“I expect the piano is playing the strings,” Layla said.
Before Edie could point out that, even so, two violins were still missing, Susannah had walked to the front of the room, next to the earl, and was again picking up her violin.
And then there was a murmur as the Duke of Kinross entered. Gowan had grown only more devastatingly handsome as the years passed, his sense of command polished to a fine point, but tempered by a deep love of his wife and children that made every woman sigh.
But Edie wasn’t looking at his face. Rather, she was transfixed by the violin tucked casually under his left arm, as if he’d often carried an instrument that way.
He joined the ensemble, smiled at her, raised the violin, and began to play. Edie sat frozen in her chair. If the roof had flown off the town house to reveal a sky crowded with winged pigs, she would not have been as astonished as she was by the sight of her husband playing Vivaldi.
He wasn’t merely following the notation, either. Gowan played with as much reckless brilliance as he did everything else in his life. It was utterly clear that, had he cared to, he could have rivaled the world’s finest players.
And she understood, in the same moment, that he did not care to.
He had learned this most difficult of arts for her.
“It took three years of work,” Layla whispered, bending close. “Poor Védrines has been driven mad by the project.”
As the last notes faded, the assembled guests burst into rapturous applause. Lord Gilchrist—father to Edie, beloved husband to Layla, papa to Susannah, and father-in-law and friend to Gowan—turned to the audience and bowed. “It is with true regret that I announce that the Duke of Kinross has played, he assures me, his first and last public recital.”
Gowan stepped forward. “The last three years have been truly happy. Learning the art of the violin from the inestimable Monsieur Védrines, with the help of my father-in-law, Lord Gilchrist, has been a pleasure.”
Gowan bowed. Being Gowan, there was no flourish of his violin or twirl of his bow.
“Will you really never play again?” came a voice from the back of the room.
He smiled, and his eyes returned to Edie. “Oh, I shall play,” he said. “But I shall limit myself to private duets.”
The Duchess of Kinross had not stirred. Tears slipped down her cheeks. Her husband gave his violin to his little sister and picked his wife up in his arms. “Please accept our apologies,” he said, inclining his head and smiling at the room. “My duchess is indisposed.”
And then he strode out the door.
Susannah shrugged. Since her brother had entrusted it to her, she put her bow to his Stradivarius and played a few notes. It made a sublimely beautiful sound.
“Don’t you think it was a bit odd of the duke to walk out of his own party?” Jamie asked, appearing at her elbow. A lock of hair fell over his eyes in a quite fetching way.
“My brother is like that,” Susannah explained. “He’s mad about my sister-in-law and he doesn’t care about much else. Well, besides my niece and nephew, of course. Would you like to hear me play something?” She was longing to try out the Stradivarius.
He shoved the hair off his brow. “We could play something together if you lend me your violin. I’m not as good as you, but I’m decent. Do you know Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? I’m learning the part of the first violin.”
Susannah beamed. “That’s what I’ve been working on! I can play first or second.”
They stood facing each other, those young people, with no sense of what the future would bring. But as Susannah’s melody wove under Jamie’s, and then his soared above and stole back to hers, something deep inside each of them whispered the truth. Someday, a madcap girl with bright red hair would walk down an aisle toward a young man whose hair kept falling over his brow.
It was that duet, they would tell each other, years later. Even at ages eleven and thirteen, they could hear the distant echo of the music they would create in years to come.
Upstairs in the ducal bedchamber, Edie couldn’t stop crying. “You make me so happy,” she said finally. “You have given me everything that I ever wanted.”
Gowan kissed her tears away. “You are all I’ve ever wanted,” he whispered.
Their duet that night was a silent one . . . but thereafter, their children grew used to the sounds of a cello and violin playing together. All four of these children had perfect pitch; one of them grew to be Europe’s finest violist; and only one professed that she hated music.
She was fourteen at the time, which speaks for itself.