For an hour, I reveled in the gorgeous acoustics of Stefan’s studio. Nothing like my dire little house and its brick walls. My vibrato tone sang out, finding a new depth and quality. Each time we repeated the piece, my confidence grew and I imagined the orchestra around me, making me complete. We broke off every few bars, and Stefan offered me advice on my tonguing or dynamics. Little words of encouragement or reminders to articulate the melody, bring it out. I had to compete with a whole orchestra.
“Well done,” said Stefan. He eased back from the keyboard and cocked his head to one side. “I still think you can do better.”
I sank down on my heels. What? I had given my all. It had to be the best I’d ever done.
“You have a natural embouchure. I can see your facial muscles working about your mouth. Kind of cute.”
I flinched at the cute. Dad had called me pretty.
My hands went clammy. A sudden reaction to the way Stefan sat at his piano. He supported his elbow on the shelf above the keyboard, leaning slightly to one side. About his face, the brace of curls hugged. Shorter hair would suit him. I wanted to reach out and run my fingers through his tousled locks, pull them a little straighter and away from his eyes. His magical eyes glinted in the bright halogens above our head.
“Cute?” I murmured.
“Yes. I’ve been watching you breathe. It’s what is letting you down. Your breathing.” He sat up straighter and pressed his hands to his stomach. “You need to do it from here, not here.” He touched his shoulders. “Diaphragm.”
I knew about breathing from the diaphragm, but I had a tendency to play the clarinet sitting down, not standing up, constraining the movement of my tummy muscles.
He taught singing. I remembered. “Who do you teach? Vocal lessons, you said you teach.”
“A few kids. You know, parents think they’re the next X Factor contender. Rather unproductive but pays well. A couple of budding sopranos from local operatic societies and a tenor.”
“You’re a singer?” I fingered Nettie’s keys.
“I had lessons. Sang in a few concerts. Composing is my passion.” He rose. A tall man. Solid but lean.
My lungs were definitely picking up a pace.
He tapped his ribs with the tips of his fingers. “Here.”
I nodded and put the clarinet in my mouth, imagining my diaphragm sinking into my pelvis. I played a long note, trying to keep it pitched perfectly. By the end, my head buzzed and flashing stars appeared before my eyes.
“Play me something you like.”
Another step toward me.
“Close your eyes and relax.”
Play something. I racked my brain. Then the obvious slipped in. Before continuing, I took a sip of water from the glass. I licked my lips, running my tongue around them. He followed the rotation of my tongue with his widening eyes. I showed him my pearly white teeth. My pride. I looked after them well.
He smiled. A radiant Stefan smile. I was learning to recognize them. I slipped the clarinet back in my mouth and closed my eyes. Mozart’s clarinet concerto, second movement. I’d learned it years ago, when it had been far too difficult for me. Now, I thought I’d mastered it. I would never perform at The Proms or a concert hall, but I could carry the melancholy melody and let it soar.
The room’s acoustics were perfect. Truly a pleasure to play in the surroundings. When I had finished, I opened my eyes and he had moved even closer. I hadn’t noticed. He circled me and came to stand behind me. He touched my waist.
“More. More from here.” He rested the palm of his right hand on my belly.
I shivered. Behind me, he radiated heat. A delightful warmth.
He pressed his heavy hand on my navel. “Push it out.”
I sucked in as much air as I could and forced out my stomach, letting my pelvis drop, creating a vacuum in my lungs.
“Better,” he whispered. “This time quicker.” He looped his other hand around me.
I repeated my inhalation, snatching a lungful. I blew a long note before launching into the Mozart a second time.
Oh, my God. I’d never played with somebody touching me before. When I looked down, the rise and fall of his arm was visible.
“Close your eyes.” He squeezed my sides. “Don’t be nervous.”
Nervous? My legs had gone to jelly. His breathing, which was quicker than mine, landed on my neck. I struggled to hold my breath, to reach the end of the phrase. My eyes flickered as I fought the dizziness. I swayed and he steadied me.
I couldn’t stop even if I tried. I leaned backward, almost resting my head on his chest. For a few minutes, I was quite lost, as he trapped me with his roving hands. They slid up and down in time to the tune, stroking me, and I continued to breathe into his gentle embrace.
“That’s good,” he muttered.
I felt him. My bottom slotted between his hips and I had no doubts about the hardness. I rose up on my toes, sliding backward into him. His erection bulged.
The clarinet slipped out of my mouth. My lips parted and I lost the connection with her. Something else had captured me.
He lowered his mouth and kissed the side of my neck, a gentle caress of his lips. He sighed, releasing his breath slowly, like a gentle puff, and the heat bloomed across my heaving chest. He lifted the edge of my sweatshirt and his fingertips made contact with my skin. I snatched a breath. He journeyed up my belly, higher, while he continued to kiss and explore my neck.
I clung to Nettie, fearful that I might drop her. It wasn’t the only part of me clenching. I recognized the familiar sensation. Months had gone by without it. I’d neglected my poor sex, apart from the occasional frantic rub under the bedcovers. I moaned.
I should have been saying no. Perhaps have pushed him away and created space between us. We’d only met a week ago and I’d spent more time in his car than anywhere else.
He reached my breast. He probed with a finger under the elasticated band of my bra, stretching it until the strap popped over my nipple, freeing it. He rolled my nipple between his finger and thumb. It sprang to attention. My little pebble responded on cue to his touch.
“Oh, God.” I drooled, licking the saliva away from my lips.
He hunted under my top with his other hand, finding my covered breast and releasing it from the cup. My bra bounced up onto my chest and hung there loosely.
“Callie,” he whispered. “Tell me to stop and I will. Otherwise, I’m going to take you.”
Oh, fuck. Yes. Take me.
I swallowed hard and twisted around, forcing a gap to protect Nettie from being crushed between us. I gazed up at his face. Bright eyes twinkled in my direction. “Is this part of the lesson?” I asked.
He curled his lips upward, an increasingly familiar expression of intent. “Most definitely. My own special tuition.”
“What makes you think I need it?”
“You told me.”
“Me? You’re sure of yourself.”
“Your clarinet told me.”
“Nettie?” I gripped her tighter.
He chuckled. “Nettie? You serenaded me, didn’t you?”
Had I? Was it deliberate, the choice of Mozart, the way I swayed against him? It was all me, though. “Your hands,” I said.
“They knew what they were doing.”
“They’re well trained. They like the sensual touch. The smooth surface of the piano keys. A bit like your skin. Warm and responsive.”
He had me. There was no going back. “I have to put her down. I don’t want to drop her.”
“Can’t have you doing that.” He took Nettie out of my hands and laid her on the grand piano’s shelf. He turned and came to face me again. This time, when he reached out to touch me, I didn’t think he would stop until he had finished with me.
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