ABOUT THE BOOK
A life built on lies…
On the fast track to international success, acclaimed concert pianist Leila Cates is close to achieving her dreams. But her path to certain stardom comes to a crashing halt when the body of her boyfriend, a world-renowned conductor, is discovered on the eve of her New York debut. When rumors about their relationship surface, Leila quickly becomes the primary suspect.
A past with the power to shatter the future…
Desperate to clear her name, Leila sets out to uncover the truth. Enlisting the reluctant help of Orion Frazier, the lead detective on the case, their investigation soon entangles her in a world of betrayal and deception.
With everything on the line, can Leila find the strength to face what she finds?
A taut suspense thriller of dark secrets and even darker ambitions, Breaking Measures is a mesmerizing novella about the treachery love can hide.
- Genre: Adult Suspense / Mystery / Crime
- Series: Leila Cates (Prequel)
- Length: Novella
- Available formats: Digital and print
- Paperback: 164 pages
- ISBN: 9780990884712 (ebook) / 9780990884729 (paperback)
Read Chapter 1
Something remains in the silence after a performance.
It echoes between the seats, winding through aisles and rows, whispering as it returns to the front of the hall.
The stage remembers.
Its polished floor pulses with the heartbeat of every musician who has crossed it and holds within its infinite memory that which murmurs endlessly in silence.
The same power pulsating in the thick blood now flowing across the pale wood and pooling around the podium.
This sacred ground siphons away an artist’s life, ingesting ambition and arrogance, and devouring countless dreams of immortality so that it can satiate a voracious audience.
The stage demands to be fed.
When you step on it, you become the willing sacrifice.
The earliest memory Leila Cates had was of her mother telling her to curve her hand. Not her fingers, but the arch of her palm so the row of knuckles would develop into an ideal bridge for a pianist.
She’d started out palming smaller fruits like dates, lemons, and avocados, holding them in the center of her tiny hand between practice sessions, coaxing and molding the fine, pliable muscles between her fingers into absorbing the language of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.
When her hand grew and her musical hunger extended to Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, she’d moved on to oranges and apples.
By age twelve, Leila stopped eating fruit. The smell was enough to make her nauseous.
But the repetitive movement stayed, soaked into her muscle memory and as much a part of her as the sickeningly sweet smell of overripe fruit.
Eleven years later, sitting in the offices of Soltano Music International with no piano in sight and nothing to focus on but her manager’s sympathetic gaze, Leila reflexively arched her hands, her palms reaching again and again for a solidity long gone.
Her fingertips slid across the sticky leather of the sofa.
“I can’t do this,” she said.
Joshua Levinson murmured soothing noises and poured more chardonnay into the glass on the table.
“Yes you can, but you need to relax.”
Leila reached for the glass, the leather’s pebbled texture still clinging to her fingertips, and drank. The cold wine tingled down her parched throat.
“You’re just upset right now. If you calm down —“
“How long does it take to calm down after you find out your boyfriend is fucking the concertmaster?”
It had been the sounds.
His low groan rumbling through the apartment’s echoing stillness, her soft sighs breathing pleasure. They’d lingered in the air, pulling her to the slightly open door at the end of the hall.
Leila knew she wasn’t welcome in Carlo’s private atelier, just as he wasn’t welcome in her music room.
An artist’s domain was private, a haven for practicing and experimenting, the one place where failure was still allowed.
But she’d needed him this morning. It was her day, an important one, and she’d wanted to bask in Carlo’s glow, in the way he said her name, the syllables crisply burnished with his Mediterranean accent, his skin warming hers and providing reassurance that her life was right and true and on track.
That was why she’d raced over to his studio just as dawn’s pale rays rolled across Broadway and stretched toward the river, picturing his surprise and pleasure at seeing her, the way he would laugh and share in the excitement of her first rehearsal at Lincoln Center.
Her desire to hear his words about making music and love together was why she’d gone there.
But it was her compulsive need to understand sound, to make sense of what each pitch and vibration and tone coloring expressed that drove her down the hall.
She should’ve stopped.
If she’d walked away, what she’d willfully ignored for months wouldn’t now be imprinted in her mind, tangled with countless musical scores and the memories of their three years together.
She wouldn’t have seen the way her pale, slender fingers tightened around Carlo’s shoulders while she rode him, the early morning light weaving through her golden hair, bathing her back in an unearthly glow…
Leila put down the glass before it shattered.
Joshua sighed, smelling faintly of deodorant and an expensive aftershave that didn’t match his bland, gray suit, and looking like an insurance agent mulling over a claim.
He tapped his foot against the carpeted floor and Leila felt his annoyance.
“It’s one more concert.”
She shook her head.
“For God’s sakes, Leila, do you know how many people would kill to have this performance?”
“Get another conductor and concertmaster.”
“This concert has been promoted for the past year. Cates and Belandini. Both you and Carlo are necessary for it to work.” He paused. “Did you say anything to him?”
“No, I left.”
She didn’t want to explain how her voice had disappeared as if melted away by acid, how she’d backed away from that door sucking air through her teeth, each breath stabbing her throat and lungs like hundreds of glass shards.
“Good.” Joshua nodded. “That’s good.”
His words sank into her. “You knew.”
Leila curled her fingers, her nails scraping the leather with a soft rasp.
“You knew he was with her.”
Joshua straightened the already straight pile of BBC Music magazines on the table. “Carlo is Italian.”
He said it as if expecting her approval, a nod or murmur absolving them both of the silent betrayal.
The leather pressed under her short nails. “Were there others?”
“Carlo Belandini is the most important conductor of his generation. He’s young —“
“God, Josh, you his manager now, too?”
“— brilliant, temperamental, an original artist —“
“So he can do whatever he wants?”
“As far as you’re concerned, yes.” His voice turned flat.
“You got screwed. You’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last. Carlo is irreplaceable. He’s the headliner of this concert, not you.”
Leila imagined her nails puncturing the leather, tearing into the processed skin and releasing the filling beneath like blood seeping from a wound.
“Your relationship with him played a significant part in the publicity you’ve received. Most New York debuts don’t get this level of attention.” The shadow faded from his face. “Believe me. You couldn’t ask for better circumstances.”
Her mouth felt dry again. “You can’t be serious.”
“All that tension makes for great passion.” He poured more wine into her glass. “It’ll be a memorable night, a concert everyone will talk about for a long time. I just know it. Isn’t that what you want?”
Leila took another long drink.
From the moment her mother sat her at the piano while she was still in diapers, there had been a plan. Years of disciplined training and sacrifices combined with carefully executed steps had finally led to this milestone.
The high-profile concert was billed as a display of glorious Romantic artistry, the blending of Europe’s latest superstar with young, American talent, a powerhouse couple ready to take the music world by storm.
But this morning wasn’t part of that plan.
“One concert, Leila. Get through it and —”
“And what? Leave him?” Her hand shook slightly. “No conductor will touch me.”
Carlo generously rewarded those who went along with his interpretations and ideas and quickly eliminated orchestra members and soloists he deemed difficult. He took things very personally and demanded an absolute loyalty he himself clearly lacked.
Joshua shot her his selling-insurance smile. “I’ll make sure that won’t happen.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“If it doesn’t work with orchestras, then we’ll focus on recitals.” He furrowed his brow. “Have you looked at the scores I sent you?”
“Not yet,” she lied.
Every day, composers inundated SMI with their latest works, hoping to catch the attention of someone on the agency’s glittering roster.
In the past, agencies rejected unsolicited scores. But when arts funding dried up and the recording industry collapsed, they’d had to change policies.
Premieres of new works garnered better media attention and could convince a concert organizer to take a chance in booking a newer artist.
Most agents, organizers, and reporters didn’t care if that new work was the equivalent of the shitty, forgettable pastels hanging on the walls of countless motel rooms around the world.
But Leila did.
In music, she’d found a perfect language, a way of expressing the inexpressible. Some things couldn’t be communicated through words.
Reading amateurish scores rife with cliched ideas and gimmicks took away her reason for playing in the first place and she resented it.
“All great artists premiered the works of their time.”
“I know but —“
“New music festivals are popping up all over the place. You want more concerts? To be an artist that does something relevant and makes a difference?” Joshua spread his arms. “This is how you do it.”
His eyes glinted with a hard sheen, the kind of look she’d seen in the eyes of evangelists preaching on television about the glory and nobility found in suffering.
When people first met Joshua, they were usually surprised to find out where he worked. He was only a few years older than Leila and his mild demeanor didn’t match up with SMI’s aggressive business tactics.
Countless agents were far better at selling their artists than him and their egos were often as huge as the people they represented.
But Joshua’s religion was music and he could sell faith.
In an industry increasingly dominated by the interests of corporate sponsors and frantically competing for relevance in a world of instant gratification and diminishing attention spans, Joshua viewed his job as a calling.
He fervently believed his purpose in life was to bring about another golden age of art by reawakening the public to classical music.
Sometimes Leila wanted to slap him, knock that toothy smile off his face, and remind him he wouldn’t have a job if he didn’t take his damn fifteen percent off her years of work and sacrifice.
Other times, she liked the idea of him.
Most times, she remembered he was the one who kept her plan on track.
So Leila simply murmured her agreement, reassuring him of the rightness of his zeal and her place alongside his quest to bring the power of live music back to the Internet generation.
The door opened and the chilly January air slipped through, carrying a hint of Chanel perfume.
Marlene Soltano entered, her carefully groomed appearance suddenly making the office look shabby. Thick, honey-colored hair, cut in a fashionable bob, artfully swung around a sharp, angular face pinched with irritation.
“Have you seen my black gloves?” She rubbed her hands together, her voice thick with an accent at the intersection of British, French, and Italian. “I swore I’d left them in my coat pocket but I couldn’t find them this morning.”
Joshua shot out of his seat, his arms jerking about as if he didn’t know what to do with them. First they were by his side, then he crossed them across his chest, and then he dropped them again and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“I haven’t. But I can look —“
“No, I’ll have Marc run out and get me another pair.” She let out a small sigh. “Have you gotten ahold of Dietrich? We need to coordinate programming for Sasha and Natalie.”
Joshua dug his hands deeper into his pockets and Leila felt a pang of pity for him.
“He hasn’t returned any of my calls yet. I’ll try again today —“
“Don’t bother.” She waved him away. “He doesn’t like Americans. I’ll call him myself.”
Joshua sat, his frame sagging slightly.
She looked at her. “Leila.”
The story of Marlene’s life had achieved urban legend status. She wasn’t born a Soltano, but was the result of her mother’s drunken one-night stand with her hair dresser.
Once the infidelity came to light, George Soltano divorced his wife, took custody of Marlene, and raised her as if she were his own. A first-generation Swiss immigrant with a keen business sense and a deep love of music, George founded Soltano Music International with the goal of bringing the world’s greatest musicians to the United States.
Despite growing up in a household filled with culture, Marlene demonstrated no passion for the arts and her only interest in music lay in the lifestyle it could afford her.
When George died, her first act as head of SMI was to fire eighty percent of the agents and artists, including some of the most famous names in music. Over the next fifteen years, Marlene rebuilt the boutique agency into a powerful international corporation with an elite reputation and booming profits.
Like most stories musicians shared between vodka shots on a bender, there was no way to know how much of it was true. But it had the effect of making Marlene Soltano one of the most respected and feared figures in the classical music world. She may not have inherited old George’s cultural sensitivity, but she possessed an uncanny talent for business.
Marlene considered everyone in SMI expendable and everyone knew it.
Leila stood. “It’s been awhile.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine —“
“And your parents?”
Leila felt the familiar tug of resentment. “They’re doing well. They’re coming in on Thursday.”
“All that snow.” She gave a mock shudder. “I’ve never understood how anyone could find skiing pleasant. I assume they’ll stay until the opening ceremony?”
The ribbon-cutting for the new Cates Performance Arts Center at Columbia University, her parents’ alma mater, was scheduled a week after her concert. Leila would perform a few short solo works, while her father smiled too wide for the cameras and her mother stood too close to the senator and mayor.
“It’ll be nice to see Paul and Helen again. And I’m looking forward to your concert on Friday,” Marlene added as an afterthought. “The Brahms First is one of my favorites.”
“She’s sounding great,” Joshua said.
Leila had forgotten he was still there, something that happened frequently. She supposed that unobtrusiveness was what made him a good manager.
“Is everything well with Carlo?” Marlene asked.
Leila had been with SMI for a year and a half. During that time, she’d gained considerable attention, completed several international tours, and proven herself to be a good addition to the roster.
But Marlene still looked at her as if she weren’t sure about her.
She was doing it now, tilting her head, gauging Leila, analyzing whether her talent, her looks, her relationship with Carlo had the marketability to bring in future profits.
A dull ache bloomed behind Leila’s forehead, colored by the sparkling chardonnay in the glass, the pleading in Joshua’s eyes, and the concert posters arranged in a neat row on the wall behind Marlene.
Carnegie, Lincoln Center, the Concertgebouw, Suntory Hall. The brilliant colors swam before her, tinted with expectation and the weight of both the past and future.
“We’re excited for the performance,” she managed to reply.
“And you’re in the hall today?”
“Good, good.” She looked away, then back again. “The, ah, acoustics can be a little tricky in that space, especially with the heavy orchestration in that concerto.”
Leila nodded politely, wondering who told her that. “I’ll check it in rehearsal.”
Marlene gave a cold, satisfied smile. “Have her new promo shots come in?”
“I was about to show them to her.” Joshua pulled a large envelope from his briefcase.
Leila slowly sat on the sofa. Marlene’s presence reminded her of what was at stake in a way Joshua’s could not.
This was her sold-out New York debut. The Times would be there as well as influential presenters from London and Paris.
…his legs tangled in the sheets…
The concert would provide excellent promotion for her upcoming debut recording of the Brahms with the Frankfurt Orchestra.
…her writhing body arched in pleasure, hips grinding…
This was the start of everything she’d worked for —
…and the sounds, oh God, the sounds, each pitch harmonizing with the other in rhythm…
“What do you think?”
Joshua spread half a dozen black and white photos across the table.
Leila’s frozen face stared blankly back, her skin pale, eyes overwhelmed by heavy eyeliner, hair pulled up into a severe twist, and body strapped into a gown one size too small.
She looked like a washed out doll.
“They’re okay.” Her voice was stripped of color.
“They’re great,” Joshua said. “Like any one in particular?”
She hated them all. “Not really.”
“The one on the left makes her look constipated.”
Marlene narrowed her eyes and gestured to the last two photos on the right.
“Use these.” Her words snapped through the air in a rapid staccato. “Sharpen her jawline and make her cheekbones more prominent. Clean up the hair here and here,” she pointed, “and remove that spot under her eye. Was Pablo jet-lagged when he did her make-up?”
“Jeff couldn’t get him for the shoot,” Joshua told her. “He got someone else —“
“David,” Leila said. “His name was David.”
“Well, make sure Jeff doesn’t work with him again. We need to get rid of those blemishes.”
“Sure, Marlene.” Joshua’s legs jittered. “Sure.”
The phone in a back office rang and Marlene left, the air thawing in her wake.
Leila’s phone beeped an alert. Rehearsal in forty-five minutes.
Joshua glanced at her. “If it weren’t for this meeting with the Tanglewood director —“
“I’ll just have to enjoy your performance on Friday night along with everyone else.” He smiled and strode to the door, his eyes filled with renewed purpose, voice deep with the satisfaction of self-certainty.
“Come on, I’ll grab you a cab. Midtown traffic is unpredictable.”
Leila stared at her photographs, the black and white transforming into strands of notes dancing across the glossy surface.
“Leila. You ready?”
The wine had softened the tension in her arms and momentarily pushed back the sounds of betrayal raging in her ears.
The constant screams of his groans and her sighs now echoed from a distance, far enough she could almost believe they were the last remnants of a bad dream.
“Sure,” she said.
There was no other answer to give.
What Readers Are Saying
The writing was hauntingly beautiful, every description cultivated with such care... a fabulous prequel!
A gritty whirlwind story that matches the tempo of the city it's set in. Emma Raveling does it again! This prequel novella left me as all her works do — greedy for more.
One of those rare writers who has an incredible talent with words.
Poignant and edgy, Breaking Measures takes contemporary fiction to the next level.
Intriguing...an edge of your seat thriller.