Page 71 of The Protege

My assistant. She must mean the office assistant at the Mayhew because my PA is here in Bangkok. There must be an important booking, some fussy manager who doesn’t like to do things over email. “It’s fine, Ms. Clark. What can I do for you?”

She hesitates. “I’m calling regarding Mr. Piers Laurent. I’m afraid I have bad news.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Isabeau

Now

The first thing I do when I wake up is check my email and I’m disappointed to see I don’t have a reply from Ms. Sanchez yet. Then I laugh at myself, as she only received my reply and the recording less than a day ago. Anyway, it’s the middle of the night in London. She might not even have seen that I replied to her yet.

But she will reply. I don’t know if I will be what she’s looking for but if not there are other agents who might be interested in me. I won’t crumple under a single rejection.

I make coffee and drink it looking out the window across Bangkok, wrapped in a bathrobe. Tonight is the final performance of the tour. Soon I’ll no longer be in Laszlo’s orchestra which makes me a little sad as I’ve loved every moment playing alongside them. They have welcomed me and been kind to me. Even the silly incident with the viola player doesn’t smart any longer and she’s left me alone since then.

There’s a knock on my door and when I open it I see Laszlo. He wasn’t with us after we left the concert hall last night I didn’t get a text letting me know how his meeting went. “There you are! I was wondering what happened to you last—”

But I stop myself, seeing the tense look on his face. He comes into the room, shutting the door behind him and taking my hands. “Sweetheart. I need to talk to you.”

Laszlo leads me over to the sofa by the window and sits down with me, holding both my hands in his. “I’ve got some difficult news for you. It’s about your father. He’s very ill. He’s in a hospice in London.”

Something cold and hard comes loose inside me and begins to fall. A hospice. I’ve heard that word before. It’s where people go to die. My father’s dying. I try and get my head around it, my father dying, my father being dead, but then realize that Laszlo’s still talking.

“…admitted two months ago but he refused to allow the hospice to notify his emergency contact until yesterday. His liver is failing and he was refused a transplant.” Laszlo looks at me, perplexed. “Do you understand, sweetheart?

“Who’s his emergency contact?”

He frowns, as if that wasn’t the question he was expecting me to ask. “I am.”

I want to ask why that should be but Laszlo goes on talking quickly. “My assistant is booking you on the first flight back to London and I’ll follow you as soon as tonight’s performance is over. Are you going to be all right? If you need me I’ll come now. You’re more important to me than the performance.”

But I tell him not to be ridiculous, that of course he needs to stay and that I’ll be fine in London for twelve or so hours by myself. I stand up to go. Packing. That’s what I should do. Suitcase, airport. See my father. Logical and right. I should probably feel something about the fact that I’m seeing my father before he dies, but there’s nothing there.

Then as I head for the door it does hurt. Oh god, it hurts. But not for the reason it should.

I turn back to him, needing to say something, now, before I’m torn away from his side. “Laszlo, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Laszlo puts his arms around me and holds me close, all gentle assurance. “I’ll be right behind you, I promise.”

But I have a terrible feeling that if I don’t say it now I might never get the chance. Look what happened three years ago when I left him suddenly: I lost him for years and years. “My plane might crash or you might get hurt or I could…could just lose you. I have to say it.”

Realization dawns on Laszlo’s face. He puts his hands on my shoulders, fingers digging in. “Isabeau don’t, please—”

But the words are clamoring to get out. Whatever he thought I was going to say, whatever is making him so afraid, it’s not that, it’s something much better.

“I love you, Laszlo.”

His eyes close and he just stands there, his body braced as if there’s a truck barreling down on us at a hundred miles an hour and it’s too late to get out of its path.

When he opens his eyes there’s so much pain in them, and he can barely speak above a whisper. “Isabeau, you have to go.”

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