Because She Canby Bridie Clark
In a New York minute, Claire Truman lands both a plum position at a top publishing house and the man she's wanted for ten years...then reality intervenes. Her new boss is Vivian Grant, a notoriously ruthless tyrant known for her tirades, traumatized assistants, and tabloid-inspired bestsellers. Soon Claire's job is stealing more and more of her time and her
In a New York minute, Claire Truman lands both a plum position at a top publishing house and the man she's wanted for ten years...then reality intervenes. Her new boss is Vivian Grant, a notoriously ruthless tyrant known for her tirades, traumatized assistants, and tabloid-inspired bestsellers. Soon Claire's job is stealing more and more of her time and her relationship with her fiancé begins to feel the strain. It doesn't help that she's working late nights with a brilliant-and handsome-first-time author. As Vivian's outrageous demands continue to escalate, Claire wonders if she likes where the fast track is taking her-and worries about what she might turn into...
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Because She Can
By Bridie Clark
Warner BooksCopyright © 2007 Bridie Clark
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
Exactly one year before my June 26 wedding day, I was curled up on my couch with a large pepperoni pizza, a half-empty pack of Marlboro Lights, the world's most comfortable blanket, and several hours of TiVO ahead of me.
Under normal circumstances, this lineup would've thrilled me. On another night, my pack of cigarettes would have been half-full. But tonight, even the prospect of watching Kiefer Sutherland save the world for six straight hours was of little solace.
For starters, I was still fresh on the heels of an ugly breakup with my wannabe rock-star boyfriend, James. (In the interest of full disclosure, it was the final of four breakups, each one more obviously necessary than the last.) That had me down.
But what had me out was a crisis of a professional nature. Just that afternoon, I'd gotten the crushing news that Jackson Mayville, my beloved boss at Peters and Pomfret (the top-tier New York book publishing house), my professional mentor during the five years since I'd graduated from college, would be hanging up his cleats this summer. He and his wife were moving down to Virginia to be closer to their grandkids.
I probably should've guessed it was coming, but I've always been pretty bad at doing that. So, when Jackson gave me the news, I immediately misted up-embarrassing but very genuine tears.
"Aw, now. Don't do that. We'll still be intouch, my dear," Jackson had consoled me in his gentle Clintonian drawl, patting my head gently and offering me his handkerchief. He pulled me into an awkward half hug, his forehead wrinkling with paternal concern.
All of which, perhaps needless to say, did nothing to dry my tears. I tried to smile and act somewhat professional, but I couldn't pull it off. I was devastated. Jackson had been much more than a boss-he'd been a father figure for me since Dad passed away five years ago. Like Dad, Jackson radiated kindness and intelligence. Both men were tall, lanky, dashing (if not precisely handsome), with a thick shock of silver hair and a tendency to rail against the Way Things Were. Both had approached their work with unwavering devotion. Both were generous, emotional, sincere. Both adored their wives.
And both men made me feel ... well, loved. Many a Friday night, Jackson would find me working late and wave me into family dinners with his wife, Carie, and their teenage sons, Michael and Edward, the youngest of their brood of five. Sitting around the table in the kitchen-warm and toasty from the oven in which Carie had almost invariably burned the roast or the lasagna-made me feel I'd found a real home in New York City.
"I'll be okay," I gulped, my face still muffled by Jackson's Harris Tweed blazer.
Jackson and I first met at the tail end of my senior year of college. I'd stepped nervously into his office, crisp résumé in hand, and perched on the same worn leather couch that I'd cried on this afternoon. Graduation loomed just weeks away. I'd been able to nab a job offer from another big publisher-the result of many trips to New York City in Bea's beat-up station wagon-but when I managed to get a meeting with the legendary Jackson Mayville, I told the HR representative at the other company that I needed more time to consider my options. After all, it was Jackson Mayville. He'd edited some of the century's most important literary voices and was truly in a league of his own.
I'd known since girlhood that I wanted to be a book editor. By high school, I'd pore over the acknowledgments section of novels I loved, daydreaming that someday a brilliant talent might see me as the person who "made her book possible" or "enhanced every page with editorial wisdom and insight." Could I be the Maxwell Perkins to some future Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe? Learning the ropes from Jackson Mayville seemed like a great first step.
And, as it turned out, it had been. Five years with Jackson had flown by, and I'd learned more from him than I'd ever imagined I would.
Sure, it hadn't always been a bed of roses-professionally or personally. It'd been five years of struggling to make ends meet, weathering one failed relationship after another, watching friends settle into domestic bliss while I was still heating up Campbell's soup for one most nights of the week. But it'd also been five years of learning the ropes from a talented and generous mentor, kicking up my heels, savoring my independence. So it all evened out.
But now that balance was about to shift. No more Jackson.
And frankly, my heels were beginning to get tired from so much kicking. James had been an exhausting experience, but then so had most of my recent flings. Lately it seemed I was always trying to convince myself that the guy I was dating wasn't A) a moron (So what if he isn't into opera? Or museums ... or newspapers ... or reading without moving his lips?); B) a slacker (So what if he's been unemployed for a decade? He's nonmaterialistic. And so secure with his manhood that he lets me pay for everything); C) an inconsiderate prick (So what if he's left me waiting in this restaurant for nearly an hour? He's Latin).
I cued up another episode of 24. You know what? I thought. A day like this calls for a double pie. I called Mimi's for backup. Some people practice yoga, some people run to therapy-when life gets me down, I prefer to cope by eating my own weight in pepperoni pizza.
Of course, it wasn't just the emotional loss of not seeing Jackson every day that was upsetting me. I had my practical concerns, too. Jackson had gone to bat for me countless times-making sure that Gordon Haas, the publisher, paid attention to some of the proposals I brought to the table, fighting for my promotions, haggling with HR for a few much-needed bumps in salary. What would his retirement mean for my prospects at P and P? I'd still have my job, or so I'd been immediately reassured, but there was no doubt that the absence of a strong ally like Jackson would slow my trajectory. Not a cheering thought, given that it'd taken me five years to climb the editorial ladder to become an associate editor-a rate that the company considered fast.
I lit up my eighth cigarette of the evening and tried to focus my attention on Kiefer-but it was uncharacteristically difficult.
The thing was, I already had a tough time lining up meetings with Gordon-meaning it was hard to get his approval and financial support to bid on books. How could I get promoted to editor if I couldn't show my ability to make good buys and edit well? I knew there were many of us on the junior staff who grappled with this catch-22. With so many talented senior editors laying claim to Gordon's attention and budget, it seemed nearly impossible to break into the starting lineup as a junior staffer-even with Jackson pushing for me.
During the past few months, I'd watched several promising books fly out of my fingers because I'd been unable to get an answer in time from Gordon. I couldn't fault him for the bottleneck-not only was he a nice, well-intentioned guy, but he was clearly working at full capacity and trying his best to get to everyone.
Still, it was frustrating. I was hungry for more responsibility. I'd entered the business because I was drawn to the conceptual, collaborative, creative work of an editor-not because I loved to photocopy manuscripts for five hours a day.
And this is where I was one year before my wedding day: no romantic prospects and a career that seemed stuck in a holding pattern. I was in a rut roughly the size of the Grand Canyon.
As soon as I'd dug into my second pizza, the phone rang: Beatrice, asking if I'd meet her for the opening of some new art gallery.
Not a chance, I thought-and, come to think of it, might have said out loud. I could guess the kind of party it'd be. A sea of laughing, reaching, swilling, flirting, posing New Yorkers. Socialites who'd spent the entire afternoon choosing their outfits. Slick-haired men who scanned the room while you answered their questions. Young fogies with farcically WASPy first names and platinum blond girlfriends. Trustafarians who'd been born on third base but bragged as though they'd hit a triple. The flashing bulbs of society rag photographers. Cheap chardonnay. Watered-down conversation. Small talk was the only language spoken, and even the most interesting characters went bland after spending too much time on the circuit.
I was cynical, yes. But also pretty well-informed. I'd been a peripheral part of the scene for five years-mainly because Bea, an interior designer, worked these parties to expand her clientele-and I knew what to expect from it by now.
Recently, for example, she'd dragged me to a cocktail party at Soho House for a budding young writer who'd just published her first collection of short stories. I watched as a cluster of A-list party girls, all clad head to toe in white (the season's new gray, which was last season's new black), positioned themselves in a corner by some bookshelves. Society shutterbug Patrick McMullan hovered nearby; the girls coyly pretended not to be aware of the enormous camera hanging from his neck. And then Patrick began to click away. One of the girls, an ex-model, pulled a book at random from the shelf and pretended to read it. Another followed suit. One by one, the girls each adopted expressions of academic seriousness, their eyes narrowed as if absorbing some deep point, their ever-so-slightly furrowed brows a caricature of scholarly intensity. Patrick loved it. One of the girls held her book upside down, but nobody cared. It was a completely harmless photo op, I knew that, but it still made me put down my drink and say my good-byes.
Anyway, I just wasn't in the mood. Not tonight. My mind was stuck on my work situation, plus I still had a solid week of moping over James left in me. (Who doesn't secretly relish a breakup-or at least the guiltless freedom it provides to smoke way too many cigarettes, eat buckets of ice cream, not move from the couch, and indulge in every other possible cliché? I wasn't about to cut this short.)
I explained to Bea that my sweatpants had developed a terrible case of separation anxiety, but she persisted. Then she begged.
Still I wasn't budging. And so she moved on: "I wonder if James is sulking on his couch right now."
"I'll meet you in an hour," I muttered, getting up. Had to give her credit, she'd played her hand well. As we both knew, odds were high that James was at that moment chatting up some indie-rock chick who'd been throwing herself at him during his opening set. His weakness for these types had been a precipitating factor in our breakup.
"You won't regret it, Claire," Bea said excitedly. "And wear your red dress, okay?"
My red dress? She hung up before I could renege, having caught the unmistakable whiff of a setup.
Walking into the crowded gallery at 8:20, I spotted Bea by the bar and made a straight shot for her. "All right, where is he?" I smiled wearily, kissing her hello and snagging a miniquiche from a meandering cater-waiter.
Harry ambled up behind me, smoking an illicit cigar that only he could get away with. He laid his hand affectionately on Bea's shoulder and gave me a wolf whistle. "Watch out, men of New York"-he leaned in for a kiss-"Miss Truman is back in circulation."
Side note: I love, love, love Harry. He's one of the most self-effacing, smart, funny human beings I've ever known, one of those men who make you grin by sheer proximity. He's also a bad-ass assistant district attorney, always full of real-life Sopranos stories, and he's been a steady part of my life since Bea finally agreed to go on a date with him during our sophomore year of college. Thank God she saw the light, because you've never seen a college boy work so hard. And that's what it is, really-apart from his considerable charms, what I really love about Harry is how much he loves my best friend. Bea's a goddess among women in his eyes, a perspective I agree with wholeheartedly.
Not a perspective that's uniquely ours, I realize. Bea is stand-out fabulous. Naturally thin, despite a lifelong aversion to "healthy" food that prevents her from eating vegetables-she subsists on steak frites and KFC, but you'd never know it to look at her. Classic, fresh-faced, straight-off-the-Miss-Porter's-lacrosse-field good looks. Thick cascades of flaxen hair that would make a Breck girl weep with envy, enormous eyes the color of sea glass. In the looks department, Beatrice could give Charlize Theron a run for her money-a fact of which everyone is aware but her.
Then there's her blissful marriage to a man who still pens spontaneous love letters, who took a year between college and law school to study French cooking, who brings her home violets (Bea's favorite) every single Friday. Plus she's got her thriving career as an interior decorator-the creative work she's always loved, with great flexibility in her hours.
Yeah. If I didn't love Bea like the sister I'd never had, I'd probably have to hate her.
But I do love her. Always have, ever since she sat a few rows ahead of me during one of the placement tests we were forced to take during our first week at Princeton. She and I had each happened to wear a brightly colored grosgrain ribbon tied around our ponytails for luck-one of those random details that one takes notice of while scanning the room during a mind-numbingly dull, four-hour-long quantitative reasoning test. Leaving the test room, we struck up a lighthearted conversation over our shared, if misguided, fashion superstitions-a shallow dive into what would become a deep friendship.
"You are going to thank me for dragging you out tonight," Bea whispered now, grabbing my elbow hard to get my undivided attention. Her knuckles were white. "You're never going to guess who's here. Guess!"
I glanced around the party, not really seeing anyone who'd merit her level of excitement.
"Pabst Blue Ribbon," Bea pronounced the words slowly, solemnly.
My eyes grew as wide as hers. "You're joking."
"Would I joke? He's here. And I think he's gotten even more gorgeous since college, if that's possible." She jerked her head slightly to the left, and I looked over nonchalantly.
There he was, across the room. I almost couldn't believe my eyes, but there was no mistaking the tall, lean rower's build, the wavy auburn locks and piercing blue eyes, the air of absolute confidence.
"Catch me if I faint," I instructed Bea, only half-joking.
A little background: Randall Cox was the most desirable man that anyone I knew knew. The gold standard in hotness. During our freshman year, Bea and I would walk ever so slowly by Randall's off-campus apartment building, hoping for just a glimpse. He was a senior, a Princeton icon with an equally gorgeous girlfriend.
By second semester, Bea and I had developed an intricate underground network of spies to keep us informed of Randall's public appearances at parties or local bars. Then we'd plant ourselves wherever he'd been with hopes that lightning would strike twice in the same week. If by chance we were so blessed, we'd pretend not to notice him-such were our highly mature mating rituals as eighteen-year-olds.
Once, Bea saw Randall coming out of McCosh Hall and pretended to take a picture of me in front of the building. That framed photo, with Randall's slightly blurry figure in the background, rested on our dorm-room mantel for years.
In other words, we stalked him. Hard.
"You have got to talk to him," said Bea, squinting to check if any miniquiche had gotten stuck in my teeth. "You must. I'll never speak to you again if you don't." Harry raised his eyebrows and wisely took that as his cue to hit the bar.
Déjà vu. Two weeks before Randall's graduation (a very traumatic event in our young lives, needless to say), Bea and I had spotted him through the window of the Annex, the local watering hole. Hearts aflutter, we'd emptied out our piddling student bank accounts to grease the bouncer.
"This is your last chance," Bea coached as we made our way to the bar where Randall was waiting for a refill of his pitcher of beer. Our crush had really become my crush; Bea was slowly starting to warm up to Harry, who'd been pursuing her relentlessly all year.
Standing at the bar with our backs to Randall, trying desperately to look cool, we struggled for a plan, some entrance ramp into talking to him. Say hello? Too unoriginal. A girl couldn't be so pedestrian when starting a conversation with a Greek god.
Twenty seconds of awkward vacillation later, Bea did the unthinkable. Pretending to trip on an uneven floorboard, she checked me hard with her right shoulder and sent me careening backward into Randall. He steadied my arms with his strong hands, and for one sweet, golden moment, I could feel his strong chest pressing against my back.
I peered up to find Randall looking down at me, amused. I was awestruck. And dumbstruck. I couldn't move or breathe. He smiled-graciously, I might add, considering that I'd caused him to spill some of his freshly refilled pitcher down the front of his rugby shirt.
Excerpted from Because She Can by Bridie Clark Copyright © 2007 by Bridie Clark. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Bridie Clark is a former book and magazine editor who has worked for several major New York publishers. She lives in New York City with her husband. This is her first novel. To learn more about the author, you can visit www.bridieclark.com.
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