Isabeau Montgomery was a musical prodigy, a concert pianist whose genius was revealed at the age of 5. Isabeau performed until she was 12 years old, traveling extensively with her mother playing to sold out concert halls. She was famous, considered the premier virtuoso of her time. Then her mother was killed in a tragic car accident which left Isabeau fighting for her life. As far as anyone knows, Isabeau has not played since her beloved mother’s untimely death, most believe it’s because one of her hands was badly damaged in the accident. However, there is far more to her tragic story. She is now 25 years old and has carefully established a specific routine to her life.
Isabeau owns and operates a small bar in New York City that is well attended and she maintains a cozy apartment above the bar that she calls home. Isabeau is a petite, delicate human being, an extremely private person who keeps a well of pain and personal secrets locked inside. She doesn’t like to be touched. She has supressed the music that resonated in her mind during the early years of her life for a variety of reasons. Then one night Noah Clark walks into her bar and completely disrupts her equilibrium, her muse is unleashed.
As noted in the synopsis, Noah is the lead singer of Black Pheonix, a famous musician in his own right. The band broke up years earlier following the death of Noah's best friend, the band's drummer. Noah has his own skeletons rattling around in the closet having lived fast and wild when the band was at the peek of its success. At 41 years old, he has learned from his mistakes, matured, and the music is calling him. Noah has reassembled the remaining members of Black Pheonix in New York to cut a demo CD at a recording studio down the street from Izzy’s Place. Noah, as Isabeau muses near the beginning of the story is so “inherently sexual that any woman would have to be blind not to be affected by his virile good looks and confidence”. Ms. Grimm has developed a hero who exudes those qualities in spades.
After meeting Noah, Isabeau refuses to acknowledge their mutual attraction. I felt Noah’s frustration and heartache at not being able to elicit the time of day from Isabeau. The sexual tension sizzles and flares until one evening, Isabeau finally acquiesces and gifts him with a smile. It is one of many powerful emotional scenes that affected me deeply. Despite significant misgivings about getting involved with Noah she allows him some of her time and finally permits him to touch her.
He leaned into her. “If you still want me to stay away from you, you’d better tell me now.”
She didn’t have to ask twice. He dipped his head, settled his lips on hers and plundered. He dragged her against him, and drank in the hot, potent taste of her as he fed on her mouth like a starving man.
She softened, a tiny sound of passion slipping up her throat—an urgent invitation. His pulse leaped. So did other parts of his anatomy. Her fingers burrowed through his hair.
He deepened the kiss, stroking his hands down the sides of her body to settle on her hips. He used them to guide her as he stepped forward once, twice, until her back settled against the trunk of the maple. Awash in the smell of her, the feel of her, he pressed closer, until no space existed between them. Her breasts flattened against his chest, her hips arched into him. Heat from her body flowed into his, sparking a fire. His heartbeat echoed in his head.
After Midnight © Sarah Grimm
While Isabeau exhibits strength of character and resolve, scratching below the surface of her armor reveals a fragility, and a firm belief that she is not attractive to men. Noah intuitively knows he must move slowly if he is going to earn her trust. Their romance is a slow burn and the build up to the scene where they finally make love is intense, electric. These two have such explosive chemistry, but even after they become intimate, Isabeau cannot give herself completely to Noah. He wants all of her and feels she must play the piano again to be whole as music is part of her soul. Noah makes a huge mistake in an attempt to force her to play. I felt their suffering when things go very badly.
There are a number of strong, well crafted secondary characters who play important roles in the storyline. Most notable is Dominic, Noah’s good friend, confidant, the bass guitarist of Black Pheonix who also befriends Isabeau. And, Thomas, the man she considers to be her father even though there is no biological connection. Thomas and Isabeau have a very special, unique relationship.
A suspense subplot winds through the narrative that initially involves threats against Isabeau then escalate into violent attempts on her life. What I liked was it added intrigue and a chilling sense of danger to the story but doesn’t overpower the essence of the romance in fact, I thought it enhanced it.
After Midnight was a compelling, sensual page-turner and I was sorry when it concluded. The dialogue is crisp and tense, IMHO extremely well orchestrated. A number of themes are addressed in this novel that form the tapestry of Isabeau's character. Isabeau and Noah's story stayed with me long after finishing and it is a novel I will read again. If you enjoy an unique love story with endearing characters you may like to give After Midnight a try. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sarah Grimm’s work.