My stomach did a flip-flop as our plane's wheels finally touched down in Charles de Gaulle. Ever since I'd heard I would be accompanying Professor Hardwick to the art auction in France, I hadn't quite been looking forward to it.

I'd spent the last year throwing myself entirely into my oil painting leaving no time for any social activity, but somehow of all the grad students I'd been the one chosen to go to France to socialize with a group of snobbish art collectors and critics.

"It'll be good for you to get away," my friend and fellow grad student Kirsten had told me. Her jealousy had been evident when I'd told her the news, but she'd soon become supportive. "You've spend the entire year wasting away in the studio thinking of nothing but Joel and there's no better place to go to forget him but the city of light!"

I'd tried to protest weakly that I hadn't been thinking of Joel, but we both knew that that was a lie. My ex-fiancé was almost constantly on my mind as memories of our undergrad years together at the university were nearly everywhere I turned.

In spite of all of my hesitations about this trip, when we finally stepped into the airport, my first steps in France, I felt a wave of relief and freedom wash over me. There were no memories connected to Joel here. In fact he hated all things French and often scoffed at me learning the language. Even here he'd probably be making jokes about how many Parisians it took to screw in a light bulb.

"Lyle!" a deep voice interrupted my thoughts.

"Lucien!" the Professor called back to a large Frenchman with dark hair and a thick black mustache. He began to rush over to the man was standing and they exchanged the customary European kiss on the cheek.

"And you must be Viola!" the man turned to me and proceeded to also kiss my cheeks, his mustache tickling me as he did. "The lovely young artiste of those beautiful paintings Lyle showed me!"

I blushed furiously at the praise for my work coming form one of the richest art collectors in the world "It's a pleasure to meet you sir," I greeted him timidly.

He gave a deep booming chuckle, "Please, call me Lucien!"

The three of us chatted about the flight and the time change for a few minutes while we waited for our bags to appear on the conveyor belt.

It wasn't long before my brand new Burberry suit case my mother had bought me for the trip appeared on the carousel. It was also filled completely with new clothes that Kirsten had insisted I buy for the trip. Despite my tendency to wear jeans and t-shirts because I was constantly getting paint on everything, I did appreciate fashion and couldn't wait to wear my new clothes around Paris.

We wheeled our luggage out to a waiting limousine that belonged to Lucien and were soon settled inside and traveling through the streets of Paris. The Professor and Lucien chuckled kindly as I asked questions about different things we passed. After numerous lectures with Professor Hardwick, I was not surprised by his extensive knowledge of Parisian architecture. The Professor sipped a glass of Sherry while Lucien had brandy and they both seemed content to drink and indulge my questions.

"To the young," Lucien had said jovially and he and the Professor raised their glasses in a toast.

I was delighted that we passed the Arc de Triomphe, something that we'd dwelt on in both art history and French class. Seeing it person after seeing so many pictures was surreal and I was beginning to realize that my entire journey would be filled with such experiences as I would get to see the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Mona Lisa.

Our car headed down the Ave des Champs-Elysées and it wasn't long before we turned off it and stopped in front of a grand eight story hotel. The building wrapped around a street corner and had many shops on the first level. Above them each room came with an ornately decorated balcony, getting fancier the higher up they rose. Near the roof each balcony had its own circular gable giving the illusion of total privacy from the other tenants when standing on it. Floral carvings outlined each balcony and at the corner of the hotel a large gargoyle kept watch.

When we entered the lobby, I was surprised that it looked even grander than the outside had. A large chandelier lit up the room and reflected off of nearly every surface in the room as they were all made of black marble. The front desk was black marble with gold accents and a ornate gold and white emblem at the center. Around the lobby were plush white sofas to sit on with little black marble tables next to all of them. I couldn't wait to see what my room would look like.

"Are you sure you two don't want to stay with me?" Lucien asked as we approached the front desk.

The Professor laughed quietly, looking at my awed expression as I sill was soaking it all in. "I think Viola would rather stay in the city," he gestured to me and the two laughed kindly again at my wonder over the hotel.

"Very well, but you must come to dine with me, especially tonight as I'm throwing a dinner party for several art collectors that are in town as well as some of the auction house people."

"Sounds delightful," the Professor said, winking at me reassuringly as I noticeably tensed up at already having the prospects of rubbing elbows with the rich.

"I'll send by my chauffeur at six then," Lucien said before bidding us farewell.


I took a short nap before getting ready for dinner and making it downstairs. The Professor was already down there. He was wearing a brown suit with a white shirt and a brown and tan striped tie. He offered me his arm and we headed out to the waiting limousine.

We were both surprised when we were settled and the chauffeur informed us we were waiting for one more.

'Probably and out of town collector," the Professor told me.

I was already irritable with the man when he appeared twenty minutes later. He was wearing a grey suit with a viridian green shirt that matched his bright eyes, but his tie was not undone, his shirt was not tucked in and his hair was quite disheveled.

He looked completely taken by surprised as he jumped into the limo and nearly fell on my lap.

"Oh sorry, er I mean désolé, I thought I'd be here alone," he apologized although I wasn't sure if it was for landing on me or for his appearance.

The limo lurched into motion and he bumped into me again as he moved to a seat on the side. He proceeded to tuck in his shirt and tie his tie without looking at either of us.

"Would you like a drink?" the Professor asked, breaking the awkward silence that had descended onto the car.

The man looked at him and smiled politely before saying "No thank you."

He looked at us both trying to appraise us for a minute. I was glad for Kirsten's fashion sense under his scrutiny. I was wearing a black sleeveless dress that hugged the top of me before it flowed around me to just below my knees, golden heels and a simple gold chain around my neck. I'd left my wavy light brown hair down with just a pin pulling it back from my face on one side.

The man's gaze lingered on me in an appreciative manner before he turned back to professor and spoke. "You must be Professor Lyle Hardwick," he said his voice almost accusing.

The Professor nodded, smiling politely as always "That's correct, I'm pleased to meet you," he held out his hand and shook with the young man even though he still hadn't introduced himself.

"And I have no idea at all who you are," the man turned to me. Our eyes met and I was taken a back by how beautiful they were when I could see into them directly. He looked away quickly which I was glad of because I could feel myself beginning to blush.

"I'm Viola Aiello," I told him, I held out my hand to shake and after a second added, "And who might you be?"

"Avery Parker," he said, giving my hand a firm sturdy shake. He turned to look out the window and remained silent the rest of the trip.