Danielle adjusted her gloves and sighed.
She hated these kind of auctions. Filled with stuffy old men who thought they retained the right to hide all these treasures in the sanctity of their homes where they could be shown off during private parties.
Frowning as the man sitting to her left bid again on the Monet that was up for auction, she decided to take a break. The item she was interested in was going to be introduced in quite a while.
Maybe a short stroll through the halls would help her stretch her legs.
She nodded to the security guard who stood at the door and lowered her black mask so that he could confirm her identity. Signing in the small book he gestured at, she walked out.
She wasn’t a huge fan of masked auctions. But they were hugely popular these days and if it hadn’t been for her friend, Jeremy, she wouldn’t have even turned up at one.
She made a quick visit to the ladies room where she powdered her nose and studied her reflection. She was in her late twenties with a slim hourglass figure that she had inherited from her mother. Her hair was jet black and had been curled today at a whim. The curls now lay gently on her shoulder while some of them fell down her back.
Her skin was pale, like had been her mothers, but whereas her mother preferred soft pink lip colour to maintain the illusion of youth, Danielle preferred the bright slashing red that screamed danger. It was bold, reflecting her own wild spirit and as she reapplied her lipstick, she froze and turned her attention towards the door.
She could swear she had heard a masculine voice outside.
Frowning, her crystal blue eyes flashed with annoyance and she finished reapplying the lipstick. Adjusting her black dress which left her shoulders bare and yet covered her knees in an appropriate fashion, she exited the powder room.
The halls were decked with powerful works of art. This was the private collection of Thomas Arton, one of the most richest men that she had ever had the chance to encounter. The man was in his eighties, and yet his newest wife was barely twenty.
A small, affectionate smile touched her red lips.
The rumor mill swore that Bella had been very close to getting Mr. Arton to name her in his will, when the elderly man had disappeared for a week and then reappeared with a young man by his side, whom he proclaimed to be his grandson.
Danielle had not seen the so-called grandson, but she had heard from her own friends that he was foreign and ‘swoon worthy’. The girls had also claimed, while exchanging sly looks with each other that he was rolling in money like his own grandfather.
What would a man like that want with more money?
Everybody wanted more money, she thought to herself. Nobody was ever happy with what they had.
“That’s a beautiful vase.” Came a masculine Irish voice from behind. “But not so beautiful that one would admire it for twenty minutes.”
She turned around, and saw a tall man with a white mask that covered his eyes.
It didn’t cover his body though, and despite it being clothed in a black tuxedo, she could see that he was a very nice specimen.
“I was lost in thought.” She spoke.
“My apologies. Was I interrupting?” Those beautiful lips curved, with the confidence of a man who knew he was attractive.
Cocky, wasn’t he?
But he had done nothing to warrant her opinion, so she just smiled, albeit a little haughtily, as she turned to leave, “You just caught me leaving.”
“They’re still bidding on the Monet.” He told her, making her pause and glance over her shoulder.
The smile was there but his green eyes laughed at her from behind his mask, “I was watching you inside. You seemed quite bored.”
“So, you decided to catch me unawares outsides?” She questioned, studying him.
His dark brown hair was slicked back, but extended beyond his nape. It was not long enough to bother her, but long enough to give him a daring look. His hands looked rough, like somebody who was accustomed to working with their hands.
She found she quite liked that about him.
“I was equally bored.” He told her, grinning. “And talking to a beautiful woman seemed like a good way to pass the time.”
“You’re smooth.” Danielle informed him, tilting her head slightly. “I don’t like smooth.”
He laughed, “I had heard stories about you before today; Society’s darling. I’ve heard you don’t mingle that much within the social circles, Miss Walter. Now why would that be?”
Danielle gave him a sharp smile, “I tend to find most people boring.”
“Then what incited you to attend this auction?”
“Gift shopping,” she informed him, tartly.
He was clearly amused by her and Danielle raised a brow, “I didn’t quite catch your name.”
Hearing footsteps, they both turned to see a man approach them and gesture with his head towards her companion.
He nodded and then smiled at Danielle, taking her gloved hand and depositing a small kiss on the back of it, “For the sake of not being boring.”
And turning on his heel, he left, following the man in the suit, who was starting to look impatient.
Danielle pursed her lips.
Well, wasn’t that interesting?
Exiting the marble hall that was filled with various treasures that the public eye would have to pay to see, she turned towards the auction room and after signing again, she found her seat.
This time she waited patiently. Her eyes were focused on a small box that held a black smoking pipe in it.
To anyone else, it was just worth a few hundred dollars perhaps, simply because it belonged to the brave Captain of the sunk Marlene, a leisure cruise that killed two hundred people back in the 1600s, but to Danielle it meant her entire wallet.
Her friend Jeremy was descended from the Captain and the two of them had come across his ancestor’s journals when they were kids. While she had grown out of it, Jeremy had tracked down his ancestor’s lucky pipe but when he had heard of the auction, he had been miserable.
He couldn’t afford to play a rich man’s game and he wasn’t stupid. So, Danielle had taken it upon herself to surprise him with this. Better it be placed on Jeremy’s mantel where he could proudly tell everyone the story of Roberto’s lucky pipe, than be placed in a glass casing, to be seen by only a few handful of people and to be appreciated by none.
“And this pipe belong to Captain Roberto Gastielle, a French –“
“Five thousand dollars.”
Danielle’s voice was quiet, but loud enough to be heard. A few heads turned her way, but she kept her eyes focused on the Auctioneer who studied her, before slamming the hammer down and announcing, “Opening bid is five thousand dollars! Does anyone want to offer more?”
There was a short silence before a familiar amused voice sounded, “Ten thousand dollars.”
Danielle turned to glare at the man in the white mask.
He just smirked.
“Ten thousand dollars. Going once! Going-“
“Fifteen thousand dollars.” Danielle scowled.
“Twenty thousand dollars.” He was clearly laughing at her with his eyes.
However, Danielle just smiled and then settled in for a long fight. Her words were soft, intended for the Auctioneer, but she was looking at the man in the white mask, “Twenty thousand and one dollars.”
The Auctioneer sighed and continued the bid.
It was an hour later that Danielle lifted her purse and exited the room.
She was angry. The man had no reason to want the stupid pipe. He was just being an ass about it. He wasn’t going to budge, so she had to stick to the sick satisfaction of the idea that at least he just spent around a hundred thousand dollars for a pipe that was worthless to him.
“Leaving so soon?”
Danielle composed her face before turning to look at the man who had just upended her. “Why? Did you want to start bidding on the next item I liked?”
“I rather liked the pipe,” He murmured.
“Liked?” She echoed. “You just paid a hundred thousand dollars for it. I should hope you liked it.”
“I would be willing to trade it with you.” He studied her.
Danielle stilled, “Now, why would you want to do that?”
He shrugged, “Would you be interested?”
Danielle watched him, trying to understand his motives. What could she possibly have that this man could want. However, she had been raised in this world and knew that showing any sign of weakness was a lethal move, so she just raised a brow, “Why don’t you start by telling me who you are?”
She took off her own mask and could not say she was not a little satisfied when she saw his breath catch. However, that was momentary and his lips curved ever so slightly, “I admit that you are more beautiful than your pictures ever showed you to be.”
Impatient, Danielle crossed her arms over her chest, “Take off your mask.”
Slowly, the man untied the mask from behind and as he slid it off, her heartbeat quickened and she felt her blood heat.
Although she had glimpsed his eyes as being green, the full impact of those laughing, wild green eyes had missed her. He had a slight scar over his right cheek, one that added to his reckless image.
He grinned, “Sean Callaghan.”
Danielle frowned, “The name isn’t familiar. You’re not from here.”
“I’m afraid not.” He grinned. “This happens to be my grandfather’s auction.”
Those idiots thought somebody from Ireland was a bloody foreigner?
She had been thinking in terms of Egypt or India.
“You’re Mr. Arton’s grandson. I’ve heard about you.” Danielle studied him, forcing her heartbeat to calm down.
The thick Irish accent was charming and she hated that, “I’ve attended a few social events but I’ve not seen you in any of them. Grandfather mentioned you a couple of times.”
“I bet he did.” She murmured. She was a favourite of the elderly man, having played at his knee when she was a child. Their family estates were in the country, next to each others and she had often wandered over there.
After the death of his wife, Thomas had withdrawn into his estate and she would often run across him. And a four-year-old Danielle had been inquisitive about everything from the sun to the moon, and the distraction had been welcomed by him.
“I don’t attend many social events.” She informed him.
“So, I’ve heard,” His eyes fixed on her face in a way that made her want to leave.
This man could be very dangerous to her.
“Well, Mr. Callaghan. What do you think that I have that would be worth a hundred thousand dollars?”
“Please call me Sean.” His eyes were intent. “I would like to take you out to dinner.”
Danielle just stared at him, “Excuse me?”
He stepped closer, “Dinner at the Pastelle, on the waterfront. I hear it’s a very romantic sight at night.”
Danielle’s gaze did not waver and she murmured softly, “And you will give me the pipe if I go out with you?”
He just smiled that charming smile, making her return the gesture.
She leaned forward, that smile fixed on her ruby red lips, and her lips barely grazed the outer shell of his ear, as she whispered, “Keep that stupid pipe. I don’t trade favours for anything.”
With that, she slid right past him, leaving him blinking.
As she exited the doorway, she didn’t catch the way charm vanished from his eyes, replaced by a thoughtful look, mixed with calculation.
So, it seemed Danielle Walter was not going to make for an easy mark. He had completely misread her.
Sean laughed in the empty lobby of the building, a delighted sound.
He loved a challenge.