How could she not be absolutely intoxicated?
Right from the beginning, her soul was lost in those big brown eyes. He had an earnestness and a passion, one that almost made up for the cocksure attitude and that interminable American accent. His proposal was ludicrous, to sully her reputation by pairing it with his name, handsome wasn't going to cut it.
Then she saw his face when she sang. From that moment she was lost. All the applause and accolades in the world couldn't match the wonder shining from his eyes that night. It made her feel ten feet tall and all kinds of warm inside. She said yes that night, being whipped along on the whirlwind of his enthusiasm. His dreams were so enormous, and when he told her of how small it all started her respect for him only grew. Of course, she knew he had a wife, children, but when a man looked at you like that, some morals seem to matter a little less than they did before.
Prepping for the American tour was a whirlwind. Fittings and adjustments for not only her stage costume, but the much more important costume of what she would wear to the after parties, the celebrations with the elite echelons of American society. Here she had to dazzle them with her European sophistication, entice them with the heights of her arias, and then charm them with a wit forged from her humble beginnings. It was all a dance, the drumbeat of marketing, to bring the bodies to the seats, and Barnum was a master of it all. He coached her, talked her up and took her around, and every moment they spent together it felt like he was wooing her a little more.
Her Swedish morals protested the growing attraction to the married American, but the following weeks of travel in close proximity wore away at even that less-than-paltry protest. He was an engaging speaker, not just when he was promoting, but when it was just they two, tucked into close quarters on the train. He inspired her with his ever more elaborate ideas, charmed her with his intellectual discourse, and his assumption that she, a woman, was capable of matching it, and was generally both an endearing and a diverting companion.
With all that charisma focused on her, she couldn't help but fall deeper. She was a million miles from her home and everyone she had ever known, but she'd never felt less alone. That was the real draw of basking in his presence. When those whiskey eyes were on you, it was as if no one else in the entire world existed. She was drunk on the glitz, glamour, and the hyper focus of a man striving for the stars.
When they reached Cincinnati, she couldn't hold it in any longer. She planned the evening so carefully. Every detail of her outfit, her make up, her hair. She redid the entire thing a half dozen times, like some giddy schoolgirl with her first crush, rather than a posh and polished socialite and world-wide singing sensation. The champagne was chilled to just the right temperature, and she artistically draped herself over the sofa in time to be poised just right as he entered the room. It was worth it, as his eyes sought their way along the lines and curves of her form, shown to it's best light.
Demurely she swept her lashes down, barely peeking at him with that flash of green that men found so alluring, and this time she actually wanted it to have the effect. He halted mid-step, and she allowed the faint beginning of a satisfied smile to tilt the corners of her lips upward. In a graceful motion she swung her legs around, drawing attention to the silhouette of her backside as she tucked her ankles flush against the sofa, leaving room for Barnum to sit beside her. As she hoped, he took the place she had vacated for him, murmuring a pleasant gratitude as she handed him a flute of bubbly. Even the twang of the Americas was growing on her, it was just so inextricably... him.
She leaned in, letting the scent of him wash over her. He smelled of men's cologne, but not too strongly, of linen and leather, with a faint trace of coal from the train, but more, there was that spicy undertone that clung to him. Something foreign and forbidden and dangerous, that made her tilt her head, whisper-close so that their skin was almost touching. She could smell champagne and cigars on his breath, warm against the flesh of her lips, and she trembled, finally meeting his eyes full on.
He pulled away, leaving her confused, floundering. He stuttered out half-concocted excuses, staring at his hands, refusing to meet the gaze he had held so raptly countless times before. A frozen cyclone of despair cleaved right through her chest, years of rejection and clinging to the edges of a society that barely tolerated her howling like a storm inside her. The bitter taste of rejection like vomit under her tongue. What could she do? She lashed out, tears running hotly down her cheeks, tracking powder and make-up in rivulets that fell to leave tell-tale stains on the shoulders of her gown.
His apologies came lightning fast, followed by cajoling and justification, but the betrayal sunk deeper inside her, clawing at what little remained of her self-respect. He thought that her heartache would ruin him? She would show him ruination. She dug deep, wrapping herself around the pain he placed with her, icing over all the raw places. She was furious with him, furious at herself for believing that he would care for her, that she could be more than a distraction when he had his wealthy, well-bred wife at home. She flung all that blame out at him, reeling it back in at the onslaught of his reasoning. Saving it, stewing in the bitter, cold place that hollowed out inside her.
He had made a drunken fool of her, but she would destroy the one thing he cared for more deeply than the wealth that lined his pockets.