Once when I was a kid and before the advent of Tylenol, I had a super-bad headache and took too many aspirin. My ears rang for almost a whole day afterward. A high-pitched, buzzing, annoying "ching"-like noise that drove me bonkers.
Dylan Moore has heard that same noise continually for years. A fall from a galloping horse, a smack of his skull against a rock and presto! The doctors tell him the bells shall ring in his brain for the rest of his life. For a piano virtuoso/composer/conductor this is catastrophic. He can't sleep, he can't compose, he can't drink, smoke or whore the noise away. For a tortured hero affliction, this one kicks ass.
Our story opens with our Hero, desperate to end his agony, holding a pistol under his jaw in a theatre that used to play his symphonies. He is interrupted by the charwoman cleaning the theatre who persuades him not to do it; she will have to clean up after him, she says, and that sort of mess doesn't come out of wood. She leaves the theatre, taking with her his pistol and the impetus for him to end his life. He doesn't even know her name.
Cut to five years later. Dylan sees her playing violin at a ball and recognizes her immediately. He believes her to be his muse -- for only when he sees her can he hear anything other than the endless ringing in his ears. She is the key to unlocking the music in his head, he thinks, and pursues her.
The heroine, Grace Cheval, was ruined in the eyes of her family when she eloped with a famous French painter at 17. Years later Etienne is dead and Grace is eking out a meager existence by selling oranges and disguising herself as a man to play violin in a quartet. She has never forgotten her encounter with Dylan at the theatre, but had already spent years putting up with a tortured artist. Being a muse to a painter was quite enough, she thinks. The muse is blamed when the creative spark is gone, and she has no desire to be put on that pedestal.
Dylan's life as a self-absorbed, self-indulged artiste
takes another turn when he is presented with an 8-yr-old daughter he never knew existed. Her mother has died and Dylan finds this a perfect way to have Grace -- a governess to his daughter, a muse for his talent, and a mistress for himself.
Their story is a quiet, emotion-filled one of love and redemption. It wasn't all sweeping, grand gestures and flowery speeches. For all the excitement of new love, there is the bittersweet goodbye to love that has died, and the dreams that died with it. There is jealousy, and cruel words, and heartbreak. There were a couple of scenes in the book where I was pretty sure I didn't like the Hero at all. Then it occurred to me that his behaviour was the closest to real life that I've read in a while. That's what their relationship was -- real. Most of us IRL don't realize what we have until we've lost it; nor do we recognize our flaws until it's almost too late to fix the damage we've done.
A much more serious book than the first in the series, (Guilty Pleasures), this one is definitely worth-reading - especially if you like tortured types and a bit of an angsty read.
One last thing: although this book is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone. Guhrke is doing an OUTSTANDING job of loosely tying the characters together - they slip in and out of each other's stories, always on the periphery, never intruding into the main book. I'd love to give the book 5 stars just for that.