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Authors: Wendy Wax

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Magnolia Wednesdays

BOOK: Magnolia Wednesdays
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PRAISE FOR The Accidental Bestseller

“A beautiful book about loyalty, courage, and pursuing your dreams with a little help from your friends.”

—Karen White, author of
The Lost Hours

“A terrific story brimming with wit, warmth, and good humor. I loved it!”—Jane Porter, author of
Easy on the Eyes

“A wry, revealing tell-all about friendship and surviving the world of publishing.”

—Haywood Smith,
New York Times
bestselling author

“This was a truly enjoyable book . . . I will be keeping an eye out for future titles by this author.”


Night Owl Romance

“A definite ‘must’ for any beach bag this summer . . . A little bit
Sex and the City
with a dash of
The First Wives Club
.”

—Sacramento Book Review

“Funny and wry and tearful; it’s about women’s lives, insecurities, and ambitions, about loyalty and friendship and making mistakes.
The Accidental Bestseller
is no accident.”


LibraryJournal.com

“Entertaining . . . Provides a lot of insight into the book business, collected, no doubt, from Wax’s own experiences.”

—St. Petersburg Times

“A warm, triumphant tale of female friendship and the lessons learned when life doesn’t turn out as planned . . . Sure to appeal.”

—Library Journal

Titles by Wendy Wax

7 DAYS AND 7 NIGHTS
LEAVE IT TO CLEAVAGE
HOSTILE MAKEOVER
SINGLE IN SUBURBIA
THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER
MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2010 by Wendy Wax.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley trade paperback edition / March 2010

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wax, Wendy.

Magnolia Wednesdays / Wendy Wax.—Berkley trade pbk. ed. p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-18570-4

1. Women journalists—Fiction. 2. Suburban life—Fiction. 3. Female friendship—Fiction. 4. Georgia—Fiction. 5.Domestic fiction. I. Title.

PS3623.A893M34 2010

813’.6—dc22

2009039878

http://us.penguingroup.com

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It would be nice if a book sprang completely out of the imagination fully formed with all the pertinent details in place. I keep waiting for this to happen, but each time there are countless things that need to be identified and understood to make characters and their environments feel real. The Internet is a great place to start, but for me there’s nothing like a live person willing to talk about what they do and know.

This time out, I’d like to thank Phyllis DeNeve, owner of Atlanta Dance, and her instructors, especially Vonnie Marie Heard, for introducing me to ballroom dance and for allowing me to observe belly dance. It took me a while to realize I was better off watching than participating. Eight years of ballet should have made me a lot more graceful than I am!

Thanks, too, to Marcia Kublanow and Rita Silverman for sharing their knowledge of New York City and for helping me find a place for Vivien to live. And to Trish Coughlin Higgins for bringing Stone Seymour, senior international correspondent, to life. I also want to thank Rebecca Ritchie, interior designer, who is not only talented but knows how almost everything works, for her input on the interiors of Magnolia Hall and Melanie’s Magnolia Ballroom.

I owe a big thank-you to Chief J. C. Mosier, precinct one constables’ office, Harris County, Texas, for giving me the information I needed in a way I could understand.

And as always I’m grateful to Karen White, unflagging critique partner and friend, for not allowing me to settle for “the things in the box.” I’m glad we’re on this road together.

1

W
ELL-BRED GIRLS FROM good southern families are not supposed to get shot.

Vivien Armstrong Gray’s mother had never come out and actually told her this, but Vivi had no doubt it belonged on the long list of unwritten, yet critically important, rules of conduct on which she’d been raised. Dictates like “Always address older women and men as ma’am and sir” and “Never ask directly for what you want if you can get it with charm, manners, or your family name.” And one of Vivien’s personal favorites, “Although it’s perfectly fine to visit New York City on occasion in order to shop, see shows and ballets, or visit a museum, there’s really no good reason to live there.”

Vivien had managed to break all of those rules and quite a few others over the last forty-one years, the last fifteen of which she’d spent as an investigative reporter in that most Yankee of cities.

The night her life fell apart Vivi wasn’t thinking about rules or decorum or anything much but getting the footage she needed to break a story on oil speculation and price manipulation that she’d been working on for months.

It was ten P.M. on a muggy September night when Vivien pressed herself into a doorway in a darkened corner of a Wall Street parking garage a few feet away from where a source had told her an FBI financial agent posing as a large institutional investor was going to pay off a debt-ridden commodities trader.

Crouched beside her cameraman, Marty Phelps, in the heat-soaked semidarkness, Vivien tried to ignore the flu symptoms she’d been battling all week. Eager to finally document the first in a string of long awaited arrests, she’d just noted the time—ten fifteen P.M.—when a bullet sailed past her cheek with the force of a pointy-tipped locomotive. The part of her brain that didn’t freeze up in shock realized that the bullet had come from the wrong direction.

Marty swore, but she couldn’t tell if it was in pain or surprise, and his video camera clattered onto the concrete floor. Loudly. Too loudly.

Two pings followed, shattering one of the overhead lights that had illuminated the area.

Heart pounding, Vivien willed her eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness, but she couldn’t see Marty, or his camera, or who was shooting at them. Before she could think what to do, more bullets buzzed by like a swarm of mosquitoes after bare flesh at a barbecue. They ricocheted off concrete, pinged off steel and metal just like they do in the movies and on TV. Except that these bullets were real, and it occurred to her then that if one of them found her, she might actually die.

Afraid to move out of the doorway in which she cowered, Vivien turned and hugged the hard metal of the door. One hand reached down to test the locked knob as she pressed her face against its pock-marked surface, sucking in everything that could be sucked, trying to become one with the door, trying to become too flat, too thin, too “not there” for a bullet to find her.

Her life did not pass before her eyes. There was no highlight reel—maybe when you were over forty a full viewing would take too long?—no snippets, no “best of Vivi,” no “worst of,” either, which would have taken more time.

What there was was a vague sense of regret that settled over her like a shroud, making Vivi wish deeply, urgently, that she’d done better, been more. Maybes and should-haves consumed her; little bursts of clarity that seized her and shook her up and down, back and forth like a pit bull with a rag doll clenched between its teeth.

Maybe she
should
have listened to her parents. Maybe she
would
have been happier, more fulfilled, if she hadn’t rebelled so completely, hadn’t done that exposé on that Democratic senator who was her father’s best friend and political ally, hadn’t always put work before everything else. If she’d stayed home in Atlanta. Gotten married. Raised children like her younger sister, Melanie. Or gone into family politics like her older brother, Hamilton.

If regret and dismay had been bulletproof, Vivien might have walked away unscathed. But as it turned out, would’ves, should’ves, and could’ves were nowhere near as potent as Kevlar. The next thing Vivien knew, her regret was pierced by the sharp slap of a bullet entering her body, sucking the air straight out of her lungs and sending her crumpling to the ground.

Facedown on the concrete, grit filling her mouth, Vivien tried to absorb what had happened and what might happen next as a final hail of bullets flew above her head. Then something metal hit the ground followed by the thud of what she was afraid might be a body.

Her eyes squinched tightly shut, she tried to marshal her thoughts, but they skittered through her brain at random and of their own accord. At first she was aware only of a general ache. Then a sharper, clearer pain drew her attention. With what clarity her befuddled brain could cling to, she realized that the bullet had struck the only body part that hadn’t fit all the way into the doorway. Modesty and good breeding should have prohibited her from naming that body part, but a decade and a half in New York City compelled her to acknowledge that the bullet was lodged in the part that she usually sat on. The part on which the sun does not shine. The part that irate cab drivers and construction workers, who can’t understand why a woman is not flattered by their attentions, are always shouting for that woman to kiss.

Despite the pain and the darkness into which her brain seemed determined to retreat, Vivi almost smiled at the thought.

There were shouts and the pounding of feet. The concrete shook beneath her, but she didn’t have the mental capacity or the energy to worry about it. The sound of approaching sirens pierced the darkness—and her own personal fog—briefly. And then there was nothing.

Which at least protected her from knowing that Marty’s camera was rolling when it fell. That it had somehow captured everything that happened to her—from the moment she tried to become one with the door to the moment she shrieked and grabbed her butt to the moment they found her and loaded her facedown onto the stretcher, her derriere pointing upward at the concrete roof above.

Vivien spent the night in the hospital apparently so that everyone in possession of a medical degree—or aspirations to one—could examine her rear end. The pain pills muted the pain in her posterior to a dull throb, but there didn’t seem to be any medication that could eliminate her embarrassment.

When she woke up the next morning, exhausted and irritated from trying to sleep on her side as well as round-the-clock butt checks, she found a bouquet of butt-shaped balloons from the network news division sitting on her nightstand. A bouquet of flowers arranged in a butt-shaped vase sat beside it. No wonder there was a trade deficit. We seemed to be importing endless versions of buttocks.

Making the mistake of flipping on the television, she was forced to watch a replay of last night’s shooting—the only footage in what they called a sting gone awry was of her—and discovered that she was one of the last human beings on the face of the earth to see it. Everyone from the morning anchors at her own network to the hosts of the other networks’ morning talk shows seemed to be having a big yuck over it.

If she’d been one for dictates and rules, she would have added, “If a well-bred girl from a good southern family slips up and
does
somehow get shot, she should make sure the wound is fatal and not just humiliating.”

If she’d died in that parking garage, they would have been hailing Vivi as a hero and replaying some of her best investigative moments. Instead she was a laughingstock.

Vivien swallowed back her indignation along with the contents of her stomach, which kept threatening to escape. She desperately wanted to take her rear end and go home where both of them could get some privacy.

The phone rang. She ignored it.

It was almost noon when Marty strolled into the room. He was tall and lanky with straight brown hair he was always pushing out of his eyes and a long pale face dominated by a beak of a nose. She always pictured him rolling AV equipment into a high school classroom or caressing computer keys with his long, surprisingly delicate fingers. He was a gifted photojournalist and over the last ten years had demonstrated that he would follow her anywhere to get a story and could shoot video under the most trying circumstances as he had, unfortunately, proven yet again last night.

Marty looked relaxed and well rested. But then, he hadn’t taken a bullet in his butt last night. Or had people prodding and laughing at him since.

“You don’t look so good,” he said by way of greeting.

“You’re kidding?” Vivien feigned chagrin. “And here I thought I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for my close-up.”

He dropped down onto the bedside chair, and she envied the fact that he could sit without discomfort or forethought. If he noted the jealousy that must have flared in her eyes, he didn’t comment.

“If you’ve brought anything shaped like a butt or with a picture of a butt on it, or are even remotely considering using the word ‘butt’ in this conversation, you might as well leave now,” she said.

“My, my, you certainly are touchy this morning.”

“Touchy?” She snorted. “You don’t know the half of it.”

They regarded each other for a moment while Vivien wondered if she could talk him into breaking her out of here.

“Your mother called me on my cell this morning,” Marty said. “I heard from Stone, too.”

About five years ago her mother, noting that Vivien had had a longer relationship with her cameraman than she’d ever had with anyone she dated and frustrated at the slowness of Vivien’s responses, had started using Marty as a middleman. Stone Seymour, who actually was her boyfriend, or, as he liked to call himself, Vivien’s main squeeze, used Marty to reach her, too, especially when he was on assignment in some war-smudged part of the globe from which communication was difficult and sporadic and Vivien had forgotten to clear her voice-mail box or plug in her phone.

“How in the world did he hear about this already?” Stone was CIN’s senior international correspondent and the network’s terrorist expert, which meant he spent great blocks of time in places so remote that even the latest technology was rendered useless.

“He was doing live shots from outside Kabul early this morning and one of the New York producers told him. And, um, I think he might have seen the, um, video on . . .” There was a long drawn out bobbing of his Adam’s apple. “. . . Um, YouTube.”

Her gaze moved from Marty’s throat to his face, which was strangely flushed. “Did you say YouTube?”

Marty shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his long frame clearly too large for the piece of furniture just like his Adam’s apple seemed too large for his throat. He looked away.

“What does YouTube have to do with me?”

Marty met her gaze, swallowed slowly and painfully again. “I hit my head when I fell and missed most of what happened after that.”

She waited. As an investigative reporter, silence had always been one of her best weapons.

“But apparently the target sensed something was up from the beginning. When the undercover guy approached him to complete the transaction, he got nervous and pulled out a gun. I never expected a commodities trader to show up armed. Isn’t white-collar crime supposed to be nonviolent?

“Anyway, he must have been really nervous, because the agent said the guy’s hand was shaking so badly they’re not even sure whether the first shot was intentional. That was the bullet that came between us and made me drop my camera.”

“So how’d I get shot? What were all the rest of those bullets?”

“It just got out of control. Somebody on the FBI’s side fired back—some rookie, it looks like—and then it was the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral. I don’t think they even realized we were there. I sure would like to know why your contact kept that tidbit to himself.”

It was Vivi’s turn to look away and for her Adam’s apple to feel too big for her throat. She hadn’t actually notified her contact that they’d planned to be there. She’d thought they’d get better footage if no one was mugging for the camera. And she hadn’t expected the commodities trader to have a gun, either.

“The target is dead,” Marty continued. “And there’s going to be an internal investigation. It was a real screwup. And, um, strangely enough when I dropped my camera it got wedged up against a tire, rolling. And, um, trained on you. I mean what are the odds of that happening? It’s actually kind of funny, really.” His voice trailed off when he saw her face. “In a bizarre sort of way.”

“Yeah,” Vivien said. “It’s hysterical.”

“So anyway, while I was out cold the FBI took my camera and watched the video to see if it would provide any clues as to what went down, who was at fault. But, um, unfortunately the only thing on the tape was . . . you.”

“And?”

“And someone made a copy. And, um, posted it on YouTube.”

Vivien stared at him in silence, not intentionally this time, but because she couldn’t help it.

“It’s been extremely popular. Phenomenally so. I think you’ve already had fifty thousand views in less than twenty-four hours. You’ve got four and a half stars.”

Now
Vivien’s life flashed before her eyes. In Technicolor and 3-D. She watched it in painful slo-mo. Those first years in New York, alone and friendless, a southern-fried fish out of water in a sea of self-assured northern sharks.

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