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Closing the door silently, Addie walked across to the open window. The snow continued its graceful, silent fall, piling up a soft, white carpet on the ground below. Addie had serious doubts about driving in the hills in this weather. In fact the whole plan was bloody stupid. Turn up here on Hogmanay while the owners were having a New Year party and rob them under cover of general jollity. And if they encountered anyone, they just said "Happy New Year!" and no one would suspect a thing. Apparently.
Oh, yes, Shug was an arse.
Addie closed the window as quietly as she could, though it still screeched painfully, and turned back to the room. For a moment, she just gazed at the shadowy piano, till the distant merriment of the house receded and she could imagine only too well the glorious music...
Inevitably, it drew her--although since Jim had taken the torch, she had to feel her way toward it with outstretched hands and feet, avoiding possible obstacles like a blind woman.
Once there, she discovered a lamp. She hesitated only briefly. The door was closed. No one would see so dim a light from the hall.
She clicked it on, and the piano was bathed in light.
It was a beautiful thing, overwhelmingly so. Polished dark wood, gorgeous curves, intricately carved ornamentation on the lectern ... Addie slid onto the stool--old and comfy.
Something made her shiver again, a cold fluttering from the base of her spine to her neck. She twisted quickly to check she was alone. For a fraction of an instant, she imagined a shadow disappearing from her view, but when she turned her head further, there was nothing. Of course.
Feeling slightly foolish--she prided herselfon being down to earth, the sensible one of her ridiculous family--she returned to the piano, lifting the heavy, shiny lid to reveal the ebony and ivory keys beneath. The maker's name, Bechstein, stood out in gold lettering, causing her eyes to widen further. Never in her life had she been this close to such a wonderful instrument.
Greatly daring, she touched her fingertips to the keys. Love at first touch, she thought wryly, before she'd even heard it sound a note. Tenderly, she glided her fingertips along the keys. Sparks of excitement flowed up her wrists. Desire to play twisted through her, all the more forceful for the years of abstinence.
Delicately, so gently she wasn't even sure it would sound, she depressed the middle C with her thumb. It was soft, barely startling her at all, yet clear as a bell, full-toned and gorgeous, in perfect tune...
Addie risked another note, then another. She brought up her left hand, watching her fingers settle over the keys as if they owned them. She gave one uneasy glance toward the window, cocked her head for any untoward sound, then looked back at the keys. Very softly, she began to play Beethoven's "Für Elise". It had been her party piece as a kid, on the bashed up old piano in the church hall. There was no comparison. On this instrument, you could make music ... For an instant, Addie had a glimpse of another world, beyond the music she had learned and loved, of a talent and knowledge nurtured way beyond the level of her own. Abandoning Beethoven, she began the most difficult piece she had ever played, Christopher Maxwell's "Sonata in F".
It was a beautiful, evocative piece that made her think of bubbling streams and high mountains, the sort of wild nature you didn't get in the city. It had brought her peace in the past, along with fresh excitement in life, and powerful, reasonless happiness. In this particular situation, she hardly lost herself in the music. She was in the house of people she was helping to rob. She had to play extremely quietly while listening for sounds of approach. Her nerves jangled, and she had to ignore the creepy, guilty feeling of being observed that had freaked her when she first sat down. Besides which, she'd forgotten some of it and had to improvise.
With a frustrated gasp, she dragged her hands upwards off the keys as if they'd been burned. Enough of this, Ariadne!
Twirling round on the stool, she leapt to her feet--and faced the man standing in the open doorway.
"Fuck!" she uttered before she could prevent it.
It wasn't Jim, or even Shug. Dimly lit from behind as well as from the piano lamp, she had only the impression of a large man in a kilt, arms folded as he leaned against the doorframe to watch her.
"Before we've been introduced?" he enquired.
His voice was Scottish, but only just. The sort that would be considered English where she came from. Worse, it was deep and low, with a devastating timbre that vibrated right to the bits you didn't want to think about while trespassing with criminal intent.
To her alarm, he pushed himself off the wooden frame and came toward her. His kilt swung round good, strong legs--stop looking at his legs!--as he walked, leisurely and graceful as a big cat. He was tall, rumpled as you'd expect of any self-respecting New Year reveler, tieless, his kilt and unbuttoned jacket crushed, shirt open askew at the throat, his dark, curly hair falling in wild disorder across his forehead. Black eyebrows stretched upwards in straight, dramatic lines from the bridge of his nose--devil's eyebrows--and beneath them, intense, unquiet brown eyes regarded her without blinking. Shadows lurked beguilingly below finely sculpted cheekbones. His nose was slightly hooked, adding a predatory air to already Byronic good looks.
He didn't look happy.
It was only willpower that prevented her climbing backwards across the stool to get away from him.
Releasing her gaze, his dropped to the region of her lips, flickered lower across her body and back up to her face. Surely that wasn't a lustful gleam in his eyes now? Trick of the light ... In fact, he looked thoroughly pissed off.
"Or have we?" he asked sardonically
Addie found her voice at last. "Have we what?" she demanded with more aggression than she'd intended.
Christ, I hope not! Yet something suddenly seemed familiar about him ... Surely to God they hadn't met before? He was not the sort of man you generally met on a thirty-seven bus.
"No," she said baldly, as if the force of her single word could make it true.
"What's your name?"
At this point, in real life, she would have said "Fuck off." But she was standing in someone else's house, supposedly watching out for her brother and his mates who were robbing it. Whoever this arrogant git was, and however annoying his presence, there was really no high ground from which to look down on him.
"Kate," she blurted, and could have kicked herself. Determined not to give her own, she had said the first name to come into her head. Her daughter's.
For some reason, it seemed to mean something to him. His annoyance appeared to soften to merely resigned irritation. "You're a friend of Tammy's?"
"Aye," said Addie, clutching at the lifeline. "Yes."
"Well, Kate, let me show you where the party is. For future reference it is not in my study."
Oh, Jesus Christ, he's the owner. He just had to be the bloody owner. She dragged her gaze free.
"Sorry," she mumbled, brushing past him toward the door. At least she tried to brush, but since he made no effort to get out of her way, it was more of a bump. He felt solid, immovable.
Yet by the time she got to the door, he was there beside her, his hand on the knob, ironically bowing her through.
He said bad-naturedly, "It seems I should have locked it to make the position clear."
He closed the door almost on her back and reached into his jacket pocket. Which was when she realized that he intended to rectify his oversight.
Addie grabbed at his wrist. "All right, don't rub it in. I get the message. I will not go near your piano again, ever."
For a moment, his hand resisted her tug without effort. Then a faint glint of amusement crept into his stormy brown eyes and he allowed his hand to be drawn out of the pocket. Keyless.
It was a nice hand. Large, long-fingered, strong. Veins and sinews stood out in an intricate, fascinating pattern. Unbidden, she wondered how it would feel to be touched by such a hand. Intimately. On her breast, those fingers closing tenderly around her nipple, rubbing...