On the plane, he had been wearing cologne, something woody that she liked and he had told her was Russian. He loved the Russians, he said. Yes, he was an American, a southern boy, he joked, but he was descended from Russians and felt he still had a Russian soul. Pushkin. Eugene Onegin
. Something about the gleamings of an empty heart. The Russians poured money into his hedge fund, he beamed—and it was a beam, not a boast, it was so childlike—and the crazy oligarchs were like uncles to him. They were like teddy bears, not Russian bears, in his hands.
She couldn't smell the cologne now, and then she remembered showering with him. It was a large, elegant shower of black-and-white-striped marble, including a marble bench, where he had sat down and pulled her onto his lap as he washed her hair with that anise shampoo.
His name was Alexander Sokolov, and he was probably seven or eight years her junior: early thirties, she guessed. He liked to be called Alex because he said Al sounded too American. In a perfect world, he confessed, he would be called Alexander because that sounded Russian. But when he started work, his bosses had suggested he stick with Alex: it was internationally neutral, which was important given the amount of time he spent overseas. He had grown up in Virginia, though he had no trace of a southern accent at all, and lived now on Manhattan's Upper West Side, running a fund at Unisphere Asset Management. He was a math geek, which he said was the secret to his success and why his fund delivered the sorts of returns that kept everyone on both sides of the Atlantic so happy. It was evident that he enjoyed the work, though he insisted that in reality there were few things duller than managing other people's money, and so mostly he wanted to talk about what she did. Her war stories. He was utterly fascinated.
He had been in 2C on the flight to Dubai and he hadn't slept much on the plane—if at all. He had worked on his laptop, he had watched movies, and he had flirted with her. He had gotten to know her much better than she had gotten to know him. Before landing, they'd agreed they'd each take a catnap and then rendezvous for dinner. They were going to meet in his hotel lobby. They'd both known that dinner would be mere foreplay. She rolled his name over again in her
mind one more time before bracing herself to turn over and face the whitecap breakers of pain. To face him. One more time she thought of how much arak she had drunk last night. One hundred and twenty proof. The clear liquid becoming the color of watery milk once they added the ice. And then there was the vodka, the Stolichnaya his friend had brought later that night. She'd drunk arak before; she drank it whenever she flew into Beirut, Istanbul, or Dubai. But had she ever drunk this much? She told herself no, but she was kidding herself. She had. Of course she had. One of these days she was going to get busted by the airline; one of these days she was going to fly too close to the sun and fail a drug test, and that would be the beginning of the end. It would be the beginning of the end of everything. She would be following the trail her father had hewn, and she knew where that ended.
No, it wasn't her father's trail, precisely, because he was male and she was female. She knew the truth of men and women and booze: it rarely ended well for either gender, but it was the women who wound up raped.
She sighed. It was too bad the airline didn't fly into Riyadh. The hotel minibars in Saudi didn't even have alcohol. She'd have to wear an ankle-length abaya. She wouldn't be out alone, ever, so she wouldn't be out picking up men, ever. Meeting them in their hotel lobbies. Ever.
She thought she might have been fine right now if Alex hadn't taken that call from his friend and had them get dressed. The woman—and Cassie believed that her name was Miranda, but even if this hadn't been one of her blackout benders, her memory this morning was still pretty damn foggy—had phoned just after they'd emerged from the shower, clean and postcoital and still a little drunk, and said she was going to stop by the hotel room for a nightcap. Cassie thought
she was somehow involved in the hedge fund, too, and was going to be in the same meetings with Alex tomorrow. She may also have had something to do with Dubai real estate, but Cassie wasn't sure where she had gotten this idea.
When Miranda arrived at the suite, it was clear that she and Alex really had very little history together, and were actually meeting for the first time. And yet they had a past that transcended work: it seemed they had mutual friends and business connections in the construction that was everywhere in this science fiction-like city by the sea. She was his age, with dark almond eyes and deep auburn hair that she had pulled back into an impeccable French twist. She was wearing baggy black slacks and an elegant but modest red and black tunic. And she sure as hell could hold her booze. The three of them had sat in the suite's sumptuous living room for perhaps an hour, maybe a little longer, as they drained the vodka Miranda had brought. It crossed Cassie's mind that this was some sort of planned threesome, and while she wasn't about to initiate it herself, she knew she'd be game if either Alex or Miranda did. Something about the moment—the booze, the banter, the suite—had her aroused once again. Alex and Miranda were in chairs on opposite sides of that exquisite coffee table and she was alone on the couch, and somehow the fact that the three of them were a few feet apart made the moment feel even more heated. But, in the end, this wasn't about a threesome. Miranda left, giving both her and Alex only air kisses beside their cheeks before Alex shut the door behind her. Still, Miranda couldn't even have reached the elevator down some distant corridor before Alex was stripping off her clothes, then his, and they were making love again, this time in the bedroom on that magnificent king with the massive headboard that was shaped like an Arabian arch.