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Name & Address Withheld
By Jane Sigaloff
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy is it that we always want what we can't have? It doesn't matter whether it's that Prada bag, Nike's latest offering to trainer culture, Jennifer Aniston's hair, Jennifer Aniston's husband, George Clooney or the senior school sweetheart; there are times in our lives when we think - no, we know - that life would be complete if only we had the item in question. By the same token it is a human failing that we rarely realise what we do have until it is no longer ours to keep. Both have happened to me more often than I would care to remember.
Mark was all I ever wanted between the ages of fifteen and sixteen. My school exercise books were littered with his name, hearts with our initials carved by my lust during double English and, most importantly, our percentage of compatibility which I once worked out to be eighty-four per cent. A miscalculation. I should have spent more time paying attention in maths. When he finally asked me out the week after my seventeenth birthday - because, I now fear, he had asked everyone else out already - I thought I was going to burst with pleasure. It was a match made in heaven - I had the soft-focus daydreams to prove it.
For five weeks it was the real hand-holding thing. My months of background research paid off and I had all the right answers to his questions and all the right cassettes in my collection. I was In Love. Then the object of my misplaced affection stole my virginity before chucking me publicly and unceremoniously just before the end of term. My life ended as quickly as it had begun. I wept and fasted, and wept and fasted some more. Then came the hunger and I ate like never before. My adolescence would certainly have been less traumatic without him, but I would have laughed in the face of anyone who'd tried to tell me at the time. Adult lesson # 1 learned; the hard way ...
"There you go, love. Have a nice evening." Lizzie looked up from the magazine. She'd been so busy checking her weekly column for mistakes that she'd momentarily been transported back to her teens. A fist of nerves settled in her stomach as she realised that she'd arrived at her destination.
Four hundred people were expected to celebrate Christmas and a successful first year in which City FM had been put on the radio map and, as the station controller Richard Drake liked to tell her, as their newest recruit she was an important part of that. Lizzie wished he was there to remind her just once more for the record as her self-confidence temporarily vanished and she fought an increasingly strong urge to melt into the Soho crowds and disappear. Just because it was a work do, it didn't mean that it was supposed to feel like an assignment, and she couldn't help feeling that anything referred to as a "do" should always be a don't. There was, of course, the develop-a-mysterious-24-hour-bug tactic, but from previous experience Lizzie knew that two painful hours at the office party were worth their weight in nights out on the beers for the rest of the year.
As the taxi pulled away from the kerb, having deposited its perfumed payload on the pavement, a familiar ringing noise caught her attention. Saved by the bell? She prayed it was an emergency. Nothing life-threatening, just party-threatening.
Lizzie rummaged for her mobile, which for several rings eluded her grasp despite the smallness of her bag.
"It's nearly quarter to ten, for God's sake. Shouldn't you be paralytic by now?"
Lizzie smiled. It was Clare. Best friend, flatmate and chief party outfit adviser.
"I've literally just got out of the cab."
"Well, hurry up and get yourself to that bar. It's one thing being fashionably late, but if you leave it much longer no one will even remember you were there at all. Just remember you're gorgeous, witty, intelligent, beautiful and sober ... well, relatively ... an inestimable advantage at this stage of the evening. You'll be able to impress them all by still being capable of pronouncing words of more than one syllable. Leave your nerves in the cloakroom and get yourself a drink."
"Thanks. I will ..." A few ego-bolstering words of support and Lizzie's attitude had done a U-turn. "And thanks for all your top fashion advice earlier. Thank God for you and your wardrobe."
Way back, B.C. (before Clare), Lizzie had endured a couple of outfit faux pas. Now she was practically a D-list celebrity she couldn't afford to rock any boats with her choice of partywear.
"No problem. Couldn't have you rocking up in pin-striped skin-tight stretch drainpipe jeans!"
"Listen, you, that photo was taken in 1984. Anyone who was anyone had a pair. Probably even Madonna."
Clare ignored her. Her job was done and, besides, she had a restaurant to run.
"Lots of love ... catch up with you in the morning for a debrief."
Lizzie snapped her expensively compact mobile shut. Giving herself a sultry smile, she pulled her shoulders back, instantly adding breasts to her outfit, and despite the newness of her shoes managed to sashay the requisite twenty metres to the door retaining both her composure and the full use of both ankles.
"Lizzie Ford." Sullenly the bouncer checked his list before slowly unhooking the rope that stood between her and the rest of the evening. While the stretch of red curtain tie-back cord at midcalf level wouldn't have stopped anything - with the exception, perhaps, of a stray sheep - from getting in if it really wanted to, it was all about the image of exclusivity. Judging by the relief Lizzie now felt at being on the right side, it was working.
She smiled amicably at a couple of semi-familiar faces as she swept - well, stepped - into the party, which was already in full swing. Parties had been much more fun when she could waltz up to people who knew nothing about her, might never see her again, and didn't know where to find her. Now, with her own jingle and her own show, she had forfeited her right to anonymity.
Excerpted from Name & Address Withheld by Jane Sigaloff Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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