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"What's the best sex you've ever had?" Jamie Nova asked her best friend, Madison Castelli. At twenty-nine Jamie was heartbreakingly lovely. A cool, willowy blonde with classic style and an impeccable pedigree, she was a cross between a young Grace Kelly and a contemporary Gwyneth Paltrow.
"Huh?" Madison said, glancing quickly at the adjoining table in the packed Manhattan restaurant. The couple sitting there were deep into their own conversation and had failed to hear Jamie's provocative question.
"You know what I mean," Jamie said, brushing a lock of fine, blond hair from her forehead. "Mind-blowing, earth-shaking down and dirty sex. The kind where you never want to see the guy again, but at the exact moment you're doing it -- anything goes." A long wistful sigh. "And I do mean anything."
"Well..." Madison said, wondering where Jamie, her former college roommate, was going with this.
"Come on," Jamie said impatiently. "Answer me."
"Hmm," Madison thought for a moment, realizing this was not a question Jamie was about to drop. "Miami," she said at last. "Vacation with my father. I was sixteen, and the guy was a forty-five-year-old major playboy with all the toys. Penthouse, Porsche, porno videos."
"Porno videos!" Jamie said, rolling her aquamarine eyes in exaggerated horror. "Doesn't sound too sexy to me."
"I can assure you it was," Madison retorted crisply. "He had this oversized water bed covered in rose petals. A pitcher of champagne with sliced peaches. Sexy European body oil. And" -- she paused for full effect -- "an extraordinarily talented tongue!"
"Ah...the old talented-tongue trick," Jamie retorted a touch bitterly. "Gets 'em every time."
Madison raised an eyebrow. "What's with you today? Why all this sex talk? You're a married woman and -- if what I hear is true -- once you're married, sex is supposed to be nothing but a distant memory."
"Very funny," Jamie said glumly.
"I was joking," Madison said, sensing trouble in the paradise that Jamie inhabited. It was a fact that everyone who knew Jamie and her Wall Street hotshot husband, Peter, considered them the golden couple. They seemed to have everything, and yet today Madison sensed a lurking storm. "So, what's up?" she asked, leaning across the table. "Tell me everything."
"Well," Jamie said, biting on her lower lip. "Last night we were at a dinner party and the question arose."
"The best-sex-you've-ever-had question," Jamie said, toying with her salad. "And here's the thing -- everyone was coming up with really good answers."
"Yes?" Madison said curiously.
"Naturally, when it came to me, I carried on about it being the first time Peter and I made love. I told a cute little story about it, and everyone oohed and aahed. Then it was Peter's turn, and he suddenly went very quiet, muttered that he couldn't remember and abruptly changed the subject."
"Maybe he was embarrassed."
"Peter?" Jamie shook her head vigorously. "Not him."
"Had he been drinking?"
"Not at all."
"Then...what?" Madison asked, perplexed.
"I think he's having an affair," Jamie blurted.
"Come on!" Madison exclaimed. "You've only been married three years. Give the guy a chance to get bored."
"Thanks a lot," Jamie said huffily. "What makes you think he'd ever get bored?"
True, Madison thought, how could any man be bored with a woman like Jamie by his side? She was perfect. Everyone knew that. Besides, in a proper world, no man would cheat on Jamie.
But the world wasn't proper, and most men were dogs, so maybe Jamie was right, maybe Peter was exercising his precious manhood in another neighborhood.
"What makes you suspect Peter might be screwing around?" she asked.
"Intuition," Jamie answered. "That and the fact that we haven't made love in two weeks."
"Two weeks!" Madison exclaimed teasingly. "Jesus! Send in the Marines!"
"You don't understand," Jamie muttered, twisting her diamond wedding band on an elegant French-manicured finger. "Peter is a very sexual man. He likes sex every day." A meaningful pause. "Sometimes more than once."
"Hmm..." Madison murmured, thinking that shehadn't had sex in almost a year. Her choice, because who needed to sleep with assholes? And unfortunately that's all she'd come across in the last year -- major assholes. The truth was that ever since her live-in love of two years, David the TV producer rat, had run out on her, she'd been off men. Although there was that very attractive photographer she'd met in L.A. earlier in the year while on assignment for Manhattan Style, the upscale magazine she worked for. His name was Jake Sica, and they'd had chemistry. Unfortunately he'd been involved elsewhere.
Then there was the one-night stand in Miami, where she'd been interviewing The Donald. She'd met a male model at one of the happening clubs in South Beach. He was not very smart, but quite beautiful, with a muscular body and an untamed mane of sun-streaked hair.
One long, passionate night of unbridled lust accompanied by a condom and later a feeling of "Why the hell did I do that?"
No. One-night stands were not for her.
"What do you think I should do?" Jamie wailed. "I can't stand not knowing. It's driving me insane."
"Well...uh...find out, I guess," Madison offered.
"Very helpful," Jamie snapped. "You're supposed to be the smart one with an answer for everything."
Madison sighed. What a label to be stuck with. Unfortunately, it was true. In college she and Jamie were known as "The Beauty" (Jamie) and "The Brain" (Madison). And a third friend, Natalie De Barge, a pretty black girl, was nicknamed "The Sexpot." The three of them had been inseparable.
College had ended seven years ago, and in those seven years they'd all made their mark. Apart from marrying Peter and leading a hectic social life, Jamie had her own successful interior-design firm in Manhattan. It helped that her rich daddy had put up the money and partnered her with Anton Couch -- a gay genius with connections up the kazoo.
Natalie, with nobody to back her, had carved out a career on television. She was currently living in L.A. and cohosting Celebrity News, an E.T.-type entertainment show.
And Madison had an interesting, challenging job and quite a reputation. Her profiles of the rich, powerful and infamous were an important part of Manhattan Style's outstanding success as the magazine of the moment -- regularly outselling Vanity Fair and Esquire. In fact, the piece she'd written on Hollywood call girls earlier in the year had caused quite a stir -- she'd even sold the film rights, although she doubted if the movie would ever get made.
"Okay, here's the plan," she said, deciding that Jamie needed help.
"Yes?" Jamie said, placing her elbows on the table, wide aqua eyes eager for an answer to her problem.
"Have him followed."
"Followed!" Jamie exclaimed, causing the couple at the next table to finally take notice. "I can't do that, it's so...so...cheap."
"Expensive, actually," Madison corrected. "But worth it I'm sure."
"How can that be?"
"Peace of mind. If he's cheating, you'll find out. And if he's not...hey, it'll have cost you a few bucks and normal life resumes."
"Maybe..." Jamie murmured hesitantly, followed by a much firmer, "Okay, I'll do it!"
"Let me check into our options," Madison said briskly, "find out who's the best."
"And the most discreet," Jamie added quickly. "There's no way this can get out."
"I understand," Madison said, sure that her editor, Victor Simons, would be able to come up with exactly who they should hire. Victor knew everything and everybody. Maybe he even knew if Peter was hound-dogging after some sexy nymphet.
Then again, maybe not. Victor and Peter did not travel in the same social circles.
"I'm certain you're wrong," Madison said reassuringly. "But at least this way you'll know."
"Right," Jamie agreed, and felt sick at the thought of catching Peter with another woman.
After saying good-bye outside the restaurant, Madison strode along Park Avenue, heading for the offices of Manhattan Style. Heads turned, but she didn't notice, she was too busy thinking about Jamie and her suspicions.
Madison was a striking-looking woman, tall and slender, with full breasts, dancer's legs and a cloud of long black curly hair that she usually wore pulled back. She tried to play her good looks down, but nothing could disguise her green almond-shaped eyes, sharply defined cheekbones and full, seductive lips. She was a beauty, although she did not consider herself one -- her idea of beauty was her mother, Stella, a statuesque honey blonde whose quivering lips and dreamy eyes reminded most people of Marilyn Monroe.
Lookswise Madison took after her father, Michael. Dark and handsome, Michael Castelli was the best-looking fifty-eight-year-old in Connecticut. He also possessed a beguiling charm and steely determination -- two qualities Madison had definitely inherited, which had not hindered her rise to success as a well-respected writer of revealing and insightful profiles of the notorious and powerful.
Madison loved what she did -- going for the right angle, discovering the secrets of people in the public eye. Politicians and superrich business tycoons were her favorites. Movie stars, sports personalities and Hollywood moguls were low on her list. She didn't regard herself as a killer, although she wrote with searing honesty, sometimes upsetting her subjects, who were usually sheltered in an all-enveloping cocoon of protective PR.
Too bad if they didn't like it, she was merely reporting the truth.
She'd worked under the watchful eye of Victor Simons for five years. They had an excellent relationship, although sometimes Victor could be a total pain, especially when he wanted her to interview a subject she had absolutely zero interest in. Usually they compromised, and she'd reluctantly agree to interview some dingbat movie star sex symbol in exchange for a crack at a nuclear scientist or a computer genius.
Victor had discovered her fresh out of college. She'd written a provocative piece on the still-rampant double standard between men and women, and it had been published in Esquire. He'd taken her to lunch, told her to get more experience, then two years later hired her to write short question-and-answer pieces for his magazine. A year later she'd graduated to brief interviews, then suddenly she'd come up with her signature work: "Madison Castelli -- Profiles in Power."
Her first subject was Henry Kissinger. She'd captured the essence of the aging politician with a sharp, wry wit. After that it was easy. One interview a month, which gave her plenty of free time to work on her novel -- a book about relationships, which was making slow progress while she got over her anger at David for walking out. It wasn't easy writing about relationships while she was still so hurt.
Why had David left? That was the question. Was it something she'd done to turn him off?
No. Deep down she knew the answer. David hadn't been able to accept the fact that she made as much money as he did. It was as simple as that. He was searching for a woman who stayed home and did what he wanted, not an independent free spirit with ambitions.
Two years of great sex did not make a lasting relationship, because after the passion settled down, what was left?
In their case, apparently nothing.
A few weeks after David's abrupt departure, she'd heard that he'd married his childhood sweetheart, a vapid blonde with fake boobs and an annoying overbite.
So much for good taste.
Victor was crouched on the floor in his spacious office, playing with his precious model train set, which wound its way across the room and back again. Victor was a big, cuddly man in his late forties with a mop of frizzy brown hair that appeared to stand on end, matching eyebrows, several chins and puppy-dog eyes.
"Maddy!" he exclaimed in a loud, booming voice. "I wasn't expecting to see you today. Come in."
"Hi, Victor," she said, carefully stepping over a chugging red engine. "Working hard as usual, I see."
"Of course," he said with a hearty chuckle. "Keeps the
old heart pumping. Besides, Evelyn won't let me do this at home."
"I wonder why," Madison murmured, thinking of his pristine skinny-as-a-stick wife with her permanently uptight expression and designer wardrobe.
"Wouldn't do to mess up her living room," Victor responded, hauling himself up.
Madison perched on the edge of his desk. "I need a favor," she announced, picking up a heavy glass paperweight and examining it.
"Good," Victor boomed, sitting down in his leather chair. "There's nothing I like better than people owing me favors."
"I'm not people," Madison pointed out, irritated that he should regard her as such. "And it's not exactly a favor, more a request for information."
"What kind of information?" Victor asked suspiciously.
"Nothing earth-shattering," she said, putting the paperweight down. "I simply require the name of the best private investigator in New York."
Victor tapped his index finger on the desk. "And what makes you think I'd have that?"
"Because you know everything. And besides," she added quickly, "didn't you use someone to follow your first wife before you divorced her?"
His bushy eyebrows shot up. "Who told you that?"
"I hate gossip," he snapped.
"You thrive on it," she responded.
"Why do you need this?"
"For a friend."
"None of your business."
They exchanged smiles.
Madison was extremely fond of Victor, even though he sometimes drove her crazy with his loud voice and often overbearing attitude. And Victor adored Madison, whom he considered his own personal discovery.
Placing the train remote on his desk, Victor buzzed Lynda, his personal assistant who had worked for him for twelve years and, with her lank brown hair and lackluster smile, closely resembled a cross-eyed basset hound.
Lynda materialized immediately, unrequited love oozing from her every pore. "Yes, Mr. S?" she asked anxiously.
"It's confidential," Victor boomed.
Lynda threw Madison a dirty look as if to say, "Then what's she doing here?"
"Get me the name and number of the uh...person who trailed Rebecca," Victor said. "Do it now."
Lynda snapped to attention. "Yes, Mr. S."
And she was gone.
"So..." Victor said, turning to Madison. "You don't care to tell me what this is about?"
"Hey," she answered, purposely keeping it vague. "It's not about me, that should be enough."
"Well, it isn't," he grumbled.
"Don't sweat it, Victor," she said casually. "You wouldn't be interested anyway."
"You need a man," Victor said, his favorite comment whenever she pissed him off. "How long is it since David walked?"
"Stay out of my private life," she warned.
"You're twenty-nine and you have no private life," he reminded her.
God! How she hated it when Victor tried to get into her business. "Fuck you!" she said vehemently.
"Any time you're ready."
She burst out laughing. There was no way she could stay mad at Victor; after all, he meant well, even though he was forever trying to fix her up with any single man that came his way. He didn't care how old they were or what they looked like, as long as they had a reasonable bank account and a working cock he was determined she should give them a try.
She'd given up accepting invitations to dinner at his home. The last one she'd attended she'd found herself seated between an extremely ancient astronaut and a twenty-one-year-old computer nerd. Both interesting men -- but dating material? -- no way.
I don't mind being alone, she told herself.
Yes, you do, an annoying little voice that lived in the back of her head replied.
NO! I don't!
Ten minutes later, armed with the name K. Florian and a phone number, she left the office, cutting down Sixty-seventh Street toward her apartment on Lexington. Now that she had the number she decided she'd better check with Jamie before using it. That evening they were both attending a dinner party at Anton Couch's penthouse apartment, so she'd be able to find out exactly what Jamie wanted her to do.
Yes, and she'd also be able to check out Peter, see what he was up to.
Her people skills were excellent. If Peter was screwing around on Jamie, Madison'd know it. No doubt of that.
Copyright © 2000 by Chances, Inc.