She threw down the book she had been trying to read for three nights in a row and snatched her denim jacket from the coat rack by her door. Despite the warm early summer days, evenings by the sea were still cool. She needed to walk off her anxiety and deepening sense of despair. Unconsciously, she took the meandering path through the lower slopes of the back property, skirting along the sea wall. Yardley stood several hundred yards uphill, and with its lights flickering through the trees, it cast a magical shape against the darkening sky. As if to accompany that otherworldly aura, Anna caught the strains of a wistful melody floating in the air. She began the steep climb up the wildly overgrown track toward the source. The terrace doors stood open to the darkness of the night, which blended into the blackness inside the music room. Graham was alone, playing.

Anna leaned against the balustrade on the far side of the terrace, listening, straining for some glimpse of the woman in the shadows. The melancholy tenor of the music seemed to echo her own internal anguish. She made no effort to stop the tears. She had no idea how long she stood there, joined with Graham in some unnamed longing, when a voice quite near startled her from her reverie.

"She is absolutely magnificent, isnít she?" Christine remarked casually as she joined Anna on the terrace.

"Yes," Anna said softly, having no reason to deny what the entire world had recognized. Only a few of her caliber born each century, one reviewer had said.

"Oh, I wasnít talking about her music," Christine laughed. "But then Iím sure youíve noticed what an exquisite specimen she is. You seem to have developed quite an appreciation for all her attributes. Believe me, in her case, her genius extends beyond the piano. She brings that remarkable intensity to absolutely everything she touches. And everyone. Fortunately Graham was too seduced by her music to notice anyone for more than a night or two- before me of course." She laughed, appraising Anna in the dim light of the moon. She found Anna naturally lovely, with her work hardened body, feminine yet strong, and her clear eyes and shimmering hair. She was the type Christine had amused herself with over the years since Graham. Under other circumstances - she thought briefly, then reminded herself of her intentions.

"Now you did surprise me at first," she continued mockingly. "I wouldnít have thought youíd find Graham to your tastes, although God knows women of all persuasions used to throw themselves at her. And living here with her - I can imagine that would be a temptation even if women werenít your usual pleasure."

"I was just on my way in," Anna said as she made to leave. She had no intention of allowing Christine to goad her into a discussion of her feelings for Graham. And she was in real danger of doing her bodily harm if she stayed.

"Youíre no match for the competition, you know," Christine said lightly.

Anna stopped abruptly, incensed. "I am not competing with you," she seethed.

Christine laughed, tossing her head in dismissal. "Perhaps not, although from the way you look at her I think youíre deluding yourself. Unfortunately, Graham has no way of knowing whatís in your eyes, does she?" She pushed away from the balcony railing, stepping quite close to Anna as she did so. Anna could smell her fragrant perfume. "I wasnít speaking of myself, although knowing Graham, I have no concerns. Iíd wager sheís much too honorable to take you to her bed just for sport. Although Iím sure you wouldnít take much convincing, would you?" She ran a finger lightly down Annaís arm, laughing again when Anna hastily pulled away. "She is too hopelessly romantic to let old passions fade, and unlike you, Iím not above physical persuasion. Regardless of what she says, her body never lies."

She touched Annaís hand ever so lightly as she passed into the night. "I was speaking of the music, my dear innocent - the music is Grahamís true mistress."

With that she was gone, leaving Anna to stare after her with a mixture of anger and pity. She had issued some kind of warning, although Anna couldnít imagine why she felt it necessary. God only knew, Anna was no threat to her claim on Grahamís affections. What amazed her was that a woman who had supposedly loved Graham Yardley for over two decades did not understand what Anna realized the moment she heard Graham play. Music was not Grahamís mistress, music was Grahamís life. To love Graham was to welcome the force that sustained her, even though it threatened to destroy her as she struggled to bring it forth from her soul. Anna could no more be jealous of Grahamís music than she could be jealous of her indomitable will, or her passionate ardor, or her sensitive spirit. The day the music truly deserted her would be the day her heart ceased to beat. Anna prayed for the day the music would flow unbidden from Grahamís soul, for then she would be truly healed.

Anna glanced once more into the darkened room, imagining Graham absorbed in the sound, comforted by her nearness.

**********

Grahamís music lingered in Anna's mind throughout the morning as she occupied herself with outside work. She spent most of the time with contractors and subcontractors and by noon she was ready for a break. She wandered down to the stone bench under the huge sycamore, recalling wistfully the afternoon she and Graham had spent there. She turned from the memory of the brief closeness they had shared. It only made their estrangement harder. She stretched out on the bench in the dappled shade afforded by the overhanging branches, draped one arm over her eyes, and slept.

When she slowly approached consciousness again, she was aware she was not alone. Even without opening her eyes, she sensed her.

"How long have you been here," Anna questioned, rolling onto her side to study the woman seated on the ground, her back against the bench where Anna lay. She looked weary in a way that went beyond fatigue, but the strain belied by a tightness in her fine jaw was absent. She seemed strangely peaceful. Graham turned her head toward Annaís voice with a soft smile, a smile that eased the tension from her face. Annaís heart turned over at the sight of her vulnerable beauty.

"Not long - an hour, I think," Graham replied.

"What have you been doing?" Anna asked tenderly, brushing a stray twig from Graham's dark hair.

Graham shuddered involuntarily at the light touch that strayed unintentionally against her cheek. As often as Christine touched her, nothing she did affected her like this. Graham felt the first tingle of caution even as she warmed to the touch. She must take care where Anna was concerned, yet she couldnít seem to do without her company. These last few weeks since Christineís arrival had been doubly hard. She had to contend with Christineís constant demands for her attention, and her persistent attempts to rekindle Grahamís ardor. Along with that, Graham had little time to spend with Anna. She missed her humor, and her compassion, and her wonderful way of bringing life to Grahamís inner vision. Just her quiet, soothing tone brought Graham some semblance of calm. Graham found she even missed Annaís undauntable insistence that she sleep, or eat, or get out of the sun - the kind of demand Graham had never accepted of anyone. She had been lonely for a kind of connection she no longer thought she needed. She tried to ignore the growing agitation and discomfort for days, but finally, almost against her will, she had gone in search of her young employee. Finding her asleep, she had been content just to be near her.

"I was listening to you breathe, thinking that the cadence was much like a refrain. Suddenly the music Iíve been trying to compose began pouring through my mind." Graham said slowly, as if speaking in a dream. She was amazed at how easily it had come, after all the solitary struggle night after night to no avail, just by sitting quietly with a sleeping woman. "Iíve just been here listening," she finished quietly.

Anna watched the transformation of Graham's face as she spoke. The tense muscles softened, the fine lines about her eyes and lips relaxed, and suddenly she looked years younger. When Graham sighed and leaned her head back, it took all of Annaís control not to guide Grahamís head into her lap. She wanted to hold her desperately. Only her fear that Graham would retreat, as she had so often, stilled her hand.

"Iím so happy for you," Anna said quietly.

Graham reached for Annaís hand, taking her by surprise. "I believe that you are." She brushed her lips softly across Annaís hand, then laid it gently down. With a sigh, she pushed herself upright. There were issues she needed to attend to, no matter how pleasant her moments here had been.

"I have consented to Christineís desire to give a small dinner party in honor of Helenís birthday. I would like you to attend," Graham stated flatly.

"Oh Graham, I donít think so! I donít really belong there -" Anna said in a rush. She couldnít imagine a worse scenario. Trapped with Christine at some formal affair!

Graham shook her head slightly. "You do belong. Helen cares for you a great deal, and you are a part of this household. I want you there."

Still Anna protested. "I work for you, Graham - Iím not part of your social world."

"I have no social world, Anna, " Graham remarked darkly, all semblance of her recent serenity gone. "There will be some family friends, people Helen has known for years, and some recent acquaintances of Christine. If it werenít for the fact that Helen has had precious little thanks for the task of looking after Yardley all this time, I wouldnít hear of it." She ran a hand through her hair, glowering at some distant vision, before she continued wearily, "It will be difficult enough for me - I need you there."

Anna could not fathom the reason, but there was little she could do in the face of Grahamís direct plea. "Of course, Iíll be there."

Graham nodded. "Good." Looking as if she were about to leave, she turned abruptly and cast Anna a serious look. "And Iíll expect you at dinner from now on, Anna. Every night." Not waiting for a reply, she stepped out from the shadow of the tree, disappearing into the bright sunlight, leaving Anna staring after her.
 
 

Chapter Thirteen


 





Guests had gathered in the foyer of the ballroom, which had been opened and refurbished under Annaís watchful direction all that week. Helen, as the honoree, was seated on a plush velvet sofa, conversing with friends and sampling the ample hor díouerves and champagne. Tuxedo-clad young women moved through the crowd offering food and drink. Anna kept one eye on the kitchen, making sure the caterers had every thing they needed, and the other on the grand staircase that flanked the reception area. Even though it was nearly the appointed time for dinner to be served, neither Graham nor Christine had arrived. She was about to signal the maitre d' to begin seating people when a low murmur of excitement rippled throughout the crowd. Anna had no doubt of the cause. She looked to the top of the curving marble staircase for confirmation.

Graham and Christine were descending. Christine, her gloved hand resting on the sleeve of Grahamís extended arm, was dressed in a low-cut evening gown, accentuating her figure while revealing a good deal of dťcolletage. Graham was a study in understated elegance in a tuxedo of soft dove gray silk, white tie, white silk brocade vest and tails. Whereas Christine, radiantly beautiful, drew the attention of the majority of those gathered, Anna could not take her eyes off Graham. As they reached the bottom stair, Graham handed Christine down into a crowd of well-wishers, obviously friends Christine had acquired since she and Graham parted. Graham moved away, remarking politely to those who stopped to greet her, yet determined to avoid conversation. If you didnít know her, you would not have thought this was her first social gathering since her injury. She looked perfectly composed and entirely in command. Anna, who knew differently, could detect the signs of strain from across the room. As unobtrusively as possible, she made her way through the crowd to Grahamís side.

"Helen is sitting on the divan just to the left of the entrance," Anna said. "I havenít had a chance to talk with her this evening, there have been so many people I donít know. Perhaps you could see me over and pave the way for me?"

"And perhaps rescue myself from the perilous chore of trying to get from here to there on my own?" Graham asked cynically. At Annaís swift intake of breath, Graham realized she had struck out at the wrong person. Anna had offered her a way to preserve her dignity without sacrificing her pride. It had been pride that had gotten her into this situation to begin with. Christine handled the fact of Grahamís sightlessness by ignoring it, and had not considered what the evening would demand of Graham. Graham couldnít bring herself to tell Christine she wouldnít be able to manage in such a large gathering without help. Given enough time to familiarize herself with an area, she could accomplish an astounding degree of independence. With the workers in and out of the dining area and ballroom all week, there simply hadnít been the opportunity. Now she could not safely move about on her own. She had no doubt that Christine would have been solicitous of her every need, and by allowing that, Graham would have been diminished in her own eyes, if not that of every person there. "You are quite astute, Anna. You seem to have gleaned the obstacles my infirmity presents," she continued self-mockingly. "It would not do to have me stumbling about."

Anna, stressed herself from the pressures of the evening as well as the constant visage of Graham and Christine everywhere she turned, didnít even try to control her anger. "You are the least infirm person I know," she seethed. "What you are is too damn pig-headed for your own good. Everyone has some kind of need, Graham - once in a while. Are you so self-sufficient that you consider yourself above that?"

Grahamís only response was to raise one elegant eyebrow. "Clearly I have done something to offend you. Whatever that might be, I sincerely apologize. As to the question of my needs, Ms. Reid, let me assure you they are not a matter for discussion."

"Then you can find your own damn way across the room!" Anna snarled. "Iím too tired to argue you with you when youíre in one of these stubborn, insufferably arrogant moods!"

Graham caught Annaís hand as Anna was about to turn away. Anna stared in amazement at the fingers lightly grasping hers. How on earth does she do that?

"Now is not the time to discuss my moods or your opinion of them. I donít want to argue with you, nor do I wish to offend you further. I would, however, be honored to escort you to the reception line, and to dinner," Graham continued as if Anna hadnít just railed at her in a tone of voice no one else had ever dared use. Graham offered her arm, trying to hide her tension and her increasing disorientation as people pressed around them. After a momentsí hesitation, Anna slipped her fingers around Grahamís forearm.

"What about Christine?" Anna asked as she and Graham made their way through the crowd. Graham was exquisitely sensitive to the pressure of Annaís hand, and had no trouble guiding them through the crowd from the faint cues Anna transmitted through her touch. From the first time Anna had taken her arm to walk with her through the gardens, there had been that effortless communication. She doubted that Anna even realized the extent to which she provided Graham with a sense of her surroundings.

"Christine has never lacked for escorts at these affairs. Sheíll soon have some young woman - or man - enthralled. You need have no concern about her." Anna wasnít so sure as she caught Christineís angry glance at them from across the room.

Nevertheless, the meal passed uneventfully, and Helen was obviously having a wonderful time. She couldnít wait to usher everyone into the ballroom where a string quartet was waiting to provide the music. Graham had made it clear there was to be no piano in the room. Helen laughed with delight when Graham asked her if she would like to have the first dance with her.

"Oh my goodness, no! You are much too tall for me and far too good a dancer! Iíd much rather watch you dance," she cried fondly.

"I think not, Helen," Graham replied flatly.

"You must dance with Anna at least, Graham," Helen chided. "Itís only proper that you do. She is here at your request, after all, and unescorted. Besides, she looks so lovely tonight!"

"Does she?" Graham murmured, thinking of the last time she had danced. It had been with Christine at the reception following what was to be her last concert. To her surprise, she couldnít remember what it had felt like.

"Oh yes," Helen enthused. "She has done something with her hair - itís pinned up in some way, and it shows off her face so nicely. She has beautiful cheekbones, rather like a model. Sheís a golden tan from the sun, and seems to glow- naturally. To my mind sheís one of the most beautiful women here."

"What color is her dress?" Graham asked almost against her will.

"A deep blue, like her eyes, and itís cut down off her shoulders in a - well, I wouldnít exactly say itís revealing, but she does have an attractive figure."

"Where is she?" Graham brought herself to ask.

"Just inside the door- to your right. And thereís no one nearby, if you were to walk directly there from here," Helen added as if it were an afterthought. She knew better than anyone what it took for Graham to make this appearance tonight, and what it required for her to preserve her pride.

"Thank you, Helen," Graham said as she bent to kiss her softly on the cheek.

Helen held her breath as she watched Graham make her way toward Anna. She neednít have worried. Grahamís instinct was unerring. Within a moment she was at Annaís side. The orchestra was just beginning the opening waltz.

"Would you honor me with this dance?" Graham asked as she offered her hand to Anna with a slight bow.

Anna was nearly speechless. She had never danced with a woman before, and to dance with Graham, alone, in front of all these people! "Surely Christine will expect this dance!!" was all she could manage.

Graham straightened, a flicker of ire crossing her fine features. "Christine is neither mistress of this house nor of me. It is not for her to decide. Now will you give me this dance?"

The guests who ringed the room receded from Annaís view. All she could see was the woman before her, hand outstretched, waiting. Graham was imperiously commanding, handsome beyond description, and intently focused on Anna. Anna could no more have denied her than she could have stopped her own heartbeat.

"Yes," Anna said softly, taking the elegant hand. "I would love to."

Graham made it impossible to be nervous. She danced with the same grace and fluidity with which she played. When Anna stepped into her arms, Anna knew only gently swirling motion and the warmth of Grahamís body against her. She was unaware of those watching but she was acutely aware of every facet of Grahamís presence. She felt the rise of Grahamís chest against her own breasts, the faint pressure of Grahamís thigh against her leg, and the possessive press of Grahamís hand on her back. She had never felt so intimately connected to anyone in her life. The sensations slowly coalesced into an ache of desire.

"Youíre shaking," Graham murmured.

Anna laughed unsteadily against Grahamís shoulder, praying her arousal wasnít so obvious. "I think itís nerves. Just donít let go of me."

Graham bent her head until her lips brushed the hair at Annaís temple. "I wouldnít dream of it," she whispered. She drew her close, and their bodies moved effortlessly together.

Christine watched them dance. They fit together well - too well. Graham held Anna protectively within the circle of her arms, her cheek nestled against Annaís fair hair. Annaís eyes were closed, her left hand softly, unconsciously, stroking the stray wisps of Grahamís unruly black mane where it brushed against her collar. She trembled visibly, and Christine knew perfectly well why. She had felt the power of Grahamís presence herself, and knew what it was to melt with desire in her arms. Anna and Graham melded to one another like lovers, although she was certain Graham had not yet conceived of it. Might never accept it. But Christine had no intention of leaving that up to fate. When the dance ended she intended to reassert her claim on the errant master of Yardley Manor.

**********

Anna was the first one awake the next morning. She was glad she wouldnít have to face anyone, not even Helen. She doubted that she would have been able to hide her feelings under any circumstances. Last nights events were still too fresh and her anger too potent.

The dance with Graham had literally left her gasping. When at last other couples began to join them, Graham quickly steered them off the floor and out onto the balcony that extended along one entire side of the ballroom. Candles in glass holders cast a dim light over the area. They walked to the rail and stood side by side facing outward. Their hands were nearly touching on the rail.

"Youíre a wonderful dancer," Anna managed when at last she could control her breathing. She glanced at Graham, who appeared lost in thought. After a long pause Graham seemed to have heard the remark. She smiled faintly.

"Thank you. You are easy to lead," she said. After some hesitation, she continued. "And you are also easy to follow. I must apologize for my Ďpig-headedí behavior earlier this evening. You were right in surmising that I needed help. I couldnít bring myself to ask. There was a time, Anna, when the world was mine to command, and no one ever suggested otherwise. Now, I continue as if I were still that person- stubborn arrogance I think you said."

It was clearly a struggle for her to admit this much, and Anna had no need for her to humble herself. "Itís alright, Graham," Anna interrupted her quietly. "I canít begin to imagine how difficult this evening must have been. It pleased me to help in some small way. Besides, if you werenít so stubborn, I probably wouldnít -" She stopped abruptly, embarrassed by what she had been about to say. She was rapidly losing all semblance of control around this woman! There was no denying what had happened to her as they danced, what was happening to her now. Grahamís nearness aroused her in a way she had never known. She had wanted Graham to touch her so much she was afraid the entire room would know. All she wanted now was to be in her arms again.

Graham tilted her head, waiting for the words that didnít come. She sensed Annaís hesitation, and thought her still offended. She had no way of knowing Anna was struggling to keep from caressing her.

"What is it?" she asked as the silence lengthened. "Anna, have I made you that angry?"

Graham flinched in surprise when Anna stepped closer, Anna's hands on Grahamís shirt front. She had known as they danced that she was on dangerous ground. The feel of Anna in her arms had awakened her senses. She had allowed herself the brief touch of her lips to Annaís temple. What she had wanted was to claim her mouth. Annaís hands on her now rekindled desire so long buried it was almost painful to experience. She caught her breath at the paroxysm of arousal, clenching her jaw against the swift burning spasm.

"Youíve a stud thatís come loose," Anna whispered throatily. She shivered as Grahamís hands came to her waist. She fastened the small diamond stud, aware that they were so close their entire bodies touched lightly. Grahamís body rippled with tension, and her grip on Anna tightened. Anna slid her fingers up to Grahamís collar, her vision suddenly cloudy. "And your tie needs straightening." She gasped as her breasts, swollen with desire, brushed against Grahamís chest.

"Oh god," Anna whispered as Graham drew her slowly against her own tight thigh. She lifted her eyes finally to Grahamís, and saw raw hunger in Grahamís face. Anna needed her kiss like she needed air to breath. She thought she might die with wanting. She slid her hand to the back of Grahamís neck, willing her lips closer. "Please," she implored.

"Anna-" Graham murmured thickly, knowing this was wrong, unable to stop. In another moment she would be beyond caring, she would have to have her. She was seconds away from committing the biggest error of her life when a voice from the past called her irrevocably back to reality.

"Graham, darling!" Christine stated calmly, as if she hadnít just found her in a passionate embrace with another woman. "I know you hate these affairs, but you simply must be civilized about it. You cannot disappear and deprive us all of your company."

Graham straightened slowly, stepping back away from Anna. She spoke into the darkness, her voice cold as ice. "You seem to have managed without my company for quite some time, my dear."

"And more fool I," Christine replied as she stepped to Grahamís side. She pointedly ignored Anna, who was watching Graham in stunned bewilderment. "I have every intention of making it up to you. Now stop being such a cad, and take me back to the party." As she spoke, she slipped one arm about Grahamís waist, unabashedly caressing her with the other, sliding her hand up the length of Grahamís thigh as she pressed against her.

Graham grasped the hand that stroked her, but she did not pull away. Instead, she turned to Anna, her face remote.

"Forgive me, Anna, it seems I have obligations to attend to. Good night."

Anna collapsed against the railing, shaking, dazed by Grahamís departure. Her body was wracked with hunger for a woman who could arouse her with a glance, and then leave her without a second thought. She had come within a whisper of humiliating herself tonight, and yet - Graham had responded, hadnít she?

Anna slammed the cabinet door as the question that had haunted her all night echoed in her mind. What did it matter if Graham had responded - what would it have mattered if sheíd actually kissed her? The fact that Graham was aroused by a woman who was obviously trying to seduce her proved nothing. What mattered was that it took only a word from Christine and Graham forgot everything else. How many times, in how many ways, did she need to have that made clear?

"Iím going down to clear the brush from around the lower fountain," she growled as Helen joined her in the kitchen around seven-thirty. "I wonít be up for lunch."

Helen stared after her in confusion. She had just run into Graham coming out of her study, and she had snarled at Helenís cheery good morning. What had happened to every one overnight!?

**********

As it turned out, Anna was forced to abandon her work early that afternoon. A storm blew up unexpectedly, as was wont to happen on the Cape in summer. Carrying her tools up to the gardenshed, she saw Christine and Graham on the rear terrace. The wind was blowing too hard for Anna to hear their conversation, but Christine was obviously upset. She grasped Grahamís arm, pressing close to her. Anna had no desire to witness any more of their private moments. She was about to turn away when Graham, looking gravely serious, bent her head and kissed Christine. Christine clung to her, pulling Grahamís willowy figure even closer, fervently returning the kiss. Anna did turn from them then; she needed no further proof of Christineís hold on Graham.

"I wonít be down for dinner tonight, Helen," she said when she found Helen in the laundry room. "IóI have some work I need to finish."

"Arenít you feeling well?" Helen asked in concern. "Has something happened?" She was well aware of the changes in Anna since Christine had arrived. She was quiet and reclusive, clearly unhappy. Helen hadnít wanted to intrude, but she was becoming more and more worried, about both Anna and Graham. Despite Christineís constant attention, Graham was restrained and brooding. And it hadnít escaped Helenís attention that Graham absolutely refused to play for Christine. Graham was walking the grounds late at night again, a sure sign that she was troubled. And now, Anna too!

"Iím really fine," Anna said, forcing a light tone. "I just - canít. Not tonight."

Helen watched her retreating form as she hurried from the room and wondered if those hadnít been tears on her cheeks.

**********

Alone in her room, Anna stood for hours looking out to the sea. She struggled to make sense of her confused emotions, but the images of Graham and Christine were all she could envision. She knew she couldnít watch them together day after day. It was too painful, finally more painful than the alternative. Perhaps if last night had never happened she could have learned to live with the reality of Graham loving someone else. Maybe with time, seeing her, but always being apart from her, wouldnít tear her heart out. That was impossible now. Being in her arms last night had changed everything. Their skin may have been separated by the convention of clothing, but what the shear force of Graham's embrace had evoked was irreversible. She had known the length of Grahamís body against hers, had stroked the coiled muscles of her back, and felt the heat of her leg between her own. She would never be able to deny her longing, or control her desire, or tolerate the sight of Christine in Grahamís arms. She was not so big a fool as to believe she could stand that. Just as she reached the only decision open to her, a knock sounded on her door.

"Anna? Itís Grahamómay I come in?"

Anna wiped the tears from her eyes, struggling to compose herself.

"Hello," she said softly as she opened the door.

Graham looked concerned. "Are you all right? Helen said not to expect you for dinner."

"Yes. Iím fine."

"I see," Graham replied. She gestured with her hand. "May I come in?"

"Of course." Anna remained standing, too restless to sit.

Graham sensed Annaís distress, and she worried she was the cause of it. She had agonized over her lapse the evening before, finally leaving the gathering over Christineís protests to spend the night pacing in her study. She had overstepped her bounds, and she had no excuse for it. For a brief moment she had forgotten everything - the loss of her sight, the loss of Christine, even the loss of her music - all had faded into the awareness of Anna against her, breathing life into her with her desire. She had succumbed to the physical demands of her body, and God only knew what she might have done if Christine hadnít interrupted them. She had been perilously close to making love to Anna right there on the balcony. The vestiges of arousal lingered throughout the night, and even now, with Anna near, she struggled to maintain her distance. She had hoped Anna might overlook her indiscretion, but now she wasnít sure. "What is it, Anna?" she asked seriously.

Anna spoke the painful words before she lost courage. "Graham, Iíve been meaning to speak with you for some time. Iíve decided to move back to the city."

Grahamís head jerked as if she had been slapped, her face draining of color. "But why?" she gasped. She felt the words like a physical blow. Her chest ached, and she struggled for breath. "Is it because of my behavior last night? Anna?! I have no excuse - Iím sorry, I - what can I say? It wonít happen again, you have my word! Please believe me!""

Anna laughed at the bitter irony. "I do believe you. Itís not about last night, and if it were, it is I who should apologize."

"Then what, for Godís sake?" Graham demanded, her voice hoarse with strain.

Anna looked away, unable to face her suffering. She knew her resolve would weaken if she saw Graham in pain. "I need to be closer to the university, and Iím ó"

Sheís young and she wants a life, you fool! Graham stopped her, unable to stand the crushing truth. "You donít need to explain," she said harshly. "This is no life for you here, isolated on this godforsaken pinnacle of forgotten land! I understand, of course you must leave."

No you donít understand! Anna wanted to scream. But how can I tell you that I canít stand to see you with Christine? How can I sayí I love youí when I know it will only drive you away! Graham looked so vulnerable, Anna bit her lip to keep back the words. She longed to bring the smile back to Graham's face, to stroke the lines from her brow. She wanted to fling herself into her arms. Oh god! Must she really leave?

Graham summoned every ounce of her formidable will, forcing the pain into the recesses of her soul. That was something she had grown used to doing, and now it served her well. She would not let Anna know this was destroying her; she would save her pride.

"Christine will be leaving tomorrow. Can you stay until I arrange some business affairs?" Grahamís tone was empty of any emotion, and her expression revealed nothing of her inner despair. She had expected this, but now that it had happened, it was so much worse than she had imagined! For a short time Anna had brought life to this desolate place, to her desolate heart. She had not dared to hope that Anna would stay. Yardley, and all it held within its walls, was dying. It was selfish and foolhardy to think that Anna would have any reason to remain.

"Leaving?" Anna cried. "But I thoughtó"

Graham looked toward her, a question in her eyes. "You thought what?"

Anna was more confused than ever. She could do nothing save tell the truth.

"I thought you and she were lovers. I thought thatís why she had come back."

Graham walked to the fireplace, extending one long arm along the mantle, facing the empty grate. "Yesówe were, once. I was twenty-five years old and my whole life was music. I never knew, nor wanted -anything more. Oh, I didnít lack for company. There were -dalliances- usually with women impressed by my reputation. The reality generally proved much less to their liking. Then suddenly Christine entered my life. She was so young, so beautiful, so vital. She showed me a passion that nearly matched my music. I was mad about her, mad for her. But it was my passion, not hers. She never really felt the same, but I refused to see that. I wouldnít believe that my love was more than she wanted, or, as it turned out, not the kind of love she wanted. She tried to tell me that I was too demanding, too possessiveótoo intense for her, I think she said. I have yet to understand how love can be too intense."

Graham laughed bitterly. "I wouldnít hear what she was trying to tell me. I was so certain of myself. I thought with my music and Christine by my side I had all I needed in this life." She paused, her hand clenched tightly around the mantleís edge. When she spoke again, her voice was tight with pain. "The night of the accident, she told me she was leaving me to get married. I nearly went mad, thinking of her with him - all the time she had been with me. I was wild, raging with jealousy. I swore I wouldnít let her leave me. I frightened her, although god knows I never would have touched her in anger. She tried to jump from the car, and when I grabbed for her I lost control of the wheel. I just managed to pull her under me when we started to roll. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital. I heard my fatherís voice. When I opened my eyes, I knew instantly that I was blind. The darkness was everywhere, but nowhere deeper than in my heart. It was all my fault, you see. I had been too proud and too arrogant to hear that she was unhappy, that she in fact did not share my passion. She did not love me, and I nearly killed her."

Grahamís voice broke with the all too familiar bitter memories. She had almost killed Christine, the woman she swore she loved with all her heart. Losing her sight had seemed like a small price to pay. And now Anna would be gone too. She tried unsuccessfully to hide the tears that coursed down her cheeks. She fought desperately to seal the pain away once more. She flinched when Anna brushed the tears from her face.

"Please donít," Graham managed. "I didnít mean for you to see this. Please forget it, wonít you?"

"Iím so sorry, Graham. I didnít know," Anna whispered tenderly. All thoughts of her own despair dissipated in the face of Grahamís agony. "I saw you together in the garden today. I saw you kissing her. I canít believe she could leave you again."

Graham shook her head, not comprehending Annaís words. "I told her today that I had no wish for us to be together again. Anna, I was kissing her good bye."

Anna could only imagine that Graham was afraid to trust Christine again. Regardless of her own tangled emotions, she had no desire to see Graham suffer any more than she already had. "Graham, you mustnít be afraid. You can try again. Perhaps youíve both changed. It could be different now. You neednít be aloneó"

"Anna," Graham said vehemently, "you donít understand. I donít love ChristineóI donít want to love her. She has come here to escape her boredom, or to torture her husband with the reminder of our affair, but eventually she would tire of the charade, and she would leave. If I let her stay, it would be a mockery of love. I wonít have that!" She shook her head fiercely, her voice strident in protest. "No! Christine does not love me - perhaps she never did."

The words brought both a deep sadness and a curious sense of relief as she spoke them. Exhausted, Graham sank into the chair, trying to find a way to cope with Annaís leaving. She bowed her head into her hand, too weary to struggle any longer. "Iím sorry. Please excuse my outburst. All of this has been - hard for me. Just give me a moment, then Iíll go."

Anna took a deep breath. "Graham, I donít want to leave Yardley. This last month has been difficult, especially when I thought you and Christine were reuniting. I didnít think Iíd be needed any longer. But I have been happy here, happier than I have ever been, and I donít want to leave."

Graham drew a shuddering breath. "Are you sure?" The eyes she turned to Anna were wounded, nearly devoid of hope. She hadnít the strength to contain her despair, and the sight of it ripped at Annaís heart.

Her situation with Graham was no clearer, but at least she wouldnít have to face Christine every day. She knew she would be miserable if she left. She couldnít imagine never seeing Graham again. At least now she would have time to make some sense of her tumultuous desires. Anna cupped Grahamís face gently in her hands. "Iím very sure. I want to stay."

Graham pressed her lips to Annaís palm, her relief nearly palpable. Only time would tell if Anna had made the right decision.
 
 

Chapter Fourteen




With Christineís departure, a semblance of harmony returned to Yardley. With the end of summer, Anna resumed her classes three days a week, which left more than ample time to manage the household needs and Grahamís business requirements. She met with Graham at the end of her day, and more often than not, they merely talked. Graham was keenly interested in Annaís studies, and Anna found herself recounting her days in detail while they shared a glass of sherry. It was something she looked forward to each day, and it seemed that Graham did as well. Their relationship had developed into a comfortable but reserved companionship.

Neither of them made further mention of the episode on the balcony the night of Helenís party. Anna did not know how to broach it, and Graham seemed to avoid any possibility of intimacy. Although Graham welcomed their conversations, she was physically remote. She was careful not to touch Anna even when it would have been natural to. Her caution in this regard did not escape Annaís notice, and Anna interpreted it as an unspoken declaration from Graham that their brief physical interlude had been an aberration of circumstance. It had been a tense and stressful period for both of them, and in the intensity of the moment that night, Graham had responded to Annaís overture. Obviously, it was not something Graham wished to repeat.

Anna for her part tried her best to forget what had passed between them, and to content herself with the relationship they were slowly, carefully building. Graham was not so quick to withdraw from her at the slightest mention of her past; in fact, to Annaís amazement, Graham occasionally alluded to some previous event with an ease that was absent a few months before. Graham was beginning to trust her, and for now that appeared to be the most she could hope for. Anna resigned herself to what they could share together, because she knew in the final analysis, she would be miserable without Graham in her life. She tried not to think of what she would do if what they had now was all Graham ever wanted.

Perhaps the only person at Yardley who was able to see just what was happening between the two of them was Helen. She knew the extent to which Graham was capable of closing off parts of herself, and of denying her own wants and needs. Graham had deluded herself for years with Christine. Helen wondered if she would be as successful disavowing her feelings for Anna.

When Helen brought tea into Graham late one afternoon, Graham greeted her warmly. She was at work at the piano, as relaxed as Helen had seen her in many years. Helen thought approvingly of how good Graham looked. She was no longer unnaturally pale, nor wraithlike thin. Her lean form was stronger from the time she spent outside. She had taken to joining Helen and Anna most evenings for dinner, and their conversations were light and easy. Helen thought she understood the reason for Grahamís emergence from the torpor that had enveloped her, but she wondered if Graham truly did. As Graham grew more peaceful, Helen couldnít help but notice that Anna became more despondent.

"Thank you, Helen," Graham said fondly as she rose, stretching from her seat at the piano. She felt wonderfulóher world was filled with sound, the way it had been when she was young. Her blood stirred with long-forgotten excitement. She attributed it to the ease with which she was working and the satisfaction that brought her. She refused to admit to herself that Annaís return was the moment she waited for all day.

"You look happy, Graham," Helen remarked.

"Happy?" Graham said, wondering if that was what she felt. "Yes, perhaps thatís it. At any rate, Helen, the music is returningóand that is more than I ever expected to have again in this life."

"Iím happy for you," Helen said, and she truly rejoiced in the change in Graham over the last few months. But she couldnít help but wonder if that was all Graham wanted from life. The passionate woman she had known would never have been content alone. Graham had needed the sustenance of love to balance the soul-draining demands of her work. She had made a disastrous misjudgment in relying on Christine so completely, and she had paid a dreadful price for it. Helen only hoped that that disappointment had not destroyed Grahamís ability to accept love when it was offered from the heart.

**********

Anna tossed her knapsack on the hall table, waving to Helen as she headed toward the music room. She knew Graham would be there, as she always was at this time of day. She tapped lightly on the door before entering. Graham lifted one hand, the other poised over the piano keys.

"Just a minute. Iíve nearly finished."

Anna crossed quietly to stand beside Graham, watching as she played, marveling at the graceful sweep of her fingers on the keys. As her hands literally caressed the instrument, her face reflected all the emotions the music gave form to. The combination of watching Grahamís face and hearing her creation stirred Anna unexpectedly. As the notes dissipated in the air, Graham became motionless, her hands lying still on her thighs.

"Itís wonderful," Anna breathed softly.

Graham lifted her face to Anna, an uncharacteristic uncertainty clouding her features. "Do you really think so?" she asked quietly.

Sometimes Anna felt as much a prisoner of Grahamís blindness as Graham certainly was. She felt so much more than her words could communicate, and she wished that Graham could read in her face how deeply she was moved. As it stood alone, Grahamís music could bring her to tears. She knew that from standing outside this room, stilled in mid-step by what she heard. She knew because she had sought out the recordings Graham had made years before. She played them when she was alone, imaging Grahamís face as she listened. For her, nothing was more heart-rending than watching Graham play, raw passions exposed, as the music swirled in the air. For Graham not to see what she was capable of stirring in others pierced her heart.

Instinctively, she placed both hands gently on Grahamís shoulders, leaning over to whisper, "It makes me ache. Will you play it for me from the beginning?" She had never asked before.

Graham reached up to cover Annaís hand with her own, surprised once again by the warmth of her skin. She lingered like that for a moment, then settled her hands on the keys.

"Yes."

Anna moved reluctantly away, not wanting to dispel that rare moment of affection. Still, she knew Graham had taken another step toward allowing Anna into her life. Graham had not been willing for anyone to hear more than fragments of a work in progress for years. Anna settled into a nearby chair from which she could watch Graham play. She found herself holding her breath as the melody swelled to fill the air. She would not have believed that there could be such a thing as too much beauty, but the sight and sounds of Graham Yardley overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and let the golden tones carry her away. When the room stilled, it took her a moment to find her composure. She was trembling, and her voice seemed to have deserted her. When she opened her eyes, she found that Graham had turned to face her, her head bent, waiting.

"I've never imagined anything so exquisite," Anna said quietly. "Your music is a gift to the world, Graham. Thank you so much for sharing it with me."

Graham lifted her head, her face wet with tears.

"I thought it was gone forever," she murmured, her voice breaking.

The sight of her tears was Annaís undoing. She meant only to take Grahamís hand in hers, but she found herself pulling Graham up into her arms instead. She held her close, whispering, "Oh god, Grahamóyour music breaks my heart. You break my heart."

Graham struggled with the response Annaís embrace wrought. Annaís body was pressed to hers; she felt the rise and fall of Annaís soft breasts with each breath; their hearts seemed to race as one. Annaís nearness, and her words, filled her with a longing so intense her carefully maintained barricades threatened to crumble. And she feared that if she gave rein to her emotions, she would be captive to them as she had been with Christine. She knew she could not survive another disappointment. If such pain ever returned anew, she would surely break. What Anna touched in her was a place too dangerous to expose. For the sake of whatever sanity she had left, she could not let that happen.

Anna felt Graham stiffen, but she only pulled her tighter. Was there no way for Anna to show her how precious she was? "You are so rare! There is such grace and beauty and tenderness in your soul. And you donít even know it, do you?! You are so specialóI canít begin to tell youó" She had no words, only sensations. Admiration, respect, protectiveness, sympathy, and sweet, swift longing. Everything condensed at once until Anna had to give form to her feelings or explode. Her hands moved from Grahamís back to cup her jaw, then slid into her hair as she groaned softly, "If only I could tell you-" Her lips met Grahamís as the words escaped her in a rush.

Graham gasped at the contact, her control all but shattered. For an instant she knew only the well-spring of desire that rippled through her, the moist heat that flooded from her. With a groan she opened herself to the raging fire, embracing its source. Even as she pulled Anna roughly to her, giving herself fully to the kiss, a suffocating dread began to eclipse her passion. She felt more vulnerable than she had during the first seconds of her blindness, when she opened her eyes to a darkness more terrifying than anything she had ever experienced. This was what she truly had isolated herself from all these years - this horrible power that love wielded over her.

"Anna, no-" Graham rasped, catching the hands that brushed down her shirt front toward her breasts. She grasped Annaís wrists softly, gently disengaging from their embrace. She struggled for air for an instant, her brain whirling, then finally managed to whisper hoarsely, "You honor me, Anna. With your appreciation, with your deep kindness. I am only too glad to give you what I can with my music. That it pleases you means more to me than I can say. But that is all I can give, Anna - Iím sorry."

**********

Grahamís withdrawal was like a knife slashing through Anna's depths. Must she always be left with this terrible emptiness? She didnít want to let her go, but she knew she must. She could not force Graham to feel as she felt, to want what she wanted.

"Itís I that am sorry," she replied shakily. "I canít seem to stop throwing myself at you. Youíve made it perfectly clear -"

"Anna, donít," Graham murmured. "There is no need for an apology."

Anna drew a long breath, steadying herself. When she spoke again her voice had a steely calm. "Thank you, Graham, for trusting me with your music. It meant more to me than I can ever say." She turned to leave, but couldnít help but ask, "Will I see you at dinner?"

Graham shook her head, "Not tonight, Anna."

**********

"Is Graham coming for dinner?" Helen asked as she set out the hot rolls to cool.

Anna shook her head, busying herself with the dishes. She didnít trust herself to speak, she was still shaking.

"Working still, is she?"

"Yes," Anna managed.

Helen gave her a concerned look. The girl was completely white. "Everything going all right?" she asked cautiously.

"She finished something this afternoon," Anna replied hollowly. After a pause, she added softly, "It was unbelievable."

"Oh?" Helen asked in surprise. "She played it for you?"

"Yes, she did," Anna replied, her voice devoid of emotion.

Helen gave Anna her full attention, setting aside the roast she was carving. For Graham to have played for Anna was nothing short of a miracle, but it seemed to have produced anything but a happy response.

"Graham can be very self-absorbed when sheís working. Sometimes she forgets about common civility and other peoples feelings," she ventured, thinking that Grahamís notoriously volatile nature may have given offense.

"She was perfectly charming, as always," Anna remarked somewhat harshly. Graham raised even rejection to an art form. Damn her pristine control! Isnít there anything that affects her iron clad self-discipline? Anna was only too afraid she knew the answer to that.

"Well, sheís done something, now hasnít she?" Helen persisted softly.

"No, Helen," Anna began, surrendering to her frustration. "Iíve done something." Iíve fallen in love with her! She closed her eyes, searching for calm. She couldnít very well tell Helen that she wanted Graham to make love to her, now could she?

"I canít seem to reach her," she said carefully. "She is always polite, always cordial and her distance is driving me crazy. She wonít accept one compliment; she canít hear one kind word, without mistrusting it! Itís so hard when you care about her!" She caught back a sob, struggling for the tatters of her own self-control.

"Graham has been alone a very long time," Helen said carefully. "She has forgotten how to get on with people." She sensed it was more serious than that, but Helen didnít want to embarrass Anna if her assumptions were wrong. Annaís moodiness hadnít escaped her notice, and neither had Grahamís growing reliance on Anna. She had been expecting some kind of confrontation for weeks.

"Well, she certainly seemed to know how to get along with Christine!" Anna said angrily. She certainly didnít have any problems kissing her! she wanted to shout. Oh god, I really am losing my mind!

"Christine?" Helen responded dismissively, "Graham suffered her presence, thatís all."

"Iím not so sure about that," Anna responded, her anger escalating, too hurt for caution. "She suffered a lot more than her presence. She allowed that woman to fall all over her, and she could deny her nothing!! I think sheís still in love with her and is just too damn stubborn to admit it!"

"So she told you about them, did she?" Helen asked, beginning to get a better idea about the source of Annaís distress.

"Yes, she told me!!" Anna barked. "The love affair to end all love affairs. Whether Christine is here or not, she will always have that hold on Graham! God, Iím such a fool!"

Helen shook her head adamantly, "Oh no, my dear. You are wrong. Graham made a fool out of herself over that girl, but she wasnít so much a fool that she would do it twice!! When Christine left Graham for Richard Blair, she not only broke Graham's heart, she betrayed everything Graham believed love to be. As hard as it was, at some point even Graham had to accept that she was only an exciting and forbidden diversion for Christine. Love her still? No my dear, Graham would never have forgiven the betrayal."

"Then what is it that keeps her so apart?" Anna beseeched. "She is so talented, so sensitive, so kindóhow can she bury all of that as if it meant nothing? As if she herself meant nothing? What is she hiding from??"

Helen had never seen Anna so distraught, and she knew the only words that might help her would also reveal Grahamís deepest secrets. It was not for her to expose Graham in that way.

"Perhaps she just needs time, Anna. These last months, since youíve come, sheís changed so much. Oh, I know you canít see itóbut I can. She no longer sits for hours, alone in her rooms, or wanders the bluff at all hours of the night. There is life in her now, Anna, life that has been missing for more than a decade! Just listen to her music if you donít believe me. You led her back into the world. You put a flower in her hand and showed her there was life that she could experience still. Such a simple thing as a flower! It took you to do that!"

Anna shook her head, feeling sad and defeated. "Whatever else she needs, I canít seem to give her. And I donít know how much more I can take." She looked at Helen with despair in her eyes. "Iím sorry, Helen, you donít deserve this. I donít even know why Iím so upsetóI donít even know what Iím feeling half the time. Itís foolish of me to be carrying on like this. Maybe Iím just being selfish - Graham certainly seems content." She gave Helen a tremulous smile and a swift hug. "Donít wait dinner for me," she said as she hurried from the room.

Helen looked after her, conflicting loyalties warring in her mind. As much as she adored Graham Yardley, she couldnít stand by and watch Anna suffer.

**********

"Graham?" Helen called at the music room door. She entered to find the room deserted. The doors to the terrace were open, despite the brisk October wind. A few leaves fluttered through and clustered on the floor. Grahamís body was outlined in moonlight as she leaned against the balustrade, facing out to the night. Her light shirt whipped about her thin form in the wind.

Helen wrapped her shawl tighter around herself and ventured out. She was shocked by the chill in Grahamís fingers when she covered her hand where it lay on the railing.

"Graham! Youíre freezing. Come inside!"

"Iím fine, Helen," Graham answered hollowly. "Go backóitís too cold here for you."

"And youíre made of stone?" Helen snapped, her patience perilously close to gone. First Anna, and now Grahamóthe two of them suffering was more than she could watch in silence.

"It seems that I am," replied Graham with a cynical smile.

"I know better than that, and you would too if youíd let yourself admit it."

"Helen," Graham said warningly, "I love you like my own parent, but this is something you know nothing about. Let it alone, pleaseófor my sake."

"I have!! All these years when you locked yourself away hereóbut thereís not just you anymoreóthereís Anna."

"Helenó" Graham growled harshly, "leave Anna out of this!"

"I would if I could, but thatís not up to me, is it? Iíve watched you dying slowly right before my eyes for too many yearsóyou who I cherish with all my heart, and Iíve never said a word, never tried to change your mind. I know how much you lost - and your sight was the least of it!"

"Helen, please," Graham whispered, her fists clenched against the stone rail, "please, donít do this now. Please let me have some peace."

"This is not peace, Graham! You may be blind, but your heart is notóyou may think love deserted you, but you know as well as I do that wasnít love! I wonít believe you canít recognize it when you feel it! Anna loves youó"

"Anna pities meó"

"No, Graham. For once your blindness has trapped you! I can see what you refuse to feeló I only have to look at her look at you to know! She loves you, Graham!"

A groan escaped Graham as she turned away. "You know me Helen! You know what my life demands, what I demand! Do you truly think anyone, especially someone as young and vital as Anna, would stay, once she knew what it really meant? I might have killed Christine in the car that night, because she couldnít give me what I wanted- because she was leaving me. I believed once, and it destroyed me. I will not believe again-I cannot survive the loss."

"You underestimate her, Grahamóand itís not just yourself youíre hurting now. Youíre breaking her heart."

"No!" Graham shouted, her fists pounding the unyielding stone. "I cannot, I will not, let this happenóit would destroy us both! I will not bind her to this barren world that is my heart. Now leave me, pleaseóI beg of you." Her last words came in a choked whisper, and tears streaked down her anguished face.

Helen bent her head in defeat, longing to take the trembling woman in her arms. But she knew that Graham would not allow even that sympathy. What Graham feared was inside herself, and nothing could assuage her inconsolable grief.
 




Chapter Fifteen


 


Silence descended on Yardley Manor as each of them struggled to accept their disappointments. Anna went about her work with quiet resignation, an aching hollowness her constant companion. Whereas once the time she spent with Graham eased her loneliness, now seeing her only seemed to heighten it. And Graham, if possible, was even more remote. They spent less time together, as Graham often absented herself from the music room in the afternoons. Instead she worked late into the night, after the others were asleep. She had begun taking her meals alone again, although the trays came back barely touched. The music that echoed in the corridors was dark and melancholyóthe one place Graham could not hide her emotions was in her music. It was truly the mirror of her soul. Helen stood by helplessly, knowing that only Graham could change the course of their lives.

Late one evening, to Helenís surprise, Graham came to the door of her sitting room.

"Graham, good gracious!" she exclaimed. "Whatís wrong?"

"Helen," Graham said urgently, without preamble. "Where is Anna?"

Helen glanced at the clock on her mantle. It was almost eleven, and it occurred to her she hadnít seen Anna all evening. "I donít know. She wasnít here for dinner. Hasnít she come up?"

"No, and I havenít heard the Jeep return," Graham remarked, barely able to hide her anxiety. In some part of her consciousness she waited for the day Anna would not return. It was impossible for her to work freely when Anna wasnít about the house or grounds. Especially recently, since their estrangement, she found herself listening for Anna's step in the hall or the distinctive crunch of gravel in the drive. As much as she expected Anna to leave, she feared it. When it happened, she would lose whatever small purchase on life she had left.

Helen could read the fear in Grahamís face. Ordinarily she wouldnít have worried, but Anna hadnít been herself lately. Since the night they talked in the kitchen, Anna had been distracted and almost dazed. Helen worried she might have had an accident.

It was hard for Helen not to think of that awful night when the call had come about Graham. She remembered only too well the agonizing hour they had all spent while men worked to free her from the wreckage. It was an hour spent not knowing if she were still alive. Helen struggled to dispel the image and quell the surge of alarm. Anna must simply have forgotten to mention her plans. Any other possibility was more than she could bear to contemplate.

She struggled to keep her voice even. "Iím sure sheís fine, Graham. Go on to bed. Iíll be up. If thereís any problem, sheíll call."

A look of panic flickered across Grahamís face. Helen knew as well as she that Anna never absented herself without word. With effort she said evenly, "Of course, youíre right. Just the same, Iíll wait in the library in case she calls."

Helen listened to the echo of her retreating steps, losing sight of her as she descended the dark stairway with a measured step. She knew Graham was every bit as stretched to the limit as Anna seemed to be. She wondered fearfully which one of them would lose the thin rein of control first.

The hallway was dark when Anna let herself into the house just after one in the morning. She jumped when a voice called out to her.

"Anna?"

Anna fumbled for the light switch as she stepped into the library. Graham was seated in a chair before the window that fronted the main drive, as she had been for hours.

"Graham?" Anna asked in surprise "What are you doing in here?"

"We were worriedóHelen and I. I was waiting in case you called." Graham rose, and began to pace restlessly. "Although god knows what I thought I could do about it if you were in trouble," she laughed bitterly. "We make a fine pair, Helen and I. One who canít drive, and the other one blind!"

"Oh god, Graham," Anna cried. "I stayed to have dinner with my graduate advisoróit wasnít planned. I should have called, but we started talking and I lost track of the time!" She felt miserable for having worried either of them.

Graham made an impatient gesture, infuriated with her helplessness, embarrassed by her near panic. "Nonsense. You donít owe either of us an explanation. Your private life is none of our affair. Where you spend your time- and with whom, does not concern us."

Anna gaped at her. She had to be the most infuriating woman she had ever met! "Is that what you think? That I was out on a date for godís sake?"

Graham straightened her shoulders, anger replacing her worry. There was no need for Anna to know she had spent several anxious hours fearing she had left for good. "I donít think anything one way or the other, nor do I care. As I said-"

"I know damn well what you said, Graham," Anna seethed, absolutely beyond caring whether she offended Graham or not. "What I donít understand is why you said it! You know very well how I feel about you, whether you chose to acknowledge it or not. Iíve done everything short of begging you!! Donít insult me by suggesting I would simply wander off and find consolation elsewhere. Do you think youíre the only one capable of a true and honorable emotion?? Damn your arrogance!"

"It was not my intention to insult you, Anna," Graham replied in an amazingly calm tone. She couldnít remember the last time someone raised their voice to her, other than Christine. Annaís sincere distress had a greater affect on her than Christineís tirades ever had. "I did not mean for us to come to this," she said softly. "I never meant to misrepresent myself to you in any way."

"Donít worry, Graham. You havenít," Anna snapped. "It is I who have been mistaken, but I assure you, I will not trouble you again!" She grabbed her knapsack, intent on retreating before she completely lost the last vestige of restraint. She had tried so hard to be patient, to accept the depth of Grahamís loss and disappointment, but it hadnít made any difference and she doubted it ever would.

"I have legal matters that require your assistance. Iíll need to meet with you tomorrow," Graham said as Anna stepped out into the hall. She hated this animosity between them, but there seemed no other way.

"Certainly," Anna rejoined coldly. "Iíll see you in the afternoon."

Anna left her there, but she could not bring herself to turn out the light, even though the darkness would not matter to Graham.

**********

Anna worked furiouslyódigging up buried roots with a spade, slashing through briars with a machete, flinging clods of earth aside with a vengeance. Her pace matched her moodóshe was still boiling. She wasnít sure whom she was angrier withóGraham or herself. What had she expected? Graham Yardley was a wealthy, gifted woman who had known both fame and great passion in her life. Under any circumstances she would hardly be expected to notice someone like Anna, and now, after all she had suffered, she had no special feeling for Anna. Anna struggled for acceptance, but it was so hard! What she felt for Graham went so far beyond anything she had experienced, or dreamed of experiencing. The wanting surpassed simple desireóshe felt inextricably linked to her, body and soul. When she saw Graham across the room, when the sound of her voice carried out into the garden, when she heard her piano whisper in the night, fire surged through Annaís being. Some primal part of her had been called forth by this woman. The combination of Grahamís great strength and her great need had awakened Annaís deepest passion. To be near her, and so apart, was unendurable.

She was beginning to contemplate the unthinkable. She might need to leave Yardley. She didnít have the strength to subjugate her desires to reason - she simply couldnít be around Graham and not want her. For a few months she had managed to be content with their carefully contained relationship, but since the instant they had kissed, all that had changed. She couldnít forget it, and she couldnít stop wanting it again. She would lose her mind if she stayed, and if she left she would lose her soul. It was a choice that was no choice at all, and she cursed her own indecisiveness under her breath. She rubbed the tears from her face and grabbed her ax. She intended to cut down every dead limb at Yardley before the day was out!!

While Anna warred with her emotions and the tangled undergrowth, Graham paced the flagstone terrace fighting her own demons. She knew she was hurting Anna by refusing to acknowledge what was between them, and she had no answer for it. Anna had restored life to Yardley, and to herówith Anna had come the scent of fresh flowers and the teasing sound of notes in the air. Graham had responded to both as if light had suddenly been returned to her world. Her heart lifted to the sounds of Annaís footsteps in the hall. Annaís presence had muted the pain of years of loneliness. But Anna had awakened other senses as wellóGraham knew the touch of her hands, the warmth of her skin, the soft fullness of her breasts. She knew the bruising demand of Annaís kiss as her lips searched against Grahamís mouth. If she made love to her, she would have to acknowledge what was in her heart. If she gave freedom to everything Anna ignited in her, she would never be able to live without her. That was what Graham retreated fromóshe dared not entrust her soul again, and she could not love any other way.

They sat thus, separated not by distance, but by uncertainty.

**********

Anna sighed and stepped back from the line of trees she had been pruning. She could hear the delicate strains of the music Graham was playing wafting on the breeze. She glanced up at the sky, noting absently that clouds were amassing out over the ocean. She reached for her worn denim work jacket as the sudden wind off the water brought a brisk chill to the air. She didnít want to return to the house yet, she still felt too unsettled. She needed to fortify herself before she joined Graham in her music room for their late afternoon meeting.

Graham looked up from the keyboard as the curtains floated into the room on a chill breeze. The weight of the air on her face was dense and wet. Something ominous was stirring, and one word clamored in her mind - Anna! She bolted up from the piano bench in a rush, pushing the terrace doors wide as she stormed through them. From the top of the stairs leading down the flagstone path to the lower reaches of the property, she called out into the gathering wind.

"Anna!!"

Anna looked up at the sound of Grahamís voice, amazed to see the sky blackening around her. The rain and heavy winds were upon her before she knew it. In an instant a blinding wall of water blew in from the sea, drenching her and turning the garden path into a hundred yards of steep, slippery mud. To her horror she saw Graham start down toward her.

"Graham! No, go back!!" she cried, paralyzed with fear at the thought of Graham exposed in the storm. "Go back! Iím coming up."

Abandoning her tools, Anna began to climb the path, struggling to keep her balance in the buffeting winds and pounding rain. Tree branches bent and broke in the wind, hurtling by in the swirling gale. Lightening flashed around her, and the house seemed impossibly far away. She heard a tremendous crash to her left and knew, even as she knew she could not move quickly enough to avoid it, that the old sycamore had been struck by lightening. She threw up an arm to shield her face and cried out as falling branches and limbs engulfed her. There was an instant of white-hot pain in her shoulder just as she met the ground with a jarring thud.

Her first sensation after the initial shock was of the penetrating cold that encompassed her. The ground beneath her cheek was sodden, and her denim jeans and shirt clung to her clammy skin. The cold was almost instantly replaced with a stabbing pain in her left side and a throbbing ache in the back of her head. Her next thought was even more terrifying. Where was Graham!? Oh my god! Sheís out in this storm alone!

She pushed at the overlying branches holding her captive, managing only to worsen the pain in her arm. She fought against the need to vomit, finally ceasing her ineffective struggles. She dropped her head back to the wet ground and waited for the nausea to subside. Time seemed to slow as water dripped through the fallen treeís leaves onto her face. At some point through her disorientation she thought she could hear voices.

"For godís sake man, hurry!"

Anna recognized Grahamís deep voice, harsh with fear. Anna struggled to call Graham's name, to tell her she was all right, but all that emerged was a faint groan. She shouldnít be out here, she thought hysterically.

"Graham," she finally croaked. "be careful!"

"Anna- thank god!" Graham shouted, her voice choked with anxiety. "Are you hurt, love?"

"I donít think so," Anna said as steadily as she could. In truth she was more worried about Graham than she was about her own scrapes and bruises. "Go inside - call someone to help. Please Graham, please donít stay out here- go back to the house! Just do it for me!"

"Damn if I will!! Weíll have you free in a moment. Just hang on, Anna!" Graham called from somewhere quite close. "Damn it, John, canít you go any faster?" She pulled at the tree limbs in front of her, nearly mad with frustration at her inability to reach Anna. She was impervious to the branches that slashed at her hands and face. God, how she hated her blindness!

"I almost have the limb free, maíam, but it would help if youíd move back. We donít need both of you under this damn tree."

Graham turned angry eyes toward the man beside her and growled, "Iím not moving until you get her out."

A tremendous creak accompanied the shifting of the huge fork of limb that imprisoned Anna, and she cried out as the weight of the tree shifted off her tender body. Suddenly Graham was beside her, reaching a tentative, trembling hand toward her.

"Donít move," Graham whispered softly, "youíre safe now. John will have the rest of it off in a minute."

Graham settled on the muddy slope, unmindful of the water or the cold, and very gently lifted Annaís head into her lap. Despite her pain, Anna lifted both arms around Grahamís neck, pressing her face against her chest.

"Iím so glad youíre here," Anna whispered, clutching her tightly.

"Iíll not leave you," Graham replied, struggling to contain tears. She rocked Anna tenderly as she buried her face in Annaís damp hair. "Iím here."

Anna scarcely felt any pain as she thrilled to the comfort of Grahamís presence. As more of the tree was removed she tried moving her legs. Everything worked but she gasped as a multitude of small cuts began to burn.

"Where are you hurt?" Graham asked when she had control of herself again.

"My shoulder, but I donít think anythingís broken." Anna began to realize that both of them were shivering nearly uncontrollably. "Graham," she chattered, "you have to get inside. Let me stand up."

"Weíd better wait for the doctor. And Iím not leaving you." Graham swore inwardly at her own helplessness, even as she began to believe Anna was safe. For a few agonizing minutes she had feared she had lost her. She heard the tree cracking and Annaís cry as it fell. Helen had confirmed her fear that Anna had been trapped under the downed tree, and the panic that followed almost proved to be Grahamís undoing. All she could think of was that Anna was gone, a realization so painful she thought she would go mad. It was Helen who had the presence of mind to call both the family doctor as well as an old friend who lived nearby for help. She couldnít stop Graham from rushing headlong down the treacherous path, only to be unable to find Anna in the tangle of branches, flailing with anguished despair at obstacles she couldnít see. Helen feared that Graham would do herself real harm in her rage to find the girl.

Even with Anna in her arms, Graham was afraid to loosen her hold. Her hands ceaselessly roamed over Annaís body, seeking reassurance that Anna was safe. She didnít realize that each shaking breath bordered on a sob. She hadnít felt such panic since the night of the car crash, when she drifted in and out of consciousness, calling for Christine, getting no answer. She had lain in the twisted wreckage blinded by the blood in her eyes, trapped by the metal that pierced her leg, wondering frantically if she had killed Christine in her jealous rage. Had that been true, in all likelihood she would have taken her own life. Tonight, for those agonizing minutes before she heard Annaís voice, she thought that all that remained to her of life had been taken. Her relief was so enormous, she acted without thinking. She raised Annaís head with a hand cupped to her chin, capturing her mouth with a deep groan. Oblivious to all else, Anna returned her kiss with a hunger long denied. She gasped when Graham pulled away with a shaky laugh.

"We canít wait any longer, Anna. Youíre hurt and cold. We must get you inside." Raising her head, but maintaining her fierce hold on the woman in her arms, she called out, "John, help me to get her up!"

A tall man pulled the last of the debris free and moved through the darkness to their side. He carefully lifted Anna to her feet. Graham rose unsteadily beside them, her hand clasped in Annaís. Together they made their way slowly up to Yardley Manor.

 

Continued - Part 4


Return to The Bard's Corner - Radclyffe