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Authors: Louise Bagshawe

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BOOK: A Kept Woman
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‘Right. Half an hour it is,’ Ernie Foxton said, as warmly as he could manage.

The phone clicked dead. Michael gazed down at his

 


 

burger. It sure looked good. He was really going to enjoy it.

 

‘So what do you think?’ Diana asked Claire Bryant.

Claire nodded. The newly laid terrace garden was beautiful. ‘I adore it,’ she said simply. ‘Another triumph for you.’

Claire was the latest in the long lines of New York wives and fianc4es to come calling, and Diana was playing the polite hostess to perfection. Claire was an heiress herself and had recently become engaged to Josh Salzburg, the young Internet-stock king. She was unfailingly good natured, well dressed, and interesting, but, Diana reflected, there was something about Claire that made her just a bit uneasy. Claire was interested in local politics; Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani duking it out in New “York, that sort of thing. The race for the White House just made Diana yawn. Plus, Claire actually read the Wall Street Journal and dabbled in stocks. True, she wasn’t a workaholic; Diana loathed those hard-edged New York women, the type of go-getting American girl who just made her feel bad, and she only had them over to her apartment on extreme sufferance. Sometimes the wives of Ernie’s top executives fell into that career-girl category, and then, to her annoyance, Diana just couldn’t cut them. But Claire Bryant still seemed full of excess energy. Diana had invited her out to the shopping excursions, spas and Broadway matinees she attended regularly with Jodie, Natasha and Felicity, but Claire was busy half the time. Busy! What did that mean? Diana wondered. Sure, Claire had a little interior design business, but Diana just thought of that as another toy, something to occupy her while Josh went out and made the real money. Why couldn’t Claire just relax with the rest of the girls?

‘You know, you really do have a flair for design. You

 

could work in that area. Why don’t you consider it?’ Claire pressed, setting down her Limoges cup.

‘I simply don’t have the time, darling,’ Diana said, a little defensively. Claire always made her feel that way. ‘Let me show you out. Give my love to Josh.’

‘I will.’ Claire kissed her warmly. ‘Say hi to Ernie.’ When Claire had gone, Diana gazed out at the terrace of her apartment and congratulated herself. Really, Central Park West was the place to be. The view over the leafy greens and blue splash of water was very soothing, such a necessary contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. Actually, though, she thought she was fitting in rather well.

It was easy for an Englishwoman to make a splash in New York society. First, there was the accent, of course, that had never hurt anybody. Diana found it conferred cachet as soon as she opened her mouth. And she thought she was very popular among all the young New York wives … she was something of a rarity, in that her husband was not in his late forties or early fifties and on the ‘third model already. She liked to dress a little unusually, too. Most of these ladies had abandoned the big hair and shoulder pads of the eighties, but they were still stuck on that social X-ray thing … if the scale showed a hundred and fifteen pounds they screamed and went on a diet. And they were slaves to fashion.

Diana dressed differently. She had her own personal style which didn’t pay attention .to what the designers had in the stores. She loved to show off her firm curves and wear court heels. Diana eschewed the itsybitsy skirt and the designer sport-styled anoraks and went for a 94os look. Pure classic. Tight skirts which hugged the firm curve of her bottom, neat jackets that sliced down to her small waist over her larger bust, a softly waving, sheeny-shiny Veronica Lake haircut. Of course, there were some concessions to the Natty Zuckerman set;

 

Diana went blonde at Oribe’s, and had her brows done weekly at John Barrett. Crisp white shirts were her trademark, along with a dinner-party menu that had nothing fat-free on it - unless you counted vintage ‘champagne. At first she had raised some brows, sure. But when the husbands started to flirt, the wives started to take notes.

Soon her proper little twin sets and neat, tweedy skirts were the talk of the gossip columns. She was a regular in Liz Smith’s column and Heidi Kirsche’s page, always photographed in make-up by Chanel, with a little tote, or a subtle clutch evening bag in the sweetest designer gowns - long, always long.

She dressed like a princess and acted like one too. In a matter of months, she had become one of the most courted wives on the luncheon circuit. And as she fondly thought; the most popular. Her latest triumph was to redo the terrace. Surely Ernie would be thrilled. It would be a perfect surprise. Jodie Goodfriend had put her wise to that delightful Westches ter gardening specialist, who, for a price, would make house calls. And a few measly thousand later, she was looking at an instant garden - a leafy oasis of potted orange trees, entire beds of moss dotted with large balls of stone, terracotta urns stuffed with exotic grasses and shrubs, and delicate .silver bells strung between the branches. Instant topiary hedges carved into balls and arches covered the entrance, and the clever little gardening man had promised her he would install some climbing ivy and wisteria next wek.

Idly Diana flipped through her diary and looked for a space. She wanted two or three girlfriends over to enjoy this masterpiece. If it was a sunny day, they could have a wonderful girly, gossipy lunch, under her orange tree in full blossom.

Her phone buzzed and she reached for it. Ernie h/d

 

53

 

had extensions installed in every room in the place so that

she wouldn’t have to dive for the receiver.

‘Darling. It’s me.’

Diana beamed. How nice, he was calling to check in on her. His gestures of affection had waned a little of late.

‘I have such a marvellous surprise for you, sweetheart.

 

‘I’m sure it’ll be fantastic, Di.’ Ernie’s common East End accent was showing through. It grated on her. She also knew it was a sure sign that something was seriously bothering him; Ernie downplayed his origins to the best of his ability. ‘Look, I need you here. Got to put a little dog-and-pony show together for someone.’

‘But I’ve got a manicure at three. It takes for ever to get an appointment with Marcus,’ Diana said, disappointed.

He was snappy. ‘I really couldn’t care less. Get over here, would you?’

‘Who is this horrible man?’

Diana wanted to stamp her foot. It had taken her two weeks to get a slot with Marcus and this was her first time. Most likely he would take umbrage and not see her for a month now. And all the girls were going to him. Except her.

‘Horrible is right. He’s a little idiot. But we want to land him. So be a good girl, and get yourself in a cab, all right?’ her husband said, and hung up.

Diana stamped her foot. Blast it. She dialled Marcus’s number and prepared to grovel. Meanwhile, she decided that Ernie could be a royal pain in the arse. And who was the odious guy cutting into her alone time?

I hate him already, Diana thought.

 

54

Chapter 7

Michael relaxed into his chair. It was hard, but extremely comfortable, obviously custom made for Ernie’s office. Not the kind of furniture he’d have picked himself. He didn’t like showy, curvy chairs. For Michael Cicero a chair was just there to be sat on, not to be noticed. This little ergonomic number was just too accommodating, he might get drowsy on the job and that would not be acceptable.

Toda}, however, he permitted himself to enjoy it. Today he was being worked on, not the other vcay round.

Ernie Foxton was standing in front of him, concluding his presentation. The enthusiasm the Blakely’s people had shown for Green Eggs Books was amazing. It made him feel like John Grisham, or something. He was taken aback by how badly they wanted to get into bed with him. Janet Jensen, the dark, intense little woman, and Peter Davits who seemed smart, had given him the hard sell for thirty minutes apiece. Janet’s department was enthusiastic about children’s literature and talked movingly about the lack of intelligent stuff for little kids to sink their teeth into. Peter Davits calculated that they could bring the company up millibns of dollars in net worth in almost record time. His pitch was tough to resist, too. There was streamlined distribution, with a new fleet and a hungry sales force, apparently the best in the business. Ernie told him about booksellers and the global reach and mission Of Blakely’s.

In summary, they were telling him he could be the next

 

55

 

Beatrix Potter. Amazing for children, and a multi million-dollar industry at the same time.

‘You have to go with us, Michael,’ Ernie Foxton said. His voice dripped sincerity. It was rough, and Michael recognised him as the limey equivalent of blue-collar made good. ‘It’ll be something new for New York. For America. Kids deserve this kind of book, and not just the lucky few who live round here. It’s time to go professional and stop fucking about. Don’t you think so? Excuse me, ladies.’

‘Yeah, I guess I do. I’m really flattered you show so

much interest in the company,’ Michael said, carefully. Ernie gave him a warm grin.

‘Not interest, mate, passion. Passion for books. Passion for quality.’

‘I need to think it over a little and discuss it with my advisers.’

Ernie fought back a snort of laughter. His advisers? Right, like this little prick had advisers. Instead, he tossed him an oily smile.

‘Don’t take too long, all right? We truly believe Green Eggs is the firm for us, but the chairman is keen to buy something - if it isn’t you it’ll be somebody else. I don’t have the leeway I would like.’

‘But the company?’ Cicero asked, bluntly. Ernie noted the square, stubborn set of the man’s jaw, and swallowed. The thickly muscled body made him nervous and ill at ease, and Michael was some schlep, some years younger than Ernie and over a million bucks poorer. He detested the way Cicero looked at him as though they were equals. Didn’t he know who Ernie Foxton was?

‘Not buy the company’ - that was a slip of the tongue, and Foxton chided himself- ‘buy ourselves a partnership. Think about this. All the other houses offered you a salary. We are offering you partnership, because we believe in you.’

 

56

 

Michael hesitated. He loved passion. The figures sounded good. Was it a smart move to turn down a winning lottery ticket? That’s what this sounded like.

Ernie shook his head. ‘No pressure right away. I’ll send ‘the suits back to the grind’ - he flashed his troops a

charming smile - ‘and you can come out with me and my wife. We’re a personal firm, here. Blakely’s cares who it deals with.’

‘Sounds good.’ Cicero extended a ridiculously firm handshake to Ernie.

‘Great. Great.’ Damn it, Ernie thought, I got him. And in about three months I’ll have the firm, too. Once this arrogant little bastard’s taught us all we need to know. ‘Diana’s actually got a table for me over at the Russian Tea Room. Come along and have a drink.’

‘Sounds very good.’ Michael relaxed.

 

The waiter deferentially ushered them to one of the choicest banquettes in the house, and Michael tried to ignore all the rubbernecking businessmen who were leaning out from their tables and staring at Ernie and himself. He understood that they were trying to figure out who he was.

You haven’t seen me before, he thought, thrilled, but soon each and every one of you will know who I am.

‘You can’t let business encroach on your pleasure time,’ Ernie said genially. Michael couldn’t have disagreed more, but kept silent. The guy was making a lot of

money. He must know what-he was doing.

‘There she is.’

Ernie waved at a female walking towards them. ‘My wife, Diana Foxton.’

‘Excuse me, darling, I was just freshening up,’ she said. She leaned forwards and kissed the air at the side of her husband’s cheeks. ‘And who’s this?’

‘Michael Cicero. A new business associate of ours. ‘At

 

57

 

least, I hope so,’ Ernie said. ‘You’ll thank me for introducing you, Diana, it’s somebody your own age to talk to.’

Michael stared at her. He knew he was staring, but he found it hard to stop. There was something so wonderfully, vibrantly beautiful about the girl.., was it the arch of her slightly thick brows, the daring comfort of the tiny, perfect little sweater that draped over those stunningly sexy breasts, that tilted upwards at him, almost aggressively … or could it be the sweet blue eyes and lusciously shining platinum hair, that he longed to dive into, just breathing in the clean scent of her shampoo? She smelled of baby powder layered over the sweet breath of perfume from her skin.

‘Delighted, Mr Cicero. Or can I call you Michael?’ Diana smiled charmingly at the rude boy who was staring at her. Honestly, did Americans have no manners at all? She extended one hand in a delicate, wellbred gesture.

Cicero shook it. His handshake was firm and dry. Thee was a lot of power in his grip. He was a big, coarse sort of man, Diana decided. Look at those muscles; he must lift an awful lot of weights. She rarely met men of this sort; they made her edgy. Cicero’s dark eyes and fighter’s nose were too much, altogether. He was bristling with testosterone. It was strange to see a man with a body like that in a suit. Surely his natural job would be as an extra in some Hollywood action flick, possibly starring Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger? He was shorter than Ernie, but so much stockier. And why were his eyes raking over her tights and shoes? Was there a run in them, or something?

Diana resisted the urge to look down and Check. Why give him the satisfaction? Anyway, who cared what he thought? A man like this would not appreciate the finer points of fashion.

 

58

 

‘Michael, please, Mrs Foxton,’ he said.

The voice was deep, too, Diana thought, and coarse. He was probably another working-class boy made good, much like her husband. Oh, well, it didn’t do to be snobby. But he was so young for Ernie to be applying a full court press.

BOOK: A Kept Woman
10.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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