Athena Davis adjusted her earpiece as she made her way back into the Virginia Aquarium. She had been outside getting a breath of fresh air and giving her feet a breather after being on her feet for almost five hours straight.
“This fundraiser is never-ending,” she thought as she stroked her hair which she had pulled back in a high bun.
Athena’s company GoCreative had been in charge of organizing the charity fundraiser at the Aquarium. She would have rather spent her time organizing a more exciting event but this was what fell on her lap and considering she had spent almost two weeks at her desk, she needed to be out of the office. A lot of people at GoCreative had been skeptical about the venue but Athena was positive she could pull it off…and she did.
As soon as she stepped foot back in the Aquarium, she sighed. She could not wait for this event to be over so she could go home and soak in a long bubbly bath. That was all she really craved at that moment. She made her way to one corner of the main foyer. A smile played on her lips. They were now auctioning a date with one of her bosses, Conrad Malone. She had to admit, it was a brilliant move especially since Conrad was everything any woman dreamed of: rich, good looking and had a killer smile. The bid was now at sixty five thousand dollars. She picked a glass of cider from one of the waiters who was walking past her.
“You are a very private person,” she heard a male voice behind her say. She could not help but notice the strong eastern European accent in his voice. Hungarian, Romanian, Russian…she could not quite place her finger on it. She was not very sure what it was.
“What makes you say that?” she asked as she turned around to come face to face with a brown haired hazel eyed man.
“I have been watching you since I got here,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow over the other.
“You have been watching me? Should I call the police or something?”
The man smiled.
“Maybe I should be the one calling for help,” he said in a soft voice. Athena took another long sip of her cider.
“And why is that?” she asked again.
“Attractive black woman in killer heels on her feet all evening,” he said as he slowly walked around her to lean on the wall. “And the earpiece you have on,” he added as he pointed at her right ear. “You are either an assassin who’s been sent out here for someone or CIA.”
Athena laughed and shook her head. And it was not a forced laughter either. It was a genuine honest to goodness laugh.
“So, Femme Fatale, which one is it?” he asked.
“Assassin? Why would you come to that conclusion?”
“Well, I have watched enough movies to know that the best assassins are the ones who can distract their mark,” he answered. “Mostly they use their sex appeal.”
“So what you are telling me in so many words, is that I have sex appeal?” she asked and the man shrugged.
“Everyone has sex appeal. Even the most unappealing people. They have their own idea of sex appeal.” His eyes ran down her body. “And yours is literally the life of this party.” She smiled and bit her lower lip.
“I would have thought that the life of this party was Rue Sorrento,” she pointed out.
He gently scratched his right temple.
“And why is that?”
“Simple. She has money coming out of her…well, choose an orifice and she has spent it to get that picture perfect body she loves flaunting so much.” She turned and looked at the subject of her criticism who had on a tighter than tight white dress with an amazingly low neckline. “Seriously, every man here is ogling at her.” She turned her attention back to the man again. “Makes me wonder why you are not part of that bandwagon.”
“Well, for starters I am not every man.”
“But you are a man, right?” she had an insincere smile on her face.
“I am but I tend to delve deeper into personality rather than work with what is on the surface,” he said in a whisper. “And right now I would like to know if someone here will be dropping dead any time soon.”
Athena looked into his eyes and then shook her head.
“I hate to disappoint you sir, but I do not work for the CIA or some black ops program,” she smiled.
“That is exactly what an assassin or a CIA agent would say,” the man pointed out.
“I guess you are right but the earpiece is for team coordination,” she said in a soft voice.
“Again, something a CIA agent or an assassin would do.” This time Athena laughed.
“Most assassins work alone, right?” she said as she looked at him and he nodded.
“Yes, so that option is out.”
She bit her lower lip again and stretched her hand out.
“Athena Davis from GoCreative, the company that organized this event.”
“That clears a lot of confusion,” the man said smiling. “Evgeni Markovic,” he said as he shook Athena’s hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Believe me, the pleasure is all mine.”
“So, I have to ask. Evgeni…what is that Hungarian?”
Athena smiled. This was probably the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. She had never met someone from outside the US let alone Russia. She almost asked him if he knew any guys from the mafia but she quickly realized that asking him that was as shallow as someone asking her if she knew Obama or Beyoncé.
“I thought I was doing a killer job of masking my accent,” he said and she shrugged.
“Not as well as you think.”
“I blame my grandmother. She was always talking to us in Russian. Something about us not forgetting where we were from,” he said with a smile.
“That’s a good thing, right? I mean, heritage is important.” He nodded. “I would know because my grandmother went the extra mile to trace our roots. I think I am Somali or something of the sort,” Athena said smiling. “You’ve got to hand it to heritage…being important and all.”
“It is important, don’t get me wrong but mine went the extra mile to home school us for the first five years because she did not want us to be ‘corrupted’ by the western culture…it’s a long complicated story with her, trust me,” he said smiling and she nodded.
“Clearly,” she said with a smile.
Evgeni looked around the foyer and nodded.
“So you put all this together, huh? This is pretty impressive.”
“Well, I like to think that anything I put my heart and soul into is pretty impressive,” she said as she took another sip of her drink.
“Of course,” he said as he scratched his brow. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
“Disrespectful,” she echoed before she took the last sip and put her glass on one of the waiter’s trays. “Now I have to ask.”
“What? What do you have to ask?”
“Do you know any mafia guys? I mean, I know this is a very weirdly racist question but…” her voice trailed off when she saw the way he was looking at her. He suddenly laughed as he shook his head.
“Yes it is,” he said, still laughing.
“I am so sorry,” she whispered. She felt even sillier than she thought she would feel.
“No, don’t be,” Evgeni said, still smiling. “As it turns out I think I have a few connections if you ever need a shipment of Kalashnikovs or something.”
Athena felt herself blush.
“I should really be more careful with my words,” she said in a soft voice.
“Come on, I was kidding. I would not want you to think that I am such a shallow person.”
“I wouldn’t ever think that,” she said. She pressed her earpiece to her ear when she heard the caterer’s voice calling “Sorry, duty calls.”
Evgeni smiled and nodded.
“I wouldn’t want to be the one to keep you from your job.”
“It was really nice to meet you, Evgeni. You are actually the first decent conversation I’ve had all day,” she said and he reached into her pocket.
“I will be here waiting to see you casing the foyer again but in case I don’t get a chance to approach you,” he started as he took her hand in his and placed his business card in her hand. “I would love to see you again. Hopefully soon.”
She looked at the card and then at him and smiled.
“Soon,” she repeated before she walked away. She could feel his eyes on her and for the first time that evening, she was not cursing at the world for wearing those five inch heels. She looked over her shoulder and saw that he was indeed still looking at her. She turned around and smiled as she walked into the foyer and disappeared into the crowd.
Her heart was pounding as she made her way to the back where the caterer and good friend, Carla was.
“What is going on? Why are you fussing?” she asked as she looked at Carla.
“Your wine guy never came through and we still have a couple more hours of this damn event,” Carla said sighing. “I mean, how much money can these people have to give?”
“The who’s who of America’s Fortune 500 are here,” she said as she helped herself to a piece of pig in a blanket. “If anything they are having a pissing contest out there trying to see who gives the most money.”
“Well, call your guy. Otherwise this partnership I have with GoCreative is doomed,” she said as she leaned against one wall.
Athena sighed and quickly dialed her wine supplier. She walked outside as she held the phone to her ear. It took a few rings before her supplier picked up.
“MacGyver, hi. It’s Athena Davis,” she said. “What happened to my extra cases of champagne?”
“I’m sorry,” MacGyver said. From the noise on the other end of the phone, Athena could tell that he was driving. “I am a few minutes from the Aquarium. I will not let you down.”
“Well, I don’t know about that MacGyver. I have a room full of rich snobs without anything to drink and I am counting on them being drunk enough to give up their hard earned cash for some charity, dude.”
“I know, I know. I am driving as fast as I possibly can.”
“Just how far are you exactly?”
“Like I said, a few minutes. Maybe ten at the most.”
“Fine. I’ll get creative in the meanwhile. Just…” she sighed again. “Just get your ass down here MacGyver.” She hung up and walked back into the room. She helped herself to another snack and looked at Carla who was preparing another plate.
“Ten minutes,” Athena said as she bit into the piece of sugar coated meatball. “Oh goodness…what is this? It’s like an orgasm of sugar and bacon.”
“Well, that’s exactly what it is. Bacon wrapped sugar coated meatballs,” Carla said without looking up.
“Damn,” Athena whispered as she bit into the meatball again. “This has to be the best meatball ever.”
“Decadent, right?” Carla said smiling.
“Decadent indeed,” Athena said before she took another bite of the meatball.
“So, how is the job so far?” Carla asked as she put another plate out. “I mean, did you rub shoulders with Richard Branson or someone of the sort yet?”
“Well, for starters, Richard Branson isn’t here and no. I didn’t meet anyone yet,” she said as she pulled a stool and sat down.
“That’s weird. The place is full of potential boyfriends.”
Athena raised an eyebrow at her friend and forced out a laugh.
“Potential boyfriends for whom exactly because I know that you are most definitely not talking about me,” she said and Carla smiled at her.
“Well, I am kind of seeing someone so you know that I am not talking about myself.”
Athena shook her head and took another meatball.
“Kind of seeing someone is not the same as being committed and those are your words if I remember correctly.”
“Well, I don’t want to rush things with Hank. Things are great as they are right now and I like how it is right now. I don’t want to complicate things by…” Carla’s voice trailed off and she put her hands on the counter. “I just don’t want to complicate anything right now.”
Athena nodded. She had an idea of what her friend had been through before she got together with Hank Mosley and maybe she was right not to rush things. Maybe it would have been a good idea for her to go slow too. She smiled at Carla and then shrugged.
“Maybe this is the best way forward. I mean, you are happy though, right?” Athena asked and Carla nodded.
“More than you will ever know,” she said. “But what about you?”
Athena frowned and shrugged.
“What about me?” she asked as if she had no idea what was going on.
“Come on Athena. You know exactly what I am talking about,” Carla said. “You are always avoiding the subject when I talk about your dating life.”
“Well. I don’t really want to talk about it,” Athena said as she looked into Carla’s eyes. She knew she sounded ridiculous since Carla had been trying to get her to talk for the longest time and that was always her response. “Look, I know that I have been saying that for the longest time but…” she started before Carla reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“You have been avoiding this discussion for almost an entire year,” she said and Athena nodded.
“I just don’t…” Athena started before Carla shook her head cutting her short.
“Listen, sweetie,” she started as she drew little circles at the back of her hands. “I love the way you always seem to go all out in support of everyone else but yourself. I mean it is what makes you, you. But you also have to remember that your own happiness is important too. You can’t just shelf off your heart, you know.”
“I know but I just…I can’t do this right now. I mean right this minute,” she said in a soft voice.
“That is always your answer,” Carla pointed out and Athena smiled. She then pulled her hand out of Carla’s and stood up. “Whoa…what’s going on? Where are you…” Carla started before Athena looked at a waiter walking towards them carrying a case of champagne.
“I would love to stay and chat but my wine guy came through,” Athena said as another waiter walked in carrying another case. “Plus I have to go back to work.”
“Chat later then,” Carla called after her.
Athena was walking out as fast as she could but the truth was she was trying to hide her pain from everyone around. She hated that Carla had brought up what she had spent months burying. She walked as fast as she could across the foyer and even when she got outside, she didn’t stop. She went on walking past the valets until she got to the parking lot.
Her heart was beating hard and fast as she leaned against one of the vehicles there. She had a tightness in her chest that she just couldn’t understand but she had felt this way before and she was almost too certain that she was having a panic attack. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and everything felt tight: her dress, her shoes…she would have done anything to strip down at that moment. She sunk down to the ground as she began crying hysterically. It seemed as though the more she tried controlling herself, the harder she cried.
She was so engrossed in her self-pity that she never realized there was a male voice nearby, Evgeni’s voice.
Evgeni had been hell bent on not handling any business that evening especially since he had not really wanted to go to the benefit to begin with. It was one of those decisions that he was sure he would regret before the evening was over especially since after going to almost a million or so of such events, he knew for a fact that he would not enjoy himself since he was going to have the same conversation with twenty different people. And there was also the risk of meeting the one aspiring actress or singer that would most probably stalk him for the better part of that year.
And that was exactly what happened. He had already talked business with Lucas Maines the biggest name in financial management, had a drink with Sarwal Singh, a known hotelier from India who was looking to set up some kind of Taj Mahal in New York and in less than two hours, had been hit on by two different women, both of whom were not his cup of tea. The evening was playing out exactly how he thought it would, at least until he saw Athena Davis. There was something about her that just seemed to call out to him. He was not sure whether it was her beautifully flawless dark skin or curvy body but as soon as he saw her, he knew that she was not like the rest of the guests at the event. He had watched her as she walked up and down the place and gave orders to the servers and he could almost see the graceful halo around her. The height of his evening came when he finally mastered enough courage to talk to her and sure enough, she was different from everyone at the party. He had been sad to see her walk away when duty called but seconds after she did, he got a call. In a perfect world, he would have ignored it but it was important. It was a call from Moscow, from his business manager Viktor.
He exhaled loudly and walked out to the parking lot.
“Da,” he said when he picked up the phone. “I hope you have good news.”
“Mr. Markovic, things might be more complicated than we had initially hoped for,” Viktor said.
Evgeni rubbed his temple gently. That was definitely not what he wanted to hear.
“What is the big deal? Why can’t I have what I want?”
“Mr. Markovic, we cannot have this discussion on the phone. I would much rather talk when I come over to your American offices,” Viktor said. “It is a long and daunting discussion as it is.”
“What about the Dubai business? At least tell me that you have that settled.”
“All your assets are tied up in the one investment you are trying to liquidate, Mr. Markovic. I don’t think we can make anything work without causing waves,’ Viktor said and Evgeni exhaled again.
“Fine. Get on the next flight to Virginia and we will talk when you get here,” Evgeni said before he hung up.
“Damn it!” he cursed silently as he began making his way back.
As he made his way back, he could not help but hear the distinct sound of a woman’s sob. A part of him wanted to ignore it but the sobs seemed to grow louder as he slowly made his way back to the Aquarium. As he got closer and closer to a white Range Rover, he saw the familiar print of Athena’s dress. He had been watching her long enough for the print to register in his mind.
“Athena?” he said in a soft voice as he rushed to where she was. He had not known her long enough but seeing her sad, tears flowing freely down her cheeks made him feel something that he hadn’t felt in a long time. “Athena, what happened?” he asked as he knelt next to her. He held the side of her face and used his thumb to brush off her tears.
“Athena please, tell me what is happening,” he said again but she didn’t answer. There was a fresh flow of tears rolling down her cheeks. He pulled her into himself and held her close as she sobbed into his shoulder. He did not remember the last time he felt this helpless and sad.
Athena hated that she had to be driven home by a complete stranger and one she found so sexy to make it even worse. She had tried talking Evgeni out of driving her home but he wouldn’t hear of it.
“I would not be able to live with myself if I left you alone in this condition,” Evgeni had said.
“I’m fine Evgeni,” Athena had tried convincing him but another tear rolled down her cheek. He took her hand and smiled at her.
“Show me to your car,” he had said in a warm voice. “I know that I am still a stranger to you but that doesn’t make me any less of a gentleman.”
“But I am still working,” she said in a soft voice.
“It’s already a half past midnight which means that the benefit is almost over. Plus,” he slowly led her to the Aquarium’s entrance. “Look at that. If that is not a sign of a job well done, then I don’t know what is,” he added as he pointed at a huge LED screen that showed how much had been raised
“We only expected to raise twenty million,” Athena said smiling, and it was a genuine smile too. The benefit had surpassed the twenty million mark and hit fifty seven million and change.
“Well, that proves that your work here is done,” Evgeni said.
“But the clean-up crew and…” she started before he shook his head.
“I am going to walk you in there and you are going to get your stuff, alright?” he said in an authoritative tone. “And then I will take you home. Understand?”
Athena forced out a smile and nodded.
“Yes sir, Mr. Markovic,” she said before he led her into the Aquarium.
When she walked back out, she pulled her keys put of her purse and handed them to Evgeni who seemed a little confused.
“You didn’t valet?” he asked and she shook her head.
“I was not a guest,” she said as she led him to where she had parked. She looked at him in gratitude when he opened the car door for her and then climbed in. She fastened her seat belt as he walked around the front of the car to get into the driver’s seat.
“So, what’s the address?” he asked when he started the engine.
“19 Broad Street, Richmond,” she said as she leaned against the window, hiding yet another tear that was rolling down her cheek.
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