***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Joseph Finder
A perfect May night in Chicago, warm but not quite balmy. A soft breeze coming in off the lake, carrying with it the faint murmurings of traffic from Michigan Avenue twenty floors below. Juliana was sitting alone on one end of a couch on the Peninsula's rooftop terrace, still wearing her conference lanyard, still wired from the speech she had given two hours earlier. She'd delivered a talk on the rules of evidence in front of five hundred people, and it had gone really well. She tended to be self-critical, but she also knew when she'd hit a home run. "Rules of evidence" wasn't exactly a sexy topic, but she had her own take on it, and people seemed to respond.
She'd just had a drink with six fellow attendees, all judges from Indiana, and she was talked out. Mostly she'd been the center of attention, which was flattering for a while, and then exhausting. For now, she wanted to sit by herself-not in her room, with CNN keeping her company, but out here on the terrace in the refreshing breeze off Lake Michigan. Be in her own head. She dropped her lanyard on the glass-topped coffee table and scanned an array of magazines fanned out in front of her. One caught her eye-a travel magazine with a cover story about Spain-and she started leafing through it, keeping one eye out for a server.
But she was still wired. Another drink? She almost never did that. One drink, that was her limit.
Her mother, Rosalind, had been a drinker. Rosalind never drank at work, but at night and particularly on the weekends she drank too much. When Juliana was twelve, Rosalind had taught her how to make a "pitcher of martinis," she called it, as if martinis were discrete entities with a shape and form, like eggs, and you could count how many were in the pitcher if you looked really hard.
So Juliana generally did what her mother couldn't: stopped at just one drink. But tonight she was wired and thought: What the hell. She waved over a server and was about to order another Sancerre when she changed her mind once again and ordered a Pellegrino and lime. She went back to her magazine-"The Unknown Mallorca," the piece promised. She felt someone's eyes on her, and she glanced up; when she saw nobody looking her way, she felt a little silly. Too much time in the spotlight, she told herself with a laugh. Having delusions of grandeur. Black Robe disease.
Juliana Brody was in her early forties, but as her mother liked to say immodestly, she had good genes. She looked younger. Rosalind had been beautiful. Juliana had long ago accepted the fact that she hadn't inherited her mother's looks, but she had her cheekbones and jawline, and the gray-blue eyes. And the russet hair-actually, L'Oreal called it "red brown." And then there was all the time Rosalind used to spend tending to her appearance, while Juliana couldn't be bothered.
Again she felt that strange sensation of being watched. She noticed a man in a charcoal suit making his way in her direction. He was tall, early thirties, with an olive complexion and wavy dark-blond hair that fell below his collar. She didn't recognize him. Maybe he was attending the legal conference too.
"Is this seat taken?" he asked. "Or am I interrupting?"
She gestured noncommittally to the chair by the couch. Her gaze could sometimes be stern and intimidating. "I'm not here for much longer, but help yourself."
Something about him gave off a slightly melancholy air, but he was a good-looking guy.
"Long day?" he asked.
She nodded. "And for you? Are you here with the law conference?"
"Venture capital. I think there are three conferences going on here this weekend." He paused, took in the magazine. "Planning a visit to Spain?"
"Looking at rentals in Costa Brava. In my dreams, mostly." She drained the last few drops of her seltzer.
"You should go for real."
"Oh, Spain is my favorite place on earth."
"I just got back from Mallorca a couple days ago."
She tipped her head. "Nice vacation."
"On business, but still nice."
She put down the magazine. "Never been to Mallorca. I hear it's beautiful but overrun by tourists like me."
"Not if you know where to go."
She put out her hand. "Juliana Brody."
He shook it firmly. His hand was dry and smooth, his nails neatly trimmed. "Mat'as Sanchez." Just the faintest accent.
"Argentine. Spanish and Argentinians, we're like cousins." He shrugged.
"But you know Mallorca."
"Quite well. I travel a lot."
"So where do I have to go in Mallorca to escape the crowds?"
He paused briefly. "The most spectacular sunset you'll ever see happens at Cap de Formentor. You've got to drive up a terrifying little winding road, but by the time you get there it's worth it."
"Oh, and there's this great little restaurant in the old town called La B-veda, nothing fancy, but their tapas are to die for. And you can have a drink nearby at Abaco, this fourteenth-century house filled with flowers and baskets of fruit. You tell them Mat'as Sanchez sent you, they'll take care of you right."
"Okay, I'm sold." She laughed lightly. "When it comes to Spain." She flushed. Then, to cover her embarrassment, she gestured for the server, who'd miraculously appeared. She held up her glass of ice and mineral water. "Another one of these?"
He ordered an Ardbeg, ten years old, on the rocks.
"You know what?" she said. "I think I'd like another Sancerre after all."
The waitress gave a quick double head nod, like a shore bird swallowing a bread crust, and strode off.
"I'm afraid I was staring at you before," Mat'as said. "It's just that you remind me of someone I used to know." He smiled again, a nice, frank smile. He had a sexy gap between his front teeth.
"It happens with me a lot," Juliana said. She used to remind some people of the movie actress Amy Adams. "Used to" being the operative phrase, she thought.
And then: Is this guy actually hitting on me? It had been a while since she'd felt that particular buzz. This fellow-Mat'as-was easily ten years younger. And unnervingly handsome, she had to admit.
This is exactly the kind of thing I don't do, she thought. Would never do. She wanted to say to the guy: You've got me all wrong. She'd say, If you knew anything about me, you'd know I'm not your "live in the moment" kinda gal. You are wasting your time, buddy.
He tilted his head as if assessing her anew. "Know what's weird? Up close you don't look anything like her. It's just- I can't put my finger on it, it's something in the way you hold yourself. A kind of self-confidence, or maybe it's elegance, or both."
She felt herself blush, asked a question to cover her embarrassment. "So who do I almost look like?"
"The woman I used to be married to."
"Oh, I see. Nothing quite like being compared to a person's ex."
The server put down their drinks. Mat'as averted his gaze. "It's not like that. . . ."
"I was only teasing. And anyway I'm sure you have a girl in your life already."
"I do. An amazing, beautiful girl. She's everything to me."
He pulled out his phone and swiped at it. She leaned in close to him and looked. An actual girl, a cute little blonde, maybe seven or eight, a gap-toothed smile, sitting in a rowboat. A red-and-white-striped T-shirt. Not what she expected.
She caught him watching her and smiled.
"She's a darling. Is she with her mother?"
"Her mother . . ." He looked away, put the phone back in his jacket's breast pocket. She noticed tears in his eyes.
"Hey," she said, touching his wrist. "I didn't mean to . . ."
"No, it's . . . We were swimming in Costa Rica, a place called Playa Hermosa, and she . . ." He compressed his lips. "She was a terrific swimmer, but the riptide was too strong, and by the time . . ." His face seemed briefly to crumple in on itself; then, just as quickly, he recovered.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I thought this part of it was behind me." He got up, bowing his head in apology. Juliana reached out a hand, caught his forearm, beseeching him to stay.
"Sit, please," she said. "How long . . . ?"
He picked up his drink, sipped, put it down. "Two years." He slowly sank into his chair. "I still can't really talk about it. I shouldn't have tried. I-I never do this. This isn't me."
"It's quite all right-Mat'as, is that right?"
"Yes. And-Juliana?" She nodded.
"I don't know you," he continued. "But I feel as if I do, that's the weird thing. Just something I saw when I looked at you. Don't ask me to explain."
"Okay, now you're going to have to explain."
"Well, I can try. You're beautiful, of course. But so many beautiful women have this icy reserve-they have to, it's how they protect themselves, keep guys out of their swim lane. But you-this is going to sound crazy. I saw a sense of a light inside you."
She blushed again, hoped it wasn't visible. "LED, I'm sure."
"You're making fun of me, and you should," he said, tipping his glass of Scotch toward her and taking a sip.
"No, I'm sorry, go on. What else did you see?"
Juliana reached for her wineglass, took a steadying sip. "Sure, why not?"
"I see a kind of . . . loneliness. Not by-yourself lonely. But lonely. Maybe because . . . well, didn't you say you're with the law conference? You are a lawyer? A judge?"
Juliana was momentarily speechless.
"I am so sorry," Mat'as said. "I swear I'm not normally like this. Let's blame the Ardbeg." He put his hand on hers briefly, and she felt the heat. "Four hours ago I killed a deal that looked great on paper until I met the management team. And I knew within two minutes these guys couldn't execute the plan. These were not the guys. Now, that's where my instincts are good."
She gave him a long look. "Maybe not just there," she said, and she took a good swig of the Sancerre.
They kissed leaning against the door to his suite. She could taste the single malt. She pulled back, took a breath. He smelled of wood smoke and leather. He found a tendril of her hair and ran his fingers under it, along her cheek. His eyes met hers for a moment. 'I wonder if you know how beautiful you are.'
She could feel the heat radiating off his body. "Tomorrow I'm flying off. Back to my life. This . . . this can't mean anything."
Something was happening inside her. Like a wave that suddenly, startlingly forms in a usually placid lake. A wave formed by that surprisingly good French Sancerre and some kind of reservoir of resentment at how goddamned predictable she'd become. Everybody knew she'd never do this. But shouldn't there be more to her than what everybody knew?
For just one night, she'd pretend to be that woman she's not. For just one night, she'd do what she never does. For just one night, she'd live a life that wasn't the one she'd so carefully mapped out.
Just one night.
He found his key card and the lock beeped open and he held the door.
The next afternoon, waiting for an Uber home from Logan Airport in Boston, she found herself in a reverie, replaying moments in her mind from the night before. She couldn't remember when she'd last been touched like that, by Duncan or by anyone else. It was as if he'd found her reset button; even now, her body hummed. At one point she had seen tears in his eyes, and she had wondered whether he was thinking of his late wife, making up for lost time.
Sitting on a corner of the king-size bed, she'd said, "I have a family."
"I understand," he'd replied, his voice gentle. "It can't happen again."
They were agreed.
She briefly wondered whether Duncan's "dalliance," as she thought of it, three years earlier, had played a role in her decision to go to Mat'as's hotel room. She didn't think so; she'd come to accept what had happened with him, and she wasn't a petty person. She didn't believe there was a balance sheet in a marriage, a ledger of rights and wrongs. In any case, the problems in their marriage, if she were being honest, were bigger than that one incident.
No, she had done something she'd never done before. She had taken a risk. She'd had a second drink. That wasn't her at all, that woman in the bar at the Peninsula. She was the A student, the obeyer of rules. Judge Juliana Brody: sensible, prudent, and cautious. Unlike her mother (and because of her mother, who lived in her own dream world), she had always been a planner, always been careful to put her foot right, choose the next step thoughtfully.
And then she had gone and done one single incautious, impetuous thing.
And was it so bad? It had been a lovely evening, actually. Maybe she needed to let go more often.
Now, an e-mail flashed her phone alive, and she glanced at it despite herself. The reality of daily life was beckoning, haranguing. Her Uber was arriving. She had a couple of texts too, a voice mail, and a shit-ton of e-mails to sort through.
An ordinary, prudent life to get back to. She greeted that prospect with some relief.