"There's someone I need you to meet."
"Don't tell me," I said with an inward groan. "A girl."
"A young architect."
"Who happens to be female."
"How did you guess?" Luis said. His smile was wicked.
"I know you, Luis," I said. "Is this why Jennifer's out of town with the kids?"
"Aren't they always?"
Luis had confessed to me once his belief in the superior force of certain women, partners who would inspire him in work and to whom he could devote himself in worship, preferably of the sort that went on between the sheets. This figure of the museconveniently for Luis, or maybe notpresented herself to him in the shape of someone new every couple of years or so, and when he was around such women his stubborn dreaminess exploded into production. He took from them the black magic of their will; in return, he offered devotion, dedication, submission. Sometimes they swallowed him in marriage. On other occasions they would abandon him and he would languish. What can I say? Luis was a romantic, a character type I didn't completely understand and wholly despised.
"She's saving me," Luis said, hugging me tight so that I felt his sweat, and the reek of gin and eau de cologne rocketed up my nostrils. "She's been asking about you. In a way that almost makes me jealous."
And so, before I could protest, he introduced me to Mallory Walker.
I was a big-time architect, a man of the world, a cynic, adept at maneuver and compromise. Ideals and grand plans had no place in my life. I was scrambling always to get ahead, working always to make the process look smooth. I fancied that I knew about people, what made them tick and the noises they made. In my experience, money and power made things go, caused the squeals of delight and fear, the squawks, the base grunts of satisfied desire. In a more elegant way, or so I liked to think, I was driven by ambition. Maybe I was blinded by it, too. I'd risen high fast, and in my professional and social lives I tended to meet only people as jaded and unimpressable as myself. I was unprepared for an encounter with a woman whose motives were so pure she might have been a saintor a devil. And so, for a long time, I got Mallory Walker all wrong. I should have been terrified. Instead, I scarcely paid attention as she strode toward us from the other side of the pool.
My first impressions were of a cool hand and a firm, bony handshake. A slender figure in blue linen and flat heels. A lean face with hair cropped short and bleached blond, almost silvery in color. Full lips, nose slightly upturned. An impression of impudence, of life. Her eyes were a pale gray-green, and powerful, of startling clarity; she looked at me as though she knew my every secret.
"Pleased to meet you," she said, as simply as that. Her voice was clear and clipped, with no identifiable accent.
From The Devil's Wind by Richard Raynor. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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