Chapter 1: Impressionism
Chapter Notes: I have to warn you that this is not my usual writing style but my muse wanted to experiment, so I beg your patience and forgiveness for any fall-outs I might have.
That said, I want to thank my lovely friend and beta, Im_bloody_English, for keeping me going even if there are times I feel like I’m way over my head with this, for your advice and for being there for me whenever I’ve needed you. I truly couldn’t do this without your help, sweetie. *smooches* Thanks to Marzbar for the quick edit and Tammy and Kitty, for reading it and reassuring me that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.
He was drawn to her like a moth to the flame. Nay, more like Icarus to the sun. She was too luminous—too radiant—to be compared to a mere flame. Would he suffer the same fate if he dared come close to her? Would his wax wings melt as Icarus’ did before he fell to his death? Or perhaps her light would burn him until he was dust or somehow chase away the shadows that surrounded him?
His fingers itched to thread through her hair, to feel if it was as silky up close as it looked from afar. His hands longed to caress her skin and slowly uncover each and every one of the secrets of her body. His eyes lingered on her beautiful face, trying to imagine what color her eyes might be, wondering if their shade would deepen when aroused with passion or fury. However, tempted as he was to find out, he was reticent to sully her innocence with his darkness.
Yes, he was aware he was a vampire and he shouldn’t care if he sullied her one way or another. It was in his nature to be evil… or should be, at least. He’d never been too conventional though, neither as a human nor as a vampire. Even more so, he’d never felt as drawn to anyone as much as for this magnificent creature standing across the room and for once he knew it had little to do with bloodlust or lust of another flavor. No, it ran deeper, deeper than he ever imagined it could. Deep into those recesses of where his soul and heart would reside were he actually alive, the same ones he’d thought were long dead along with him. How was it possible to feel this alive again just by looking at her? And if just doing that made him feel like this, whatever would it do to be near her, holding her in his arms, kissing her, smelling her, feeling her?
He noticed as a man approached her and handed her a crystal goblet with what appeared to be wine and he couldn’t suppress the possessive growl that crawled up his throat. The people nearby looked at him with a strange blend of curiosity, tempered down by fear. Any other time smelling that fear would’ve been intoxicating for his demon, but now, today, this night, it was too focused on the golden goddess that he couldn’t stop watching to care.
His stance tensed as he intently observed his girl’s interaction with the overgrown boy and promptly relaxed when he realized that she wasn’t interested in him. It was perfectly clear to anyone that cared to notice, except for the daft oaf it seemed.
He knew many of the people that were attending his exhibit tonight were doing it out of curiosity rather than because they truly liked his work. The man standing next to her was one of those. Yet, for as many so-called experts that care little about art but more about how much money they could make from it, there were the odd few that came here for the art itself. And she was one of those odd few, he was as sure of that as he was that he didn’t need to breathe to live. He reveled on the rapt attention she paid to each of his paintings, as she gazed at them almost as reverently as he was looking her.
She stopped a few paces before reaching what he considered his master piece, the one painting in which he’d poured the soul he wasn’t supposed to have, and held an unneeded breath while waiting for her reaction.
Buffy Summers was bored to tears and they hadn’t even made it to the salon yet. Not that she was surprised. There was a reason why she hadn’t accepted any dates with Riley Finn the thousand times he’d asked before, he wasn’t—and never would be—what she considered ‘boyfriend’ or even ‘potential date’ material. There was absolutely no chemistry between them, at all. What was more, if it weren’t for the fact that Riley and her mother had maintained a commercial relationship between their galleries before her untimely death last year she never would’ve continued their tentative friendship, if it could even be called that.
However, he seemed to think differently and kept inviting her every time their paths crossed, which with her living in California and him in London very seldom happened, thank God! She’d tried to let him down kindly, but the boorish idiot didn’t seem to take the hint. It didn’t matter how many times she’d turned him down, he kept insisting and insisting and insisting, until he finally presented her with an invitation she couldn’t refuse.
She’d been in London for less than a week when Riley told her of this very exclusive event he’d been invited to. He’d known, of course, that she’d do just about anything short of murdering someone to attend this function, even if it meant that she had to go with him to said event. And he’d been right, damn him!
She almost regretted being so vocal in her praise when she’d discovered William Wellington’s work in an art magazine at Riley’s gallery. Almost. Because if she hadn’t she wouldn’t be here about to witness the first—and probably the last, if one could give credit to anything Riley said—art exhibit of said artist. He was a recluse, the magazine had claimed, a very private thirty-something man with an amazing gift for painting landscapes and portraits that seemed to come to life when one saw them in person. God, it seemed that way when she saw them in the magazine, she could only imagine how much better it would be to see them up close and personal. Loving art as much as she did, there was absolutely no way she would miss on doing just that, even if she had to endure Riley Finn’s company to what promised to be the event of the year, hell, probably of the decade.
So, she dressed up accordingly to what he’d told her was expected for his ‘date’, spending more than she’d planned on a beautiful jade green evening gown that complimented her beauty perfectly, or so Riley claimed, even if she truly didn’t care what he or anyone else said about her. She simply didn’t want to be thrown out of the very private and exclusive affair for not ‘measuring up’ to the Academy’s standards. However, having to endure the supreme boredom that was Riley Finn and his unwanted comments and attentions, almost made her regret agreeing to come to the exhibit altogether.
She forgot about any regrets and Riley, though, as she stood completely transfixed at the entrance of the Royal Academy of Arts main salon. She’d been here once before with her mother a few years ago, but she could hardly reconcile the image that she held in her memories to the one she was seeing at the moment. The room had been completely transformed to compliment the art exhibit, giving it a surreal ambiance. She felt as if she were stepping into one of the many paintings that decorated the walls, which very probably had been the reason for the decor. So entranced was she with her surroundings, that she barely even acknowledged her escort as he moved them further into the room and left her there before mumbling something about greeting some of the Academy members, saying he’d be right back. She just waved her hand dismissively at him, hoping that with any luck he’d be monopolized the rest of the night by them so she could get lost in the magnificent landscapes and portraits in display without him interrupting her.
Fascinated, she walked around the room. Each and every one of the paintings was a masterpiece in itself and she still could hardly believe the artist wasn’t that well known outside this rather exclusive circle of connoisseurs or that he was as young as the magazine had claimed. His work talked of a depth and experience that went well beyond his years.
“Are you enjoying the display, Buffy?” a voice whispered in her ear, making her shudder in something akin to revulsion as she noticed who it was behind her.
She’d been so absorbed by the display that she hadn’t seen or heard him sneak up on her. Trying to hide her disappointment at the fact that he’d joined her, she turned around and found Riley looking all pleased with himself as he held two glasses of wine. Couldn’t he have stayed away for the rest of the night and let her enjoy the exhibit? She rolled her eyes, just her luck, it seemed he couldn’t.
She forced a smile and took the wine from his hand, as she chanted in her mind: ‘I have to be polite, I have to be polite.’ After all, it wouldn’t do to make a scene and be thrown out of the exhibit when she still had about half of the paintings left to see, would it? God, what she would give to be able to act on her impulses and punch him in the gut, since there was no way she’d reach his nose. Bummer, being short sucked big time. She sighed dejectedly, before pasting on the most saccharine smile she could stomach at the time.
“Very much so,” she replied, turning her back at him and toward the display as she sipped the alcohol, ignoring him in what she hoped was a polite way, praying he got the message she wanted to continue viewing the exhibit on her own. No such luck, however, as he fell into step at her side when she walked away. She rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. Was it worth it? Then she saw another of the marvelous paintings before her and responded to herself, yes, yes, it surely was.
She felt a tingle on the back of her neck, the same feeling she always got when someone was watching her. As surreptitiously as she could she scanned the room. No one seemed to be paying attention to her, though. It wasn’t until her eyes swept the room a second time that she noticed a man on the other side of the crowd who seemed to be staring at her. She shuddered again, this time with something that had nothing to do with revulsion and a lot to do with the magnetism that emanated from the man that hadn’t stopped looking at her when she stared back. She couldn’t discern which color his eyes were from so far away, but they were mesmerizing, holding her in some kind of strange trance that took her to a place where only they existed.
He was dressed in a tux like all the other men attending the event, but somehow he stood out. He was different from anyone else here, from the top of his bleached white curls—because there’s no way that was the natural color of his hair—to the deliciously sharp cheekbones and the lean body that his suit couldn’t hide down to the tip of his shoes. She felt he wasn’t here to flaunt his social status or to be able to say that he’d attended the event of the year. No, he was here for the art, just like she was. She couldn’t say how she knew, she just did.
Just then someone bumped into her, almost making her drop her glass. Reluctantly she tore her eyes away from those of the mysterious man and twisted to one side to see who had dared interrupt her stare-fest and almost growled when the elegant woman that had almost knocked her down hardly even acknowledged her, let alone apologize before continuing on her merry way. Damned snobby people that thought they were better than everyone else.
More than a bit miffed for the disruption, she pivoted on her heel to face her handsome stranger again only to find he wasn’t there any more. She surveyed the crowded salon trying to find him, but it seemed as if he’d disappeared into thin air. Where was he? Logically she knew nothing could ever come from it but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t enjoy the odd sense of connection she’d felt with the man or the way the world seemed to disappear as they got lost in each other’s eyes, did it? She had the right to daydream, dammit and boy, if he wasn’t dream-worthy material. Disappointed, she sighed and glanced to her side to find Riley talking animatedly with a short guy. Oh well, at least he was entertained and not bothering her, so she turned back to the painting she’d been looking at before.
He should’ve walked away when he had the chance. He didn’t though and now he was lost. He should’ve left as soon as she started to scan the room, but he didn’t. Now it was too late, her eyes were fixed on him and from across the room an electrical undercurrent seemed to flow between them and he knew he was completely and irrevocably lost.
He had to meet her, needed to find out what she thought of his work even if she would never know he was the artist. He just needed to hear from her lips what he had seen in her posture, in her gestures, in her eyes. He needed to be close to her, inhale her scent, know the color of her eyes, discover the sound of her voice as it rang in his ears, how her face lit when she smiled at him, find out if her radiance could burn him from within as soon as he reached her side or if it would warm him up just enough to make him feel alive again for a brief moment. He wanted to commit it all to his memory if that was all that he’d ever have of her.
When a woman almost fell over her and she took her eyes away from his, he decided to make his move, melting into the shadows while beckoning his assistant who hurried to his side. After a brief exchange with his loyal assistant, he waited as the one thing standing between him and his golden goddess was removed as the annoying nuisance he was.
He would have been more angry about the interruption—and the fact that the woman had bumped into her—if it weren’t that it provided him with the perfect opportunity to get near her without her noticing. He preferred to have the element of surprise, the chance to gather his bearings before approaching her. If she had affected him this much from afar, how would it be when she was so close that he just had to extend his hand to touch her? That he just had to take an unneeded breath to inhale her scent? Yes, surprising her was a good idea. That way it would be easier for him to gauge her reaction to him, to see if it was the same as it had been when they had been gazing at each other from across the room. Not that anything could ever come out of this, he was aware of that. But even a vampire could dream, couldn’t he? He just had to make it so that tonight lasted him for an eternity without her.
He held his unneeded breath as he observed from his vantage point how the big oaf responded to what Jonathan was telling him and couldn’t hide the smirk that bloomed on his lips when, just as he’d planned, the enormous hall monitor followed his assistant after throwing nothing more than a fleeting glance to his ‘date’. Not that she’d cared, that was pretty obvious since she didn’t take her eyes away from his painting.
With feline grace, he crossed the room until he was standing behind her. He was nervous, even more so than he’d ever been while human. What was it about this tiny slip of a woman that brought out the shy Victorian gentleman that he’d buried so many years ago? He was a Master Vampire for Christsakes not the fumbling artist and poet he’d been then.
Unable to contain himself he leaned closer to her, feeling the heat that emanated from her body and inhaled her scent for the first time. Vanilla, with a touch of something that had to be uniquely her. Needing to find out if everything about her was as appealing as the few things he’d discovered already, he daringly whispered in her ear, “Are you enjoyin’ the display?”