Paul Caldwell, a successful architect who has returned to the university for a refresher course, is smitten by the vision of architect student Judith Parnell floating across the quad in front of the university library. She looks so pure, virtuous, and vulnerable that he determines to have and protect her—this despite his own promiscuous bisexual past. To win Judith, he has to woo her away from the architecture professor, Grace Stainer, who she is living with—and then try to keep her out of the clutches of clients after they marry and move to the California coast.
Refusing to see Judith as anywhere but atop the pedestal of purity and innocent vulnerability his mind has set her on, despite obvious signs to the contrary, Paul meets his greatest challenge. Paul’s own willingness to prostitute himself to career success leads him, through the aging movie star Gideon Draper, and Judith to being sucked into the hedonist world of his projected major California clients, the sexually predatory Cynthia and Thad Standall. Paul has career and marital decisions to make when he discovers that the Standalls not only are insatiable but also are not quite what they seem to be.
I closed my eyes, taking this kiss as only preliminary to one that would linger longer and be so much more satisfying. But no such kiss came. I heard her laugh and felt that her hands were no longer on my arms. The laugh sounded at some distance.
I opened my eyes to see that Judith had waltzed off several steps and was now standing in the light coming from the living room. She curtsied sweetly at me and gave another little laugh. “And now it’s time for me to go back to the group. I’d hate to find they had started in on dissecting the Seagram Building without me being that.”
She scampered inside like a wood nymph, and I found myself drawn back into the living room.
The students were beginning to leave now. I presumed that Pedro’s dissertation on Philip Johnson’s influence on the design of the Seagram Building and its Four Season Restaurant was being saved for another gathering. Judith was up in the kitchen speaking softly to Grace Stainer and then she disappeared down a hallway toward the back of the house. Grace came down into the living room. She was carrying the brandy bottle and took a moment to refresh my glass and to look up into my eyes and give a small smile and whisper, “You will be able to stay on for a bit, I hope,” before she turned and chatted with the other students as they slowly departed in twos and threes with polite thanks for the evening’s gathering.
When the other students were gone, Grace turned to me and took the not-yet-drained glass of brandy from my hand and put it on a glass-topped table and said, in a low, rich voice, “You’ve only seen the public rooms of this house design. Would you like to see the rest—the ‘inner sanctum’ areas?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. This didn’t put me on guard in the least; an architect is naturally curious about any unusual house design. She could have asked me if I wanted to see the crawl space under the house and how the piping was running and I would have quite genuinely said that was a divine idea.
As we moved down a hallway with a blank stone wall on one side and a fully plate-glass window wall on the other overlooking a narrow stretch of lawn with thickly planted pine trees beyond, Grace said, “You know, you have quite a reputation in New York. It’s why I was so pleased to learn that you were coming here for your refresher course.”
“Oh, is my work in New York coming into that much interest as far away as this? I haven’t really worked on all—”
“Oh, it’s not for your architectural work, Paul—although I’m sure that is quite nice too. But we’re here now. Let’s see what’s in this room.”
She opened the last door on the stone wall facing the glass one, leaving only one more closed door—at the base of the hallway. The room was dim from where I was standing in the doorway and was furnished in a minimalist Oriental style with paper-shaded lamps and a bold red and gold and black lacquer-look swirl of color on the back wall behind the queen-sized bed that hovered off the floor on an inset platform. Judith was lying on the bed, naked, her eyes on me as I stood in the doorway.
Grace Stainer nudged me forward a step into the room and murmured, “I’ll be just a few moments. Feel free to start without me,” and then clicked the door shut with her in the hallway and me standing, dumbfounded in the room.