Nineteen-year-old Aric Reynolds has spent most of his life in boarding schools, summer camps, or on tour as a prodigy with the piano. His wealthy parents have never had time for him, and after a failed year at college, they have decided on a final course of action. Aric is brought to Nikola Jovanovic's beautiful, sprawling manor in Serbia.
Nikola is known the world around as a master in music, unsurpassed by any, but terribly reclusive. For one year, Aric is to be his student, but in the modern day, it is easy for Aric to learn Nikola's secrets. With a dark shadow lurking from Nikola's past and Aric's stubborn, promiscuous nature, the sexual tension between the pair simply explodes, and Aric's very mortal life is held in the balance.
Nineteen year old Aric Reynolds becomes the less than willing student of the vampire Nikola Jovanović, and he's pissed about his parents dropping him off in a castle in Serbia. Nikola's lessons in music and history do start to grow on him, but don't satisfy his cravings to be anywhere else, doing anything else, trying to achieve the oblivion that would be preferable to his emotionally empty life. Casual sex and drinking might shut down Aric's mind, but it only infuriates Nikola, who has watched Aric from afar since he was a thirteen-year old child prodigy and senses the vast potential Aric carries. (That is creepy, but this is a vampire -- they take the long view.)
The lessons turn from the strictly academic and musical, to lessons of the heart, taught in both directions -- Nikola both holds Aric at a distance and teaches him about intimacy, and Aric tutors Nikola, sometimes with very harsh lessons, about letting go and listening. Nikola, unfortunately, is not a very good student.
The story divides roughly into two sections, and the first, in set mostly in Nikola's stronghold, contains most of the emotional story arc. The pair goes from antagonistic to lovers, and had the story ended there, I would have closed the book with a most contented sigh. Aric both figures out Nikola's secret and accepts it, and shows some great emotional growth in learning to care about others and even to love, while Nikola engages in a real relationship for the first time in centuries. And there really are very few things as sweet as a kiss in Paris in the spring.
But those centuries of keeping his own counsel have left a mark -- Nikola slips into his old ways of making decisions without consulting Aric, creating multiple incidents of extreme havoc. The first was both unnecessary and far too easily forgiven, and the others -- a minor character who wielded a cluebat did finally show up.
The first section worked much better than the second, which divided its focus between emotions and the practical aspects of being a vampire, though it most certainly solidified the HEA. Nikola kept repeating his earlier error, with variations, and while this might mirror the structure of Rachmaninoff's piano music, it unfortunately doesn't strengthen the story.
This writing team has done several things very well -- the emotional arcs for both Aric and Nikola are beautifully drawn, aside from the incident of easy forgiveness, and the incorporation of the music into the initial arc was well done, though possibly its more accessible for someone with a little musical training. The sense of place was vivid, especially during a section where the pair traveled extensively. Aric's mind came through in lines like this: "He was in hell. Without any extra batteries."
Some things didn't quite work: the POV changed frequently and without warning, and the practical aspects of Aric's musical training and career didn't especially mesh with my understanding of the care and feeding of a serious musician.
This is the first offering I've read from Armstrong and Piet, and while the story had some issues, it had enough that really shines that I will gladly read more. 3.5 marbles (rounded up at Goodreads)