I had made an impression, that was clear to see. Andrew and his audience had all fallen silent—they were a sea of approving grins as they took in my sparkle and satin. If the charming senator ever suspected the pretty creature in front of him was the same practical, efficient, no-nonsense woman who held down the desk outside his door, he gave no indication of it. Instead, he gave his usual campaign-winning grin—God, it was even sexier behind the striking tuxedo pattern of his mask—and tipped his glass to me.
“Well, I’ve been told my dancing skills are mostly up to par,” he chuckled modestly. “Of course, I’ve never had the opportunity to measure them up against a Cirque du Soliel star before.”
“Maybe someday you’ll have that opportunity,” I returned. “Until then, though, will you take the chance with me?”
“Absolutely,” he said, clinking his champagne flute against mine and finishing the last of his drink with a courageous swig. Taking both our glasses and dropping them on a passing tray of empties, he took my hand and led me onto the floor.
I already knew that Andrew was an accomplished dancer. I’d seen him at enough events to know it. I’d never, ever been the partner he swept out under the lights, though, and as he slipped on arm around my waist that giddy butterflies feeling fluttered up again. His confident embrace was firm but gentle, and joyfully, comfortably warm. I found it was almost impossible to even settle into his arms, I was so electric with bubbly, sophomoric glee. It was almost embarrassing: but of course, who knew it was really quiet little Liz under this mask?
“You dance very well,” Andrew complimented me. “Miss….?”
“Oh, no, Senator,” I chided playfully. “It’s a masquerade party. No names until the masks come off at midnight!”
I knew he was just being charming, anyway; I certainly wasn’t tripping over my own feet but I was really just following his lead, my cheery bells jingling as he waltzed me around the floor. That was fine by me, really—I was more than happy with his arms around me. This close, I could have nuzzled the hint of five o’clock shadow along his handsome jaw line, or run my hand through his sandy hair. I didn’t, of course… but just being near enough to do so gave me a serene contentment. The scent of his cologne—L’Eau D’Issey, musky and rich with the sweet scent of wood and amber—was heaven.
I didn’t think I’d ever been so close to Andrew before. Or perhaps I had, leaning over his desk to get his signature or go over a proposal with him or help him figure out some new computer hardware. I’d certainly never been this intimately close to him, though… and it was a rather pleasant feeling.
“I hear you’re up for auction later,” I teased him as we danced.
“You’ve heard right,” he replied. “And can I expect you to be among the bidders?”
“Maybe. Of course, if I did bid on you and I did win,” I mused. “I’d have you for… what? A pleasant little photo-op of a luncheon, a chance to bend your ear about the charities I support or the event I’d like your help to arrange. That’s all well and good, but personally, if I was looking for a date with you I think I’d like something a little more… genuine.”
It earned me another of his gorgeous smiles. “How candid of you. Should my feelings be hurt? You make it sound as though you’re decidedly not interested in a date.”
I shrugged, dropping him a wink. “I got a dance. I can be happy with that.”
He spun me, sending the jester’s bells a-ringing. As I twirled back into his arms, I could swear he was holding me a little bit closer.
“You’re a very mercurial woman, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’m just… enjoying my moment,” I said.
“Well,” he replied as the song came to an end. He lifted my hand, giving it a kiss. “To many more moments, hm?”
“One can hope,” I agreed. As he led me off the floor, he reached out and as if simply waiting for his signal, one of the waiters whisked by to offer us both another glass of champagne. Andrew took both proffered flutes and handed one to me.
“Won’t you join me for a walk on the grounds? Maybe I can convince you to invest a little money in the auction after all.”
“Be my guest,” I laughed, and let him lead me out of the crowded ballroom.
Andrew took me for a leisurely stroll through the hotel’s lusciously landscaped gardens, but surprisingly enough he said very little. Once we were out of sight of the party-goers on the balcony, he gently let his hand drift to my lower back, pressing his fingers ever-so-lightly there while we meandered along the verdant lawns and the pseudo-Greek garden architecture, admiring the lights playing along the surface of the hotel’s elegant fountaine as they sang pretty sprays of water into the sky.
“Your costume is stunning,” he finally said to me as we reached a quiet colonnade open on one side to a serene reflecting pool. I smiled demurely in thanks, and quietly slipped away from him to stand by one of the columns and admire the calm water. Again I marveled at the playful creature looking back up at me; where had she been all my life?
Andrew cozied up beside me. “So, about that auction—”
“You’ll fetch a very handsome price, I’m sure,” I said nonchalantly. “Probably from the head of the Women’s Society herself, although I’d be careful with her.”
I gave him a wink. “I’m sure she’d love to get her hooks in a handsome, successful senator, and for more than just a pretty little PR date.”
“Well, then, wouldn’t it be better for all involved if somebody else won?” he muttered, leaning close and resting his head near to my shoulder. I was startled and thrilled by his nearness, my heart picking up its rhythm as the invigorating scent of L’Eau D’Issey soothed and stirred me.
“It’s all for charity, now, remember,” I teased.
“Are you sure I can’t convince you to bid?” he asked. His voice was lower now, right by my ear. I turned towards him, our bodies pressing more closely together.
“There’s not much chance I could afford a luxury like you,” I whispered.
“Better chance than if you don’t try at all,” he murmured back. “And if you were perchance to make the final bid, I think I might be the one who really wins.”
I thought to say something back to that, something flighty and teasing. Before I could, though, his lips were on mine, warm and pleasing. His right hand dropped gently to my hip, while his left snuck around my shoulders to press me against him. The little bells on my cap shivered and jingled; I happily obliged, shutting my eyes with a quiet sound of happiness.
We kissed for several long seconds, his arms tightening around me in warm embrace.