The organizer of the fund-raiser had been ecstatic, keeping Cass on the phone long past her usual chat time with people she barely knew. The older woman had waxed poetic about how wonderful it was Mr. Nikos had bought the lessons for his lifelong friend and business partner, Neo Stamos.
And indeed it had been Mr. Stamos’s very efficient, and rather aloof, personal assistant who had called Cass to schedule the lesson. Cass had been tolerant because her own practice schedule was flexible and she had almost no social life to speak of.
Regardless, the 10:00 a.m. Tuesday morning classes were hardly a challenge to her schedule. Though Mr. Stamos’s PA made it sound like he would be sacrificing something akin to his firstborn child to be there.
Having no idea why a fabulously wealthy, far too good-looking, clearly driven and supremely busy businessman would want the lessons, Cass was even more nervous than usual at the thought of meeting a new student for the first time. In fact, Cass hadn’t felt this level of anxiety since the last time she had performed publicly.
She’d been telling herself all morning, she was being ridiculous. It hadn’t helped.
The doorbell rang, startling her into immobility, even though she’d been expecting it. Her heart beat a rapid tattoo in her chest, her lungs panting little, short breaths. She turned on the bench, but did not stand to her rather average height of five feet six inches.
She needed to. She needed to answer the door. To meet her new student.
The bell pealed a second time, the impatient summons thankfully breaking her paralysis. She jumped to her feet and hurried to answer it even as worried questions that had been plaguing her since discovering the identity of her new student once again raced through her mind.
Would Neo Stamos himself be standing there, or his PA? Or maybe a bodyguard, or chauffeur? Did billionaires talk to their piano teachers, or keep underlings around to do that for them? Would she be expected to teach with others in the room? If he had them, where would his bodyguards and chauffeur wait during the lesson? Or his PA?
The thought of several people she did not know converging on her home made Cass feel like hyperventilating. She was proud of herself for continuing down the narrow hall to the front door of her modest house.
Maybe he was alone. If he’d driven himself, that opened another host of worries. Would he feel comfortable parking his expensive car in her all too normal neighborhood in west Seattle? Should she offer the use of her empty garage?
The bell rang a third time just as she swung the door open. Mr. Stamos, who looked even more imposing than he did in his publicity photos, did not appear in the least embarrassed to be caught impatiently ringing it again.
“Miss Cassandra Baker?” Green eyes, the rich color of summer leaves, set in a face almost overwhelmingly attractive in person, stared at her expectantly.
She tilted her head back to meet the dark-haired tycoon’s gaze. “Yes.” Then she forced herself to make the offer she would have to any other student. “You may call me Cass.”
“You look like a Cassandra, not a Cass.” His voice was deep, thrumming through her like a perfectly struck chord.
“Cass is what my protégés call me.” Although referring to this man as a protégé struck her as decidedly off.
As if he found the term as incongruous as she, his perfectly formed lips quirked at one side. Though it could not be called a true smile by any stretch. “I will call you Cassandra.”
She stared at him, uncertain how to take his arrogance. He didn’t appear to mean anything by it. His expression said he believed it was simply his prerogative to call her by the name he felt suited her, rather than the one she used with the few people she had regular, ongoing communications.
“I believe it will be easier to start the lesson if you let me inside.” His voice was tinged with impatience, but he did not frown.
Nevertheless, he made her feel gauche and lacking in manners. “Of course, I…did you want to park your car in the garage?”
He didn’t even bother to glance over his Armani-clad shoulder at the sleek Mercedes resting in her driveway before shaking his head, a single economical movement to each side. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Okay, then. Let’s go inside.” She turned and led the way to the piano room.
It had been the back parlor when the house was first built in the late nineteenth century. Now it served beautifully to house her Fazioli and practically nothing else. There was a single oversized Queen Anne-style armchair for the use of her rare guests, with a tiny round side table, but no other furniture cluttered the room.
She indicated the wide, smooth piano bench, the same exact finish as the Fazioli. “Have a seat.”