Today's Reading

Once more her eyes swept the huge glassed atrium, which showcased Picasso's Three Musicians, Renoir's Dancing Girl with a Tambourine. On the far wall, Degas' Orchestra Musicians, Georgia O'Keefe's undulating Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, on loan from the Whitney. Today she had played in honor of Paul Cezanne's Girl at the Piano, choosing several intimate pieces to complement the dark and light contrasts of his enigmatic oil. She had played three beautiful Liszt etudes, followed by a Debussy Prelude, included because of his Impressionist technique, and—just because the Cezanne stirred thoughts of Chopin within her—the Polonaise.

Maggie smiled and shook her head. Time to return to her apartment and music shop in Beacon Hill. But first—her gaze trailed to the modern, open staircase across the atrium. Just one more visit to her favorite gallery. She laid a palm on the smooth dark wood of the Steinway, grateful for its clear, rich sound before she turned away. We did good today, she told the still-warm instrument.

As she moved past a group of men and women in animated discussion, one voice caught her attention.

"How does every Russian joke start?" asked a deep, rumbling voice behind her. "By looking over your shoulder! Ha!"

Who laughs at his own jokes that way?

In spite of herself, Maggie turned. An older man in the group murmured something to a tall, bearded guest and then moved toward her. Maggie found herself looking up into heavy-lidded, burning dark eyes.

"Madame O'Shea?" The accent was Eastern European.

"I am Maggie O'Shea, yes." The man standing in front of her had a broad Slavic face and a thick wrestler's build. His bullet-shaped head was clean-shaven, with a salt and pepper shadow across a strong jaw. A heavy gold necklace sparked against the white cotton of his open-necked dress shirt. An interesting look.

His hand reached to close over hers in a warm, firm grip as he bowed from the waist. "It is not often that someone gets my attention the way you did. I was lost in my thoughts—and then suddenly I heard your music. I looked up, astonished. Who was playing that piano, creating that sound? I had to meet you."

"And now that you have?"

"Now I am more taken than ever. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Yuri Belankov. Ex-violinist from St. Petersburg." Laughter boomed deep in his chest. "Very ex. It was a long time ago. It is indeed a pleasure to meet you."

"And you, Mr. Belankov. I always enjoy meeting a fellow musician. Ex though he may be." She smiled at the handsome Russian.

"Your husband was right. You play like no one else I've ever heard."

Maggie froze.

Breathe. You never knew when you might be blindsided by the ghosts of memory. She'd learned that grief was like that—quiet for a while, and then suddenly, when she least expected it, it would come roaring back like an ocean wave, knocking her flat. A scent, a voice, a silhouette beyond a darkened window . . .

Just ghosts, she reminded herself. You're stronger now, not the same woman you were. It's okay.

Maggie stepped closer to Belankov. "You knew my husband, Johnny O'Shea?"

"He interviewed me for a story he was doing on Russian businessmen, some twenty months back. September, I think. A sharp man, a brilliant writer, eh? And we played chess twice. He actually almost beat me the second time. Well, of course I could not let that happen." A broad smile. "He talked about you, naturally, assured me that I would never hear anything more beautiful than you playing his beloved Rachmaninoff."

She smiled with memory. "Rachmaninoff was Johnny's favorite composer. I hope you were not disappointed today?"

"Not at all. I brought my old friend Kirov to hear you—" He gestured to the attractive, bearded man in the crowd of guests behind them. "He owns a very high-end art gallery in Manhattan."

Looking past Belankov, Maggie was surprised to see the stranger's light, intense eyes resting on her. Kirov. Tall and very handsome, with a dashing, dark clipped beard. In the narrow European suit, his body had an arrogant grace. Did she know him?

"He looks like a Romanov prince," she murmured.

"Ha, he will love that," said Belankov. Looking down at her, he admitted, "Today I was hoping for the sounds of home—a Scriabin prelude, perhaps, or Stravinsky's Sonata. But your Chopin...Dazzling. You play as if you know something about loss." He bent closer. "Which, of course, you do. I am sorry about your husband's death."

Maggie felt herself go pale. "Thank you. It's been eighteen months, but I still miss him very much."

The Russian nodded. "I felt it. You allow the music to break your heart."

She closed her eyes. "The heart will always grieve. But the raw grief is gone now, and I'm actually finding happiness again."

"As it should be."
...

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