Ava Wellington stepped outside into the warm sunlight and took a deep, cleansing breath. She hated being cooped up. It was a necessary evil at times given the nature of her profession. Today, she had time before rehearsal. So she escaped to explore the grounds, as she did as often as possible. It was a gorgeous summer day, and she wanted to enjoy the nature that surrounded her professional home for the week. Rain or shine, she loved the fresh piney air and being surrounded by towering trees, fragrant flowers, and the immense natural beauty here.
She pulled her hair into a loose ponytail, took off her sandals to feel the grass between her toes, and meandered toward her favorite spot on the grounds of Tanglewood. This little piece of heaven tucked away in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts never failed to soothe her soul. Distracted by the majestic trees under the brilliant blue sky, she didn’t see the lone figure sitting on the bench she was heading for until she was nearly on top of her.
She walked wide to cross her sightline so she didn’t startle her. She debated whether to approach the woman. She paused, transfixed by her beauty. With naturally bronzed smooth skin, high cheekbones, a small straight nose, and full lips, she was striking, and Ava was drawn to her. The sadness etched deep into her features caught Ava off guard. She stared intensely, unable to look away. The woman’s large, dark brown eyes appeared focused on something far in the distance. It tugged at Ava’s heart and compelled her forward.
Settling onto the seat, Ava asked, “Are you okay?”
The woman looked at the horizon. She didn’t respond. Ava didn’t know if she was being ignored or hadn’t been heard. She wondered if she should leave, but she couldn’t. She wanted to help. She laid her hand on the woman’s forearm. Ava didn’t attempt to console her. She simply took a soft handkerchief from her shorts pocket and gently laid it on the woman’s lap.
The woman looked down and picked it up, and then she went back to staring into the distance. She began to cry. As tears streamed down her face, crying turned to sobbing. Her shoulders shook, and her body seemed to shrink. Despair poured from her, and Ava couldn’t do anything except sit with her. After her crying subsided, she mopped her face with the borrowed cloth and offered it back to Ava.
Ava shook her head gently. “Keep it,” she said just above a whisper.
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Probably. Eventually, but no time soon.”
“I can be a good listener if you want to talk.”
“My wife died four months ago in a plane crash.”
“I cannot imagine how hard that must be.”
“It’s devastating. I’m still struggling. I have no idea what I’m doing without her.”
Ava ached for this woman’s loss. There had to be some way she could help. “Do you want to tell me about her?”
“Karen was bold and brave, stubborn and ornery. She had a head for business that was inspirational. She was the youngest vice president ever at her company. Her sense of humor was sharp. She made me laugh all the time. She was also pregnant. We’d just found out the month before that we were going to have a little girl.” Her voice faltered and she shook her head ever so slightly as the tears began again. “I miss her so much.”
Ava wrapped her arm around the grieving woman’s shoulders and pulled her close. She laid her head on Ava’s shoulder and the tears turned back to sobbing. Ava wished with all she was that the woman in her arms was not hurting. She wasn’t usually so comfortable with emotion, hers or anyone else’s, but this felt comfortable, helpful even.
They sat in silence until the sobs subsided. Ava sat still, offering the only thing she could, comfort in the form of a gentle touch and company. Eventually, the woman caught her breath, but she didn’t move either. Ava knew rehearsal time was drawing near, and if Ava wasn’t there on time, someone would come looking for her. She cleared her throat softly. “I’m sorry, but I have to go soon. I have an appointment.”
The woman raised her head and met Ava’s gaze. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her face was still damp with tears. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She wiped her face with the handkerchief and pulled away. She sat upright and regained control. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I certainly didn’t mean to keep you.”
“Don’t apologize. I was exactly where I wanted to be,” Ava said.
“You mean that, don’t you?”
“You may be the oddest woman I’ve ever met.”
“I’ve been called worse.” Ava smiled.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I’ve just never met anyone so willing to console a perfect stranger,” she said.
“I’m not always so comfortable with people.”
“You fooled me.”
“It was easy with you.”
“I’ve also never met anyone that carries a handkerchief.”
“I always have at least one on me. I use them to clean my violin.”
“Oh, you’re a musician.”
“Yes, and unfortunately, I need to get to rehearsal.”
“You should go.”
Neither of them moved.
“I’d much rather stay here and talk to you, but duty calls.” She held out her hand. “I’m Ava.”
“Bianca,” she said, taking Ava’s hand gently. “Thank you for the ear and the shoulder. And the handkerchief.”
“You’re welcome.” There was so much more Ava wanted to say, but nothing else seemed appropriate given all Bianca had shared and all she’d recently lost. Ava stood. “Will you be staying for the show this evening?”
“Maybe. I was thinking about it. I’m not sure I’ll be up for it.”
“I would love for you to come as my guest.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. I’ve already kept you.”
“How about this, I’ll leave a ticket at the box office for you. If you decide to come, great, if not, I understand.”
“You don’t need to do that, really.”
“I want to.” Ava took Bianca’s hand in hers. “Thank you for today.”
Bianca cocked her head. “Why are you thanking me?”
“You trusted me enough to tell me why you were sad even though you don’t know me.”
“Maybe that’s why. It all spilled out of me.”
“I hope to see you again, Bianca.”
Bianca wandered around her living room. She was debating whether she should go to the show. Exhausted from crying when she returned home, she slept solidly for an hour. Now refreshed from a quick shower, she was agitated. As strange as the time she’d spent with Ava had been, she felt safe and comforted in her arms. The thought of drowning in her melancholy thoughts all evening was enough to compel her to pull on a summer dress and head back to Tanglewood.
As she reached the ticket window, she looked hopelessly at the woman behind the glass. “Umm, I’m Bianca. Ava said she would leave a ticket for me.” She didn’t have Ava’s last name, and she hadn’t given Ava hers. With so little information, how would the ticket office be able to find the ticket? Never once did it occur to her that Ava may have forgotten to leave it for her. She had said she would and Bianca believed her.
The woman smiled brightly. “Of course, we have it right here.”
Bianca let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome. Enjoy the show.”
Bianca walked to the gate and handed her ticket to the man there. “Can you tell me how I get to my seat?”
He glanced briefly at the ticket. “Head for the Shed and any usher will be able to direct you.”
Bianca had never sat inside the Shed for a show. She had wandered through it on occasion when she and Karen came to shows early, but they had always gotten lawn seats and sat in camp chairs under the stars. She had never been inside the open-sided, covered building that housed the stage where the musicians performed, when the stage was set. It was exciting. As she followed the usher closer and closer to the stage, she grew wary. He pointed to a seat in the center of the third row. “Are you sure that’s the right seat?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He handed her back her ticket. “See for yourself.”
Bianca compared her ticket to the seat numbers. There was no denying it. She was getting emotional all over again and didn’t know why. She nodded to the usher. “Thank you.” She made her way to her seat and kept her tears in check. Who was Ava that she could so casually give away one of the best seats in the house?
“Ava, darling, you need to sit still if you don’t want me to pull your hair out.”
Ava sighed and tried to relax. “Sorry, Steven, it’s been a weird day.” She shifted in the chair.
“Don’t worry, hon. A couple more hours and it’ll be over.”
Ava grinned at Steven. Her hair and makeup artist was the closest thing she had to a best friend. “Thanks. I invited a woman to the show tonight and I’m anxious to see if she decided to come.”
“Oh, hon, why didn’t you just say something? Let’s take a peek.”
“Yes. There’s nothing here that won’t keep for two minutes. Come on.” He pulled her out of the chair and marched her down the hall to the stage door where she could peek through the window and see the audience gathering for the show.
Ava felt a little rebellious, standing in her robe peering out at the crowd. She breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted Bianca in the audience. “She’s here,” she said quietly.
Steven crowded her to see through the window. “Where?”
“Third row, center.”
“Ooh, the hot Latina?”
“Her name is Bianca.”
“She doesn’t look like your usual type.” Steven raised an eyebrow in question.
Ava bristled. “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, hon, I didn’t mean anything. I was just giving you a hard time. I guess it’s your lucky night.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Why ever not? As previously stated, she’s hot.”
Ava sighed. She didn’t want to betray Bianca’s confidences. “It’s complicated. I met her this afternoon. It seemed like she needed a distraction so I invited her to the show.”
“Okay.” Steven had known her for years and probably suspected there was more to the story, but he let it go. “Speaking of distractions, we need to finish getting you ready.”
Ava glanced out at the audience, finding Bianca one last time, then she followed Steven back to her dressing room.
Bianca looked everywhere at once trying to take it all in. As the musicians took their places, she tried to find Ava in the crowd. She didn’t see her, but all the women had their hair down and Ava’s had been up that afternoon. Maybe she had missed her. There were a couple of violinists she couldn’t see clearly. She had to be back there somewhere. Everyone was in black and white. The men wore tuxedos—black trousers and white jackets. The women seemed to take more liberty with their attire. All wore black slacks or skirts. But their white tops were a variety of blouses, tuxedo shirts, or light sweaters.
Karen would have loved this. Bianca caught herself as the pain pierced her heart. She should probably leave. She had been wrong thinking she could be around people tonight. She had been so distracted by everything on stage, the seats around her had filled without her being aware. In the next moment, the music started. She didn’t want to interrupt the orchestra or the audience. She took a few deeps breaths and reined in the pain and brought it to a manageable level. After a while, she stopped thinking about Karen. She stopped looking for Ava. She immersed herself in the rich, beautiful music and stopped thinking altogether.
The symphony played for about thirty minutes going from one song to the next with easy, smooth transitions. When the music stopped, Bianca clapped loudly. Her spirit was lighter than it had been since Karen’s accident. She listened intently as the conductor introduced the soloist for the evening’s performance. “Ladies and gentlemen, please give your warmest Tanglewood welcome to Ava Wellington.”
Bianca was so surprised when he reached the end of his primer, she forgot to clap. When the door on the right side of the stage opened and Ava walked through in a long, sleeveless, cobalt gown, she was mesmerized. Bianca watched as Ava moved across the stage. Ava had been in shorts and bare feet, with her hair in a ponytail, when she’d bared her soul to her hours before. Now she stood center stage transformed into an elegant, sophisticated, world-renowned violinist. Her golden hair fell to her shoulders in soft waves. Her shoulders were bare keeping her arms free to play her instrument without impediment. Ava bowed slightly to the audience, and her gaze met Bianca’s. A hint of a smile raised the corners of her mouth. She stood tall, lifted her chin, and tucked the violin between her chin and shoulder. She briefly closed her eyes as she began to play.
Once Ava’s gaze left her, Bianca realized she was holding her breath. She exhaled and wondered if there was any way this day could get stranger. She fixed her gaze on Ava, drifting between her face and her long, slender hands. The music she played was lovely. Tender and heart wrenching. Bianca felt like Ava was playing all the emotions she had shared that afternoon. Bianca experienced the music as she never had before. It was exhausting and exhilarating. She felt exposed but not uncomfortable. Somehow, Ava was sharing her sorrow with the audience and Bianca felt freer, lighter. Ava alternated playing by herself and playing with the orchestra. Bianca could have listened to her play all night.
Ava’s violin solos were wonderful. The music and Ava’s incredible skill took Bianca’s breath away. The emotion Ava conveyed while she played was inspiring in its beauty. Bianca was riveted. She couldn’t have moved if she needed to, and at times she realized she was holding her breath, waiting to exhale with the music.
When Bianca had seen Ava on the bench, she had taken her for much younger than she now seemed. The fresh-faced young woman from earlier was transformed into an elegant and experienced virtuoso. Bianca couldn’t have been so far off in guessing her age. Ava must be some sort of prodigy. When the concert reached a crescendo and the music stopped, Bianca leapt to her feet with everyone else and clapped loudly for Ava and the orchestra. Then she slumped back into her seat, breathless and exhausted.
Bianca reflected on the very strange day that had unfolded. She wasn’t likely to forget it any time soon. Bianca’s emotions had been on a roller coaster all day and this evening was entirely unexpected. As the crowd thinned, she remained seated. There was nowhere else she needed to be, and she wanted to sit and let her emotions subside. She wanted to be present in this moment as it was the first time since she’d received word of Karen’s death that she felt anything other than anger or despair.
A well-groomed man in a pink blazer approached her. “Bianca?”
He held out a single white rose. “My name is Steven. I’m a friend of Ava’s. She asked me to give this to you. She’s hoping you will come back and say hello.”
Bianca took the flower and couldn’t resist breathing in its rich scent. “Yes, of course. Where is back?”
“Just come with me.”
Bianca trailed Steven through the throngs of musicians in the hallway. When Steven stopped outside a door with a gold plaque, Bianca was inexplicably nervous. What would she possibly say to this woman of contradictions? Ava had been so composed on stage but had been so compassionate that afternoon. She was an enigma, and Bianca felt vulnerable and exposed. She grabbed Steven’s shoulder. “Wait.”
He paused, his hand inches from knocking.
“I should just go. Will you tell Ava thank you for me?”
Steven frowned. “I could, but I’m not going to. All she wants to do is say hi. There’s no pressure here.”
Bianca took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Right. Okay.”
Steven knocked and opened the door swiftly so Bianca didn’t have time to change her mind. He gave Ava a brief hug. “Great performance, darling,” he said as he swept Bianca into the room.
“Thanks.” She hugged him back, but her eyes were on Bianca. “Will you give us a minute, Steven?”
Once he left, Ava appeared shy, like she was as nervous as Bianca. Bianca forcefully expelled a breath, trying to release the tension that had swelled inside her. “That was fabulous. You’re amazing.”
The corners of Ava’s mouth lifted. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“I did. It was so…” Bianca searched for the right word. “Expressive.”
“Thank you.” Ava paused. “Listen, I have to stick around for a while after the show to sign autographs and stuff. After that I was, um, wondering if you’d like to get coffee with me.”
“Just coffee. I would like to get to know you better.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s been a long day and I can’t.” Bianca caught her breath as pain quickly passed through Ava’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly she wondered if she imagined it.
Ava’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I understand. Thank you for coming to the show.”
“Thank you so much for the ticket. The music was beautiful, but I need to go.” Bianca didn’t move.
“Wait. Before you do, I’d like to give you something.”
“You’ve already given me so much.”
“No, I haven’t. Please wait one minute.” Ava turned to her dressing table and picked a CD from a stack by the mirror and grabbed the Sharpie next to the pile. She dashed off a note and closed the case. She held it out to Bianca. “A little something to remember me by.”
Bianca took it and held it to her chest. She looked directly into Ava’s eyes. “I will treasure it, but I won’t need a reminder. Thank you…for everything.”
“You’re welcome, Bianca. I hope we meet again someday.”
Bianca left quickly and pulled the door shut behind her.
“What a very strange day.” Ava sighed. As she looked around the room, she felt lonely.
Two Years Later
Ava slammed through the doors and burst out into the blinding sunshine. She was seething with anger and needed to try to walk it off. Hank had lied to her. He had been her agent and manager for three years, and she wasn’t naïve enough to think he was always honest. He was an agent, after all. But this was the first time she’d caught him in an outright lie. She had been very clear when she’d told him she was not interested in having a biography written.
He had disregarded her wishes, gone behind her back, and hired a writer to follow her around for the next six months. There was no way that was going to happen. No way. She would not be traipsed after by some pale, nerdy author who got his rocks off peering into the personal lives of public figures. She would put a stop to this. Nothing good came from reacting. She needed to calm down and respond.
Since Hank hired BJ Vega, whoever the hell he was, he would just have to tell the guy his services were no longer required. She should just fire his ass. That would show him who was boss. But she didn’t like making decisions in anger, so she walked across the grounds of Tanglewood. She needed time and space to think things through.
She didn’t realize she had a specific destination in mind until she saw the bench under the giant pine tree. Two years ago she’d had the strangest experience on that bench. Bianca. She had known her for just a few hours, and yet the memories of that encounter haunted her. She hoped she had found a way through the pain and loss that was so raw that afternoon. Ava sat on the bench, her back to the Shed just as she had with Bianca. She thought back to their last minutes together, to the note she wrote in the CD case she gave her.
She’d written her number down, but Bianca never called. As disappointed as she’d been, she couldn’t fault her. She knew Bianca was overwhelmed with grief when they’d met. All she’d wanted to do was help. Clearly, Bianca wasn’t ready. She thought about her often, but every time she returned to Tanglewood, the memory of the time she spent with Bianca on that bench was more present in her mind.
Ava was sure she had conjured Bianca when she appeared in her sightline and was walking toward her. As the image of Bianca strode closer, her certainty wavered. Bianca being here brightened Ava’s whole day and she forgot Hank and the book. She even forgot she had rehearsal and a show later. All of those things flew from her mind as Bianca sat on the bench beside her.
“Bianca, please tell me you’re really here and this isn’t just a dream.”
Bianca laughed and placed her hand on Ava’s thigh. “You remember me after all this time?”
Ava’s stomach clenched at the warm, soft hand on her leg and the beautiful sound of Bianca’s soft accent. “I’ve never forgotten you or the time we spent together.”
Bianca’s eyebrows drew together in consternation, and she clasped her hands in her lap. “How is it that we have known one another, in reality, for just a few hours and I completely believe you?”
“I don’t really understand it myself, but I feel a…connection to you.”
“I feel it too.”
“Then how come you never called?” Ava blurted the question before she could stop it. She didn’t mean to put Bianca on the spot, but the question had haunted her for two years.
Bianca pursed her lips and gazed into the distance as though searching for the answer. She turned to Ava. “I wanted to. I picked up the phone so many times, but I couldn’t do it. I was so overwhelmed with my feelings. I didn’t want to drag you into all that.”
“Did you ever think I could have helped? That I wanted to help?”
“Yes. I knew you would have. I couldn’t let you.”
“Because I wanted you to so much.”
“I don’t understand.”
Bianca put her hand back on Ava’s thigh. “I needed to do it on my own. My own time, my own process. The only woman I had ever loved died four months before we met. You made me feel safe and secure. I felt like I could tell you all my secrets. I wanted to get to know you, but I felt like I was betraying Karen. It was so confusing. I didn’t know what to do or how to handle all those feelings at once. So, I did the most logical thing I could.” Bianca shrugged. “I ran away, or more accurately, I buried my head in the sand and avoided you until I could better deal with everything that was happening.
“By the time things settled down and I got a handle on my emotions, months had gone by. It didn’t seem right to call you out of the blue. I was sure you wouldn’t even remember me. So I played your CD often and thought of you and that afternoon we spent together. You will never know how much you helped me that day. How much your beautiful music soothed me during countless nights.”
“What made you come back?”
“You! I wanted to see you. I felt such a strong connection to you two years ago. I had to find out if it was still there and if you felt it too.”
Ava ran her thumb over the top of Bianca’s hand. “I did. I do.”
“What do you want to do about it?”
“I have no idea. I didn’t expect things to move this fast,” Bianca said.
Ava took Bianca’s hand in hers. “Will you come to the show tonight and then come out with me after?”
“I would love to, but there’s something else you should know first.”
“Are you single, available, and interested in getting to know me better?”
“Yes, yes, and definitely, but—”
“Nothing else matters right now. Come to the show and we’ll talk later.”
“I should get to rehearsal. I’ll leave you a ticket. Don’t disappear. Please.” Ava stood and Bianca rose with her.
“Before I go, I need to…” Ava leaned down and touched her lips to Bianca’s. She only touched her with her mouth, gently sliding her lips over Bianca’s. When Bianca’s mouth opened, Ava softly slipped her tongue inside and moaned. She pulled back and lifted her head. Bianca’s eyes were almost black with desire. “Even better than I imagined,” Ava said.
“I believe I will enjoy this getting to know you phase very much.”
As Ava walked back to the Shed, she wondered if she was moving too fast. She didn’t want Bianca to retreat. On the other hand, she had been thinking about what she would do if she ever saw Bianca again. Going forward, she needed to remember to take it more slowly and make sure Bianca was comfortable. She was special. This was different.
Alone in her dressing room after rehearsal, Ava struggled to wrap her head around everything that happened that afternoon. She’d spent rehearsal on autopilot, her mind completely consumed by Bianca, who had reappeared out of a daydream. Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in.” She glanced over to see who was there to see her. “Go away. I’m still mad at you.”
Hank didn’t listen. He came into the room. “Come on, Ava, you can’t stay mad. This is happening. You need to get used to the idea.”
“No. I don’t. And right now, I need to concentrate on this show. You need to leave. Now.”
Hank stared at her for several seconds. “I’ll check in with you after the show. I’ll bring BJ back to meet you.”
He was gone before Ava could find something to throw at him, but boy, did she want to. She didn’t usually behave this way. She was passionate in all aspects of her life, especially when it came to her music, women, and food. But rarely did she lose her temper. She did not want her biography written. It could tear her family apart and it would all be her fault. Luckily, before she wandered too far down that slippery slope of memories, she was distracted by another knock.
“What?” she snapped.
Steven poked his head in. “I just saw Hank leave. Is it safe to come in?”
Ava couldn’t help but smile. Steven was the only one brave or foolish enough to risk facing her in one of her rare bad moods. “Safe enough for you.”
Steven came in, closed the door behind him, and leaned against it. “Where did you run off to before rehearsal?”
Ava moved to the chair so Steven could do her makeup before he did her hair. “I went for a walk so I could think about all the ways I wanted to punish Hank for what he did.”
“That’s fair, but why don’t you just tell Hank why you don’t want your biography written? He’d probably understand.”
“My private life is none of his business. It should be enough for me to tell him I don’t want it done. He should respect that.”
“I agree with you. As for your private life, do you think you’ll ever tire of keeping the secret? Maybe it’s time to let it go and be free of it.”
Ava met his eyes in the mirror. “Maybe you’re right, but aside from telling you more than a decade ago when I was blitzed out of my head, it’s not something I’ve shared with anyone outside my family. That’s a hard thing to change.”
“I get that,” he said as he smoothed the sponge across her cheekbones, blending color and blush.
“I know you do. This is too much before a performance. Let’s talk about something else.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I was pleasantly surprised today when I ran into an old friend.”
He could say so much with one syllable. He was the only person she’d ever told about Bianca. More than once, he had patiently listened to her bemoan that Bianca had never called.
Ava laughed. “Bianca found me on the grounds. At first I thought she was a figment of my fantasies, but there she was in the flesh.”
Steven bent down in front of Ava working to apply just the right stage makeup. “Do you want me to hate her or forgive her?”
She looked directly at him. “Forgive her. Since we have a date after the show.”
“Okay, hon. If that’s what you want, you got it.”
It was just that simple with Steven. He probably had a thousand questions, but he trusted Ava and did as she asked. Ava appreciated him more every day.
“It is. Can you do me a favor at intermission?”
“Of course. Anything.”
Ava loved being on stage at Tanglewood more than a lot of the venues she played. The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was a unique setting. The Koussevitzky Music Shed only had walls in the area around the stage. The covered audience area was an open structure with steel columns supporting the roof. During the day you could see from the stage out to the grass beyond the last seat. She appreciated seeing the thousands of people who peppered the grass in lawn seats. They set up elaborate picnics while they listened to the music. Even during the night concerts, she knew they were there and could feel their energy.
Tonight, as she played, her mind wasn’t on the crowd and how much they were enjoying the show. Her performance tonight was for one special woman. Bianca had come back into her life, and she wasn’t going to let her get away so easily this time. She looked for her in the audience, and her heart warmed when their gazes met. Knowing Bianca was there listening to the music she played made Ava feel close to her.
Ava had to be careful. She couldn’t get her hopes up too high. After all, she barely knew Bianca. Clearly, they had a strong connection, at least from her perspective, and Bianca had said the same that afternoon. But what did she really know about her other than that she was a widow? Maybe all the fantasies she’d created over the last two years were best left to her imagination.
After Ava left for rehearsal, Bianca wandered around the grounds, lingering at a clutch of tall pines and then gazing out at the Berkshires that rise on the horizon over the tall hedges at the back of the property. She had been nervous that if Ava remembered her at all, she wouldn’t forgive her for disappearing. Ava made it easier than she thought possible to reconnect. She had wanted to tell her why she was there, but Ava hadn’t given her a chance. She had only wanted to make sure the two of them could get together later.
She hoped when Ava discovered the other reason Bianca reappeared in her life she wouldn’t send her packing. She really did want to learn more about the talented Ava Wellington and not simply because it was her job now.
As she watched Ava play, the music from her violin flowed over Bianca like a waterfall surrounding her with sound and beauty. The emotion Ava conveyed with her instrument could easily consume or soothe her by equal measure. Hers was a singular talent and Bianca was intrigued by Ava. She wanted to get to know the woman behind the music. She had come back, at the invitation of Ava’s manager, to write her biography.
Would Ava feel betrayed that Bianca hadn’t told her the real reason she had come back into her life? She certainly had not anticipated the kiss Ava had given her that afternoon. That kiss still had Bianca stirred up and her lips tingling. It had been a sweet, tender kiss, but Bianca was absolutely sure there was nothing simple about it.
Ava stared Hank down as they faced off in her dressing room after the show. “Why did you hire a biographer when I’d explicitly told you not to?”
“I still don’t understand why you are so upset. This will be a good boost for your career. It will get your name out there.”
“First of all, my name doesn’t need to be out there more than it already is. I don’t need more recognition or fame. I just want to play my music. But more importantly, you don’t know anything about me or my life. You have no right to hire a biographer without my knowledge. I told you I didn’t want a biography written and that should have been the end of the story. Why did you go behind my back like this?”
“Because you wouldn’t listen to me and you need this.”
“Why do I needmy biography written?”
“Ava, at thirty-three, you’re just another violinist. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s true. You’re no longer the young prodigy solo violinist headlining shows at seventeen. People don’t see you as special anymore. But you still are. You’re still relevant and you’re still a genius on the violin. People need to see that in you and this is the way to make them invested in who you are now. You said yourself just last month that there needs to be more positive lesbian role models for children. Think of how many young lives you might positively impact if we get your story out there. Not the tabloid version of you, but the real you.”
Hank’s answer surprised her. Ava had said that about role models, but she didn’t think Hank was actually listening to her at the time. The problem was she didn’t want her life story told. At least not all of it. The thought more than terrified her. There was only one thing that had ever scared her more in her entire life. That was when she found out she was pregnant at sixteen and she had to figure out what to do about it.
“On top of that, you’re always excited to share classical music with new people. You love teaching young musicians. This could be an avenue to do more of that as well,” Hank said.
He was very convincing and made excellent points. There was a reason she had hired him to be her negotiator in business matters. Still, nothing he said or could say changed the fact that Ava had a secret and she would do anything to keep it hidden. If the truth came out, it would hurt the people she loved the most. She had to admit, though, a lot of good could come out of this if it was handled the right way. “I control the narrative,” she said with resolution.
Hank looked pained.
“What’s the problem?” Ava asked.
Hank bounced from foot to foot and looked like he wasn’t going to answer until he finally did. “It’s just that this won’t work as a fluff piece. Vega has a reputation for writing compelling and honest stories. Vega’s biographies move more people because they’re so real.”
“So find someone else to write the damn thing,” Ava practically yelled. She took a deep breath. She needed to hear what Hank had to say. This was too important to fly off the handle. She struggled to keep her wits about her and figure out a way to either get out of this or make it work.
“We can’t. Vega is the best. You want the best, don’t you?”
Ava doubted she did in this case, but how could she explain that to Hank without telling him why? He wouldn’t believe her without a valid reason. He knew her penchant for wanting the best of everything.
“Vega’s written biographies on celebrities that revealed drug and drinking problems nobody knew about before. Finding the untold story and bringing it to light. Vega also writes a compassionate story, which makes the readers sympathetic. It’s what makes the books so popular. Do you remember the Etheridge biography that came out last year?” Hank asked.
“Vaguely.” Ava hedged. In truth she had read it three times. She wasn’t all that interested in Etheridge herself. Enough to have picked it up she supposed. But the writing had captivated her. The story was so well done, she found herself returning to it every so often.
“Well, I’m sure you remember what a boon it was to her flailing career.”
Not what she’d been thinking about. Reading that book always made her wonder about the author. Probably not the point of the story, but she did all the same. Hank was looking at her expectantly. “Sure. She seemed to be everywhere after that story came out. She was booked on all the late night shows, the daytime ones too, and I remember hearing her entire tour this past spring sold out.”
“Vega wrote that story.”
Some part of Ava must have known that. But right now, she had a bigger problem. There was no way she could let her secret come to light. “So, you don’t think this guy will play ball and keep out the parts I don’t want talked about?”
“No, I don’t think shewill. What do you have to hide anyway? You were a musical prodigy and you’re already out as a lesbian. What else is she going to find? It’s not like you have some deep dark past drug addiction I don’t know about, right?”
Ava didn’t answer him right away. She was stuck on his use of the feminine pronoun. Now she was intrigued. “BJ Vega is a woman?”
Hank smiled as if he’d just laid down his last card to win a big jackpot. He seemed to think he had her now. “She is.”
That shouldn’t make a difference. Ava still didn’t want her biography written, at least not a tell-all. But somehow the fact BJ was female did matter to her. At the very least she wanted to meet the woman who wrote such compelling stories. Perhaps she could convince or charm BJ into not digging beyond what she wanted her to see. Because Hank did have a point about a biography being able to make her relevant for a younger generation, and that was important to her.
“Okay. I will agree to a meeting, but I’m not saying yes yet.”
“If you don’t do this, people will forget who you are. That is if they ever knew who you were in the first place.”
“Look, my point is, with Vega’s reputation of telling relevant, revealing stories, her books soar to the top of the bestseller list as soon as they’re released. She can make you a household name. Once that happens, you can make classical music accessible to the masses.”
“I said I would meet with her.”
“Ava, you need this.”
Ava glared at him, still not happy with how he went about things. “I will decide what I need. But I will consider your recommendation.”
Before Hank could respond, they were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Ava said.
Bianca entered and saw Ava had changed from the elegant gown she wore on stage into jeans and a button-down casual shirt over a cotton T-shirt. Hank stood a few feet from her. The tension in the room made Bianca feel as though she’d interrupted an intense conversation. “Sorry, I can come back,” Bianca said.
“Wait,” Ava said.
Hank held out his hand and waved her over. “Nonsense, your timing is perfect.”
Bianca watched Ava’s expression change from warm and welcoming to one of confusion with Hank’s words.
“Ava, I would like you to meet BJ Vega,” Hank said.
Bianca couldn’t read Ava’s normally expressive features. She still had a job to do. She held out her hand. “Ms. Wellington, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Ava stared at Bianca’s hand and then raised her gaze to Bianca’s, but she said nothing.
After several tense moments of awkward silence, Ava finally looked at Hank. “Why don’t you give BJ and me a few minutes?”
Bianca heard the hard emphasis Ava placed on her initials and cringed. But at least she would have a moment alone with her to try to explain.
Hank headed for the door. Bianca stepped out of his way and he was gone.
Bianca moved no closer to Ava. The ball was in Ava’s court. She wasn’t even sure she was still in the game.
“BJ?” Ava’s voice was a mixture of derision and hurt.
Bianca didn’t want to think about those things. “Yes, it’s my professional name.”
“You’re a biographer?” Ava sounded stunned.
“I am. Unfortunately, given what I learned from Hank after I saw you this afternoon, I’m now aware you didn’t know he hired me.”
“That’s true. He did it without my knowledge.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Hank led me to believe you were on board with this project.”
“It seems that Hank has a lot to answer for. Why didn’t you tell me you were here for work when I saw you earlier?”
“I told you the truth. I’m here because I want to get to know you better. I tried to tell you the rest, but you said nothing else mattered except that I wanted to go out with you. Had I known you didn’t know about me, I would have tried harder. I took you at your word.”
Ava put her hands in her pockets. “Do you still want to go out with me tonight?”
Ava took a step toward her. “Even if…”
“Let me stop you right there.” This time Bianca took a step toward Ava. “My answer is still yes. No matter how many caveats you put on our date. I want to spend time with you.”
Ava was within touching distance as she studied Bianca for several more moments. “Then let’s get out of here.”
After following Bianca home so her car wouldn’t be locked on the grounds, Ava drove them a few miles down the road. She pulled her Wrangler into the parking lot of the Wet Whistle and turned to Bianca. “Ready?”
“Should we talk about earlier?”
“Later. Right now, I just want to have some fun.” Ava opened the door for Bianca. Once again, she held out her hand for Bianca to take and they walked into the dimly lit bar.
The bouncer, John, gripped Ava in a tight hug. “Where you been, Ava?”
Ava returned the fierceness of the hug. “Around, but I missed your face, so I thought I’d come by. John, meet Bianca.” John gave Bianca an equally tight hug and welcomed her. Ava and Bianca wound their way through the raucous horde of humanity on the dance floor. Ava was stopped more than once and similar exchanges took place.
By the time she reached the bar, Bianca’s head was spinning. “Wow. You sure have a lot of friends here.”
The smile that lit Ava’s face was telling. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen them.”
“Why so long?”
Ava shrugged and looked around before answering. “Well, with my travel schedule I’m not in this area all that much. Would you like a drink?”
Bianca considered. “Why don’t we dance first and then get drinks when we need a breather.”
“I love that plan. Come on.”
Ava took Bianca’s hand and led her to the middle of the room. There wasn’t a dance floor per se. People just seemed to dance wherever they could find a couple feet of space. The energy was high and the classic rock music was loud. It wasn’t an environment conducive to talking, so they moved to the music, looking into one another’s eyes.
When the music slowed, Bianca moved into Ava’s arms without any hesitation. Their bodies fit together perfectly. She was too close to meet her eyes, but also afraid of what her own might reveal in that moment. So she laid her head on Ava’s shoulder and moved with her to the music.
When the band took a break, Ava led Bianca back to the bar. Moments after the bartender handed them their drinks, the lead singer picked Ava up from behind and crushed her in a bear hug. “Hey, stranger, what are you doing down here? You have to play a set with us.”
Bianca looked between the two of them. Ava introduced Bianca to him and quickly explained. “Sometimes I play drums with the band.”
It took some convincing from the rest of the band, but eventually Ava was ushered up to the stage where she took her place behind the drums. She counted off, and the band launched into the next set seamlessly. Ava played the drums with skill and precision.
Bianca had so many questions. She had been hired to write a biography of Ava Wellington, world-class violinist. Where did this drummer fit into the story? Or did she? Not that Ava was all that happy about her life story being written in the first place. Bianca suspected if the two of them didn’t have a history, however brief it was, she wouldn’t be here now. Ava would not have acquiesced to her manager’s wishes, and Bianca would have been fired from her position of biographer before the job even started.
She shook off her thoughts and refocused on Ava. She looked so natural behind the drum set. Maybe even more at home than she was on the Tanglewood stage in front of thousands of people holding the violin that had been a part of her life for so long. Bianca tried to make sense of the divergent parts of the woman she had really only just started getting to know. Somehow both sides of the woman fit like a glove.
When Ava’s eyes found hers, she winked. Bianca’s heart raced and her throat went dry with desire. Ava looked back down to the drums. Bianca blew out a long breath and threw back the rest of her beer. Wow, this is going to be a very interesting six months, if it lasts that long.
After they left the Wet Whistle, Ava drove a few miles down the road. She pulled into the empty gravel parking lot at the public boat slip of the Stockbridge Bowl. As she parked close to the water, she indicated a bench off to one side. “Sit with me?”
“Of course,” Bianca said.
Ava took a moment to take in the view of Lake Mahkeenac. The light of the nearly full moon bounced off its smooth surface. It was breathtaking. The gentle night breeze lifted Bianca’s curly black hair, and she ached to touch it. She kept her hands to herself, knowing if she reached out now, she would lose control of the conversation she needed to have. She studied Bianca’s beautiful profile. Her expression carefully blank. Over the years since she first met Bianca, Ava had imagined bringing her to this scenic spot more than once, but she never imagined figuring out what to say to her would be so difficult.
“So, BJ, why did you agree to write my biography?”
Bianca took a breath and a moment before answering. She turned to Ava and looked her in the eye. “Two years ago, I knew you were an extraordinary woman. From the moment we met, you were different from anyone I had ever encountered. You’re kind and compassionate, a singular talent, strong and tender, gorgeous.” Bianca blushed with that admission.
“Thank you,” Ava said.
“I’m not finished. You found a way to comfort me in one of my darkest hours. You gave me the gift of you and your music. From that first day, I knew you were special. Everything I have learned about you since then has simply confirmed that fact for me.”
When Ava opened her mouth again, Bianca stopped her by shaking her head slightly.
“There’s more. When I was contacted about writing your biography, I’ll admit I was scared at first. What if I dug into your life and found something that made the grand image vanish? What if what I saw and experienced two years ago was a wonderful illusion? But I couldn’t stop wondering about who you were. I decided it was worth the risk. I wanted to get to know you better. Not only to write about your incredible life, but to know you. All of you…as deeply as you will let anybody see. That’s all a good biographer can do, get to the ‘you’ that you will allow people to see and share that with the world.”
“What if I told you I don’t want you to write my biography?”
“Just me or anyone?”
“Anyone really. The biography was Hank’s idea.”
“I would say, okay. I’m disappointed because I believe your story is worth sharing, but the best biographies of living people are written in cooperation with the subject. If you don’t want your story told, I’ll tell Hank I won’t do it. But I still want to get to know you for personal reasons, and I hope you’re open to that. If not, I’ll just have to admire you from afar and continue to listen to your music.”
Ava studied Bianca’s even gaze. “You could really do that? Walk away from the job? From me?”
Fierceness flashed briefly through Bianca’s deep brown eyes. “Please don’t misunderstand; walking away from you would not be a simple thing. But I like and respect you too much to try to change your mind if it’s made up. But the job…there are other jobs. I would love to write your biography, almost as much as I want to get to know you. But if me walking out of your life is what would make you happiest, then all I’d ask is you take me home and you’ll never have to see me again.”
Ava watched the light sparkle off the lake while she pondered all Bianca had shared. The idea of never seeing Bianca again was not something Ava wanted to think about. Finally, she turned and took her hand. “Bianca, I want to get to know you too.” Ava smiled as Bianca released a tremulous breath. “We had a connection when we first met. I still feel it. I want to explore that and spend time with you. The problem is, if you’re not writing my biography, I’m afraid we won’t get to spend much time together. I travel a lot and I’m not in this area very often.”
Bianca gently squeezed Ava’s hand. “So where does that leave us?”
“I don’t know. What if you tagged along with us doing research for the biography? Then we could hang out, quite often in private, as much as we wanted. Hank did actually have some convincing reasons why I should get on board with the biography, but I’m not ready to say yes or no—just maybe.”
“I have an idea,” Bianca said.
“Let’s compromise. I’ll plan to accompany you for four or five weeks. You agree to let me write an article. Call it a test balloon if you like. You get an idea of what it would be like for me to gather information as though I was going to do the biography, because I’ll still be working as though that is the end goal, but all you’re committed to at this point is one article. Then, even if you ultimately decide not to go forward with the book, I still have something concrete I can produce from our time together.”
“I think I could get behind that idea.”
“You will have to decide one way or another at some point about the bigger story.”
“I know. But in the meantime, I like this compromise. It gives me more time to consider things. But I do have one condition if we move forward,” Ava said.
“The time you and I spend together. It can’t be a one-way street. I want to get to know you too. You have to answer as many questions and share as many stories about yourself as I do.”
Bianca’s smile lit her whole face. “I can live with that.”
“Then it’s a plan.” Instead of extending her hand to seal the deal, she leaned over and gently touched her lips to Bianca’s.
When they broke apart, Bianca met her gaze. “One more thing, I’d like to clear up. I owe you an apology for last time.”
“You don’t. I would have liked to get to know you back then, but I know you were overwhelmed with your grief and you needed time and space to heal. The timing was awful. Perhaps this time around, we can get to know one another,” Ava said.
“I would like that a lot. But to be honest, I’m not sure how much I’m ready for.”
“We’ll take it slowly and keep it light and easy.”