Dax didn’t feel like he knew much. Out of everything there was to understand in the world, he was familiar with speaking French and painting. When it came to meeting new people, he could feel little beads of sweat forming between his shoulder blades and trailing down his back, his palms became sweaty and he stammered over his words.
Over the years of living in Paris with Cosette, he hadn’t become anymore acclimated to new people than he had been living in Winchester. It baffled him since, on the small island of his youth, he’d been tormented with scars crisscrossing his face in ugly, jagged lines.
All of that had changed, though, in an instant and off to Paris he’d gone to find his fortune in the world of art. When he’d first ventured out, he thought nothing could stop him. After all, he had been healed of his facial disfigurement and now he was a new man, free of all that had held him back.
But was he? Or was it just an illusion he’d created in order to move out of his comfort zone and forward with his life?
He was distracted briefly from his thoughts as a woman approached and Cosette greeted her warmly. She had made arrangements with two gallery owners. Ah, but this wasn’t just any gallery; Dax had already been featured in several of those. This was the impressive Grand Hall of Perception owned by none other than the world renowned art dealer himself, Porthos De Saint-Pierre.
Cosette was keen to get Dax’s work shown in this particular hot spot because she was certain it would move his career in the right direction, catapulting him to fame and success.
As Cosette spoke with one of Porthos De Saint-Pierre’s spokeswomen, Dax ducked back behind his canvas. The negotiations were Cosette’s specialty and he preferred to hide whenever he could.
“Yes, yes,” the woman, Sophie Daucourt, was saying to Cosette. “I have been willing to show Mr. St. Cyr’s work for a long time. But you see, the final word comes from Maud Vallée, my employer.”
“But she isn’t here,” Cosette said. Her voice was deep and a bit husky for a woman, Dax supposed, but it was one of the things he found so incredibly sexy about her.
“Ah! But here she is!” Sophie exclaimed, as Dax dove behind the painting he was working on once again.
“Maud, how good of you to meet with me,” Cosette graciously purred, kissing both of Maud Vallée’s cheeks.
“Yes, yes. Sophie has been going on and on about your Dax St. Cyr. I am sorry I missed his last showing, but having read the reviews and looking at some of his works, I think we can arrange something.”
“That’s wonderful! When shall we aim for?”
“Definitely within the next six months or so.”
Cosette’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head stubbornly. “No, that will not do at all. I realize you must book these things far in advance, but we are ready now.”
Maud raised an eyebrow and took a small step back. “But are there enough finished works to have a showing so soon?”
“Of course. How soon can we arrange this? Because if you are not able to accommodate us, I will have to give the Royal Gallery of Eternity an answer as they have been waiting for quite some time to hear from us.”
Dax smirked as he peeked around his hiding spot, paintbrush poised just in case he had to duck back behind it. He knew for a fact that Cosette was bluffing, but he wasn’t about to interrupt her with details like the truth since he had a feeling she was about to win this game.
“Cosette, I thought we were friends. I cannot believe you would accept a deal from them before us.”
Cosette shrugged her shoulders, shaking her head as if she’d been put into a very bad position. “You know I would much rather have Dax’s showing with you, my friend. But Dax must go where his art can be admired. He has been working his way up through the galleries for years, so it is now his time to shine.”
Maud took one look at Cosette’s puppy dog eyes and then said, “Okay, yes, all right! I can work him in sooner. Now, promise me you will not accept any deals from our competition.”
Dax was impressed that Cosette was able to hold in her squeal of delight until Maud and Sophie disappeared out of sight around the corner.
“We’re in!” she blurted with delight when she could no longer stand it.
True to her word, Maud was able to arrange Dax’s show at the Grand Hall of Perception within just a few weeks. It was what Cosette wanted, but after all was said and done, she was concerned that the “right” people may not have had the appropriate amount of time to work this into their schedules.
Still, word had already gotten around about the new artist named Dax St. Cyr, so she tried to calm herself by trying to stay positive.
That is, until she saw what he was wearing.
“Why aren’t you wearing your suit?” she asked, looking around them to see if any of the guests had noticed.
“Relax,” he said. “I hate wearing it. I feel like it’s choking me. No one’s even looking at me.”
While Cosette was irritated by Dax’s clothing choice for the evening, she realized there was something very different about him. Never before had she met anyone even remotely like him.
In her mind, their relationship had reached a crossroads. He knew absolutely everything about her family and childhood, where she’d gone to school and all there was to know about her past… the important things anyway.
But what did she know about Dax? Virtually nothing. He was kind and appeared to have had a good upbringing. Yet when she asked him simple questions about his childhood or where he grew up, he clammed up or changed the subject.
She turned to him now and said, “You schmooze these people tonight so your career will go the direction you want, then, once we’ve made the arrangements, we are going to visit your family.”
As she spoke, his mouth fell open in astonishment.
“And before you give me some excuse as to why we cannot meet your family, I want you to know that I will not take no for an answer this time. And that is final.”
Somehow, Dax got this message and realized he might lose her if he didn’t comply. His heart sank as he thought of how backward Winchester was. Once she went there, he might lose her anyway.
Cosette nudged him, “Those ladies over there are very important. You must say hi to them. The one on the left is Mrs. Marie-Claire Beaumanoir and she is a critic. Hopefully, she will like what she sees and write something good. The one on the right, Séraphine Delafosse, is an art collector. I’m hoping she buys something pricey!”
To make Cosette happy, Dax forced himself to smile and make small talk with Maud…
… an art dealer named Théodore Allard who was interested in several paintings…
… and the mother of all critics, Bérénice Philidor.
Finally, when the evening was over and all of the people had milled out, he let out a sigh of relief.
“Do not think that because this event went well, you’re off the hook, my love,” Cosette said. “Tomorrow, we leave to meet your family.”