifully thereafter.

"Graham, darling!" Christine cried as Graham stepped into the room. Christine rushed forward, one arm outstretched, catching Grahamís right hand in hers. "Oh, my darling, you look even more exquisite than I remembered," she said throatily.

Graham lifted Christineís hand, bowing her head to brush her lips across the soft skin.

"Hello, Christine," she murmured.

Christine slid her other hand into Grahamís hair, raising Grahamís head. "Is that any way to greet me after all this time?" she questioned breathlessly. Not waiting for a reply, she stepped forward and pressed her lips to Grahamís.

Anna turned from the door as Graham pulled Christine firmly into her embrace.

**********

Anna stood staring out her bedroom window, seeing nothing of the view. She kept searching for something to erase the image of Grahamís response to Christineís kiss. She kept searching for some way to lessen the terrible desolation the vision produced. She kept asking herself why she felt this way, and she kept running from the answer.

She finally forced herself to perform some normal task. She was after all expected at dinner. She showered and was pulling on one of her fancier blouses when she was surprised by a knock on her door. She finished buttoning hastily as she crossed the room. She was astonished to find Graham standing in the hall. Graham had donned a midnight blue silk dinner jacket. She was more than stunning. Anna tried desperately to quell the surge of jealousy, knowing that Christine had prompted this display from Graham. What in godís name is happening to me? she wondered frantically. I feel like Iím losing my mind!

"Anna?" Graham questioned, surprised by the silence.

"Yes?" Anna responded, more abruptly than she had intended. All she wanted in that moment was to get away from Graham Yardley and the unsettling emotions she provoked. "What is it? Do you need something?"

Graham smiled slightly and shook her head. "May I speak with you a moment?"

"Of course," Anna replied, becoming alarmed. Graham had never come to her room before. She stepped aside to allow Graham entry. "Sit down, please. The chairs are before the fireplace, where theyíve always been."

Anna found Grahamís expression impossible to decipher. She waited while Graham made her way without faltering to the seating area. She followed somewhat reluctantly, sitting anxiously in the opposite chair.

"I wanted to tell you myself that Christine will be staying here at Yardley for some indefinite time," Graham began in a low voice. "Apparently, she is thinking of leaving her husband and needs time to consider her future."

Annaís heart lurched, and for once she was glad that Graham couldnít see her face. Christine to stay at Yardley! As if it werenít perfectly clear what Christine expected her future to be! You only to had to look at the way she looked at Graham to know her intentions. Anna was too upset to notice that Graham did not appear overly happy with her announcement.

"Does this mean that you wonít need my services any longer?" Anna asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice from shaking. Annaís mind recoiled from the thought of leaving Yardley. This was her life!

Graham sat forward in alarm. "Good god, no! Why ever would you think that? You belong here at Yardley, and I would want you to stay as long as you are happy here. I merely wanted to tell you about Christine myself, so you wouldnít be surprised at dinner." She couldnít believe that Anna would imagine she wanted her to leave. That thought was the farthest thing from her mind. In fact, it was unthinkable. "Anna, please donít be upset. It wasnít my intention to concern you. This has been a difficult day for me. Iím sorry."

For the first time, Anna noticed the tremor in Grahamís hands. Her resolve to distance herself from Graham disappeared as soon as she recognized Grahamís distress. She was helpless in the face of Grahamís need. She simply couldnít bear to see her like this. Grasping Grahamís hand, she said softly, "Itís all right. Please donít worry about me."

Graham held Annaís hand for a moment, her head bowed. Abruptly she rose and began pacing. "I couldnít turn her away, Anna. Not afteróafter all weíd been to each other." She sighed, knowing her words were inadequate. How could she begin to explain what she could barely grasp herself? When she heard Christineís letter the day before, she had been plunged instantly back into that dark night, into the twisted wreckage of her car. Her last memory was of Christine trying to escape from her. She had imagined Christineís return so many times, dreamed of Christine telling her it was all a nightmare, that she had come home. Month after torturous month she had waited in the silent darkness of her room, listening for the quick footfalls in the hall that signaled Christineís arrival. More than a year had passed before she would believe that Christine was truly gone. The day she accepted that was the day she accepted her blindness, and the knowledge that the music had abandoned her as well. In an instant her life was devoid of everything that had given it meaning. She had neither the hope nor the desire to fill the emptiness with anything, or anyone, else. And so she had accepted her fate without protest, allowing time to pass unnoticed. These last few months since Annaís arrival were her only clear moments in the long torturous years since her world had shattered. Only the fragrance of the flowers, and the memory of Annaís hand on her arm as they strolled through the gardens, brought a faint smile to her lips.

She had felt only confusion when she thought of confronting Christine, instead of the celebration she imagined she should experience. She spent the previous night awake, leaving the chair where she passed the evening hours to walk through the gardens before dawn. When she felt the first warmth of the sunís rays on her skin she returned to the house for her preparations.

It was important to her that Christine see her as she had once been, not as the shell of a being she had become. Pity from anyone was intolerable, but it would be devastating from the one woman who had claimed to have loved her. It seemed from Christineís greeting that she had succeeded in that at least. Christineís kiss still lingered on her lips, and the words that followed were still fresh in her mind.

"Iíve missed that so much," Christine whispered against her neck. "You were the only one who ever made me feel so alive."

It had seemed the most natural thing in the world to take Christine into her arms, to bend her head to the lips she knew so well, to hear the soft intake of breath she remembered with startling clarity. Christine stirred against her as she had a thousand times before, softly moaning her name. Nothing had changed, and everything was different. Graham saw them together in her mind's eye, but her body remained untouched. Whereas once the mere stroke of Christineís fingers against her skin could make her heart race, now she felt no surging of her blood, no flaring of her senses, no answering passion. Gently, she loosed her hold on the woman in her arms, stepping back from her embrace.

Christine had always been able to read Grahamís mercurial moods. "You donít believe Iíve missed you, do you, darling?"

"Perhaps if it had been a year, or two, or even ten," Graham replied without anger, for strangely she felt none, "I might have."

Christine slowly traced the faint scar across Grahamís forehead, then reached up to kiss her lips once more. "Give me time. Iíll make you believe again," she whispered.

Graham shook her head, in disbelief then, in wordless frustration now. She new Anna was waiting. "Iím sorry, Anna. I wish I could explain. Thereís simply nothing I can say."

"Thatís all right," Anna said stiffly. "You donít need to say anything. She is clearly important to you, and it certainly isnít necessary to justify yourself to me." She knew she sounded cold, but she couldnít help it. She wasnít even certain what bothered her so much about Christineís return. If Christine could ease Grahamís deep desolation, if she could restore some happiness to Grahamís life, Anna should be grateful. Of course, Anna wanted to see Graham happy. Oh, it was all too much to deal with, this whole nightmare of a week! Why was it that the very things that seemed to ease Grahamís discomfort -her physical reserve, her emotional distance, and now Christineís presence - were the same things that made Anna so miserable!!

"Iíll be down for dinner, Graham," Anna said wearily.

Graham started to speak, then merely sighed. "Yes."
 




Chapter Eleven


 


Anna was the first to arrive in the dining room. The long highly polished table was elaborately set with starched handmade linens, antique silver cutlery, fine crystal glassware and china place settings. The formality of the scene was more than a little daunting. Anna reminded herself that there had been much more to Grahamís previous life than she had gleaned from the newspaper accounts. The understated way Graham lived at Yardley now was a far departure from her earlier life. She was a world-renowned artist, recognized in every civilized country, and surely she would have traveled in the most elite circles. She would have been feted at every turn. It made Anna wistful to think she would never know that part of Graham.

Angrily she reminded herself that Graham Yardley obviously had all the companionship she needed with the arrival of Christine. Whatever diversion Anna had provided was surely unnecessary now. The only person who would miss their moments together was herself. She felt at once helpless and irrationally saddened.

"My donít you look nice!" Helen exclaimed as she bustled into the room, mercifully delivering Anna from her introspection.

"Helen!" Anna greeted her with relief. "You must have been working for hours in here! Itís wonderful."

Helen beamed with pleasure as she began setting up the large buffet along one side of the room. "Youíre right, it did! And it couldnít have been a happier chore. For just a moment there this morning, when she was telling me what she wanted done, Graham seemed like her old self."

Helen had no idea that her words had wounded Anna, who instantly thought that all it had taken to motivate Grahamís recovery was Christine's return. Helen continued, unaware of Annaís growing depression. "I do wish she would let me serve, though! She insisted that I prepare a buffet, and that I eat with you, but it just doesnít seem right! If only I had time I could have found help!"

"I donít have much experience, but I could probably manage the serving," Anna said dubiously. In her state of mind, anything seemed preferable to sitting down to dinner with Graham and Christine.

"Nonsense," Graham said from the door, having heard Annaís remark. "Iím sure we can all manage ourselves just this once, Helen."

Anna turned at the sound of Grahamís voice, her heart freezing at the sight of Graham and Christine together. Christine, who had changed into a revealing black evening dress, stood with her arm wrapped through Grahamís, leaning slightly so that her body pressed against Grahamís side. They made a stunningly attractive couple, and Anna had to admit thatís what they were. There was a connection between them that was undeniable, regardless of the years that had separated them. Christine held onto Graham as if she owned her, and Graham seemed content to let her. Anna averted her gaze, unable to tolerate the insurmountable evidence that Graham was still very much involved with Christine.

"At least let me help you set up," she said to Helen, grateful for any diversion.

"Thank you, dear," Helen replied kindly. Annaís reaction to Grahamís entrance had not escaped her. She could only imagine what the poor girl was thinking. And she probably didnít know Graham well enough to know that Graham was behaving exactly as she would with any guest at Yardley.

"You really didnít need to open the guest room for me, Helen," Christine commented as she allowed Graham to seat her to Grahamís right at the table. She smiled without the slightest trace of warmth, her gaze fixed on Anna. "It wasnít necessary, you know."

Anna glanced at Graham, whose face remained expressionless. But Christine had made her point, if she wanted to make it clear where she intended to sleep. Why she felt it necessary that Anna understand her claim on Graham, Anna couldnít imagine. As if it would make a difference even if Anna did care. Anna gritted her teeth and resolved to make this the last meal she shared with Graham Yardley and her Christine.

The dinner proved to be every bit as difficult to endure as Anna feared. Graham, although attentive to Christineís needs and unfailingly courteous, remained distant and distracted throughout the meal. Christine appeared not to notice Grahamís preoccupation, regaling them with social gossip and endless anecdotes of her travels. It did not escape Annaís notice that Christine never mentioned anything remotely to do with music. For her part, Anna had nothing to contribute, and remained silent. She breathed a sigh of relief when at last she could depart with the excuse of helping Helen clear the table.

"You know you donít have to do this, dear," Helen chided when Anna joined her in the kitchen. " But I do appreciate it."

"I work here, too," Anna said, more sharply than she intended. "Believe me, itís a pleasure compared to sitting in there."

Helen studied her speculatively. "I gather the company wasnít to your liking," she commented mildly.

"It was wonderful to finally share a meal with Graham," Anna admitted. Anna had enjoyed Grahamís presence immensely, despite Graham's obvious distraction. She only wished it hadnít required Christineís arrival to prompt Graham to join them.

"Christine can be a bit overbearing, but you must remember sheís always been indulged by every one."

"Including Graham apparently," Anna said ungraciously. She sighed in disgust, as much with herself as the situation. "Oh, I donít know, Helen, it just annoys me the way she hovers over Graham. She poured her wine, she served her food - the next thing you know sheíll be cutting her meat! You know very well Graham doesnít need that kind of help!!"

"Maybe thatís the only kind of help Christine has to offer," Helen suggested sagely.

Anna stopped what she was doing and stared at Helen. "What are you saying, Helen?"

"Christine has always been more glitter than substance. And Graham has always demanded a great deal from people - even before their accident, Christine was frightened by Grahamís intensity. If she were to truly confront Grahamís needs now, she would be overwhelmed. "

Well, she certainly seems to be meeting some of Grahamís needs without any problems! Anna thought angrily. She knew she couldnít discuss Christine rationally, not with the scene in the library so fresh in her memory.

"I donít know what Iím saying any longer," Anna said wearily. "I think I just need to get some rest. Iím going to say goodnight to Graham and head upstairs."

She found Graham and Christine just rising from the table upon her return. Before she could say her goodnights, Christine spoke, seemingly oblivious to Annaís presence.

"Why donít you play something for me, darling?" she asked, grasping Grahamís hand.

Graham could have been carved from marble, she was so still. Slowly, she disengaged Christineís fingers from hers, moving Christineís hand to the crook of her arm. When she spoke, her voice was carefully neutral. "I think not. I need to work."

"Surely youíre not going to work tonight!!" Christine protested, her cheeks flushed with ire.

"Yes," Graham replied with finality.

For an instant Anna thought Christine was about to argue, but the other woman quickly relented.

"All right, if you must. But do promise me youíll breakfast with me!"

Graham nodded. "Of course. Now let me show you to your room." As she led Christine from the room, she said softly, "Goodnight, Anna."

**********

For Anna it was anything but a good night. She tried to read, but she couldnít concentrate. She dozed off in her chair, only to be awakened by a noise in the hall. She knew Grahamís step by now. The person passing by her door toward the master suite was not Graham Yardley.

There was no doubt, of course, about what she had witnessed earlier in the library. It was clear from what Helen had said and from what she herself had witnessed, that Graham and Christine had been lovers before their accident. It seemed apparent that they were about to resume that relationship now. Graham obviously had never stopped loving Christineóthat was the real reason she had secluded herself for so many long and lonely years.

Anna wasnít disturbed by the physical nature of their relationship, but she was stunned by her own response to that kiss. She couldnít bear to think of Graham making love to Christine. That reaction was something she had no reference for, and she was at a loss as to how to cope. She told herself she should be happy that Graham had a chance at happiness, but what she felt instead was a deep sense of loss. Annaís emotions were in turmoil. One thing she knew for certainóshe could not face them together in the morning!

After a fitful few hours of tossing and turning, she rose just before dawn, dressed by the last of the moonlight, and went out for a walk. Unconsciously she followed the path Graham took each morning down the steep slope to the edge of the cliff. She stood where she had seen Graham stand. Anna closed her eyes and tried to imagine what it was that drew Graham to this lonely precipice. After a moment, she thought she knew. Waves crashed below with a deafening roar, sending needles of spray hundreds of feet up the cliff. The air was so sharp it stung her skin. The wind blew harder here, fresh from over the water, carrying the rich scent of sea life. It was much colder there as well. This would be the first place at Yardley where the morning sun would fall. Condensed in this one spot, in the dark just before dawn, ones senses were so assaulted, you did not need to see to know the essence of the world around you. For a brief instant each day, on the edge of this cliff, Graham Yardley was not blind.

Anna leaned against the crumbling stone wall that rimmed the cliff and cried. She cried for Graham, for all she had been, and all she had lost. She cried for herself, because she loved her, and would never know her. She cried for the years she had spent not knowing herself, only to discover too late what form her love truly took. As she cried the harsh wind dried her tears. When the first faint wisps of summer sunlight flickered across her cheeks, she opened her eyes to a day that dawned clearer, and lonelier, than any she had ever known. She sat on a worn weathered bench to watch the sunrise, and thatís where Graham found her.

"Anna?" came the deep voice she could never mistake for another's.

Anna looked up to find Graham beside her, in the same clothes she had worn to dinner, rumpled and exhausted.

"How do you always know?" she asked quietly.

Graham smiled faintly. "The air moves differently when youíre near."

"You should have been a poet, not a pianist," Anna breathed around the tears that threatened again. "Although maybe there isnít any difference. Please, sit down."

Graham acquiesced, stretching her long legs out before her, leaning back with a sigh. Her hand lightly grazed Annaís shoulder where she rested it along the top of the bench.

"How is your work coming?" Anna asked, unsettled by Grahamís nearness, but loath to move away.

Graham shrugged tiredly. "I wish I knew. Iím trying only to capture the essence of what Iím hearing. I donít dare analyze it yet. Iím afraid to discover it is trash."

"Have you slept?"

"Ah, Anna - always so concerned. Why do you care?" she asked not unkindly. Annaís caring confounded her. Many people in her life had professed to care about her, but only Helen remained, and she had loved Graham all her life. Why a stranger should extend kindness now, when she was bereft of all her talents, she could not comprehend.

"Because I -" Anna hesitated over words she was not prepared to face. "Because you deserve to be cared about Graham. And youíre avoiding my question. Did you sleep?"

"As much as one can in one of those godforsaken chairs from the last century," Graham admitted. "Anna," she continued with a weary sigh, "tell me about something you love. Tell me about something beyond my view."

As Anna spoke, Grahamís tension ebbed, and her breathing grew quiet and deep. Anna told of her favorite cities, the movies that made her cry, and the books she had read a dozen times. She talked of her family, and her friends, and her dreams. She talked long after she thought Graham was asleep, because she wanted to keep her near, because it pleased her to imagine that some part of Graham heard her secrets. When at last she fell silent, the day was fully born.

"So," Graham murmured, to Annaís surprise awake after all, "You love New York City, French movies with subtitles, wild flowers, and - what else?"

I love you, she answered from her soul. "Yardley -" Anna whispered with an ache in her heart, "I love Yardley."

"Yes," Graham uttered as she pushed herself upright. "I can tell that you do." She frowned as she turned her gaze toward the old house. "Is it seven-thirty yet?"

"Seven-twenty," Anna confirmed.

"I must say good bye then. I have a breakfast engagement."

Anna spoke without thinking. "Surely Christine will understand if you get some sleep! Youíve been up all night!"

"Iím afraid that Christine never had any patience when my work disrupted her plans," Graham remarked calmly. "Iím sure thatís one thing that hasnít changed."

She leaned to brush her hand along Annaís shoulder. "Thank you for these moments of peace, Anna. Iíll see you at dinner."

With that she was gone, and Anna was left with an empty day looming ahead.

**********

When Anna returned from running errands, grateful for any mindless task to divert her thoughts from Graham, she was unreasonably glad to see that Christineís jaguar was no longer parked in the drive. Just the sight of it was unsettling. Instead, the familiar truck bearing the logo Womenworks was parked in itís place. Daphne Herrald and her two-woman crew were the landscapers she had hired for the heavy clearing and hauling that needed to be done. She not only liked their work, she liked the women. They were working full-time at Yardley now, and Anna planned on keeping them on part-time after the summer. They were fast, efficient and friendly. And most importantly, they seemed to appreciate Grahamís special circumstances. It was impossible to tell when Graham might take it upon herself to stroll down one of the many garden paths, or decide that she wanted something from the kitchen garden. After Grahamís mishaps with her own carelessness, and the near disaster with the painter, Anna was always worried. Without Anna watching over them, these women were meticulous with their tools and careful to clean up after themselves.

Anna noticed Graham and Daphne deep in conversation as she rounded the corner from the drive. Graham, leaning one hip against the balustrade in her familiar stance, hands in pockets, smiled down at Daphne who stood several steps below her on the walk. Daphne looked tanned, fit, and if the expression on her face was any indication, quite taken with the master of Yardley Manor. Daphne and the women on her crew made it no secret that they were lesbians, and it certainly hadnít mattered one way or the other to Annaóuntil now. If Daphne wasnít looking at Graham with something very close to lust in her eyes, Anna was sadly mistaken.

The low-pitched murmur of Grahamís sonorous voice reached her, and as always, Anna was stirred by it. Seeing Graham and Daphne together, as innocent as it surely was, made Anna realize how much Grahamís physical presence affected her. She had thought her strikingly handsome from the first night they met. She found herself captivated by the delicacy and sinewy strength of Grahamís hands as she sketched a phrase in the air. The wind blowing Grahamís hair into disarray always left Anna wanting to brush the locks off her forehead. And she could scarcely look into Graham's fathomless dark eyes without feeling something twist deep within her.

She nearly gasped as all the images which were Graham cascaded through heróand left her unmistakably wanting her. In that instant, she understood fully her aversion to Christine. It was knowing that Graham had once loved heróperhaps did stillóand the fact that Graham touched her with love. Anger raged within her when she thought of Graham wasting her precious passion on someone who did not cherish it - on someone who had abandoned her when Grahamís need was greatest. Anna understood with sudden startling clarity exactly what she wantedóGrahamís passion, in all its forms, for herself. The insight was so undeniable that it left her staggered. She couldnít question her desire, her body ached with it.

She turned away from the women in the garden. Her reaction to the sight of Daphne and Graham together followed too closely on the heels of Christineís arrival. She seemed to be assaulted at every turn with her longing for Graham, and the impossibility of her desire. Foolishly, she had allowed herself to believe that Graham felt something of the connection she herself could not deny each time she saw her, or heard her step in the hall, or her music in the air. She should have known that for a woman of Grahamís intensity and unrelenting passion, her love for Christine would be inextinguishable.

Anna fled into the house, desperately trying to escape her own heart. She stood unpacking groceries, her mind strangely blank when a short rap on the door interrupted her.

"Hey!" Daphne said as she pushed open the door. "I thought I saw you drive upócan I talk to you a sec?"

Anna nodded distractedly. "Sure."

"Youíre getting a lot of soil erosion on the edges of the paths -- especially on the back slopes. What do you think about putting in some ground cover along there? Itís labor intensive to do the planting, but in the end it will preserve the area," Daphne stated. She looked at Anna curiously when she didnít answer. "Anna? You okay?"

Anna forced herself to focus. "Yes, sureóground cover? I had noticed thatóbut thereís so much around here that needs attention, it just slipped my mind. Did you speak to Graham?"

Daphne looked surprised. "No, why would I? You hired me. You make the decisions."

"I just thoughtóI saw you talking to Graham when I came homeó" her voice trailed off uncertainly. God, she was a mess!

"Oh, that was just small talk. I ran into her out back, she asked me how things were going. Sheís always soócharming, you know? Every woman in my crew has a crush on her!" she said with a laugh.

"Including you?" Anna asked, trying to match Daphneís light tone.

Daphne studied Anna carefully. She looked shaken and pale. "Oh hellóis that what youíre thinking? I have a lover Iím nuts about, and weíve got two great kids. Graham is fascinating, not to mention gorgeous, and I do think sheís incredibly attractiveóbut looking is as far it goes with me."

Anna busied herself with unpacking, avoiding Daphneís intense gaze. "Itís none of my business anyway. I didnít mean to put you on the spot."

"I assumed you two were lovers," Daphne said, a question in her voice.

"No," Anna whispered almost to herself. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Daphne. "Why did you think that?"

"I could be on dangerous ground here - lots of room to offend if Iím wrong." Daphne shrugged, flashing her trademark grin. "But what the hell. After twenty years of seeing women in all stages of togetherness, you get a sense for it. Itís the way you are around each other. Your face lights up whenever she appears. Your eyes follow her whenever sheís in sight. I know damn well it kills you every time she heads down that goddamned slope to the cliff. I can tell you stop breathing. It takes more guts than Iíve got to watch her do that without screaming."

"Graham doesnít leave you any choice," Anna murmured, "she doesnít know how to be anything but proud."

Daphne nodded. "Iíve never met anyone like her. She listens for you, you know. In the middle of our conversation just now I saw her smile, and her whole body relaxed just a little. Ten seconds later I heard your jeep. Sheíd been listening for you to come home. She knows how to find you when youíre in the garden. She walks right to you. How does she do that?"

"I donít know," Anna sighed. "I donít think I know anything about anything anymore."

Daphne considered letting it go, but Anna looked so miserable. Graham had seemed pretty frayed too. "First time youíve ever been in love with a woman?" she asked kindly.

Hearing it put so matter of factly gave her pause. "Iíve never been in love before," she said after a moment, knowing it was true.

"Sometimes," Daphne continued cautiously, "itís just a false alarm."

Anna met Daphneís gaze steadily, a muscle tightening in her jaw. "No."

Daphne could tell she meant it. And something was really wrong. Annaís usually clear blue eyes were clouded with pain, her face was drawn and tired, and she looked on the verge of breaking into tears.

"Does she know how you feel about her?"

Anna studied her hands, her cheeks coloring. "Itís not that simple. Graham is - complicated. She was horribly hurt." She took a deep breath, smiling tremulously. "I donít think Graham gives me much thought."

"This is serious, isnít it?" Daphne asked softly.

"Yes."

"I wish I could helpó" Daphne began.

Anna appreciated her sympathy, but she interrupted her with a shake of her head. Even before Christineís arrival, Anna noticed a reticence in the way Graham treated her. She was always welcoming and seemed to enjoy Annaís companyóbut still there was the distance. Just when Anna thought Graham was becoming more comfortable with her, something would cause her to withdraw. Anna was never sure what she had said, or what painful memory she had triggered. Often Annaís encounters with Graham left her unsettled, and she was slowly becoming aware of an inner void that seemed to deepen each day. With Christine here now, and Grahamís apparent attachment to her, there seemed to be little room for Anna in Grahamís life. She smiled at Daphne ruefully.

"The only one who can help is Graham."
 
 



Chapter Twelve


 
 



In the days that followed Anna saw little of Graham. She kept to her usual routine, spending time with Helen in the morning, working on the grounds in the afternoon. Graham had not sent for her, and Anna did not seek her out. She saw Graham and Christine together often as they walked about the grounds, or sat together on the terrace in the afternoons. Graham spent every evening, if not the entire night, alone in her study.

Aside from the times Graham denied Christine entry to the music room, Christine was never far from Grahamís side, and her possessive attitude was intolerable for Anna. Anna tried her best to be polite, but the sight of them together, Christine constantly touching Graham in some way, made her irrationally angry. And that made her even more short-tempered. After all, it was none of her concern if Graham Yardley behaved like a fool around that woman! She began to wonder how much more she could endure. She tried to avoid them as much as possible, even taking her meals with Helen in the late afternoon, offering excuses as to why she couldnít be present for the now routine dinner gatherings.

The worst parts of her day were the evenings. Although she usually worked until she was physically exhausted, she didnít seem able to sleep. Once it had been a comfort to retire to her rooms, and fall asleep with a book open on her lap. Now even that consolation eluded her. Every time someone passed in the hall she couldnít help thinking it was Christine, on her way to the master suite at the opposite end of the hall. Rationally, she knew there were any number of reasons Helen, or Christine, or Graham herself might pass in the hall, but she was anything but rational. She was driving herself crazy imaging Christine in Grahamís bed!

Continued - Part 3


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