Authors: Lisa Marie Rice
Yet she was beautiful, because the artist saw her as beautiful. A specific woman, the very epitome of a female workhorse, the kind that held the world together with her labor. Drake had seen that woman in the thousands, toiling in fields around the world, sweeping the streets of Moscow.
All the sorrow and strength of the human race was right there, in her sloping shoulders and tired eyes.
The door behind him chimed as someone entered the gallery.
Feinstein straightened, his smile broadened. “And here’s the artist herself.” He looked at Drake, dressed in his poor clothes. “Take your time and enjoy the paintings,” he said gently.
Drake smelled her before he saw her. A fresh smell, like spring and sunshine, not a perfume. Completely out of place in the fumes of midtown Manhattan. His first thought was,
No woman can live up to that smell.
“Hello, Harold,” he heard a woman’s voice say behind him. “I brought some india-ink drawings. I thought you might like to look at them. And I finished the waterfront. Stayed up all night to do it.” The voice was soft, utterly female, with a smile in it.
His second thought was,
No woman can live up to that voice.
The voice was soft, melodic, seeming to hit him like a note on a tuning fork, reverberating through him so strongly he actually had to concentrate on the words.
Drake turned—and stared.
His entire body froze. He found himself completely incapable of moving for a heartbeat—two—until he managed to shake himself from his paralysis by sheer force of will.
Something—some atavistic survival instinct dwelling deep in his DNA—made him turn away so she wouldn’t see him full face, but he had excellent peripheral vision and he watched intently as the woman—Grace—opened a big portfolio carrier and started laying out heavy sheets of paper, setting them out precisely on a huge glass table. Then she brought out what looked like a spool of 10-inch-wide paper from her purse.
Goddamn. The woman was…exquisite. More than beautiful. Beautiful was nothing nowadays. Beauty—the crassest kind possible—could be easily bought. Americans could afford the best of everything. Girls grew up with good nutrition, good dentists, good plastic surgeons, good hairdressers, good dermatologists. It seemed that all of them had good teeth, healthy hair, clear skin. All of that was nothing.
She wasn’t very tall, but had long lines to her. Long legs, long neck, long, supple fingers. She moved easily and well, more with the light grace of a dancer than the strength of an athlete. Her shoulder-length hair looked as if it had just been washed, but not by a hairdresser. Washed and left to dry in the air. There was no perfection to it, except for its glossiness and the color—an amalgam of copper-bronze and light brown. She moved into a ceiling spotlight and her hair came alive, a sunburst of shiny colors.
She was smiling at Feinstein but there was a melancholy air there, a sadness, as if she’d seen into the heart of the world many times and found it cold and black.
Drake recognized that look. He saw it in the mirror every morning.
She was unadorned—no makeup, no jewelry, no fancy clothes. But that was as it should be, because she was almost extravagantly beautiful. Any jewelry would simply distract the eye from the porcelain skin; green-blue eyes; high, perfect cheekbones; full, serious mouth.
Cool air, a bell ringing. Three people walked into the gallery, two men and a woman. They were immediately drawn to the artwork up on the walls, planting themselves in front of the paintings making
They made wonderful cover.
Circling slowly, making no noise whatsoever, Drake drifted until he was in the direct line of sight of what Grace was showing the gallery owner, flipping through the papers.
Miracles. That’s what she was showing the owner. Goddamned fucking miracles, each and every one.
Drawings of just about everything under the sun. The woman seemed to draw everything that came into her line of sight, and then, as if the world weren’t enough for her imagination, there were some fantasies, like the carefully rendered dragon on a hilltop, as finely drawn as any Chinese classic.
Two small boys in Central Park. A cop on horseback, back erect, eyes straight ahead, ready for anything. A hot-dog vendor looking to the side with a slight smile on his face. Overblown roses in a crystal vase, a petal caught just as it fell…one by one she laid them out for Feinstein, who examined them carefully, his face giving nothing away, though if Drake owned the gallery, he’d have been hopping with joy just before pulling out the checkbook.
That wasn’t the way business was done, no one knew that better than Drake. You play it cool and always underbid. Never show your hand. Never let emotions interfere with a business transaction. But this art was way outside any rules governing commerce.
It was magic.
But there was more to come.
She gave one end of the big spool to Feinstein, then started walking backward, unrolling it, smiling as Feinstein’s eyes widened.
Neither of them was paying him any attention, so Drake let himself take a good look, forgetting to breathe for a second.
They were unspooling the Manhattan coastline, rendered in architectural detail in black ink. On and on and on the spool unrolled, each stroke of each building precise, perfect. He recognized every inch of the work and could even see his own building. Just the last floor was visible, the penthouse, where he lived. Rendered in perfect detail. He’d never seen anything like it.
Had she spent months on a boat, at anchor, drawing? What was remarkable was the fineness of the strokes, without one mistake.
She stopped unrolling the spool and held it by the end. It was at least twelve feet in length, each detail perfect.
The three newcomers gathered along the strip, oohing and aahing, walking slowly along it, eyes glued to the miniature coastline, pointing out familiar buildings.
Feinstein pulled the strip more tightly so they could see better and Drake nearly had a heart attack. Fuck, a little more pressure, the paper would rip, and something irreplaceably precious would be lost.
Drake barely stopped himself from attacking the gallery owner. He had to consciously freeze his muscles and hope Feinstein understood enough to pull with only enough power to pick up the slack and not rip the strip apart.
Otherwise Drake would rip
Where had that thought come from? The man was portly, elderly, with the soft mottled hands of the old. An art gallery owner, for Christ’s sake. Drake didn’t attack civilians and he certainly wouldn’t attack an elderly gentleman, particularly not one who’d been instinctively kind and was this remarkable artist’s friend.
But still. For a second there, when he thought that miracle strip of paper was going to be ruined, he could feel his hands closing around the man’s neck, dewlap and all. He wouldn’t have lasted a second. Drake had known how to snap a man’s neck since he was ten and he’d only gotten better with the years.
The trio was shuffling along the strip, pointing out landmarks, excitement in their voices.
“Franco,” the woman drawled, her red-painted lips pursing at the final O, “this would look just divine in your studio, wouldn’t it? All along the yellow wall.”
Franco shook his head admiringly. “I’d frame it simply, not to distract from the clean lines.
Drake clamped his lips together tightly or he’d have shouted the words.
They reverberated in his chest, rolling around like huge granite stones, pinging off his rib cage.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d desired something this intensely.
He’d been rich for a long, long time now. There was nothing material he couldn’t buy. Nothing. He’d even been offered his own country, a minute island. More a speck of land barely rising above the water, really, but still.
He owned an entire skyscraper in Manhattan, plus villas scattered around the world. He had expensive planes, expensive cars, expensive clothes, expensive women, though lately he’d been off sex.
It had been years since he’d felt that burning in his chest that meant he coveted something. In his childhood, it had flared particularly strongly in winter, when he wanted a warm room. And always when he caught the whiff of a restaurant and his empty stomach growled.
then. Ferociously. But that was a long time ago, another life ago.
So the intensity of this wanting took him completely aback, the echo of a child’s desperate need in a man’s mind.
Things shifted in his head, taking in this new, completely unexpected desire, making it fully his. At times, it was as if the very concept of desire had fled his life and he welcomed it back, a little gingerly. An old foe who had somehow morphed into a friend.
He looked around at the walls and knew that he had to have everything on them. Oils, watercolors, drawings. Everything. It all had to be his, there was no other way.
It would have to be done anonymously, through one of his many lawyers, using one of his shell companies.
He turned his head slightly, to where Grace Larsen was watching the three patrons and Feinstein, full lips slightly upturned. He had the distinct impression she didn’t smile much. Which he understood completely, because neither did he.
The gray winter clouds outside must have parted, because suddenly she was suffused with light, making her skin glow, picking out an incredible play of colors in her shiny hair. She stood in the center of the rectangle of light painted on the hardwood floor, as if on a stage.
Feinstein was starting to roll the strip up. He glanced over to her and said, in a quiet voice, “Well done, my dear. Bravo.”
Her head bowed just an instant, a knight accepting a king’s just praise.
roared in Drake’s head again, reverberating, nearly flooring him with surprise.
If it had been years and years since he’d wanted things, he had never wanted
Not specific people.
He didn’t have lovers, he had sex partners.
He didn’t have friends. He had employees.
He hired the best at what they did, paid them more than market price and let them do what they did best.
Women came and went, rarely staying in his life for more than a night or two. He didn’t pay for sex. He didn’t have to. The women who came to his bed understood very well what he could offer. A thank-you gift the next morning was always sent from Tiffany or Fendi or Armani, chosen in rotation.
Having one woman in his life—even if he’d wanted one, which he didn’t—would be insane.
He had his layers of security for a reason. He had enemies. Smart, ruthless enemies, some stretching back twenty years. A woman he cared about would have a huge bull’s-eye painted on her forehead, a fast and easy way to break through his defenses. She would be the softest target in his world.
There wasn’t a woman alive who would be willing to live beneath his heavy blanket of security, never being able to walk around, never being able to do her own shopping, not even allowed to go for a walk, because he sure as hell would never allow his woman to be a target.
And what would be the point of being able to buy all the clothes and jewelry you wanted if you could never be seen in them?
Not to mention the possibility of children.
God, just the idea of having a child made him break out in a sweat. He’d seen too many children die violent deaths. He’d go insane if there were a child of his somewhere out in this cold and violent world, a target for someone bent on vengeance.
So occasional safe—very safe—sex with occasional partners was as close as he ever got to another human. He had very little recollection of the women who’d trooped through his bed. If he closed his eyes, he could remember little details. A mole on the underside of a breast. A shaved pubis. Pretty knees. An artistic tattoo. That kind of thing.
That was it, though. The women the details had been attached to—gone. He couldn’t remember their names or their voices. He could barely remember their faces even right after fucking them.
But he remembered
face. Oh, yes. Every detail.
Everything about her was so perfect. Just…perfect. Large eyes the color of the sea, hair that seemed to have a thousand colors in its glossy depths, pale, perfect skin.
And an air of melancholy over all that.
She bewitched him. She didn’t know of his existence, but hers filled his life in an instant.
Grace Larsen was indeed her name, and she came to the Feinstein Gallery every other Tuesday afternoon, as Drake found out soon enough. When he got home he made it his business to know everything about her. So every other Tuesday afternoon, Drake was there, too. In an alleyway, in the shadows, hidden and alone, watching through a small window that only gave him a narrow view of the gallery and that afforded him only isolated snatches of Grace.