Too Hot To Touch by Foenixfyre
Disclaimer: I'm not Naeko, and I'm not Nora. Only the words are mine, so please don't sue. There's really no point in suing a starving college student.
Serena carefully polished the little glass amulet before placing it into the compartmented box with its fellows. Wiping an arm over her brow, she sat back, only now realizing that her back and shoulders were screaming. The latest order was finished.
She craned her neck around to glance at the one and only clock in her apartment. Eight o'clock a.m. Three hours before these knickknacks had to be delivered, and she'd been working for nineteen straight hours. Now that her mind was back in the world of the living, Serena realized that she was famished. And she stank.
Right then. First item on the agenda was food. She stood up and ran a hand through the perpetually tangled mess of silver-blond hair piled atop her head before crossing to the other side of the studio apartment to raid her small fridge. The phone rang and she ignored it, as usual, in favor of her stomach, which was at the moment growling loud enough to scare Loki under the bed.
She clucked absent-mindedly at the enormous tortoiseshell cat as she searched for some non-molding food and listened to the answering machine. She had long ago set it to answer after only one ring. She didn't really like talking to people when she was hard at work, and didn't want to listen to incessant ringing.
*Beep* "Hi, you've reached Serena Kyle, glass artiste extraordinaire. Yeah, right. I'm busy. Leave a message."
*Beep* "Jeeze, Sere, lighten up, will ya?" Serena smiled at the voice of her older sister, Mina. It had been she who bought the machine in the first place, citing Serena's habitual ignorance of the phone. "Look, Mom's gonna blow a gasket if you don't call her. She'll think that you've been murdered, living all by yourself in big, bad New York City. Call her, damn it. And call me too. I miss you." *Beep*
Serena shook her head over her mother's concern. The woman seemed to think that there were muggers and rapists hiding around every corner of New York City, ready to hurt her daughter. She didn't seem to understand that Serena actually felt safe in the enormous city, where no one knew her. Munching on a stale bagel, she checked the machine and saw that there were fourteen new messages. When was the last time she'd listened to her calls? Unable to remember, Serena shrugged and pressed "play."
Mina had called three other times, and her near-hysterical mother twice. One call was from one of the tourist shops that sold her art, calling to make sure she didn't forget their latest order. And the other eight were from some Chiba guy. Once Serena's memory failed to place the name, she didn't bother to listen to the actual messages. She noticed, however, that he sounded a bit peeved.
After a much-needed shower and a quick change of clothes, Serena bundled her long hair into a sloppy bun, found sunglasses to shade her azure eyes from the sun, and ran out to deliver the box of glass pieces. She opted for the expense of a cab, valuing the safety of her fragile work.
This particular tourist shop was located a block away from the Empire State Building, and it catered to the people looking for a cheap souvenir to take home after their trip to the big city. It wasn't precisely the type of place Serena would have chosen to sell her art, but she needed money for rent and the cost of her chemicals, so she didn't have much choice.
"Serena! It's good to see that you're on time this once." Molly, the store's manager, came around from behind the counter. She opened the box that Serena carefully deposited on the counter and removed a small statuette of the Statue of Liberty. "Lovely. We're all out of the last batch you made, so it's good you dropped by a bit early. Now, how much did we agree on?" The two got down to the serious business of discussing price.
Payment in hand, Serena decided to walk the half-hour it took to return home. She simply didn't have the ready cash for cabs. Besides, this was the only sort of exercise she had time for.
Remembering to stop along the way for food, Serena returned to her place by ten thirty. Once there, however, she dropped the bags alongside her bed and fell into it fully clothed, intending a few hours' catnap. She hadn't even removed her shoes when she fell asleep.
Deep in dreamland four hours later, Serena failed to wake at the sound of heavy knocking. The knock was repeated, then again. Finally, the door –which she customarily forgot to lock while home- fell open.
The man who entered was tall and impeccably dressed in a business suit. Narrowed blue eyes the color of a restless sea skimmed the room, stopping on the rumpled figure in the tiny bed over to one side. An enormous cat sat at the foot of the bed, staring at the intruder with narrowed eyes. He swiftly took in the lack of furniture and other decor. Aside from the bed, a wardrobe, fridge, two chairs (one of which was quite large and soft-looking) and a table, the place was quite plain. The only splashes of color came from beautiful pieces of glasswork placed everywhere. His attention was caught briefly by a globe hanging in the window. The afternoon sunlight caught the opaque orb and sent splashes of color shining out over everything in the room. The focus of the room seemed to be the very nice little set-up in the corner: two small furnaces and everything one needed for the small glass pieces S. Kyle seemed to prefer. It was clear that she valued her art above everything else.
Darien valued it too. What Kyle made was exquisite, and different from anything he'd seen before. However, the artist herself had left him incredibly frustrated.
Assuming that the body on the bed was S. Kyle, the man crossed over and shook her shoulder.
"Mmph. Wha?" Serena opened blurry eyes and stared at the hand that had so rudely awakened her. Her eyes widened. A burglar! A jolt of fear swept through her, bringing her fully into consciousness. "Oh, god." She flipped over onto her back and glared up at her assumed assailant. "What do you want? I don't have any money or jewelry. Just don't hurt me, okay? I-"
He snorted and rolled his eyes. "Relax. I'm not going to rob you. Are you S. Kyle?"
"Um . . . yeah. Who are you and what are you doing here? Do you usually walk into people's apartments uninvited?"
"Only if the people are too stupid or out of it to answer the door. You didn't lock it, you know." He held out a glass paperweight. It was nearly the shape and size of a large egg, with the rounder end flattened to form a base. The glass was completely clear with the exception of a burst of scarlets and purples that exploded from the top. "I'm here about this."
"Oh." Recognizing it as a piece of her own making, Serena rolled over and stood up. "Look, I know it's not quite according to the specifications of the others, but if it doesn't sell I'll replace it with what you wanted. I just wanted to try an idea I had." The paperweight was one she had delivered three weeks ago to one of the NYC tourist stores that had kindly agreed to carry her work. They usually presented her with very specific orders. The tone of his voice worried her; she couldn't afford to lose a buyer.
"No, no, no. Just wait a sec." The man cut her off. "I'm not from that stupid little store. I saw this there and bought it, and I want to know just what the hell you're doing with places like that."
"Huh?" Serena was completely clueless as to what this guy was talking about.
He let loose with a frustrated sigh. "My card." He took a case from his breast pocket and removed an ivory card, which he handed to her.
Flights of Fantasy, Inc.
"only the best in original and unique art"
Serena shook her head. "You own a gallery? I've never heard of you. Look, I don't know where you get off, but I'm doing just fine on my own. I don't need to work for some squalid little gallery somewhere off in the Bronx." For this, he had entered her apartment uninvited and scared her nearly to death? How annoying.
Darien Chiba lifted an amused eyebrow. "The Bronx? I suggest you look at the address, my dear."
With a sigh, she did so, and goggled. "Fifth Avenue? Oh, my god."
"Precisely. You're brilliant, Miss Kyle. You shouldn't be slaving away for generic little shops. I want you, and your talent, for my gallery."
Realization slowly dawned as Serena stared at the cool, competent, and incredibly good-looking man who, apparently, had just offered to sponsor her art in his gallery on Fifth Avenue. "You're that Chiba? The one who's been calling me?"
His eyes flashed. "Yes. May I ask, now that you've brought it up, why you even bother owning a phone?" I have tried calling you-"
"Eight times. I know." Damn, but he was handsome. Serena caught herself admiring the chiseled features of his face and pulled her attention back to the matter at hand. Okay, so she never picked up the phone. That wasn't a crime.
"Ten, actually. I've called twice in the past half-hour. Do you sleep through it, or does it simply not register in that thick skull of yours?"
"No. I'm a busy man, Miss Kyle, and I don't have time to fly all the way from a meeting in Paris all because some flighty little artist doesn't listen to her answering machine!"
He'd flown in from Paris? He wanted her work that much? Serena fought down the flush of embarrassment and excitement that had started burning her cheeks. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Look, it's a bad habit of mine. People always seem to call right when I'm in the middle of a really important job, and it's inconvenient. Usually, the only people who call are my family and the stores that buy from me."
He seemed a bit appeased by the apology. "Why don't you sit down? I've got some water or something, if you're thirsty." She thought about the milk she'd bought that morning and winced. It, and the rest of her groceries, was still by her bed, no doubt sour by now.
"Thank you." He sat down at one of her two chairs and opened the briefcase she hadn't noticed until now. "I've drawn up a basic contract for you to look over. It's standard and fair. There will be no sort of specifications of any kind. You create as your imagination inspires you, and we'll sell it. My gallery will, of course, receive forty-five percent of the profit."
"Forty-five? That's outrageous!"
Mr. Chiba cut through her sputters of disbelief. "And we will hold an exclusive monopoly on your work."
Serena slashed a hand through the air. "Now just a minute! You think you can come waltzing in here and demand stuff like this? This is my art we're talking about!"
The object of her fury looked around coolly. "Yes, I can see that you're earning every cent of what you're worth." Serena opened her mouth again, and he interrupted. "Be honest with yourself, Miss Kyle. We both know that you're squandering your talent catering to the little shops you have been. I can make you famous."
"Fifteen percent of my profit."
"Done." It was exactly what he'd expected. He sat back and pushed the papers in her direction. "Why don't we take a drive over to the gallery? You can read over this to make sure there aren't any other changes you want, although I warn you, I won't budge on the exclusivity clause."
Taken aback by the speed with which he worked, Serena could only nod. "Just let me freshen up. Mr. Chiba-"
He held up a hand. "Please. We're business partners now. Call me Darien. By the way, what does the S stand for?"
She looked back over her shoulder on the way to the bathroom. "Serena."
Darien watched her from the corner of his eye as their limo wound its way to Fifth Avenue. She couldn't keep her hands still, tapping fingers against a thigh or twirling them in her masses of silvery hair. He wondered what luck had produced that magnificent color. He could already picture the publicity photos of his newest artistic star.
For that's what Darien intended her to be. Flighty and impossible to get a hold of, yes, but he knew talent when he saw it. And Serena Kyle was the best he'd seen in years. The sheer passion of the piece he'd just happened to find had been a direct blow to his gut. He couldn't wait to see what else she'd produce.
"So, where did you receive your training?"
She whirled her head from where she had been observing the crowds pushing their ways down the sidewalks. "Well, I worked my way through NYU (AN: that's New York University!), with a major in Visual Arts. I managed to find a wonderful advisor, and she believed in me enough to get me funding for three years in Italy after I'd received my degree. Luna -my advisor- hooked me up with associates in Venice, Milan and Florence. I developed most of my style while I was there. It was incredible. That was five years ago."
Darien nodded. "You'll need to go over that in more detail for the publicity people while we're working on your first show. People like to know a little history about the artist. Makes it a bit more personal." Something hit him. "Luna? As in Luna Silvestri?" When Serena nodded, he smiled. "I know her. She's a beautiful, talented woman."
Serena nodded again in agreement. "I know. I wouldn't be here without her." Indeed, the woman had become one of her closest confidants. She truly loved Luna fully as much as she loved her mother.
"Indeed. Here we are." The limo pulled up in front of an enormous building just down the block from Saks. The storefront was black marble, with soaring display windows. Darien enjoyed watching her eyes widen as she caught sight of what he had displayed.
"Come on. You can browse to your delight later, but I'd prefer to get the contract signed now." He helped her out of the limo, afraid that she might trip over her own feet; the lovely young woman seemed totally caught up in what she saw. Darien felt a twinge of pride at her expression. This gallery was his baby, the first of an international chain he had spent ten years establishing.
"My office is in the back."
Darien was struck suddenly by the beauty of her eyes. It wasn't simply their lovely blue; her face was filled with a joy, almost a reverence for what she saw around her. The expression added to an already exquisite complexion and gorgeous body. He shook his head to rid himself of the feeling. This was business. Strictly business.