A Passion for Pleasure - By Nina Rowan Page 0,1

to her other arm. “So, Mr. Hall, I’ve continued to hear great things about you over the years. You conducted at Weimar this past summer, did you not?”

The admiring, bright pink note in her voice clawed at him. The fingers of his right hand flexed, a movement that caused tension to creep up his arm and into the rest of his body.

“Yes.” His voice sounded thin, stretched.

Clara blinked, a slight frown tipping her mouth again. Her eyes really were the strangest shade—a trick of the light, surely. No one had eyes that color. He certainly didn’t recall having noticed them when she was his student. He didn’t even recall having noticed her.

Discomfort pinched Sebastian’s chest. He wouldn’t have noticed her back then. Not when women had flocked to him with bright smiles and hot whispers. Among such birds of paradise, Clara Whitmore—even with her unusual eyes—would have been a plain brown sparrow.

She still is, he told himself. Never mind the knot of regret that he couldn’t remember her—Clara Whitmore with the violet eyes that took his measure in one sweeping glance. No one could hide from that assessment. Not even him.

He straightened his shoulders, tucking his right hand into his pocket. He looked at the waxen head with an unspoken question.

“My uncle is introducing an automaton at Lady Rossmore’s ball,” Clara explained. “Her ladyship thinks it will be great entertainment if Uncle Granville demonstrates one of his musician automata at a Society of Musicians’ event. So I’m doing some of the initial preparations for him, as he was called out of town.”

A surge of comprehension rolled through Sebastian as the pieces began locking together in his mind.

“Then you are Mr. Granville Blake’s niece,” he said. “I’d expected…that is, Lady Rossmore said he might be here.”

“He’d intended to be, but owing to the circumstances, I’m to carry out his duties.” Clara touched the automaton’s head, drawing Sebastian’s gaze to her long fingers. “This is Millicent, the Musical Lady. Part of her anyhow. She plays four tunes on the harpsichord.”

“How”—ridiculous—“interesting.” Though he’d heard Granville Blake dabbled in all sorts of mechanical toys and automata, Sebastian was interested in only one of the man’s many projects. Not for himself, but for his younger brother Darius.

And now he apparently had to be interested in Granville Blake’s niece, as well.

“You oughtn’t be here alone,” he told her. “Especially at this hour.”

“We’ve permission to bring in our equipment,” she replied. “We must start to assemble Millicent and her harpsichord. And I’m not alone. My uncle’s assistant, Tom, is just outside unloading the remaining crates.” She glanced behind him to the piano resting beside the stage. “Are you rehearsing for a performance at the ball?”

His jaw tensed. Six months ago, he might have been here in rehearsal. Now he was here to ensure the safe delivery and tuning of his Broadwood piano, which he had offered for the Society of Musicians’ indefinite use. Were it not for the fact that the Rossmores were friends of his father, Sebastian would have spent next Saturday evening wreathed in the smoke and noise of the Eagle Tavern.

“I will be at the ball,” he said, “but not performing.”

“Oh.” Clara Whitmore looked faintly confused. “Well, I do apologize for the interruption. I didn’t even know that anyone else would be here. Once Millicent is assembled, we’ll leave you to your work.”

Work. The piano was all the evidence she needed to assume he’d been working.

He was about to respond with a sharp tone—though he had no idea what he’d say—when a needle of rational thought pierced the fog in his brain.

At the very least, he needed to be civil to Clara Whitmore if he wanted to learn more about her uncle’s projects.

Or perhaps he should be more than civil. Women had always responded to his attentions. Even if now those attentions were corroded with neglect, Miss Whitmore didn’t appear the sort who had much to judge them—or him—by.

The thought that she might possess no touchstone by which to judge him was strangely liberating.

“Would you care for a currant muffin?” She opened the basket. “I thought I’d better bring something to eat since I don’t know how long Tom and I will be here. We’re not quite as adept at assembling Millicent as Uncle Granville is, especially when it comes to the machinery contained within the harpsichord bench. I’ve also got apples and shortbread, as well as a bit of seed cake left over from tea…”

She kept talking. He stopped listening.

Instead he stared at