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 him apart.
Whoa. 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.”
“Si, cara.” Franco shook his head admiringly. “I’d frame it simply, not to distract from the clean lines. A giorno.”
No! Mine! 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.
How he’d wanted 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.
The word mine 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 people. 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.