I met someone tonight. His name is Artemis Fowl. I believe I have made a beautiful and terrible mistake.
Angeline sighed and pulled her blond tresses away from her neck and held them up against the back of her head in a makeshift bun. She rested a delicate elbow on the table and turned to smile at Robert, just to reassure him that she was having a good time. Which was basically a lie.
It wasn't that the surroundings weren't romantic, picturesque, and in all other ways the perfect for a rich man's son to take a rich man's daughter. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a gorgeous, sequined vista of the nighttime Dublin harbor, the gentle strains of music issuing through loudspeakers discreetly hidden behind potted plant life, and the clink of crystal and the murmur of elegant conversation all contributed to the subdued but merry atmosphere attained only by the very wealthy when they convene in large, sedate droves. The food was excellent, the wine was better. Robert himself was stunning in his three-piece suit and dark mahogany tie. But it was hot, even for Angeline in her white halterneck summer gown. She also happened to have a slight cold, which was not contributing to the romance of the evening, as every few moments she would have to look away to blow her nose into a lace-fringed handkerchief.
"The coffee is just right," Robert confided, holding the delicate china teacup in his elegantly curled fingers. "Dark enough to be mature, yet not so dark as to offend the after-dinner senses."
"I agree," Angeline said amiably, wondering why on earth they put coffee in teacups. Shouldn't they put coffee in coffee cups? Her gaze wandered over the rooms, as though to remind herself that everyone was bored here and it was characteristically correct for one in her station to be bored.
There was a commotion at the dining room's entrance. The diner's manager was standing in front of the door, blocking the entry to several latecomers. A rather placid argument arose, in which a very deep voice could be heard making stoic commentary. People put down their coffee teacups and craned their necks to see what exactly was disrupting their evening. Angeline was among them, but probably unlike her fellow patrons was soaking in this moment of interest instead of shunning it.
Finally, as the extremely deep voice began getting annoyed, the manager stepped back, shaking his head and retreating to the bar area. The three latecomers entered into the dining room. Angeline perked up and surveyed the new guests. The man in front was a large Eurasian man of enormous proportions, obviously the owner of the deep voice. He had a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and dusky skin, and was dressed in a very expensive yet conservative outfit. He was a bodyguard, Angeline surmised, watching as he cleared an imaginary path for his companions with his massive body and dark, suspicious gaze.
The second man was obviously related to the first, younger – perhaps eighteen or nineteen – and with a shaven crown. He was dressed less conspicuously inconspicuously, and was visibly looser. His meaty shoulders were laid back and his body flowed like an athlete's. His shoes, Angeline noted, were not buffed, and his pants were not creased. Lower status, then. Not used to all this posh. His gaze, though just as intense and alert as that of the first man, was tinted with an honest curiosity. So this is the high end of the social spectrum, she imagined him thinking.
Angeline's eyes wandered over to the third and last newcomer. His milky pale skin glowed under the elegantly dim sconce lighting, making him shimmer and stand out among the darker crowd. He had raven black hair that fell over his wide forehead in curls, and even from here she could make out his deep, dark eyes – the same color as a blue diamond at dusk. A fallen angel – that's what he looked like.
He was dressed richly and yet rebelliously. His starched shirt was missing a tie and the top few buttons were undone, and his dinner jacket had a silvery tint to it that made it slightly less corporate and slightly more punk. He was smiling rather mockingly at the dinner scene before him, as though it were a slightly ridiculous play put on in his honor and he did not have the heart to tell the actors that they were bad.
Angeline's heart did something odd in her chest, a peculiar kind of shuddering dance that made her want to smile. Of course she didn't. Robert was obviously watching her watching them, wondering what she found so interesting about them, if she knew them, how close she was with them. Robert could be something of a dunderhead but he grew quite analytical when it came to Angeline's male acquaintances.
"Who are they?" he asked with feigned nonchalance. Angeline could hear the tension in his voice.
"I have no idea," she told him honestly. "I've never seen them before in my life."
"Then why are they coming over to our table?" Robert demanded in a stony voice that was suddenly more formal than usual.
"I'm sure I don't know." Be still, heart, Angeline ordered her quaking bosom. She gripped her handkerchief in her fist and hid both in her lap as the fallen angel and his two companions threaded their way through the tables with their sights set on them.
"Good evening," the fallen angel said once they were standing in front of the table like three applicants for the same job. His voice was soft and clipped and thoroughly aristocratic, but the blandness of good breeding had not affected that voice, and Angeline could hear whispers of ambition, playfulness, and romance rippling under it. "You must be Robert Madigan."
"I am," Robert said, slightly baffled, as he shook the outstretched hand limply. Then he motioned vaguely toward Angeline. "This is Miss Burke, my fiancée."
"How do you do, Miss Burke. It's a pleasure to know you," said the fallen angel, extending his gracefully tapered hand toward her. Angeline laid her fingers in his, but before she could proceed with the customary handshake, he brought her hand to his face and brushed his lips across her knuckles. His eyes glanced into hers, with more than a suggestion of interest sparkling in their depths. Angeline gasped gently and drew her hand away, burying it in her lap. The fallen angel flickered an unfathomable smile and pulled out a chair, making himself at home beside Robert and motioning for his companions to do the same.
Angeline risked a glance at Robert, who was rigidly resisting looking in her direction, though she could see his ears going red with indignance.
"You don't know me," the fallen angel said lightly, oblivious to or choosing to ignore the tension he had just caused between the couple. "My name is Artemis Fowl. My father, Myles Fowl, is well-known in the business world."
"Oh," Robert said icily. "Fowl. I think I might remember the name from somewhere."
"You probably do," Fowl said. "These are my companions." He gestured to the large man, who had obviously decided to remain standing. "My bodyguard, Butler. This is his nephew, Domovoi, home for the holidays from his training academy in Japan." He motioned to the younger Eurasian, who had taken a seat and was staring with definite interest at Angeline's neckline.
Angeline coughed gently and looked away, surreptitiously fixing her shoulder straps so her collar covered an extra centimeter or so of cleavage. She wondered if her breasts were blushing, but did not want to be so crudely obvious as to look down at herself to find out.
"What do you want, Mr. Fowl?"
"A moment of your time," Fowl said, twisting in his chair so that he was facing Robert. "I have heard that your father's company has been having . . . financial difficulties, as it were."
Robert's fingers picked at the silken tablecloth, searching for nonexistent lint to pluck at. "How did you come by that information," he demanded coldly. "I was under the impression that that was confidential information."
"It was," Fowl agreed. "But people in the same market have a way of finding out each other's little problems so we can assist one another in the pursuit of profitable enterprise. In the words of John D. Rockefeller: 'The day of combination is here to stay. Individualism has gone, never to return'."
Angeline was impressed. She had just completed a course in business history in college (consequently earning her third doctorate degree), and early American industry had been an extensive part of that particular curriculum. This man knew what he was talking about. Eager to interject, and thereby establish herself of something other than the dumb blonde date of a businessman's son, she couldn't help but reply to this statement. "Aggressive consolidation." When all four men turned to look at her (except in the case of Domovoi who had been looking, only not at her face), she blushed slightly and explained. "The consolidation of trusts was a good tactic. By 1877 Rockefeller controlled ninety-five percent of all the oil refineries in the country."
Robert was obviously annoyed at this display of knowledgeableness, but Artemis Fowl looked delightedly impressed. She blushed again, and then ruefully had to ruin her moment of triumph with a sneeze and a whiffing blow into her handkerchief. It was a wincingly disgusting noise, but her mortification was alleviated slightly by the fact that it discouraged Domovoi's infatuation slightly, resulting in his eyes being taken off of her chest. For a moment.
"Your point?" Robert demanded, turning back to Fowl.
"Simple," Fowl said, unbuttoning another collar button to reveal a strong shapely collar bone glistening with beads of sweat. Angeline averted her eyes and swallowed as the young man continued. "You have a promising business with no way to finance its continuation. I have an ideal propositional enterprise and no one to listen to it."
"So?" Robert was being disgustingly rude. Angeline kicked him gently under the table. She saw a muscle in his jaw clench, but he did not soften his tone.
"As Miss Burke said: aggressive consolidation," Fowl smirked. "Or not so aggressive. I'm a pacifist myself."
"Your father is hardly in a position to be suggesting a trust with one of the biggest companies in Ireland. He's a dabbler in the field of stock marketing," Robert objected, his pride obviously hurt by the fact that this stranger and his girlfriend knew more about industrial history than he did. "Besides, I've heard rumors about the legitimacy of some of his enterprises. He has a reputation for walking the line. Wasn't he indicted for fraud at one point?"
Fowl straightened, and though he continued to talk in the same jaunty tone, his voice now held a miffed undercurrent. "My father is more than a dabbler, Mr. Madigan, and I have some expertise in the area myself. And yes, he has been indicted for fraud in the past, but haven't we all? I remember reading in the paper about a case involving Madigan Shares and a certain dissatisfied client named Frawley . . ."
A waltz started up, the music from the speakers growing louder as it wordlessly encouraged people from their seats and onto the dance floor that had been cleared in the center of the dining room. "Think about it," Fowl smiled when Robert did not answer the thinly veiled accusation.
"Your friend is staring at my fiancée's chest," Robert declared flatly.
Angeline flushed, but was secretly glad that someone had brought it up. Fowl glanced over at an equally scarlet Domovoi and gave him a warning look. The young man winked at his companion and at Angeline, and then purposefully averted his eyes, suddenly intrigued by the scrollwork in the corner of the ceiling's molding.
There was a second awkward pause at the table while couples glided past towards the dance floor. Angeline desperately wanted to get up and dance with Robert in order to escape the tension that covered the party like a stifling tent, but she didn't feel it her place to interject a second time.
"Are you two going to dance?" Fowl asked innocently, glancing from Robert to Angeline. He was so delightfully untraditional, Angeline thought. A breath of fresh air. Devilishly good-looking fresh air.
"We just ate," Robert said stiffly.
Fowl's darting blue eyes no doubt saw Angeline's features collapse in disappointment. "Then perhaps you won't mind, Mr. Madigan, if I were to dance with Miss Burke." Not waiting for an answer, Artemis Fowl pushed back his chair and strode over to Angeline's, holding it for her as she slid it away from the table and stood up, suddenly uncaring about Robert's feelings. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she wasn't about to miss it. She left her handkerchief on the seat of her chair in her excitement. No one danced holding their handkerchiefs anyway.
Leaving a stuttering Robert and a chuckling Domovoi behind, Artemis Fowl and Angeline Burke stepped lightly to the dance floor, which was already swirling with shimmering trains and fluttering coat tails.
For a while the couple simply danced, a formal distance apart, holding each other formally and rather languidly. Angeline could smell the cologne wafting off of Artemis's body. It was clean and crisp and refreshing, as opposed to the heavy, musky Old Spice Robert poured on himself every morning. Her heart was following in time with their feet, twirling and surging and gliding and floating. Why had she never felt this way with Robert? She didn't bother analyzing that particular question and just concentrating on dancing with this wonderful stranger.
Just before the silence between them got uncomfortable, Artemis murmured, "I suppose I should say something clichéd like 'You dance beautifully' or 'You are a ravishing creature', shouldn't I?"
"Not necessarily," Angeline said, laughing softly. "Those types of compliments are heard so often one doesn't even acknowledge them anymore. They become like background static."
"Maybe to you they do," Artemis noted. "Not everyone can boast the fact that 'ravishing creature' is a term so often applied to them that it becomes boring."
Actually, it had been a long time since anyone had called her ravishing, or beautiful, or anything of that sort. After the engagement, Robert had stopped saying things like that, acting more like the overbearing older brother or father than the romantic lover. "You are very unconventional, Mr. Fowl," she finally chose to answer. It wasn't a compliment – not quite.
"You inspire unconventionality." The fingers of Artemis's left hand interlocked more firmly with hers, and his right hand slipped farther around Angeline's waist, drawing her slightly closer to illustrate his point.
Angeline pushed against his shoulder, just to make him understand this type of behavior was not encouraged. But the push was weak, thus telling him it was not exactly discouraged, either.
"I'm cutting in," Robert's voice was close to Angeline's ear. He was standing looking like an abandoned puppy in the crowd of milling, placid faces. An angry abandoned puppy.
Artemis bowed out gracefully and Angeline found herself in the cold, Old Spiced clutches of her finance. He was glaring at her with his hurt, red-rimmed eyes. "Why didn't you tell him no?" he demanded under his breath, which smelled like coffee.
"I wanted to dance," Angeline said simply. "You didn't want to dance with me."
"I would have if you had asked me."
"I had, several times tonight, and you said no," Angeline objected, growing irritable. Robert had no business being so offended at her actions. They weren't married yet. He didn't own her yet. And it wasn't as though she were going to see this Fowl person any more after tonight, so he shouldn't be making a federal investigation out of it. "First you were waiting for dinner because you couldn't dance on an empty stomach. Then you said you wouldn't be bothered abandoning the meal in between courses because the food might arrive and get cold while we were on the dance floor. And then you said . . ."
"Let's just go back to our table," Robert said.
"But I want to dance, Robert."
"We are going back to our table, Angeline . . ." Robert ordered sternly, and then suddenly Domovoi was between them, cutting in, whisking Angeline away from her stunned partner.
"What are you doing?" Angeline gasped in surprise. She wasn't particularly annoyed to have had that particular conversation interrupted.
"Doing a friend a favor," he grunted, and winked at her, leaving her question largely unanswered.
As he moved them across the floor, losing them from Robert's sight in the crowd of dancers, Angeline couldn't help but notice that the boy danced well. Every muscle moved in syncopation, every movement was controlled, measured, and calculated. Whatever they were training him in that academy in Japan, they were doing a good job. Maybe a little too good. His hands, which were spade-shaped and bulging with clearly defined muscles, were squeezing her delicate fingers a little too hard for comfort.
She winced, but before she could say anything, Domovoi had twirled her around once and deposited her just outside the French glass doors that led to the terrace outside the diner. A slender hand, ghostly white in the moonlight, reached out from behind a trellis overgrown with roses and pulled her away from the doors and into the arms of Artemis Fowl.
"What are you doing?" Angeline whispered, anxiously peering over her shoulder at the doors, afraid that Robert would come out and discover her.
"Rescuing you," Artemis said simply, and buried his face in the crook of her neck. "At the risk of sounding like background static, you are a very ravishing creature, Miss Burke."
"At this point," Angeline gasped, goose bumps popping down her back as he breathed on her and a bead of his spit followed the curve of her shoulder blade. "Don't you think that the use of last names is rather redundant?"
Artemis laughed gently into her skin, and she could feel the hardness of his teeth under the softness of his lips. He drew away from her and looked down at her. "Your nose is running, Angeline."
Mortified, Angeline brought a hand to her face to cover the offensive leak. "Is it?" She searched in vain for her handkerchief.
Pulling out a monogrammed silken handkerchief from his coat pocket, he handed it to her with a small flourish. "Please." He watched her smilingly as she wiped her nose. "You're quite a woman, you know. Intriguing. All the females I've ever met were either obviously after something or too ditzy to care whom they were with. I must admit, you have me flummoxed." He brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "You most certainly are not ditzy, and if you are after something, you're doing an extremely good job getting it without my knowing it."
"I don't want anything," Angeline objected softly, handing him back the handkerchief. "I'm engaged."
"That is bad," Artemis said, frowning with real concern on his features as he stuffed it back into his pocket, apparently unfazed by the germs that now coated it. "Do you realize what you just said? You inductively reasoned that you are engaged, therefore you do not want anything. Out of everyone in the wide world, I would imagine that those who were engaged would want the most. Marriage should be the result of wanting. When the wanting is found lacking, then there is something deficient in the engagement. Please do not tell me I am the first to say your interests suffer in the relationship you find yourself currently in."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Of course you do. You're smarter than a lot of people realize. I realized it the moment I looked at you. You do understand."
She did. She understood perfectly. His claims spoke so truly to her own heart that it frightened her. She felt as though his words were a missing puzzle piece snapped into place only to reveal that the picture she thought she had been constructing was something completely different. Something ugly instead of beautiful. "Please let me go. Robert will be waiting."
"And he will go on waiting," Artemis said hotly. She stared at his chiseled features as he glanced at the French doors and then at the edge of the terrace. It was bordered by a low marble crenellation that was mainly for decoration. If one were able to scale that, it would only be a foot or so to the earth and the street that passed close by. "Butler, go get the sedan," he ordered a nonexistent person.
There was a rustling of the shrubbery as the Fowl bodyguard left his hiding place and obeyed.
"What is going on?" Angeline demanded.
"What do you mean?"
"Please, Mr. Fowl," she snapped, suddenly skittish. "When a man meets a strange woman, engages in less than appropriate flirtation in a dark, secluded garden fifteen minutes after said meeting, and then asks for the car . . . allow me to apply inductive reasoning again." She fought to free herself of his grip, but he kept a firm hold on her, keeping her within the arbor's shade.
"Please, wait," Artemis begged. When she ceased resisting his grip, he looked deep into her eyes. "I want to take you home." Upon her wary look, he quickly amended. "Your home, not mine. And its not as if we will be alone at all. The Butler family is quite professional – much to my disadvantage at times."
Angeline hesitated. She really did not want to ride back to her house with Robert, especially after this particular predicament she had found herself in. She imagined the intense questioning that would fill the dim interior of the Madigan limousine and found herself suddenly with the beginnings of a headache. And if she somehow ended up in a compromising situation tonight as a result of her trust in this unconventional individual, she would simply knock him out. Many people did not know how smart Angeline Burke really was, what Artemis said was true. But there were more people who did not know that she knew what a karate chop was, much less how to execute one perfectly.
"Very well, Mr. Fowl."
"Splendid," Artemis broke into a grin, but whatever else he was about to say was cut off as Robert rounded the arbor and found them huddled in the shadows of the trellis. His face was purple with rage, his nostrils were flaring like an incited bull's, and he was all but pawing the ground. Angeline had never seen him so upset.
"What in shit are you doing with my damn fiancée!" he screeched. Reaching out, he grasped Artemis by the lapel and dragged him into the moonlight. "Your pretty face is paying for this."
Angeline screamed an objection and readied herself for the sight of blood, but the blow to Artemis's stoic features never landed. Artemis stood there placidly as Robert slumped forwards and dropped to the terrace's mosaic-patterned floor, unconscious.
"Thank you, Dom," Artemis said briskly, brushing off his lapel as though his assailant's hand had dirtied it.
Domovoi stood just behind where Robert had been ranting seconds before, smiling self-satisfactorily. "Nerve cluster at the back of the neck," he explained simply in blunt terms. "One good pinch and he's out, no complications. A hell of a headache when he wakes up, though."
"Then there are other times," Artemis corrected his earlier statement, "when I am most grateful the Butler family takes its job so seriously."
The purr of a car engine and the crunch of tire treads on asphalt ground to a halt beyond the terrace. Artemis held out his hand to Angeline. "Shall we?"
The three of them hurried to the terrace's crenellation. Domovoi placed a hand on the marble railing and vaulted over, landing on the balls of his feet with his knees bent, agile as a panther. He then dashed off toward the waiting sedan and disappeared into the passenger's side, obligingly leaving the back seat for Artemis and Angeline.
Artemis, not the picture of litheness in comparison to his bodyguard's nephew, clambered over the railing and dropped to the ground. Then he called up softly: "Come on, Angeline, I'll catch you if you fall."
Angeline, smiling and reveling in the feeling of defying tradition, swept her gown's train over her arm, took off her spike heeled shoes and tossed them over first, and then sprang easily over the crenellation and landed in the grass with almost as much grace as Domovoi, much to Artemis's amazed amusement.
He picked up her shoes and they darted toward the car, as though they were criminals escaping a crime scene or convicts making a break for freedom. Artemis opened the car door for her and she dove onto the wine-colored leather upholstery of the back seat, laughing. He slid in behind her and closed the door.
As the sedan pulled away from the diner where Angeline had been languishing only a half hour before, Artemis took her into his arms and laid her across his lap so he could better get at her face.
When the sedan pulled up in front of the Burke residence, Artemis helped Angeline out of the car and escorted her to the door. The lights in the house were off, which was a good thing because it indicated that everyone was asleep, and therefore would not be present to object at a particularly passionate goodnight kiss.
"Will I see you again?" Artemis asked once they had separated.
"Maybe," Angeline said, unable to believe that she was actually being coy. "I am thinking of attending the Maras' garden party Sunday afternoon."
"What a coincidence," Artemis smiled slyly.
Laughing, the two of them came together one more time. As Angeline buried her face against his shoulder, she imagined she could see the future inside the silvery pinstripes of his jacket. Dates, family arguments (they had all been set upon adding the prestigious Madigan limb to the family tree), Robert and his parents, perhaps a karate chop now and again.
"I must warn you," she felt obliged to tell him as he trotted down the front steps and toward the waiting car, "you don't know what you're dealing with."
"Neither do you," Artemis said cryptically, turning around to look back at her. "But I, for one, am not averse to plowing ahead anyway and finding out. That's what we Fowls do, you see."
So he blew her a kiss, got into the sedan, and drove away into the night. But he would be back, Angeline knew, and he would bring the future with him.