Authors: Eileen Goudge
ranny paced the lobby of the Sherry Netherland Hotel, waiting for Keith Holloway to appear. She was curious to meet him. From their conversations on the phone and what she’d read of his book so far, he seemed an interesting guy, one who’d seen his share of the dark side of humanity yet who hadn’t lost his sense of humor. Would he be any different in person? With some of her authors, the person was a far cry from the persona. Like Linus Munson, the bestselling horror novelist with his many phobias, or the almost pathologically shy Beth Hubbard, who wrote sexy historical romances under the pen name Amanda Breckenridge. The evening would be a long one if Keith turned out to be as boring as his depiction of the seventies rock-and-roll scene was thrilling.
An elevator slid open and an attractive, thirtyish man dressed in jeans and a blazer stepped out. He spotted her and walked over. “You must be Franny. Hi, I’m Keith.”
“You look different from your photo,” she said, shaking his hand. Handsomer was what she’d meant.
“Usually when someone tells me that, I associate it with a bad blind date,” he said, smiling down at her. He was tall, over six feet, and well-built in a natural, outdoorsy sort of way, his face tanned, except for the paler squint lines that radiated from the corners of his brown eyes.
Franny laughed. “I’ve had my share of those, too.”
Keith apologized for being late, explaining that his flight had been delayed and that he’d only just checked in.
“No problem. I made the reservation for eight-thirty to give us extra time,” she told him as they started toward the exit.
Over dinner in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons, she gave him an idea of what to expect at tomorrow morning’s meeting with the publisher. “You’ll love Eric. I couldn’t have chosen a better editor for you. Did I tell you he used to work for
? And don’t mind Gretchen. She’ll talk your ear off, but she really knows her stuff when it comes to marketing. The main thing is, they’re all really excited about this book. They have high hopes for it.”
“There’s a new wrinkle.” He dropped his voice. “Have you talked to Stevie?”
Franny nodded. “I know about her and Grant, if that’s what you mean.”
“Who else knows?”
“Only a couple of other people. She wants to keep it under wraps for now. I don’t have to tell you that the press would be all over this. The last thing she needs is to have paparazzi trailing her everywhere she goes.”
“This thing with Lauren Rose could complicate the situation, though,” he pointed out. “If she ends up pressing charges, Stevie could be visiting Grant behind bars.”
“She seems to think he’s innocent,” Franny said.
Keith sipped his wine thoughtfully, looking out over the well-oiled machine that was the Grill Room at peak dining hour, its waitstaff gliding about with maximum efficiency without seeming to hurry, bearing meals under silver domes that would arrive piping hot at the tables. “Let’s just say there’s no real evidence that he isn’t. On the other hand, from everything I’ve heard, he’s an odd guy. Even Stevie says so. And it’s common knowledge he had a drinking problem at one time.”
“Do you think he still does?”
“All I know is that he checked into Sierra Tucson a few months after the whole thing with Lauren went down,” he told her. “Whether or not he’s stayed sober, nobody seems to know.”
“You don’t think Stevie’s in any danger, do you?” Franny felt a flutter of unease at the thought.
“From what she’s told me, I doubt it. Though it could be hard on her emotionally, if she finds out he’s lying.”
“She’s tough. She can handle it.”
“You’ve known her awhile, I gather,” Keith remarked, taking a bite of his duck confit.
“Since college. We met at a rally.” Franny smiled at the memory. It was an antiapartheid rally, back when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and there’d been this one girl with shocking red hair and wrists jangling with bracelets who’d shouted louder than all the rest, waving her placard like a broadsword when the police showed up.
He asked where they’d gone to college, and that led to a discussion about her career. He was a good listener, and better yet he seemed to get her somewhat morbid sense of humor. Before long, it started to feel more like a date than a business dinner. Certainly if this
been a blind date, Franny wouldn’t have been silently cursing whoever had fixed her up. He was, in fact, exactly the kind of guy she always hoped the strangers she occasionally flirted with online would turn out to be but never were. Intelligent, considerate, and good-looking enough to make her wish she’d worn something sexier than the conservative business suit she had on.
“What about you?” she asked. “What made you decide to go into the news business?”
“Easy,” he said. “I sucked at playing guitar.”
She smiled at him. “So you weren’t kidding when you said you dreamed of becoming a rock-and-roll star?”
“I did more than dream. I actually had my own band. The Neon Conspiracy.” He made a face. “Pretty terrible, I know. Needless to say, our big break never came. All we ever did was play local gigs.” Franny thought she saw a touch of regret in his smile, even after all these years.
“Don’t feel bad. I once took tap-dance lessons, but couldn’t keep from tripping over my own feet,” she confided.
“My uncle was the general manager of a small cable station at the time,” he went on. “I started working there after school, carrying coffee and running errands, that kind of thing. In college, when I was trying to decide on a major, I chose communications because it was the only subject I knew anything about. I never looked back. Until just recently.”
“What made you decide to write a book?”
“I guess it’s my way of living out that old fantasy,” he said.
“Do you ever miss the action?” she asked, recalling the few times she’d visited Stevie in the newsroom; its frenetic pace made publishing look sleepy in comparison.
He shrugged. “Once in a while, when there’s breaking news. But I don’t miss the hours. Now I get up with the sun every morning, whereas before all I did was occasionally come up for air.”
“I know what you mean. I never used to go anywhere without a manuscript,” she told him. She’d read on planes, in restaurants while waiting for her lunch date, even on the john. “Then one day it hit me that if I didn’t slow down, I’d end up an old lady with nothing to show for my life except a bunch of dedications in books collecting dust on a shelf.”
“Realizing it is one thing,” he said. “The hard part is making a change.”
“For me, it was more a question of my biological clock deciding for me.” She felt her cheeks warm. She hadn’t meant to get so personal.
“Meaning you’re carrying something other than manuscripts these days?” he guessed, his eyes twinkling.
Franny nodded, feeling the warmth in her cheeks spread. “I’m due in February.”
“Congratulations.” He lifted his wineglass. “You and your husband must be thrilled.”
“No husband. It’s just me.”
“Then you’re one step ahead of me. Looks like I’ll have to wait until I’m married.”
“Any prospects?” Franny kept her voice casual.
“At the moment, no.” He held her gaze a beat longer than normal. “I was pretty serious about this one woman awhile back. The trouble was, I was working so many hours, I was never around long enough to be any kind of a husband, much less have kids.”
“So you want kids?”
“I come from a big family, so, yeah, I’ve always wanted one of my own,” he said, as if there were nothing unusual about it.
Is this guy for
real? Franny wondered. She felt her pulse quicken. It was all she could do to remind herself that this was
not a date.
After dinner they strolled along Park Avenue, where the daffodils and tulips along the meridian had given way to bright clusters of impatiens. When Keith gave her his arm as they were crossing the street, it seemed only natural that she hang on to it once they’d reached the curb.
At his hotel, she found herself reluctant to part from him. Only the thought of tomorrow’s meeting kept her from taking him up on it when he suggested they continue their conversation in the bar. If she didn’t get to bed soon, she told him, she’d be no good the next day. Even so, back at her apartment, she had trouble getting to sleep. In place of the tiredness that dragged at her these days, she felt energized, her mind playing over every detail of the evening with Keith. Had she only imagined that he seemed interested in her, too? And what if he were? It would be unprofessional of her to date one of her authors. Awkward, too, considering her present condition. Not to mention the fact that he lived four thousand miles away. Nonetheless, when she at last drifted off, she was counting frequent-flier miles instead of sheep.
The meeting the following morning went well. Everyone was as charmed by Keith as she had been. They discussed a marketing plan, which would include a book tour and major media appearances. The fact that Keith was an old hand at TV wasn’t lost on Gretchen Hensler, the marketing director, who was like a kid with a new toy. At lunch, she sat next to him, adopting a proprietary air that caused he and Franny, at one point, to exchange a knowing smile. She’d be even more excited, Franny thought, when Keith revealed the juicy tidbit he was keeping mum about until Stevie gave him the green light.
He and Franny had dinner again that night, at a little bistro near his hotel, where this time he insisted on treating her. Afterward, back at the hotel, he invited her up to his room for a nightcap. Franny knew what she was letting herself in for, unless she’d misread the signals, and as she rode up with him in the elevator, she felt something rising in her as well. Something she hadn’t felt in a long time: hope.
She was standing at the picture window in his room, taking in the nighttime view of Manhattan twinkling with a million lights, a view she never tired of however long she’d lived in this city—it represented everything she’d sought to achieve through the years, everything she’d longed for living in the cramped Brooklyn apartment she’d shared with her mother and Bobby—when Keith came up behind her, circling her with his arms. She could see his ghost image superimposed against hers in the darkened glass. Her breath stopped and for a moment she couldn’t move, then she turned slowly to face him. His eyes were shining with the city’s reflected glow as he leaned in to kiss her gently on the lips.
“I’ve been wanting to do that all night,” he murmured in her ear.
“That makes two of us.” She put her arms around his neck and leaned into him, kissing him back.
Before she knew it, they were on the bed, limbs tangled together, feverishly exploring each other with their hands and mouths. It was Keith who drew back first, his face flushed and his shirt untucked. “I hope you don’t think all I’m after is a one-night stand,” he croaked.
“Fat chance. Don’t forget, I still have a fifteen percent stake in you,” she quipped. “That is, if you still want me as your agent.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He wrapped a hank of her hair around his finger, using it to draw her in close. “The only question is whether or not we should expand on that theme.”
“What exactly did you have in mind?” Franny’s heart was wobbling strangely in her chest and she felt weak all over.
“How would you feel about a bicoastal relationship?” His mouth curved in a seductive little smile.
“I wouldn’t know,” she replied cautiously. “I’ve never been in one before.”
“I’m making another trip out next month. I’d like to see you again.”
“You’re really serious about this?” She drew back to eye him askance. In her experience, when a guy seemed too good to be true, it was usually the case.
“Why should it came as a surprise?”
“For one thing, I’m pregnant.”
“You thought I was just buttering you up when I said I love kids?” He nuzzled her neck, drawing little circles on her earlobe with the tip of his tongue.
“I’ll bet you say that to all the ladies.”
“Only the ones with a bun in the oven.”
“You really know how to sweet-talk a girl,” she said with a laugh.
“I mean it.” His tone turned serious. “I want to see you again.”
Franny hesitated a moment before replying. Not because she had reservations. She was merely reflecting on the irony of this happening after she’d pretty much given up hope of ever meeting anyone. Why now, when she’d be shopping for maternity clothes, not sexy lingerie?
But if Keith was game, then so was she.
Breaking into a grin, she said, “You’re on, mister.”
on’t look so tense.” Jay nudged Emerson playfully with his elbow. “It’s a perfume launch, not an inaugural ball.”
“I look tense?” The thought made Emerson even more anxious. This wasn’t just
perfume launch. It was for one of Jay’s biggest accounts.
“A little,” he said, in a way that meant a lot.
“What I want to know is why
so relaxed.” She brushed a piece of lint from his lapel.
He grinned. “Easy. I hired you to do all the worrying for me.”
“Well, at least you know you’re getting your money’s worth.”
She did a quick survey of the restaurant. Le Epiphinie’s gilded rotunda and Swarovski crystal chandelier glittered, and posters of the Sheer ad mounted on foam core, showing a model dressed in the barest shimmer of silk and holding a finger to her lips, with the caption,
I WON’T TELL, IF YOU DON’T
, were everywhere she looked. On the flat-screen TV over the bar, the Sheer TV commercial ran on a continuous loop, and in the dining area waiters circulated trays of drinks and canapés while models passed out perfume samples.
The place was packed, with more people arriving every minute. Better yet, the press was here in force. Emerson had made sure of that by inviting names worthy of being mentioned in Page Six, prevailing on the ones with whom she had personal relationships.
Across the room, she spotted Louisa Upchurch chatting with Dana Greenway, the buyer from Bergdorf’s. Emerson had known Louisa since she was a little girl, back when Marjorie had belonged to the Cosmopolitan Club. Yet the woman who used to fawn all over her mother at club functions and constantly seek out her advice, about everything from fashion to hired help, had stopped calling and visiting once word of Marjorie’s reduced circumstances had gotten around. It had been years since Marjorie had seen or heard from her or any of her other so-called friends, except for the handful who’d paid duty calls when she’d first become ill. Her only visitors these days were the few old college friends she’d kept up with, and only on the rare occasions when they were in town.
“I should go see how Vivienne’s doing,” Jay said, eyeing his wife, across the room.
From the crowd of fashionistas gathered around her, though, it didn’t appear Vivienne was in need of rescuing. She was the belle of the ball in a short gold halter dress with a plunging neckline that showed off her gloriously rounded figure. Even pregnant, she managed to make the working models around her look gawky by comparison.
As Jay made his way toward her, tall and handsome in his Armani suit, the buzz around him seemed to heighten, heads turning his way and people leaning in to each other to whisper, wearing admiring looks. He was the golden boy of the evening, the genius behind it all. Yet the one person who should have been most attentive was oblivious. But Vivienne had always been that way, Emerson reminded herself.
was used to being the center of attention. Even when other women flirted with Jay, she scarcely took notice. Emerson didn’t doubt she loved him, but it was a distracted kind of love.
Franny appeared at Emerson’s side just then, slightly out of breath from having battled her way through the crush by the entrance. “Sorry I’m late. I couldn’t find anything to wear.” She lifted her blouse to show off the fly on her black velvet jeans, held together with a large safety pin. “At this rate, in a few more weeks I won’t even be able to fit into my fat clothes.”
“Remember how big I was with Ainsley?” Emerson recalled. “I felt like the white whale in
“The most elegant whale on Park Avenue,” Franny assured her, turning to scan the crowd. “Have you seen Jay?”
“He was here a minute ago,” Emerson said as her gaze strayed to the TV screen over the bar, on which a naked woman was climbing out of bed, wrapped only in a satin bedsheet. “What do you think of his ad? Is that sexy, or what?”
“It’s been so long since I had sex, I wouldn’t know,” Franny said with a mock sigh.
“What about your hottie in L.A.?” Emerson arched a brow.
Franny broke into a grin. “We’re breaking bicoastal records for dirty e-mails.”
“When do you see him again?”
“He’s flying out in a couple of weeks.”
Emerson wondered if Jay had been apprised of this new development and how he’d feel about another man’s raising his child, if things got serious between Keith and Franny. She started to ask about it, but just then she spotted Ivana Trump, making an entrance worthy of Mae West, swathed in blond mink that matched her signature upsweep. Excusing herself, Emerson quickly headed off in that direction.
Once she’d made certain that Ivana had been photographed with all the VIPs, she stopped to have a word with her assistant, Julie, stationed near the entrance checking names against the guest list as latecomers trickled in. Most of the A-listers who’d RSVPed had arrived, Emerson was pleased to note, and for the first time all evening, she allowed herself to relax a bit. She’d done her job. Now Jay could simply bask in the glow of his success.
She made it through the rest of the evening on autopilot. No one would have guessed her mind was elsewhere. She chatted with the right people, and made certain no photo op was missed. She sang Jay’s praises to the Jacques-Bênoit execs (though it was obvious she was preaching to the converted). Finally, when she was satisfied that everything was under control, she slipped away as the party was winding down, leaving Julie to take care of any last little things that needed to be attended to.
Outside, she hailed a taxi. As the cab slalomed its way up Park Avenue toward her mother’s, she told herself she was merely being a good daughter, but she knew it was just an excuse. The fact was, she’d been dropping by a lot lately, often at night when she was reasonably sure her mother was asleep and she’d have Reggie all to herself. They’d sit and talk, and she’d tell him about her day while sipping the one whiskey and soda she allowed herself at the end of a hard night’s work, and he in turn would fill her in on what was happening in school or recount some anecdote about Marjorie that made her seem more charmingly eccentric than difficult.
She just hoped her mother didn’t become suspicious. Marjorie liked him well enough, but if she saw him as an obstacle to her goal of finding a suitable second husband for her daughter, he’d be gone as soon as she could think of an excuse to get rid of him. She still hadn’t given up on the idea of Ed Stancliff upstairs as her future son-in-law. Emerson shuddered at the thought, pushing it aside to concentrate instead on the image of Reggie greeting her at the door when she arrived, his smile like a porch light left on, drawing her in from the dark.
“You know, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of parties as work.” With a sigh, Emerson slipped off her high heels and propped her aching feet on the ottoman in front of her. “When I was growing up, it seemed like my mother was always entertaining. I spent my girlhood dodging wet glasses and funny uncles. And here I am all these years later, doing just that.”
“At least you’re getting paid for it,” Reggie observed with a smile. He was seated on the sofa across the room, one arm hooked over the back in a way that outlined its muscled contours.
“True,” she acknowledged, wincing as she massaged her instep. “Though I can think of easier ways to make a living.”
“Would you choose differently, if you had to do it all over again?” he asked.
She settled back in her chair, thoughtfully sipping her drink. “Who knows? I used to like to sketch. Maybe I could’ve become an artist.”
“Perhaps you’ll have that satisfaction someday. When you see your daughter’s paintings in a museum,” he said, his smile broadening.
“Wouldn’t that be something,” she said, warming at the thought. They were in the small sitting room off the library, where the sound of their voices wouldn’t disturb Marjorie, who was asleep. “Whatever she ends up doing, I want it to be the thing that makes her happiest.”
He must have heard a note of wistfulness in her voice, for he asked, “And have
found such happiness?”
“Let’s just say spin-doctoring is what I was born and bred to do.” She paused, wondering whether or not to go on. In past conversations, she’d only alluded to her childhood. But the hour was late, and the whiskey and soda, along with Reggie’s soothing presence, had loosened her tongue. She found herself explaining, “I was brought up to believe I’d been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It wasn’t until after my dad died that I found out we were broke. Oh, sure there was always money for a new dress or a chair at some society fund-raiser, but not enough to pay the bills or even to tip the doormen at Christmas-time.” She felt the old shame well up in her even now, recalling the times she’d had to look the other way to avoid meeting Nacario’s eyes. Though he’d never treated Marjorie any less courteously from those who tipped him handsomely.
Reggie nodded, taking it all in with a thoughtful expression. “Where I come from, being poor is nothing to hide,” he said. “Not that you could keep your neighbors from knowing just how many goats you had or how good your crop was that year,” he added, with a chuckle.
“Believe me, we’d have been better off if the only thing we’d had to worry about was goats.” She indulged in a laugh, feeling lighter somehow.
With her ex-husband she’d been a chameleon, weaving herself into the fabric of Brigg’s life as she had into her mother’s as a child, only belatedly waking up to the realization that he loved her for precisely that reason: because she was a reflection of him. But with Reggie, there was no pretense; she could just be herself. She found that more reassuring somehow than all of Briggs’s wealth.
She regarded him now, the way the room’s shadows brought out the slanting angles of his cheekbones and the way the lamplight on his skin made it gleam like polished teak. She wished there was some way of closing the gap between them. She wanted to feel him beside her, the heat of his body pressed up against hers. The thought caused her cheeks to warm and she had to avert her gaze so he wouldn’t guess what was on her mind.
They talked about other things, Reggie making her forget her troubles with his tales about his own family and the conflicts that occasionally arose from too many people all under one roof—sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and cousins, trooping in and out all day, bringing eggs from their hens, a basket of freshly dug yams, or the latest tidbit of gossip.
“How often do you get to see them?” Emerson asked.
“Not often enough to suit my mother. She is busy making plans for when I am home for good,” he said, with a bemused shake of his head. “She even has a wife picked out for me.”
Emerson felt a little inner jolt. “Someone you know?”
He nodded. “My cousin’s wife’s sister. Her name is Patience.”
“And is she? Patient, I mean.” Emerson tried to make light of it, but inside a lump of dread was forming.
He eyed her uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then understanding sank in and his face relaxed in a smile. “It’s not what you think. We e-mail each other, but we’re just friends. My mother will be disappointed when she learns her intended daughter-in-law is secretly engaged to another man.”
Emerson grinned, a little too broadly. “She and my mom have something in common.” She told him about Marjorie’s trying to fix her up with Ed Stancliffe. “She’s determined to see me remarried before she…” She caught herself, and went on, “While she’s still around to make sure it’s someone who won’t get me banished from the
Reggie didn’t know what that was, so she explained, blushing a little, about the directory that was updated every year, with all the names of the socially prominent, and how when a blue blood married outside the ranks, he or she was automatically deleted. She was quick to add, “It’s pure nonsense, of course. I never took it seriously.”
“It’s the same everywhere,” he said with a shrug. “Even in my village, it’s all about who your grandfather and great-grandfather were.”
“My mother used to love to boast about her son-in-law,” she said. “Me? I didn’t give a damn that he could trace his family all the way back to the
Looking back, I think the main reason I married Briggs was to get away from my mother.”
“Did it work?” he asked with one eyebrow cocked, as if he already knew the answer.
“You can see for yourself.” She sighed, gesturing around her. “Just when I think I’ve gained some ground, she finds a way to reel me back in again.” She dropped her gaze, embarrassed by the admission. “I guess that makes me sound pretty weak.”
“Strength often lies in one’s ability to bend,” he said softly.
She looked up at him, smiling a little. “How did you get to be so smart?”
“From listening to
mother.” He held her gaze, his green-gold eyes bright amid the shadows. “So this Mr. Stancliffe, is there any hope for him?” He cast a meaningful glance up at the ceiling.
Emerson laughed. “Not as long as I have any say in it.” Was it her imagination that Reggie looked relieved? “Anyway, I’m not sure I want to get married again. Divorce has a way of curing you of your ideals.”
“Perhaps it is only that you haven’t met the right person,” he said in a quiet voice, giving her a look that was like a current of electricity crackling between them.
She saw now, in his frank gaze, that whatever she was feeling, Reggie was feeling it, too. The knowledge brought a sudden lick of flame from the glowing coal at her center.
Not knowing how to handle it—she’d never been in a situation quite like this—she turned her gaze to the window, looking out at the traffic backed up along Park Avenue, like strings of Christmas lights. After a moment she heard the creak of footsteps and when she looked up, Reggie was standing over her. He smiled and held out his hand, and in that instant he might have been asking her to dance. The heat in her belly bloomed, spreading through her, and in some distant part of her mind she could almost hear the music. But then she realized he was only offering to freshen her drink.