Unseen Genius: Chapter 27: Love is a Battlefield
Five days had passed since the terrible accident out on the pond and with every sunrise the weather outside grew increasingly lovelier. The warmth of the sun ate constantly away at the thin layer of frost covering the ground until none was left. Within the pond itself only a delicate ring of ice remained in a lacework about the edge of the dark water. Loud popping and screeching was heard echoing over the yard as the sap within the poplar trees began to flow again.
Spring had officially arrived, though the beauty of the crystalline blue sky and tender electric green flower buds could not assuage the growing tension within the Donovan house hold. The day after Brielle had woken up in Erik’s arms was the day Aria developed a fever.
Brielle berated herself now as she sat on the edge of her daughter’s bed. Aria had been acting sluggish. I should have recognized that she was ill before the fever took hold but I was too bloody busy worrying about what to think about my relationship with Erik. Gently, the white haired woman leaned forward and brushed Aria’s hair from her pale chubby cheeks. Her snowy brows came down into an anxious frown as the heat from the child’s bare skin burned Brielle’s palm.
At the sight of her mother’s worried expression Aria shifted restlessly, her small hands coming up to grasp weakly at her mother’s arm. “M-Momma, don’t be s-so w-worried.”
Rallying a smile, Brielle turned and plucked a thermometer off the marble topped bedside table. “I am not worried, love,” she lied. “I was simply thinking about what the fairy queen told me last night in my dreams.”
“Who is th-the fairy queen?” the child asked quietly before Brielle placed the thermometer in her mouth.
Feigning outrage, the Irishwoman covered her mouth and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Why, she rules over all the fairies. Traveling the countryside at night in her tiny acorn chariot as it is pulled by crickets to visit people while they sleep. She walks in the dreams of all the people who believe in her, making sure their minds are free from nightmares. Sometimes she even whispers warnings about the future into their ears.”
Aria’s fever-dulled eyes lit up at the story and a small smile curved up around the thermometer in her mouth. “Is sh-she the one who t-tells you th-the future?” she murmured, the instrument between her lips bobbing wildly with each word.
Nodding sagely even as she watched the mercury continue to rise degree by degree in the glass tube protruding from Aria’s mouth, Brielle carefully glanced at her watch. “Aye, indeed she is. For those with the second sight are said to have a wee bit of fairy blood running through their bodies,” she murmured as she removed the thermometer and stared at the reading. 102 degrees, that is worse than yesterday.
“D-Do I have fairy b-blood?” Aria asked tiredly as she slowly closed her eyes.
Taking a steadying breath, Brielle nodded absently as she hastily shook the mercury back down. “Absolutely you do. That is partially what makes you so special, but I think you should have a little rest now,” she said as she stood and moved to wet a cloth in a waiting bowl of water. Wringing out the rag Brielle walked back to the bedside, placing the cool cloth over Aria’s forehead.
“M-Momma will you s-sing to m-me till I g-go to s-sleep?”
“Yes, love. Just shut your eyes and rest,” Brielle replied softly, tucking the blanket about Aria’s small, shivering body. As the child shut her eyes, Brielle began humming a slow, sad tune softly. Running her fingers through Aria’s long black hair the Irish woman opened her mouth, adding words to the lyrical and haunting melody.
On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell,
A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell;
Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest,
And they called it Hy-Brasail the isle of the blest.
From year unto year on the ocean's blue rim,
The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim;
The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay,
And it looked like an Eden, away, far away!
Drawing out the last note to the ballad as if she couldn’t bear to let it go, Brielle carefully laid Aria’s new doll next to her on the bed. She did not continue the song into the next verse after seeing that her daughter had already drifted off. Slowly letting out the sigh she had been holding since entering the room, Brielle sat utterly still as she stared down at the sleeping child. Rubbing a hand down the side of her face as she gathered her thoughts, the Irish woman once again glanced down at the thermometer hanging limply in her left hand. As the contrived smile slipped from her face, Brielle tightened her hold on the traitorous instrument until her knuckles bleached white.
Standing quietly, she turned and swept out of the room before the panic could fully pinch her mouth into a tight white line. Once out in the hall Brielle carefully pushed the door shut, purposely catching the latch with a soft snick. Leaning her forehead against the cool dark wood, her hand still gripping the door knob, the young woman drew in a deep calming breath. The digits she had just read upon the thermometer burned brightly behind her closed eyelids. It is worse than yesterday.
Opening her eyes to stare unseeing at the dark ebbs and swirls of the wood grain, Brielle let the rolling waves of sick terror churn within her stomach. Thick bands of unease tightened across her chest until she was sure her ribs would break from the unbearable pressure. What am I going to do? I have applied cool compresses. I have given her every blasted fever remedy from here to China. What am I missing…I have to be missing something. It should have broken by now.
Prying her fingers slowly from the door handle Brielle blinked rapidly, wetting the burning dryness of her eyes. Doggedly, she pushed the worrying voices in her head to the back burner, momentarily freeing her thoughts from the black cloud of anxiety she had been operating under for the last several days. Pushing away from her daughter’s bedroom door Brielle turned, her face bone white and blank, and walked slowly down the hallway.
Through the numbness blessedly fogging up Brielle’s thoughts the sound of distant piano music reached her ears, slowly drawing her down the hall to stand just outside the parlor. She had no words in her considerable vocabulary to describe the sultry sound of each note, nor the extraordinary response it evoked in her. The keys held a strange energy, a life of their own, that brought tears rushing into her already red rimmed eyes, softly seducing her body so that her knees turned to water and a light sweat broke out across her upper lip. Raising a shaking hand to her quickly flushing cheek Brielle cast her eyes about the hallway, searching for the strength to right herself and stand unmoved against the terrible power of the music drifting through the air.
Erik was at it again. Lately some kind of feverish obsession had driven the man to be constantly banging away upon the keys. When he couldn’t get his hands upon an instrument, Brielle caught him humming with a dark intensity down the hallway or tapping out a beat with his heel upon a chair leg. What was amazing about the whole situation was that every note emanating from him was apparently composed on the spot. For the most part Brielle was glad for the distraction of his music - she was sure she would have gone mad with worry had it not been for the cascading springs of sound flowing from the front parlor. But it was at times like this, when Erik had chosen to play out some sweet and terribly soft ballad, ensnaring her senses, that Brielle cursed the man’s name.
Brielle locked her wobbly knees and stubbornly straightened her shoulders. She would not be so weak as to faint at the mere sound of some twittering upon the piano. Pulling at the modest slate gray jacket she wore over an only slightly rumpled white cotton blouse, Brielle turned upon her heel and took several stiff steps away from that blasted noise. I have other things to do besides drool over a little meddling on the piano. I could try altering the willow tea I gave to Aria…perhaps the concentration wasn’t right. That’s right, another concentration is the key and maybe I could…the worrying thoughts were quick to reinvade her consciousness.
She had made it halfway back down the hallway when the first pure, bell-like notes of his heavenly tenor tore through her thoughts. Brielle’s vision dimmed and she feared she would collapse outright as a burst of physical pleasure shook her to the very core of her being. Never in her life had anything touched her so. It was shocking, confusing, terrifying.
Brielle’s eyes drifted shut for a brief moment as the new layers his voice added wrapped lovingly about her already tired brain. Until that moment she had been certain she could overcome the pull of Erik’s magnetism, but now doubt infused what was left of her cognitive capacities. How can I fight something I can’t see? she wondered absently, floating on the sweet melody surrounding her.
When silence suddenly jarred her ears, Brielle jerked her eyes open with a start. Fuzzily, she gazed about the parlor, a frown creeping onto her flushed face. When did I come in here? I don’t even remember moving. Horrified, she turned her attention to the man seated at the piano, his hands falling from the keys to rest upon his thighs as he stared at her. How long have I been standing here like a dolt?!!
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude,” she blurted without ceremony.
Erik quickly looked away from the embarrassment staining her face to gaze down at his own hands. “Do not apologize. I did not know you were at this end of the house,” he mumbled in response, looking strangely guilty for a moment. “I will play something else if you plan to be near for awhile,” he continued, turning his back to her and efficiently dismissing her.
This had also become a norm, the cool distance in his speech and manner. Brielle attributed this change to the mortifying incident in his bedroom a few days ago. Neither of them was quite sure how to act around the other. It was no wonder the man was keeping clear of her, he no doubt thought her a madwoman, or worse, a harlot. Perhaps it is for the better, she thought sadly. It will help me remember to conduct myself properly in his presence.
Recovering slowly from the shivers still racing down her spine, Brielle nervously ran her hands down the front of her skirts. “Everything you have been playing lately…I have never heard before. You write it all, don’t you?”
Waving a haughty hand in her direction, he shrugged. “I wouldn’t call it writing. I am just playing a few simple ditties that are flying about my head. It helps to relieve tension. And Aria likes to hear the music while she is awake.”
Brielle made a soft sound deep in her throat as one of the reasons for his strange behavior dawned upon her. The poor man was making himself crazy with worry, only his obsession played itself out on the piano rather than in medical textbooks. His concern was touching. If the fool man had voiced his unease rather than bottle it up it would have saved me considerable time tiptoeing around him.
“Honestly Erik, you should compose professionally. Or at the very least teach. I have never known a greater talent for bringing music to life.”
Only then did he turn his attention back to her face, a slight blush staining his high cheek bones at her compliment. “For a time I thought about teaching professionally,” he began honestly. “I always wanted to help people hear the same beauty I do every day. Music tends to reach where words cannot.” A brief and hollow sadness darkened his expression. He made a sudden jerking motion with his shoulders then as if to throw off the weight of his thoughts before he reached up and pulled the key cover over the ivory. “But it was never meant to be.”
“That is terribly sad. You have such a gift for helping people. I have watched you with Aria. You inspire by simple example.”
“Don’t overly concern yourself,” he snapped. “That is ancient history. I have accepted it.”
Glaring over at him as his expression darkened into a deep brooding frown, Brielle fisted her hands upon her hips. “Well thanks a-mighty my good sir for releasing me from that obligation. My mind is free of worry now that I don’t have to concern myself over you!! By the way Aria’s temperature has gone up a degree since yesterday!!” she exploded, her hair-trigger temper set off instantly by both the bleak worry pounding within her head and the nasty tone in his voice.
Turning with a snap Brielle swept out of the room, a red film of anger misting the corners of her vision. Without looking back the irate woman stomped into the kitchen, ignoring the pain burning up her leg from her injured foot. Snatching up a bucket of soapy water she had set aside earlier in the day, Brielle dropped it onto the middle of the floor, intending to overcome both her fury and her anxiety with hard, mind numbing work.
Quickly rolling up her sleeves, the white haired woman hiked up her skirts and fell to her knees next to the bucket. She reached into the water and plucked out a scrub brush just as Erik stormed into the room. Ignoring the man, Brielle proceeded to set the brush to the stone floor in fast, furious strokes.
Stepping into the room and jabbing a finger in her direction, Erik demanded her attention. “Excuse me! Am I to assume by your childish outburst that you are implying that I am unconcerned about that poor child’s health? Because if that should be the case then you are terribly mistaken!! I haven’t slept in days due to the worry crushing out all my thoughts. I can’t even finish an entire overture without forgetting which one I have started.”
“Well you needn’t take it out on me, you blasted scoundrel. I was trying to be civil when you took a nasty tone! I do not have time to doctor your feelings as well as my daughter!!” she shouted, roughly sloshing water onto the floor.
“Likewise, I find it terribly ungallant of you to be constantly making noise about the house when I am trying to think!! Do you know how hard it is to think when all I hear all day every day is that bloody piano!!?” Nearly upsetting her bucket as she slammed the brush back into its sudsy contents, Brielle stared fixedly at the floor.
Brielle could see Erik slowly fist his hands at his sides. She knew she was being cruel, but could not seem to stop the words pouring out of her mouth. The pressure of three days’ worth of panic and frustration had finally proven too much for her composure. It all came bursting out now with every venomous word dripping from her lips. She had the odd sensation that a madwoman must have taken over her body and decided to scream at Brielle’s dearest friend.
Erik remained quiet for several moments after she had finished, his taut silence making her acutely uncomfortable. “If my presence is such a bother, perhaps it would be better if I left. I have only stayed so long because I felt I was doing some good by teaching Aria. I had no idea you felt so put upon the whole time.”
Shocked by his softly delivered suggestion, Brielle stopped attacking the floor and stared mutely up at him. A horror likened only to those she had felt after her prophetic nightmares surged into her chest, compressing her throat and lungs until she was certain she would suffocate. He can’t leave…he can’t leave me! Slowly, she felt her face contort into a mask of pure rage as the horror morphed into burning temper.
“How dare you suggest I would begrudge you one cent, you beast!! How callous and ill mannered do you consider me?! I make one little comment about the volume and frequency of your obsessive playing and you threaten to run off. Just try it and I will set the hounds of hell itself out upon your heels!!” she screeched, slinging an arc of dirty water in his direction.
“Stop that and talk to me like an adult, you crazy viper,” he hissed, his eyes glittering dangerously when she continued to violently throw handfuls of soap and water at him, her hair coming loose to hang like white wedding ribbons about her face.
“Don’t you order me about!!” she snapped, waving her brush dramatically in his direction. “I have to do something with my hands or I’ll go absolutely mad!!”
“I don’t care!! I do not ask for something twice and I said to look at me while I am talking!!” he bellowed, advancing into the room and giving her bucket a sound kick, sending it sliding across the floor only to upend a few paces away.
A momentary silence followed his hasty action as they both stared at each other with varying levels of shock tightening their features. Her mouth hanging open in surprise at his unexpected display of violence Brielle slowly climbed to her feet, avoiding the spreading pool of liquid creeping her way.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” she murmured, staring blankly down at the bucket as it wobbled back and forth a few feet away. When she looked up at his face, a dark horrified blush was creeping up his neck. But before he could open his mouth her shock had already worn off.
Gripping the brush in her right hand, Brielle drew back her hand and let the thing fly across the room; it hit Erik square in the chest before bouncing to the floor with a clatter. “That is for making a mess.” Stomping across the room to stand nose to nose with the man she flung back her hand again, intending to punch him in the nose. “And this is for…”
Before she could lay her fist across his face, Erik easily grabbed both her hands with a crushing force. Though he had dropped into a guilty silence after upending the bucket all over the floor, no sign of anything but blinding fury now burned behind the blue of his eyes. “Don’t you dare lay a hand on me,” he purred dangerously.
“Let me go!” she demanded, returning his heated glare without blinking. Stubbornly raising her chin she repeated herself once more, noticing that as she did so Erik’s glare faltered and dropped momentarily to her mouth. When he did not respond, a small spike of fear crept up through the anger. Never in her life had a man been so purposely rough with her. She had almost forgotten how strong Erik was beneath the calm restraint with which he normally operated. He could hurt her if he wanted to.
Driven by this new spurt of emotion, Brielle began to fight like a wildcat. Dropping her weight without warning the woman fell to the floor, dragging her captor with her. Kicking her legs madly she didn’t notice whether she hit flesh or floor as she rolled violently to the side, trying to dislodge his grip on her hands. Cursing, Erik did release her, but quickly recovering from a lucky kick he pounced on top of her, effectively pinning her writhing body to the floor.
Panting from her exertion Brielle momentarily continued her fight, but upon finding it completely useless she stilled. Her hands now pinned above her head, her legs weighted down by the man atop her, Brielle found herself in a worse situation than the one she had been in. Erik’s head sagged against her right shoulder as he struggled to catch his breath. As he released a deep sigh against the sensitive skin just under her ear every muscle in her body stiffened to suppress a sharp gasp. His movements had instantly and shockingly turned her insides into mush.
Her mind went utterly blank as Erik raised himself up to glare warily down at her. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound came through his lips as the man’s eyes once again fell to her trembling lips. “I…er…rather…” he mumbled incoherently, the grip he had upon her wrists loosening.
Breathing shallowly in short excited bursts Brielle closed her eyes, letting his every breath wash over her burning face. Her heart picking up speed when Erik tore his gaze away from her face and moved as if to get up, without thinking Brielle took advantage of his loosened grip and jerked one hand up to grab hold of his lapels. The only thought swirling about her head was a desperate need for him to stay.
With a shudder, he stared intently off to the side. “Brielle, it is best if I get up now…or…I’ll…”
“Absolutely not…” she growled furiously before dragging his face closer to hers with one jerk of his shirt. The butterflies delicately fluttering about her stomach suddenly transformed into jack rabbits, leaving her breathless with every beat of her heart.
Something within her head clicked out of place, effectively muffling the cool logical voice within her head. Brielle could feel another shiver run the length of his entire body at her words and found his reaction to be deliciously exciting. Enthralled by the feelings igniting in her blood, she watched as if in a dream as Erik’s head swiveled slightly toward her. The dark, barely leashed tension of lust stole over his features as his breath began to saw in and out of his chest. The man was teetering on the brink of his control, and at that heart pounding moment Brielle was happy to push him over the edge.
Slowly she slid her tongue over her bottom lip, watching his eyes dilate as she did so. And then time slowed and slowed…and stopped, as his hand came up to hesitantly follow the trail of her tongue across her lip, brushing her skin with the barest tips of his fingers as if he feared she would disappear at his touch. A soft curse escaped his sinful mouth before he crushed it to hers. Any anger felt just minutes ago morphed easily into hot, almost violent, passion.
His mouth was so hard, so hard. But his fingers combing through her hair were gentle. The sound of her hairpins pinging against the stone floor filled the air with an odd, off kilter melody as Brielle sucked greedily on his top lip, drawing a wobbling whimper from the electrifying man clumsily responding to her ministrations. It took him several seconds to find an instinctive primal rhythm of motion which sent her brain into the outer reaches of the universe. Any memory of his initial groping inexperience was forgotten as his mouth did things to Brielle that she had almost forgotten were possible. Her hands began snaking up to loop tightly around the back of Erik’s neck, gripping the cloth of his shirt as if her life depended on it.
Tilting her head back with the stroke of one hand, Erik changed the angle of the kiss, deepening it to frantic levels. Without thought of anything but the breathtaking shivers starting deep in her abdomen, Brielle did not hesitate to open her lips to him when his tongue ran demandingly along her bottom lip. The buttons of her prim little jacket popped open easily as his fingers slid almost roughly up under the fabric to start a new exploration of her upper torso. Arching her back into his hand, Brielle let her teeth graze over his bottom lip.
Just as his fingers thrust eagerly between the stays on her blouse, burning as he grazed her undergarments, a loud series of hacking coughs burst dramatically in the air. Instantly both Brielle and Erik stilled, listening to the painful sound. Slowly opening her eyes, Brielle was just in time to see an expression of horror pass over Erik’s face before the man jerked his hands from her torso, holding them in the air as if she had burned him somehow.
Placing his hands on the ground on either side of her head, Erik levered himself up and off of her in the blink of an eye. Pacing back and forth several steps with great agitation the man covered his face with both hands, mumbling all the while something about ruining all that was good. When Brielle fuzzily sat up, Erik started slightly and turned towards her, tears glittering in his over-wide eyes.
“Forgive me,” he murmured before turning and fleeing out of the kitchen door, leaving Brielle mussed and stunned in his wake.
Shakily she climbed to her feet, calling after him only to hear the front door open and slam shut. It was my fault…God, what he must think…what is wrong with me…I have lost my mind. Another series of wracking coughs interrupted Brielle’s pursuit. She stopped and turned automatically towards her daughter’s room. Only when she had taken several steps down the hall did she even realize she was sopping with the soapy water Erik had spilled across the floor. Kicking an end table, Brielle cursed loudly.
Andrew sat quietly, tapping a cigarette against the edge of an ashtray as his coal black eyes scanned the grubby courtyard before him. The man seemed extremely out of place sitting outside a second rate café deep in the slums of Paris. His finely cut greatcoat and the satin trim on his waistcoat drew more than a few inquiring eyes. This fact did not appear to bother the man as he carefully put the cigarette back to his lips and took a deep puff.
Though his face appeared carefully composed, his eyes sharpened every time he pulled the gold plated pocket watch from his coat to examine the time. With a great sigh Andrew replaced the watch and slowly picked up his beaver skin top hat from the seat next to him. It was at that moment his dark eyes alighted on a short, stocky man running pell-mell down the street toward the café.
As the man came puffing to a stop before him, Andrew carefully set his hat back down, a slight frown darkening his handsome features. “You are late,” he said simply, allowing those three words to carry enough weight to make the sweating man nervously shift from foot to foot.
“Sorry, monsieur. My investigation took much longer than I had anticipated. I didn’t think that…”
“I do not pay you to think,” Andrew interrupted, stubbing out his cigarette with one smooth motion. “I pay you to find me information.”
“Yes, monsieur,” the man stuttered, straightening his tattered coat in an anxious gesture. “And I have come by a great deal of information. Though it was very difficult to collect. Yes, very difficult! I shall require a bit more than we discussed.”
Making a small sucking sound as Andrew ran his tongue thoughtfully over his teeth the black haired man smiled slightly. “If the information is worth it, I may consider raising your fee.”
Brightening instantly, the ragged man sat down in a nearby chair. Andrew delicately raised a handkerchief to cover his nose as the poor man’s body odor drifted across the table. “You will be very pleased!!”
“Yes, yes stop blathering and get on with it!”
“I asked a great many people left at the opera about that man you wanted me to, Erik. Here is what is interesting. No one knew of any man by that name.”
“What?!” Andrew asked dangerously, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly.
“Not to fear! I merely had to dig further to get to the good stuff!” With a stiff nod from Andrew, the man continued on in a hushed tone, relating all he had discovered about the opera in its last months of operation. As the explanation continued, a light lit the darkness of Andrew’s eyes with an elated glow.
“Do you know what this means?” he inquired softly.
When the other man could only shake his head in confusion, Andrew smiled widely. “Finally I know how to get rid of him.”