Read An Excerpt

by Nina Rowan

Genre: Victorian Period, England, Historical Romance

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Sebastian stepped from the carriage in front of Blake’s Museum of Automata. He hadn’t expected that helping Darius locate the plans for some incomprehensible machine — plans purported to be at this museum — would mean an excuse to see Clara Whitmore again. That alone lent his task a new and welcome sense of purpose.

Anticipation flickered to life in him as he thought of his encounter with Clara two nights prior. He couldn’t ask her outright about the machine plans that Darius sought, but perhaps he could convince her to reveal what she knew.

If anything.

Even if his efforts came to naught, the moment to approach her could not have been better—she knew him from her past, and he might see her again at Lady Rossmore’s ball. Like a cat seeking entry into a garden mouse hole, all he needed to do was paw at the opening until it widened just enough.

A fence wrapped around the front garden of what appeared to be a former townhouse. Wrought-iron balconies and pedimented windows perforated the façade of the building, and a crooked metal sign hung on the fence proclaiming the museum’s hours.

Sebastian knocked on the door and waited, hunching his shoulders against the morning chill. He knocked again, louder. He checked his pocket watch, then turned the door handle and stepped inside.

A single light glowed in the foyer, illuminating a long desk covered with papers. The doors to what had once been the dining and drawing rooms stood open. Mechanical toys, boxes, and clock parts cluttered the tables and shelves along with an array of tools — saws, chisels, planes, hammers — and limbs of porcelain dolls and animals.

Eerie place with its dismembered dolls, twisted bits of metal and frayed wires, dirty windows, faded wallpaper, peeling paint, musty smell, and greenish-brown like decaying moss.

Not wanting to hear the sound of his own voice in the silence, Sebastian ventured farther. Another door stood open at the end of a corridor, spilling light onto the worn carpet. Placing his hand on the door, he pushed it open.

And stopped. Sunlight bloomed through the vast windows of what must have once been the conservatory. Tables were strewn with brilliant fabrics — green silk, red velvet, blue satin. Ribbons and gold braid cascaded from their spools, spilling onto the floor in colorful puddles. Paintbrushes, wires, balls of thread, and pots of paint cluttered a shelf, along with feathers, flowers, bits of tulle and gauze, garlands.

In the midst of this bright wonderland, Clara Winter sat, her dark head bent as she worked a needle through a piece of cloth. She wore a plain cotton dress protected by a white apron. Stripes of blue and red paint smeared the bodice. The coil of hair at the back of her head had loosened, streaming tendrils over her nape.

Something crackled through Sebastian at the sight of her, an energy that made his spine straighten and his blood warm.