Chapter 1 : The Valentine's Day Auction
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Bella was twenty-five, too damn old to be living at home and sneaking around to hide her unsuitable boyfriend. If she’d had a proper trust fund like other Pure-blood witches, she’d be in her own flat, doing whatever she pleased, whenever she pleased, but her family only had enough Galleons in the vault to support a single household in a befitting manner. If she wanted independence, she’d have to pay for it herself, something she wasn’t ready to do. The thought of employment—accountability, responsibility, boredom—was enough to drive her to drink. Thankfully, her lover, Gabe, owned a bar. She could see him and have a glass of Merlot at the same time.
The Friday before Valentine’s Day, after the bar closed and Bella and Gabe went upstairs to his flat, Gabe announced the unpleasant news that he was going to participate in a Valentine’s Day auction to raise money for the homeless. He charmingly confessed that he didn’t expect to rate that much money, but every little bit helped those in need.
Bella disagreed. He was tall, dark, and handsome. She thought he would raise loads of money. She would see to that, even if it benefited Muggle charities she couldn’t care less about. She would hex anyone that bid on him and she would take the prize home. First, a shopping trip was in order. Bella knew she could out-hex and outbid everyone there, but she wanted Gabe to know that he won the prize.
She went shopping the next afternoon in Muggle London. When Bella arrived at the fifth shop she had been in that day, she was tired and cranky. She hadn’t had a drink all afternoon and only her determination to buy the perfect dress kept her going. Ribbons and Lace Formalwear appeared in her line of vision just in time.
She found an outfit that almost seemed charmed to complement her long, slender legs and full breasts. The bottom layer consisted of a skintight, cherry red bodysuit. The front scooped scandalously low and there was more back exposed than there was fabric. Designed to tease but not show too much, an overskirt of red netting covered with lace the same shade as the bodysuit made a second layer.
Bella changed and handed her purchase over to be wrapped. A muttered Confundus Charm made the salesclerk think she’d paid, and Bella sauntered out considering her expedition a success.
A week later, Bella secretly found out the address of the auction. She wanted to surprise Gabe. The auction was at the Hoxton Hotel in the London art district of Shoreditch. She decided to take the underground to the Old Street Tube Station so she would be familiar with it when they took the train home.
Bella arrived at the hotel early. She sat at a side table close to the front. She didn’t want Gabe to see her until she put in the winning bid. She ordered a glass of champagne and waited for the auction to begin. As an extra precaution, she half hid her face behind her auction paddle, using it like a Japanese fan. Bella didn’t expect to be recognized here but she didn’t want to take any chances. While she waited, she didn’t talk to anyone else. No sense in getting friendly with the competition.
Finally, the auction started. The announcer, an anemic fellow named Edward, introduced each participant and gave a little spiel about their qualifications in an effort to incite the audience’s interest: solicitor, banker, and so on. Bella yawned through the first five participants. Borrrring! What is this? Parade of the pathetic? They all looked the same to her—around 6 feet, black suit, white shirt, blonde, pasty-faced. The bidding wasn’t too enthusiastic either. The top bids ranged from 239 to 250 pounds.
Gabe appeared as the sixth participant. He walked out to a piece by Mozart and casually strolled down the runway. Bella remembered the first time she saw him—the grace of a panther, long hair pulled back with a leather tie, lean and muscled, taller than most . . . Bella shook her head and came back to the present. The women in the audience were silent and then abuzz with excitement. Like the others, Gabe wore a black tuxedo suit, but he stood out from the crowd with a cherry red cummerbund and bowtie. Most Englishmen did not wear their hair that long. He had an exotic flair that invited attention.
Edward sensed that he had something everyone wanted. He became more elaborate in his introduction. “Our next participant is the famous artist from the United States of America—Gabriel Champagne. Many of you know him as Archangel. He owns and operates the art gallery, Angel’s Crossing.” Gabe paused in the center of the walkway when Edward said, “Stand right here, Gabriel. Let’s let the ladies have a look at you.” Gabe turned in a slow circle and smiled at the crowd. Bella did not like how much of a look the ladies were taking.
“Can I get a bid of 200 pounds to start?” Edward said. A short-statured redhead with long curls raised her paddle. “I’ve got 300,” cried the announcer. A brunette sitting three rows back from the stage raised the bid to 400. The redhead appeared to want to raise it even higher.
Bella decided to intervene. She opened her clutch and wrapped her fingers around her wand.
As the redhead stood up, the crowd heard a loud “PHHHT!” At first, exclamations were startled and then laughter swelled. No one in the staid British crowd expected to hear a loud fart. The people sitting around the redhead wrinkled their noses or fanned them as if offended by a strong odor. The redhead blushed furiously and sat down. She didn’t raise her paddle again.
“Ahem.” Edward cleared his throat. “All right, then. Let’s get back to bidding, or are we stopping at 400?” He picked up where they left off. Gabe remained in his spot on the stage.
A tiny blonde near the back decided to enter the fray. At her signal, Edward yelled, “I’ve got 450! Can I get 500?”
Bella raised her paddle. “500 from the dark-haired lady to the side! Can I get 600?”
The same brunette in the third row signaled Edward.
“I’ve got 600! Anyone else?”
Bella scanned the crowd. The blonde in the back looked like she was going to go higher. Bella decided to cause a diversion. She cast a silent Serpensortia in the blonde’s direction. The tiny woman shrieked, “Snake! Snake! There’s a snake under that chair,” as she tried to climb up on the chair she’d been sitting on. The women around her also screamed and jumped up, wildly looking around them for the offensive snake. With a loud crash the blonde fell through the delicate chair that was certainly not meant to stand on. She scrambled to get away from the snake. Just as suddenly, Bella cast Vipera Evanesca. The other women started to calm down and comments were flung at the blonde from every direction.
“Are you nutters?”
“There is no snake.”
“Are you seeing things?”
“I’d stop drinking if I were you.”
The blonde hurriedly gathered her belongings and ran out the door. Bella smirked and brushed imaginary dust off her dress. “You do see snakes when you’ve had too much to drink,” she explained to the woman sitting at a neighboring table.
“OK. Settle down, ladies,” Edward said. “There is no snake. Let’s pick up where we stopped. I have 600. Can I get 700?”
Bella lazily raised her paddle.
“I have 700! Any more? Going once! Going twice!”
The brunette raised her paddle.
Gods! How high is this going to go? Bella signaled.
“I have 800!” cried Edward.
Another redhead across the room from Bella raised her paddle.
Edward yelled, “900! Can I get AN. EVEN. THOUSAND!”
Hoping this would cinch the deal, Bella raised her paddle.
Edward became even more excited. “This will buy many warm meals for our homeless clients!”
But it wasn’t over yet. The brunette toward the front was very stubborn and her goal was in sight. She stood up to signal again. Bella decided to use a different sort of signal. She focused on the unsuspecting woman and cast Disreparo. As the brunette enthusiastically raised both arms, she and everyone around her heard a loud ripping noise. Realizing she was totally exposed and everyone could see her lacy pink undergarments, she quickly sat down, but not quite fast enough. Edward took her movements as a bid.
This is enough. I’m going in for the prize. Bella raised her paddle for what she hoped was the last time.
Edward screamed, “ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED POUNDS! GOING ONCE. GOING TWICE. SOLD TO THE LADY IN RED!” He started to applaud.
The audience members took up the applause and looked around the crowd to see who made such a large bid. Gabe looked stunned.
Bella hurriedly cast another spell in the direction of the brunette with pink knickers.
“Can we get that lucky lady up here on the stage to claim her prize? Come on up,” said Edward in his posh auctioneer’s voice.
Bella stood up and made her way to the catwalk. She watched Gabe to measure his reaction. His eyes widened as he recognized who had placed such a high bid on him. Bella winked at him and went to stand next to Edward.
“And here she is—the lucky lady in red. She even looks like a valentine,” Edward said. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
Bella pretended to be shy at the attention. She held her paddle partially over her face. “Bella.”
“Well, Miss Bella, what are your plans for this handsome young artist?” asked Edward.
“We’ll see,” Bella said. “The night’s still young. Come on, Archangel. Let’s see if you’re worth what I paid.” She smiled up at Gabe and hooked a finger under his bowtie, leading him off the stage. Gabe played along and let her lead.
In the wings, a charity representative approached. Bella told him, “The woman I was bidding against in the third row feels compelled to donate in my place. Absolutely insists. Do give her our thanks.”
She smirked at Gabe’s raised eyebrow and took his hand to navigate through the crowd and out the door. The silent hall became noisy again as there were four more participants left to bid on. The ladies were hopeful there were more like Gabe backstage.
Gabe and Bella strolled along holding hands. They made a striking couple, drawing the attention of others likewise walking down the street.
“Well, ‘sweetheart,’ what are your plans?” Gabe asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Bella gave him a seductive smile. “If I tell you it won’t be a surprise.” She thought of the penthouse suite another generous Muggle would pay for, the candlelit dinner for two, the champagne and rose petals. “Let’s just say you’ll have the best Valentine’s night ever.”
“Is that a promise?” Gabe asked.
She gave him a scorching kiss. “Absolutely.”