I could feel his eyes on me as he stood watching me from across the room. He never seemed to look away, even when he mingled with the other guests, and despite never having seen him before I always knew where he was in the room. ‘He radiates,’ I thought as I circled around and, out the corner of my eye, I again caught him watching me.
I startled when someone touched me on the arm. “Claire! Oh, my, God, Claire! Did I tell you how much George and I just loved the figurine you gave us last week. It’s utterly gorgeous, I tell you. I told George I wanted to put it in the living room, where everyone would see it when they visit us over Christmas but he insisted we keep it in the bedroom. That’s where fertility goes on after all.” I rolled my eyes and Ronny laughed, leaning closer to whisper, “not that we needed help in ‘that’ department.”
I shied away from the caress of my sister’s fingers on my shoulder. “I do NOT need to know what goes on in that department for you, sis. Please. But I’m glad you like the idol. I just didn’t know what to get the girl whose already got everything.” I knew my smile was pasted on my face but Ronny was, as usual, oblivious to undertones.
“Oh, did you see that hunk who came in earlier. I saw him watching you. Do you know him?”
I shook my head and glanced across the room. The stranger had detached himself from another swarm of admirers and was crossing the room toward me. I glanced away and whispered to my sister, “Is he coming over here?”
“Oh, honey, of course not. He’s gone to get another drink. And no wonder, it’s parching in here. Please, would you fill up my glass for me?” Ronny put the empty glass into my hand and nudged me in the direction of the bar. I stood rooted to the spot a moment, then forced myself to breathe as I crossed to stand beside the man who held a recently refreshed glass in one hand.
I ordered two tall glasses of iced O.J. and turned around to face the room while the barman poured the drinks. Ronny had wandered back to her husband who seemed immersed in his usual crowd of bankers and socialites.
I could feel a prickle of awareness as gooseflesh crawled down my arm. He was watching me again; I could feel his gaze as it tracked my profile. I wondered if I should say something then decided to continue pretending I was oblivious.
“Jade, and adventurine?” The stranger’s rich voice trickled through every pore like the taste of ambrosia on my skin.
“Pardon?” I asked, turning to him and lifting my gaze to take in the smooth curves of his face.
His hand reached out as if he’d intended to touch my wrist but he paused before saying, “Your bracelet. The gemstones are stunning.”
I smiled and looked down at the precious stones and metals clustered around my wrist. Set in a collection of golden hoops and rods that clung to a mixture of jade, moonstone, and chrysoprase stones were dangling charms of scattered stars, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, and crescent moons. A floral clasp of clinging Wisteria blossoms drew the bracelet together. An intricate figure stood resplendently prominent against the band of gems. A larger opaque green adventurine crystal gleamed in lighting that defined the finely carved features of a man and the two glorious wings sprouting from his back.
“Yes. It’s jade and adventurine, with chrysoprase and moonstone.” I replied.
“It’s beautiful. He must love you a great deal.”
“The man who gave you that,” he said. “It’s the sort of gift that seems to belong to your soul and only someone who knew you intimately could have chosen such a gift.”
I chuckled, “Intimately, well, certainly that. I bought it for myself.”
His eyes sparkled and his lips curved in a way that seemed to know more than he would tell me. “No man then, to buy you beautiful things?”
“I don’t need a man to buy things for me.” My chin lifted in defiance but the teasing edge to his voice encouraged me to back down from the challenge in his words. “I haven’t troubled myself to settle.”
His shoulder rose in a gentle shrug, “Loneliness. It’s can be sad, to be so alone.” He sighed and drew the glass of warm golden liquid to his lips. He gazed across the room now, but seemed to be looking at nothing. The silence drew out between us a long moment before he turned back to me, “We’ll have to do something about yours.”
I raised an eyebrow at him and let a rye chuckle pass between us before I replied, “Do something about what? My love life? I don’t even know you.”
He glanced down at the bracelet again and reached out to catch the moonstone charm, “Think of me as him, your guardian angel. I’ve got to save you from yourself.”
I laughed, charmed and felt myself flushing. He was standing close and as I gazed up into the pale pools of his eyes I felt our breath mingle. He seemed to shake himself before clearing his throat and leaning backwards against the bar again as the bartender placed two frosted glasses on the counter beside me.
He waited for the bartender to move away again before adding, “Trust me, Claire. We’ll find someone perfect for you.”
I shook my head. “You sure are confident. I’m not at all sure there is someone out there for a career-obsessed control-freak like me. Still, it’s been interesting meeting you. Have a great night.”
I picked up the two glasses and gave him one last smile before walking away. His final words caressed my spine. “See you again soon, Claire.”
The parade of eligible men in this town was truly a spectacle. In three short weeks I’d gone from feeling like I was the only fish in the sea to swimming through crowded schools of men each crazier than the last. Another dark stranger with a too broad smile and receding hairline was passed in front of me. I groaned and thrust the photograph away.
“Enough, Boone, please. How are any of these men any different from the seventeen dates you’ve sent me on in the three weeks since we met?” I asked. Although we’d only met a few weeks ago, Boone and I had become close friends. His charming enthusiasm mixed with confident dependability made him easy to like and he kept showing up in the same social circles.
“The right one is out there, Claire. I’m determined to find him. It’s not my fault you’re so particularly picky. I honestly thought that Ryan fellow was a good match.”
“You’re certainly no cupid. Please do not take to match making for a living. Ryan, he was the one with two cats and an obsession with only eating primary colors. Primary colors, Boone. Do you know how many of those there are? Three. And there certainly aren’t many blue foods to round out his diet. If you insist on setting me up with people can we at least move on to those who aren’t mentally unstable?”
“Jordan was stable. You said yourself that he had a good job and was housebroken.” Boone replied.
“He also still lived with his mother, at thirty-eight. Come on, seriously, who still lives with their parents at that age?”
Boone frowned, “He loved his mother. She’s a dear old lady.”
I groaned, “Isn’t it time to consider yourself defeated? I told you before you started parading men under my nose that it would be pointless.”
“What you said was that you didn’t know if there was someone out there for you. I’m absolutely certain there is. We just have to find him.”
I sighed as I watched him move with agitated jerks, flipping through page after page in a manila folder thick with portfolios. “Where do you even get all those?” I asked, watching as his frown deepened.
He shrugged as if he’d barely heard me but answered, “I have my sources.”
His increasing frustration was setting me on edge. “Lets just get out of here, Boone. You and me, we’ll hit the town together. Who knows, maybe my mister right is out in the world, not inside your folder.”
“He has to be in here, it’s how it all works.”
My brow furrowed. “How it all works? I think you’ve been working too hard.” I crossed the room and took the folder out of his hands. He looked surprised, his hands still in the air as if they clutched a now invisible folder. He swallowed and dropped his hands to his side but held otherwise still. “We should go,” I added.
The Foundry was crowded but the thriving energy and upbeat music made for a friendly atmosphere. The bar buzzed with customers buying drinks and the tables hummed with conversation over good food. A few patrons had already taken to the dance floor.
Boone pulled me behind him as he moved through the room with a demanding confidence. No matter where we went he seemed to draw people to him and it was rare to find him without a lively collection of friends around him. Tonight, he seemed more on edge than sociable. He shook his head at the invitations called out to him for us to join other tables and found a small, recently abandoned table toward the back.
The conversation was stilted between us as we decided what to order and then waited for our meals. I could almost see the tension in the stiff way his shoulder thrust forward and the slight crease between his eyes.
“What’s getting to you? Are you really this strung up because you’re not having any luck when it comes to men?” I grinned, trying to draw him out with humor. “It’s something we women-folk have battled with for generations.”
“It shouldn’t be this hard to be honest. I’ve never had this much difficulty before.”
“You mean you do this often?” I was suddenly much more curious than charmed and more than a little alarmed at this insight into his matchmaking tendencies. He shook his head and clenched his lips. It wasn’t a negation to the claim. “Why won’t you tell me?” I demanded.
His fingers wrung a napkin and he refused to meet my gaze. “It’s not that simple, Claire. It’s not that I won’t tell you, exactly. I’m not supposed to. It’s a work thing.”
“A work thing? You mean you really do this for a living? Do you work for a dating agency or something?”
“Not exactly,” he grinned, light gleaming in his eyes as he looked up from the table. “Honestly, Claire. You wouldn’t believe me if I could talk to you about it. Just trust me, I’m normally much better at my job than I have been when I’m around you. You’re a unique situation.”
“I don’t know if I should take that as an insult or not. Either I’m a troublesome conundrum or I’m strangely special, but either way it seems I’m destined to remain loveless and alone.” I laughed and tried to squelch the pain in my chest that rose when I thought of passing the future alone, unloved, and childless.
Boone shook his head, “No, that’s an impossibility. Besides, despite the challenges I refuse to give up on any case. So, I guess you’re stuck with me until I find your Mr. Right.”
I sighed letting my eyes run over his features. He really was a hunk. My sister had nailed that one but there was something more than good looks about him. He seemed larger than the careful proportions of his athletic figure. Every smile seemed to make the room around us a little brighter. Every time he turned his face toward another table the people there seemed to find warmth and laughter together. Whenever he spoke people would lean toward him to listen as if there were a siren call in the honey of his voice.
I sighed again, feeling a strange melancholy behind the smile I turned to him, “I guess you’ll do.”
He blinked, turned away, and seemed to draw himself up before turning back to me and replying, “Hey, I try.” He laughed and grabbed my hand across the table. “Dance with me; we’ve a while before the food is ready yet.”
“Really?” I asked, looking with a frown at the dance floor that had grown busier in the time that had passed since we had arrived.
He stood and tugged me toward him, “Come on, like you said earlier, maybe your Mr. Right is here but you won’t find him huddled in the back. You’ve got to sparkle in the spotlight a little.”
I laughed at the crazy image he created. “Ok, so we’ll both sparkle. Who knows, maybe you’ll land yourself a lady of your own. I can be a match maker too you know.”
He shook his head, and ran his thumb across the skin between my thumb and forefinger before turning me in his arms, “Well, I’m dancing with you, so I think I’m content with my lot in life. At least for tonight.”
I felt a thrill as we moved together to the throb of dance music. As he twirled me under his arm and then, as he pulled me close against him I flushed and whispered with a grin, “Think of me as your guardian angel.”
This is a second draft. You can read the first draft here. All feedback and comments are very welcome. Please let me know what you think and point out any errors or inconsistencies you noticed. If you compare the two, do you feel the second draft is stronger or were there parts of the first draft you felt should have be included? How did the story make you feel? Do the character ring true and multi-dimensional? Are there any aspects you particularly liked? Which aspects did you not like or feel need work? Anything you’d like to share I’d be very welcome to receive. Thanks for reading!