"Um, well," she said nervously, finding herself embarrassed again. "Not exactly, but I'm not very tall, so perhaps after I walk around a bit I might see someone," she suggested.
He smiled warmly, easing her tension a bit. "Well, let's look together. I'd hate to leave you to fend for yourself in an onslaught of strangers."
"Oh, no, you really don't-"
"I insist. After all, it would be rude to leave my guest unattended and lonely." His tone was dry, causing Candace to wonder over his sincerity, but his expression appeared genuine. She relented, and together they made rounds in the room.
After some time, the man had introduced her to no less than nine professionals in her field whose work she personally admired, but her thoughts had gradually become so preoccupied with him instead that she had already forgotten most of the conversations. At one point, she'd learned his name – René Grayson. At another point, she'd learned his occupation. Then, at the most confusing point, she'd learned he knew something about her that she did not.
"But, I haven't written a paper on that topic yet," she refuted.
He paused a moment, looking as though he was gathering his thoughts. "You've written similar things," he rebutted.
"Maybe, say, similar in the topic, but I've only recently drawn that conclusion. I barely know it myself."
"Perhaps I'm conflating several papers into one."
"Or, perhaps you've invited the wrong person, and a different author should be in my place."
"That's not possible. Your beauty could not be confused for anyone's but your own."
Taken aback by the unexpected compliment, Candace struggled with an appropriate response. In a way, she felt cheated of the honor she'd thought she had at being at a social event among the best in her field. She'd taken the liberty of thinking she'd been invited on merit due to her last publication and this event being sponsored by that same journal. Now feeling silly, she wondered for a moment whether there was still time to meet up with her roommate for karaoke.
"If...if you were interested in my appearance, you didn't have to pretend to be interested in my work, you know. I mean, I appreciate the opportunity in being here-"
"Can't I be interested in both? You have beauty, yes, but you also have a brilliant mind. They both shine, and I have been drawn to your light."
She'd been too nervous to really take in his own appearance, aside from his eyes. His figure intimidated her a bit, although she couldn't quite figure why and assumed the entire situation's newness was culprit. There was that along with some odd remarks he'd made to others during their tour around the room. He'd not only been familiar with work she hadn't yet published, but he had suggested that her research might take her in a direction she hadn't thought about since early undergrad.
As Candace was mustering up the courage to confront him on all the oddities, an announcement was made that dinner was ready upstairs. René led the way towards the grand staircase they'd passed at the front of the house to the second-floor walkway. Dining tables had been set up along the balcony which ran along the inner circumference of the house.
The seating arrangements placed them together at a table near the back. Although surrounded by at least a hundred people, it felt secluded and somewhat romantic. The two men who were also assigned to their table excused themselves to continue a conversation from cocktail hour with colleagues at another table, and René seemed pleased to have her alone.
"I have a confession to make," he came out bluntly once the men had left.
Candace smiled in response. "Please, do go on." He must have noticed her perplexed expression each time he'd made exaggerated claims about her work earlier.