Read an Excerpt
Breaking the Rules
By Barbara Taylor Bradford
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Beaji Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The young woman who hurried down Fifth Avenue was unaware of the stares as she plunged determinedly through the downpour as though oblivious to it. She was, in fact, too consumed by her thoughts to notice passersby.
They noticed her. They stared, nodded approvingly, or smiled with admiration. She drew attention for a number of reasons. She was rather exotic-looking, with high cheekbones, black eyebrows beautifully arched on her broad brow above large dark eyes. Her jet-black hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail, which fell almost to her waist. Though not beautiful in the classical sense, she was arresting and had a unique look about her.
Tall, slender, lithe, she moved with grace and had an inbred elegance. Her clothes were simple; she was wearing a sleeveless black cotton shift and ballet slippers, her only jewelry large pearl earrings and a watch. She carried a battered old black Hermès Kelly bag, well polished, which had obviously seen better days but looked just right on her arm.
The rain was coming down in torrents and she was already drenched, but she no longer bothered to look for a cab. There was no point; they were all taken. She was heading home, and much to her relief she wasn't very far now. Two blocks down, three avenues to cross and she would be at West Twenty-second Street and Ninth Avenue.
A month ago, through her only friend in New York, a young man called Dax, she had found the perfect place: a comfortable room with two good-size closets and its own bath in a brownstone on this rather lovely old street. Chelsea reminded her of London, gave her a sense of well-being, and she felt at home here.
When she had left London, she had left behind her name; now she was known as M, and M did not mind the rain today. It was cooling on this blistering August afternoon. Earlier, around lunchtime, it had been at least a hundred and one in the shade. Leni, the young receptionist at the Blane Model Agency, had announced with a big grin, "Betcha we could fry eggs on the sidewalk today, M. How about giving it a try?"
M had laughed with her, wanting to be nice. Leni had endeavored to be helpful since the day they had met. M had gone to Blane's within days of arriving in Manhattan, two months ago now. Although the agency had not found work for her so far, they had been encouraging, and Leni's friendliness had helped. M knew she was going to make it as a model. She had to, she had no choice. Not only had she something to prove to her family but she had something to prove to herself as well, and nothing was going to stop her.
Glancing at her watch, M winced. It was already four o'clock, nine at night in London, and she usually called her sister on Fridays around this time. Although M was in her early twenties and considered herself very capable, her elder sister worried about her being alone in New York. But then she worried about everything; that was her nature. M loved her, missed her, but making it on her own had been too compelling to ignore. So here she was trying to become another Kate Moss. She smiled inwardly at that idea. If only, she thought. Increasing her pace, she crossed Seventh Avenue, striding out toward Eighth, in a bigger hurry now.
The brownstone was on Twenty-second halfway between Ninth and Tenth, and as she drew closer, she saw somebody huddled on the top step, leaning against the front door. At once she realized it was her friend Dax. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he was protecting himself with a newspaper, which he held over his head. He was as drenched as she was, and the minute she ran up the steps, she saw he was shivering, looked pale and pinched.
"Dax, what are you doing here?" she exclaimed, pulling the door key out of her bag.
"Getting decidedly wet," he shot back, grinning at her.
"So I see. Let's get you inside. You're shivering. ... Are you sick?"
"I've got a bit of a cold," he answered, "that's all," and standing up, he followed her inside.
The two of them stood dripping water in the tiled entrance for a moment, until M took hold of his arm and led him into the small cloakroom, reminding him that Geo, from whom she rented her room, insisted her house be kept pristine. "Get undressed in here and dry yourself, Dax. There're towels in the cupboard next to the coatrack. I'll be back with something dry for you in a minute."
"Thanks," he answered, still shivering, offering her a wan smile.
M went out, took off her wet ballet shoes, and ran upstairs to her room. Within seconds she had shed her soaking dress and underwear, thrown them in the tub, rubbed herself dry, and put on cotton pants, a cotton T-shirt, and dry shoes. Taking a large terry-cloth robe out of the closet, she went downstairs, knocked on the door of the cloakroom, and when it opened put the robe over Dax's outstretched arm. "That should fit you, Dax. You'll find me in the kitchen. ... I'm going to make us a pot of really hot tea."
"The English cure-all for everything," he muttered.
"Don't knock it," M said, hurrying into the kitchen. Once the kettle was on the stove, she pulled her cell phone out of her pants pocket and dialed her sister in London. "Hi, it's me!" she exclaimed when the phone was answered. "I'm alive and well and kicking! How are you, Birdie?"
"I'm fine, darling, very okay this week, and listen to me. You know I hate that nickname you gave me when you were little. Let's forget it, shall we?"
Hearing the laughter in her voice, M chuckled, then went on, "How's business? Has everything been going well?"
"Yes, it has, and I heard from Mummy and Dad. They send their love. So does Gran."
"How is Gran? Is she feeling better?"
"Loads, yes, and I'm sure it's because Mummy and Dad are in Australia. You know how our mother cheers everyone up, makes them instantly feel better. And Gran's no exception, she responds immediately to her much-loved daughter."
"I'm glad to hear Gran's better. I'll give her a call over the weekend. Any other news?"
"Not really ..."
The sisters talked for a few minutes longer, then said their good-byes. Putting her cell phone on the countertop, M opened the cupboard and took out her large brown teapot, which she had bought when she moved into the brownstone.
After putting six English Breakfast tea bags into the pot, she poured the boiling water over them. Her thoughts remained with her sister; she was concerned about her constantly now that she was on her own, a widow. Tragically, her husband had died of a heart attack two years ago, and M was well aware she was still grieving. But that was natural. They had been so very much in love, joined at the hip to M's way of thinking. Then suddenly, he was gone ... just like that, in the flicker of an eyelash. He had been only thirty-three, far too young.
At the time, her elder brother had said life was full of surprises, seventy-five percent of them bad. She had disagreed with him, calling him a cynic, but now she wasn't so sure that he was wrong. Life did have a way of coming up to hit you in the face. Her father's comment during this conversation had been typical. He had reminded her, and her brother, that what was meant to be would be, and that life had its own rules, rules no one could change. M sighed, stood with her hand on the teapot, thinking about her sister, missing her more than ever. They had always been close, best friends.
"Did I offend you? About the tea, I mean."
M jumped and swung around to face Dax. She exclaimed, "I didn't hear you come into the kitchen. You startled me."
M grinned at him. "Of course you didn't upset me, Dax. I'm not so easily offended, you know." She frowned at him, added, "You still look chilled to the bone. This hot tea will help." She reached into the cupboard as she spoke, took out two mugs, poured the tea, and added milk. Carrying the mugs to the table under the window, she went on, "Come along, Dax, come and sit with me here."
Tightening the belt of the robe, shrugging into it for warmth, he sat down opposite her and put his hands around the mug. "I came looking for Geo," he volunteered after a few seconds. "But I'm glad she's not here. I realize it's you I want to talk to. ... I feel more comfortable with you when I need to discuss my problems."
"You know I'll help if I can," M murmured, eyeing him carefully, thinking that perhaps it was Geo he wanted to talk about. She couldn't imagine why he said he felt more comfortable discussing his problems with her, when he had never done such a thing in the past. It's just his way of getting around his awkwardness, she decided and said, "Go on, then, Dax, tell me what's wrong."
"Everything," he answered after a moment of thought. "And because nothing is going right for me here, I'm seriously considering going to L.A."
"Do you mean permanently, or simply for a visit?" she asked.
"Permanently. You know I want to be an actor, not a male model, and I think the only way I'm going to make it is by moving to L.A., taking a chance out there."
M's dark eyes narrowed, and she said, very slowly, "But, Dax, you'd just be changing one city for another. You'll take your problems along with you."
"Not all of them. If I do move, I will be leaving Geo behind, and that will certainly solve one problem."
"It will? Which one?"
"My muddled love life."
"Is it muddled? Really and truly?" She sat back, took a sip of tea, and looked at Dax over the rim of her mug, waiting for a response.
"I think it is. Look, my relationship with Geo has stalled. Actually, if you want the truth, it's stagnant. I do care about her, and I thought I'd connected with the love of my life when we first got involved. But it's just not going smoothly, and I think she's lost interest in me ... and I've got to confess my passion for her has been diluted." He sat back in the chair and took a long swallow of the tea, relieved to unburden himself.
"Perhaps that's because you think she's lost interest in you, and I'm certain she hasn't. ... She's always happy when you call her, I can attest to that. I live here, remember."
"There's another problem, actually," Dax volunteered, and leaning closer across the table, he whispered, "I've fallen for someone else. ... Geo's been away a lot lately, and I've been on my own, and well, look, I met someone who really turns me on, and who's crazy about me."
"Oh." M stared at him, at a loss for words.
Dax said, "He's just great, really special."
"Oh, I see," M muttered and put down her mug.
"Don't look so upset." Dax drew closer once more as he added, "I'm a member of both churches, if you know what I mean. And I'm quite happy in her church. And also in his." He smiled suddenly, his face lighting up. "But I don't want to get too deeply involved with him, and so I think I should go to L.A. Follow my lifelong dream, so to speak, try to make it as an actor, and put my love life/sex life on hold, if you get my drift."
"Yes, I do, and I'll say it again. You will still take your problems with you wherever you live."
"No, I won't. I'll be leaving Geo and Jason behind. Two problems dealt with! I'll only have my career to worry about." He suddenly started to cough, jumped up, excused himself, and hurried out of the kitchen.
M stared after him, frowning. Although she had been surprised when he confided he was bisexual, she was neither troubled by the revelation nor judgmental. But she was worried about Dax's health. He looked genuinely ill to her. A moment later he was back, blowing his nose on a tissue.
"Sorry about that," he said, sitting down again.
"You've got a really nasty cold, you know." She stood up, went to one of the cabinets, took out a bottle of Tylenol, and gave it to him. "Take some of these, and drink your tea."
"Yes, Mom," he said, grinning at her, and took three of the pills. "Well, thank God it's stopped raining at last," he murmured, staring out the window. "So, tell me, M, should I go to L.A. or not?"
"I don't know how to answer that, not really," she responded quietly. "I suppose it might be easier out there, to get an acting job, I mean. On the other hand, I keep hearing that actors are two a penny in Hollywood, and that all of them are gorgeous and talented, male and female alike." She gave him a probing stare and finished. "Maybe you're just running away from Geo and Jason. Do you think that might be it?"
"Not at all. I'm only thinking about my future ... in films. And you know I've been to so many auditions, looking for parts, trying to get an acting job, long before we met at the Blane Agency when you first came to New York."
"Then think about this move just a little longer. Give it a few weeks, try to find something here in New York, an acting job in television or maybe in the theater. And as for Geo, tell her it's over if it really is. She's a big girl, she'll understand, and anyway, you said she'd sort of lost interest in you. As for Jason, you have only two choices. You can stay with him. Or tell him good-bye as well. So that you can concentrate on your career."
Dax gaped at her for a long moment, then began to laugh hilariously, ending up coughing into his tissue. When he had settled down, he said, with a knowing grin, "If nothing else, you're certainly outspoken, tell a guy what you really think."
"Do I? And what do I think?"
"That I'm full of b.s."
"No, you're wrong. I don't think badly of you, Dax, honestly. But my sister always says I have a way of getting to the heart of the matter. And that's what I've done with you —" She broke off as the phone rang, and leaning over, she picked it up. "Hello?" After a moment listening, she went on, "That's fine, and you'll be staying there all weekend?" There was another pause as M listened again, and she silently mouthed, "It's Geo. Do you want to speak to her?"
Dax shook his head vehemently.
M said, "Okay, Geo, I'll do that, and I'll be here all weekend. I'll see you on Monday. Bye." Placing the receiver in the cradle, she explained, "Geo's at her sister's in New Jersey. For the weekend, as you've no doubt guessed."
"I'm right, you know, she is cooling it with me."
"And you've done the same, you've even moved on a step or two, wouldn't you say?"
He nodded, knowing she had called it correctly.
"I'm thinking of making a big soup, a healthy French soup," M announced. "Do you want to stay for supper?"
"What's a big French soup?"
"You know, with vegetables and pieces of chicken ... one of those soups that's always on the hob in French kitchens." She smiled at him cheekily. "I'm a good cook, you know."
"I'm sure. I'd love to stay for supper. And perhaps we can talk some more."
M groaned. "Just as long as we don't talk about your problems."
"Absolutely not. Anyway, you've solved them for me, M. You got right to the heart of the matter, as apparently you always do."
He had known her for only a few weeks, but he trusted her, and his trust was implicit. Dax had never experienced this feeling with anyone before, and he had quickly come to understand that M was a very special person, one who had strolled into his life unexpectedly and had a tremendous impact on him.
It was neither romantic nor sexual. Although she was beautiful, she was just not his type: too tall and dark, and just a little too exotic to suit him. He had always had a predilection for blue-eyed blondes who were petite, and he did not mind at all if they weren't very bright. He preferred them to be a bit dumb, actually.
M, on the other hand, was extremely intelligent, practical, and straightforward. She fairly took his breath away with her incredible honesty. It seemed to him that M thought more like a man than a woman, got straight to the point in a flash. There were no holds barred, she just spit out what she had to say. Well, she had said that herself, that her elder sister believed she got right to the heart of the matter.
Dax knew where he stood with her, and he liked that. She didn't seem to have any agenda, except for wanting to be a model, and there was no deviousness in her. Too many people he knew played both ends against the middle and some ended up being treacherous.
Now, as he watched her preparing the soup for them, he couldn't help thinking that she moved with the lightness and grace of a dancer. Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, "You must be a dancer, M, the way you move."
M swung to face him, a smile lighting up her dark eyes. "I am a dancer, Dax, but not a professional one. I took a few lessons when I was little, then got more interested in sports. But I do think I have the spirit and soul of a dancer. ... I just love it. I prefer dancing to exercising, and running ruins the hips, so I dance all the time. When I'm alone."
Excerpted from Breaking the Rules by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Copyright © 2009 Beaji Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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