Liss had been looking forward to it simply for the fun it promised, but now she was even keener given her current task. If it was that fabulous then she wanted to know why. What was it that made one party so much more successful than another? She intended to start analysing, not just enjoying.
She arrived only a little late and looked around, taking in the décor, the drama of the entrance, the ambience and atmosphere as well as the practicalities—who took the coats and bags and where they put them, how the drinks were being served and the nibbles were being presented. She slowly walked around the perimeter, for once not going straight into the centre of the action. Instead she stood back, trying to take in the whole picture.
‘Taking notes?’ An all-too-familiar sarcastic voice at her shoulder finally made her pay attention to the other guests—well, one in particular.
She turned slowly to face him, giving herself time to hide the involuntary smile. The sight of him in a tux would always make her smile and her body sizzle—she mentally dove into a tub of ice. ‘As a matter of fact, yes.’ She registered the wariness in his expression and chilled down further.
‘Tell me what you see, then. What can you learn from this party?’
She decided to take the question at face value and ignore the suggestion of cynical disbelief. ‘I like the way there are so many wait staff no one is going to have a problem getting a drink or something to snack on.’
He didn’t look overly impressed. ‘I guess it’s always good to satisfy appetites. You wouldn’t want anyone to be left hungry for more.’
She shot him a quick sideways look but his face was bland.
‘Actually hungry for more is a good thing,’ she declared, determined not to agree with him. ‘Having enough, or, worse, overindulging, can leave a sickly taste. You want them to look back on the night wishing they could have had more, could have stayed for longer. Wishing there was another party just like it the next night.’
‘But there won’t be, will there? The situation can’t be replicated. So aren’t you in danger of everyone leaving with a feeling of disappointment?’
‘All good things must come to an end.’ She fell back on cliché. ‘Better to have everyone finish on a high rather than overtired and no longer wanting the indulgence.’
He stared at her for a moment too long and her discomfort increased. They were just talking parties, right?
Because if they weren’t, she felt the need to point out he was the one who’d broken up their own little private party the other day a tad early for her liking. She was the one left disappointed. She was the one reliving humiliation now with warming cheeks.
Rapidly she moved on to another point. ‘But the music is too loud, that’s a basic no-no. People can’t hear each other talk.’
‘Do they really want to talk, though? And if they do, they have to get closer to hear. Isn’t that a good thing?
She looked at him, realised he was standing closer than convention and felt the heat rise more. ‘It rather depends on what you want to get out of the occasion. What’s the point of the party?’
‘All the best parties are the ones where people hook up.’ His smile made an appearance—the caustic one.
‘And it gives the other guests something to talk about. They all love a little gossip.’
He looked around, seeming to enter the spirit of analysis while she tried to figure him out. Was he flirting?
Quite what they were analysing and why was a little fuzzy to her. That, combined with the aftermath of the kiss earlier in the week, had her on the defensive.
‘What about the lighting? It’s a little bright, isn’t it?’ he asked.
‘It’s an art gallery, James.’ She relished the rare opportunity to make a comment as witheringly as he so often did.
‘Yeah, but it could be more subtle. More intimate. Intimate at parties is good.’
‘So people can relax, get to know each other. Have a good time.’
She decided his provocative talk was deliberate, knew she should ignore him, but she couldn’t help biting. ‘
Tell me, James, is it a party I’m planning for you or an orgy?’
By now the wary look had completely vanished and his eyes were brimming with appreciation. She refused to look at his mouth with its broad smile and white teeth and the glimpse of tongue—now she knew what that tongue could do.
‘An orgy? There’s a thought. Lots of nymphs on order?’
That really got her back up. She wasn’t interested in being at a party where his main aim was to eye up the talent. ‘I’m not sure I can do this job for you, James. It seems it’s a dating service you want.’