His Every Kiss
Everyone knows about Dylan Moore—his brilliant talent and his pleasure-seeking ways—but no one knows the torment that lies beneath his reckless veneer. Only one woman gets a glimpse of the forces that drive Dylan’s soul, a woman who haunts his dreams and evokes his passions as no other woman ever has before.
Disgraced and destitute, Grace Cheval wants nothing to do with the seductive man who desires her. When Dylan offers her a position as governess to his new-found daughter, she knows his true intentions are dishonorable. Yet she finds this charismatic man hard to resist, and she returns his passionate kisses with a fire that matches his own. Can Dylan dare hope that this proud, spirited beauty will melt the ice around his heart?
Prologue: London, 1827
He was going mad. Damn that noise, that agonizing noise. It was a high-pitched whine that seared his brain like fire, an incessant, unwavering sound that was slowly driving him insane. If only he could make it stop. But it never stopped.
Dylan Moore flung back the sheet with a curse and got out of bed. Naked, he crossed the bed chamber and pushed aside the heavy brocade draperies to look out. The sky was pitch black, making the hour sometime between midnight and dawn, and only the lamp at the corner illuminated the empty street below. Except in his own mind, everything was silent. He stared out the window, hating every human being in London who could enjoy the silence, who could sleep when he could not.
His movements awakened Phelps, and the valet entered from the dressing room, a lit candle in his hand. "Unable to sleep again tonight, sir?"
"Yes." Dylan exhaled a sharp sigh. Three months now. How many more nights could this go on, this sleeping for only minutes at a time? His head was throbbing in painful protest of the never-ending noise and the lack of sleep, and he leaned his forehead against the window, fighting the impulse to smash his head through the glass and end this torture.
"The laudanum that Doctor Forbes prescribed . . ." The valet hesitated at the fierce scowl his master turned on him, but concern impelled him to persevere. "Perhaps I should prepare another dose?"
"No." Lying in bed waiting for the opiate to take effect was an intolerable idea. Dylan turned away from the window and strode past his valet toward the dressing room. "I’m going out."
"I will awaken Roberts and have him bring your carriage around front for you."
"I don’t want my carriage. I am going for a walk."
Phelps could not have thought walking around London alone in the middle of the night was a good idea, but his expression conveyed no opinion of the matter. Dylan was a man who did what he pleased, and it was not his valet's place to question the wisdom of such a course. "Yes, sir," Phelps said and began helping him to dress.
Ten minutes later, Phelps returned to bed at his orders, and Dylan went downstairs, the lit candle in his hand illuminating his way through the darkened house. He entered his study, walked to his desk, and opened the drawer. He stared at the pistol for a moment, then picked it up. A man dressed in expensive clothing roaming the city alone at night was asking for trouble, and it was wise to take precautions. He loaded the weapon, then slipped it into the pocket of his long black cloak and left the study. He passed the music room on his way to the front door, and something made him pause. Perhaps a walk was not the distraction he really needed. He hesitated, then turned and entered the music room.
Until the accident, he had spent many of his waking hours here. A moment of carelessness, a fall from his horse, the slamming of his head against a rock, and everything had changed. It had taken two days for his left ear to stop bleeding and a fortnight to recover from the concussion. During that time, he had hoped the ringing in his ears would go away, but it had only seemed to worsen. During the month following his recovery, he had entered this room every morning as if to work. He had sat down at the grand piano pretending that nothing was wrong, telling himself over and over that his affliction was temporary, that he had not lost his gift, that if only he tried, he would be able to write music again. Finally, he had given up in despair, and he had not entered this room since then.
He walked slowly to the immense Broadwood Grand piano, staring at the glow of his candle reflecting off the polished walnut top. Perhaps in the past three months, some magical transformation had taken place, and when he put his hands on the keys, the music would come again. He could at least try. After placing the candle in the carved walnut holder meant for that purpose, he propped up the lid of the piano and sat down on the bench.
Dylan stared down at the keys for a long moment, then ran his fingers over them in the notes of a minuet, the first piece of music he had ever written. Not bad for a seven-year old boy, he conceded. But in the intervening twenty years, he had composed nineteen symphonies, ten operas, and so many concertos, waltzes, and sonatas he couldn’t possibly count them all. He had been born into wealth, and from his music he had achieved not only more money, but fame and critical success as well. People were wont to say that Dylan Moore was a man who had everything. Yet, he knew it all counted for nothing. It was the music that mattered. It was the music that he loved.
He glanced at the scribbled sheet music before him, staring at his own writing as if it were that of a stranger. It was from Valmont, his latest composition, the opera he had written based on the scandalous novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuse. He had finished the work the day before that shattering autumn ride through Hyde Park.
He had written the opera in less than a week. Music had always come so easily to him. He had always been able to hear melodies in his mind, they had poured from his consciousness onto pages with ease, a gift he had always taken for granted. With brutal clarity, he suddenly acknowledged the truth. Valmont was the last thing he had written, the last thing he would ever write. Why not admit it? He couldn’t hear the music anymore. The whine in his head drowned it out.
Four different physicians had told him the damage was permanent, that he was fortunate to still be able to hear, that he would get used to the noise. His fingers crashed down on the keys, and he rose to his feet. Creating music was the passion of his life, the purpose of his existence. Now the gift was gone. He would never get used to it.
He blew out the candle and left the house. A heavy fog had descended, the curse of late winter in London, and he walked mindlessly through it, concentrating on the tap of his boots against the cobblestones. He walked without any conscious direction, only realizing where his footsteps were leading him when he found himself standing in front of the Charing Cross Palladium.
The once popular concert hall had long ago given way to the more opulent Covent Garden. The owner had little interest in attempting to regain for the Palladium its former eminence, but Dylan had conducted his first symphony here a decade ago, when the Palladium's popularity was at its height. The place was little used now, and he could not help a grim smile at the irony. How appropriate. A has-been concert hall for a has-been composer.
A faint light filtered out from beneath the double entrance doors, and Dylan frowned. Why should there be lamps lit inside the building at this hour? He pulled on the handle of one of the doors and found that it was unlocked. He stepped inside.
"Is anyone here?" he called, but his voice echoed through the place and died away with no reply. He crossed the wide foyer and passed through one of the arches that led into the theater itself. Several stage lamps were flickering, and their light revealed a mop and bucket on the floor of the stage, but there was no person in sight.
Dylan called out again, but he still received no answer. Probably the charwoman had forgotten to extinguish the lamps and lock the doors before leaving. Forgetting to lock the doors was a forgivable offense since there was nothing to steal. With no productions in work, there would be no props, costumes or musical instruments in the theater. But the burning lamps were another matter. Left unattended, they could start a fire.
He walked down one of the aisles, thinking to extinguish the lamps before he departed, but when he reached the orchestra pit, he stopped. The pit was empty, save a wooden baton on the floor, left behind by the last conductor. He stared at it for a moment, then descended the steps into the pit and picked it up from the floor.
He rolled the baton between his palms, remembering the first time he had conducted here, the critical acclaim and success that had followed. Soon it would all be gone. Already people were beginning to talk about his dark moods and his headaches. Though only four doctors and his valet knew of his affliction, he did not see how he could hide it forever. When the music stopped coming after two decades of prolific composing, people would know. Soon it would be common knowledge that Dylan Moore, England’s most famous composer, had lost his musical gifts.
Music was his life. Enraged that what he loved so dear had been taken away, he flung the baton, and it clattered across the wooden floor of the orchestra pit. Without music, what would he do? Must he suffer this intolerable affliction forever? Spend the rest of his days listening to one sound, a sound that never changed, never wavered, and never ended?
There was one way to stop it. The thought penetrated him like a bone-chilling wind, and Dylan knew the real reason he had brought the pistol with him and why his footsteps had led him here. It was fitting that he should die now, at the height of his fame, in the place he had achieved his first success, before critics could shred him and friends could–God forbid–pity him. He slipped a hand into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out the pistol.
Dylan closed his eyes and lifted the gun, positioning the end of the barrel directly beneath his chin, his purpose to obliterate once and for all the sound that seared through his brain with such monotony. He cocked the hammer. It was so simple. One squeeze, then silence. Blessed, heavenly silence.
The music caught him by surprise. He froze, recognizing the unmistakable first notes of one of his own violin sonatas, a playful piece of music that floated to him from the left side of the stage. He glanced in that direction, startled to see a young woman step out of the wings, a violin in her hands.
Dylan lowered the pistol as she began to walk across the stage. She played as she walked, and the lighthearted strains of the music did not falter as she came to a halt in the center of the stage, only a few feet from him.
Dylan studied her in the lamplight that gleamed on her rich, golden-blond hair and the brass buttons of her dark green dress. She was tall, slender but shapely. Graceful, too, swaying as she played as if caught in a gentle breeze. Her face was turned a bit away from him, the side of her jaw pressed to the chin rest of her instrument as she performed his own music for him. She played very well for a woman so young, but it was not her skill with the violin that fascinated him. She had a touch of the West Country folklore about her, the mystery that evoked memories of his Devonshire childhood and tales of wood nymphs, pixies, and magic. His fancy caught for the moment, he lowered the pistol in his hand.
The music stopped.
She lowered her instrument to look down at him standing in the orchestra pit, and Dylan caught his breath. Never had he seen a lovelier woman in his life. She had all the usual requirements of beauty–oval face, well-proportioned features, creamy skin, very kissable lips–but her beauty was not what made something twist inside him, something sweet and painful like the sharp sting of a meal's first bite.
No, it was her eyes. Huge eyes of an indescribable light green color, they were as cool and peaceful as the shade of a willow tree. There was no coquetry there, no feminine interest, just a tranquil, steady gaze with a hint of sadness. She was young, a bit short of twenty, and yet, those eyes seemed ageless. Those eyes would be beautiful when she was eighty.
Her gaze remained locked with his, but she said nothing. Slowly she lowered her instrument, and for a long moment, they stared at one another. In the silence, past the whine in his head, Dylan suddenly heard something else, a vague bit of music that hovered on the edge of his consciousness, the opening notes of a new composition. He struggled to bring them to the forefront of his mind, but like the mist outside, they were impossible to take hold of. The more he strained to hear them, the further they slipped away. After a moment, the notes of music disappeared and only the whine remained.
The woman watched him for a moment longer, then her gaze lowered to the pistol in his hand. "I’d rather you didn’t," she said. "I am the charwoman here, and it is my responsibility to keep everything tidy. If you shot yourself, I would have to clean up the mess."
Her comment was so prosaic, so practical, and so unlike any idea of a mystical wood nymph that Dylan almost wanted to laugh. "Very true. How does a charwoman learn to play the violin?"
"All very unpleasant for me," she went on without answering his question, "since I've never been able to stand the sight of blood. There would be the devil of a row over the stains on the floor–blood does not come out of wood, you know–and I would be sacked on the spot for allowing Dylan Moore to shoot himself."
Her voice was an educated voice, hardly that of a charwoman, with the unmistakable hint of a Cornish accent. West Country. He'd been right, then. Her voice was rich, low-pitched, so soft that it could arouse any man's erotic imaginings. How could a mere charwoman have a voice like that? "You know who I am," he said, "yet I do not know you. Have we met before?"
"Of course I know who you are. I am a musician, after all. I saw you conduct in Salzburg last year, so I recognized you at once."
This was ludicrous. Charwomen did not attend concerts in Salzburg or play the violin. He had to be dreaming. Before he could ask any questions to help him make sense of it all, she spoke again. "If you killed yourself, I would lose my position because of your action, and with no recommendation to help me find another situation, I would become destitute. Your death would bring pain to others as well. What of your family, your friends and acquaintances? The owner here would have a worthless piece of property on his hands, for no one would wish to lease this theater again and certainly no one would have an interest in purchasing it."
As she enumerated the consequences of his suicide in a rather obvious attempt to make him feel guilty, the loveliness of her voice began to lose its charm for him.
"Your relations," she went on, "would have to live not only with the grief of your death, but also with the disgrace of your suicide. But then, your concerns are more important than anyone else's, and I am sure the consequences to others do not matter to you in the least."
The consequences to others had never even occurred to him, and the censure behind this impudent young woman's mock sympathy rankled. "It is my life," he pointed out, scowling at her. "Why should I not end it if I wish to?"
Her expression became even more grave as she gazed down at him from the stage. "Because it would be wrong."
"Indeed? And who are you to preach the morality of it to me? My guardian angel, my soul, my bloody conscience?"
"It would be wrong," she repeated.
"Damn it, woman, I have the right to take my own life if I wish to do so!"
She shook her head. "No, you do not. You may be needed for something important."
He did laugh then, a harsh sound that echoed through the theater. "Needed for what? Saving damsels in distress perhaps?" he mocked her, mocked the earnestness in her voice, the patient gravity in her eyes. "Slaying dragons? Needed for what?"
"I don’t know." She moved forward and jumped down from the stage into the orchestra pit, landing beside him. Tucking her violin and bow beneath her arm, she reached out her hand and curled it around the barrel of the pistol. She pulled the gun gently from his grasp as if knowing he could not fight her for it without the possibility of injuring her, as if knowing he would not take that risk. She turned away and pointed the weapon toward the empty seats until she had eased the hammer back into place, then she put the gun in a pocket of her gown.
"That's rather futile, don't you think?" he chided. "I have many more pistols at home."
She shrugged. "Everyone has free will. If you try again to kill yourself, I cannot stop you. But I do not believe you will try again."
He was surprised by the matter-of-fact tone of her voice. "You seem very sure of that."
"I am. I have heard enough about you to know you are not that sort of man. Not really."
"Heard about me, have you?" He could not help asking the inevitable question. "What sort of man am I, then?"
"Arrogant," she answered at once. "Arrogant enough to believe that the world of music will be diminished if you are not in it. Willful. Obsessed. Your work takes precedent over everyone and everything else."
An unflattering opinion, he supposed, and brutally accurate.
"You are also very strong," she added, "strong enough to find courage to live, I think."
He didn't know if she meant that, or if it was merely said to encourage him to change his mind. "You think a great deal for a charwoman."
She ignored that. "Now that the darkest moment has passed, you will find all sorts of excuses not to use suicide to end your suffering."
Dylan didn't need her to talk about his suffering. "You know nothing of me but what you have heard. You do not even know the reasons for my choice."
"No reason is good enough to justify suicide."
Her moral rectitude was beginning to have the irritating quality of a sermon. "An opinion gained from your years of experience, no doubt," he shot back.
She looked away. "Why?" she murmured, sounding exasperated, almost angry. "Why are all of you so wretchedly tormented?"
He raised an eyebrow at the unexpected question and the tone of her voice. "All of us?" he repeated.
"Artists. Musicians, actors, painters, poets, composers. It isn’t really necessary, you know."
"You are a musician."
"I play competently, and that is all. I am not a virtuoso. I do not have the brilliance of a true artist." She returned her gaze to his face, and Dylan knew this woman and her eyes would haunt his dreams for a long time to come. "But you do," she said. "You have the touch of greatness."
"That is all in the past. I will never write music again."
She did not ask him why. Her mouth formed a rather ironic, twisted smile. "Yes, you will. One day."
She had no idea what she was talking about, but before he could argue the point, she turned away. Pulling her violin and bow from beneath her arm, she mounted the steps out of the orchestra pit, then stopped on the stage and turned to look at him. "Put out the lamps when you leave, would you?"
She retraced her steps toward the left wing of the stage. Dylan watched her go, remaining where he was for several more moments, still wondering if he were caught in some sort of strange dream.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, he heard that bit of music again, and he closed his eyes, straining to hear it. A few notes danced with tantalizing promise just out of his reach, but he could not grasp them, he could not keep the melody. It vanished into nothingness once again. He opened his eyes, but the woman who had brought him that moment of music was nowhere in sight.
"Wait!" he called to her. "Come back!"
He ascended the steps and followed her, but when he reached the back of the stage, she was nowhere in sight. He strode down the corridors, calling to her, pulling back the curtains of each dressing room he passed, but he did not find her in any of them. When he reached the back door and opened it, there was no sign of her in the mist that swirled through the alley behind the theater. "I do not even know your name!" he shouted.
There was no reply. The woman and her violin had disappeared, and the notes in his head had departed with her. He strained to hear them again, but they were drowned out. He was alone again with his tormentor.
Dylan clamped his hands over his ears, but it was a futile gesture. He could not blot out the noise in his brain with his hands. There was only one way to stop it, but it was too late for that now.
With a roar of frustration and rage, he slammed his fist against the door, hardly noticing the pain. She was right. He had lost the impetus to end his life, and he cursed her for taking from him the easy way out. Now he knew his fate was to live with this torture until he went mad.