Natalie Stuart Nevsky, an American old money banker, has co-founded a successful fur fashion company with her husband, Russian businessman Wallace Nevsky. At a fashion show for the company, her husband is murdered by a mysterious woman who just mutters "traitor" in Russian as she shoot him, then slips away into the crowd.
This has left their company in hard times, since some stockholders and competitors think Natalie can't run the business on her own, and are already making moves for a takeover. Natalie's best hope is to finish some deals Wallace set up in the USSR. Yet she soon finds out Wallace was not merely involved in business there. He was part of a web of conspiracies, the betrayal of which is why he was killed.
This work provides examples of:
- Auction: Some scenes take place in auctions for fur pelts. There is one in Russia where Natalie convinces a fellow furrier to by a particular lot of lynx skins since that is where she hid the tape recording of the conspiracy.
- Batman Gambit: When the USSR deal with Natalie's company is finalized, it explicitly notes it involves founding a "Soviet Fur Industry", as a way to minimize dissent, since speaking out against it would mean speaking out against the good of the people.
- Celebrity Endorsement: In-Universe Natalie hires Diana Darbee, an actress in a successful Show Within a Show soap opera, to appear in ads for the company.
- Celebrity Resemblance: Natalie's friends tell her that she resembles a brunette Cybill Shepherd. When putting on a disguise that covers most of her face, she starts to see what they mean.
- Clothing Switch: To evade the KGB, Natalie goes into a bar and exchanges her Russian lynx coat with a lady wearing a less expensive, but less conspicuous, fur coat.
- The Coup: There is shadow group in the USSR called "The Millionaires", and they are not happy with Gorbachev's reforms and plan to overthrow the government. Wallace had evidence against them, and that was why he was killed.
- Covers Always Lie: Downplayed, in that the lady on the cover is wearing a white mink coat, and Natalie's most worn coat is white lynx, which is stated to be on another level of luxury above mink.
- Distracted by the Luxury: A variation. Natalie puts on her lynx coat before heading out for the day, and then finishing a meeting with her company's board. They haven't seen her wear a coat that grand before, so Natalie manages to get an aura of power for it and gets them to agree to some of her demands.
- Fashion Show: The story starts on a show being held on a yacht Wallace had bought years before. Natalie first sees Wallace's soon to be killer there, thinking for a moment she would be one of the models.
- Foreshadowing: When Natalie is about to leave a department store, she sets off the alarm. Security guards think Natalie is shoplifting, but she doesn't have anything with a security tag on it. She later realizes that the magnetic audio threads in her fur coat were setting the alarms off.
- Hastily Hidden MacGuffin: Downplayed. In the last third, Natalie discovers that her husband was murdered because he had tapes of a conspiracy in the USSR to overthrow Gorbachev's government. He hid the recordings on magnetic thread within a Russian lynx coat he bought Natalie. After she finds it she then hides the tape within one of the pelts in a fur auction, so the KGB doesn't find it, but she nearly loses it when she's outbid at the auction, and has to convince a business associate to buy the lot.
- MacGuffin: The tapes Wallace made of The Millionaires's meetings got him and several other people killed, while setting off the events that sent Natalie to the USSR to save her company, and eventually overthrow the conspiracy.
- Naked in Mink: At the USSR fur auction, Diana drapes a bunch of Russian lynx pelts around her mostly naked body, to give Natalie's company a publicity boost.
- Never Trust a Title: The main character is widowed in the first chapter, but the "of Desire" part makes this seem more like a romance story than its actual genre.
- Old Money: Natalie, her circle of friends, and her company's demographic are all women from rich families. Natalie even notes that her customers like to believe their families go as far back as the Mayflower (though she doesn't boast that much; her Scottish Presbyterian ancestors had their own boat). Even the advertising campaign shows not just modern women in mink coats but their possible ancestors also in tasteful furs.
- Pretty in Mink: The main character runs a fur business, so much of the book is about the industry and fashion of fur. Despite how much of the book it takes up, the fur aspect seems incidental to the Russian intrigue plot until it turns out Wallace hid the evidence of the conspiracy in the white lynx coat he gave Natalie.
- The Reveal: The book has several.
- Natalie learns that the lynx coat Wallace gave her was originally made for Luba, one of his contacts in Russia. It wasn't due to an affair but that Wallace his the evidence in that coat, switched Luba's coat with an identical one, and sent the other coat to his wife to sneak it through customs.
- A doctor in Russia gives Natalie a physical and tells her that she's pregnant.
- Shout-Out: When Natalie shows Diana her Russian Lynx coat, she lets the amazed actress try it on. Diana compares the luxurious feeling to Scrooge McDuck diving into his money bin.
- Someone to Remember Him By: Natalie later learns that she was already carrying Wallace's child before he was killed. She has a healthy boy.
- Up Marketing: Natalie names the company "Cotillion Furs", to appeal to her customers who were mostly conservative old money career women.
- Wealthy Yacht Owner: Wallace's yacht is where the book starts, as he and Natalie hold a fashion show there.
- When the yacht is repossessed, Natalie realizes things are worse for the company than she thought.