Read an Excerpt
Of all the days for a bomb scare on the Victoria Line, they had to choose this one.
Lydia Foster hugged her new violin case, stripped now of all the shiny stickers and stars of her battered but beloved student number, as the strip lights flickered on and off. Despite the ominous situation, most of the occupants continued reading their newspapers and listening to their iPods, well used to sudden and inexplicable standstills in dark tunnels. But Lydia could not be so sanguine. She checked her watch, agitated, and puffed out her cheeks when the long and short hands gave her news she didnâ€™t want.
"Are you late for a concert?"
She almost jumped out of her seat. People just didnâ€™t talk to you on Tube trains, but the white-haired gentleman to her left didnâ€™t seem to know this rule.
"Um, no. A rehearsal, actually," she said, when sheâ€™d made all the usual lightspeed calculationsâ€”Is he a maniac? Will he ask me weird, pervy questions? Would it be very rude of me to ignore him?
"I always wanted to play the violin," the man confided. "Are you in a string quartet?"
"No, an orchestra. Itâ€™s my first day. First rehearsal. So I really donâ€™t want to be late." She sighed, looking up and down the carriage as if this might set the train back in motion.
"An orchestra! Professional?"
"Yes. The Westminster Symphony."
The man took a breath and nodded, gratifyingly awed. Lydia loved the reception she got when she told people she was with the WSO. I have arrived.
"Youâ€™ll be working with that Milan fellow." The gentleman chuckled. "Quite a character. Did you watch The Next Big String?"
Lydia blushed. Of course she had. Her massive crush on first violinist Milan Kaspar had been a large part of her reason for auditioning for the orchestra in the first place.
"Of course, they always have to have the Big Bad Judge on those talent contests," mused Lydiaâ€™s companion. "Iâ€™m sure heâ€™s nothing like that in real life. Rather difficult to work with otherwise, I should imagine. Oh, but I shouldnâ€™t be saying this to you on your first day. Iâ€™m sure your nerves are bad enough as it is."
Lydia coughed out a half-laugh. "Uh huh," she managed to say. Her face felt as if it were on fire. All she could think about was the crafty morning orgasm she had teased out of her tense body, thinking about Milan Kaspar judging her playing, finding it wanting and giving her a little private lesson of his own. But why would he be interested in her, when rumour had it he had been seeing Tilda Fox-Boyce, the patrician and perfectly-coiffed presenter of the television programme? Of course he wouldnâ€™t.
"Good-looking chap, though. Iâ€™m sure he has his pick of the ladies."
Before Lydia could reply to this inflammatory remark, the train juddered into life.
"Due to a bomb scare at Victoria, all passengers are advised to alight at Pimlico. I repeat..." The intercom droned on.
"Fuck," Lydia swore under her breath. She would have to walk the last part of the journey, since Pimlico Station didnâ€™t link up to any other Tube line.
"Thanks. Iâ€™ll need it."
As the curving, white-tiled station wall slid past the windows, she readied her violin case, preparing for a shuffle, then a sprint.
Out in the sludgy, grey cold of a January afternoon in London, Lydia raced up Vauxhall Bridge Road. Her heart pounded and her legs turned to mush, but she didnâ€™t stop until she arrived at the building, just off the end of the road, which acted as the orchestraâ€™s rehearsal space.
Reaching the door, she gasped for breath, doubling over her violin case. She was half an hour late.
"Fucksticks," she panted, entering the empty lobby and following the muffled musical sounds coming from a set of doors halfway down a staircase.
Nobody noticed her when she pushed one door open and sidled in as unobtrusively as she could, hiding in an obscure corner until an obvious moment to introduce herself arrived.
She took the opportunity to watch the orchestra, her eyes settling quickly and naturally on the person she most wanted to check outâ€”Milan Kaspar.
Oh, my Godâ€”there he was, in the flesh. She could only see his back and part of the side of his head, his violin wedged between firm chin and broad shoulder, his caramel-coloured hair flying as he bowed. He always gave the music his all, thought Lydia, starry-eyed, her pulse jumping high. It was as if he and his instrument were one. What were they playing? Something Viennese and waltzy, by the sounds of it. Oh, yesâ€”Weberâ€™s Invitation to the Dance.
The music made Lydia feel joyous and light-spirited. Despite the long run up Vauxhall Bridge Road, she felt an urge to twirl around and dance. If only she were wearing a flouncy taffeta skirt instead of jeans and Converse trainers. She bounced discreetly on the soles of her feet, swaying to the infectious beat, moving forward into the room until the woman at the back on percussion caught sight of her, turned and smiled a welcome.
The music stopped abruptly and Josh Clayton shook his head and folded his arms. Lydia recognised him as the conductor who had auditioned her, along with two of the trustees and a random violinistâ€”Milan had been away filming.
"No, no, no, this is dragging. Some of you arenâ€™t following my beat."
"Some of us arenâ€™t seeing your beat."