From a Seventh Sanctum generator prompt:
“The theme of the story: dramatic romance. The main character: social astrologer. The start of the story: surrender. The end of the story: Alienation.”
This is in the same world as Holding the Ways and The Deep Inks; Spring is the youngest sister of Autumn and Winter.
“I give up.”
“I said, I give up. I surrender.” He set his wine glass down with a thump.
“A refill? The Chardonnay?” She lifted the bottle, looking up to his face for the first time for a response.
“No, thank you. I’m working. You don’t accept capitulation very well, do you?” His face was movie-screen perfect, save for an off-center scar in his chin like a misplaced dimple; the flaw was more notable than the perfection, in this town.
“I’m sorry, sir?” It finally occurred to Spring that he was the only one at the serving station, and that he must be talking to her. “What did you want me to give in to?”
He shook his head in a show of amused exasperation. His suit was expensive, this season’s style. His jewelry was classic: bracelet, cufflinks, one rakish diamond earring, left ear. He certainly wasn’t catering staff, she’d have known him, and the butlers and other service staff didn’t dress that nicely. Gigolo? Parties like this attracted their share of that sort.
“I didn’t want you to give in to anything, miss…?” He talked over her assessment of him like he didn’t notice she was doing it. He was intent on a point, that was for sure.
“Oh?” She cleared some used toothpicks and tried to look just disinterested enough.
“I was trying to surrender. But you are ignoring my white flag quite diligently.”
“I didn’t know we were at war. Are the canapés that bad?”
He laughed, a little too loudly. “I acquiesce. I can’t even surrender to you. You are truly a maddening woman.”
“Thank you, sir.” She couldn’t help a small, wicked smile. “You should see me when I’m trying.”
“I imagine you are sight to behold, more so even than when you’re serving drinks at a tedious cocktail party.”
As compliments went, it was a bit weak. She smiled her professional go-away smile and dropped his glass into the dirties tray.
“No, really. What do I have to say to you, miss…?”
“‘The hors d’oeuvres are delicious, can I have another one of the asparagus spikes’ always works for me.”
“I’d rather have one of those brie and bacon things, if you don’t mind. But they are delicious.”
“Thank you, sir.” She wished she could believably fake a British accent. They always sounded cooler, more reserved and stay-away.
“There, I complimented your delicious food. Now will you talk to me?”
“If I talk to you, sir, will you let me do my job?” Impossible to not sound a little exasperated. Amusing how much that seemed to make him nervous.
“Yes, yes, it’s just, I’m trying to do my job here, and you’re throwing me for a real loop. I can map out every interaction in this party, down to the tightest nuance. I can see where and who and why everyone is. It’s what I do, and I’m good at it.”
“Ah, star mapper.” She didn’t bother trying to hide her disdain.
“Social astrologist, thank you. And three clients paid me a great deal of money to be here and map their charts.”
“So map their charts.” Her smile was starting to show, though. Star mappers were a fun sort to play with.
“That’s the thing. I can lay out every chart in this room – except where it touches you. Anywhere near these damn canapés – delicious though they are – everything goes to havoc. And I have to know why.”
Tempting to say “get used to being disappointed.” Far more fun to tell him the truth.
Her caterer’s uniform covered the tattoo, but one button undone and she folded the crisp white button-down aside to show him her breastbone. He hissed softly.
She buttoned the shirt up again, covering the mark, arrows pointing helter-skelter from the center twist. “A monkey-wrencher, a jammer, a line-crosser. Yes sir.” She smirked at the expression twisting his handsome face.
“Catering doesn’t seem to be the sort of profession for a tangler.” He looked a little doubtful at his bacon hors d’oeuvre.
“I never thought of your sort as into the service professions.”
“I never thought of your sort as rich and handsome,” she countered, wondering when she’d decided to flirt with him. “Besides, there’s something to be said for defying expectations. After all, that didn’t taste quite like you expected it to, did it?”
“You have me there,” he admitted. “I don’t suppose I could talk you in to tangling, say, a little less while I’m working this party? I have a paycheck to earn.”
“You can’t tell me an experienced,” there was an art to making that sound like an insult, or a flirtation. There was more fun and more skill in making it sound like both at once. “An experienced star mapper like you can’t work around one little monkey-wrencher?”
He flushed a little, looking wistfully at the bottle of wine by her hand. “I can work around most things. But you’re either a very strong tangler, or you’re working your hardest at making your corner of the world a chaotic mess.”
“Or both, of course, or neither and you’re just having an off day. As much as I would love it, the whole world doesn’t revolve around me.” She poured a glass of wine and sipped slowly at it, loving the way his Adam’s Apple bobbed under his exactly-appropriate silk tie. “Of course, if it did…”
“You’d have to move so it was confused as to where to revolve. It must make your life endlessly complicated.” He took the bottle from her and poured his own glass.
“Not any more so than anyone else who works with the threads. Isn’t your life complicated, dancing the dance they expect, being the person they need you to be, buying all the right clothes and saying all the right things?”
“I’d never thought of it that way. It’s part of being an astrologer; I know where the paths are going and I walk the way I need to amongst them.” He sipped slowly at the wine. “This . Is not a Chardonnay.”
“Port,” she smiled lightly. “But it’s a very good port, from a tiny little vineyard.”
“Of course not.”
“So you’re saying it’s no harder for you to throw a wrench in every work you encounter – it is, indeed, a very good port – than it is for me to follow the chi of a situation and translate it into probabilities?”
“Shh, if people know what you’re doing is that easy, they’ll stop paying you the big money to do it, and then how will you afford your pretty jewelry?”
“Pretty!” He managed an affronted expression for a few moments, before it faded away into amusement. “You’re good at that, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Anything else would be lying or bragging, and while she wasn’t above either, it didn’t seem the time.
“What will it take to get you to leave the lines alone for an evening? The pretty jewelry, as you’ve pointed out, doesn’t pay for itself.”
She smiled at him, and sipped her port, giving him a minute to sweat. Giving herself a moment to consider. There was nothing in her art against occasionally letting people have their way. Her art being what it was, there were no rules, such as they were, that were not honored more in the breech than the observance, anyway. And, while it could be the port, she was becoming very fond of the nick in his chin.
“Look, I can work around you if I have to. If I tell one of my clients to buy when they should have sold, well, I can always chalk it up to an error of interpretation on their part. A third of the art is bullshit, after all. Another thing I should never let my clients hear me say, of course. But you’re unlikely to ever be a client of mine…”
“A date.” Client reminded her what she’d originally pegged him as, and she wondered how he’d take to that assessment. To buying her quiet with his time, maybe with his ass. She wondered if it was a nice ass; it would almost have to be, given the front of him, though it would be entertaining if it was flat, or fat, or lopsided.
“I won’t twist another strand tonight, if you’ll agree to take me on a date. Wednesday coming; I’ve got the day off.”
“Seriously? You want to go on a date with a star-mapper?” He imitated her disdain in his twist of the word.
“Nope,” she grinned, finishing her port in one swallow as punctuation. “I want you, mister, to take me… Spring, by the way… on a date.”
“This can only end badly.” He reached his left hand into the air between them, the sparkle of his cufflinks highlighting the gesture in a way that had to be purposeful. She wondered what he could catch, in the twisted strands that surrounded her, but he smiled triumphantly anyway. “Done. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
Wondering if she had just been tangled, Spring couldn’t help but smile. “Deal.”