Read an Excerpt
"I still can't believe I was fired. Everyone loved my work. They told me so every day. Well, okay, most days." Allie McDonald paced from one end of her and Julie's living room to the other, which took about four and a half steps. You had to love the wide-open spaces of Manhattan apartments. She could pace the kitchen standing still. "Clients loved my ideas, too. I heard a hundred times how their products or services really popped in the pieces I designed. And most of all, it makes no sense that they'd let me go and keep old whatshername, who everyone hated, even though she's been there forever."
"Yeah?" Her roommate sedately turned a page of Saveur magazine, her long legs tucked under her on their bright red couch. "Get over it."
"I know, I know, you're sick of me." Allie stopped pacing and shoved her hands through her long hair. Her bangs were getting caught on her eyelashes. At least she could hack those off herself. The rest could just keep growing until she got another job. With luck she wouldn't look like Rapunzel by then. "I've been whining about this for the past week."
"Have you?" Julie turned another page, examining it with apparent fascination. "Honestly, I stopped listening after the first four or five hundred times."
Allie cracked up. A native New Yorker through and through, Julie Turner talked tough but she'd walk through lava to help those she loved. They'd been roommates and fast friends at the Rhode Island School of Design-Allie with a full scholarship, Julie with a full tuition check from Mom and Dad-and had found this apartment through one of Julie's parents' friends. No matter what you needed or wanted in the city, the Turners knew someone or knew someone who knew someone.
It would be very easy to hate Julie if she wasn't so wonderful. Beautiful, sophisticated, wealthy and smart, she led a charmed life. Men fell for her in droves. She could eat whatever she wanted and stay thin. Straight out of RISD, she'd landed a job at Vanity Fair
Come to think of it, Julie was the type of woman Allie's father had ditched his family for. Only Julie was human.
Allie wasn't the type men lined up for. She had dull caramel-blond hair and girl-next-door features, scoured secondhand shops, made her own clothes and controlled her weight through relentless exercise and constant sacrifice. It took her nearly a year after graduating to land her job as a graphic artist at Boynton Advertising. Five years later, having been promoted to assistant art director, the company hit hard times and-bang, thanks, bye-here she was, pounding the crowded New York City pavement again, worrying about rent again, though Julie had promised to cover her until Allie got back on her feet. Trust funds must be wonderful things. The closest Allie ever got to a trust fund was the jar in their old Brooklyn apartment into which her mother dropped quarters whenever Allie babysat her five brothers and managed not to kill any of them.
She flopped onto the couch next to Julie and let her head sink back on the cushion. "I feel like a failure."
"You're not a failure."
"I didn't say I was a failure, I said I felt like one."
"Stop feeling like a failure."
Allie clapped her hands. "Hey, that worked. Thanks!"
"Your problem is that you don't have enough to do."
"Because I have no job, because I was fired."
Julie snorted. "You're doing everything you're supposed to be doing to find another one. But it's not enough to fill your day, so you-"
"Get restless and cranky and then I whine at you."
"Yuh-huh." Julie put down her magazine. "Hey, you know I don't mind. Whine away. God knows I would. Losing your job is serious stuff. As I've said over and over, if there's anything I can do to help, let me know. Besides giving you my job."
"Aw! I was just about to ask for it." Allie grinned at her. "You are doing more than enough just putting up with me. This is so not where I thought I'd be six years out of school."
Julie lifted a perfect dark eyebrow. "My point is you need something to do, some project. Like design a line of clothing that will take London, Paris and Milan by storm. You'll fill your time and your creative well."
"My creative well." Allie stared hopelessly at a triangular crack in the ceiling paint. She hadn't designed anything substantive since she'd started working at Boynton. "Someone threw a plagued rat into it."
"There's my little optimist."
Allie's cell phone rang from her back pocket. She pulled it out. Maybe a job interview? Maybe London, Paris or Milan? "It's Erik."
"Oooh, your favorite colleague and sexual predator."
"Ex-colleague. Who finally did stop hitting on me."
"Because you're not there anymore."
"Good point." Allie answered the call. "Hey, Erik."
"Alli-i-ie." He yelled her name so loudly Allie yanked the phone from her ear. Julie rolled her eyes and went back to her magazine.
"Shhh, Erik. Jeez, you just made my head explode."
"And that's a problem because."
"What's going on? No!" She raised her hand dramatically. "Don't tell me. Boynton wants me back. They're begging, in fact."
"They should be. They're morons for letting you go."
Even though Erik tended to say whatever people wanted to hear, she decided this time he was being absolutely sincere. "They certainly are."
"So how are you doing?"
"Anxious. Frustrated. Bored."
"Need a little excitement?"
"Uhh why don't you tell me what kind of excitement first, then I'll tell you if I need it." A lead on a job was the kind of excitement she needed. Erik trying to get into her pants was not.
Getting into female pants was what Erik did. If he could get women to pay him for sex, he'd be twice the billionaire he already was, due to family megabucks. Sometimes she thought the only reason he paid her so much attention was because he still hadn't succeeded with her. Nor would he ever, which she'd told him in no uncertain terms, but to Erik that was so much blah-blah-blah.
The funny thing was, Allie liked him. Really liked him. She respected that he worked hard at a day job like the rest of the poor rats in the race. And she suspected that underneath all the BS and swagger there was an insecure mess of a guy with a really good heart. She even managed to feel a little sorry for him. Which meant she was nice to him, which, unfortunately, meant he thought he still had a chance. Men were pretty slow about stuff like that. "This is the chance of a lifetime, Allie."
"How'd you like to spend a week in the Adirondacks on Lake George? Or two weeks?"
"Your family's summer house?" She'd heard about the place and had seen a few pictures-beautiful house, beautiful lake. The temptation was immediate, even as she was formulating her no-thank-you speech. Leave hot, smelly New York in July for a luxury oasis? For a wonderfully cool, breezy, relaxing week or two? It would be impractical, irresponsible, and serve as needless encouragement for the Great Horned Predator, but who wouldn't be tempted?
"Yes, our cottage in the woods."
Allie snorted. If that enormous place was a cottage, she was the queen of planet earth. "So, Erik, we're talking a week up there, just the two of us?"
Julie shook her head emphatically no.
"Oh. Well Wait, I haven't gotten to the best part."
"I'm listening." She was a little afraid of the best part.
"My grandmother and great-grandmother were total fashionistas and they never threw anything away. The attic is full of their clothes. In mint condition."
Allie came to full attention. Antique clothes. Her passion. "Really."
"Here's the best part. Mom wants to get rid of them before we sell the house."
"You're selling that place?"
"Yeah." His voice thickened. "Since Mom and Dad moved to Germany they can't get back here often enough to make it worthwhile. I've been after my brother to buy it with me, but so far no good. I'd buy it myself, but it's too much for one person to keep up. And they're right, the house deserves to be used and lived in."
"Erik, that's terrible." She knew how much he loved the place.
"It is. But back to the clothes. There are at least four trunks. You'll get first rights to everything."
"I'll- Everything?" Allie stood there, blinking at Julie's curious stare. Erik's grandmother and great-grandmother would mean clothes from the 1920s and '40s. This could be an amazing collection. It could be fashion nirvana. "Wow. That sounds incredible. But, Erik it'll just be you and me up there?"
Julie waggled her finger urgently, no, no, no.
"Allie, Allie, Allie. You still don't trust me?"
"Nuh-uh," she said pleasantly, her heart still pounding at the thought of all those clothes. Would she sell her body for this chance?
Umm not quite.
"I'm not going to try anything. I swear." He was trying very hard to sound sincere. Or maybe he was sincere. It was frustratingly hard to tell with Erik. "I figured you'd want first shot at the clothes. Plus, you being in a tough spot and all, I thought the break would be nice, too."
"I don't know.. "
Julie drew her finger across her neck. Cut! "Yeah, so, anyway." Erik cleared his throat. "It won't be just me there."
Allie narrowed her eyes. "Now you're telling me this?"
She waited. Nothing. "So who else will be there?"
Julie frowned skeptically.
"My brother, Jonas. And his girlfriend."
Hmm. Allie narrowed her eyes, ignoring the jump in her pulse at the mention of his brother, the hottest man in the Northeast if not the universe. "Are you making this up?"
"No, I'm not making this up. What makes you think I'm making this up?"
"The way you never hesitate to make things up."
"I'll prove it to you. I'll have Jonas email you saying he's going. That okay?"
"I'm not even sure I'm going."
"How could you not go? A whole attic full of clothes, Allie, yours for the taking. Gowns and hats and shoes and I don't know, they probably even kept underwear. How can you pass this up?"
She didn't think she could. Not only would the break do her good, but somewhere in this treasure trove of history, there might be the seeds of a new business or career. All her life she'd been obsessed with clothes of the past, watched old movies obsessively, worshipped Edith Head, who'd costumed the greatest stars from the golden age of cinema-the 1920s to the 1960s. When Allie was a little girl, she'd designed outfits for her dolls on her mom's old sewing machine, and started designing her own clothes in high school.
Reality hit her when she graduated from college. She needed a stable, well-paying career, because unlike Erik, she couldn't count on her family for support or inheritance. Three of her five brothers had gone to community colleges to learn trades, but Allie had wanted more from the minute she was old enough to understand the difference between the haves and have-nots. Which, not coincidentally, was when her father had met La Richesse Bitchesse and left them to live on the Upper East Side. He'd moved into a fabulous full-floor condo with his new wife and her two snotty kids, while his real family had moved to Kensington in Brooklyn. All seven of them had crammed into a three-bedroom apartment located in a borderline neighborhood at best. Mom had started drinking in earnest then.
A few times a year they visited their father in his luxury digs, and were sneered at by his new children and ignored by his wife, Betsy. Allie had vowed that someday she'd live well enough to get back at him for what he'd done to them. And that she'd never make the same mistake her mother had, and depend on a man for her livelihood. Nor would she make the same mistake her father had, and go crawling after money she hadn't earned.
"I'll pick you up on Friday after work."
"Jonas will be emailing you as soon as I can get in touch with him."
Julie threw up her hands.
"We'll have fun. More than fun. We'll have a blast. And you'll come back with a truckload of the most fabulous clothes you've ever seen."
"I haven't decided yet." Except she sort of had.
"C'mon, say you'll go." Mr. Account Executive, trying to close the sale.
"Give me an hour to think about it."
"Allie, Allie, you want to go, you know you want to go. You can keep up with job openings online, you have your cell in case anyone calls, you're mere hours away if you need to get back. You won't miss anything. Unless you stay here."
He was right. Her panic stemmed from feeling as if she could control her life better from here, where the solutions lay. But really, she could stay on top of the job hunt up in paradise, too. If any of the résumés she'd sent out caught someone's eye, Allie could rush home in a blink.
In the meantime, there were those clothes. And that lake. And the elegant house. Julie's life. Her father's life. Maybe hers someday. Lives that fascinated as much as they repelled her. Just for a week. Or two. Then back to reality and more important things.
"You absolutely promise your brother will be there with his girlfriend, and that this is not some elaborate seduction ploy?"
"I absolutely promise." He spoke firmly, without hesitation.
Allie turned away from Julie's warning look. "Okay, Erik. I'll go."