Heartstrings

Heartstrings

A No Ordinary Family Novel - Book 3

Emily Delaney, a world-traveled solo violinist, is stuck at home in Boston with a badly injured hand. Cancelled concerts, an uncertain future as well as her manager’s financial deceit has left her in a mess. In addition, she is obligated to return the beloved Stradivarius that was on-loan to her on the condition it can “be seen and heard.” She is certainly in no mood to handle a bossy surgeon, even if she needs him.

Talented orthopedist Scott Miller can repair Emily’s hand if she follows his rules of recovery, but can make no promises about her professional future. He senses her resistance to him and shrugs. A beautiful woman with big chocolaty brown eyes is not part of his life plan anyway. A prior relationship which ended badly--emotionally and financially--has left its mark on him. Love has no rules, however, especially when the oboe-playing physician finds himself introducing Emily to his friends in the medical community’s orchestra.

Constant challenges force Emily and Scott to reexamine their options and figure out solutions. As trust grows, their hearts soften. Can they finally untangle the strings of their lives?

Chapter One

He couldn’t believe his good luck. Dr. Scott Miller felt as giddy as a kid with a double scoop ice-cream cone as he entered Boston Symphony Hall on a Saturday night in mid-October. He’d gotten a last-minute invite from his friend, Andy Delaney, whose younger sister was the guest soloist that evening. His older sister couldn’t make the concert—thus, the available seat at the sold-out event.

“I’m looking forward to this,” he said to Andy. “When I saw her play at Tanglewood two years ago, she held that audience in the palm of her hand. Including me!”

“She does know how to use that bow,” said Andy, grinning. “Surprises me all the time. I guess…to the family...to me, anyway, she’s just Emily, my kid sister.”

“Who happens to be a violin virtuoso.” Scott shook his head. “I play the oboe in the Doctors’ Orchestra here in town. The group is great—almost professional—and we raise a lot of money for charity. But your sister’s in a class by herself.”

“Emily doesn’t practice medicine and do surgery on the side,” said Andy. “Cut yourself some slack! Geez, why do I hang out with such overachievers?”

Scott laughed heartily at his friend’s remark. A power hitter for the Red Sox, Andy and the baseball team could all be called overachievers, training and training —sometimes overdoing it, too. They were all part of Scott’s orthopedic practice at Mass General, where he was part of a sports medical team that included an array of therapists, trainers, nutritionists, psychologists and physicians.

They found their seats in the front-orchestra section, and Scott couldn’t rein in his high spirits.

“I had a pretty crappy week,” he said, “but music is my reward for dealing with patients who don’t listen! Who seem to think all I need to do is wave a magic wand for all their pain to disappear.”

“Wouldn’t that be great? A quick fix. So, what do you tell them?” asked Andy.

“I tell them I’m a physician, not a magician. And if they want to heal, they’d better listen closely and follow up.” He sighed. “It’s the same speech I give to you and the guys, but sometimes…” Sometimes, his heart broke—like when he worked with the elderly and their joint issues, such as crippling arthritis. For these wonderful seniors, he wished for that magic wand, but settled for therapeutics and microsurgery to ease their pain and improve their lives.

Scott opened the program notes just as the house lights started to dim. Leaning back in his seat, he exhaled and relaxed. It didn’t matter what pieces were showcased. Tonight, he’d replace his patients and responsibilities with the joy of listening to wonderful music—and finally meeting Andy’s sister.

Twenty minutes later, after a short orchestral piece, Scott kept his eyes locked on the petite brunette who walked across the stage with the violin in her hand. She wore a long, sleeveless blue dress—plain, but perfect on her—and low-heeled shoes. He noticed details. A good physician had to observe, had to ask questions, and listen to what was said and what remained unsaid. Those skills came to him naturally now.

The audience welcomed her warmly, this home-town girl from a family well-known in the city. She turned to the conductor, nodded and raised her violin, then waited for the opening notes from the orchestra. In a heartbeat, she joined and led them through the long first movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. She played with the emotional mix of foreboding and delicate sweetness the piece required, before continuing through the second and then the third movement, which ended with a happy, upbeat feeling.

The woman was amazing. Thirty minutes, non-stop. Never faltered through all three movements, almost dominating the orchestra. The wild applause, the bravos, including his own, echoed through the hall until she left the stage.

The house lights came on for intermission, but he remained seated, just absorbing the experience.

“That’s strange,” said Andy, his brow wrinkling. He looked at Scott, stood and headed toward the exit. “She always plays my mom’s theme song after each performance. I think it’s in her contracts.”

Scott rose. “Keep walking,” he said. “I remember that, too. Amazing Grace. She played it at Tanglewood. I’m right behind you.”

##

He followed Andy out and around and through some hallways, pausing while he identified himself to ushers and security. Finally, they knocked on a dressing room door.

“Em, it’s Andy and a friend. Are you decent?”

“Come on in.”

She sat bent forward on a cushioned chair, cradling her left arm on her lap, her left hand limp, her eyes shiny when she looked up.

“Andy! So glad you’re here. I’m in a lot of pain. I can’t drive myself home.”

Her brother walked closer to her and knelt to her eye level. “What happened? In there”—he pointed back to the concert hall area—"you played magnificently.”

Scott could have kicked himself. Some doctor. He’d noticed nothing wrong when she was on stage. But now he noticed a lot and couldn’t restrain himself from speaking. “I’m afraid what happened, Andy, is that your sister abused almost every part of her body that she needs for playing. It’s not only her hand. I’ll bet it’s her neck and shoulder, too. She’s in trouble.”

Her chin lifted, her eyes snapping fire at him. “And who are you, besides Andy’s friend, who thinks he knows it all?” Her sharp words couldn’t hide the painful gasps Scott heard as she spoke.

Her brother stood and looked Scott square in the eye. “She may not want to hear it, but I do. First impression, Doc?”

“She’s an unbelievable violinist with a will of iron. That’s my first impression. As to the rest…” Here’s where he’d be the bearer of bad news, but not yet…."I’d need to do an examination in the office.”

He turned toward Emily. “How did you get through this performance? Cortisone shots?”

She stood, turning her head to face him, and winced. “They’re not illegal.”

“True enough.” He extended his hand. “My name’s Scott Miller. I’m with Mass General’s Orthopedics Department. Andy can fill you in.”

She looked at his hand but waited. “Orthopedics? Do you want to test my right hand? There’s just a touch of discomfort there too.” She extended her arm, and he took her hand in his, but didn’t shake it. Instead, he gently pressed her palm and the inside of her wrist with his thumb. Saw her wince.

“And there’s the answer to what happened to Amazing Grace this evening,” he said.

“I’ll play it later at home,” said Emily, “It’s once a day for me.”

Shaking his head, he said, “No. No, you won’t. You shouldn’t. From what I can see, your entire body needs to rest. Try singing instead. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with your voice.”

He grinned, slapped Andy on the shoulder and stepped toward the door. “I’ll find my own way home. “And you,” he said to Emily, “take care of yourself. The risk of ignoring injury is very high.” He turned to leave.

“We’ll need another driver,” said Andy. “Can you take Emily’s car, Scott?”

“Of course,” he replied, reversing steps. “Should have thought of it myself.”

“It can stay overnight in the lot,” said Emily. “I don’t need you—umm—I don’t want to put you out.”

Or accept a favor. “You’ve already given me some beautiful music,” he said. “I’m happy to help.”

She seemed to hold her breath before making the effort to stand. Taking a step toward him, she tipped her head back to meet his eyes. “Do you really want to help, Dr. Miller?”

He braced himself for what was coming. She’d want a miracle.

“Then get me through the new year,” she said. “A couple of months. I have concerts scheduled—luckily in the States—Florida, New York, Philly, the West Coast. Whatever the cost, it’s more than worth it.”

He glanced at her brother, who just shrugged and nodded his head. “She’s in the middle of the music season, and if she breaks her contracts…?” Andy emitted a low whistle in an off key. “That would be tough on her finances and her reputation.”

So now he had to convince Andy too?

“Let me put it this way,” he said, eyeing them both. “The longer you ignore treating the symptoms properly, the higher the chances of ruining your career—permanently. So, Ms. Delaney—Emily—you decide the cost.”

This was so not the way he’d envisioned the evening. He’d pictured them all going out for a late dinner or a drink or even coffee, and celebrating her performance. Having a good time. What a dreamer!

“What-what do you mean by permanently?” she asked, her voice quivering.

He glanced at Andy. “Tell her how many players are no longer on the starting roster due to injury. And I don’t mean a broken arm. I mean due to repetitive motion injuries. Especially pitchers.”

Andy’s brow furrowed, and he sighed. “He’s got a point, Em. Brian takes care of his arm like it’s a baby. The Astros have a whole medical team, just like we do, and our happy-go-lucky brother actually follows instructions. After all,” he said, grinning, “he’s a married man now, with responsibilities.”

That comment drew a quick return smile from the woman. But then she closed her eyes, as if gathering her thoughts or her courage—he couldn’t decipher which. Slowly, her lids reopened, and she stared at him for thirty seconds, up and down, but mostly at his face.

“Are you the best orthopedist in Boston?” she asked quietly.

“Boston is filled with excellent physicians,” he said, hoping to avoid hubris—or idiocy—by protesting too much. “I always advise new patients to get a second opinion. In your case, Emily,” he continued, “I should probably be the second opinion. Feel free to search out whomever…

“No!” interrupted Andy. He turned to his sister, “He’s the one. I don’t care if you don’t like his direct approach, he’s the one you want.”

“Figures,” she murmured. “So that’s settled.” She looked up at Scott. “And you should know I’m stronger than I look.”

“Stubborn is what she means,” said Andy.

A tiny smile began at the corners of her mouth. Sweet.

“Sing with me, Andrew,” she said, her smile growing. “Let’s sing it now—together. As always, for Mom and Dad.” She glanced at Scott. “Grace and Robert.” Slowly, her soprano voice filled the room, each beginning note as beautiful as the notes of her violin. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

Her brother’s tenor joined her in a duet with an ease that bespoke a lifetime of making music together. Without quite realizing how it happened, Scott found himself creating a trio. And it sounded remarkably good. Two choruses of the hymn, and Emily made a cutting motion with her arm.

“Maybe there’s hope for you,” she said to Scott, a quick smile appearing and then suddenly gone. “I’m praying that there’s hope for me. Because without being able to make music and soar with my beautiful partner over there,” she said, pointing at her violin case, “I have nothing.”

##

She’d packed quite a punch with her last remark. Of course, she was wrong, but her dressing room after the concert wasn’t the place to argue. Scott sat behind the wheel of Andy’s car, following his friend to Emily’s apartment in the Back Bay area of town. Great neighborhood for a young professional like her…or him. But he was happy with his spot closer to the hospital on Longfellow Place, where medical personnel almost filled the building.

He watched Andy pull into what was probably Emily’s or a neighbor’s reserved spot and double-parked, prepared to wait. But his friend surprised him.

“Go on in with her while I try to find a meter. You need to get to know her a little. And vice versa. I think she trusts you now, so keep going easy on the keys, if you know what I mean.”

He understood exactly. A softer approach. He exited the car quickly, ready to put his and Emily’s initial introduction to rights, and walked to her vehicle. The passenger door was still closed. He tapped on the window and opened the door. In the glow of the streetlight, he saw big, beautiful brown eyes fringed with thick long lashes peep up at him. Dark chocolate eyes.

“I know you’re in pain,” he said quietly, “so you tell me how to help.”

To his complete astonishment, tears started to fall, which made his heart almost stop. “What? What did I say? Your brother’s going to kill me!”

“Sorry, sorry,” she replied, rubbing her wrist across her eyes. “It’s just that it’s so hard to hide this, and now I’m not alone.”

His breath hitched. A powerful statement, both revealing and true, but even though he was with her now, she’d probably hate him later as they moved toward diagnosis and treatments.

He swung the door wider while she pivoted herself around so that her legs dangled outside the car. She wiggled closer to the edge, preparing to stand.

“Your back?”

“No. It’s my neck and shoulder, and of course, my hands. I’m a mess.”

He offered his arm, and she steadied herself as she stood. “Well, that’s an achievement.”

“It’s amazing how you played the concert tonight,” he said.

“That’s how it works. I was in another world.”

“No pain in that world?” he asked dubiously.

She was quiet for a moment, until she eventually said, “Think of it as an out-of-body experience. I know it sounds weird, but that’s the way it works—for me. Or should I say, worked. Past tense, because now it’s more intense.”

“I’m sorry about that. I suppose eventually you can’t outrun your fears and have to face them.”

A quick glare. “Are you speaking from experience, Scott?”

The sweet lady had a sharp tongue. “I’ve learned from the experience of my patients. Everyone has fears. And I don’t live in a bubble, either. But have I crossed the line again?” he asked, gazing ahead. “I still volunteer as the second opinion, regardless of your brother.” He pointed down the street. “And here comes Andy.”

Emily turned toward her brother. “Can you get my joyful noise out of the back seat? I’m not leaving her.”

Andy grabbed the violin, and they entered Emily’s building, a well-maintained Victorian brownstone, the type often found in the Back Bay area.

She led them to her first-floor apartment and managed to unlock the door. A small entryway led to a large living room, which seemed to serve as her personal practice studio. Sheet music, music stands, a sound system for listening, and an upright piano as well as a sofa and table filled the space.

But Scott’s attention was on the woman as he took out his cell phone. “I’m checking my calendar for openings,” he said, “to get you into the office. Are you sure about this?”

“The sooner, the better,” she replied.

He stared at the week ahead, trying to manipulate appointments. If his schedule was any fuller, he’d have no time to sleep. “Morning surgeries are set in stone,” he murmured, shaking his head. “But if…okay. Maybe.” He looked at her. “The soonest I could see you for an initial workup is Tuesday at three. I have to be somewhere else at four—but very nearby. So if that works for you, I’ll put you in. To save time, you can fill out all the paperwork I’ll send you ahead of the appointment and present it at the reception desk.”

“Anything works for me,” she said. “If you have a card, please write the date and time down and put it on the table. Holding a pen is a bit painful.” She extended her right hand. “My bowing hand. It’s really not too bad, and it’s not swollen. As you said, I’ll rest it.”

He took out his wallet and did as she asked, then entered her phone number and email address into his cell. “In case something changes.”

“Oh, I’ll be there.” She looked toward her brother. “Thanks, Andy. I owe you one.”

“Just answer some questions and you’ll be out of my debt.”

“Not now.” She glanced at Scott. “My brothers have a tendency to be over-protective. Both of them.”

“We love you, Em. And that’s not going to change.” Andy started pacing. “So why were you alone tonight? Where’s Mrs. Merri? I thought she accompanied you on concert nights. Where’s your manager? Why did you drive yourself?”

She stepped back. “Whoa! Slow down.” Her foot tapped several times. “Mrs. Merri has a heavy cold, and I told her to stay home.” She glanced at Scott. “Mrs. M. was my very first violin teacher, and before that, my third-grade music teacher. Without her…” she shook her head, then addressed Andy again.

“And Larry’s gone from my life.” Suddenly, her eyes blazed hot fire, something Scott hadn’t seen before. “That two-faced thief. Two weeks ago, at dinner with the London concert manager, we talked about future concert dates and costs, including my fees. The London guy kept saying that I was expensive but worth every penny of my fifty-thousand-dollar contract.”

Her voice trailed off, her brow creased, and those lovely eyes became shadowed. “I was confused. My contract was for thirty, a fair and standard amount. And that’s how I caught on to how Larry was fleecing me.” She glanced from one man to the other and said, "I was so upset that I made excuses and left the table. He was gone from the hotel the next morning. Ran off before I could confront him.”

She paused and looked at Andy again. “I guess Jen didn’t tell you?”

“Not really. Just said that she was researching something for you.” He glanced at Scott. “Jen’s my financial whiz sister, with Fidelity, but it’s Lisa, the lawyer, who should be helping get a warrant for the man’s arrest!”

Emily stood still and Scott heard her inhaled breath. “She is, bro. She is. I guess no one is exempt from the reality of business, not even a concert musician.” She walked to the sofa, held her head perfectly straight as she lowered herself, and gestured for them to sit anywhere they wanted.

“To answer your last question,” Emily continued, “I drove myself tonight because I’m stupid! I should have taken an Uber.”

“Or called me!” said her brother.

She glanced at the violin. “My future with Joy is what’s upsetting me most. She’s on loan until the end of December—only two more months! Normally, I’d be able to renew the three-year arrangement, but if I can’t play, I’ll have to return her.”

Her voice broke, and Scott hoped she wouldn’t start crying again. She’d been fearless about playing, fearless in her anger at the manager, fearless about getting herself to Symphony Hall. But now, her fear was at a breaking point. That was what a blend of worry and love could do. He’d seen it often with his patients when they first came to see him. When they left with a plan of action for determining a diagnosis and possible treatments, they’d become calmer. Knowledge was power— trite but true.

“What do you mean, on loan?” asked Andrew, regaining Scott’s attention.

“Your sister is playing on either a Stradivari, a Guarneri del Gesu, an Amati or another outstanding Italian prize going back to the early 1700’s,” Scott said. “None of us could afford her — not even a slugger for the Red Sox—at least, not yet.”

“He’s right,” said Emily. “I call her Joy. She’s a remarkable Strad, an amazing girl who’s meant to be heard, and not purchased by a collector and placed behind glass. If I have to give her up…”

“Stop borrowing trouble,” said Andy. “Six months from now, you’ll be on stage again, and this-this” —he gestured widely—"crazy interlude of legal and medical messes will be in your rearview mirror.”

“I’d drink to that, if I had some wine,” said Emily. “Instead, I’ll take two pain pills and call my sisters in the morning.”

“What are you—” began Scott.

“Over the counter, Doc,” Emily interrupted. “No worries. I’m desperate, but not stupid—except for driving tonight.” She grinned up at him, and for the first time that evening, he felt they were communicating as two ordinary people—man and woman.

He acknowledged her grin with one of his own and saw her eyes widen.

“You should do that more often, Scott,” she said softly.

“Right back at you, Ms. Emily Delaney.”

She looked more than pretty when she blushed.

The thought blindsided him. Pulled him up short. He’d trained himself not to notice those things, to avoid women he might want to know better. In his life, relationships led to trouble. He’d almost flunked out of college because of one. Had it been love? Sex? Freedom? Probably a combination. Where would he be now if he hadn’t come to his senses? He’d come so close to disappointing his folks, such hard-working people and so proud of him.

The breakup had been awkward. He’d wished her well and soothed her ego. Assured her she’d been competing with his scholarships, not another woman. But he’d been careful ever since. From college to medical school to residency to being on staff, to building his reputation in orthopedics and then sports medicine—there were always goals. Further involvement with women had no strings attached—a mutually understood condition—involving none of his co-workers. Fortunately, making music with the Doctors’ Orchestra provided an emotional outlet.

He’d figured out what worked for him back then. And after all his effort, the devotion to his career wasn’t going to change. He wondered, however, if there was now room in his life for a lovely woman with chocolatey brown eyes. Or if she’d turn his life upside down. He wondered if he wanted to find out.

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