Romance

Here are the first two chapters of Artless, a story of two love stories, and some wonderful characters.  When first I started writing it I did not know exactly where it would go, but then it began to unfold so that sometimes I had to type faster than comfortable to keep up with it, an adventure in and of itself.   I hope they captivate you as much as they did me.  If you would like to read the book simply press the “Buy Now” button on the left side of this page or the end of the post!

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  • Artless, Chapters 1 & 2 (3/4/2017)

    By Narcissa Lyons

     

    Chapter One

    Garrett Darrs walked quickly and resolutely to the car waiting for him on Lexington Avenue.  Although his usual gait was one of a casual confidence, his eyes fixed ahead of him, today was miserable and he just wanted to reach his car.  He didn’t believe in umbrellas, perhaps stupidly to his admission, so he bowed his head in the rain with the Wall Street Journal doing its best to shield him from at least the bad news of rain.  He was grateful that Nick was on time, because let’s face it, Nick was never on time.  Nick, his driver, was a bad judge of traffic, a bit off with general direction, and prone to too many newsstand discussions that did not involve looking at his watch.  Garrett had occasionally thought to oust him from his employment, and often wondered how Nick had made it long enough for Garrett to come to like him, but couldn’t really bring himself to do it.  He didn’t know if it was because he liked Nick (and Nick always made sure he had a cigar for Garrett whenever the moment required one), or whether he was convinced Nick would not likely be hired by anyone else.  But it didn’t matter today.  Nick was right there, his head hidden by paper news. Garrett opened the back door and stepped in (Nick did not open the car doors since he was usually late so Garrett would do it, and then Nick invariably forgot about that small but essential service).

    Nick dropped his paper immediately, and turned to acknowledge Garrett.

    “Hello Mr. Darrs”.  At least we’ve got that formality thought Garrett.  “What a mess out here.  The rain’s made everyone ruder than usual, although at least it didn’t slow them down much today.  Where are we going?”

    “Luigi’s.  No detours if possible.”  He paused.  And then grudgingly “Glad to see you at the same time I came onto the street”.

    Nick was not ignorant of his failings.  “I did what I could, but I think luck was also on my side.  I’ll get better Mr. Darrs.  I’ve only been working for you for a few years”.  A shocking enough statement that Garrett left it alone.

    He turned quietly to the streets outside his limousine haven, and watched the passers-by, which wasn’t easy.  There are many that do believe in umbrellas, and on days like this they were in abundance.  Only here and there could he catch glimpses, and no one looked happy.  In the face of New York City rain, no one ever looked happy he thought.  As his interest waned, his eyes lost focus, staring outside his car but with no real sight at all.

    Garrett Darrs was nothing short of gorgeous.  Tall and lean, with deep gray eyes set in a head that bragged tousled dark hair, he was in fact beautiful.  It would be strange to think a man with such looks was not at least arrogant, but Garrett’s arrogance stemmed instead from his own intellect, and his intolerance of those that could not match it.  He did not seem to care about this face enough to be boastful, although he cared enough about it to know that it had and would assist in his endeavors with women.  As if money weren’t enough.   He was conscious of his health enough to run regularly, but not so obsessed with his physique to spend hours a day with a personal trainer as many of his colleagues did.  His look was contemplative, if not sometimes dark.  Although his smile would take the breath away of even a stony woman, he did not share it often, or even often enough.  He was almost, but importantly not, somber.

    Although Garrett had a short temper for inexcusable failings, he was patient and kind in moments that required it, and endearingly even when moments did not.  He was fair in his business dealings, and possessed a devastating duende that women found disturbing, and men found likable.  Certainly this was part of the reason he was so successful at marketing and selling the artwork that bedecked his gallery.  Certainly that was some of the reason he was granted wall space in select locations around the city where others would wait months, and even years to hang artwork from their establishment.  Truly it helped explain his countless bargain finds about New England for antiques to adorn both his home and his gallery. And obviously why women from all walks of life approached him and lingered for as long as they felt would not endanger their moral fiber.

    Garret’s gallery was something he was extremely proud of.  He had bought the building about five years ago with some of the millions he had made on Wall Street, and he had invested heavily in the remodeling of the architecture, furniture, décor and marketing.  All that he had done with the assistance only of his secretary Fiona Silvin, a devout employee who had begun working for him at Ocean Investments seven years ago, and left with him in his endeavor to change from the world of finance to the calmer, more beautiful world of art.  He thanked her often, and even more often silently.  She was efficient, honest, and rarely wrong, and she new how to handle calls he sometimes did not.  She never flirted with him, and that was critical.  He could not have an affair with his secretary, and she had never let on she would wish to have one—an oddity to him initially (analytically, not arrogantly), but over time he came to understand that although she was devoted to him when she was around him, she was devoted to William the rest of the time.  Thank God for William.

    So although it’s quite true that Garrett was not born with a silver spoon, and that he in fact worked very hard for about ten years before he was able to purchase his gallery, he was a very lucky man.  At thirty-nine he was wealthy enough to retire, and handsome enough to have a very good selection of women to choose from.  And choose he did often.

    Nick was winding his way in and out of traffic, occasionally swearing at the odd driver, and now and then nodding at passers-by.  He was tired of the rain.

    “Here we are, sir”. He said to Garrett.  He looked back at his employer to see that Garrett was drifting, as usual.  “Sir.”  Garrett’s gaze broke.

    “Yes.” He said.  “Oh, right.  Thanks.  I’ll let myself out”  Garrett now made a point to say that as often as he could in the vain attempt to remind Nick of what he really was not getting away with.

    “When would you like me back?”

    “Well if that means you’re not going to wait, then I’d say be back in an hour and a half”.  This he said knowing full well that he meant at least two hours.

    “OK boss.  See you soon.” Nick nodded his head and smiled.  He was an affable fellow.

    “Yes. Thanks.” Garrett closed the car door, and turned to walk into Luigi’s.

    Luigi’s was an old restaurant, and an old favorite of Garrett’s.  He had been coming here for many years, and had come to know Luigi himself, the original owner, very well.   The exterior was unassuming, with elegant, wrought iron letters, over deep cream walls, healthy ivy scaling the trellis and much of the walls.  He opened the massive, thick wooden door and entered, a smile forming on his face, ready for the warm greeting that was his.  The warmth and delectable scents greeted him first, increasing his appetite immediately.

    “Hello Mr. Darrs.”  It was Daphne.  She smiled.

    “Hello Daphne” he said.  “You are looking exceptional”.

    “Your table is ready.  Come on”  She said with a wave.  He and Daphne had a sweet history.  He followed her, his smile not fading, but gathering meaning. Reflecting on women always deepened his smile.

    Garrett eased into his usual seat comfortably, and ordered himself a glass of wine.  Daphne left him alone and he watched her depart.  Life is beautiful he thought.  He looked casually about the room, noticing that it was, as usual, well populated, even early afternoon as it was.  The walls were peppered with mostly exceptional pieces of art, each lit strategically and tastefully.   A good deal of it was from his gallery.  A few were Marcus Poland, who he had shown several times, and was one of his favorite contemporary artists.  His style was romantic and somber, sometimes desperate, rarely hopeful, but always stunning, even if it was not to everyone’s taste.  He noticed with a touch of curiosity that they had a new painting in a far corner by an artist he did not recognize.  He thought it was of two women holding hands.  He’d get a better look after his lunch.

    Daphne delivered his wine, and after he thanked her he took a large sip, swallowing slowly enough to appreciate it.  Today was an important day.  He was waiting at his favorite table in his favorite restaurant for a journalist to appear and interview him about his gallery and his accomplishments.  True enough it was a bachelor column, and that didn’t sit too well with him, but it was in one of New York’s finest rags, New York Life.  It would serve as excellent publicity for his already well-hyped Gallery, Gallery Darrs.  He had planned everything he was going to say and everything he was surely not going to say.  He was not a man of many words and did not want to give in to the pettiness of selling himself to any pining females reading the column, but instead to focus on the brilliance of his life’s work, and where he intended to go from here.  Not of course that he was quite sure of that answer.  He had all the money he needed, the respect he deserved, the looks he could handle, and appropriate enough companionship on all levels.  He was not a lonely man.  The only things he was sure he still required in life was the acquisition of a larger sailing boat, a summer home in Italy, and perhaps at some point starting a restaurant.  Other than that he was very satisfied and didn’t see that anyone else should find that wanting.  He was worrying too much, he decided, and instead looked down at his hands, his wine, the impeccable table linen.  He had another taste of his chardonnay and looked at his watch.  At any moment.

    Luigi Paganelli strutted over to Garrett’s table, a smile on his face.  “Mr. Darrs”.  He nodded.  “How are you today? You were looking a little nervous not too long ago” Luigi said with his heavy accent.  “So I brought this over because you are drinking a very fast”.  He held up the bottle from which Garrett’s glass had been poured.

    “Luigi, you are kind and you know me so well” said Garrett.  He held up his glass, and Luigi filled it.  “I noticed you have a new painting in the far corner”.  He did not say anything else just yet.

    “Yes.  Do you like it?”  He seemed proud.  “I bought it last week from a young artist.  She is very good.”  This last statement piqued Garrett’s interest, because even though Luigi had purchased much of what he got from Garrett’s gallery because he knew Garrett knew his art, Luigi himself had a good eye.  His restaurant was evidence of that.

    “Really?  Who is she?  I don’t recognize the work.”

    “Carmen Carmine.” Luigi’s nose wrinkled.  “I know.  I don’t like it neither.  It’s her real name, believe it or not….”

    “Mr. Darrs?”  It was Daphne.  “Your guest has arrived.  Shall I show her to your table?”

    “Of course, thank you.”  He smiled at Luigi.  “I’ll have to take a look at it later.  Meantime you’ll have to make sure the chefs please this reporter”.

    “Anything you wish Mr. Darrs.”

    Daphne approached with the reporter.  He tried to casually get a look around her, but would have to wait.  He realized morosely that he was nervous.  Nervous indeed.  Not that being so would budge it.

    Presently a young woman sat down in front of him.  She could not have been more than twenty-four.

    “May I get you something to drink?” asked Daphne.

    “Yes, thanks”.  The woman (what was her name?) said.  “I’ll have what Mr. Darrs is having”.  Daphne nodded and walked towards the task.  The woman believed her order required an explanation.  “I know you like this place Mr. Darrs, and I trust your taste more than my own”.

    “You can call me Garrett” he said automatically, although he was not sure he meant it.  “Or Mr. Darrs.  It’s up to you.”

    “Thanks, Garrett.”  Her eyes twinkled.  “So what’s good?”

    She was one of those button cute people he thought.  Petite, short cropped, modern purplish hair, wearing a very smart black suit that exposed just enough, and she wore plain silver jewelry.  He imagined she wore quite different clothing during her off hours.  She had a beautiful mouth and he made sure to only notice that this once.  He did not like to give away any weakness of his during an interview—any interview.  But he had a feeling she may have noticed him looking even for that moment.  She looked very astute.

    “Everything.  But today the veal chop is the special.  That would be my recommendation.”  He said this almost woodenly.  He needed to know her name without telling her as much.

    “By the way, I should tell you that Sharon couldn’t make it because of another interview.  She was ticked off about it, but had no choice.  You’ll have to manage with me, if that’s OK”  She smiled.  “It’s alright, though.  I’m a better writer”.  She smiled again.

    Garrett smiled broadly in return.  He was both amused at her words, and relieved at his amazing luck.  It did not seem to end.  “And your name is?”

    “Tabatha George.  At your service.”  She went on to describe how the interview would go…

    They chatted more or less casually during the meal, Garrett rigidly keeping as guarded as he knew how, and Tabatha seeming too much of a friend.  It was enough to make the meal far less delicious by lacing it with edges of dread and false candor.  Garrett did get one other chance to look at her mouth, and marveled at the contour, imagined there had to be talent, and wished he could invite her over for a drink.  For starters, anyway.  Tabatha, though level-headed, was nervous if only because she found his presence rattling.  She was fairly certain she’d never been in the company of anyone, male or female, this good looking.  Because he was a man who often looked away while discussing things (or, admittedly, that could have been his technique with her), she was able to devour his features in true appreciation.  She imagined being in his arms, and knew it would have been too good. And she knew it wouldn’t happen.

    After dinner, Tabatha got serious immediately, ordering an espresso to jar her into clarity.  Garrett ordered one as well, but decided to temper it with a glass of port.

    “There have been articles here and there about you, Garrett, but it’s true you keep to yourself.  What about your family?  Are you close to them?”

    This brought Garrett’s first genuine smile, even if not ear-to-ear.  “Physically we’re not close at all—most of them live in Colorado—but we talk often enough, and I see them at every holiday, whether I fly out there or I fly them here.”

    “You have three sisters and a brother, right?”  Tabatha asked.

    Something clouded Garrett’s vision, but he said “Yes, that’s correct.  But it’s a boring aspect of my life if you’re trying to get a good angle.  We’re a fairly sane family, so no gossip.”  And Tabatha understood that was the end of that.

    “Garrett, you’re one of the most sought after bachelors in the city.  What do you have to say to that?”

    He thought it a stupid question.  “I don’t know how anyone gauges something like that.  I don’t think it makes sense.  I’m lucky enough to be in the spotlight or good enough to be in the spotlight because of what I’ve achieved.  There are plenty of exceptional bachelors out there.  I’m just happy to be one of them”.

    “What do you mean good enough?”

    “Through years of long hours and second guessing the market I was able to gain a more than sizable treasure to put me in the gallery I love.”

    “Do you like art as much as you like women?”

    She was pretty good.  “They are nearly the same, but no”.  He did not elaborate.

    Tabatha did not like the answer.  “Nearly the same?”

    Garrett thought to say what he could in order to move the conversation along.  “I cannot properly disclose my feelings on things about which I am passionate.  And that passion is private.  I can tell you that certain Monets invoke serious reflection, and certain Dali’s a degree of amusement.  Da Vinci more often than not will inspire profound peace, and Goya, solitude.  Do you see any connection?”

    Tabatha looked at Garrett with a quiet sadness.  There was something to him, she thought.

    The remainder of the interview went without too much excitement.  Garret had set the tone, and Tabatha obeyed, only occasionally asking questions that prompted Garrett to first eye her admonishingly, and then find a condescending response.  She learned to step accurately, but he did not so much put her off that she would write him a roué.  She walked away that day pleased to have met Garrett Darrs, although part of her half wished she would not have been an inconsequential reporter in his life, but the woman that could entangle him, if only briefly.

    After Tabatha left, Garrett sat a bit and contemplated his existence, something he was doing more and more often.  He did not want to be locked with a woman.  It’s true, art and women were very similar.  And he could never adore one painting alone.  Of course he knew it was not a fair analogy, but in his many years, he had not ever met a woman that was worth all his attention.  This could have been written off as bad luck, but the odds did not point that way.  Or it could be that he was attracted to the type of woman that would never satisfy him fully.  He didn’t know, but he didn’t think it mattered.  Why was the perpetual hope of apparently everyone to wed him off, to match him with the person they all knew to be ideal?  The port was good and heady, he decided.

    Once he realized that Tabatha and Co. had paid the bill, he decided to push off.  Luigi came over to bid him good-bye.  “Was the veal OK, Mr. Darrs?  Neither of you ate very much.”

    “Luigi, please.  It was exceptional as always, but I’m afraid today’s meeting was not very appetizing”.

    Luigi nodded.  “Yes, Mr. Darrs.  I think I understand.  Have a wonderful afternoon”.  Garret loved the accent, he decided for the one hundredth time.  “Do you wish to see the painting?”

    Garrett blinked.  His thoughts had been too cluttered with the superfluous to properly understand Luigi.  And then he remembered—the new painting on the far wall.

    “Of  course, Luigi.  Please show me”.  He was indeed eager to see a new artist Luigi deemed worthy of his walls, although he didn’t quite understand why he would not have been aware of the artist first.

    Luigi led the way through the tables, most of which were unoccupied at this point.  He caught snippets of conversation, and had his usual hesitations.  He sometimes hoped to stop at a particularly interesting comment and sit with those engaged, but it was just that.  A little desire.  Presently they arrived at the far corner and Luigi moved out of the way for Garrett to see the piece.

    It took a moment for Garrett’s eyes to get accustomed to the light in this section, and to adjust to the colors and shadows immediately in front of him on the canvas.  It was as he had thought—two young girls were holding hands.  Tightly.  It was a rather close up shot, and there was a long hallway behind them.  There was nothing very remarkable about coloring, or texture, or even substance, he thought.  It was the girls themselves.  They were probably in their early teens, and obviously sisters.  The younger blonde was turned to look at her older, brunette sister. Her profile was mischievous, and happy.  The brunette was staring at Garrett.  She looked at him softly, with knowing, and understanding, and he felt that she liked him.  He looked back at her, and at her sister.  He then noticed they were dressed in shoddy clothing, and that they were a bit dirty.  He realized they were urchins placed in the middle of someone else’s grandeur, and it did not matter a whit to them.  Maybe the port had something to do with it, but he fell in love with the painting.  He fell in love with the girls, and most certainly the brunette.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there, and fully understood he had to find Luigi to buy it off him. But Luigi had been right next to him the entire time, because as Garrett was turning to seek him out, there he was, admiring the girls right along with him.

    This would be trouble.  Garrett immediately understood the negotiations for acquiring this piece would not be easy.  Luigi was in love as well.

    As if to read his thoughts, Luigi spoke.  “It is beautiful, is it not?”

    “Yes, Luigi”.  He was not helping his cause.  “Really, it’s more than that.  What do you think of selling it?”  He was fairly sure he knew the answer.

    “I cannot, Mr. Darrs.”  He was sincere, Garrett knew, and was not seeking money with these words.  “These girls have become my friends, even in the short week I have known them”.  Luigi then paused before he went on.  As Garrett watched him, he noticed sheepishness taint Luigi’s next sentences, and his own smile remained unexpressed.  Luigi was loyal to him to the end, even with something this simple.  “Actually”, he began, still not comfortable with a truth he seemed bent on revealing, “your brother introduced her to me”.  He had been looking at the painting as he spoke, but now looked at Garrett.

    This surprised Garrett.  His brother was not a man who typically dabbled in the arts, even at all.  “Finn gave this to you?”

    “No, no, Mr. Darrs” He said, almost as if to assuage any possible sin on his part, if one actually existed.  “He was in town a few weeks ago, and told me about her.”  Luigi’s comfort did not grow, and he continued.  “Well, I think our love for art is obvious, no?  Even your brother understands those that appreciate the beautiful”.  He stopped, and looked back at the painting.

    Garrett was dubious, but was now also curious.  “Well, obviously Finn did not come down from Boston just to tell you about an artist he could have phoned about, assuming, of course, he would be that considerate to begin with.”

    Luigi had turned back to Garrett, and was now more slightly rattled.  “I don’t know why he visited, though I got the impression it was just a pleasure trip, Mr. Darrs.  He brought a pretty girl with him (here looking at Garrett with a look that simply stated, “what else would he do?”) and they had lunch.  He was about to leave when he looked around the room, only then seeming to notice some of the artwork.  An after-thought.”  Luigi paused, trying to recapture what had been an apparently insignificant moment, but that he was now being questioned about.  He nodded absently.  “I don’t really know what it was that stopped him, but on his way out he asked to see me.  That was when he gave me Ms. Carmine’s card, and told me I should stop by her home and see her work.”

    So now Garrett had gone from curious to puzzled, but no harm done.  A little intrigue always bettered his day.  “So you visited her shop just on the recommendation of my brother?”  He asked.

    Luigi shook his head perhaps too vehemently.  “No, no, that would have been silly of me, truly, but the fact your brother even bothered to make such a suggestion made me interested, and just the fact he is related to you…”  Luigi nodded deferentially before he continued. “…made me call her.”  Here he smiled.

    “What a delightful creature” The volume of his story increased slightly. “So charming and modest!  I love women, you know, all of them I think”.  He looked at Garrett apologetically, but Garrett waved him off.  “We talked for a while, and it was enough to convince me a short ride to Connecticut would not be too bad.  I must tell you I am so happy I did.”

    This Garrett did not doubt. “I understand.”  But he was not happy.  He looked once again at the painting.  He liked the idea that someone could so kindly understand him, even if it was just a painted teenager.  “Thank you for another wonderful meal, Luigi.  I have to go make sure Nick is still waiting for me, or I’ll have to cab it, and you know the difficulty that always presents.”  He started to walk off.

    “Mr. Darrs.”  Garrett stopped and turned to Luigi.  “I think she may be the next one.”  Who the hell is he talking about? Thought Garrett. “This is not her only beauty.  Here!”  Luigi shuffled around a bit for a moment and then handed Garrett a distraught business card.  “She has no gallery yet, I do not think, but perhaps now she should have some space?!”

    Garrett took the card.  “Thank you, Luigi.  I appreciate it.”  He smiled, nodded, and walked away.

    Nick pulled up just as Garret stepped out of Luigi’s after his 3 hour lunch.  He couldn’t say anything since he was there, but had he really just been circling the block waiting for him?  He shrugged and then got in the car.

    “Hello Mr. Darrs.  Did you have a good lunch?”  He seemed cheerful.

    “Yes, thanks, Nick.”  He paused for a moment for effect.  “It was a very long lunch.”

    Nick did not acknowledge any underlying meaning.  “I like long lunches the best.  The longer the better.”  Garrett saw Nick nod and smile in his rearview mirror.  Garrett smiled, though tightly.  “The Gallery, sir?”

    “I think so.  Take your time.”  Garrett eased back into the comfortable leather seats and then pulled out the business card Luigi had given him.

    Carmen Carmine.  He laughed a little then to himself, and then thought of the painting.  Even though he had just seen it moments ago, it felt as though it had been hours or days.  He remembered the kind girl’s face eying him, and wished he had taken a few more moments to see what else she was revealing.

    So Finn, his care-free brother, had happened to waltz into Luigi’s and then mention an upcoming artist?  Wonders really did not cease.  He was a little annoyed his brother hadn’t phoned him he was in town, but then realized it must have been a romantic jaunt of some sort.  Garrett shook his head a bit with a small smile when he thought of his brother Finn’s appetite for short but fierce relationships with beautiful women.  Obviously, Garrett had plenty of his own trysts that he shouldn’t pass judgment, but he would be biased if he presented his younger brother as anything other than a serious hound, a man almost suicidally bent on dating as many women as he could, and very often getting in a lot of trouble because of it.

    So Carmen Carmine must be a past (or present?) fling of his, and maybe he felt indebted to her for some cad-like act he’d committed, and therefore had mentioned it to Luigi.  That was probably too simple an explanation, but he knew very well it couldn’t be far off.  His pragmatic side joined his thoughts and told him it didn’t matter.  Soon enough he’d find this Carmen, and soon enough, even if she didn’t have another copy of the one he’d seen, he’d get her to paint another.  Chances were in fact that he’d like something else she had painted even more.  He relaxed anew and turned to his favorite show outside the window.

    Chapter Two

    Like everything these days, Garrett was determined to get what he wanted immediately.  He was no longer accustomed to waiting for anything.  In Soho the following day at his gallery, he buried himself in his office while his gallery hummed with visitors.  Normally he would stroll the gallery at least once in the morning after breakfast to look at his guests.  Although he rarely spoke to anyone unless addressed, he watched closely the various characters that graced his gallery.  Most of his visitors, though extremely varied, and strange in ways he found delightful, had a quality that the city’s crowd as a whole did not always have.  An admirer of art is one who usually does not lack passion.  True enough, there were some that merely adorned the arm of an aficionado, and did not always share the adoration of the work that Garrett found breath-taking, but a vast majority would somewhere along the tour fall in love, if only briefly.  After his casual walk, he’d roam upstairs and look over the balcony of the second floor, continuing to eye his fans.  Or the fans of the art he had chosen, that is.  Always he would find his favorite guest of the day.  It did not have to be the one he deemed most appreciative, or the wackiest looking, or even anything outstanding—there was really no typical reason.  He would find his favorite and then define the reason why he or she was just that, and then he would surmise at their existence.  All about it; their age, wealth, marital status, happiness (or not), career, etc.  Once, he had come very close to asking.  It had been later in the day, after a particularly long alcohol-ridden lunch, and he had been leaning over his balcony as usual, if a little precariously.  He had seen a striking woman, perhaps in her late forties, looking at a Gregory Thomaston piece.  He was a modern painter, who most often used striking colors and slashing strokes to evoke a dramatic response.  Garrett, not a modernist, still thought the work was an excellent representation, and found him stirring.  The woman was looking at “The Black Sunset”.  She had, in fact, been looking at it for 10 minutes.  She wore black pants, and a black sweater, and a wide red silk scarf in her short, blonde hair.  She was tall and very thin and extremely serious.   Garrett watched her closely, and did not see any muscle move.  She did not shift her weight, or change any part of her body to get the blood flowing.  The angle of her head remained the same, and her eyes seemed to absorb the entire painting (impossible, he thought, she was standing too close).  He agonized over just this, and failed to notice the one betrayal that proved she was indeed feeling.  She had been standing there now for fifteen minutes, and he had been looking at her figure, still too puzzled to even begin his guessing game.  His glance had moved back to her face and he saw the tears.  He was transfixed at the time.  A woman crying is hardly an oddity, and tears at the sight of what a woman considered beautiful was nothing to take real note of, but she had never registered an emotion, or even the evidence of life, for that matter.  At last she moved her black-gloved hands to wipe her eyes.  She looked for about another 10 seconds and then walked on.  He had absolutely no idea what her story was, and found the reaction to “the Black Sunset” a bit dubious, but in the end dubbed her a ballet teacher of the highest caliber, never married, well-off on the Upper East Side, and mostly sane.

    Today he did not have time for his guests, although his work was still in line with providing the most stimulating art he could get his hands on in order to enthrall just those guests.

    He dialed the number on the card Luigi had given him.  He was not nervous, but he was not calm either.  It rang a few times and then a woman’s voice. “Hello?”

    “Hello.  This is Garrett Darrs.  I was hoping to talk to Carmen Carmine” he said.

    “This is she” said the other voice.  “How can I help you?”  She did not know his name.

    “Yes, well I saw a painting of yours.  Actually, I saw it at my favorite place, Luigi’s–yesterday”.  He paused for a moment.

    “Yes?” She asked, and nothing more.  He thought he detected an accent, but wasn’t sure.

    “It struck me, well, rather deeply.  I own a gallery in town, and I would love a chance to see more of your work, if that would be alright” he said.

    “Ahh.  Gallery Darrs, of course.  Forgive my slowness.  I’m flattered.  And I’d love to let you look at my work.”  Friendliness had crept into her tone.  A wry smile crossed his face.

    “If it’s OK, how about I stop by tomorrow?”

    “That’s fine, but I live in Connecticut, you know. Ridgefield.”

    He went on to tell her that was no problem, and they made the appropriate arrangements for him to stop by about lunch time.

    “Thank you for your time, Carmen”.  Garrett said, relieved the conversation was drawing to a close.  He did not like the phone.

    “Thank you, Mr. Darrs” she said, pausing momentarily.  Frustrated, he thought, because she had referred to him as Mr. Darrs, when he had not done her the same favor. “I look forward to your visit.”

    “As do I.  And please call me Garrett.”

    They bid adieu and Garrett hung up the phone thoughtfully.  She sounded fairly young, and she sounded enticing in other ways, he decided.  So he began to play his game with a face he had not yet met.  He could very easily find out all about her in advance of their meeting, and this was in fact a sage practice, but he never had as much fun with the obvious.  A surmise is better than wise, he was certain.

    Garrett lived on the upper east side of Manhattan, in a modest, but expensively decorated loft.  His taste ran in the colonial style, and his taste was exquisite.  He had decorated his flat as well as his gallery on his own, with perhaps only the required nod or two of approval from Fiona.  He did most of the shopping himself, and she took care of the rest.  A fair amount of his furnishings were in fact antiques.  Many of his spring and summer weekends involved a trip through New England, with several stops at antique shops.  He had run out of room by this point, and paid for storage of new buys.  It was his full intention to buy a house in the suburbs at a time he found convenient, or at a time when life decided it was the next course of action.

    He sat down in one of his large leather divans, a beautiful, old beaten piece with brilliant copper and wooden rivets holding the material fast.  It was only mid-afternoon, but he was thirsty for a cocktail.  What did it matter?  He’d call Fiona and tell her he was taking the afternoon off.  Up he rose, resigned to the fact that if he wanted a drink he’d have to get up and make it.  He had not yet buckled to getting a maid or a butler, a luxury he could easily afford, and certainly wouldn’t mind having.  But would he then have true privacy?  He did have a cleaning service come in twice a week, but other than that, he fended for himself.  He was not a chef; so much of his food was either delivered, or preferably and more often, eaten out.  Garrett Darrs worked hard, but did not deprive himself of the luxuries for which he had worked.

    He fixed himself a fairly large martini and returned to his chair.  He looked out his front windows, but not really to view the scene to which he was privy.  He was looking through it.  He eyed his living room appreciatively and smiled a little smugly.  He was happy.  His mind nudged him.  Mostly happy.  It’s just that he really had it all. To a degree he felt there were no challenges left.  He was successful to the extent that even though there were things he knew he had not yet done that he wished to, he knew he would succeed once he had the time.  That thought alone was deflating to action.

    He could travel, certainly.  But a vacation is short if one isn’t the type to travel alone (and, really, he wasn’t).  At any rate, so much of his everyday life was similar to vacation that he didn’t think a different background would make all the difference.  He frowned to no one, but at himself.   He should rightly be flogged for some of these thoughts since he was about one in ten million with a lifestyle as his.  Besides, he thought with a smile returning, I not only love what I do, I’m good at it.  He took a long draw from his martini and willed the gin to act the eraser of impudent ideas.

    He spent the rest of the afternoon with a few other martinis, and television—a very rare companion.  In the evening a little of his time was spent mulling over the adventure of the next day, and the companion that would be his for a few hours.  He thought about her voice, and the slight lilt he thought he had detected.  He retraced the steps he had taken in his game, and realized he had concluded she was slight (of course), blonde, a little coy, a little sexy, and very cute.  But he was off his game.  Artists never turned out to be as one expected.  He’d never been right before.  Thinking about Carmen was driving him a little crazy, and he was driven by gin as well.  With a hunger for skin that was getting the better of him, he picked up the phone and called his friend Annabelle.  She would keep him company.  She always did.

    *

    Nick arrived in front of his building at ten, a half hour after their scheduled departure time.  Garrett decided not to mention it.  He was in particularly good spirits, and though he did not sleep many hours, he had slept deeply.

    “Good morning, sir” Nick said.

    “Good morning, Nick.”  Garrett nodded with a smile.

    “I’m a few minutes late” Nick kindly pointed out.  Did he really think that a half hour was a few minutes?  Did he truly think Garrett needed to be told of his lateness?  “But I’ll make it up en route.  Checked the traffic reports, and we’ll fly right in”.  He nodded his head with a radiant beam and waited for Garrett to settle himself into the seat.

    Garrett smiled, bemused as usual.  “Did I ever tell you Nick, that I think you’ve got the most interesting perception of time?”  He waited a moment.  “That I think you must have an adventurous watch?”

    “Maybe, sir.”  Nick’s brow was furrowed.  Maybe he was thinking about it.  “But really, I don’t know.”  He paused again, and Garrett noted to his dismay that Nick was putting real thought into what he had said.  “If there’s…..”

    “I was just rambling, Nick.  Don’t pay me any mind.”  And then “I had a hell of a night.”  He waited for Nick to look at him in the rear view mirror, which he did immediately, and Garrett then raised his eyebrows in the suggestive manner that would tell Nick the story he’d appreciate.

    “Excellent, sir.”  Nick nodded a few times to himself.

    Garrett began reading the New York Times Nick had prepared for him, and sipped the lukewarm coffee at his side.  He read a few articles, but found it hard to concentrate.  There was too much to think about.  He was slightly anxious about his meeting with Carmen, although he was fairly sure it would go in his favor.  She sounded on the naïve side, even if she did live in Ridgefield.  But he had to be careful.  Although rare, an artist or two had gotten the better of him by his presuming naiveté.  Garrett sometimes believed that stardust in an artist’s eyes led them to hasty decisions, but through time had come to realize that the ethics of an artist are such that they usually value their work and what it means far more than promised fame.  Fame was good, money better, but art was art and better left unblemished.  Anyway, she sounded young.  Just because her piece had made it to Luigi’s place did not mean she was far ahead on the road to stardom.  He thought about his strategy, but knew that honesty was generally the better bet.

    If Garrett Darrs’ charm would not sway Carmen Carmine, then it was likely his appearance would.  He was clad in a dark royal blue linen suit, a crisp white cotton shirt, and an elegant red silk tie, held in place with his lucky tie-tack, a small gold lizard with a ruby eye.   The sophistication was softened by his tousled hair, while the body beneath his clothing warned of something else.  He looked only slightly tame.  He was every bit prepared to seduce the artist in every way.   Although Wall Street never elicited poor ethics on his part, his sense of doing business in the art world was another matter.

    Garrett’s thoughts went to Carmen again, re-picturing her presence.  In truth he was very excited to see the rest of her work.  Luigi’s piece could not be a single stroke, he was sure.  Finding an artist that painted with the rhythm of one’s own soul was a miraculous feat in any lifetime, and having that artist’s talent please most was nothing but treasure.  His sense of money around the corner was at a peak.   He imagined her studio as dark, and just shy of being gloomy.  He pictured many easels—that she worked on several paintings at once—that she never abandoned something once begun even if she hated it.  And he was absolutely certain candles abounded, even in the light of day.  She drank a lot of coffee, but at night only red wine.  She was not a drunk, but she drank too much.  His reverie was taking him everywhere.  He did not hear Nick.

    “Mr. Darrs.” Nick said rather loudly.  He was looking in the rear-view.  Once he noted Garrett’s snap to attention he continued.  “Would you like me to stop and get anything to bring for the lady?”

    Garrett paused only for a moment.  “Yes, of course.  Thanks Nick.”  Nick was referring to flowers, a customary lure for female prospects, both practically and romantically.  Flowers were what Garrett referred to as “scale tippers”—not that Garrett Darrs required something other than himself to tip the scale.

    Soon Nick pulled over to a flower stand and purchased a beautiful but simple combination of daisies and lilacs, wrapped simply with yellow ribbon round the paper enclosure.  Garret smiled a little smugly.  He felt sure he was very ready for this meeting.

    “What do you think, Nick?”  He asked, fishing.

    “I think she’s half way to Mars before you ring the doorbell.”  Nick said.

    Garrett laughed appreciatively.   “I don’t think I’ll be too long.  Try to stay close, but I have your number.”

    “Of course.  Take your time.”  Nick was smiling.

    Nick loved to hear stories or insinuations of stories about Garrett and his women.  Although Nick himself was a charmer, he adored women, and knew that Garrett had a bigger selection, not to mention the fact that most of the time Nick witnessed at least part of the seduction while driving Garrett’s dates around, at night, or in the morning.  It made for interesting revelations, and sometimes, conversation.

    Nick pulled into a driveway.  “I think this is it, sir.”  He checked the number on the house.  “Yup.  Good luck.”  And he winked.

    Garrett lost a shade of his smugness, and looked at the house, which was about 100 yards away.

    *

    Carmen Carmine was fairly certain the curtain behind which she stood was sufficiently closed to mask her inspection of her visitor.  All she saw for the moment was a long, well buffed limousine, the windows at least as good a mask as her curtains.  Her house was located on a modest but beautiful lot in one of the most elite towns in Connecticut, but still she thought the car too ostentatious.   But it was beautiful, and she smiled just a little.  Wealth did not captivate her or make her feel lacking, but it did raise the usual brow of admiration.

    It bothered her that she was nervous, even though she knew why.  But she was supposed to be a laid back artist, a character that suited her well.  She was supposed to perhaps demonstrate a bit of humble gratitude (and that would be genuine), but that would be underlying a knowledge that her work was good.  Carmen was proud of what she painted.  Often so much she found it hard to part with a lot of her paintings, but she would then chide herself for such hubris.  She knew this man, Garrett Darrs, was eager for her work.  He had called her the day he had seen her painting at Luigi’s place.  The same day!  It was obvious he wanted something for himself, but even better he would indeed want to show it at his very posh, very well known gallery.

    So why was she so nervous?  She gazed at the limo, trying to see behind the opaque windows, trying to see if what she had seen and read of him so far was true.  That was it of course.  It wasn’t her talent, or his appreciation of her talent that had her twitching miserably like a schoolgirl behind a curtain.  He was a well educated, wealthy, confident, devastatingly handsome man.  This was unnerving.  She had heard of him prior to his call, but then did a little research, and what she discovered was disturbing, even if in a delicious sort of way.  Why didn’t he open the door?  Probably had only been a minute since she began her spying.  She checked her forehead, and she wasn’t sweating.  Yet.  This was silly, not her style, but of course she didn’t move.

    Carmen stood transfixed, standing as though ready to run a race as soon as Garrett’s door opened.  Handsome though Garrett was, and that she knew him to be, Carmen should not have been so nervous on that account.  She had allured many a man with her large brown eyes housed in a delicately angled face.  The only flaw to what might have been absolute beauty was a half inch scar over her right eyebrow, but it could be argued that this feature created a more profound, striking beauty, and at times it served as an eerie accentuater of her emotions.  She had long, deep brown, almost black hair.  She was of slight build, and not very tall, but her body was heavenly in all senses.  She had inherited her father’s Italian olive skin, though of course youth provided hers with the suppleness that those who are not young will envy.  The suppleness of the skin would not be outdone by her generous, but firm breasts, which she was not afraid of coyly displaying.  Despite the size of her breasts, the rest of her body was quite petite.  In the end, any onlooker would conclude she had an excellent figure eight.

    Carmen knew that to make her eagerness obvious by over dressing would be a mistake, but neither did she want to hide herself.  She had opted for snuggish blue jeans and a pale V-neck silk sweater.  She had added a bit of height to her 5’3″ frame with tan leather boots.  She wore her dark hair down, with a single antique pin on one side.  She had been given the hairpin by her sister Sophia, an antiques collector and shop owner, back before she had begun to sell her work.  Carmen considered it a good luck piece.

    Carmen glanced at herself in the mirror for what she hoped was the last time, and ran back to the window side just in time to see Garrett get out of the long car.  Despite herself, she sharply inhaled.  He was quite tall.  He was stunning.  Confident.  And carrying flowers.  She stepped back from the window, almost tripping over herself, and cursed herself for not having poured herself a glass of wine.  She looked in the mirror again and gave herself a dirty look.  The doorbell rang and she screamed just a little, praying that it had been inaudible.

    She said “Just a minute” and calmed herself resolutely as she walked slowly to the door.

    She opened the door and saw his chest, so looked up, slanting her head and squinting a little.  “Hello Garrett” she said.  “Come on in”.  She moved out of his way so as he could enter, and it seemed to her as if he stooped to do so.

    “Hello Carmen” he said, at the same time proffering her the flowers.  “A pleasure to meet you.  What a beautiful little Eden you’ve got going here”.  He seemed to mean it.

    “Thanks so much.  The bouquet is lovely–please make yourself comfortable while I put them in some water”.  She left to go to the kitchen, and very much felt his gaze on her retreating figure.  She smiled.

    When she returned he was looking at a small music stand on her baby grand piano.  “This is beautiful” he said.  “In fact, you’ve got quite a few beautiful antiques here”.

    “Are you a collector of antiques as well?” she asked.

    “Only for pleasure” he said.

    “Then I’d be happy to give you my sister’s business card.  She has a brilliant little shop a town over”.

    “Sure” Garrett said casually.  “That would be nice.  I’m surprised I haven’t been there yet as I thought I’d been to all those in the Northeast”.  He paused, and both of them seemed a little uncomfortable.

    “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked, hoping to break the tension and desperately join him in some kind of toast that would bring wine to her throat.

    Garrett looked at her, into her eyes, seemingly willing her to be disconcerted by his deep gaze.  It was brief, but ridden with intent, he hoped.  “Yes, thanks” he said.  “I’ll take a scotch and soda if you’ve got it”.

    “Of course.  I’ll be right back”.

    When she left, Garrett watched her go, his smile fading.  He didn’t know what he was doing here.  Or he knew what he was supposed to be doing here, but wished it was over with.  He’d been present only a few minutes, and he felt the oppression of sexual tension.  This is a dick of a dance, he thought.

    But she was beautiful, no doubt.  It was certainly obvious what his brother would have seen in her, though it inexplicably dismayed him now to bring Finn to mind.  Something was bothering him about the whole Finn involvement, even though he’d forgotten until just now meeting the artist. He found her movements graceful and alluring.  He thought she walked as though certain she was being watched, a quality he enjoyed as it was a reflection of his own demeanor.  He liked her in blue, and he liked what her blue sweater promised.  In a few short minutes he had been rendered smitten, and he truly hoped it would not affect his business acumen, or any rationale, for that matter.  He was blindly looking out the front window of the living room when he heard her returning.

    She reached over to him with a glass of excellent amber hue.  “There you go.  Let me know if it needs anything” she said.

    His hand brushed hers as he took it from her.  He said nothing, but put the drink to his lips.  He let the liquid quietly ignite his throat and stomach, and smiled.  “Thanks.  It’s very good” he said finally. He looked at her.  He noticed she had a glass of red wine.  He wondered if he should mention anything at all about Finn, but quickly acknowledged it was none of his business and hardly relevant to his business endeavors.

    “Well, Garrett” Carmen said.  “Would you like to see my studio”?

    “Mmm.  Why not?  Lead the way”.

    Carmen felt a little dizzy, and took a sip of her drink.  The exchange between them was getting painful.  She smiled at him, and began the tour.  He followed her down a narrow corridor that opened to reveal a set of small staircases.

    “It’s not a very big house” she said.  “But it’s perfect for me, and it’s got all the necessary quirks for an artist”.  It was just idle chatter, she knew, but it made her feel better.  She went up the staircase to the right, and at the top it opened up into a very large, happily sun-lit room.  Most walls were white, with the exception of the slanted ceiling, which was a melon color.  There were many easels.  There was also a large drafting table that was apparently being used as a desk.  And there were many, many canvases, some blank, some work in progress, and the completed paintings were all in one area, cordoned off by a heavy rope.

    Garrett stood in the entryway soaking in the environment while Carmen put on a few soft lights.  He never tired of the feel of a studio, could easily feel the creative process in the air.

    “My completed works are in the corner, as you can see.  I think there are perhaps 30 or so, and I have some in storage” Carmen said and turned to look at him.

    God, she thought.  He really is devastating.  The things I can imagine.  She smiled, and of course he caught it.

    “What’s so funny?” he asked, returning the smile.

    She blushed visibly, she knew.  “Oh nothing” she lied.  “It’s just you look a little dazed”.  She walked towards the corner, and he followed closely behind her.

    Garrett could smell her perfume, and breathed it in appreciatively.  Something was happening, he was quite sure, and he had to keep his head clear before he led this elsewhere.

    “Take your time” she said, motioning to the array of paintings, and then retreated, as if relieved, to the other side of the studio.

    He was mesmerized.  Although a few seemed slightly on the amateurish side, the rest were breathtaking, at least at first glance.  He did a quick inventory, and then looked genuinely deeply at all of them, from time to time taking a sip of his drink.  Each of the paintings evoked an immediate response, and the color contrasts were sometimes jarring, but strangely appropriate.  He found some winsome, some dismal, some haunting, but all beautiful.   They certainly rivaled the painting at Luigi’s, although perhaps since he had seen that one first he still favored it.  Quite honestly, he was astonished.  Such a rich collection from an artist this green was nothing he had as yet come across.

    “Carmen” he said, startling himself a little.

    “Yes”.  Her voice was far off.  She sounded engrossed in something.

    He turned around and saw her sitting at her makeshift desk across the room.  She had her head turned up, an inquisitive expression on her face; waiting.

    “Please come here if you don’t mind” he said, and watched as she rose and walked toward him.

    “So what do you think?” she asked.  “Do any of them attach themselves to you?”

    He liked her wording.  “Many” he said as she reached his side.  “They are, in fact, beautiful.  I would be very happy if you would consider letting me display them at my gallery”.  He chose to pause, but kept looking into her eyes.  “I think you are very talented” he said.  He did not stop looking at her.

    Carmen looked at Garrett, praying he did not sense the mad beating of her heart.  She felt that to look away would be a weakness, so she smiled, and of course, she was indeed grateful.  “Thank you, Garrett.  I must say I put everything, and all of me into my work.  Hearing that what I create is noteworthy to others is always very gratifying.”  She chose then to glance at her work, still smiling, and then turned back to Garrett.

    Garrett almost always did the same thing when a beautiful, smiling face turned up to him at this close a range, so why should he now resist?  She was staring up at him, waiting for him to say something to continue their business, but the deal had just been completed as far as he required.

    At just the point when Garret would have lowered his head to kiss Carmen, she looked as if she were about to step back, or worse, feint, so he grabbed her waist with his right arm.  “You looked as if you were about to fall” he said, staring at her with some concern, but not letting go.

    “I may….” Carmen began, looking and feeling more light-headed than ever.  “I mean it’s these stupid boots.”  She steadied herself by putting her hands up against his chest while he let her go slowly.  Ever so slowly she thought.  Did he do it deliberately or was it complete misconception on her part because he was so attractive?

    Once separated, she felt better.  Or did she?  For the brief moment during which she had felt his body so close to hers, she had felt safe.  The sad part was she had not felt unsafe prior to that touch.  Not at all, and now somehow she was bereft.  Garrett wasn’t adding anything to the conversation, and part of her was embarrassed at her clumsiness, so she decided to go with her only piece of rehearsed dialogue she had chosen in case of just such a moment.  “Did you know I know your brother?” He was looking at her strangely.  Not amused, thank God.  But also not exactly happy.  “Well, I guess you must by this point, silly of me.”  But now she was starting to feel on the edgy side of talkative.  “Well I don’t think he knew you’d see my painting at Luigi’s quite so soon.  Not that I know, of course.  I mean all he did was give Luigi a card, and I know I certainly haven’t spoken with Finn in quite some time.”  She forcibly stopped herself.  “Sorry, Garrett, I’m going on and on for no apparent reason”.

    “Garrett?”  She asked.  He seemed to adjust his stare.  “Did I say something wrong?”  Stupid question she thought.  Of course she had said nothing wrong.  She had merely looked foolish, undoubtedly, to this urbane gentleman, to this well heeled man of the world.  She felt suddenly perturbed at herself.  What had she been thinking?  That this incredible specimen of a man might be attracted to her?  She knew she was pleasant to behold, but this man must be able to bed anyone.  Anyone.

    “Not at all” Garret said almost too quickly.  She had done nothing wrong, other than avoid his impending kiss and bring up his younger brother, who, as far as he could tell, had done nothing wrong, had in fact assisted a young woman on her quest to paint for a living.  He couldn’t decide if she had realized what he was doing and averted it, or if she really didn’t know what he’d had in the works.   He was fairly sure she was innocent of his intentions because she looked confused, and even flustered, although those were also characteristics of one who avoided a kiss.  And really, wasn’t it interesting that she’d brought up his brother the moment after he’d made the attempt?  This was silly.  He shouldn’t be thinking like this.  He was now irrationally annoyed with himself, and also with Carmen.  He acknowledged that he would only further anger himself if he chose to dwell too long on the fact that this woman alone should not be so annoying.  She wasn’t that heavenly.  But there was something, he knew.  He looked at her now while she was still standing so close to him, and a shadow of vulnerability came over him.  There was almost too much sincerity in those eyes, and he found himself wondering what Finn did when he saw those eyes.  And really, maybe she was looking at him like that because he was Finn’s brother.  It was a thought that became vile the longer he dwelled on it, and he was thankful he liked her now slightly less.  No possibility such a woman, such an obvious bohemian, would be his type.  “Not at all” He said again.

    He was struck with distaste for his current situation, not his typical at-ease self, and not as in control as he liked to be. “Yes, Luigi mentioned the order of events.  I have not spoken with Finn in a bit myself.” He closed that subject.  “I’d better get out of here” he continued.  “I’d forgotten I’ve got to be back at the office in less than an hour”.

    “Garrett, really, is ….”

    “No matters, really.  It’s just that I’d like to get back to my office and think about how I would approach a show for your work if we got to that point” He lied well, and he was now gaining composure and confidence, shrugging off the almost-kiss.  She could not have known.

    Carmen said “Oh, yes, of course”, but was losing composure as Garrett was gaining his.  She felt nervous and silly all over again.  “Let me show you the door”.  She lowered her eyes, turned, and began to lead him through the various rooms and hallways.

    The walk to the exit, though not a long one, seemed interminable to them both.  Carmen was tense and feeling clumsy, sure that Garrett was watching her walk and noticing her timidity.  She couldn’t wait for him to leave.  And Garrett was no happier.  He was angry, furious at himself for not having had the strength to keep his distance, if it had not been perceived by Carmen.  And that was the real issue at hand, after all.  He didn’t know whether or not she had purposely rejected his overture.  Not knowing was prompting his slightly rude behavior (OK, maybe not knowing and Finn), but it’s wasn’t something he could do much about at this point. In all likelihood their relationship was now tainted, and would be fraught with hesitations, misunderstandings and innuendos.  His unprofessionalism had cost them both.  But on the bright side, he would be seeing her again, so he did have another chance of some kind to establish a better partnership.  He smiled slightly at the thought.  The front entrance was in front of them.

    Carmen stepped aside for him to pass.  “Well, thank you for the visit” she said, and she knew she came off as the humble novice, instead of confident as she had hoped, even if she didn’t feel it.  She felt stupid in front of this moody man.

    Garrett turned to face her in the doorstep.  “No, Carmen.  Thank you for letting me visit.  I look forward to working with someone so talented”.   He extended his hand to her, and she put her hand in his, grasping his hand as firmly as she could.  They shook firmly, but not without the feeling that it was forced.  “I’ll give you a call” he said tersely, and walked away.

    As he left her doorstep, Garrett grew less happy, now able to think and make expressions of his thoughts without having to worry she’d spot his emotions.  He strode determinedly, silently demanding Nick be waiting for him, or today would be the end for him.  His mind slipped for a moment, and he thought of her smiling face, and then her big, red taunting lips.  Taunting sweater.  He quickly returned to his mental tirade, and realized it was not just him, but in fact she had been mostly the cause.  What kind of business relationship can start out with drinks, suggestive walks, and whatnot?  But he supposed that fit in rather perfectly with Finn Darrs’ type, and despite himself he smirked.

    As soon as Garrett had departed, Carmen closed the door softly.  And then she fell against it, sliding to the floor, a well-established pout on her face.  She knew she was not far from naive, but what had she done to deserve his strange behavior?  Why had he seemed so cross, so rude?  He had prevented her from falling, an act she was actually grateful to him for, had said as much, and he then became a man of hardened stone. She thought back to those precious few moments, thinking of his arm around her waist, the clean scent of his closeness, the undeniable strength under his business suit.  She felt lower stomach quivers at the memory.  She played back the moment again, and could not identify any wrong-doing or rudeness on her part.  But obviously something had gone wrong, because Garrett had changed personalities in an instant.  It was just so aggravating, and completely unfair.  How would this relationship progress if it had started off on such a precarious foot?  She rose somewhat unsteadily, and walked to the cabinet that she knew would provide her solace.  She hadn’t heard an engine outside, and assumed Garret must have started walking.  Hopefully in the wrong direction.

    Nick was there.  When he saw Garrett approaching he fairly shrieked, and did something he never did.  He hopped out of the car, stumbling in his rush, and opened Garrett’s door for him.  Garrett didn’t notice, did not even acknowledge him, and entered the car like a storm cloud.  Nick closed the door and got in his own seat, and began what he knew would be long ride back to the city.   In the back of the limo he heard thunder rumbling.

    *

    Garrett and Nick got back to the city mostly silently, Garrett slowly recovering from his disgruntlement, and Nick steadily regaining his ability to be affable.  It was only upon reaching the outskirts of New York, however, that any words were exchanged.

    “Nick?”  Garrett asked.

    “Yes, sir” Nick replied, the tiniest bit of prayer in his voice.

    “Take me back to my apartment, please, and be prepared tomorrow to once again visit Connecticut.”

    “Really?”  Nick was not at all happy with the prospect.

    “Don’t worry.  We won’t be visiting the same woman’s house.”  Garret said, and Nick noticed his employer smiling in his rear-view mirror.  “Apparently she has a sister who sells antiques in the next town over”.  Garrett was beginning to feel smart again.  “I think it’s time I updated my flat, so to speak.”

    Nick could hear the smugness in Garrett’s voice, and felt a mixture of pride and nausea.  Whereas he would do anything for Garrett, he did not like the conclusion of today’s meeting, and the thought of visiting a relative of Carmen’s tomorrow, particularly one who might easily be forewarned of Mr. Darrs’ behavior, did not sit well with him.  Nick was an easy-going type of guy, and any disruptions to his equilibrium were not really welcome.

    “Yes, Mr. Darrs” was all Nick said at first, but then could not refrain from adding “Do you think that trip might result better if we take it next week?  Less expensive furniture?”  Nick was not pleading, but did not come off as jovial and nonchalant as he was hoping either.  That would cost him.

    “What do you mean?”  Garrett looked at the rearview mirror to get Nick’s expression.  “Just because today was no smashing success, doesn’t mean tomorrow can’t be the opposite.”  He paused, knowing Nick would say nothing.  “I’ve got plans, you see, and in case you’ve forgotten, I’m pretty good once the plans are in place.  It’s only when I’ve got plans in place, and people distract me repeatedly that things can go awry.”  Garrett felt agitation again, but forced it away.  “I’ve got a plan, a simple plan, and it’s hard for a simple plan to go wrong.”  He stated with conviction and a slightly rigid smile.

    “Yes, Sir.”  Nick said, though he felt dismally anxious.  He was experienced enough to know that “simple” and “women” rarely meshed.

    Presently they arrived outside Garrett’s building.   “I’ll see you in the morning Mr. Darrs?”  Nick asked.

    “Yes, thanks.”  Garrett said, but hesitated before getting out of the car. “ I’ll call you if it’s otherwise, because to tell you the truth I never got her card from Carmen, which of course means I’ll have to call her and ask for the information later today.”  This fact had obviously just dawned on him.  He had left in such a stupid rush, he hadn’t gotten the card, not that Carmen’s sister’s business card was on his mind at all while he had been visiting.  He in fact could care less about her sister’s business as there were more than enough shops that could satisfy his antique collection, but now he cared a bit more.  “I don’t think it should be a problem, though.”  Garrett opened the door, and got out.  He leaned back in and smiled at Nick.  “Anyway, see you at ten, unless you hear from me.”

    “OK, then.”  Nick knew better than to add “good luck”.  He pulled away.

    *

    Garrett opened the door to his flat, closed it, and then sank down into his couch, closing his eyes.  What was he doing, he thought, dancing around with plans and ideas for this new woman?  Why had she gotten to him?  Her beauty alone was no answer, for as beautiful as she was, she was not exceptional.  Was it his guilt for the days’ events?  Impossible.  Though generally a gentleman, he had done many things in the past that might have been considered questionable for which he rarely felt more than a pang of guilt, and all he had done today was leave hastily.  All he had done today was almost kiss a woman, wishing far more.  What was wrong with that?  That was natural, male, human–required for procreation in fact.    Why should he feel guilty about that, about fulfilling his role in nature?  Especially since she didn’t know.  Of that he was now sure.

    But he knew the answer.  Natural were his instincts, and nothing wrong in them, but she had stopped him, albeit unintentionally.  She had stopped him and he had turned almost mean, even as she was kindly asking him what was wrong, and looked at him with sincerity, with a sincerity that actually moved him a little.  He had let the mere possibility of a kiss refused ruin his behavior. He had reacted as if he were a much younger, much more naïve man.

    And of course there was the Finn factor, which he really was pissed about factoring at all.  He and his brother had always gotten along well, cared very much in the usual older brother/younger brother fashion, and really only once had Garret had to step in on Finn’s affairs to get Finn out of trouble.  Problem is, he’d heard enough side stories from his sisters and poor mother that sometimes it just got tiring.  Finn and he were the only ones in the family to have moved east when his family had chosen to remain in Colorado.  Garrett had been drawn for obvious reasons—first the finance world that New York owns, and then the art world—ditto.  Finn had left Colorado to go to school in the east where he’d bounced from New Hampshire to Providence (insert side story here as to why he really left New Hampshire, because it would not be his story), and then he’d gone to Boston upon graduation, and fell very much in love with the area.  His original intention, bizarre to all that knew him, was law school at Harvard, and he’d easily been accepted, but after a few semesters he learned what everyone who knew him already thought–it was just too much toil without entertainment.  Too much edification, too much book time, all to be inevitably spent proving one thing or another whether he believed he should or not.  He believed in justice, but he was too much of a cynic.  Right about the time he was dropping out of love with law school, he became enamored with food, but more particularly, the preparation and presentation of it. So with the help of his parents, he’d bought a place in Boston’s Southie district and began his culinary life. Occasionally he popped down to meet Garrett and visa versa, and Finn would always have an entertaining tale or two, and they enjoyed each others’ company.  Nor was it always without substance.  They didn’t only go out to drink too much and find badly behaving women, which certainly had its merits, but they shared better intimacy, meaningful reflection.  Garrett liked Finn, no doubt, but his involvement with Carmen was still nettling.

    Finn hadn’t mentioned an artist in his life, or her name, and Luigi had said Finn was with a pretty woman when he’d visited, so either his affair with Carmen was not exclusive, or it’d ended already.  He begrudgingly admitted he might have mislabeled her unfairly at her house, and that he’d done so only at the prompt of her hypnotizing eyes, but Finn was involved.

    And of course he knew what would happen now.  He had wounded her pride, and crushed her spirit just a bit, so when they next would meet she would be cold or aloof, didn’t really matter which.  All manner of communication would be stilted and uncomfortable for them both.  How he hated it.  But he also could do nothing except have those communications, because he loved her work, and he would have to show it, and he’d have to buy some for his own pleasure, and he’d desperately like to get a copy of Luigi’s piece for himself.  All these requirements of his would mean at least a few chats with Carmen, but maybe it was not so bad?  With each chat, things might go smoother, and with the acquisition of a few expensive pieces from her sister’s antiques shop, as well as demonstrating as many excellent traits as he could to her sister, he could get in her good graces.  Well, that’s all he had for the moment.  Screw it if it didn’t go as planned.

    It had now been three hours since his rendezvous with Carmen, which he thought ample time, so he took out her business card and dialed her number.  Before it connected he put the phone down.  Silly to call her without a cold drink with rattling ice cubes next to him he realized, so he made himself a lovely scotch and re-dialed.  Why was he fidgety?  And why was he what must be nervous?  This was a WOMAN, a species he was very used to, loved dearly but very used to, and knew oh so well….

    “Hello” said Carmen.  She sounded normal enough—no trace of angst anywhere.  It had of course been three hours.

    Garrett hesitated only a moment.  “Hello, Carmen”.  Sure enough, his ice was rattling as he held it.  He took a quick sip and put the drink down.  “Sorry about that” apologizing about nothing in particular.  “This is Garrett—I hope I’m not disturbing you”.  He waited and also steeled himself another sip of his scotch.

    “Oh, hello”.  She said.  And right away he heard the temperature drop.  She cleared her throat a little.  “How can I help you?”  She did not say his name, which somehow seemed worse.

    “Again, I’m sorry to trouble you, but you had mentioned that your sister has an antiques shop.  I’d very much like it if you could give me her name and location since I’ve got some immediate requirements, as does my office at the gallery”  he lied.

    “Oh.  Yes.  Of course.”  She stammered a bit, and sounded a little disappointed he thought.

    “And I know our parting was a bit hasty this afternoon, but we should get together soon to discuss showing your work here at Gallery Darrs.”

    Mmm, yes, well….” She hesitated.  “I’m not sure when I can come in just at the moment…”

    “What’s that?”  Garrett felt an uneasiness creeping up his spine.

    “You see, it’s just that given a change in my circumstances, it might be better if we held off our joint venture for now” Carmen said.  She was making it up as she went along, not entirely sure what she was doing.  She knew Garrett was eager for her work, and part of her wished to punish him for his less than stellar attitude earlier in the day.  How could he call her back on the very same day and act as though they were hunky dory now?  She heard him take a sip of something with ice in it.  Scotch.  Hah.  “Actually, I had another offer from a prestigious gallery that I found rather flattering, and….”

    Garrett was not expecting that, at least not so soon.  How the hell could that have happened in the space of half a day?  “Which gallery would that be?”  He said this coolly, but thought his voice might have been a shade too high.

    Carmen was smiling.  There was no such offer, but it didn’t matter.  “I’m afraid I’m not really at liberty to say at the moment.  I haven’t made any decisions, and think it’d be best for all parties if I didn’t go into any details with anyone just yet.”  She nearly laughed out loud after that came out of her mouth.  She heard the clinking ice again.

    Garret knew he should get off the phone in case the vein in his head that was about to pop would be audible.  He said only “I see.  I think maybe we should discuss this before you go ahead and make any decisions, but why don’t you sleep on it?  I’ll call you in the next few days.  Thank you, as always, for your time Carmen.”  And he hung up.

    Carmen smiled again as she put the phone down.  How things can change in just a short time, and really, it was his fault….the phone rang again, and made her jump.  She picked it up, and greeted her caller.

    “Carmen, how foolish of me to now twice forget to get your sister’s information” Garrett said coolly, but with just the right amount of self deprecation.  “Would you mind giving it to me now?”

    Why so eager for a few antiques, she wondered.  Weren’t his sources endless?  “Of course. Her name is Sophia Carmine, and she lives in Ridgefield, on 73 Constance Lane.  You can reach her at 203-764-1193.  I’ll let her know you’ll be calling.”

    I’m sure you will, he thought.  “Thanks again, and have yourself a good evening Carmen” and he hung up before she could wish him the same.

    “You too, you annoying cretin of a man” Carmen said to no one in particular.  She felt like a ping pong ball, up and down, low and high, silly game.

    *

    It was now early evening, so she poured herself a modest martini and went to her studio, quite sure she’d have the ability to paint something good, or at least begin the makings of something good.  If for nothing else, Garrett Darrs was stimulation for emotion-ridden artwork, though nothing approaching anything happy.  Despite her earlier smugness after possibly fooling him into believing another gallery was after her, that feeling had quickly vanished—had in fact vanished as soon as he had hung up.  She was back to the familiar uncertainty.

    She found a blank canvas, and put it on her easel.  As she set about finding her paints and brushes, she thought about the day.  She thought about Garrett Darrs, and she thought about other men that had been in her life.  Strictly speaking, she was not a woman that normally required the company of a man.  She often found that men were more trouble than the bit of pleasure they provided.  Her past relationships had been fraught with passion, but aptly short-lived.  She had never complained, had usually been ready for the ending, and sometimes thought she subconsciously or not-so-subconsciously had assisted in the demise.  It was not that she didn’t love men, for in fact she adored them, but she found most of them selfish, and then needy.  She was not a doting female, as a lot of men were accustomed to.  Generally men tired easily of doting females, so when they came across Carmen, who demonstrated qualities anything but doting, the change was too much.  The men would become a little too doting themselves, and then resentful if such feelings were not at least slightly reciprocated.  It was an interesting fiasco.

    She could not logically imagine that Garrett would be any different, but things had not started well.  She knew very well she did not have the upper hand, but she also knew he didn’t quite have it either.  Did he even care?  A man like Garrett Darrs probably kissed a beautiful woman every other day and thought nothing of it, so why should she, pretty-ish Carmen Carmine, be special?  After all, he had fairly run out of her house after he had caught her fall, and then he had been nothing if not curt.  Is that why she was intrigued?  Was it the trite reason that she was interested in something she might not actually be able to get?  Was she as predictable as most?

    Carmen sat down and prepared to paint, but she was feeling uncreative.  She knew there was more to her attraction to Garrett than the fact she thought he might not want her.  As they say, the eyes have it.  He was a tall, strong, confident man, and yes, he was stunning.  In his eyes, though, there was little arrogance.  There was patience, kindness, and humor, and there was an appreciation for beauty—of the many beautiful things life offers always, but that too many don’t even notice, let alone cherish.  She recognized in him, even during the short time they had been together, qualities that mirrored her own.  At this point, however, it didn’t really matter.  She would have to wait until they next met, and make sure she made a better impression, or better yet, make sure he wanted to make a better impression on her (assuming, of course, that he had no idea of the fabulous impression he had already made).

    She thought then about Sophia, her sister, and that she would shortly be meeting Garrett.  Rather tripping over herself, she went to her phone to call her.  She would not let Garrett visit her sister without at least letting her know about this man, and without making sure that Sophia gleaned as much information from the meeting as possible.  Sophia might even prove herself instrumental if she didn’t louse things up.  It was one or the other, Carmen knew.

    “Sophia’s Corner, may I help you?”  Sophia said softly, seductively.

    “Hello there Sophie.  Just who were you expecting?  You sound like you’ve just gotten some, or you really need some” said Carmen, admittedly rather crudely.  She’d always been just a little jealous of her sister’s timbre.

    “Carmen!  What a thing to say”, but she laughed.  “What’s going on?”

    “Do you have a minute or two, because I need to keep you abreast of a situation, and ask a favor.”

    “Ooh.  Sounds good.   The store is almost empty right now, so shoot.”  Sophia sounded intrigued.

    “It’s nothing that big, just this man, Garrett Darrs.  Well, OK, so he’s not just this man.  He’s a very rich art gallery owner who is interested in showing my work.”

    “Well that sounds excellent.  What can I do about it?”

    “He’s going to be coming to your shop.  I’m not sure when , but pretty soon, probably within the next day or so.  I guess he’s big into fine antiques, and he needs a few pieces for his home and office, so make sure you take advantage of it.”  Carmen was hesitating.  All of a sudden she felt embarrassed mentioning the real reason she was calling.

    “Excellent!  I could use a large sale.  Thanks for the heads-up.”

    “Mmm.  No problem….”  She was losing her nerve.  Why?

    “Yes?  What is it?”  Sophia paused, her mental calculations almost audible.  “Is he an old boyfriend?  An intended boyfriend?  Has the contract been signed?  What do you need me to do?”

    “No, no no.  Nothing like that, it’s just that….”  And Carmen went on to explain the events of the day, more or less, to her sister.  She tried to impress upon her sister that she wished only for Sophia to get as many sales as she could, while at the same time taking note of everything he said.  She was in high school again, for heaven’s sake.

    “Wow” Sophia said.  “This guy must be something, alright.  You’ve got me curious.  Or he’s got me curious.”

    This was not exactly what Carmen wanted, but she could live with it.  Sometimes her sister meddled if she thought she could do any good.  “Well, don’t get the wrong idea, Soph.  I am really interested in getting my artwork into his gallery, and things did kind of get screwy today, but please don’t let him know that we spoke, other than my giving you a heads up, OK?”

    “Oh, of course, of course.”  Sophia promised.  “I’ll just give him the hard sell on my junk, and practically leave you out of it.”

    “Thanks.  Let me know what, if anything happens.  Talk to you later.”  And after exchanging good-byes they hung up.

    Carmen felt a bit better after the call, and relaxed.  She went back to her studio and began to paint.

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