Chords Unbroken Ch 03

The parlour of the southwest London house was vast. On one end of the room was the reading corner, with wall-to-wall cases displaying a stunning selection of vinyl records, and books on history, science, art, politics, literature, and music. It was not surprising, given this was the house of an eminent pianist, dancer, curator, and amateur historian. On the other end was the nine-foot Steinway grand piano, a vintage from 1917 and the only one of its kind. It was the same instrument that had come up many a time in their conversations in the past, rousing her curiosity and fascination. But never in her wildest imagination had Amelia dreamed of being at Dr Daniel McGraw’s residence under the present circumstances. 

Her thoughts wandered when something cold and stinging touched her forehead. She flinched, crying out against her will.

“Shh. It’s alright.” Daniel’s voice was soft, but there was no missing the sardonicism. “If you can endure being thrown against the wall, then a little antiseptic shouldn’t be that bad.”

“Dan…” she breathed, her fingers involuntarily clutching the blanket around her when he shifted attention to her neck. On their way to his house, she had told him about last night, having not enough courage to deny those dark, blazing eyes. His first impulse was to go to the police, and when she refused, the displeasure was evident from his steely grip on the wheel.

“Don’t.” His gloved hand reached for the bandage and the roll of gauze. “How long has this been going on?”

Amelia tried to be comfortable against the cushions but the movement made the pain worse. “About three months,” she replied. “I broke up with him when it started but…”

“Did you seek help?” He asked, then laughed at his own question. “Of course not.”

Her gaze settled on the renaissance painting above the mantle in an attempt to distract her mind while he deftly dressed her wound with the bandage. Certain places inside her still pulsed with pain, and although she had vomited after Jason left, there had not been any blood in it. 

“How did he get into your flat?” he asked, wrapping the gauze around her head and tying a knot at the side. Amelia was already regretting discussing this with him. He was her mentor. If he knew, so would everyone else at the academy. “Does he still have a spare key?”

When she nodded, Daniel looked disappointed. “What does your lease say about changing door locks?”

“You really shouldn’t get into this…” she warned quietly.

“Look, you’re being abused.” A long strip of medical adhesive bandage was pressed to the cut on her neck. “Physically, mentally, financially. And you show no sign of doing anything about it. I’m sure this isn’t the first time. How on earth did you end up with someone like that?”

Closing her eyes, Amelia drew in a shuddering breath. “I’ve made some wrong choices in life.”

“Quitting the academy will certainly be one of them.” Daniel rose from the sofa and gave a shake of his head. “Is this why you want to leave?”

She rested her head against the back of the sofa, the pain making her temples throb. “Remember when I was a child and everyone said I was a genius at the piano?” she murmured. “I guess… I no longer have it in me.”

“You have fifteen ballads, ten sonatas, and several fusion tracks to your name,” he reminded her. “All musicians sometimes face creative blocks—”

“I haven’t got a note right in the last several months!” Angry tears pricked the back of her eyes and she quickly blinked them away. “Each night I sit at the piano hoping to finish my concerto but my fingers and my mind don’t cooperate anymore. They just don’t…”

She covered her mouth with a hand, preventing the sob in time. Daniel’s heart sank. For as long as he had known her, Amelia was stoic to the core, fiercely guarding of her space and adamant about letting no one see behind her professional appearance. Extracting a laugh from her was as difficult as making her cry. He resisted pondering over the kind of experiences that had brought about such change in her.  

“I’m so tired,” she rasped. “I can no longer pretend to be a genius.”

“You were never pretending.”

“I’m not like you,” she choked out. “I don’t have entire compositions perfected inside my head even before they are written down. I can’t even play other people’s compositions anymore. How am I supposed to come up with my own music?”


“I cannot afford to fail at the finals. If I don’t quit, I’ll make a mess of the recital and be an international disappointment.”

“Failure is nothing to be ashamed of, but giving up is cowardice.” He pulled out a tissue and gently dabbed at the tear that rolled down her cheek. “Where is the gutsy girl I used to know?”

“You said I wasn’t the same girl, didn’t you?”

“You are stressed and troubled.” His eyes raked over her face again. Her forehead wound was not deep enough to require stitches, but the bruise on her cheek had not faded even after the cold compression.

His blood boiled. Men did not hit a woman. It was common decency.

“You ought to come to the police,” he suggested. “This cannot go on.”

“And tarnish my career with the revelation that I’m being beaten up? I haven’t had a public performance in months, and you expected me to attend your masterclass when I’m decked in loud bruises.” 

“How was I supposed to know? How is anyone supposed to know if you keep hiding?”

“It’s better that way.”

“Is it?” Daniel uncuffed his shirt sleeves to roll them up. “Your stubbornness is going to cost your life.”

“What do you care?”

 “Mel, this is not the time to give me sass,” he hissed, rising to his feet. “You’re still the brash little girl, aren’t you? Too proud to stoop, too confident to care about consequences, too strong-willed to give in without a fight. Do you realise the danger you’re in or how distressing it is to see you in your current state?”

“I never wanted to see you again.”

The words hit him harder than they should have. “And why not?”

Because he was the same man she had been helplessly attracted to as a teenager. Because he was the reason behind the only time she had been reckless enough to let her feelings get in the way of her professional demands. Because she had been foolish to imagine that a married man with a child and an established reputation would ever consider her any more than a schoolgirl with a silly fantasy.

 It had relieved her to a great extent when he left his position at her school to take over as the principal conductor at Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Their paths had crossed several times ever since but she had always kept her distance, ensuring that she never had to face him again or dwell on the fact that in her twenty-three years of existence, he was the only person she had dropped her guard with.  

“You said we weren’t friends, remember?” Amelia answered quietly. 

“Not in the eyes of the world, at least. And as your teacher, I had the right to remind you of our respective places.” Daniel turned his back to the sofa and ran a rough hand through his wavy, raven hair. “You were different from all other students I had ever worked with. You were knowledgeable and articulate, you knew your mind and spoke without hesitation, and your riveting opinion on everything almost made you seem to be an old woman trapped inside a young body. You were mentally stimulating. It never felt like talking to a kid.”

“I wasn’t a kid,” she snapped, her eyes trained on his back. The contours of his broad shoulders and strong back were pronounced through the beige shirt. He obviously took care of himself. As a renowned pianist and conductor who travelled the world, he needed to be in shape. His passion for dance probably also contributed to his athleticism.

“No, you were an adolescent blossoming into a young woman.” He looked at her over his shoulder. “I was an adult, you were not. If I allowed you to be friendly with me – a liberty I gave no other student – there would be a lot more than raised eyebrows. It would be a questionable position for me and for you. I could not let either of us risk it.”

“You gave me a pet name,” Amelia reminded him. “Allowed me to call you Dan.”

“Because I liked you and took pride in you. I’d been a professional pianist for over thirty years at the time, but when I saw you create a sonata in under a minute with the three random notes thrown at you, I felt that I had found a worthy compeer.”

“But a man of your integrity could not be seen sharing a laugh or a dance with a young girl,” she scoffed. “So you needed to remind me of our boundaries.”

Daniel closed his eyes to summon some of his control. When he turned around, she was absently twisting a tissue between her fingers.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” He sat next to her again and slid an arm across the back of the sofa. “But I dealt with hundreds of students and could not be caught being partial to anyone. Yes, we had a lot in common. Yes, I loved talking to you. But when you’re a performer in the public eye, decorum and propriety are necessary. You didn’t see that then, but I hope you realise that now as a grownup.”

“I do.” She consulted the giant clock on the far end of the parlour. “It’s getting late. I must leave.”

“We need to deal with the problem you’re in right now. The conservatoire has a strict domestic violence policy.”

“I told you I don’t want the academy to know.”

“But as your new head of piano, it’s my responsibility to ensure my students aren’t getting hurt at the hands of another person.”

“In case you have forgotten, I was never anyone’s responsibility.” Slowly, she tried to rise to her feet, but the change in posture only made her abdomen throb from stinging pain. Daniel steadied her.

“I can’t let you go like this, when you’re hardly able to walk. If that scoundrel comes back to hound you tonight…” The thought made him shiver. People died from such instances. “I’d be more relieved if you spent the night here.”

The surprise on Amelia’s face was barely hidden. “I cannot,” she stuttered. “You know I cannot… I shouldn’t…”

“It will not be a problem. It’s the weekend and I’m going to drop you home in the morning. I also have three spare bedrooms, so you’ll be comfortable. Now…” He stood, and offered her a hand. “…You’ll eat dinner and take some pain relief medication.”

“I don’t need it.” She groaned softly as she pulled herself to her feet. When she swayed, Daniel hesitated before holding her arms, loath to cause her more pain.

“You’ll still take it,” he said. “Let me show you to the guest bedroom. Feel free to freshen up while I make you some food.”

She shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”

“But you need to line your stomach before you take any medication.”

Amelia frowned up at him. “You almost sound like you’re my doctor.”

“Yes, I am your doctor now and you will listen to me, young lady.” He threw his head back and laughed, the warm sound reverberating in the room. Amelia took in a deep breath, failing to ignore the effect he still had on her. When his laughter faded, leaving just the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips, she met his eyes. His intent gaze made it impossible for her to form words.

She had always known Daniel McGraw as a sincere and benevolent person, extending his warmth and kindness to everyone. He had made her the musician she was, but after all that time, standing in front of him broken and defeated was no less painful than a physical blow. The thought made her eyes well up again.

“Thank you,” she nodded, swallowing back the surge of emotions.

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