Read an Excerpt
His Every Kiss
The ostrich plume was tickling her nose, and there was nothing Grace Cheval could do about it. She slid the bow across the strings of her violin, trying to concentrate on the allegro of Vivaldi's L'Autunno, rather than on the huge feather that had come loose from her hat and fallen forward across her cheek. She prayed she wouldn't sneeze.
The feather wasn't her only problem. Ballrooms were always too warm, especially at these crowded charity affairs. Worse, the ball was Fancy Dress, and the costume she had been given to wear did not help. The heavy velvet doublet of a highwayman made playing her violin for an entire evening a tiring business. The combination of doublet, plumed hat, and leather mask made her feel as if she were in an oven. As she played, Grace shook her head several times, trying to get the ostrich plume out of her face without missing a note of the music, but it was a futile attempt. The silly thing insisted on falling right back down again to tickle her nose.
Vivaldi finally ended, much to her relief. As the couples who had been engaged in the quadrille left the ballroom floor, she set her violin and bow in her lap, then lifted her hands to yank the ostrich plume out of her hat. When it came away, she tossed it aside and turned her sheet music to the Weber waltz, which was the last dance of the evening. She lifted her violin once again as one of her fellow musicians leaned closer to her.
"You only got half of it," he told her in a low voice. "The other half is poking straight up out of your hat."
"Rot," she shot back as shetucked her violin beneath her chin. "You are such a liar, Teddy."
"I'm not lying," the young man answered, settling the laurel wreath of Caesar more firmly into his chestnut brown hair before lifting his bow to the cello between his knees. "Sticking up like that, it looks like a house chimney, only fluffy."
Grace raised her own bow. "I can always tell when you're lying. Your ears get red."
He gave a chuckle as they began to play. Grace had performed at so many balls during the past three years that she knew most published waltzes by heart, and that enabled her to have a look at the dancers as she played.
Queen Elizabeth danced by, along with her partner, Henry the Second. Helen of Troy was next, with a man whose costume was merely a black evening suit and long, gold-lined black cape. He made her think at once of Faust's devil, Mephistopheles. The two made a striking pair, for the woman's white toga was an eye-catching contrast to the man's dark clothes and coloring. As the couple swirled past her, she noticed that his black hair was long and tied back, an odd thing, many years out of fashion, yet not quite in keeping with his costume. He wore no mask, and her glimpse of his face caused her hand to falter in surprise. Her violin hit a strident note. She recovered herself, and the pair moved out of her line of vision, but Grace knew she had not been mistaken in her recognition of him.
She would never forget the night she had met the famous composer, and she doubted most other women would forget either. A compelling man, tall, with eyes of true black. Meeting his gaze had been like looking into an abyss where no light could penetrate the depths. A man with a resolute jaw that said he usually got what he wanted, and a cynical curve to his mouth that said he was easily bored by it afterward. A man of breathtaking genius, wealth and position, a man who seemed to have everything life could offer, a man who had put the barrel of a pistol beneath his chin.
She could still remember the sick lurch of her stomach as she had watched him from behind the heavy velvet curtain of the Palladium that night five years ago. She had played her violin then, too, hoping the notes of Moore's own music would not be drowned out by a pistol shot.
Etienne had taken her back to Paris only a day later, and she had not seen Moore again, but she had heard a great deal about him during the five years that had followed their strange encounter. Everyone from Paris to Vienna and back again had been eager to discuss the latest news about England's most famous composer. There had been plenty of it.
His tempestuous love affair with the actress Abigail Williams was the stuff of legend, an affair begun when he had jumped down from his box at Covent Garden and carried her right off the stage in the midst of a play, ended when she had found him in bed with a beautiful Chinese prostitute he had supposedly won in a card game. He had lived openly with half a dozen women during the past five years, including a Russian dancer and the illegitimate daughter of an Indian rajah.
In addition to news about Moore, there was gossip. It was said that a riding accident had affected his brain and he was slowly going mad. It was said that he drank and gambled to excess, used opiates, smoked hashish. It was said he went without sleep for days at a time, fought countless duels but only with swords, and rode his horse at breakneck speed no matter whether he was riding on the Row or jumping fences at a country house. It was said there was no dare he would not take up, no challenge he would let pass, no rule he had not broken ...His Every Kiss. Copyright © by Laura Lee Guhrke. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.