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Adagio by Teagan Kade (1)

CHAPTER ONE

ELIZABETH

“Isn’t this exciting!”

The woman seated beside me is beaming. Like most patrons, she’s well into her golden years, clutching her program tight. I can’t help but notice a good proportion of young people in the crowd, though, most of whom have shunned suits and bowties in favor of distressed denim and inky leather. It’s a definite shift in the classical music world and all thanks to tonight’s main attraction—billionaire playboy Alexander Petrov.

The concert hall is completely full. There’s not a single seat spare as the orchestra settles and Alex walks onto the stage seemingly indifferent to the applause, the wolf whistles, and cat calls. As always, he wears only black, his shirt unbuttoned almost to mid-chest, the hard planes of his chest visible below. Driving Miss Daisy next to me gives an audible gasp.

Jesus. I really don’t want to perform CPR on a senior citizen tonight.

But something inside me can’t help but flutter along as Petrov seats himself at the piano, the angular lines of his face reflected back in the gleaming ebony panels of the Steinway. He motions to the conductor. The rock star of the piano world is ready.

I press my legs together tight. Brace your panties, Elizabeth. Here we go.

Although Alex has played far harder pieces, Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, often referred to as the ‘Rach Three,’ requires energy and stamina far beyond what most pianists are capable of. He makes it look easy, soft and delicate through the theme and powerful in the loud chordal section. His massive hands make the intermezzo look like child’s play, the finale building in both difficulty and power; what the Russian composer was so famous for.

I swear to god, watching his fingers work through the cadenza my heart actually stops for a moment. There is such beauty in his technique. It demands your attention, yet for all his physicality, he doesn’t sweat, doesn’t provide any hint as to the strain he must be feeling. He’s a mystery—dark and brooding, definitely, but no long-term partners, no hint he enjoys anything at all except money and power.

Imagine what those fingers could do off the keys…

I’ve thought about it before. I bet Mrs. Doubtfire beside me has too. There can’t be a woman in here who isn’t feeling something looking down at this smoldering miracle of a man. Modern critics have likened him to famous Italian violinist Niccolo Paganini, a virtuoso so great for his time people thought he was the devil. He was also a notorious womanizer, a playboy, and master showman. The parallels are obvious. I mean, the press call Alexander ‘Diablo’ for crying out loud. Who knows? He might very well be Satan. If he is, I’d be more than willing to sell my soul for a little solo action.

My head rebels at the thought. After everything he’s done? You sure about that?

I try to separate my physical and emotional self, but it’s a task equal in challenge to the music.

With a final orchestral hit, it’s done, Petrov’s fingers lifting from the keyboard and hovering in the air. The audience explodes, standing as one, the applause rapturous. The conductor turns around, pleased, as ‘Bravo!’ sounds out. The woman beside me still hasn’t managed to close her mouth, her eyes glassy and distant like she’s coming off a high. I have to admit, it was a sublime performance—flawless.

Alex, however, doesn’t seem to share the crowd’s enthusiasm. He stands abruptly, the piano stool screeching back on the stage. He pulls his jacket off, slinging it behind himself. He slams his fist down onto the keyboard, yelling “Fuck! Fuck!” over and over, kicking the piano when his fist can take no more. The conductor looks confused, the crowd equally bemused as the applause continues.

Petrov turns to the crowd, giving them the bird with two hands, perfect face flushed and red. “Fuck you!” he shouts, pointing. “Fuck you and you and you!” He’s of Russian descent, the son of an infamous oligarch, though his accent wouldn’t give it away. I continue to look around. It’s like no one except me notices this nervous breakdown playing out before our eyes.

Alex starts to exit the stage. One of the violinists stands and reaches for him, but Petrov kicks his stand to the floor, yelling at him to get back. He exits the stage and the applause is still going. The more he misbehaves, the more the crowd loves him, this bad boy of the black and white.

I gulp, running my hands down my sides. Hope he doesn’t treat his personal assistants like he does his piano.

“Take me home, Gerald,” the woman next to me tells her husband. “I think I need my medication.”

*

“So, who did you piss off to get this gig?” says the stage manager, leading us down a hallway in the underbelly of the concert hall.

I straighten my halter dress again feeling awfully naked in the sheer satin. Should have gone with the gown. “I volunteered, actually,” I reply.

Tim, I think his name is, turns around with one eyebrow raised. “Are you crazy?” he says, his Puerto Rican accent providing the necessary inflection.

I shrug my shoulders, can already hear the yelling. Maybe I am.

‘Tim’ shakes his head. “I guess you’ve got friends in high places, even for a shit of a job like this.”

As we get closer to Petrov’s dressing room, Tim holds me back. “Let me try first. If I don’t come out in five minutes, call the cops.”

My heart is beating so hard I’m worried I’m going to have to go skipping down the hall after it soon. I bite my bottom lip like I always do when I’m nervous. Pull it together, Lizzy. This is the chance of a lifetime. Get in with Petrov and you’re set. You can fix things, make it right.

A young girl exits the room, almost bowls Tim and me over. She runs past us with tears streaming down her face. A second later a bouquet of flowers explodes against the wall outside the door.

“You were slow through the cadenza. Christ, Christos, Rachmaninoff will be rolling in his fucking grave right now after that bullshit.”

I recognize the conductor’s voice. He’s doing his best to placate the situation. “Alex…”

“Don’t you fucking Alex me, you prick.”

Tim hasn’t even made it into the room yet.

I don’t blame him.

“Fine,” comes the conductor’s voice, “think what you want, my friend, but you should be proud. That was a fine performance.”

“Fine my fucking ass. Now fuck off.”

Although Petrov has lived most of his life in the United States, there’s still something slightly European about his accent, something left unresolved, mysterious.

The conductor walks out, nodding to Tim on his way through. “He’s all yours.”

Tim enters. I move closer to the door, can’t help but peer around the frame to see what’s going on.

I notice Tim stays well back. “Excellent performance tonight, Mr. Petrov.”

Alex comes around, unbuttoning his shirt, showing off his ink. “Oh, you think so?”

Tim walks right into it. “Yes, one of your best.”

Alex pulls his shirt off, practically tears it apart like a kid ripping into a present on Christmas morning. He looks more like an ex-con than a concert pianist, countless tattoos covering his chest and arms, muscle upon muscle and more eye candy than I’ve ever been privy to in my life. Bold, Russian text features across his side, one granite pec completely covered. Although he’s graced countless magazine covers, photos of Alex with his shirt off simply don’t exist. I try to take a mental snapshot.

He crosses his arms over himself, biceps bulging. His features are angular and sharp, all power. “One of my best, you say? You’re an expert in the romantics, yes?”

Tim’s caught off guard as Alex steps closer. “I, ah…”

Alex shakes his finger at him, his cool lost. “You’re a fucking stage manager! What the fuck do you know?!”

Tim starts backing away. “If you’ll just allow me to—”

Alex taps his head. “What part of ‘fuck off’ don’t you understand?”

Tim backs out the room and looks at me, shoulders lifting in a quasi-apology.

I point, whispering, “Do I just…?”

Tim’s cheeks bloat before he exhales. “Good luck.”

He leaves like a bolt of lightning.

Here goes nothing.

I take a deep breath and step into the room, immediately averting my eyes. And there go the pants too, black Calvin Klein trunks outlined with Alexander Petrov’s secret weapon.

“And who the fuck are you?” he says, hands on his hips and way too close.

There’s a musky, masculine scent about him with a hint of spice, further adding to the mystery of the man. It’s doing strange and unnatural things to the Bermuda triangle between my legs.

I try to talk, but my mouth is cotton dry. This is not how I pictured it at all.

He takes another step closer and draws his underwear down to his ankles, just like that. It’s hard to miss the giant appendage that is loosened in the process bobbing hammer-like before him. “Well? Are you going to suck my cock or what? I like lots of pressure, no teeth.”

You can do this.

I swallow and look at him, trying not to focus on his cock, majestic as it is. “Mr. Petrov. My name is Elizabeth Quilton. I’m your new personal assistant.”

He reaches down and takes hold of his dick. “Should I repeat myself? This cock isn’t going to suck itself.”

I expected arrogance, but this is way over the top. “My name is Elizabeth—” I start to say, a little louder.

“I heard you,” he interjects, taking yet another step closer, “but it still doesn’t fix our little problem, does it?”

There’s nothing ‘little’ about what’s before me.

Fuck this guy. “If you can’t act civilly, Mr. Petrov, I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave.”

“Quilton?” he says, only a foot or two away now. I could well lose my virginity if I step forward.

“Yes. Elizabeth Quilton.” Why is my mouth so damn dry?

“No relation to Arthur Quilton, the jazz pianist?”

I nod. “My father, yes.”

He extends his hand. “Well, why didn’t you say?”

I hate using my father’s name for anything, but for once he’s come to the rescue. I reach to take Alex’s hand, conscious of the fact it’s inches above his penis. “You knew my father?”

“I know his music. Who doesn’t?” He lowers his head and I can smell his body, the hint of sweat, the soapy mass of muscle in wait. “Do you play?”

I gulp again, well aware there was no mention of piano in that question. “No, not really” I reply.

He winks. “A shame. What do you do, Elizabeth?”

I’ve rehearsed this line countless times, but it doesn’t come out right. “Whatever you need serviced, Mr. Petrov.” Shit. “I mean, whatever you require, I’m yours.” Double shitty-shit with a cherry on top.

He finally draws his underwear up. “Alex, please, and is that so? Anything?”

“Yes,” I nod to my shoes.

“Can you make coffee?”

“Yes.”

He points to the hall. “Strong, black.”

“Anything else?” I ask.

He smiles, and I think it’s the first time I, maybe the world, has ever seen it. His eyes roll up from the top of my body, lingering a touch longer than I’d like on my chest, horribly exposed in this halter. “When you return, you better be naked. I’ve never fucked the daughter of a jazz great before.”

For a second I have to double-check with my ears I heard that correctly, but the smug look on his face tells me that yep, I sure as hell did.

My mouth drops open just like my neighbor at the concert tonight.

Alex comes forward and closes it with a finger, leaves it sitting on my lips. “Shh. Enough talking for tonight. I can think of far more promising things you can do with that pretty mouth of yours.”

That. Is. Fucking. It. Musical genius or not, this guy’s going to get it.

I bring my knee up aiming for his balls, but connect with his rocky abs instead. It’s like kneeing the Statue of Liberty. He laughs, picking up my hand and using it to cup his balls. “This is what you’re looking for, no?”

My hand snaps away. I hold it like it’s been sitting in hot coals. “You—” but my mind’s running so fast I can’t think of an appropriate slur. “You—"

He cups his ear. “Yes?”

“You… fascist.”

A fascist? What the hell, Elizabeth?

He laughs. “That is a new one.”

“You, you—” but I’ve got to get out of here before my head implodes. I turn and run away. It’s not my style, but I can’t take another second in this asshole’s presence. I thought I could do this.

I was wrong.

Alexander Petrov might well be the greatest pianist of our time, but it doesn’t prevent him being the World’s Biggest Prick to boot.

He’s still laughing as I run down the hall. “Run away, little girl,” comes the echo. “Run away.”

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