A Different Blue Page 80

Tiffa had told me to go to valet parking and I did, refusing to be embarrassed by my dumpy old truck. I stepped out of it like I was royalty and dropped my keys in the valet's hand with a comment to make sure he didn't “scratch my baby.” The man was good at his job, and he didn't even bat an eye. I was grateful for his ability to hide his real feelings and vowed that tonight I would hide mine just as well. It was a talent I had let get rusty.

I swept through the door and asked the first official looking person I saw where I could find the art exhibit. He directed me to the elevators and instructed me to get off on the gallery floor, marked with a G next to the button. Panic bubbled up in my chest, and for a moment I considered leaving. Just kicking off my heels and heading for the door. I gritted my teeth and stepped onto the elevator, along with several other people in formal attire. I stared at myself in the mirror, trying not to see what Wilson had seen. My pleasure in my appearance had been crushed into tiny, vicious shards. My reflection stared back at me defiantly. My eyes looked too big in my face, and the pink in my cheeks had been leached out with the joy I no longer felt. What had I been thinking?

Tiffa descended on me as soon as I stepped out of the elevator. The room beyond was soft with strategic lighting and carefully placed art. A huge painting of a weeping face took center stage. The tears were so lifelike they shimmered wetly in the lights.

“Blue! You look wonderful! Smashing! Where is Darcy?” Tiffa looked beyond me to the elevator doors that were firmly shut. “He is going to die when he sees your pieces on display! I can't wait!” She squealed girlishly, and I felt a wash of intense affection sweep over me. But like the tide, the wave of love was yanked back into the sea of my disappointment as my thoughts were focused once again on Wilson.

“I didn't tell him.”

“Yes, luv, I know. I invited him!” Tiffa whispered theatrically. “I told him he had to come tonight. I said there was a brilliant new artist whose work he had to see. I sent him tickets and everything. Did he bodge it up then?”

You could say that. I felt pretty bodged up. “I don't know what Wilson's plans are.” My voice sounded flat and cold, and Tiffa's eyebrows shot up. It wasn't quite true, but I didn't elucidate.

“Hmm.” Her eyes scoured my face. She pursed her red lips in contemplation. “He bodged it good,” was all she said. Then she looped her arm through mine and pulled me forward. “Come see how we've arranged your pieces. They are breathtaking, Blue. I've already had a slew of people ask after them. You are already a hit.” I let myself be pulled along and vowed to forget Wilson and the way he had looked at me. I was “a hit.” Tiffa said so, and I was going to do my best to enjoy the moment, surreal as it all was.

'Bird Woman' filled an entire corner. She was elevated on a black platform. The lighting overhead turned the wood into liquid gold. For a moment, I saw the sculpture as others would, and my breath caught in my throat. There was only the hint of a woman in the dramatic sweep of wood and the suggestion of outstretched wings. It was the reason I hated to title my sculptures; the title limited it. I didn't want to do that. I wanted people to interpret what they saw without influence from me.

A few people stood around it, studying it, turning their heads this way and that. My heart pounded so loudly I thought it would shake the room and its precious contents. Tiffa glided toward the man who seemed most enamored by the woman encased in wood. She reached out a graceful hand and touched the man's sleeve.

“Mr. Wayne, this is the artist.” She slid her other hand down into my own. Mr. Wayne turned toward us. His silver hair was slicked back from his face. It was an interesting face, more suited to a mobster than an art connoisseur. He was powerfully built, and his black tuxedo fit him well. He seemed surprised by the introduction, and his mouth curved as his gaze met mine.

“I want her,” he said bluntly, his voice as accented as Tiffa's. He must work at The Sheffield, too. I felt heat flood my face, and Tiffa laughed, that tinkling waterfall sound that said, “You are so wonderful – I adore you!”

“And you may have her. The sculpture, that is,” Tiffa responded with a mischievous twinkle. “This is Blue Echohawk.” She said my name as if I were someone very important. I tried not to giggle. I settled on stone face. It was my go-to face when I had no clue of how to respond.

“Your work is beautiful. But more importantly, it's fascinating. I find myself getting lost in it. That's when I know I want something.” Mr. Wayne raised the glass of clear liquid he was drinking and sipped it thoughtfully. “I almost didn't come tonight. But Tiffa can be quite insistent.”

“Mr. Wayne is an owner of The Sheffield, Blue,” Tiffa said simply. I tried not to quake. Tiffa turned back to Mr. Wayne. I wondered briefly if his first name was Bruce. He looked like he could have a Batmobile stashed on the roof.

Tiffa continued, “The Echohawk pieces are going to be worth a fortune someday. The Sheffield scored a major coupe in the art world tonight.” Tiffa oozed confidence. I felt like putting my hand over her mouth.

“I agree.” Mr. Wayne cocked his head to the side. “Well done, Tiffa.” He extended a hand to me. “Would you show me your other pieces?”

Tiffa didn't even hesitate. “What a brilliant idea. I will be around, Blue.” And she was off, moving on to another couple without a second look. Mr. Wayne smelled expensive. He threaded my hand through his arm, the way Wilson did sometimes, and we moved to my next sculpture. Maybe it was a British thing, the courtly manners. Or maybe it was something that rich, educated, men did. I had had so little experience with any of the above. I moved beside him and tried to think of something clever to say. My mind ran in dizzying circles as I groped desperately for something – anything – to converse about. I suddenly realized Mr. Wayne wasn't waiting for witty remarks but was engrossed in the sculpture before him.

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