In the Key Of

Willa Okati

Shy, quiet and withdrawn after the death of his long-term lover, Teague seems set on course for spending the rest of his life alone--until he meets the charismatic musician Julian in the safe zone of online chatting. Julian's ever...
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Shy, quiet and withdrawn after the death of his long-term lover, Teague seems set on course for spending the rest of his life alone--until he meets the charismatic musician Julian in the safe zone of online chatting. Julian's everything Teague is not: creative, impulsive, enthusiastic--and commitment shy. Though they keep their relationship safeguarded with six degrees of separation, the two are fast becoming passionate lovers, close friends, and trusted confidantes. But while Julian's teaching Teague how to seize the day, Teague's learning more about why the violinist's past makes him shy of meeting in person.

When a voice on the phone and a face on the screen are no longer enough to satisfy the two romantics, can Teague find a way to convince Julian to take a chance on him in the real world?

Excerpt
“Teague?”

Female voice. Wine-rich contralto. “Be there in a few, Danica,” Teague replied absently, sorting through a private investigator’s documentation. Hell, they’d been thorough. It’d take a day or two to untangle the ramifications…

“Teague.” When he blinked up, Danica had appeared on one side of his office door, shaking her head indulgently at him. She looked rumpled, slightly pink-cheeked, and he smelled the fragrance of steakhouse on her.

Teague sat back with a groan. His cramped muscles protested with sharp barks before realizing oh, that’s better. He rubbed his eyes, dry and itching, with drier hands; he loosened his tie and rolled up his cuffs. At some point he’d toed off his shoes beneath his desk—and he’d risked the ruination of his notebook computer by hunting for Internet classical radio. He’d found some, but it’d gotten stuck playing Vivaldi. Could’ve been worse. “I worked straight through again, didn’t I?”

His friend and fellow lawyer raised one neatly tailored shoulder. “We tried calling you a few times, but when the rest of the group’s stomachs got loud enough to drown me out, we decided we might as well not lose our reservations.”

“Smells like it tasted good.”

“Amazing,” Danica said. She held up a foil-wrapped package as she crossed the room to offer it to him. “Fortunately for you, I care enough to bring a doggie bag.”

“Doggie bag? Not likely.” The foil was heavy and still warm to the touch. Freshly made. A sniff check promised a massive steak sandwich with homemade horseradish and creamy butter spread thickly on toasted artisan bread. His mouth watered. “Fortunate indeed.”

Danica rolled her eyes indulgently. “And I’m a soft touch. Shh. Don’t let word get out. Unlike you, I hasten to add, though I haven’t given up hope of fixing that. The night is still young. Here.” She lifted an armload of files and shifted them from Teague’s desk to a haphazard pile atop a low bookcase. “Care to help?”

Teague chuckled. He shook his head and leaned back. “I see how it is. You’re taking over.”

“Mutiny on the high seas? You bet,” Danica said, dusting off her hands. She tapped the top edge of his computer. “What’s this you’re listening to?” She turned the machine to face her. “Is it on loop?”

“For the past couple of hours, yes.” Teague poked at the keys. “It won’t un-minimize so I can close the window.”

Danica didn’t bother hiding her amusement at his expense. She ruffled his hair with one hand and brought the radio station window up with a few keystrokes. “There. It’d gotten stuck on an advertisement. And…gone. Thank every last one of your lucky stars for interns, Teague.”

“Every single day,” he said with feeling.

His pocket chirped.

Danica brightened. She loved tech. The newer and flashier, the better. “Have you had a chance to customize your phone yet?”

Teague hesitated. Stall. “Eh, not so much.”

“You haven’t even taken it out of the case, have you?”

Teague groaned ruefully. He crossed his arms behind his head. “It’s out of the case, but that’s as much as I’ve managed. Go on, laugh it up. I got busy.”

She frowned. “You weren’t working on the Dawson case all day without a break, were you? That’s pretty grim stuff.”

“It needs to be done.”

Danica couldn’t protest, and she knew it. She and Teague were good at what they did, and that meant not going easy on themselves when it came to preparing a case. But she did tap a sheaf of paper together more sternly than strictly necessary. “Just don’t let it get to you. You’ll start thinking the world’s composed of nothing but doom and gloom.”

“Not when I have you to keep reminding me otherwise.”

Danica clicked her tongue. She shook her head, short dark hair swinging in its angled cut around her delicate cheekbones and chin. “Flattery will get you…almost anything, actually, though that’s not the point I was aiming for. Come on. Just an hour or two away from the grindstone. Save the sandwich for later and share a few tapas with me tonight.”

It was tempting. Truly, it was. Teague bit at the inside of his cheek, thinking. Danica fell silent, waiting.

In the hush, Teague heard far-off strains of music. A song he knew. A kiss to build a dream on…

“I thought I turned that radio off.” Danica double-checked Teague’s computer before she crossed to the open window to peek out between the blinds. “Huh. There’s a violinist at the crosswalk. That’s not a licensed performance area, is it?”

Technically no, but… “Who keeps telling me we’re off the clock?” Teague asked. The music changed his decision. He’d spend some time with Danica another night. Just not this one. She could, he thought, tell he’d made up his mind. “I’m fine,” Teague said, trying to ward off her concern. “Let it go for tonight.”

The violinist played on, whispers of music floating to them, his music somehow plaintive yet strong. A song that called out for something more than song without lyrics. Something that made him want—he wasn’t sure what. Only that he had to find it on his own, with no help from others no matter how well-intentioned.

Danica gave in first. “You’re sure?”

“I promise,” Teague said. “It’s past ten, and we’ve got court first thing in the morning. Besides, it’d be a shame to let this go to waste.” He held up the foil-wrapped sandwich. “I’ll go home, eat, and get some sleep. There’ll be other nights.”

“Yes,” Danica said. “There will.” She kissed his cheek. “So don’t think this is over yet.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” Teague replied in absolute honesty.

Danica sighed, shook her head, and put her arm around his neck to hug him with the delicate, impossible strength of a bird. “All right. Your day, your call.” She tweaked his ear. “Happy birthday, Teague.”

* * * *

When had it started raining?

Teague stopped, startled, at the top of the stairs leading down from the office building to the street and the subway station that’d take him home. He hadn’t stayed long after Danica had left. Fifteen minutes, maybe thirty. Danica hadn’t been wet. Must have just started. He put out his hand to feel the drops. Not many, and not heavy. More like a mist, but the clouds that covered the moon promised much more to come.

A flash of light caught his eye. The violinist, crossing against the light in a brief lull of the traffic, just barely—Jesus—dodging a motorcyclist going too fast for the road and the weather. As if he hadn’t noticed, the violinist made the far side of the street and tilted his head back with the delight of a child to catch raindrops on his tongue.

He wasn’t alone. Nighttime in the city brought with it a throng of foot traffic, pedestrians pouring from restaurants and who knew what else, all crowding past Teague as he made his way to the sidewalk and across the street. A good half were in fine feather, suits and ties, and little black dresses. Oh, right. Teague thought he’d heard about an off-Broadway at the theater this week. He’d meant to get tickets, but the chance had gone by before he really knew he’d missed it. He wasn’t bothered much. Who would he have gone with, after all?

“No.”

His ears pricked. Teague didn’t make a habit of eavesdropping, but he could hardly help overhearing the couple braced for battle at the dividing barrier of rubbish bin and sidewalk. A man and a woman, both young, neither dressed for the weather. She shook her head, dark hair swinging across her shoulders. “No more. I quit. I’m done.”

“There’s no talking to you when you’re like this.”

“There’s no talking to me again, ever. How do you not get that?”

Poor bastard. He looked like he’d been smacked between the eyes with a hammer, but from the misery in the tension of the woman’s shoulders, well, maybe he deserved a good hard punch.

Teague rolled his shoulders, wishing he hadn’t heard. The movement brought him head-on with a curling gust of freezing wind rushing its way down the street. God almighty. Cold. Teeth chattering, he picked up the pace of his step and hurried on, crossing with the light and over.

He’d reached the top of the stairs leading down to the subway that’d take him home when he stopped again at the sound of a high, sweet note floating past.

Curious, Teague elbowed his own path down the steps and into the rush and hum of the subway station, where the forced hot air and the body heat from the eddying crowds engulfed him. Quick mover, that one, if he’d already set up to play.

Teague scanned the crowd until—yes, called it—he spotted the man stationed in a corner. Still warming up, adjusting his violin’s pegs and testing his bow on the strings. He’d looked appealing in the shadows of a twilit alley. Stronger light was kinder to him than most—him with his well-worn jeans that fit him like a second skin, scuffed boots, and formfitting sweater, and heavy braid with wayward stray curls escaping.

The violinist cocked his head at Teague, flourishing the bow and a wink in his direction. Surprised, and pleased, Teague lifted his hand in return. He didn’t take it personally. The man must have had good senses. He’d need them with a violin case open at his feet, salted with a spare handful of quarters and a few dimes. Hell of a way to make a living, but he looked like he loved his work, and that was what mattered, wasn’t it?

The crowds didn’t stop coming. Smothering herds of women and men swimming in cologne and perfume, expensive cashmere and wool, talking a mile a minute and at the tops of their ranges, hands flashing as they described the play. Busy and caught up in their own lives, they crowded Teague tighter and closer. The violinist too. He couldn’t have played without poking someone’s eye out, and gave it up with a resigned, indulgent eye roll and shrug.

Teague’s pocket vibrated. What the—oh. His phone, temporarily forgotten. He reached for both phone and a couple of crumpled ones he’d found after rummaging through his desk drawers just in case. He meant to give them to the violinist, but patting his pockets proved them empty except for the phone. The cash must have fallen out. Damn.

He could have used it just then. The crowd had nearly jostled him into the violinist’s instrument, closer than two men might want to get if they weren’t on friendly terms and interested in getting friendlier. The violinist raised a good-natured eyebrow at Teague, who grimaced and shrugged in apology, phone still in hand, vibrating like a sex toy. Nice. That’d make a good impression.

“Don’t worry about it,” the violinist said, still cheerful. Up close, Teague saw he had unusual eyes spaced a bit wide, startlingly dark green against the heat flush of his cheeks. He craned his head to get a better look at the phone and whistled. “Newest model?”

“I have no idea,” Teague confessed. He tapped at the app on the touch screen that he thought would let him answer a call. No such luck. He tapped harder, hoping that’d do the trick, but nope.

A slim hand, sun-browned, rough with callus, brushed his wrist. “Early adopters get all the hype, but all the bother too. May I?”

Too surprised to protest, Teague let go and gestured, please.

“Like this.” The violinist had quick, deft fingers—well, that shouldn’t be surprising, if he made his living playing on street corners and down in subway stations. Teague couldn’t keep track of the flashing screens the violinist sent his phone rushing through. “There. You hadn’t customized anything yet. No wonder it wouldn’t let you in.” He offered the phone back, pointing with his thumb to a green button. “Texts and voice mail should end up in there. It’s easier than you think, Teague. Don’t worry, I didn’t listen.”

Teague took the phone back, finding the metal warmed by the violinist’s touch. Almost reluctantly, he tucked the thing in his pocket. Messages could keep. “There wouldn’t have been anything exciting if you had.”

The violinist shrugged. He was the strangest man. Soaked to the skin, squeezed into his corner like a sardine in a tin, and he couldn’t earn his living until half the people who might pay him had cleared out, but he still grinned like a boy and didn’t lose his patience.

Teague’s hand closed around his phone. He drew his tongue across his lips, wondering—

And stumbled, knocked half off his feet by a rush of commuters hell-bent on plowing through the opening doors of an already almost packed train. Damn. His train. There wouldn’t be another for almost an hour.

So much for that. He would have minded more—or maybe less—if the violinist hadn’t grinned at him and lifted his bow in a second wave. Teague waved back with his phone in hand. “Watch yourself crossing the road from now on!” he called.

The man lifted his violin, tucked it under his chin, and winked at Teague over the glossy wood.

Teague shook his head, amused, indulgent, resigned. He hadn’t even gotten the guy’s name. At least he’d had the fun of the encounter. Harry would have loved the whole thing, start to finish.

He found a seat in the car by the window, where he could get one last look at the violinist. With open space around him, the man could finally get to work, and he did, with will and energy that made the music live.

If he could have stayed—

But he couldn’t, could he? He had no real reason or excuse. Instead, Teague caught the sound of one pure, perfect note soaring over the growling racket of the subway before the doors slid shut and carried him away.

Copyright © Willa Okati

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Customer Reviews

Brava Review by Rosemary
Quality
This book left me with warm fuzzy feelings. I loved the slight mystery, the cat and mouse chase that is romance with issues. An entertaining read for me. (Posted on 10/16/2013)

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