Title: Damien's Day
Rating: PG-13 (for those who know me, there's a first time for everything)
Pairing: Damien/female character (not Carmen or Hanna).
Summary:Damien is given a rare opportunity and exploits it in a most Franklin and Bashian fashion.
Spoilers:Minor throughout the season, but far more significantly for 1.02 and 1.03. If I had to place this in the timeline as it exists now, I'd put it between 1.05 and 1.06. Otherwise, I'd say it is set several months following 1.02.
Disclaimers: The toys are not mine but the idea is.
Words: 7,000 plus a few.
Dedication: To everyone who thinks Damien is a bit more than he appears thus far.
NOTES: We see Damien in situations we've not seen him in the show in any major way—social situations—so I'm guessing a lot. And I'd written the mention of triathlons prior to 1.07.
This, pure and simply, is a love story. Stanton Infeld
"I'm glad I caught you," Stanton Infeld announced as he stepped between Damien Karp and the elevator bank, effectively cutting off escape from the offices of Infeld & Daniels. "I have two tickets to the art auction benefitting autism tonight," he added. Aggressively casual and barefoot for some unknown reason, Stanton beamed at his nephew, shoved the tickets into his hand and looked at his watch. "It's already begun, Damien. Go and buy something for the lobby."
"Our lobby is purposely sparse, so we don't offend anyone before they actually see a lawyer," Damien replied, voice taking on the cadence of rote memorization. He resumed a more normal inflection to add, "Art is an eye of the beholder thing. Flowers," he said, gesturing to the arrangement on the receptionist's desk, "are more universal. A piece of art in the lobby is risky."
"You should take more risks and this is a perfect opportunity to do just that." Stanton waved both hands in a shooing gesture. "Get there before all the good bits are gone."
Visions of stopping for aged gouda, imported kalamata olives and a bottle of red wine on his way home rapidly vanishing, he said, "Stanton, art really isn't my thing."
"You truly must branch out beyond music and triathlons to be a fully well rounded person."
"I like to maintain at least one squared edge."
"I'd enjoy seeing all of your rough edges smoothed out. It's high time."
Damien sighed. "If you really want everything smooth, rather than edgy, Franklin and Bash have to go."
"I tire of this argument," Stanton said, stepping closer, placing a hand on Damien's shoulder. "Go to the auction for the sake of your mother's memory."
"Couching this as respecting the dead is beneath you, Stanton."
Stanton took a step back, surprising him. "I'm sorry," he said, actually looking contrite. "I would consider it a personal favor to me, if you would attend the auction on behalf of the firm."
Damien looked at the tickets clutched in his hand and nodded. "All right but I'm off the hook the next time something dull and insufferable comes down the pike."
Turning on a dime, striding down the hall, nodding to the people who got out of his way without really seeing them, Damien considered his options. Habit had him sharply knocking on Hanna Linden's office door. Without waiting for her assent, he opened it, stepped in and said, "How do you feel about buying a bland piece of art to benefit autistic kids?"
"Very good but, unfortunately, I have plans for tonight."
The momentary pang of jealousy sharpened and lengthened when he noticed the clingy dress that definitely wasn't what she'd been wearing when they'd met a potential client two hours ago. Damien didn't want to know if she was wearing it for the midget Franklin. "Ok, maybe next time doing something for sick kids will be good enough for you," he said, shutting the door without waiting to hear her defense. He'd heard them all before.
Later that Evening
"What do you think of it?"
Damien started out of his contemplation of the collage of photographs of Isabella Kaplowitz, exonerated wife of deceased billionaire Harry Kaplowitz, in various states of undress, only to look over his shoulder into the eyes of the woman herself. Her expectant expression demanded something other than the quick, instinctively male perusal of how her low cut, high slit, deep purple dress showed off her body. "It's genius," he offered.
He'd never heard a single word imbued with more skepticism, not even by Stanton, and it inspired him. "I imagine it's tough to take a lousy photograph of you, given your natural beauty." He gestured to the artwork with his empty champagne flute. "It requires a perverse sort of genius to take a number of them and arrange them badly on top of it."
She smiled brilliantly up at him and Damien had no idea what to do with that. "I promised myself and Harry's memory that I would sleep with the first person to tell me the truth about this particular piece of quote-unquote art." She stepped closer and Damien resisted the urge to retreat. Barely. "How fortunate for me that an attractive man chose to be brutally honest."
Feeling a blush creep up his cheeks, Damien looked away. "You certainly don't have to follow through on that vow."
"I wouldn't have mentioned it, if I wasn't interested in doing so."
Her logic was impossible to refute, but Damien couldn't quite bend his mind around the concept of this woman offering sex out of the blue. However, he couldn't walk away from the gauntlet she'd thrown down. "Would it offend you if I said that I prefer to get to know the women I sleep with beforehand?" he asked.
"Not at all. I prefer to get to know the women I sleep with beforehand too."
He laughed. "Something we have in common."
"I can be patient." Isabella bit her lip. Damien couldn't decide if the gesture was calculated, but he found it extremely cute and was wise enough not to say so. "May I call you Damien?" Stunned and somewhat embarrassingly elated that she'd remembered his first name, he simply nodded. When her lips curved into a sly smile, cute turned sexy. "Call me Isabella."
"I'll let you in on a little secret, Damien," she said, eyes darting around the room for a moment as if looking for eavesdroppers and stepping even closer. He valiantly focused on her face, rather than what he suspected would be an excellent view of her cleavage from his altered vantage point. "I can also be persuasive."
"What's secret about that?" he asked, trying not to laugh at her apparent outrage. She even stomped her foot. Then he realized his potential mistake—that Isabella might think his question was actually an observation about her and her late husband—and sobered. "I only meant that any woman as beautiful as you and wearing a dress like that is persuasive almost by definition."
"To a point," Isabella said, winking at him, "or we'd be heading upstairs."
"Just like that?" Damian asked, ignoring the part of his mind wondering what a decent suite in this hotel cost in favor of agreeing with another portion silently screaming that he was an idiot for not just going with this crazy situation. "Really?"
She shrugged and drained her champagne. "I haven't been with anyone since Harry died," she murmured so softly Damien nearly didn't hear her. "I'm ready and I promised Harry I wouldn't lock myself away."
"You discussed him predeceasing you?" he asked without thinking, grateful neither Franklin nor Bash was here to point out how stupid the question had been.
"Of course," she said. "Harry was a very practical man. He had a plan for everything." Her eyes took on a faraway look and a small smile graced her face. "But he was spontaneous too." As if suddenly becoming aware of his presence and the circumstances of their prior acquaintance, Isabella blinked at Damien and a hint of red appeared on her cheeks. "Not just with respect to sex."
"Isabella!" shouted a young man who looked even more like a fashion model than Peter Bash. He held out a fresh champagne flute to her and raised his glass. "Allow me to quench your thirst and toast your spectacular dress."
She took Damien's hand rather than the champagne. "No, thank you, Jonathan. The vintage is unremarkable. Damien and I are going to try our luck with whatever red wine they're serving."
"Enjoy your champagne," Damien said, allowing his smirk to silently add, "both of them." He put the endless practice he'd gotten at this sort of thing with Hanna and angled his body to cut off Jonathan's sightline to Isabella and escorted her to the nearest bar. "What's his story?" he asked.
"He's a poor little rich boy who desperately wants to be wealthier than daddy but, unfortunately, is about one sixth the businessman."
Determinedly not identifying with Jonathan in any way, he said, "You're the shortcut."
She spun on Damien, eyes blazing. "Everyone wants Harry's money," she hissed. "I'm just the woman they have to fuck to get it."
Coming from her lips, the profanity seemed harsher. "You aren't "just" anything, Isabella. The money will be a bonus, likely an uncomfortable one, to anyone worth your time."
Isabella deflated. "Then there aren't many men out there worth my time."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Are you, Damien?"
Feeling out of his depth and not entirely sure exactly what she was asking, he replied, "Why wouldn't I be sorry that you feel your only option is to be arm candy for someone whose principal aim is to spend your money?"
"Harry's money." She rolled her eyes at his start of surprise. "Yes, I still think of it as his. I always will." They ordered Cabernet Sauvignon and, once they'd been served, fell into step together. "I'm sorry for my outburst," Isabella said. "You aren't responsible for everyone I thought I knew making a grab for Harry's cash."
"I'm here," he said. "If you need a target, that's fine with me." Thinking of Hanna, he laughed. "I'm used to it, Isabella."
"You're the reliable one, aren't you?" she asked. Damien barely had time to wonder whether her question was rhetorical, before she added, "Stanton obsessed over the song he had stuck in his head and the other one, the one who felt me up once we'd won, tried to help him figure it out. You focused on me, left to make some notes and asked me hard questions in a way that didn't make me feel stupid or foolish."
"I try to be reliable," he ventured, hedging because he wanted to get this right, "without crossing the line to boring."
"I appreciated it then, Damien," she said, smiling shyly up at him, taking his breath away and trying his self-control. "I appreciate it now."
"Isabella, what do you want?"
"You to have dinner with me early next week." She made a "what can you do" gesture. "I'm out of town over the weekend or I'd make it sooner, Damien."
"Where would you like to go?" he asked.
"Let's make it a surprise," Isabella said.
"For you or for me?"
"For you," she said, her smile full of mischief and mirth. "Imagine complete privacy, sublime food and an excellent wine list."
Even as he wondered what in the hell a person wore to such a place, Damien knew he wouldn't ask Stanton, because he just wouldn't. "I look forward to it."
"I'll send my car for you."
"Believe it or not, Isabella, I can drive myself, monitor my alcohol consumption to be sure I'll make it back home alive and read a map or follow turn by turn guidance."
She neatly spun toward him, forcing Damien to stop before running into her. "I don't doubt it, but it's easier to provide transportation than arrange for you and your vehicle to pass through security." Smiling up at him, she said, "Wear what you wore when we first went to trial. I loved the striped shirt."
Well, that answered that, didn't it? "Early next week, then," he said, taking a breath, looking around, hoping for inspiration. "I need to buy something for Infeld Daniels' lobby tonight."
"Fun," Isabella countered, expression avid with interest. "So long as you aren't contemplating the piece we discussed earlier."
"I hoped you'd lead me in a better direction." He leaned in closer. "Not that there isn't something nearly irresistible about your poorly captured dishabille.
"Who uses that word?" Isabella laughed and slid her arm around his waist. "Dishabille."
"Stanton," he admitted. "Some of his vocabulary rubs off."
She nodded, pursing her lips as though carefully considering what she was going to say. "Are you sure you want to follow where I lead, Damien?"
"Absolutely," he said, loving that this evening had shaped up to be well within Stanton's parameters without meshing with his uncle's expectations at all.
The Next Day
"That's way too big for him to carry," Peter Bash observed.
"You're confusing me with Franklin," Damien Karp said, as he manhandled the artwork he'd purchased into the conference room. "Don't do it again." Stanton could damn well haul the painting back to the lobby and supervise its hanging. Or not, Damien didn't care.
"I understand I'm not the only one," Bash countered. "Good morning, Ms. Linden."
Damien swore the temperature dropped by about five degrees as a result of Hanna's glare.
"You really don't have to run your exhibits by us," Jared Franklin offered, clapping Damien on the back, jeopardizing his hold on the awkwardly shaped package.
"I really don't and fervently wish you didn't feel the need to run your poor attempts at humor by me."
"Someone's cranky," Franklin observed in that inane childlike voice that drilled into Damien's eardrums.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day," Bash said. "You really shouldn't skip it, Damien."
"Pre- or post-breakfast sex is even more important," Franklin added.
The combination of Jared Franklin and sex put Damien off food and he simply refused to consider Franklin having sex with a partner other than Bash. With a small grunt of effort, he deposited the bundle behind Stanton Infeld's chair. "Here's your art."
"Let's have a look, shall we?" Stanton said, gesturing for Damien to step aside, rubbing his hands together in anticipation and smirking as though he expected to find it lacking.
"If you think it appropriate to this meeting," Damien said, moving to take his customary seat. Stanton unwrapped the piece with Bash brown nosing by helping. He felt Hanna's gaze but didn't meet it. He'd had an email from Isabella Kaplowitz early this morning. She proposed they have dinner tomorrow night. He'd agreed but wasn't sure how he felt about it.
"Damien, this is marvelous!" Stanton said, stepping aside and taking Bash with him so the other partners could view the abstract painting. "It's absolutely perfect. Sensuality balanced by … well, by I'm not sure what."
Quoting Isabella, Damien said, "Caution."
"Yes, that's it exactly." Stanton half bowed to his nephew. "Well done." Damien shrugged off the praise, waiting for the other shoe to drop—one generally did. "How was the evening otherwise?"
"It had its moments." Suspecting what was coming, he smiled slightly at the surface of the conference table. "The champagne was unimpressive, but the Cabernet they served was decent."
"So you got hammered and picked out the painting," Franklin said, fairly emoting relief at the thought that Damien's good taste had been alcohol induced.
"What's a moment at a fancy party to you?" Bash asked, looking genuinely curious.
Deciding now was as good a time as any, Damien said, "Running into Isabella Kaplowitz wasn't painful."
"Ah, yes, Isabella," Stanton said, peering at Damien like he was a specimen on a slab. "I've had no less than seventeen calls from gentlemen across several demographics professing admiration or jealousy, depending on their strength of character, vis a vis the amount of attention she paid to you. I also understand you've made something of an enemy of Jonathan Clark. Simone, his mother, found his reaction to the encounter highly amusing. What a magnificent woman she is. I remember a time—."
"What's with you and Isabella?" Bash asked, seeming not to care that he'd interrupted Stanton.
"She wanted a shield," Damien said, pouring himself a glass of water, "so she'd be left alone by guys like Jonathan. I certainly didn't mind taking a circuit of the rooms and looking at the art with her." Remembering her admiration of his ability to sweep away the competition with a cutting comment or a dark look allowed him to miss Franklin's latest bit of prattle.
"Your aunt Pamela called to find out when she should book Saint Paul's cathedral." While Damien choked on the sip of water he'd just taken, Stanton said, "She resides in London and is a huge proponent of the fairytale wedding."
"Aunt Pam, as usual, is well informed and about a hundred steps ahead of herself."
"Not to mention seriously delusional," Franklin said, smiling genially.
Stanton didn't lose focus. "Pamela is simply afraid you'll decide to be married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator or some other 'American nonsense.'"
"I'm much more likely to be married on my back deck by whatever judge I can scare up."
Bash's stare, for some unfathomable reason, demanded Damien's attention. "What would the seriously hot Isabella see in you?"
"Honesty and reliability."
"That was quick," Franklin said, exchanging a glance Damien couldn't interpret with Bash.
"That's what Isabella said," Damien offered, uncomfortably aware of every eye in the room on him and of the apparent declaration of open season on his personal life.
"Go on," Stanton prompted.
"She asked my opinion of a seriously hideous piece of art she'd posed for." He smiled, recalling her obvious distaste. "I assume she bought it in the end. I would've, if it had been me."
"The Times said there were nudes in that collage," Bash nearly whined. "Why didn't you buy it?"
"The nudes were just as bad as the rest of the pictures."
"Is your brain damaged?" Bash asked, standing up, looking around for something he evidently didn't find, sitting back down and pointing his pen at Damien. "Isabella nude has to be a work of art."
"Not photographed by that person."
Franklin, perhaps in response to Bash's dismay, asked, "How did we get from honest to reliable?"
"She called me the reliable one out of the team that defended her." Risking he knew not what, he gestured to Stanton. "He was the one with the song stuck in his head. Bash was the one who felt her up once we'd won."
"What about me?" Franklin asked.
"You weren't on the team."
"Well, no, but I helped."
"You confronted the judge about gambling she hadn't done and bet against us," Bash muttered. Stanton met Damien's eye briefly.
Secure in the knowledge that Stanton would have "a conversation" with at least Franklin, Damien said, "The word petite never entered into the conversation."
On that pleasant note, Stanton called the meeting to order.
The Next Day
"Mr. Infeld, is Mr. Karp with you?"
Stanton stabbed the intercom button with authority to reply to his secretary. "He is."
Damien glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time in the last half an hour. He'd been afraid this impromptu meeting would run long and it had. Now, he was trapped with Stanton, Hanna, Franklin and Bash at a most inopportune time.
Stanton's secretary opened the door to admit a stunning blonde woman in a conservative silk dress and heels that looked dangerously high. As she nodded to and smiled at Damien, all the men in the room stood. Hanna rolled her eyes and more slowly followed suit. "Where are your manners, Karp?" Bash asked.
"Introductions do seem to be in order," Stanton said.
"Have we met?" Damien asked, glad to render everyone else as puzzled as he was.
"No, Mr. Karp, we haven't," she said, crossing the room and offering her hand. "I'm Candace. Your driver for this evening." She smiled mischievously as he shook her hand and angled her head toward Stanton. "Mr. Infeld needs no introduction."
Stanton smile held immense satisfaction. Gesturing to each in turn, Damien said, "In order of descending height, Bash, Linden and Franklin."
"When do I get a driver?" Franklin asked. "I think I need one more than him."
"With the way you drive, it could be cost effective," Bash said. "No one but you gets rear ended by a grandma while underway anywhere but in a school zone."
"That geriatric was ready for the Sprint Cup Circuit."
Before an in depth discussion of Franklin's driving ensued, Stanton said, "Infeld Daniels does not bankroll chauffeured limousines, Mr. Franklin," while looking straight at Damien.
"I assure you, Mr. Infeld," Candace said, "I'm not being compensated by your firm." Turning gracefully and with an impressive economy of motion, she said, "Shall we go, Mr. Karp?"
"Sure," he said.
"Where are you off to?" Stanton asked. The way Hanna stepped to the founder's side telegraphed that she had the same question.
Damien glanced at Candace. Her obvious amusement indicated no help was forthcoming this time. "I don't know," he admitted.
"Mystery date," Franklin and Bash said, nearly in unison.
"Not that we played that game or anything," Franklin said.
"Are you kidding me?" Bash countered. "You had it out just the other day, trying to rig the door to always open to the guy in the white dinner jacket."
"He's joking," Franklin said, clearly addressing Candace. "Always the kidder. Seriously."
"Have a good evening," Stanton offered, "but I thought you'd made good on that bachelor auction obligation months ago." Damien had, but he shrugged as noncommittally as possible. "I can't believe Genevieve let it go so long, given that she paid well over $100,000 for a night of your time."
"She said something about delayed gratification," Damien offered, trying to warn Stanton to let this drop with his eyes.
"Genevieve?" Franklin asked.
"Genevieve Tate," Stanton said, obviously warming to the topic, "one of the finest, most audacious women I've had the pleasure to meet. She barely outbid Cameron Sharpe, you know. There's really nothing like that auction. Enormously wealthy women, even married ones, pay enormous sums, all of which is put to good use in the fight against breast cancer by the way, to have an attractive man of their choosing at their beck and call for an evening. It's fascinating really, even for the catalogue alone."
"Too much information, Stanton," Franklin said. "You went over the line with the catalogue comment."
Damien wanted to rewind this conversation about two minutes but was relieved Franklin put the brakes on any further discussion of the catalogue. The near certainty that Stanton and maybe Hanna retained a copy was something to worry about another day. He could live a full life without receiving either Franklin or Bash's comments upon the photo spread he'd done.
"Cameron Sharpe bid on you to the tune of one hundred grand?" Bash barely breathed. "Country music's latest sensation wanted to take a Karp out on the town. I'm floored."
"I helped her settle a somewhat delicate personal matter," Damien muttered. "I was the only guy there she knew."
"Cameron came in at $125,000," Stanton supplied, "but Genevieve was bound and determined."
Damien recalled the night he and Genevieve had gone out. The fifty four year old had taken him to a dive bar he didn't know existed where they'd drunk cheap beer, had several orders of chicken wings, played darts and danced to Patsy Cline on the jukebox. It had been fun, surprising the hell out of him. He'd heard horror stories about the payoff from that auction but, fortunately, hadn't experienced one.
"What was the final bid?" Bash asked, providing as good a diversion as any. Damien headed for the door. Somehow, Candace reached it ahead of him and opened it.
"You're going to open the car door too, aren't you?" he asked.
"I'll call the elevator, shoulder my way through pedestrian traffic if need be, settle you in the car and suggest you avail yourself of the bar, because we have a drive ahead of us," she said. "We're a full service agency, Mr. Karp."
"Curfew's at 10:00 pm," Bash announced, as he stepped into the corridor after Damien.
Not to be left out, Franklin said, "We'll wait up in case you have any questions."
"Are they always like that?" Candace asked.
"That was tame for them," Damien said, smiling ruefully at Candace's blatant disbelief.
At the Restaurant
"There you are, Mr. Karp," said an older man in an elegant tuxedo. "We've been expecting you. Miss Isabella is already seated and I believe she's placed a beverage order on your behalf." He picked up the receiver on an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed 3. "Do make Mr. Karp's drink now, Higgens," he said. Returning his full attention to Damien, he said, "Right this way, sir."
Damien followed and concentrated on relaxing his shoulders. He'd spent much of the drive trying to remember the last time he'd been nervous about being with a woman, particularly in a public place. Something about Isabella unsettled him and it wasn't that she'd evidently described him to Candace and the man in the tux. He didn't like the faintly queasy feeling currently residing in his stomach.
"Damien, so lovely to see you again," Isabella said, rising gracefully. Her off the left shoulder ivory dress draped elegantly over her frame, setting off her tan to perfection. Taking both of his hands, she stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. The subtle scent of her perfume wafted over him.
"You look absolutely stunning, Isabella," he said. Her dress covered a large amount of her person. It would've left what was underneath to Damien's imagination, if he hadn't seen the photo collage at the art auction.
"You look as though you could use a drink," she said, brow furrowing slightly. "Didn't Candace tell you to avail yourself of the four wheeled bar?"
"She did. I just had no idea how long it would take to get here and didn't want to embarrass her or myself by tripping when getting out of the car." Suddenly, Damien became aware that he couldn't see any of the other patrons—uncommon privacy, indeed.
"Why do I suspect there's something else?" she asked, eyes watchful.
Damien nodded his thanks to the person who delivered what looked to be a Manhattan, as grateful for the interruption as he was for the drink.
"To the future," Isabella said, raising a glass of white wine. He touched the rim of his to hers and sipped a truly sublime beverage.
"A lot of bartenders use too much vermouth," he said, "or too little bitters. This is perfect."
"Everything here is," Isabella said," or as near to as money can buy. I expect nothing less with what I pay to be a member."
"Right." His voice sounded clipped to his own ears, so he wasn't particularly surprised when Isabella reached for his hand.
"Damien," she said, "what is it?"
"I've been thinking about you." Her knowing and quite pleased smile demanded clarification. "About what it must be like to be you. To be rich, beautiful and a little bit notorious with the press hounding your every step." Smiling slightly, he said, "I don't do well with the press."
"I just selected the correspondent who seemed the most reasonable. I give her an exclusive interview from time to time and ignore the others."
"What about the paparazzi? Don't you hate getting your picture taken all of the time? I'd think that would get old quickly." He gestured in a Stanton-like grand way at their surroundings. "It must, if you're willing to go to these lengths to have a private dinner out."
"You get used to it," Isabella said. She regarded him as she sipped her wine. "Do you feel sorry for me, Damien? Is that what's at work here?"
"A little and I'm not used to women taking me to restaurants I'm pretty sure I can't afford." Isabella looked away and sighed. "I told you the vast disparity in net worth would be uncomfortable for a lot of men." He shrugged. "I'm one of them."
"You told me Harry's money would make anyone worth my while uncomfortable."
He closed his eyes against a smile that put ideas he really shouldn't have in his head. Knowing that Franklin, Bash, his uncle and a cast of probably thousands would wholeheartedly agree with him made the words harder to say. "You're out of my league." He continued even though she looked like she wanted to interrupt. "I don't know why we're here, other than a promise you made to jump start your social life, sight unseen."
"That would be for me to decide, wouldn't it? Whether you're in or out of my league." When he evinced a keen interest in the tabletop, she squeezed his hand and asked, "Do you want me, Damien?"
"What sane hetero or bisexual man wouldn't?"
"Why do you want me?" Isabella asked.
"Because you're you," he said, wincing at the inadequacy of the rationale. "The woman I got to know a little during the trial and at the art auction is beautiful, sexy, smart, insightful and funny."
"Strange how smart, insightful and funny come later."
"No it isn't," Damien nearly snarled. "You're beautiful. Get over it. You're sexy. Accept it. You're the holy grail of women because you have a brain to back it up. Left brain and right brain action, too. I'm not the first guy to tell you this. I know I'm not."
"You're the second and I married the first." Damien's heart nearly stopped.
Knowing he might regret it, he said, "Isabella, I'm not Harry."
"No, you're younger, have a very sweet smile and beautiful blue eyes."
"Sweet?" he asked, barely managing to contain a laugh.
"Sweet." Her expression implacable, she raised his hand to her lips.
Her lips on his skin stoked something deep within him—something that had been quiescent for a long time. "I haven't been called that in forever. My smile either."
"Get used to it, Damien, because I like your smile." She smirked and, oddly, Damien liked the expression on her. "Men with sweet smiles make me crazy in a very good way."
"Gorgeous women with lips that demand to be kissed do the same to me."
A young waiter replaced Damien's empty Manhattan glass with a full one of white wine and topped off Isabella's glass as well. "Enjoy your sautéed calamari, sir, madam," he said, as he placed a succulent smelling appetizer between them.
"I took the liberty of ordering for the both of us," Isabella said. "I hope you don't mind."
Hoping the thought that she could take all manner of liberties with him didn't show, Damien said, "Not at all."
Later That Evening
"Your turn," Isabella Kaplowitz said, smiling over at Damien Karp, as they lounged in the car Candace drove splendidly. "Serve up a strange first date."
He laughed, thinking the story of her and Harry's would make an excellent film and harkened back looking for something unusual but dissimilar. "I was in high school," he began, "a junior. My new girlfriend was 'Catholic by accident of birth,' according to her. When I picked her up on Saturday night, her mom said, 'Be sure to bring me a bulletin, dear.' I didn't pay particular attention. I just wanted to get her alone, so you can probably imagine my shock when she directed us to a massive Catholic church. Stunned, I followed her in the main doors, wondering how I'd talked myself into this train wreck of a date. She took a piece of paper from an older guy and we walked up a side aisle and I'm thinking we're going to sit in the front, too. This just keeps getting better. Then she darted out a side door and dragged me back to my car and to a mediocre movie."
"What did it matter?" she said. "You made out through the entire thing."
"We did," he admitted, the memory drawing a smile and a chuckle. "She delivered the bulletin to her mom with a perfectly straight face and I knew I liked her."
"What ever happened to … what was her name, Damien?"
"Caroline," he said. "She and I dated all through that year, but I spend my senior year in Paris, so we drifted apart."
"Why would you assume I know?"
Isabella leaned forward, straining the material of her dress in all the right places. "Call it a hunch."
"She's married with two kids and living in Stamford, Connecticut."
"I was right about you."
Cautious, Damien said, "In what way?"
Instead of replying, she broke their unspoken pact not to touch significantly, running her fingertips along the lapels of his jacket from bottom to top and sliding her arms around his neck. Restraint loosened by her action, Damien caressed her bare shoulder from cap to throat and cupped his hand behind Isabella's neck. Watching her closely, he leaned in and angled his head. She met him more than half way, her mouth welcoming and avid. Her intensity drew him in and he tangled the fingers of his other hand in her hair, giving as good as he got. They settled into kissing and Damien spared a few brain cells to wonder about the last time he'd done this in the backseat of a car.
When they paused to catch their breath, she whispered, "Does this mean you'll invite me in?"
Want warred with practicalities. "I can't." Her frown demanded an explanation. "I have to be in court early tomorrow morning and awake even earlier to do the prep work I should've done tonight." Risking her wrath, Damien kissed Isabella again, harder, firmer, much more demanding. "I don't want our first time to be rushed in any way."
Her smile would've made his knees buckle if he'd been standing. "I knew it," she said.
"You're a romantic," Isabella said. "Underneath all of the attitude and aggression, you're a romantic."
Damien didn't agree but couldn't argue, because she claimed his lips with hers for a time, whispering against them when she was through. "When are you next not in court first thing in the morning?"
"Wednesday evening, then," she murmured and Damien took the opportunity to kiss her again. "Oh, damn," Isabella muttered when he moved to her throat, effectively lifting his lips from her body. "I'm on the planning committee for the Mayor's benefit for the children's hospital. The weekly meetings start that night." She took his hand and drew it to her lips again, dropping a kiss on his palm this time. "It'll be a late dinner, but my chef will prepare something we can heat up afterwards. Would about 10:00 pm work for you?"
"I'll make it work." There seemed to be no reason to stop and their next kiss segued into a protracted good night session that Candace handled extremely professionally.
"Plan to stay the night," Isabella whispered, when the driver finally opened Damien's door, "and not to get very much sleep."
The Next Day
"Turning to other business," Stanton Infeld said, "the Mayor's annual fundraiser for children's hospital is upon us and he has asked us to lend a hand this year." Eyes twinkling, he said, "I was thinking of calling for a volunteer, but that's always such an awkward moment when we all refuse to look at each other and silently wait for someone to step forward, so I decided to award the task to one of our new hires."
Franklin, Damien thought. Isabella will have nothing to do with him. He couldn't say why he was sure of that but he was. Staring at Stanton, Damien silently whispered, "Franklin. Franklin. Franklin. Franklin. Franklin. Franklin." When Stanton didn't speak, he switched telepathic strategies. Not Bash. Not Bash. Not Bash. Not Bash. Not Bash.
"Mr. Bash, I believe you to be well suited to this work."
Refusing to panic, Damien laughed. "Peter Bash giving up a night of partying for eight consecutive weeks in favor of sitting in 3 plus hour meetings that should've lasted 30 minutes in the company of boring, well meaning people two generations older than him. Wow, you must really like kids."
"Don't forget the required subcommittee time that often spills into the weekends and lasts for another month beyond the planning committee sessions," Hanna said.
"How could I?" Damien asked, smiling at her before turning a smirk on Bash. "Kiss your social life goodbye for the duration, Peter."
Bash looked like a deer in headlights—a glorious sight in Damien's view. Franklin's expression hovered between relief and pity.
"Damien's really more suited to that sort of thing," Bash said, turning pleading eyes on Stanton.
"Damien's done it," he said, "and he's made it perfectly clear that he's unavailable for assignments of the dull and insufferable variety at this time."
Now he decides to honor my requests!
"That's too bad," Hanna said, patting Damien on the shoulder. "You made such an impact on the whole event the last time."
He grinned. "Record attendance and a really good year for me."
"Share with the other children," Franklin said.
Hanna raised an eyebrow at him and Damien shrugged. "Damien was put in charge of valet parking. For several years before his appointment, there had been sexual incidents involving the valets, some consensual, some not. The inevitable scandals tainted the event and the Mayor made it abundantly clear he wanted none of that."
"Were there incidents of a sexual nature that year?" Bash asked when Hanna paused, to add drama Damien guessed.
"Oh, yes, many more than usual."
"Way to go, Karp," Franklin muttered.
"All of them were caught on security cameras and nipped in the bud by LAPD officers stationed on site. A lot of people you'd think were untouchable spent that night in lock up. The District Attorney's office thought they'd died and gone to Heaven when Damien handed over the evidence that had been gathered. Guess who handled all of the civil suits?"
"Very slick," Bash said, "almost worthy of us."
"Mention Damien's name in the DAs office sometime," Hanna suggested. "You'll find it … illuminating."
"For reasons known only to herself, Ms. Linden has chosen to tell you the boring part of the story," Stanton said. "What she's left out is that Damien demanded a sizeable budget to hire valets and to have the security system revamped and called in several favors to assure enough of a police presence to protect the extremely attractive temporary employees gleaned from the finest universities in southern California. I'm sure the subcommittee meeting to select the valets was fascinating."
"That wasn't a committee issue," Damien said. "I took an evening and did it myself."
"You hired some pretty coeds to set up a sting for wayward penises." Franklin nodded to Hanna. "Now I sort of understand what you might once have seen in him." Frowning, he said, "He's shaking his head. Why is Karp shaking his head?"
Ignoring the fact that the question had been posed to Hanna, Damien said, "We cast the net broader than that. We had something for everybody."
"Enough about Operation Sex Appeal," Bash said, gesturing to Hanna. "I really think this delicate function planning task requires someone more senior."
"Hanna has done it as well," Stanton said. "One last thing about Operation Sex Appeal—I enjoy that moniker, although the acronym is lacking—we learned some very significant things about the District Attorney's office and the Los Angeles Police Department with regard to persons who were not prosecuted or for whom the chain of evidence was somehow broken. A bit of digging and a few discrete inquiries revealed who various persons had in their pockets in both organizations." He turned to Damien, eyes serious. "Speaking of which, did you—."
"She's being released this morning." Damien glanced at his watch. "Right about now."
"I do hope she's learned her lesson."
"Excuse me," Damien said, laughing, "did you really just say that about Constance?"
"Enough of that," Stanton muttered.
"Did you bring civil suits against the people who weren't prosecuted?" Franklin asked, narrowed eyes indicating there was only one right answer to that. Damien wondered if the man child saw any shades of gray at all.
"Those matters were settled privately and very lucratively." Damien nearly fell off of his chair in shock when the expected diatribe and/or smart remark didn't come.
"I'll give you your guitar back if you do it, Damien." Bash's statement hung in the air.
"My time is worth more than that." The words were out before Damien remembered that he actually wanted to do this. Well, that wasn't entirely accurate, he admitted. He didn't really want to but he certainly didn't want Bash to gain access to Isabella this way.
"How about I stock your liquor cabinet for the duration of the ordeal?" Bash offered.
"That's it? For three months of my life, you supply alcohol." Damien shook his head. "Besides, I don't drink the stuff that comes in the jumbo sized bottles you serve at your parties."
"Your brands," Bash said. "Give me a list." Damien wondered how far to push this, even as Bash amended his offer. "Six months."
"Damien, why are you even considering this?" Hanna asked, tone and expression clearly incredulous.
"I'm enjoying watching Bash squirm with Franklin powerless to help him."
"I'm so not powerless," Franklin said but clearly his heart wasn't in it.
"What's it going to take, Damien," Bash asked.
He thought about the larger office but decided against asking for it. "Liquor for one year," Damien said.
"Done," Bash said, offering his hand.
"We're not done yet, Peter," Damien said. "I want to see the guitar to ensure it's in the same condition it was when I gave it to you, as determined by me."
Eyes on Bash, Franklin asked, "In your sole discretion?"
"Applied arbitrarily and capriciously, yes. Assuming you haven't done something unspeakable to it, Stanton will hold it in escrow until after the Mayor's event. If go to the meetings and suffer through the ordeal of whichever subcommittee I'm assigned and attend the function, he gives it to me." Finally offering his hand, Damien asked, "Deal?" Bash shook it.
"It's a pleasure doing business with you, Karp."
"I'm thrilled it was good for you," Damien said, not quite believing what just happened.
"Of course you are," Bash said, grinning in that boyish way every woman seemed to like. "Who wouldn't be?"
"The guitar and a year supply of good booze?" Franklin said, somehow looking down his nose at the much taller Bash.
"Easy to say when it wasn't your ass being condemned to months of boredom."
"Grow a spine, Peter."
"Just grow, Jared."
Today, the inane banter passed Damien by. He'd won this round. That no one else knew it mattered not at all.