A Winter Symphony: A Christmas Novella by Tiffany Reisz


DEDICATED TO BETHANY HENSEL, MERCI, MON AMI





First Movement





November Allegro





Allegro:





At a brisk, lively, or cheerful tempo.





Chapter One





Kingsley was happy.

Very, very happy.

This came as a surprise to him. It would have come as a surprise to anyone who knew him, too.

On the list of adjectives frequently used to describe him, one might find the following:

dangerous (of course)

sexy (he had his fans)

sleazy (he also had his detractors)

ruthless (fact)

insane (not quite, though he had his moments)

brooding (fair point—he was French, after all, and contemplating the ultimate meaninglessness of his own existence was in his DNA)



But one would not include “happy” on any list describing Kingsley.

Apparently, he needed a new list, because now he was a very happy man. True happiness, that is—joie de vivre, joy in living.

Had he ever felt this depth of joy before? Maybe once? Maybe on the last warm autumn night in Maine, when he was sixteen and Søren seventeen? Maybe that moment, after the beating and after the sex, when he lay across Søren’s lap under the wild stars? Maybe that moment when Søren’s fingers stroked Kingsley’s naked back, tender from welts, and softly said three words…

You did well.

Yes, that was the last time he’d felt this much happiness. Once, he might have thought it would be the only time he’d ever feel it, until the night Juliette said three even more beautiful words to him.

Je suis enceinte.

The reality of this newly-discovered joie occurred to him on the night of his forty-seventh birthday. November 2nd in a year when winter came early, rudely shoving autumn out of the spotlight. Outside it was cold enough to chip teeth from chattering. Inside Kingsley’s small private sitting room in his Riverside Drive townhouse, it was warm, however. The fire burned cheerfully behind the grate. He’d forgone his usual after-dinner wine for a milky cup of coffee—decaf—and he held Juliette lightly against his chest as they lay on the large antique fainting sofa. Out of nowhere, Juliette gasped as if in pain. A gasp followed by a laugh. She grabbed Kingsley’s hand and put it on the swell of her pregnant belly.

“Someone is rehearsing for the Rockettes tonight,” Juliette said, laughing again as she was kicked from within.

“Or there’s a football practice going on in there,” Kingsley said, feeling another tiny foot or hand press against his palm. The wave of joy rushed over him, leaving his head swimming and his throat almost too tight to speak.

“Back to sleep, Coco,” Kingsley said softly to Juliette’s stomach. “It’s past your bedtime.”

Coco wasn’t the baby’s name. They’d already decided on Céleste for a girl, Hugo for a boy (after author Victor Hugo). In French, coco was a child’s slang term for an egg. At one of Juliette’s early obstetrician appointments, her doctor had said their growing fetus was now about the size of an egg.

“I think Coco’s trying to tell you ‘happy birthday,’” Juliette said as she eased onto a pile of silk cushions. She wore a silk turquoise bathrobe, the tie of which kept sliding over her belly and under her breasts now that her narrow waist was long gone.

Kingsley put his mouth to her stomach. “Is a card in the mail too much to ask?”

Juliette smiled tiredly and adjusted the pillows underneath her as Kingsley drew her long and lovely dark legs across his lap.

“Did you ever think at this time last year, this is how we’d be spending your birthday?” she asked. “Alone together. No party. No wine, even. Just the two of us sitting here, being boring and reading?”

They were being very boring. Kingsley was almost finished reading The Immoralist by André Gide. Juliette was reading a book on her iPad, and he occasionally saw her smile at something in it.

Yes, this was certainly a very different scene from last year’s birthday, which he’d celebrated in high and mad style. His townhouse had been bursting at the seams with guests dressed for the French Revolution, inspired by Kingsley’s heritage and the upcoming release of the film Les Misérables, though the theme had not been Liberté, égalité, fraternité but Liberté, égalité, sodomie…

“This is better,” Kingsley said.

“Are you certain?” she asked. Fear flashed across her dark eyes. They were lovers and they were in love, and this had been the case for several years. But they weren’t married. Kingsley didn’t practice monogamy, or even really believe in it. As for Juliette, she suffered from a marriage phobia, though he couldn’t blame her. A rich, powerful man had once practically owned her, using her mother as leverage to keep her in his home and his bed. Men all over the city—especially Brad Wolfe, that asshole—showered her with gifts and attention and declarations of devotion. She played with them and took their presents, of course, and enjoyed every minute of it.

But now she and Kingsley were having a child together, and this easy open love affair of theirs was changing. A welcome change, she admitted, but Kingsley knew she worried that it wasn’t so welcome for him.

After a long pause, he answered, “You know I’ve wanted children for as long as I can remember.”