Excerpt from Chapter Two: He was exhausted and looking forward to a hot shower back at his place. He pulled up the collar of his wool coat and tucked his scarf a bit tighter around his neck. With all the insanity that seemed to swirl around him recently, the last thing he wanted was to get sick and have to cancel a performance.
He could see the headline now: I can do this. He turned and flashed his best, most confident smile at the woman. Jarrod was an Olympic swimmer and recent gold medalist in the European games held only six months before. Lean, muscular body, model good looks. The reporter—Aiden had already forgotten her name—thrust a large glossy photograph into his hands. The photo was grainy, obviously taken at night. It showed two men entwined and kissing behind a tall iron gate.
The kiss was not chaste. He knew that gate—the gate in front of the London home he and Cam shared in Bloomsbury. And the other man… Aiden was pretty sure he recognized the familiar high cheekbones, the short brown hair that was always stylishly mussed, and the lean, athletic frame that looked so striking in an expensive suit. And well he should. He shoved the photograph back at her. He ignored her and gave the driver his address. He had spent the better part of the past three hours making a serious dent in the contents of a cut crystal carafe filled with expensive scotch.
He wished to hell he was. It hurt too much. It was still so surreal, living in this incredible Edwardian house in one of the most expensive London neighborhoods. The house had been comfortable but small, built in the late s, when his father married his mother. Elizabeth Lind was the perfect wife and mother, attending church, cooking and cleaning and raising her two children. Aiden still felt like a usurper, a pretender to his current circumstances.
Lady Billingsley insisted we go out for drinks afterwards, and you know how she is. And it was a dull one, frankly. And who is he? You mean the swimmer? What would I know about him? He loved this old place with its creaky stairs, wood paneling, painted doors, and beautifully worn oak floors.
They had picked out the furniture together, shopping the antique stores of Portobello Road until they found the perfect pieces. Maybe Cam was right. Maybe he was being paranoid. The photograph had been taken at night, after all.
He had missed his entrance. David was classical music royalty, and Aiden was the hick kid with the incredible voice. David had taken Aiden under his wing, gotten him work in the larger European houses, introduced him to the best European conductors. David was the reason Aiden was making his Covent Garden debut; in the terms of his contract, he had insisted on Aiden singing the title role.
David had taught Aiden about good wine and good food. David never laughed, as far as Aiden could tell, and right now, Aiden was thankful for it.
He never did beat around the bush. Why would David even care? Can it get any worse? He waited for the other shoe to drop.
I have several spare bedrooms at my London flat. Was the man offering to put him up if he left Cam? David offered Aiden a warm smile. David handed him an extra napkin with casual aplomb. Does anything ruffle this man? Me and David Somers? And no need to speak of it further. David Somers wants to be my friend? It seemed so improbable, so surreal. And yet, there it was. And the stage crew. Half of London, really.
Cam guided Aiden into the grand ballroom of the estate to a round of applause from the guests. The place was magnificent. Glittering chandeliers cast flickering slivers of light on the polished marble floors.
The ceiling was painted with tiny stars on a deep blue background, the walls paneled in well-oiled wood that shone and reflected blue and white with the crystals overhead.
Toward the back of the ballroom, enormous arched doors led out onto a patio running the length of the room. Aiden was reminded of the dizzying effect of a disco ball, only far more ethereal. A jazz orchestra played at one end of the high-ceilinged room as women in ball gowns danced with men in tuxedos. Aiden had begged Cam for a little party at their own home.
He was entirely out of his element here, amidst the titled guests and local celebrities. Cam, however, had insisted that Aiden deserved the lavish celebration, and Aiden, knowing it was useless to argue, had finally relented. For nearly two hours, Aiden smiled politely as guest after guest congratulated him on his performance. Finally, at the end of his patience and feeling the usual exhaustion that followed an evening of singing, he walked onto the patio and into the damp evening air.
The midwinter chill on the breeze helped clear his mind. It was quiet here, overlooking the formal gardens. Beyond, Aiden could barely make out the copse of trees he and Cam had often picnicked under. Even now, as winter began to weave its tendrils throughout the countryside, it was still lovely.
In spring, the trees and flowers would burst into a frenzy of color, each plant painstakingly placed for maximum visual impact. Aiden wished his mother could see this. Overhead, a plane made its way to parts unknown, but the only thing Aiden could hear was the wind as it moved through the trees and shrubs.
He wondered what it must have been like for Cam, growing up in this beautiful but formidable place. They often spent weekends here in the spring and summer, but it never felt like home to Aiden. Funny, thought Aiden, how he still missed his parents sometimes. But then again, John Lind had made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with his only son.
His sister, Deb, had also made the effort to stay in touch, and he saw her once a year at most. The room, as the rest of the house, was decorated in antiques. The bed was the only compromise in the room. Made of reclaimed wood Cam had told him once made up a wall-sized cabinet, it had been crafted to resemble the other pieces. Mahogany, finely detailed carving. Cam had told him it was French and several hundred years old. Oil paintings of the English countryside hung at perfectly placed intervals on the damask-covered walls.
The party still continued below. It would go on until sunrise, Aiden guessed, but Cam would forgive him for turning in early. Not that Cam would hesitate to tease him mercilessly about being an early bird the next day. Aiden shed his tux, slipped into a heavenly pair of silk pajamas Cam had given him as a gift—one of many gifts—and washed his face in the spacious bathroom attached to their room.
He reached for the toothbrush, neatly laid out on the glass shelf above the sink, when his stomach rumbled loudly enough for him to hear. In all the chaos of the evening, he had forgotten to eat. He never did eat much before a performance.
He was loath to admit it, but he desperately feared burping when he was on stage. Not that he ever had. Still, it was a bit like a good luck charm for him, not eating. Aiden smiled at the thought that he knew his way to the kitchen without descending the main staircase. He pulled on a pair of slippers and tied a warm woolen robe around himself.