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Authors: Jane Green

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Tempting Fate

BOOK: Tempting Fate
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Jane Green
TEMPTING FATE
PART ONE
Chapter One

It’s just a night out with girlfriends, not the Academy Awards, thinks Gabby, frowning at her wardrobe as she endlessly pushes hangers back and forth, hoping something compelling, something worthy will suddenly appear and jump out at her: the perfect shirt, the perfect dress. It shouldn’t matter, this being a girls’ night out, but of course it matters far more than on a night out with Elliott. Tonight Gabby is dressing for the other women.

She has heard that on these girls’ nights out it is not unusual for men to gather round the girls, not seeing – or, rather, ignoring – the wedding rings they all have on their fingers; ignoring the wedding rings so often on their own. But Gabby doesn’t care about these men; she simply wants to fit in. She wants to at least look like she has made an effort. She wants to show that she too can scrub up into something of a glamour puss, that she deserves her place at the bar, just like the rest of this particular group of friends.

She settles on black trousers all the better to hide her thighs with, and knee-high boots, the only pair in her wardrobe that have any heel. These boots are almost
twenty years old, old enough for them to have gone completely out of fashion and then revolve full circle to be not dissimilar to all the boots she passes in the store windows in town.

She bought them when it seemed important to look good, before life, children, motherhood got in the way, before it was easier to slip her feet into furry Merrells and be done with it.

In their thirties, all her friends wore the same dull uniforms, but suddenly, in their forties, these same women are breaking free of their self-imposed cocoons, eschewing the dull blanket of grinding motherhood and emerging in a flurry of bright chiffons and silks. And now that their children no longer needed babysitters they are tripping out on girls’ nights out in impossibly high heels, their hair silky and blown-out, wanting to be
seen
.

Gabby does not have bright chiffons and silks,
would
not have bright chiffons and silks because that is not her style, but she does find a black floaty blouse that no one needs to know was bought for $15.95 in Marshalls. As long as you don’t look too closely, you might think it is silk organza rather than the eminently more practical polyester.

There. A shake of her hair, a brush of mascara, a slick of gloss. She looks good, she thinks, without looking as if she is trying too hard. Unlike some of the others, in their plunging necklines and glittery jewellery,
Gabby looks as if she is out to have fun with the girls, men be damned.

Gabby orders a second Martini, knowing she won’t be able to leave any time soon, wishing she had turned down the invitation to go out and was now tucked up cosily in bed watching a movie.

When Ella invited her to a girls’ dinner, Gabby had looked forward to a group of women enjoying themselves at a large table in the corner of the Grey Goose, but when she and Claire had arrived the women had already established themselves at the bar, where they were lapping up the attentions of a swarm of eager older Lotharios, flicking their hair back as they gave the men flirtatious smiles, punctuating every sentence with loud, and to Gabby’s ears, slightly forced, laughter.

The energy these women are giving off, their overt flirting, is making Gabby uncomfortable. Used to seeing them with their husbands, or occasionally during the day by themselves, meeting for walks along the beach or for lunch, she is amazed by this transformation. It is discomfiting to see these women, who she had assumed were just like herself, turn into the seductive, provocative creatures who are here tonight. Married to Elliott for eighteen years, Gabby no longer has the desire nor the inclination to flirt. Even if she did, she’s pretty sure she’s forgotten how to do it.

Although, she thinks, examining herself in the mirror
lining the back wall of the bar, it would be nice if someone, anyone, looked at her these days. Lately she has been feeling more and more invisible. Last week, when she was in New York, she noticed that as she walked up Park Avenue during what was clearly lunch hour, all the men she passed glanced over at the two younger women flanking her. She didn’t blame them particularly, especially as the women were wearing miniskirts and high-heeled boots, but surely one would catch her eye, look her up and down. Even an old one. Someone. Anyone.

The grey hairs she had, only a handful, were subsequently banished earlier this week with a chestnut-brown dye, and she has made an uncharacteristic effort tonight, but it is nothing compared to the effort her friends have made. It is because I am English, she often thinks. I may have lived here for years and years, but I simply can’t pull off high-maintenance. It’s just not me. Look at Ella, with her bouncy curls, her chiffon blouse that displays more than a hint of cleavage, her high-heeled sandals bouncing prettily at the end of a tanned leg.

Look at the tanned older man – attractive, if you like a touch of lechery – now whispering in her ear as she laughs, her body tilted towards him, her eyes looking up at him through thick lashes.

What are all these women
doing
? Why are they behaving like this? I know these women, know their families; my children go to school with their children. How have I not seen this side of them before, and what does it say about them? About me?

‘Is this as much of a scene as I think it is?’ murmurs a voice next to her. Gabby turns, finding herself facing a young man. He gestures at her friends with a shake of his head. ‘I feel like I’m in a cattle market.’

‘I know,’ Gabby says with a polite smile. ‘I haven’t been here before. It’s pretty … intense.’

‘That it is. And not my scene. I’m Matt.’ He offers his hand and Gabby shakes it, noting his rolled-up blue sleeves, his strong arms, and remembering for a split second how it felt to have the bloom of youth, for he must be in his late twenties. At forty-three she is almost – almost – old enough to be his mother, and it is this that causes her to relax, to smile as she introduces herself.

‘I’m Gabby.’ She settles onto her stool, relieved to have someone to talk to, someone who has no ulterior motive, who has not come here to pick up women. Even if he had, he would definitely not be interested in her.

She looks at him curiously. He is, by any definition, gorgeous. Blond hair, blue eyes. He has a twinkle and a kindness in his eyes that, if she was twenty years younger and single, she would find utterly disarming.

‘So why are you here, Matt? Particularly if it’s not your scene.’

‘Good question.’ He smiles, showing straight white teeth, and raises his glass to toast her. ‘I’m here on business. One night only. I’m staying across the street, but I thought I’d grab a drink here before I check in.’

‘Business?’

‘I have a social media website.’

‘Like Facebook?’

He laughs. ‘I wish. Maybe one day.’

‘Would I know it?’

‘I don’t know,’ he says, naming a website that Gabby knows well, that everyone knows well.

‘That’s you?’ She looks at him again, reassessingly, because she has read about this company, knows it was started by two young men, the heirs apparent to the Facebook throne. She was mistaken in thinking he was just some kid. He is an accomplished businessman. She recalls articles about him, how they built the company – and she is impressed. And excited.

‘You’re huge!’

He cocks an eyebrow and Gabby blushes and starts to laugh. ‘Sorry. I mean, I know exactly who you are. I’ve read about you.’

‘It’s such a weird thing, that I have this strange kind of celebrity that isn’t. No one would have any idea who I am, but as soon as I mention the company, everyone knows.’

‘At least you’re able to sit anonymously at bars. And I bet you have an amazing house.’ She peers at him with a teasing smile.

He snorts with laughter. ‘It’s true. I do have an amazing house.’

‘Isn’t it in LA?’

‘Better. Malibu.’

‘Oh God,’ she groans. ‘Do you step outside your living room onto a beach?’

He grins as Gabby prods him for a description of the kind of house she has always dreamed about.

They keep talking, Matt telling her about some of the more glamorous parties he’s been to and providing her with celebrity gossip that is better than that in any issue of
People
magazine. Gabby hangs on his every word, and as everyone and everything in the room drops away she notices nothing other than the fun she is having.

‘… and it was Lil Wayne,’ he says, finishing a story. ‘Sorry. You probably don’t –’

‘Don’t know who Lil Wayne is?’ Gabby scowls. ‘Believe it or not, despite being a middle-aged mom, I know exactly who –’

She stops, mid-sentence, as Matt lays a hand on her arm.

‘You’re hardly middle-aged,’ he says, frowning. ‘You’re, what? In your thirties?’

Gabby looks down at his hand on her arm, noting how beautiful it is, how smooth and strong. Briefly wondering why he has not removed it, she looks back up at him with a burst of laughter, enjoying herself.

‘Right,’ she says. ‘Ten years ago, perhaps. I’m forty-three, and yes, that definitely classifies me as middle-aged.’

Matt shakes his head in genuine bemusement. ‘I swear I’m not just saying this, but you really don’t look it. I thought you were around thirty-four.’

‘I think I may love you,’ Gabby says happily. ‘Although your point of reference probably stops at thirty-five. At your age you can’t imagine there
is
anyone older.’

‘Bullshit! And I’m not that young. There’s hardly anything between us.’

‘Let me guess.’ Her eyes run over his face, taking in the smoothness of his skin, the sharp definition of his cheeks and jaw, the lack of lines. She thinks of Elliott: his hair now more grey than brown, the deep lines around his eyes when he smiles, his physique, once so toned, now soft and cuddly, comfortable.

Everything about Matt shouts youth. His jeans, his scuffed-up brown boots. His tucked-in blue shirt that gives hints of intensive working-out rather than the outline of a paunch, like she is used to seeing in Elliott, and in most of the men she knows.

‘I think you’re twenty-seven,’ she says.

‘I knew you thought I was younger. For your information, I’m thirty-three. See, we’re not so far apart.’

‘You may think that now, but wait until you’re forty-three and you look back at how much you changed over those ten years.’

He gazes at her over his glass. ‘How have
you
changed over ten years?’

‘Seriously?’

He nods, calling the bartender over and ordering another Martini for her, giving her pause to think.

For the truth is that not much has changed in the last
ten years. Ten years ago she was married to Elliott, as she is now, only with smaller children. They lived in a different neighbourhood. She drove an old Cherokee. Her life was pre-school and playdates, coffees with women she hardly sees any more. She had fewer lines, less grey hair, was fifteen pounds lighter.

If she thinks back to the years before that, though, to eighteen or twenty years ago, she knows that a lot has changed. Back then she cared about dressing up and going out. Twenty years ago she made an effort, wanting to be popular, pretty, invited to people’s houses for dinner. She and Elliott would go camping, up in Vermont. They hiked, and skied. Now it is all she can do to make herself go for a walk.

What has happened since those days? When did life become so … she won’t use the word ‘dull’, chooses instead to use ‘pots and pans’? How did she and Elliott drift so seamlessly into middle age, and where did all that energy go?

She can’t tell all that to this stranger and decides instead to share the positives.

‘I am more comfortable in my skin. Turning forty was a turning point. I stopped needing to prove myself to anyone. I probably ought to make more of an effort,’ she says, gesturing to her friends, all of whom now make more of an effort, and are currently at the other end of the bar with a new group of men. ‘But I love that it doesn’t matter to me any more.’

‘I think you look great,’ Matt says evenly. There is
not a hint of flirtation in his voice, and yet, as he says it, he holds her gaze until she looks away, feeling something inside her give a slight jolt.

Don’t be ridiculous, she tells herself. There is no way in hell this lovely young boy is flirting with me. I have no idea what just happened; I only know that whatever it was is in my imagination.

Gabby covers her embarrassment with a forced bark of laughter. ‘My friends over there?’ she says, nodding towards them. ‘
They
look great.’

He glances over before turning back to Gabby with a dismissive shake of his head. ‘No. To me they all look overdone. Too much make-up, too much hair, too much flounce. I prefer my women natural. Like you.’ There it is. That gaze again.

Grateful for the low lighting, Gabby blushes as she says thank you, jumping as the phone in her back pocket starts to vibrate. She pulls it out to see Elliott’s name on the screen.

‘It’s my husband,’ she says, hopping off the stool. ‘I’ll be right back.’

Threading through the crowds, she breathes a sigh of relief. Even if she was imagining it, she has not led him on. She told him she is married. That should put him off, if, indeed, there is anything to put off. Which there couldn’t possibly be.

‘Hi, honey!’ She sits down on a low stone wall outside, aware suddenly that she is not as sober as she had thought. ‘Are you having fun?’

‘Not as much fun as it sounds like you’re having!’ Elliott laughs, and Gabby starts. What does he mean? How does he know she’s been talking to Matt? But it’s only talking. How does he know?

‘What do you mean?’ she says slowly, attempting to sound as sober as possible, knowing Elliott will know.

‘First of all it was noisy as hell when you picked up; secondly, I know you’re having a girls’ night out tonight; and thirdly, you’re drunk, and don’t try to deny it because I always know. I can hear it in your voice.’

Gabby laughs. ‘You’re right. I’m stopping now.’

‘What are you drinking?’

‘Martinis.’

‘Aha! Just remember that Martinis are like a woman’s breasts: one is too few, three is too many.’

BOOK: Tempting Fate
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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