Emerald Green 14

Her foot came down on his in the exact spot she’d stepped on it earlier in the week.  She twisted her sole back and forth for good measure.  His smile grew forced.

“Fancy seeing you here,” she said.

“I thought it was my best chance to run into you, what with the emerald on display,” the Collector said.

“Careful.  Everyone is staring at us,” Dido said through her smile.

“But the party is loud, and they’re all talking about us.”

“Well at least you ruined your chances of getting the gem, as well as mine.”

“I did you a favor,” he said.  “Every woman in here is going to make a point of ignoring you the rest of the night.  That’s half the eyes in the place trying not to catch you.”

“The rest of the eyes seem to be making up for it,” she said.

“Well, you are quite lovely in that dress.  It looks like it could’ve come from any of the top dozen tailors in the city, and yet it doesn’t quite match any of their styles.”

The Collector knew her dress was a knockoff.  Of course.  None of the other women in here would be caught dead in a dress that cost so little, no matter how good it looked.  But what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.  Just make them jealous.

“I feel like I’m on the buffet,” she said, glancing around at the men in the crowd.  “It’s gross.”

“That’s what tipped me off, actually, the buffet.  I thought you might not have shown up after all, but then I saw you deliberately not eating much.  And I agree with you.  It’s distasteful.  Most of these men are much too old for you.”

“But not you.”

“How old do you think I am, Ghost?”

Dido looked at what little she could see of his face.  His skin was firm and smooth.  She could feel the muscles in his chest through his shirt and coat.  She realized he couldn’t be too much older than her.  A year or two.  It was hard to tell with the mask.  With a reputation like his, you’d think he’d be older, but then again, Dido had a reputation of her own.

“You just talk like you’re old.”

He laughed, but that was the best she could put it.  There was something… proper about his speech.

“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Sorry,” she said.  “I’m just not used to someone so young being so refined.”

“Oh, that was a good save.  But I don’t think I can accept your apology.”

“Why not?”

“I’d much rather you owe me.”

“If you want me to owe you, get me that emerald.”

“Your favor doesn’t come cheap.”  Dido could hear his raised eyebrow in his voice, even if she couldn’t see it under the mask.

He took a step back from her.  She’d been leaning against him longer than was necessary to regain her balance.  She told herself she’d been distracted.  Since she wanted to feel in control for a change, she snaked an arm around one of his and started leading him to a corner of the museum hall.  The Collector just smiled and acted as though it were all part of his plan.  They were about as alone as they could get.  An ancient water clock and a collection of bronze spears blocked much of the crowd.

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