"Your little discovery can't be that good," Jason Hayes said dryly. "If she was, she'd be in New York or London, not Geneva, Switzerland."
"She's terrific." Eric settled back in his seat and glanced around the theater. It was a small house, but every seat was filled. "You can see how she packs them in."
"It's Les Miserables that packs them in. The music has magic."
"No, I tell you, it's her," Eric protested. "Would I have insisted on bringing you all the way here from New York if I hadn't thought you'd like her? Her voice is spectacular. If you didn't insist on cast approval, I would have tried to sign her up for Desdemona when I heard her last week. She's the best soprano I've ever–"
"Stop." Jason held up his hand. "I've heard it all before."
Eric looked intently at him. "Lord, you're a cynical bastard. That's your problem. You're spoiled rotten and there's nothing you haven't heard or seen. Where's your joie de vivre?"
Jason grinned. "You've got enough for both of us."
"And I'll keep it alive and well until I'm six feet under." Eric's square, boyish face lit with a mischievous smile. "Life's too much fun for me to be tempted into becoming a brooding Rochester like you."
Jason smiled crookedly. "The comparison is certainly apt."
"Damn," Eric muttered. "Hey, I'm sorry. You know what a big mouth I have."
"No offense." Jason glanced down at the program. "Her name is Daisy Justine?"
"Yes," Eric said absently, gazing at Jason. "You're looking tired as hell."
"I'll be all right. I can take a rest now. I finished the changes on the score for the last act right before I stepped on the airplane."
"The score didn't need changes."
"A score can always be made better."
"So speaketh the perfectionist. You work too hard. Peg and I haven't seen you for over eight months."
Jason kept his gaze on the program. "You know why."
"Yeah." Eric frowned, troubled. "But it has to stop. You can't go on like this."
"Why not?" Jason turned the page of the program. "You said I was spoiled rotten."
"I was joking." Eric paused. "You have to do something about it."
Jason knew he was no longer talking about getting more rest. "I've tried."
"I know, but there has to be a way to stop it. You can't protect the whole world."
"I don't protect the whole world." Jason smiled. "Just my corner of it."
"I don't like to see you like this. I remember when–"
"There's no use looking back," Jason said quietly. "And I live a good life. I have everything I want. Money, women, success. Stop thinking of me as a tragic figure."
Eric shook his head. "It's not enough."
No, it wasn't enough, and he should have realized that Eric, who knew him best, wouldn't buy his rationalizations. "I have my work."
Eric nodded. "If you didn't, you'd be crazy by now. Your music is the only thing that means a damn thing to you."
"Not entirely. I have a trifling fondness for you."
"Stop kidding. You're the greatest composer the stage has seen in this century, but there's got to be–"
"Andrew Lloyd Webber wouldn't agree with you."
"The audience and the critics do. Stop arguing with me."
Jason smiled. "I have no intention of doing so. My ego won't permit it."
"But you've become an almost complete recluse. You can't live only for your work."
"Who said? Watch me."
Eric sighed. "Dammit, you're stubborn."
Jason smiled affectionately. "You're the one who's hanging on to the subject, my fine bulldog." His smile faded. "Drop it, Eric."
Eric studied his expression and then nodded reluctantly. "Okay." He lowered his voice as the lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up the overture. "If I can't save you from yourself, at least I can feed your passion by serving Daisy Justine up to you."
Jason chuckled. "You sound like a pimp. I'm not in the market for a new bedmate."
"I wasn't talking about your carnal urges. You go through women like a hay fever victim goes through tissues." Eric grimaced. "That's not your passion, that's only lust."
"And what is my passion, O seer?"
"The songs," Eric said simply. "And the voices who sing them." The curtain was beginning to swing open as he added with satisfaction, "She's going to knock your socks off."
Jason shrugged. "We'll see." He wished he could exhibit more enthusiasm. Hell, Eric was probably right and he was becoming jaded. Maybe the woman was good, but she couldn't be as fantastic as Eric claimed. In spite of Eric's keen business sense that made him a top-notch producer, he was prone to occasional wild lapses in judgment when it came to talent. Well, the least he could do was give her a chance.
He settled back in his seat as the musical began to unfold before his eyes. He had gotten off the plane from New York only three hours earlier and was finding it difficult to stay awake, much less concentrate. As he had said, the music was fantastic, but he had seen the play too many times for it to hold him. For a regional production the set was surprisingly good, the cast, too, but not good enough to merit special attention in this first scene.
"Here she is." Eric grasped his arm as soon as the factory scene started, nodding toward a slim, golden-haired woman in a cornflower-blue peasant gown.
She certainly looked the part of Desdemona, Jason thought objectively. Daisy Justine possessed a riveting stage presence and was truly exquisite. A little above average height, she moved with extraordinary grace. She had generously sized breasts and a roses-and-cream complexion. Her long white-gold hair and delicate features gave her an air of angelic luminosity. Yes, that was the term. She shone as if lit from within.
"The only thing I see right now, Eric, is that she looks like Desdemona." And that he was having an undeniable physical response as he looked at her, Jason realized with astonishment. He was dead tired, jet-lagged, and never before been attracted to the ethereal type, yet he could feel an unmistakable stirring in his groin as he looked at the woman.
Eric muttered something beneath his breath.
Then the scene switched to Fantine, racked by despair, kneeling alone on the stage to sing her big solo, "I Dreamed a Dream."
Jason stiffened, and he heard Eric's low chuckle.
Clear golden notes filled with beauty and passion soared through the theater. She lived the song, let it take her, became one with it.
"My God," Jason whispered. He experienced a fierce joy that was close to pain. He was lost, swept away, and for the remainder of the time she was on the stage, he sat transfixed, riveted, his gaze never leaving the luminous figure of Daisy Justine.
When the lights went up at the end of the first act, Eric turned to him. "Well?"
Jason forced his hands to release their grip on the arms of the seat and got to his feet. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Now? Don't you want to wait and go backstage to see–" Eric broke off as he saw Jason striding up the aisle through the crowd. He got hurriedly to his feet and caught up with him as he reached the lobby. "What the hell is wrong with you? Dammit, I know you liked her."
"Yes." Jason's voice was clipped as he pushed through the crowd.
"Then let's go get her. She's not on again until the last scene."
"We'll wait until the show's over. Let's find someplace to have coffee." Jason welcomed the cool air on his face as he started down the street toward the cafe on the corner. Heaven knew he needed something to clear his head. He felt punch drunk. "What do you know about her?"
"That she sings like an angel and can act to boot."
Eric fell into step with him. "I talked to the director, Hans Keller, and he said she was good-natured, always on time, thoroughly professional. She studied with Stoloni in Milan on a scholarship. She's twenty-four, mother dead, and lives with her father in a cottage in an artists' colony on the outskirts of Geneva. He's an artist."
Eric shrugged. "Mediocre." He glanced at Jason curiously. "What difference does it make? We're hiring the woman, not her father."
Jason avoided the question. "Why is she playing in a two-bit production when she should be on Broadway?"
"How do I know?" Eric asked with a touch of irritation. "Look, do you approve of her as our first choice for Desdemona or don't you?"
"I approve." Jason opened the door of the cafe and a bell tinkled merrily, announcing their arrival. As a tuxedo-garbed waiter hurried toward them from across the room, Jason muttered, "Do you think I'm an idiot? She's absolutely mesmerizing."
Eric smiled jubilantly as he followed his brother. "Now you're talking. So we sign her tonight?"
Jason gazed blindly at the cozy, damask cloths as he followed the waiter to a table. Eric was right, he was acting weird as hell and he couldn't seem to control it. His reaction to Daisy Justine had been incredibly intense, more intense than Eric could possibly guess.
It was the music, he assured himself. How long had he waited for a voice like that? His response was to the music, not to the woman.
But somehow the woman and the music had melded, become one in his mind.
And that "one" had become completely, overwhelmingly his.
He had sat there in the theater, wave after wave of fierce jealousy deluging him as the audience had applauded her. He didn't want to share those moments. He didn't want to share her.
He sat down at a table, accepted the menu from the waiter, glanced at it, and then handed it back. "Café." He had never been a possessive man, and his response was crazy. But then every emotion he had experienced since first seeing Daisy Justine was crazy. Lord, he was completely irrational about her. Eric must be right, he'd been working too hard.
Daisy Justine was Desdemona–and a voice like hers didn't come down the road every day. Once he had recovered his equilibrium, it would give him immense satisfaction to have her sing his lyrics.
Baffled, Eric gazed at him. "You look like you're wrestling with the fate of the world. Just tell me what you want to do."
"Naturally, we'll sign her tonight," Jason said impatiently. "I couldn't accept anyone else for Desdemona now."
Eric breathed a sigh of relief and then suddenly chuckled. "Lord, she really knocked you out, didn't she? I can't wait for your reactions when she sings your songs. I've never seen you like this before."
At the moment Jason didn't want to envision Daisy Justine singing his songs. His reaction had been too strong, completely out of proportion to the situation. How much stronger would he react if he heard that exquisite voice singing his music?
Nonsense! When he met the woman she would probably be as banal and empty-headed as a wax doll and he would have no trouble separating the woman from the song. An odd pang of apprehension shot through him. For some reason he didn't want to meet Daisy Justine, felt it was dangerous to meet her.
"I'm just tired." He avoided Eric's gaze as the waiter set a steaming cup of coffee in front of him. "I think I'll let you go alone to her dressing room and handle the offer. I'll wait backstage for you."
"I'm sorry, I can't do it." Daisy felt her throat tighten as she said the words. Lord, it was difficult to turn Eric Hayes down when the fact that he had asked her at all seemed a miracle.
Eric looked at her in astonishment. "Isn't the money good enough? We can negotiate."
"The money's fine. I'd do the role for nothing to be in a Jason Hayes musical."
"You've heard of him?"
"This is Switzerland, not Timbuktu. Everyone knows Jason Hayes." That wasn't quite accurate. Certainly everyone knew the man's work, but that was all. He was the quintessential mystery man, publicity shy, reclusive, eccentric. On occasion he had been known to miss his own opening night. Daisy turned back to the mirror and started creaming the makeup from her face. "I have the cast albums from every show he's ever done. His music . . ." She trailed off and swallowed to ease the knot in her throat. "He's wonderful."
"Night Song is the best thing he's ever done. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello. It's been a dream of Jason's to do the play since we were boys." Eric's voice lowered coaxingly. "You'd play Desdemona. It's the role of a lifetime."
She wished he'd just be quiet and go away. She didn't want to hear any more. The role she'd play in that marvelous plot was irresistible: The smoldering obsessive jealousy of the warrior Moor that doomed the love he shared with his gentle bride. "I can't do it."
"Look, are you afraid that it wouldn't be popular because it's a classic? The Elton John-Tim Rice recent adaption of Aida did great."
She shook her head.
"Why not? It would make you."
She forced a smile. "I'd be a pretty weak person if I let a role make or break me. No, it's simply that I can't leave Geneva."
"You'd rather live here than become an international star?"
"I don't care much about fame." She turned to face him and said gently, "Thank you for making this offer, but I really can't do it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get dressed. I'm very tired."
Eric reluctantly rose to his feet. "I wish you'd reconsider. Jason is going to throttle me."
"I won't reconsider. Good luck finding your Desdemona."
Eric shook his head and turned toward the door. "I don't think Jason will–" He broke off and a moment later the door closed behind him.
Daisy turned back to the mirror and stared blindly at her reflection. She had received wonderful offers before, but never one of this magnitude or allure. A Jason Hayes musical was a singer's dream. He wrote music that could touch the heart and send the spirit soaring. Dear heaven, she wanted the role.
Well, she couldn't have it and she had to accept that knowledge with serenity.
Easy words, but they didn't stop the aching frustration surging through her.
A Jason Hayes musical . . .
"She turned us down."
Jason straightened away from the stage door against which he had been leaning as Eric walked toward him. "What?"
"You heard me. She turned the offer down."
"Offer her more money."
"She said it wasn't a question of money. She doesn't want to leave Geneva."
Jason muttered a curse beneath his breath. "It doesn't make sense."
Eric shrugged. "She seems pretty determined."
"Maybe she's just trying to drive up the price."
"I don't think so." Eric frowned. "She's pretty straightforward. I like her, Jason. She seems the same onstage and off. She has a kind of simplicity, but she . . . glows."
"Then we need her for Desdemona."
"I don't believe we're going to get her."
"The hell we're not," Jason said harshly. He felt again that surge of fierce possessiveness he had experienced in the theater. Dammit, he wouldn't let her walk away from him. "There has to be a way." He started down the dimly lit corridor. "Wait for me. I'll be back in a minute."
"You're going to talk to her?"
"No," Jason said grimly. "I'm going to sign her."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from An Unexpected Song by Iris Johansen. Copyright © 2006 by Iris Johansen. Excerpted by permission of Loveswept, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.