Therese gazed through her camera lens intently, trying to capture the shot as she saw it in her minds eye. The sun was just setting. The golden hour was upon them with that mythical gleam that enveloped the entire scene and its actors in a warm embrace. A moment in time where everything had a softer edge - with boundaries erased and colours enhanced - every shot a little vignette full of endless possibilities, a chance at a different story.
Therese moved swiftly through the crowd, seeing everyone and everything with fresh eyes - a woman's hand resting gently on a man's chest drawing circles around the buttons of his shirt, woman's lips pressed softly against another woman's ear whispering sweet nothings, swaying bodies moving to the music speaking their own language. Blurry of faces that are smiling, hands that are reaching, lips that are searching and bodies that are wanting. Everyone moving in slow motion - shot after shot of couples basking in the dying light, waiting for the night. Enough to make you dizzy with anticipation.
When she finally lowered her camera it was already dark, too dark to see clearly. The venue was transformed in the glow of the hundreds of candles that were lit throughout, casting another kind of light, setting another kind of tone. One that Therese will not be photographing just yet. She took a deep breath and relaxed for the first time since she got here, relieved that most of her work was done. She set down her camera and walked towards the bar at the edge of the garden. A shining beacon of crystal, glass and mirrors containing bottle after bottle of the most expensive alcohol she will ever likely have the pleasure to taste. And Therese wasn't going to miss the chance. Some liquid courage will do her good, especially considering the enigmatic final assignment that awaited her later in the evening. She sat at the corner of the bar, observing the festivities that were slowly unfolding before her.
The venue they were in was actually a rather remarkable villa located outside one of the most famous cities in the world, although it seemed as if it existed in a universe of its own. The garden of the villa appeared to have been geometrically designed, however it was overflowing with life in a way that the original order was almost completely lost. It was a classical Italian garden filled with greenery and charm, emanating a scent of Tuscany at dusk. In the middle of it there was a clearing transformed into a dance floor surrounded by sleek black tables interspersed amid the greenery and two bars that were flanking the stairs which led onto the terrace of the villa, where the band played.
The guests were moving languidly to the music - well aware of the spark of their jewellery and the sway of their finery - enjoying the freedom and anonymity that the masks they were wearing granted them. The villa was both their playground and battlefield, a safe haven to explore their desires and fight their fears. And the garden, with its wild containment, mirrored that beautifully. Tall cypress trees created a semi-circular border between the inner wasteland of the villa and the outer world. It was isolating and all-encompassing all at once - a world created from nothing and serving no one, except maybe its owners, the notorious Airds.
Therese knew little about the couple. It was their parties that were becoming rather infamous in certain social circles that Therese only recently got a glimpse into. And it was proving to be quite the education. It wasn't until she started working for the Agency that Therese discovered there was an entire class of people she never knew or heard about. The incredibly wealthy and influential who preferred to stay out of the limelight and pull the strings out of the shadows. Working hard and playing even harder, tucked away safely from the public eye. An entire microcosmos filled with debauchery, extravagance and indulgence, constant partying and dulling or heightening of the senses. A life that revolved around a constant hunger that never really went away, that was never fully sated, only just briefly forgotten at events like this one. It was something that frightened Therese, this slow revelation that you could have everything you ever wanted and still be eternally dissatisfied. But it also intrigued her, unleashing something new inside of her, making her question her own hidden desires and ignored longings.
She was stirred from her reverie by a tap on the shoulder. She turned to see Mr. Aird's assistant Genevieve looking at her intently. She was wearing a black lace mask that covered the upper part of her face, accentuating it rather than concealing it. Her bright green eyes shining behind it.
"Excuse me Miss Belivet, they are ready for you." Genevieve said in a low, husky voice looking at Therese expectantly. "If you would like to follow me, I'll take you through."
Therese smiled at the composed woman before her, wondering for a brief moment if this was just her work facade or was she always this cool. She remembered her own PA days and felt sympathy for her. Her own work facade looked a lot like this one, it hid a stressed, over-worked woman beneath. Working as an assistant was never easy, especially if your boss was someone as powerful as Harge Aird was rumoured to be. Or as difficult.
"Of course. Just let me finish my drink. And please call me Therese." She answered regarding Genevieve more closely. "Why don't you join me?"
The question made the pretty black-haired woman look directly at Therese, surprise registering briefly on her face. "Just for a second. I promise I won't tell." added Therese with a wink.
Genevieve shifted on her feet, casting a quick glance across her shoulder. She looked back at Therese with a playful gleam in her eyes that confirmed her suspicions. The interior seemed a little less cool after all.
"Maybe a really quick one." Genevieve answered, moving to sit next to Therese, her long black dress brushing softly against Therese's knees.
Once seated she turned graciously to wave the bartender over. "Four shots of Patrón please."
Therese's smile grew wider. "Quick and painful."
Genevieve looked at her with a captivating smirk. "You will be thanking me soon enough. Look at it as a blissful mist that will descend onto this entire evening and its proceedings."
Therese laughed, but shifted a bit uncomfortably in her seat. There was something about Genevieve's comment that made her feel nervous.
She reached for the small wooden platter with the salt and lemon slices that the bartender placed in front of them. She licked the small expanse of skin between her thumb and index finger and placed the salt on it, taking the lemon with the same thumb and finger. She reached for the shot with her other hand, looking towards Genevieve for a toast, but was met with the same intent look that was on her face when she first approached her. Only this time Genevieve didn't look away as quickly, somewhat frozen. It made Therese shudder somewhere deep inside.
She raised her glass slightly. "To the blissful mist."
That seemed to rouse Genevieve from her trance and she reached for her shot, a small blush creeping up her neck. "To the mist." She responded in a low voice, downing the shot and regaining her composure quickly.
Therese followed, feeling the familiar burn spread from her throat all the way down to her stomach, warming her deliciously. As she set the glass back on the bar she noticed a small engraving on its bottom: HA.
"He loves to mark his things. It's done very subtly, but you can always tell what belongs to him. Or what he believes belongs to him." Genevieve said, answering her question before Therese had the chance to ask it.
There was an edge to Genevieve's voice as she said it and Therese could see a troubled look in her eyes. She has seen that look before. There where a few times she even recognised it in her own mirror.
She reached forward and placed her hand on Genevieve's forearm, squeezing it gently. "You must admit it's funny how his initials spell HA. It's like everything he marks laughs back at him."
Genevieve looked up with a small smile. "I guess he didn't really think that one through. He doesn't really do funny."
"Well, you know what they say." Therese remarked as she picked her second shot, placing another one in front of Genevieve. "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
Genevieve finally laughed at that, the troubled look gone from her eyes, alcohol already coursing through her veins, lowering her inhibitions. She turned fully towards Therese and raised her glass.
"Fuck 'em." she responded in that low timbre of hers that resonated through Therese unexpectedly.
They clinked glasses and downed their second shot quickly (and rather bravely). Therese could hear her blood starting to hum in her ears, a sure sign she was slowly reaching her limit. However, she didn't mind, it seemed like a limitless kind of night.
"Have you met her yet?" asked Genevieve suddenly.
"Met who?" responded Therese, still a bit distracted by the hum in her ears.
"His wife. The woman you're photographing for tonight."
"Oh... No. I haven't. To be honest, this entire evening is a bit of a mystery to me. I'm not really sure what my next shoot entails exactly." responded Therese honestly.
"You mean you don't know what you're photographing tonight?" asked Genevieve with a frown.
"Not really, no. The assignment is to take photos of the party and then do another photoshoot later. This is actually my first time covering an event like this one, so..."
She looked to Genevieve as she said that, registering the devilish grin that started to spread on her face, making her pause and start again, a little more agitated.
"Why? Do you know what the shoot will be?"
"Well... I have an idea. Although with her you can never really know. She tends to keep you guessing." Genevieve continued with a soft glint in her eyes. "You really have no idea who they are, do you?"
Therese looked down a bit embarrassed. When she first started her job at the Agency a few months ago, she immediately noticed her contract having so many sections dealing with privacy clauses that she instantly decided to inquire as little as possible about her photoshoots. Not to mention the obligatory NDA's she had to sign before every single job. She simply didn't want to know anything about her clients beforehand, out of sheer terror that she might unwittingly reveal something to someone.
She was seriously questioning that decision right now.
Genevieve continued on, not really giving her a chance to respond, her tongue now completely untied by the second tequila shot. "That may be for the better actually. The only thing you should understand about these parties is that they are a contest of sorts. The more shocking the better. And although everybody thinks it's the Airds proving their dominance over their friends and rivals, it's actually them proving dominance over one another. So whatever you do, do not get lured into it."
Her statement was met with an incredulous look from Therese, who for a moment was snapped out of her own embarrassment into wondering what the hell has she gotten herself into.
"Why would I get lured into it?" she asked tentatively.
Genevieve paused, an uncertain look in her eyes, weighing whether she revealed too much already. However, Patrón nudged her a little bit further.
"Just. Be careful. As I said, with her you can never know."
Therese felt a shiver run straight through her, settling deep in her stomach.
Genevieve reached out and squeezed her hand reassuringly, trying for a more light-hearted tone. "Sorry, I'm just rambling over here, freaking you out for no reason. Just go in, do your job and get out. I'm sure you'll be fine." She finished with a sweet, albeit not so credulous, smile.
"Gee thanks, it doesn't sound at all like your feeding me to the lions right now." Therese remarked sarcastically, although a small smile played on her lips.
Genevieve laughed softly, waving the bartender over once again. "One more before heading to the den?"