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Authors: Linda Francis Lee

Tags: #Romance, #Boston (Mass.), #Widows, #Historical, #Fiction

Blue Waltz

BOOK: Blue Waltz
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BLUE WALTZ

LINDA LEE FRANCIS

Affaire de Coeur called Linda Francis Lee's Wild Hearts "Brilliant... a beguiling mixture of drama, sensual heat and intricate characterizations." Now she presents a passionate new novel set amidst the splendor of Victorian Boston...

At night the music came through the wall, warming her like a lover. Swaying in cadence with the waltz, she pictured the dancers...arms entwined, warm breaths caressing cheeks. Twirling in time, she became one with the melody. And waited for a partner who never arrived...

Proper Bostonians are talking about the Widow Braxton. They say she wears the gowns of a century past... she invites servants to parties...they say she is mad. Stephen St. James has heard rumors about his new neighbor. Yet no gossip prepares him to meet the widow behind the wall. For she is no wizened old woman—but an exquisite young beauty. The moment he glimpses Belle, Stephen is transfixed by her haunted blue eyes. No matter that Belle is a temptress one moment, an innocent the next, Stephen is entranced by her loveliness—and her outrageousness. But before he can make her his own, he must free the secret that binds her heart...

Jove, Berkley Publishing

Copyright 1996

CHAPTER 1

Boston 1893

They were dancing again. She could feel it.

The plaster wall was cool against her cheek, hard against the collarbone beneath her long velvet gown, unrelenting against her outstretched arms.

Winter was fast approaching with clouds thick in the sky, turning back the light, while rain tapped the mullioned windows with merciless repetition. The long, endless days were cold and dreary. Chilling her to the bone. Making her ache. Though at night the music came through the wall, warming her like a lover.

Pressing closer, she rolled her head slowly against the painted surface, across her forehead to her opposite cheek. The swirls of long-dried plaster, frozen for all time in faint, hard-edged relief, bit into her skin as she sought the music, sought the sound. She longed for the melody to seep deep inside her, deep into her soul. Making her complete.

She rolled her head back, again and again, even slower, in cadence with the waltz that drifted through the wall that separated her town house from the next. Pushing away, her lips parted with a smile, faint and dreamy. She ran her hands down the plush velvet of her gown, relishing the feel. She loved the dress. It was the first thing she had purchased after moving to Boston, before buying this house.

2 Linda Francis Lee

Soft silk undergarments brushed over her skin when she moved just so. She wore no corset or stays, never had. In fact, until she had come to Boston five months ago and visited a dressmaker for the first time, she had been blissfully unaware that women wore such things.

The music grew louder and she knew her neighbor had opened a window, or perhaps it was French doors, in spite of the cold, or perhaps because of it. They were dancing, after all. In pairs most likely. Arms entwined. Waists encircled. Warm breaths caressing reddened cheeks.

Frequently, she tried to picture the crowd, what they wore, what they looked like. If they had long hair or short. Fair skin or dark. If they were happy or sad. Each night she imagined them as something different. One night they were princely gentlemen with perfect ladies dressed in corsets and stays; the next, heathen religious deviants forsworn by their Puritan neighbors, performing some pagan ritual dance. The thought always amused her. Somehow breechclouts and feathers were far more intriguing than perfection and propriety.

The notes soared. Her favorite part of the melody was approaching—the part where she allowed herself to dance—carefully, slowly. Practicing. Always practicing.

Only practicing until he arrived.

Her heart raced with excitement and anticipation. It wouldn't be long now, or so she had been telling herself since arriving in Boston. But what if he didn't come?

The thought seared her, leaving her feeling empty and alone. Doubt rushed in, trying to fill the void. But then the music peaked, filling her mind—saving her. And after a slight bow of her head, she attempted a curtsy to the grandfather clock that stood against the wall, then began to dance. In time to the music.

Blue Waltz 3

Carefully. Slowly. Practicing.

She dipped and swayed, her long skirt sweeping the floor. Twirling, twirling, round and round, though her movements were not so quick and not so round. But still, the music was mellow and surprisingly sweet, drifting through the wall and along to her house on the crisp late fall breeze. Warming her.

At least for a while.

"One day I'll take you to Boston, my Blue ..."

The words leaped out of memory, startling her, ceasing her turns as quickly and efficiently as if someone had reached out and grabbed her arm. The despair hit her instantly, unmercifully, as it always did. Pressing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath.

The music seemed to grow louder, less sweet. She glanced around the room, seeking refuge in her surroundings. The ceilings were high, the floors made of wood, and the windows plentiful. She could see the world by day and the heavens at night. She had learned many years before that she could exist no other way.

The minute she had seen the town house she had known it was perfect. It didn't matter that clearly it was only one tall, narrow section of what had once been a single great town house which had been divided into two houses. No other would do. She had told the solicitor she had hired to make the owner an offer. When he had protested that the property was not for sale, she refused to be daunted. She had stared at the finely wrought front door, painted blue amidst a sea of black and brown, and determined she would have it. At any cost.

"We will dance, little one, on St. Valentine's Day . . ."

Her body flinched. The words infiltrated her mind darkly, filling every corner and crevice, pushing at everything else.4

4Linda Francis Lee

"No!" she insisted as she looked up at the crenelated crown molding, concentrating.

". . . in the grandest of ballrooms ..."

Her eyes fled from the molding to the fluted door casings and carved marble colonnades. She did not want to remember. Not now—not ever. She wanted him to arrive and make all his promises come true. And he would, she told herself, her finger circling endlessly on her velvet gown. Everything was perfect. Everything that he wanted was here in this town house on Arlington Street. Everything was ready.

"Under chandeliers with huge dripping crystal teardrops ..."

She stepped back toward the wall, her stiff leather shoe catching on the edge of the Aubusson rug as she sought the music, sought its escape.

"Every person there will stop and stare in awe at your beauty ..."

"No!" She pressed her hands to her ears, trying to block the words from playing over and over again in her mind. Round and round. In time to the music.

"With hair like waves of creamy dark chocolate ..."

She began to hum.

". . . and eyes almost painfully blue ..."

Her humming grew louder.

". . . wearing a gown of lavender silk ..."

". . . with miles of the finest ruffled petticoats and flowers in your hair," she whispered into the room, finishing the old familiar words like a memorized poem.

She faltered then, her ability to fight waning against the onslaught of memories—fragmented memories, only fragments. She slumped back against the wall.

The muffled music played on, wrapping around her, making her dizzy. A strange strangled cry sounded deep

Blue Waltz 5

in her throat as she began to roll her head from side to side, ever so slightly, her eyes pressed closed.

"But you will dance with me, my precious Blue Belle, sweeping across the floor, as elegantly as a queen ..."

"Liar!" she shouted, taking up the cane that had fallen by her side and banging it against the wall, just where she had pressed her cheek, carefully, longingly, only minutes before.

"Be quiet, you fools!" she cried as she pounded the wall. "Be quiet this instant!"

***************************************************************************************

The music ground to a crazy discordant halt as violins and cellos ended on different notes. The dancers wheeled to a stop. Laughter trailed off to a muffled buzz.

"It seems your new neighbor, the Old Widow Braxton, is at it again, eh?" a young gentleman asked with a chuckle.

"So it would seem, Lewis." Adam St. James shook his head slowly and stared at the adjoining wall. A lazy lick of blond hair fell forward on his forehead, nearly to the narrow blue eyes that stamped him as a proper Bosto-nian Brahmin as clearly as his genealogy chart ever could.

It was all he could do not to hang his head and groan his frustration. Good God, what had he done? he wondered in dismay, not for the first time. How could he have possibly succumbed to the beady-eyed little solicitor and sold that woman his home? But he was not one to spend long intervals mucking about in the stagnant pools of regret. What was done, was done. He could do nothing about it. Thank God he had been able to move into this place, though he doubted he would be able to stay for very long.

After a moment he pushed the wayward strands of hair away, then turned back to his guests. With a wry grin

6 Linda Francis Lee

he raised his glass for a toast. "To the Widow Braxton. May her sweet temper bring her nothing but happiness and joy."

"And hearing less keen!"

The revelers cheered and tossed back great quantities of the finest French champagne. The musicians packed away their instruments, knowing there would be no more dancing this night.

A woman dressed in a long gown of taffeta and lace swished toward Adam, her myriad jewels glistening beneath the crystal chandelier. "What does she say to you about it afterwards?"

Adam's blue eyes danced with amusement as he studied his guest. Nouveau riche, some were inclined to call her. And glad of it, he knew she would respond, as she had been heard to say on more than one occasion that the Puritans had come an awfully long way to merely set up shop and mimic the very country they had risked life and limb to flee. Adam was inclined to agree. "Nothing, Clarisse, she says nothing," he answered simply, and started to turn away.

"Nothing?" she exclaimed, grabbing his arm.

Adam looked down at the tiny bejeweled hand which looked so fragile and pale against his black coat. There was no doubt that Clarisse was beautiful and, more importantly, reasonably wealthy. For one startling moment he thought he might just take her up on her offer of marriage. She could use his good name. He could use her money. A fair trade, it would seem. Certainly it would solve a great many of his problems. But as always, he couldn't do it, couldn't imagine the life he would have to lead married to one of the Clarisse Websters of the world.

"You mean to tell me she bangs your wall down at night, then ignores it the next day?" she persisted.

Blue Waltz 7

Someone had wound up the gramophone, a source of music, while not so rich and textured as the orchestra, was not nearly so loud and never brought the wrath of the Widow Braxton down on their heads.

"Ignores it?" Adam glanced back at the wall. "Perhaps, perhaps not. I don't know. I've never spoken with the woman."

Several of the guests sounded their disbelief. A few of them, losing interest in the discussion, began to dance around the polished parquet floor.

"How can that be?" a short man named William Henry asked.

"You sold her your home, for God's sake!" Lewis added. "How is it possible that you've never spoken with her?"

"And now that you've moved in here, you've lived next door to her for almost three months."

Adam looked back at his guests, aware more of the couples who danced slowly to the music than the others who badgered him with questions. "Three months or a lifetime, I've neither met her nor seen her, or if I have I didn't know it was she. The woman has refused all overtures of neighborly friendship, and she hasn't received me when I've gone over to apologize for the noise." He shrugged his broad shoulders. "After a while, a person stops trying."

"Apparently the Widow Braxton has yet to hear of your famed charm," Lewis said with a laugh.

"Once she hears," William exclaimed, "she'll be banging down your front door instead of your wall!"

The group laughed, all except Clarisse. She touched her plumed fan to her cheek, seeming to consider. "Come to think of it, I don't know of anyone who has seen her, except her solicitor—"

8 Linda Francis Lee

"And mine," Adam finished as he threw the last splash of champagne down his throat.

"What did he say she was like?" someone asked.

"Old and fat?"

"Old and mean?"

"Old and hideously unattractive?"

"Actually," Adam replied, pouring another glass, "he said nothing at all about her looks, ugly or otherwise. Though I got the impression she wasn't really all that old. Either way, all I know for certain is that her bank, or perhaps her mattress, is stuffed with a great deal of money." He held the champagne glass up to the light. "At the time I had little interest in anything else."

"Well, she must be hideously unattractive not to come out or receive a single soul," Clarisse stated. "I know for a fact that she has been sent invitations to the best houses in Boston. Proper Bostonians, it would seem," she added, her eyes narrowing, "are attempting to embrace her with open arms."

"Great huge bags full of money go a long way toward gaining entrance to the finest drawing rooms and dining rooms in town. And ugly or not," Lewis continued, "she's obviously rich as Croesus. . . ."

". . . and crazy as a loon," Clarisse added heatedly.

"Who's crazy as a loon?"

The simple question, spoken in a deep, rumbling voice, brought everything to an abrupt halt. One guest after another turned toward the doorway, until they all stood silently, frozen in place, the only sound coming from the gramophone that played softly in the corner.

"Stephen!" Adam blurted out, his swagger suddenly gone, his champagne glass nearly slipping from his fingers. His voice grew nervous. "What are you doing here?"

Blue Waltz9

Stephen St. James stepped into the ballroom. He was a tall, elegant man with black hair swept back from his forehead, and dark eyes that scanned the crowd. His jaw appeared to be chiseled from the same hard granite with which the house was built, and his necked carved from the marble that covered the entry hall floor. The only flaw on his cold implacable form was a small half-moon scar just below his left eye.

At length he turned his attention back to Adam. "Last I heard, I live here."

A murmur of unease rippled through the room. William glanced between his feet and his host, as if he was not quite sure what to do. Even Clarisse appeared uncertain. Lewis, however, crossed his arms on his chest and watched with amused interest.

Stephen's gaze never wavered. His fingers curled around black kid gloves as he scanned the length of Adam's ruffled and brocade-clad form. "A better question might be: What are you doing here?"

Adam forced himself to relax as he set his glass aside and stepped forward. "Of course, of course. I'm sure you are wondering what I'm doing here. And we'll get to that, all in due time, all in due time. But tell me, brother, what brings you back from London so soon? I wasn't expecting you for another two, maybe three months."

BOOK: Blue Waltz
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