He blended in impeccably. He was here for a party, a formal affair put on by an organization trying to raise money for adoption. He was merely another name on a long list of contributors. He had personally paid for her ticket and sent her an invitation when he read about the upcoming event months ago. It was just the place two orphans would fit in it without being circumspect.
He had just taken a flute of champagne from a passing waiter when he spotted her. She was dressed formally in a gown that clung to her every curve and provided a good amount of cleavage. She put the sun to shame radiating in the deep yellow gown. He shut his eyes briefly, pulled the easily accessible vision of those curves sans the gown from his memory palace and reminisced. He knew the moment her eyes found him; he believed they would find one another in a room no matter how crowded it might be.
His eyes met hers and he held her gaze, evenly and without blinking as she made her way toward him. He wondered if she had ever been to a home of this magnitude before for a social engagement. He knew of her visit to Mason's home, but his home was rather pretentious.
The mansion had been converted to an expensive hotel many years ago, one that put Mason Verger's place to shame. As she approached he noticed that she was tan and looked as fit as ever. The d collet of the dress made it plain that when she tanned she did so topless. He liked to believe he had taken the duckling she was when they first met and turned her into the beautiful swan before him today. He knew, however, the credit was not exclusively his she had come into her own over time.
She took an offered flute of champagne as she finished her approach. "Somehow I knew you were behind this," she said stoically. The flash of playfulness in her eyes let him know she was making an attempt at teasing him.
"Yes, you know me, I throw together four hundred dollar per plate fundraisers all of the time."
"You have been known to."
"Long, long ago, Clarice."
"I've never been to something like this."
"I gathered as much."
"Sometimes you say things that border on insulting."
"My intent is not to insult you, Clarice. Be honest now, what reason would you have for attending something like this? I realize you're no pauper, but if you had the money there are things you'd choose to spend your hard earned money on besides such a cause."
"And why do you?"
"Because it was an opportunity to see you where we would not stand out."
"You would stand out no matter where you were," she said dryly.
"Hardly, Clarice. Did you see our room?"
"Yes, I noticed there was already luggage there and at first thought there was some sort of mistake."
"But you figured it out."
She blushed as she took a sip of her champagne. "I did and was glad you weren't there while I changed."
"Why is that?" He knew the answer to his query but asked anyway.
"I don't believe helping me into my gown would have been on your mind."
"How absolutely brazen of you, my dear," he asked, placing an arm at her back as he escorted her away from the small crowd that had gathered near them. "Such a suggestion coming from you almost makes me wish I had thought of it."
"Are you telling me you didn't, Doctor?"
"Oh, I thought about it, but I was trying to be different with this t te- -t te then the first two. Not that I am complaining how our first ventures went."
"I should hope not," she said with a light laugh. "Aren't you afraid someone might spot us?"
"Who, Clarice? Look at those around you. Do you believe Mr. Krendler or any of his associates would even contemplate coming to such an event?"
She glanced around the room and Lecter's gaze followed hers as she took in everyone there. Yes, they were all nicely dressed, but this was not the type of an event that an agent could infiltrate easily. "I suppose not."
"Are you worried your beloved Bureau will think you have a lover?"
Clarice laughed haughtily at that. "Those that think I'm capable of taking one."
"There are those that think you are not capable?"
"I'm sorry to hear that, though it's their loss if they cannot spot the passion emanating from you."
"Thank you. You know, I have no idea what to call you. We're here, obviously together, and your name is rather uncommon."
"You can call me Richard."
"Richard, is it?"
"For this event anyway."
"You don't trust me enough to tell me anything beyond the here and now, do you?"
"Let's dance, shall we," he said, offering his now empty champagne flute to a passing waiter.
One of Clarice's eyebrows arched in question but she placed her nearly empty flute onto the tray as well and followed him to the dance floor.
"You're not going to answer my question, are you?"
"It's not a matter of trusting you, Clarice. It's a matter of valuing my freedom above anything else and I will not compromise it. Even for you." Hannibal could imagine the thoughts going through her mind. She was worth a great deal, certainly worth the risks he was taking meeting her as he had since his escape.
"Where did you learn to dance," she asked, apparently trying for something neutral and less emotional to talk about.
I learned as a boy, Clarice, it was part of the lessons I was taught."
You were taught well," she said and Hannibal saw the sincerity in her eyes.
"If those who had taught me were still alive I would pass along your compliment, but I'm afraid they passed on long ago."
"Not because of you."
"No, not because of me."
They grew quiet as the song finished and the guests were told to take their places for the dinner. Clarice surprised Lecter by being quite conversational throughout dinner with others beside him. He had no idea how much exposure to others who lost parents when they were children she had had. He imagined she found it nice to know that she was not alone in her plight.
By the time dinner was done, Lecter was more than ready for some time alone with Clarice. His sentiments appeared to be shared by her as she remained seated at the dinner table while most of the other guests returned to the ballroom for more dancing.
"You used to do this all of the time. How did you manage?"
"It never bothered me," he said with a casual shrug. It had not really, rubbing elbows with the upper crust had been commonplace to him so he never thought much of it. It was how he had been raised after all.
"These were all nice people, don't get me wrong, but I can only smile so long before I feel like my mouth's going to stay that way."
"I understand, Clarice, and fear not I do not fault you in the least for feeling that way. I admit it did get tedious from time to time, but it was a way to pass the time."
"And pull one over on the elite?"
Lecter chuckled. "In a way, I suppose. I imagine there are many still who wonder if their meals were one of my specialty meals. And what's more, they're scared because they enjoyed it immensely. Each and every one of them."
"Can we not talk about that?"
"What is it you care to do then?"
"Do we have to go back in there?"
"We can do whatever we want."
"I'm ready to go upstairs then."
Lecter stood from the table and assisted Clarice from her chair. "As the lady wishes," he said with a slight smirk as he offered her his arm and escorted her upstairs.