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Not that Kind of Girl
By Susan Donovan
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Susan Donovan
All rights reserved.
The room nearly overflowed with hope, joy, and love, and Roxanne Bloom knew if she didn't get out of there within the next thirty seconds, the top of her head would blow off.
"Having a swell time?" Bea asked, squeezing her formidable figure between Roxanne and the throng of baby shower revelers.
Busted, Roxie thought to herself with a sigh.
True, her friend Bea Latimer didn't miss much, but Roxanne was sure she'd been doing a stellar job of faking it, hanging back in the corner of the big living room, smiling and nodding at all the right times. In fact, she'd just cooed with approval moments before, right when everyone else did, and with the appropriate level of enthusiasm. So how did Bea notice that Roxie was about as comfortable as a nun at a Chippendales show?
A new wave of oohs and aahs came and went. Roxie peeked around Bea to see her friends Josie and Ginger sniffing back tears, rubbing their equally ginormous bellies, and shaking their heads over the beauty of their matching baby jogger strollers with racing-stripe awnings and radial tires.
Roxanne checked the time on her cell phone, wondering if it would be rude to leave early. She could always say she wasn't feeling well, which wouldn't be a complete lie, because all the cooing, nodding, smiling, and teary-eyed sniffing had given her one mother of a headache.
Bea frowned. "What's up, Rox? Your face is as white as my ass in January."
Roxanne shuddered, fighting off the mental image. "I'm good," she said.
"The hell you are." Bea took a quick swig from her low-carb beer. "I'll tell you what. Why don't you take five to pull yourself together? Go outside and run around the tennis courts or something. Maybe shoot a few hoops. What's the point of partying at a wine country estate if you don't take advantage of all the amenities. Am I right?" Bea leaned closer and lowered her voice. "Whatever you do, make sure it's an attitude adjuster. You look like you're at a wake instead of a baby shower and I know you don't want Ginger and Josie to see you're not happy for them."
"But I'm thrilled for them!" Roxanne whispered, horrified that her friends might ever think such a thing.
Bea's expression softened. She smiled a little. "I know you're happy for them."
"I love them. I'm glad their lives are so wonderful."
"I know." Bea patted Roxanne's arm.
"I mean," Roxanne continued, "just because I don't believe in true love or marriage or happiness doesn't mean I can't enjoy a fuckin' baby shower for those who do!"
One of Bea's eyebrows shot up high on her forehead, but before she could respond, the front door of the old mansion opened. Everyone stopped their oohing and aahing long enough to see who the late arrival might be.
Roxanne already knew. She knew even before she got a peek at the wide brim of a black felt cowboy hat and before that hat came off and the tussle of dark blond hair was revealed. It was almost as if she sensed him before she could see him. So, before Eli Gallagher could stick his handsome head all the way into the room and unleash one of his modest yet stunning smiles, Roxanne was out of there and halfway through the kitchen, the back door her salvation.
Unfortunately, Bea was right behind her.
"I didn't know Rick invited him," Bea said, jogging to catch up.
"He works for Rick, so why not?" Roxanne reached the kitchen door latch. "Anyway, Rick can invite anyone he wants. This is Rick's home. It's Rick's party! For God's sake — it's Rick's baby!" Roxanne caught herself. "Well, only one of them is his baby. The other one's Lucio's. But you know what I mean."
Roxanne cringed at the sound of her own distracted rambling, hoping Bea wouldn't notice.
She noticed. "Well, well," Bea said with a snort. "I had no idea Eli Gallagher had gotten under your skin that bad."
Roxanne spun around. She pointed a finger at Bea. "That man is not under my skin. Never again is a man going to get under my skin, or anything else I'm wearing. I am not that kind of girl anymore. Got it?" She flung open the kitchen door and prepared to stomp off indignantly. She didn't get far.
A short old lady blocked Roxanne's exit down the steps. The lady's eyes were squinted and her hands were on her hips. Her sturdy legs were widespread. Her orthopedic shoes were planted firmly on the worn bricks.
Roxie gasped. "Mrs. Needleman?"
"That would be me," she said in her usual cheerful warble, her eyes now twinkling with amusement.
Roxanne shot an accusatory look Bea's way.
"I didn't know she was out here! I swear!" Bea raised her hands in surrender. "Seriously, Rox. The last time I looked she was sitting in the recliner with a cup of tea. I have no idea how she got out here so fast."
"You aren't leaving, are you, dear?" Mrs. Needleman smiled so wide that Roxanne feared the lady's dentures would lose their berth. Then Mrs. Needleman clapped her hands together and laughed. "It's such a fun party! There is miraculous power in preparing for a new life, you know. And one can't help but be touched by the pure joy of it." She gripped Roxie's wrist. "And to think — today we are lucky enough to share in the preparation for two new lives. That's twice the joy! Twice the miraculous power!"
Roxanne pasted a pleasant smile on her face, trying not to show she was now twice as likely to lose her lunch. This Gloria Needleman chick — this goofy, correspondence-course minister and self-proclaimed cosmic matchmaker (whom Josie and Ginger swore had helped them find their true loves) — was the last person on earth she wanted to chat with.
Strike that. Gloria was second-to-last. Eli Gallagher was taking up the rear.
"I was just stepping out for some air," Roxanne said, gently pushing Mrs. Needleman aside. The old lady wouldn't budge. "Excuse me, please," Roxie said, finally dislodging her enough so that she could get down the two steps to the patio. She started to jog off toward the barn.
She turned back, nearly laughing at the sight — Mrs. Needleman looked like a garden gnome compared to Bea, who towered behind her in the kitchen doorway.
"Stop right there," Roxie said, hoping the old broad would have mercy on her. Really, how blunt did she have to be? After Ginger's wedding three months ago, right here on this very patio in fact, Roxie had informed Gloria Needleman that under no circumstances was she interested in finding a man, or, as the wrinkled old bat had put it, her beloved. And nothing in the last three months had changed her mind.
"Please, Mrs. Needleman," she told her now. "Don't start with the love crap again."
"I'm afraid it's already started, my dear," Mrs. Needleman whispered sweetly, shrugging. "It's out of anyone's hands now."
Roxie nodded curtly. "Great. Gotta run. See ya."
"How's your angry little doggie doing? What's her name again?"
Roxie went still. She let go with a deep sigh of surrender, aware that she'd been suckered in. "My dog's name is Lilith."
"Yes, yes, of course," Mrs. Needleman said, nodding. "The mythological demon of the night, the ancient embodiment of man's fear of everything female."
Roxie suddenly perked up, impressed by Mrs. Needleman's grasp of the subject matter. She smiled at her with renewed respect. "Right on, sister."
"A man-hating succubus."
Roxanne blinked, becoming suspicious. Was this lady mocking her? "So what's your point?"
"Oh, I was simply thinking how your dog's name reflects the whole tenor of your life, Roxanne. Even the little 'Men Make Me Sick' gift shop you operate."
"It's www.i-vomit-on-all-men.com," Roxanne corrected her. "It's hyphenated."
Mrs. Needleman shrugged, as if the details didn't matter.
"It's an online social network," Roxie pressed on. "I've created a community where women all over the world can go to tell their horror stories and find encouragement and support. And yes, I do happen to offer T-shirts and coffee mugs and a few other novelty products, but that doesn't make it a damn gift shop."
Mrs. Needleman dismissed the detail with a wave of her wrinkly hand. "Regardless, I'm assuming you've not dealt with Lilith's aggression issues."
"Why would you assume that? She's not here today. You don't even know my dog." Roxie let go with an offended laugh. "Besides, she's doing much better, for your information."
Mrs. Needleman smiled sadly. "Dear girl, there's no need to bronze the turd with me."
Roxie looked to Bea with wide eyes, hoping for some clarification. Bea was happy to provide it, even though she nearly doubled over with the giggles in the process. "She means ..." — snort — "she means you don't have to put lipstick on a pig for her, you know, soften the truth."
Roxanne wasn't amused. "And the truth would be what, Gloria?"
"The truth is this — if you'd found a way to help your little doggie, you wouldn't be the angry and uncomfortable young woman I see today, still trying to run away from life."
Whoa. Roxie felt as if she'd just been punched in the gut. Her legs became wobbly and hot. She flailed her hands around behind her, seeking out one of the sturdy old portico pillars to hold her up.
Bea gently placed her hands on Mrs. Needleman's shoulders. "How about we go back inside now, Gloria?" she suggested. "I bet we're missing out on a whole shitload of joy in there."
Mrs. Needleman laughed, brushing Bea's hands off her shoulders. "Patience, Beatrice," she said. "You might learn a thing or two."
Roxanne leaned fully against the pillar, steeling herself as she watched the Grandma from Hell advance toward her, one rickety step at a time.
"I know you think I'm a crazy old lady."
Roxanne straightened. This would be where a polite person might say, "Of course not!"
"You're a fruitcake, Gloria," was her response.
The old lady giggled, her thin shoulders bouncing up and down in delight.
"Find someone else to harass," Roxie added.
Mrs. Needleman let go with a long sigh. "I'm getting quite old, you know. I'm eighty-five. Not feeling like myself lately. No time to waste." Her eyes were suddenly shadowed with sadness.
"Hey, hey! Don't talk like that!" Bea scurried up behind her and cradled her elbow.
Mrs. Needleman continued addressing Roxanne. "I know you are a thoroughly modern young woman. I can see you have no patience for fools."
"And I understand that you're protecting your heart."
Roxanne laughed, crossing her arms tightly under her breasts. "Damn right I am. If I don't, who will?"
"I just have one favor to ask of you."
Roxanne groaned and looked to Bea, whose eyes were large and pleading. Just do it, for God's sake, Bea mouthed silently from behind Gloria.
"Fine. What — ever," Roxanne said. "If I agree to your favor, will you leave me alone? I'm not in the mood for one of your love interventions."
Mrs. Needleman laughed. "Thank you, dear," she said. "Once you do this one little favor for me, I'll never bother you again. I won't need to."
"Deal," Roxanne said, hoping she could trust this lady's word. "What do you want?"
"I want you to leave the door to your heart open just a crack, my dear girl — just an itty-bitty, tiny crack. That's all I ask."
Roxanne's jaw dropped. She had officially reached her limit of civility. "What the hell are you talking about? My door's already flung wide open!" She was pissed now. This lady hardly knew the first thing about her, her life, her history. "It just so happens that I love my friends and my dog and my job and I get along passably well with my neighbors, even the obsessive-compulsive ones. My mother and I are still on speaking terms, for God's sake, which is more than I can say for a lot of twenty-nine-year-old women! You make me sound like some kind of cold bitch or something, which couldn't be further from the truth!"
Mrs. Needleman shook her head sadly. "I never meant to imply that."
"A man will be at your door very soon now, Roxanne." Mrs. Needleman's eyes became intensely focused as she spoke. "And this man will be different. He'll be strong enough to knock down the wall you've built around your heart, and brave enough to love everything he finds behind it."
Bea rolled her eyes at Roxanne as if to apologize. Then she pulled gently on Mrs. Needleman's arm. "Come on now, Gloria. You want to see when they open your gifts, don't you?"
As Roxanne watched Bea help Mrs. Needleman toward the kitchen door, her head got fuzzy. That lady was a whack job, plain and simple. It was like she was on some kind of mission to test the limits of Roxie's sanity. In fact, Gloria Needleman could qualify as a stalker, a senior citizen stalker! And her prophecy about some man breaking down the door to Roxie's heart? That door she'd agreed to leave open a crack?
Roxie began a casual jog toward the barn, thinking that any man foolish enough to show up on her doorstep would get a foot up the crack of his ass.
In just seconds, Roxanne found herself at the barn, her lungs burning and her breath coming hard. Apparently, her casual jog had become a full-out sprint and she hadn't even noticed.
* * *
"Sorry I'm late," Eli said. He took off his Stetson and held it to his heart as he approached the two guests of honor. The mothers-to-be were perched like fertility-goddess bookends on the oversized leather sofa.
"Come in, Eli!" said Rick's wife, Josie, her round face lit up with excitement and happiness. "We're glad you could make it."
Immediately, the dogs were sniffing his legs. Through his peripheral vision he saw four of them. Three he knew were Rick and Josie's dogs — Tara, the little terrier mix, Chen, their big hulking mutt, and Genghis, the knuckle- headed Labradoodle. With a quick glance he saw that the fourth was their friend Bea's Finnish spitz, Martina. Now that was a secure dog. Once the pack was sufficiently calm, Eli knelt down to give them a proper friendly greeting.
Suddenly, a fifth dog appeared, having serpentined her way through the obstacle course of folding chairs and two-legged roadblocks. It was Ginger and Lucio's little bichon frise. Today she was wearing a flirty pink bow on top of her head. Eli had to laugh. He made sure she got her share of ear rubs, head pats, and belly scratches.
"There he is, the Pied Piper of the puppies!" Lucio Montevez said in his thick Spanish accent. "Come in! Come in!" Ginger's husband waved broadly, holding up his wineglass.
Eli rose from his crouch and moved farther into the room, certain the dogs would allow him to pass. He made his way to Ginger and Josie, kissing each on the cheek as he set down one gift bag per pile of loot.
"Where might I find Rick?" Eli inquired.
"He and Teeny are carrying some of the presents out to Ginger and Lucio's car," Josie said, smiling sheepishly. "It was getting a little crowded in here."
Eli chuckled, looking around the packed room. He saw many familiar faces from the corporate headquarters of Celestial Pet, where he worked as a canine behavioral consultant, but the rest were strangers to him. He smiled politely to everyone as he took a seat. Lucio handed him a beer.
"Gracias," he told him.
Not surprisingly, Roxanne Bloom was nowhere to be seen. Eli figured she must have run out the back door.
He'd taken a single sip from his beer when he felt a heavy weight on his right foot. He didn't bother to look down, and immediately made a sharp shh sound. The weight moved off his foot and settled on the floor next to him. Only then did he reach down and pet the outrageous spiral curls that could only belong to Genghis, his very first San Francisco client.
Eli smiled down at the dog. "How's it hangin', my man?" he asked, rubbing the Labradoodle behind his ears.
Eli heard the kitchen door slam and turned his head, everything inside him jumping to attention at the thought that she might be returning. Instead he saw Bea Latimer and the increasingly frail little old lady who'd married Josie and Rick, and later, he'd heard, officiated at the marriage of Lucio and Ginger. He watched Bea help Mrs. Needleman to a comfortable recliner and make her way to an empty folding chair next to him. Martina trotted at her side.
Excerpted from Not that Kind of Girl by Susan Donovan. Copyright © 2010 Susan Donovan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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