8409231

Tormented by guilt. Haunted by scandal. Freed by love.

May 26, 2010
Carina Press

Digital ISBN: 9781426890024
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Austria, 1804

Eight years ago, composer Arie De Voss claimed his late mentor’s final symphony as his own and became an icon. But fame has a price: fear of discovery now poisons his attempts to compose a redemptive masterpiece. Until a new muse appears, intoxicating and inspiring him…

Mathilda Heidel renounced her own musical gift to marry, seeking a quiet life to escape the shame surrounding her birth. Sudden widowhood finds her tempted by song once more. An unexpected introduction to her idol, Arie De Voss, renews Mathilda’s passion for the violin–and ignites a passion for the man himself.

But when lust and lies reach a crescendo, Arie will be forced to choose: love or truth?

***

“…Deep connections between the characters make Song of Seduction a story that readers will not soon forget.”
~ RT Book Reviews

“I read it in one sitting and was enthralled with the intense story-telling and the compelling characters.”
~ A- Desert Island Keeper, All About Romance

“…As the author peeled back the layers, challenged her characters, revealed more of them, I realized how remarkable this story is. True, unadulterated, pure passion.”
~ Wendy Crutcher, 2011 RWA Librarian of the Year

***

Excerpt

Salzburg
January, 1804

Arie De Voss flexed his hands and rolled his shoulders against a wary tension invading the sinew between his shoulder blades. Wind whipped through the canyon between buildings, down from the steep slopes of Mönchsberg where it loomed above the city. He caught his hat against the gust.

Around him, laughter and conversations flourished with circus-like intensity. If the curious guests noticed the stubborn glut of traffic along Kaigasse, they paid the irritation little mind. The lure of Lord and Lady Venner’s ball, the first of Carnival, claimed the city’s attention.

Preparing himself as if for combat, Arie pulled his spine straight and yanked the tails of his coat into place. When the heads of powerful families regarded him as they would the lowest musician, he would smile. When ignorant asses offered praise, attempting to demonstrate their modern taste in music, he would nod.

And when his tolerance failed him, as it always did, he would have a sherry, grin, and lie his way through the evening.

Arie accepted the necessity of lies. Lies eased his way to every stage. And one indefensible falsehood–that he had composed Love and Freedom–formed the bedrock of his career.

A hot wave of paranoia swept up the muscles of his chest, making him catch his breath. Someone would discover the truth. But until that day, he would do whatever society required of him to keep playing, writing, performing.

“Pardon me, Herr De Voss.” At the entrance to the Venners’ town home, a wigged footman offered a precise bow. “My name is Oliver, sir. Lord Venner requested that I attend to your requirements. May I take your hat and cloak?”

A hush settled among the guests who lingered in the grand entryway. Their fixed stares clung to Arie like ruthless vines, raising his ire beyond its elevated pitch. He quickly, carelessly shed his winter outerwear. A pageant of eyes followed every move.

“Sir, Lord Venner wishes to meet you before you join the other guests.”

“Of course,” Arie said.

Oliver’s livery, wig, and manners exactingly matched the other footmen. Arie kept his gaze fastened to the back of the man’s powdered head, through a maze of hallways and up two flights, lest he mistake his escort for another or lose him in the crowds.

Just inside the floral damasked walls of a private smoking room, the footman stepped smartly aside. “Lord Venner, esteemed gentlemen, I present Herr De Voss.”

Arie bowed to his host. “I am honored, sir.”

Venner returned the courtesy. With a poised if somewhat lanky physique, he towered over Arie. Faultless manners revealed neither enthusiasm nor disdain. “Good to make your acquaintance, Maestro. You do us credit with your attendance.”

“Sir, you flatter me with the invitation and your patronage, both.” Dutch origins tinctured his German with an accent he could not shed, despite years of practice. He heard it grow stronger with his nerves.

Introductions to a dozen bureaucrats, burghers and minor nobles spun Arie with unfamiliar names. He received a glass of sherry from Oliver and took a quick gulp.

Venner nodded to a set of double doors leading to an adjoining ballroom. “We were readying to join the gala. The ladies will not allow us to linger in seclusion forever.”

“Certainly,” said Arie, nodding.

“We recently purchased a pianoforte from Broadwood and Sons that should meet your approval. The Kapellmeister, your friend Michael Haydn, called it the finest instrument in Salzburg.”

“Thank you for the opportunity, sir. You must have a keen appreciation for music to import so fine an instrument.”

“Not at all,” Venner said. “I have neither patience nor any particular fondness for the arts. My wife reserves that domain.”

His blunt honesty inspired Arie with the first enthusiasm he had experienced all evening. He felt an unexpected desire to please his new patron, if only to reward the man’s candor.

Quickly, he stifled the sentiment. Lord Venner had likely learned the technique at some point in his political career. Arie did not begrudge the man his chosen means of manipulating people, but neither did he feel like being manipulated.

He bowed again. “I am yours to directs, sir.”

As the gentlemen adjourned, Arie confronted his dread of the awaiting throngs. But also awaiting him was the unexpected chance to play a Broadwood, a temptation he chose not to resist. Curiosity and excitement outweighed his anxiety.

Damned two-faced sycophants, all of us.

Suddenly unsure of his ability to remain civil, caught in the grip of a suffocating panic, he took another drink.

***

Mathilda Heidel perused the splendid gathering of Salzburg’s most influential citizens. She leaned closer to Lady Venner, their words shared privately. “Have we produced a success?”

“No calamity has yet befallen us,” Ingrid said. “We may escape tonight in good standing–a testament to your planning, I must say. I owe you our thanks, dearest.”

Surveying her companion for signs of tension, Mathilda could not help but admire her grace and resolve. Despite a bout of nerves that had upset her unflappable good nature only hours before, Ingrid appeared every inch the practiced hostess. Her obedient chestnut hair, which did not mind being mercilessly curled and coiffed, shone with a deep, radiant luster.

Mathilda offered a genial smile. “Your constant demands kept me distracted. I only wonder what I will do come morning, once our project is concluded.”

“Begin preparations for a May Day celebration?”

“Is this an attempt to demonstrate my continued usefulness to Venner?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I have lived here since just after your wedding,” Mathilda said, watching a pair of guests stepping to the rhythm of a jaunty contredanse. The air around them hummed with sweet flirtation. “Surely he must have made some noise about my eventual departure.”

“He has said no such thing.” Ingrid’s smile wobbled enough to reveal the truth. “He knows how much I care about you. Until you are remarried, you will not leave.”

Mathilda glanced down at the mourning gown that enshrouded her body. The glaring contrast of pale trim against black bombazine shouted without words: my husband died unjustly. She shrank from the attention fostered by those garish adornments, the curious looks and pity intent on stealing her peace.

“Do not tease, Ingrid. You know I cannot remarry, most likely not for months.”

“But you have helped us beyond measure. I can at least find you a dance partner.”

“No dancing either.”

“Still? Father Holtz is being unreasonable,” Ingrid said. “A whole year of mourning is all he requires of the war widows, and even those restrictions are ignored if they have enough money.”

Her fingers wrapped in black kid leather, Mathilda toyed with her pendant. She recognized the anxious habit and tucked the protective amber amulet into her bodice. “He is only ensuring that I respect Jürgen’s memory.”

“You do already,” Ingrid said. “But what if Christoph had refused our entreaty when you wanted to move house? Where would you have gone?”

“I could have moved with your father to the country. Or gone to Nonnberg.”

“The convent.” Ingrid wrinkled her tiny nose. “Well, at least you would have taken up the violin again, out of boredom if nothing else.”

Grimacing, Mathilda escalated her defenses in opposition to her friend’s other favorite debate: why she no longer played the violin. “I have my reasons.”

Ja, I know.” Ingrid threw up her hands. “Very practical reasons, like when you married Jürgen. I disagreed with those, too.”

“I recall.”

“Your hiatus has continued long enough.”

Mathilda’s ire spiked. Blood throbbed beneath the skin at her temples. “Do you intend to force me? Make me play music against my will?”

“Not exactly.” Ingrid dropped her gaze and cupped an elbow in each hand.

“What are you hiding?”

“Congratulations, meine Liebe,” came a deep male voice.

Engrossed in their quiet dispute, both women jumped at Lord Venner’s greeting. Mathilda glared at Ingrid, wanting only to drag her aside and demand a reply. But she stayed still and silent, fuming as the younger woman fled to the safety of her husband’s tall presence.

“Any success we achieve tonight will be because of Frau Heidel,” said Ingrid. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

Venner wore the stresses of his responsibilities at the corners of his eyes and in the slight hunch of his shoulders, but his expression remained thoughtful and open. A striking black suit and a gold-checked waistcoat accentuated the barest hint of red in his closely cut hair.

He humored his wife, bowing slightly to Mathilda. “What she really wants me to insist is that you may stay as long as you wish,” he said. “And you may.”

Pushing aside Ingrid’s arguments and schemes, Mathilda smiled at his uncomplicated acceptance. “Thank you, sir. But you both applaud our success prematurely. The more conservative matrons will find some fault in our choice of music. They always do.”

Ingrid scowled. “Old biddies.”

Venner chuckled quietly, in the private way he reserved for his inner circle. “I agree, Frau Heidel. They’ll be especially displeased when Herr De Voss performs.”

Mathilda’s heart bumped in a lopsided rhythm. The hairs on her forearms prickled within the confines of her gloves. Breathless, she asked, “Who?”

“The maestro.” Above the heads of his female companions, Venner discreetly searched the room. “He arrived some thirty minutes ago.”

“Herr De Voss? Arie De Voss, the composer from Delft?”

“Frau Heidel, artists and their eccentricities baffle me. You know that.” He glanced at his wife. “Press Ingrid for details; she invited him.”

Open-jawed, Mathilda turned to her friend. “What have you done?”

“His recital will surely add to our event,” said Ingrid with an airy smile.

Mathilda closed her eyes as melody and memory danced in her brain. Arie De Voss. Music devotees across the continent heralded him as a prodigy–a pianist, composer, and conductor to rival the best in Europe. His name intertwined with music itself, echoing in a foolish place near her heart. An incantation. A fixture in her life despite years spent actively denying that part of her.

“Frau Heidel, are you well?” Venner’s concern dragged her away from musical enchantment.

She pointed an impatient glare at Ingrid. “And you did not think to tell me?”

“You should become indignant more often, Tilda. You look positively fetching.”

“I do not want to look fetching. I want to know why Arie De Voss is here, attending your ball, without my having been informed of the situation.”

“He is a known recluse,” Ingrid said, unlinking her arm from Venner’s. Although he replied in the affirmative, I could not be sure of his attendance. I did not want to mention it until I knew for certain. And I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well done,” Mathilda said. “You succeeded.”

Ingrid frowned, her pale brows dipping together. “I know you are an admirer of the maestro’s work. I thought you would be pleased.”

Venner watched her intently as well. The curious surprise she read on their expressions checked her temper. They would never understand what De Voss and his music meant to her. Even she could not make sense of her feelings, a fascination taunting her like a guilty secret. The arrival of a secret lover to the ball would have embarrassed her less, had she kept such a man. At least the process of taking a lover involved actual contact, not meager daydreams.

An ordinary woman would not obsess about a man she had never met nor scorn everyday happiness in favor of fantasy. No, an ordinary woman would simply be pleased.

“I apologize, dearest. Thank you for thinking of me.” She carefully cleared her throat. “I am quite…pleased.”

“Good,” Venner said. “I will find De Voss for you and make introductions.” Having apparently exhausted his interest in the subject, he departed in search of the musician.

A silent conversation passed between the two women, one asking and one refusing, until Ingrid relented. She banished visible questions and offered an ardent hug. “You get to listen to him play again!”

“I cannot believe he is here.” Mathilda breathed, holding fast to the sight of Ingrid–to keep from searching the room. “How did you convince Venner to invite him? I would have thought his political connections too delicate to withstand a performance from De Voss.”

Ingrid raised her eyebrows in lieu of a smile. “Oliver is acting as his special attendant.”

Sleek, educated Oliver Doerger was Venner’s most loyal attendant, some combination of manservant and bodyguard brought from their homeland in Anhalt. Ingrid’s new husband left very little to chance, especially the potential ill behavior of guests with questionable reputations.

Admiration flicked a quick smile to her lips. No matter her intentions, Ingrid understood domestic tactics as capably as Venner knew city politics. “Well played, dearest,” Mathilda said.

“A masterstroke, actually. Come now, cheerful face.”

Mathilda smiled softly, but every piece of her rational personality–the details of which she had hammered and forged into a quiet existence–argued against giving De Voss a moment of her consideration. Why must the idea of being in the same, albeit giant, room with him steal her breath?

A musical chord burst into her brain. Then another. Another.

His symphony.

Love and Freedom.

Desire and curiosity rendered her well-reasoned intentions a cramped, lightless prison. What harm could come of seeing him? Or hearing his performance? After all, she was not about to pick up the violin again. Music had been her mother’s downfall, her temptation and weakness. And Mathilda did not intend to follow her maternal shadow to an early demise.

Rationalizations in place, she curbed her restlessness and awaited Venner’s return, searching the scene with practiced tact. Full of warmth and humanity, the cavernous ballroom snubbed winter’s chill and the uncertainties of stalled warfare, holding those worries at bay for an evening. Candles cast golden beams across the dance floor from six massive chandeliers, swathing the assembly in gauzy softness. Innumerable jewels refracted and decorated the gossamer light with color.

Ingrid gripped her hand and nodded in the direction of the grand staircase. “There, Christoph found him.”

The party fell away in a nauseating rush.

While Venner talked to him, Arie De Voss bowed his head as if deep in thought. He kept his sandy-colored hair short and a little too wild. Clad in austere black formalwear, he radiated lean arrogance, even as his pensive pose whispered of a vulnerable inner world.

He had matured, but his potent affect on her proved unsettling, as if six years of her life had vanished. She may as well have been fifteen again, an innocent with no experience and no past. Admiration crowded the air from her lungs.

Blatant and unreserved, she devoured every detail. She willed him to look up, to look her way. To see her.

At last, the maestro lifted his eyes. Mathilda’s heart pin-wheeled in her chest, breaking and whirling and beating yet again.