Lloyd was sitting alone at his desk.
"Great matchmaking, thanks," he glared, not inviting her to sit. Candice invited herself, sank into Lloyd's corporate sofa, maroon leather with padded seats. The caca sofa, as she and Sara called it. She tried not to calculate how many women Lloyd had schtupped on the caca sofa.
"I don't want Sara anywhere near that Conti asshole."
"Your language, Lloyd. It's slipping."
"Only in your presence, Candice."
She thought of her therapist's guidelines: ignore the baiting. No stooping. Chin up, hands off your face and hands. Eye contact. Candy fixed Lloyd, who sat strategically framed by grand skyscrapers. As if he had hand-picked them.
"What is your great solution then, Lloyd? Since you have so many."
"Simple. Unleash a cataclysm. The Contis will never know what hit them."
Candice sighed. "How is that supposed to help Sara?"
"She will sober up. She won't find him so interesting once he is worth less than her doorman. Let me handle this Candice."
"She's not drunk, Lloyd. She's in love."
"Same thing Candice."
"Incredible, that you can run a business of this size and still be so dumb. If Lapo has no money, what do you think Sara is going to do? Think. She will offer him hers, yours! The enemy here are not the Contis, Bianca is on our side. It's not Bianca you have to go after, it's that woman Lapo is obsessed with."
Lloyd was listening, she could tell from the look of glazed concentration on his face.
"You want Sara happy?" She went on. "Get Lapo back. Make that woman go away. Buy her off. How much can she possibly ask for?"
Lloyd's impish eyes betrayed a grudging admiration. It made Candice suddenly bold.
"Which one?" she turned to the glass pane, nodded at the rows of employees hunched over phones and laptops. "Which one is it you're fucking?"
On cue, there was a knock and a wisp of a girl, in a sheath the color of wet concrete, stepped in. She drew close to Lloyd's desk, waved a printout. Candice had time to absorb the details. White-blonde locks gathered in a loose ponytail. They were an affront those soft waves, made a mockery of Candice's painstakingly sculpted hair. And the strappy heels she wore--Malachite green with gold buckles. Lloyd made perfunctory introductions.
"Candice, this is...Irina."
"Irina Kchessinskaya," the pixie face corrected, extending a porcelain hand. Candice gave the hand a hard squeeze and felt something sharp press into her palm. She looked down and went woozy. A ring sparkled on Irina's finger, an exact copy of the engagement ring Lloyd had once given her. The one she still regularly removed from its velvet box and contemplated at night.
Candice was distantly conscious of Irina brazenly flashing her ring this way and that, and of herself, gaping at it. No, she decided, it can't be, he wouldn't go that far, and on more clear-headed inspection, she noticed that the ring, though similar, wasn't the same. This one was girlier, with pink-hued diamonds blooming around a white center-stone.
Irina smiled: "My hand, please."
Lloyd cleared his throat: "Irina and I...I was going to tell you, but--"
"But you didn't."
Irina leaned against Lloyd's desk. She managed to look in charge, yet exude extravagant femininity. Candice recalled Sara returning from a weekend with her father, talking about how Dad's new Russian doll had made grand claims that she came from aristocratic stock. Descendant of a Polish ballerina who had married into the Tsar's family, yada yada yada. Candice closed her eyes. Ballerina, my ass.
"You're developing a weakness for aristocrats in your old age Lloyd?"
Her ex-husband's expression turned wary. "Candice..."
She waved him off and addressed his fiancee: "Let me see your feet, Irina."
Lloyd's impish smile dried up. Candice knew the face he was making, slits instead of eyes, lips in lockdown. His battle face. Irina's eyes narrowed too, but in a kind of sly recognition.
"Of course," she said, and lightly slipped off her left sandal.
"Irina, why don't you go back to work," Lloyd's voice had a steely edge.
Irina slipped off the other sandal. "Not yet."
The three of them stared at Irina's bare feet on the dull beige of the carpet, her toe nails a shimmering pink that matched the flower diamonds on her hand. Candice, the consummate podiatrist, assessed Irina's feet.
"Walk, please" she instructed.
Lloyd rose from his chair. "Enough, Candice."
But Irina, unfazed, did as she was asked. She strode up and down, no doubt perfectly conscious that without heels, her legs looked shorter and her sheath resembled a loose sack. What of it, she seemed to say. I'm young. I'm half your age. I can take off my clothes and look immaculate and fuck him on this boring carpet right here. There was a sudden touch of the obscene in the way Irina's toes dug into the carpet, the way she paused and lazily rubbed one naked calf against the other.
Candice, the ultimate arbiter of New York City feet, poured years of authority into her voice and icily declared: "These are not aristocratic feet. These are run-of-the-mill proletarian feet."
Lloyd looked stumped. Irina's eyes went small, telegraphing bitchiness, then switched register. A smile widened her lips. Whatever Irina's initial impulse, she controlled it, slipped her sandals back on, cool smile etched on her face. That's what had hooked Lloyd, Candice realized. This woman shared Lloyd's infinite capacity to belittle.
"Candice?" Lloyd came roaring out from behind his desk. "What sick spectacle are you trying to make of yourself?"
Candice let her ex-husband berate her, while she did the thought experiment her therapist had recommended. She stripped Lloyd of his office, his suit, his millions. She imagined him pink and hairy, in bed with Irina. She pictured him hammering away at those wispy hips, licking the small breasts, dripping sweat and flaccid belly all over that marble skin. It was her turn to smile.
"Don't forget Irina," she said, turning to go," never look too eager. He doesn't like it."