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takes place in Prague, 1905


The violin floated on a velvet cloth held within a shield carved above the entryway to Mr Edgar Varholak's home. 'How appropriate,' Sophia said, knocking on the door. A fat butterscotch-colored cat lay under the shade of a window box. His tail absently flicked the trailing vinca vine as he watched her.

Mr Varholak's house was painted blue and abutted her Great Aunt's which was painted yellow ochre. The cobbled street was steep as it wound its way up to the Castle District. Oversized arched doors allowed carriages through to the courtyards contained within the houses. Within each large door was a smaller one that a person could fit through. Mr Varholak's home had a single door with a carriage entrance at the back as did Great Aunt's and in-between these two structures was her rambling garden that could be seen from both homes. Mr Varholak's garden was a tiny plot of land at the back of his house.

'Mr Varholak, my aunt cannot sleep with your playing. Might you wait until you see us in the garden again?' Sophia asked, almost apologetically. 'It won't be long,' she called. Would anyone hear her knock or hear her voice above the strains of the music.

A servant heard and answered her call. A slim, pale woman with great tufts of gray hair wrapped in a loose bun opened the door. 'Yes, Mrs Langshaw?'

'Good morning, Veronica. I'd like to speak with Mr Varholak if he is not indisposed.'

Veronica looked into the hall beyond the arch and gestured with her head. 'As you hear, he is playing the violin. He is a great conductor and does not wish to be disturbed when he is playing.'

Sophia, a lady, stifled the urge to roll her eyes. Of course, she could hear him. 'Great though he may be, would you ask him to come to the door?'

Veronica curtsied and closed the door leaving Sophia once again alone except for the fat cat who was now sleeping. When the music stopped, the cat's whiskers flinched.

Precise and even footsteps brought the man to the door where he stopped and placed his hand against the heavily-grained wood. His heart, beating as if it were an instrument being played accelerando, forced him to stand straight and take a deep breath to steady himself. He would give Sophia anything she asked for and this was so little.

Sophia cocked her ear against the hard surface of the door waiting for the great conductor to perhaps appear. She'd glimpsed his wrist and the fine silk of his shirt sleeve yesterday when he moved the curtain aside as he watched her in the garden. He was indeed curious about Magdalena's niece who wasn't a girl but a mature woman of forty and three.

Edgar hesitated and took another breath before he unlatched the wooden window in the center of the massive planks. He slid it a crack and peered into her bright eyes. 'Mrs Langshaw?' he said, his voice in control. It belied the pace of his heart, the thump, thump in his chest that reverberated in his ears.

'Mr Varholak, good day. My aunt is not feeling well this morning and she sleeps. Would you mind playing softly until she awakens?'

Sophia saw his eyes through the slit in the window and when he opened it more, she saw the curve of his cheek, the bridge of his nose. This man, with creamy white skin had dark eyes that sent heat through her body, and brown hair that hung on his forehead in soft curls, tempting her fingertips to touch it. His chin was angular, his lips red and moist and kissable.

'Of course, my apologies,' Edgar said, and dipped his head as if he had bowed.

'Thank you, I'm sorry to disturb you,' she said, apologizing for interrupting his beautiful music which he spent hours each day playing.

'Not at all,' he said, politely and stepped away from the window though he did not shut it.

Mr Varholak, why do you avoid me in the flesh but long for me through the window? She wanted to know if his brown hair was chestnut or tinged with auburn. How dark were his eyes in the sunlight or in the moonlight? She stared at the window, hoping for some encouragement from him to continue the conversation. She wanted him to reveal something of the man he was, but the window slid shut and he was still the mysterious Mr Varholak, the conductor, the musician who lived in the house with the violin sign above it.

Sophia, go back to the garden so I can look at you in the sunlight. Edgar could see her outside the door. He could almost hear her mind ticking away with questions for him. He wanted to open the door, take her in his arms, and kiss her until he was tangled in her petticoats. Instead he waited until he heard the rustle of her undergarments against her skirts as she walked away.

He shut the window and pounded his head against the door. What would he do next, run from her? Move? No, he would extend an invitation to her for dinner.

Charles Bridge, Prague

The sky was overcast this morning, but it was June and the day would prove to be warm once the sun heated the air and burned off the haze overhead. 'It's a good day to garden,' Sophia said, but for her any day was a welcome day for that pleasure. The garden needed to be weeded already, and the beans were slowly winding their way up the strings she'd staked last week. Sophia was dressed in her linen gardening apron and a large hat to shade her pale face from the sun. At forty and three it was wise to keep one's face covered from the sun. Mornings had proven to be the perfect time to tend to the vegetables as her Great Aunt Magdalena slept between the morning and afternoon meals.

The earth gave after two tugs when Sophia pulled on the stalk of a dandelion. She could smell the decaying kitchen scraps and powdery dried leaves which had done much to make the dirt soft and full of creatures, allowing weeds to grow as plentifully as the vegetables and flowers. A worm wiggled its way up from the hole created by the weed's removal then promptly burrowed itself into the earth again. Sophia sat back on her bent knees to roll her sleeves up above her elbows making it easier to sink her hands into the loamy soil. As she dusted the dirt from her hands onto her now dirty beige apron, she could feel the heat of someone's gaze on her nape. With her hair pulled up into a loose bun, the wide-brimmed hat on top of it, and a collarless neckline, he would have a clear view of her exposed skin.

The gentleman's gaze tenderly alighted on her neck. It lingered and slowly traveled along her shoulder, across the bump of her muscle, and down her arm to where her sleeve had been rolled over her elbow. It stopped at her hands which were now digging into the soil. The texture was spongy and she could dig the top layer with her hands. She pulled apart two small tomato plants that were growing too close together and lifted them to her nose. They smelled strongly of the earth from which they'd been plucked, and the verdant leaves smelled of the fruit to come. They'd merely grown too close together. After patting the dirt around the stem to steady the plant, she wiped her brow with her hand. His gaze followed her movement and touched her cheek.

Turning slowly so as not to be observed looking too quickly or too directly at the windows of the blue house where the gentleman lived, she first looked at the basil plants to her left. They were four inches tall and bushy. The yellow tomato plants were beyond them in two rows and beyond that a lovely patch of grass with a wooden bench. She raised her face until her eyes came into contact with the blue gray stucco of the walls of the first floor. They followed the cracks from the foundation to the bricks of the chimney and across the stucco of the wall surrounding it.

There he was in the window with the lace curtain that was pulled aside. She stopped, her eyes settled on the creamy flesh-toned wrist of a man. Through the cuts of lace she couldn't see his face, but the man was there watching her. What color of eyes do you have, sir? Are they deep chocolate with a golden glow in the sunlight or a charcoal with shades of silver? What color do you gaze through, sir?

Edgar studied her as she looked through the drapes for him. She had a natural glow about her enhanced by her time in the sun. Pale white skin became slightly pinked, then bronzed, over the many weeks she'd spent outside. Her full cheeks glowed, and rosy red lips, slightly parted and ripe, looked touchable. There were loose strands of fair, strawberry blond-hair surrounding bright curious eyes. Were they blue or were they green? The hat's brim shaded her light eyes and her tanned straight nose which he had first seen two months ago.

She'd appeared in the garden, an ornament herself, on a cool day in April. 'I know you are there, Mr Varholak. You know that I can feel you? Don't you?' Sophia said, to the finch that had landed on the grapevines to the right of the window. She deliberately sought the bird as a distraction, so the gentleman might not think she was too curious about him. Her eyes rested on the yellow wings of the bird, the grapes sprouting amongst the leaves, their sweetness still hidden in the young green fruit, then to the window where his wrist disappeared in the flutter of lace.

Fifteen years had passed since a man had so openly wanted her. Sophia was twenty and eight the last time she had been kissed passionately by a man. Her husband. She'd forgotten what it felt like to be longed for, to be gazed upon as if you were tonight's feast. Men had wanted the Widow Langshaw, but she was, at first, lost in grieving for her dear husband, then busy raising her daughter, then middle aged and no longer desirable.

This man, Mr Edgar Varholak, her aunt's neighbor, had noticed her since her first morning in Prague two months ago. Before her skin was bronzed and before freckles dotted her nose, she had begun to notice him, too, in the window watching her. 'Is he a recluse?' she asked. 'Did he have a deformity?' Great Aunt laughed at those notions. He was a private man, a musician was all she would say.

'Then, he is a shy man or a man with secrets?' She was intrigued. So, she went to the garden each day because she knew he was waiting for her. She read books in the chair under the dogwood with her feet propped on the ottoman. When the weather permitted, she and Great Aunt ate their afternoon and evening meals on a small wooden table near the grapevines. She longed to be in the place she desired. Where she felt desired.

'Mrs Langshaw,' the Cook yelled, from the back door out to the garden.

Sophia glanced at the window again, knowing he was no longer there. Frustrated, she wiped her brow and turned toward Cook.

The sturdy woman with an apron, wrapped around what would be a waist if she were thinner, was waiting for her to answer, 'Mrs Klaus is awake and asks to be brought to the garden,' Cook said, and waited for instructions.

Great Aunt, awake so soon. 'Well, yes. Cook, please bring her here,' she said. 'We'll take our meal in the garden.'

'Yes, Mrs Langshaw.' Cook, whose given name was, Muddin, left a fresh linen and a soap cake near the water basin. Great Aunt had brought the stocky woman with her from the country estate years ago. She was a stern woman with a round face and no smile. The only thing attractive about her were her bright blue almond shaped eyes. She was tough, efficient, and loyal to Magdalena.

Sophia's hands cupped the water, making a pool of sorts for the French lavender soap. The soft cake was mottled with bits of the purple flower, but there was something else she smelled. She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. The unmistakable scent of citrus and lemon mixed with the heady scent of lavender.

Edgar watched her from his back gate where the roses cascaded among morning glories and shielded him from her view. A sleek gray cat, perched atop a planter, spied him from across the alley. The feline's yellow eyes followed his hand as he moved an obstructing branch aside to better view Sophia. A thorn scraped his thumb. He didn't take notice.

Sophia rubbed the cake slowly along her forearm, into the bend of her elbow, and up the curve of her arm, then lathered and rubbed the foam in circular motions on her wet skin.

He'd gone out to take a walk away from this woman who'd consumed his thoughts since he'd first spied her in Mrs Klaus's garden in early spring. Instead of acting like a man of forty and eight, he was like a schoolboy peeping through the wild hedgerow, with thorns piercing his thumb to glimpse her smile. He wanted to see more than that, but it would have to wait.

'Great Aunt,' Sophia said, drying her hands and wiping her face with the linen.

Magdalena looked fresh from the country as she walked on the stone path with her Irish Blackthorn Shillelagh cane. The snarly twisted branches were a contrast to the sweet woman using it for a walking stick. 'I am famished, my dear.'

Cook had made a sumptuous mid-day meal of potato cakes and cold tomato soup. The smell of potatoes mixed with onions, fresh thyme and oregano topped with a cold cream made Sophia's mouth water.

'Have you seen Mr Varholak, yet?' Great Aunt asked, then put a spoonful of cream between two cakes.

Glimpses only. He seduces me with his eyes, leaves me wanting, breathless. 'I believe he is hiding from me,' Sophia said.

'He is a conductor and very busy with his music and performances, dear.' Magdalena gently wiped the sides of her mouth with a cloth. 'He is an aristocrat, the youngest son, I believe.'

After they finished their meal, Sophia read to Great Aunt under the arbor at the back of the garden where she had planted scented geraniums for the summer. Sophia was nearest the gate that opened to Mr Varholak's yard. She'd heard him playing the piano this afternoon. Snippets of music grew louder when the servants opened the windows as the afternoon grew warmer. He was humming the violin part of something very familiar. His voice deep and resonant. Sophia stopped reading as she watched Magdalena's eyes close as they both fell under the spell of Edgar's music. Sophia closed her eyes as well and listened. The lemon scent of the pink geraniums wafted around her. She absently brushed her hand through the dense growth to release more of the scent and smiled.

Magdalena knew what lust and love felt like, though she was old now, and hadn't lain with a man for many years. But she remembered. She and her husband, Charles, had been in love when they married. He died thirty years ago leaving her a widow at thirty and eight. She'd had lovers since, but never another great love like him -- the man whom she fell in love with at eighteen and the man who fathered their four children.

'He is a widower, dear,' Great Aunt said, 'and you are a widow.' She sighed, in a dreamy voice.

The words jostled Sophia out of her bliss at hearing Edgar's playing. She opened her eyes and threw a stiff glance at her aunt. His playing had become part of her world in the garden and at this house. Her felicity had grown since she'd come here to be with her aunt. Mr Varholak added to that sense of contentment.

'Yes, I know, Great Aunt. I'm not avoiding him, rather, I think he is avoiding me. We have much in common.' Sophia understood her meaning. Mr Varholak's wife died two years ago and Sophia's husband died fifteen years ago. Their children were married. They were both experienced and to speak plainly, available to marry again if they chose.

'I'm going to have a small dinner party and invite him.' Magdalena sipped on her tea, avoidng the floating geranium leaf. Thoughtfully, she watched for her niece's reaction.

'But, Aunt,' Sophia protested, and rose to her feet in objection of the idea but was interrupted by Cook.

'Mrs Klaus, a letter has come for you.' She placed a small, oval tray in front of her employer. The silver glinted off the sunlight.

'A letter?' but she wasn't expecting a thing. Was it a surprise, or had someone died? 'Thank you, Muddin.' She turned her gaze to Sophia, 'Do you think my brother has died? He was eighty and three just last month. He had a cough.'

A cough, really. Sophia observed that Great Aunt looked quite curious about the note she held in her hand. Her chin was crinkled and her eyes squinted as she held out the letter at arm's length. Her hand trembled but more from age than fear of hearing bad news.

Magdalena's face was pinched and her eyes barely slits as she struggled to read the addressee's name. 'Well, it seems my brother is still alive.' Magdalena raised her eyebrows at Sophia. 'It is from Mr Varholak. Would you read it, dear?'

It wasn't a letter or a note. It was an invitation to an orchestra performance at the Estates Theater tomorrow night followed by a dinner at his home afterward. Sophia, stunned by the note, wobbled on her feet and clumsily fell into her chair. 'He has invited us to dinner.'

'It appears, my dear, that Mr Varholak, has beat me to it.' Magdalena watched with eager interest as Sophia fell onto the arm of her chair before sliding into her seat.

Wenceslas Square

Sophia lay awake listening to the bow slide over the strings of Mr Varholak's violin. He was playing the third movement of Cesar Franck's Sonata in A Major. 'That's what he was playing this afternoon.' His playing was beautiful. Drawn to the music and yearning for the dark eyes of the man playing it, she pushed off the covers, took her robe from the chair at her dressing table, and walked to the window as if in a trance. She lifted the bottom pane of glass and pulled a bench directly beneath it. She gently leaned her arms on the sill and looked out into the night. The white peonies on either side of the stone path were illuminated by the light from a window at Mr Varholak's house. She closed her eyes and a breeze brushed her eyelids as she let the music encompass her.

Edgar played the violin softly. It was after midnight. He wanted another glimpse of her at the window, and when he looked toward the blue floral drapes, he saw her. Eyes closed, pink lips parted, a dreamy expression on her face, and if he didn't have the bow in his hand he might actually stroke himself. She either drove him wild with want or drove him mad with desire. How was it that he had settled his passion on this creature?

Sophia lifted her chin to the night sky and inhaled the fragrant peonies as he began to play the fourth movement. Stars were twinkling in the moonlight above the castle district and a delightful shiver ran along her spine. Lights illuminated the tall spires of St Vitus Cathedral that towered over the city. Prague was her favorite place in all the world. This night was almost perfect except she longed to do more than gaze upon him or listen to his music. He aroused her to her core; she ached for him. The fire in her womb blazed outward.

The music stopped, but she had barely noticed. 'I am dazed and under your spell, sir?' Sophia whispered, and slowly turned her head to the window across the yard where she knew he would be. The amber glow of gas lights created an aura that illuminated his tall form. He was an imposing presence at over six feet tall. His angular jaw rested on the violin, and his eyes were closed. His fingers, again, deftly played across the fretless surface, and the strings reverberated in the sensual music.

Edgar stepped closer to the open window from where his music had called to her earlier. The sculpted planes of his face were more pronounced in the golden glow around him. Tonight, the music he played smoldered in the air between them. It was his calling card for their romance to begin.

In the instant, when aroused brown-eyes met kindled green ones, two male cats slunk into the garden between the houses. The fat butterscotch one staked it's territory in the rows of tomatoes, whereas the black one with three white paws, hunkered down behind an old wash tub and waited. A gray female cat sat on the stucco brick wall and moved her tail listlessly from side to side. Her scent drifted on the night air through the vegetables and mixed with the scent of peonies that had begun opening yesterday.

The evening was now quiet. Edgar left the window, for where, Sophia could only guess. She was bereft and the fire in her being was slowly extinguished by a chill wind that blew through the window. A shiver prickled her neck, 'I want you, Edgar,' she said, as she gathered her slippers and shawl and left for a walk in the night air.

Without the distraction of the music, the butterscotch cat that had been hiding in the tomatoes walked as if he, too, was dazed by the opposite sex. Indeed the female cat jumped from the wall and landed softly with her head down, forelegs bent, rear quarters raised to expose her sex. Her tail was raised and held to the side of her body.

As Sophia closed the back door and threw the shawl over her shoulders, she heard a cat calling loudly. She looked across the yard and saw the outline of many things. Waiting for her eyes to adjust she saw a light come on in the library next door. Had she caused Edgar a restless night? She could only hope so, after the fire she'd felt. Again the cat called and she heard movement ahead of her near the tomatoes.

She wasn't as much afraid as she was concerned about her plantings, so she quietly stepped along the stone path toward the sound. The wild peony bushes, hanging over the stones, brushed her bare ankles leaving their scent clinging to her skin.

Edgar was in the library, pacing, with a glass of wine in his hand. He wanted to walk next door and take her from her bedroom. He was planning to kidnap her. He wanted her, this night. He left the glass on the table near a chair as he exited the back door.

He did not look respectable in his white silk shirt that was unbuttoned halfway down his chest, but he was hot and excited. His feet were bare, no shoes, no slippers. Indeed, he would bare his soul tonight for a kiss from her.

Sophia had taken a broom from the kitchen which was now in her right hand. She was leaning on it when the cat called again, louder this time. She could see the light reflect a golden ball of fur that belonged to a rather large cat. Again a cat wailed but it wasn't the one she had her eyes on.

Edgar opened the gate as the black cat lept from behind the wash tub and raced into the path of the butterscotch one. Edgar heard a hiss, a wail, a cat screeching, just as he saw Sophia lurch toward them with a broom in her hand.

'Shoo...shoo. Get out of my garden,' she said, rather loudly, then thrust the broom at the female cat. The two male beasts scratched at each other, hissing, paws flailing. The female cat gave one last wailing call and lept onto the wall before she disappeared on the other side. The male cats continued to fight and Sophia stepped closer thrusting at them again. The raw edges of the straw clipped the backside of the fat cat. It stopped and the loss of momentum sent Sophia backward on her backside.

Edgar gasped, 'Out,'' he yelled, in a deep bass voice that alarmed the cats. He stomped bare feet silently into the earth, and spread his arms wide. The cats stared at him before they scattered away.

'Ouch...' Sophia cried, she thought she'd landed in the middle of the bean patch. She was sure, now, that this was where she was because, in the light from the library, she could see the white cotton yarn strung up the poles.

'Mrs Langshaw,' he said, somewhat out of breath from leaping over plantings before he reached her side. 'Are you injured?'

Sophia could see unruly black hair covering a bare chest before a hand lifted her chin to survey her face. 'Mr Varholak, what are you doing here?' she asked, dazed for the second time this evening. Feeling silly for sitting in the middle of her garden after midnight, in her night clothes, with a man she wanted to kiss. She began to squirm.

I've come to kidnap you. 'Don't move,' he said firmly.

Sophia sat very still waiting, surveying him as he gazed upon her with lust in his eyes. His lips were full and soft, and she felt herself being pulled toward him, blanketed by his lust. He moved so close she could feel his breath on her lips. He smelled of red wine, a deep claret, and his hair smelled of sandalwood. He smiled at her and the smile reached his dark eyes, twinkling with flecks of amber in the ambient light. 'Your eyes are brown in the moonlight.' she said, unaware that she'd spoken.

'Yes, they are,' he chuckled. He released her chin and skimmed his hand across the skin above her breasts. He bent forward, over her, and removed the broom from across her legs, 'let me help you. Are you hurt?' His hand brushed her ankle where the peonies had left their scent. He skiffed the back of his hand along the front of her bare leg and as the tips of his fingers turned to touch her knee, he looked at her as if he might devour her.

Sophia was mortified. Her face was flushed and her skin burned where he'd touch her. She was staring at the soles of his feet as he reached across her. 'I don't think so.' He was kneeling beside her now, a playful smile on his face, 'I'm tangled in my um ... nightclothes,' she said, shifting her weight and attempting to free herself. They had bunched beneath her, and oh, my goodness, her slippers had come off, her toes were bare. She wiggled them.

Copyright © 4 August 2008 Marsha Cappy, Cleveland USA


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