As Ciara wandered among the glitterati, a mix of the rich, the famous, the socialites, and the hangers-on, she felt stifled, choked and overwhelmed. Part of that was the perfume and cologne that lingered in the air. Too much applied, too many mingled scents. The simple fact that she smelled it made it quite clear just how thick it was since her sense of smell had certainly been dimmed from frequent association with harsh chemicals: paint thinner, paint stripper, cleaning products, all tools of her trade. Living in the city didn't help either. Always so many scents lingering, both pleasant and less so.
The noise was equally prevalent but she found herself mostly immune to that. It was just so much white noise, a background waiting for something to truly take center stage. Little clumps of conversations, all equally inane, were full of self-important people trying to convince others of their own relevance with lies and false laughter. She caught snippets of conversations as she wound her way through the people, feeling distinctly the outsider.
Ciara's dealer had made her promise she would be a good little girl and socialize, play nice with everyone and suck up for all she would like to be worth. Moreover, he had managed to elicit a promise that she would watch what she said and avoid inappropriate comments. That part had been most grudgingly acceded to by a woman who much prefered simply letting thoughts roll from her mouth without pausing to filter them. A bad habit for an artist seeking the goodwill of others, but she always felt so frustrated by the falsehoods that surrounded something she felt should be pure expression. Why couldn't she just paint because she loved it and was talented rather than having to do all this extra crap? Why did she have to sell herself as much as her paintings?
She shook her head slightly, then flushed as the man she was passing, who had just finished making a remark, glared at her as though she had been disagreeing with him. She hadn't, but she managed to stammer an apology nonetheless. This was not the place she should be. That was her apartment in the area she considered her studio. Painting. Sketching. Something more productive than all this. She had distinct doubts anything useful would come of the evening.
It was then, as an expression of mild disgust and frustration crossed her face, that she caught a set of eyes across the room and froze. It was the host, Daniel Alverston. Perfect timing, of course, and she realized that amusement crossed his face as he arched an eyebrow just as dark as hers on a face that was perfectly carved. A random thought fluttered through her mind while all else had stopped: Could he be a painting or sculpture come to life?
Panic settled into her stomach. She had been caught looking less than pleased and impressed to be there, spotted with a rather rude expression on her face by none other than the man who had invited her. She had never met him, of course, and she wasn't sure if he even knew her name as he looked at her. Maybe she was just another nameless guest, unconnected in his thoughts with the artist Ciara Fitzpatrick who he had invited as part of his potential collection. Maybe. On the off chance that she was wrong, however, she offered a polite and ingratiating smile before ducking into the crowd, hoping that she could disappear.
The entire point of the night had been to come, to meet him, and to mingle with all his rich guests who could potentially become her patrons and customers. Not that she expected him to do so, but the plan had been to be seen, be charming, and garner some interest in her and, thus, her work. It seemed backwards to her, but this was the way things worked. And now she was going to be doing her best to become inconspicuous, hide from the man she should be introducing herself to. Bloody hell.
As she politely but quickly began to walk back through the clusters of conversation, trying to find somewhere to plant herself, somewhere to seem like she belonged, she also began to search for a waiter with a tray of champagne. At this point she could use some. Actually, she could use something stronger, but that would be a bad idea of even greater magnitude.
Something tugged at her awareness and she hesitated for a moment in her escape, turned, and found a champagne flute held out to her by long, elegant fingers. Those finger were the first things she focused on, and she noticed a couple minute scars, a dusting of dark hair on the back of the hand to which the fingers connected. Graceful hands that still retained a strength to them that she found fascinating. Clean, short nails, and just a hint of callous on the pads that seemed somehow out of place. Her first thought was that the owner of the hands must be a waiter.
Or not. When her gaze moved beyond the hand and realized that at her eye-level she was looking at what she assumed was a rather expensive suit. Not a tuxedo, but an elegant suit in dark green, the shirt beneath the jacket a complimentary lighter blue that curved her lips into a slight smile. It was a mix of colours she could appreciate. Then her eyes finally found their way to the face and she forgot the glass of champagne she should be taking politely, forgot the thanks that had just died on her lips. None other than the host stood before her, the man she was hoping to avoid after her exceedingly embarrassing expressionary discretion moments ago.
As she stared at him, far closer than she had ever really expected to be, a tangle of thoughts worked themselves through her brain. How had he gotten so close to her so suddenly? Why did he have callouses? Why was he so beautiful? Most of all, she wanted to know just why he'd made the effort to locate her. Something of it all must have shown on her face, because he let out an easy chuckle which drew her eyes to his lips which began a catalogue of his features.
His lips were perfectly shaped, just the right tint and hue, a tiny scar just barely visible beneath his lower one. Strong jaw, perhaps just a little too strong, but well balanced by cheekbones that cast delightful shadows beneath them. Dark brows, coal lashes, slightly curling dark hair framing his face. Startlingly green eyes. It was meeting those eyes that made her stumble back a step in surprise, jolted her back into the cacaphony of the party, made her mutter an apology to the woman she had bumped.
There was something in this man's eyes that made her fingers beg for a pencil and paper or, better yet, a brush and paint and canvas. A suggestion that he would be one of the ones she could paint and learn something of. One she had to paint, to sketch, capture. She didn't understand it, of course, but she never did and it was true nonetheless. It wasn't about perfection or beauty. It was about what lurked in those eyes.
"Are you going to take the champagne, or should I drink it myself?" His voice was crisp, just lightly tinged with amusement, and she snatched at the glass, draining half of it simply to try to allay her embarrassment. That was not particularly successful, of course, but it had seemed like perhaps it would work.
Her tongue darted out to catch a drop that clung to her upper lip, and she finally broke her gaze from his. "I'm sorry. That was rude. I did not mean to stare. I just-," and at that point she realized there was nothing to say. What could she admit to? She felt the fumbling of her own brain, searching some reason that she had gotten lost in inspecting him, lost in the way his features were arranged. Lost in the depths of his eyes, as clichéd as that sounded.
"It is quite alright. You are hardly the first woman to stare at me and I am quite certain there will be at least a few others tonight. Although usually I have a better idea of what a woman is thinking while she is looking." His voice held the edge of a chuckle and his lips curved into a slightly rogueish smile. Leaning just a little closer, he whispered conspiratorially, "I usually feel much more like a steak they're planning on devouring. It is refreshing to find someone simply inspecting me like I'm a piece of architecture."
That comment had her flushing brightly, toying with the stem of the glass she held. "I-"she began, then wondered how to finish it. She hated asking or forgiveness, and hated feeling that she should. Especially when she felt she should be apologizing for not being immediately sexually attracted to him. "I was simply startled." And with that she gathered enough of her thoughts to realize that this was the best she would get for an opportunity to introduce herself and make her dealer happy. "I'm sorry, we've never met. I'm Ciara Fitzpatrick, and I was meaning to thank you for your invitation." Her smile was calmer, an illusion she clung to as her heart pounded and her brain demanded she sketch, paint, something.
One corner of his lips quirked as he watched her. He gave away little of himself in his expressions, amusement functioning like a mask he wore, hiding what might be going on in his head. Except for his eyes. There she saw flickers and flashes she couldn't quite comprehend. "I am well aware of who you are. I do tend to remember the faces of beautiful women I invite to my home, Ms. Fitzpatrick. And as you so obviously know, I am Daniel Alverston. It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I regret not having previously had that satisfaction." There was a pause, and suddenly she found his gaze sharpened, a hint that there was some interest beyond the simple meeting or even collecting of someone who had potential. "I find myself distinctly hoping there will be more of this particular pleasure in my life in the future."
Flattery would get most people most places. In this case, however, it put Ciara's back up and made her uncomfortable. She had no idea whether he was simply uttering empty words or if he was insinuating some desire to seduce her. The latter was something she hoped against, as she had little enough desire to become anyone's conquest or mistress. She was not going to spread her legs for the possibility of fame.
But she did not want to be rude. Not again, at least. "I'm sure that would be quite possible, especially given your well-known propensity for hosting parties and for attending gallery openings. Our paths are sure to cross again eventually." Her smile was formal, but held none of the reality that her earlier expressions had held. It was a polite mask that she clung to in the hopes of not encouraging some romantic liason or offending someone who could prove a benefit to her career. It was a dismissal and not what she should have said, but her dealer could go hang himself. She was not going to flirt; it felt too much like prostituting herself.
"I think you misunderstand me," he replied casually. "I was actually hoping we would have a chance to talk this evening. I have a proposition that might be of interest to you. No, Ms. Fitzpatrick, not that kind of proposition. Something related entirely to your artistic skills. Please, won't you join me on the balcony? It is significantly more quiet there." His expression polite, he held out a hand to gesture to a glass door nearby that gave a view of the city lights as well as a rather large balcony that was currently unoccupied.
"Oh. I... of course. I'm sorry." She bit her lip, hating that once again she had managed to be inexcusably rude for no reason she could admit. So she turned, heading the direction he indicated. She was also well aware of the light pressure of his hand against her back as he ushered her along as though concerned she would change her mind and dart off into the crowd. Considering her behaviour to that point, it was a rather apt concern and it made her smile slightly as he held the door open for her and they stepped out into the night air.