Page 64 of The Protege

“He told you to come see me, didn’t he?” Dad’s voice is hard and bitter. I suppose he hates Laszlo, the man who took me away. The man who never stops trying.

Until now. The pain is as fresh as it was on my eighteenth birthday.

Laszlo wanted me to see my father when it would still have meant something. Now it’s too late. Guilt and shame aren’t a foundation for anything and the absolution I seek isn’t here. It isn’t anywhere. I just have to live with the things I’ve done.

I take a deep, shuddering breath, and leave without another word.

Chapter Twenty-Three



“You’re just so cheerful lately, Laszlo. It’s weird. I don’t like it.”

Marcus hands me a tumbler of whisky. We’re in the hotel bar and it’s gone midnight, but we performed Stravinsky tonight and this particular composer doesn’t lend himself to a relaxed after-show feeling.

I give him a dry smile. “Sorry. Shall I try to be grumpier?” It’s true, I am happy; happier than I think I’ve ever been. How could I not be? Triumph burns brightly in my chest and I gaze around at the people dotted here and there. Everyone in the world is all right by me tonight.

Marcus examines me, eyebrows raised. “What’s caused this change in our famously deadpan conductor? Or rather, who?”

I take a sip of my whisky and shake my head innocently. “Must be the change of scenery. London was getting to me, I suppose.”

He gives me a knowing nod. “Ah, of course.”

I don’t like people prying into my business and Marcus should know that by now. But it seems he can’t help himself because he says, in the same innocent tone, “Isabeau Laurent is a very pretty young woman.”

I set my glass down hard on the bar. “How the fuck did you find out?”

Marcus gives me a withering look. “Laszlo, you idiot. You were kissing her in the street.”

My heart sinks. Of course, in the market on Khaosan Road. I thought everyone was ahead of us but it seems I was wrong. I don’t even remember who kissed whom first. I just remember how perfect it felt, and now our tentative relationship has been thrust out into the open for people to titter about. I pass a hand over my face and sigh. “How many people know?”

“Oh, everyone,” Marcus says cheerfully. “You know orchestras.”

My heart sinks. I do know. Gossip spreads through an orchestra faster than a replicating virus. I want to swear but I clench my jaw on my angry words and knock back the rest of my whisky. The bartender notices and comes over to pour me another measure. I bloody need it.

“You needn’t be angry or worried,” Marcus says, serious now. “From what I understand people think it’s either the juiciest piece of gossip they’ve ever heard or the most romantic thing that can happen in an orchestra.”

I swallow more whisky and glare at him.

Marcus nods. “All right, it’s a shitty way for it to come out. But no harm done, and people respect you, Laszlo. You’re a fair man. And they like Isabeau.”

I tilt my glass, looking into the amber liquid. “I’m a lot older than she is, and there’s her…past. Our past.”

Marcus shakes his head. “That’s your business, old man. If it doesn’t bother you and Isabeau then that’s all that matters.”

It’s good of him to say so but that’s not how the world works. If our jobs weren’t in the public eye things would be different, but I meant it when I told Isabeau there could be a cost that goes beyond being gossiped about. It’s easier for me as my career is solid and I’m a man with a reputation for being intimidating. Isabeau’s just starting out and people can be cruel to women who draw attention to themselves through scandal. The fact that she’s so much younger than me and used to be my ward could disgust people. Their disgust is out of my control and I hate it. I don’t want Isabeau or her career—which hasn’t even begun yet—to be tarnished with this.

After she left my room this morning, cheeks flushed with sex and emotion, I fantasized about getting off that plane with her at Heathrow in a few days’ time and taking her straight home in a cab. To our home. Where I need her. I take another swallow of whisky and try to temper my possessiveness. I have to think about what’s best for Isabeau, not what I want.

“What about that viola player?” I ask, thinking in terms of damage control over the next few days. “She doesn’t like Isabeau and I want to know if we’re going to have a problem with her. The tour’s nearly over but as you said the gossip’s out.”

He raises his eyebrows. “How do you know about that?”