Read an Excerpt
THE ONE I WANT
By NANCY WARREN BRAVA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One "I'm not going to make it," Chloe Flynt moaned into the phone, each word dripping with despair and drama. "I'm so bored."
She was supposed to be in her oil-painting class, but she couldn't summon the enthusiasm. Apart from "Study of the Nude Male", she wasn't having nearly the fun she'd hoped for. She glanced out the window of her bedroom in the villa. The golden Umbrian hills reclined under the sun as though they were enjoying a siesta.
That was the trouble with this place. It was too relaxed. Slow meals, slow pace of life. No decent shopping for miles. Oh, the sixteenth century villa was certainly lovely, but she rather fancied that when she'd bolted from London and her broken engagement, she'd have been better off heading to Milan or Rome. Or better yet, Paris. Someplace where there was some life.
Apart from the rather dishy Tuscan chef who loved nothing more than to tempt her fickle palate, she wasn't really enjoying her newly chosen career as a painter.
"Of course you're bored," her friend Nicky said in the nasal drawl that made her sound like Keira Knightley with a head cold. "Perhaps it was a little soon after breaking off your engagement to be deciding on a career."
"I haven't any talent for painting, anyway," Chloe said, staring dismally out of her window to the garden overlooking the vineyard where eight easels were set up and seven painters were dabbing at canvases with various levels of success. Her own abandoned effort was shockingly bad; even from here she could see that the ocher had been a mistake.
Hearing from Nicky about all the fun that was going on at home in London, without her, only worsened her boredom.
"I can't stand it," she said suddenly. "I'm going to have to quit."
There was annoying laughter at the other end. "Of course you are, silly. We've had bets on how long you'd last. I lost my ten quid last Thursday. If you make it through the end of the week, Gerald Barton-Hinks wins the pool."
They were placing bets on how soon she'd quit? Really it ought to inspire her to stay through to the end of the course, four weeks from now, just to show them all she could do it.
She contemplated this option for a minute, then thought, Sod it, I'm not staying here another month for anything. Besides, it was cheering to know that everyone at home missed her so much, they were making book on when she'd return. "Who wins the pool if I quit today?" she asked.
"I think it's Jack."
Her older and extremely annoying brother, Jack was extremely, annoyingly happy with his American chef-girlfriend. "Perfect. Maybe if he makes a profit he won't be so shirty with me for throwing more of Daddy's money down the drain."
"Are we talking about the same Jack? Your brother Jack? He adores you."
"He's horrible," she said, pouting. How unkind he'd been when she had to cancel her wedding at the last minute.
"He's not horrible. He thinks you should settle down and stop acting irrationally, that's all."
"My engagement was recently broken," she reminded Nicky. "I think I'm entitled to act irrationally."
Another laugh answered her. "That might have worked the first time. You even managed it pretty well the second time, but Chlo, three broken engagements in a row, well, it's getting to be a bad habit."
Chloe sighed, twisting the bracelet with the intertwining Cs around her wrist. "I know. It's just that I've got such awful taste in men. Anyway, I'm done with men. I'm going to have a career instead. But what am I going to do? If I don't become a painter, which I can tell you isn't bloody likely, what sort of job would I like? Because I'm going to have to work, you know. Daddy says that's it. This is my last chance."
"Ouch. Nasty. But then you can always bring your dad around, you know you can."
It was true enough, but lately Daddy had been very glum and had taken to turning out all the lights at home to save on the electric.
"Still, couldn't you manage four more weeks?" Nicky asked.
Chloe glanced out the window again. She saw that the painters were taking a break, stretching their pleasantly tired painting arms, no doubt. She noted that they all gathered around her easel and Giorgio, their teacher, was pointing with his brush at her canvas, which elicited a riotous burst of laughter from the group.
She shook her head violently, and said, "No, I can't stay another minute." To emphasize her decision, she dragged out the matched set of Louis Vuitton luggage that her first almost husband had bought her and, holding the phone against her ear with her shoulder, managed to wrestle the larger of the cases onto the bed.
"Right, then," said Nicky, who was her best friend for a reason. "If you can't stay, you can't."
"It's lovely having someone who truly understands me. I tell you what, call in half a dozen of our friends-the ones with posh jobs. We'll have an emergency summit meeting when I get back." She was beginning to feel excited. She missed her friends, and someone was bound to know of some glamorous, high-paying job she could do.
"An emergency summit meeting? Like at the U.N.?"
"With better food, better drink, and much better-looking delegates."
Nicky was obviously flicking through her appointment diary, Chloe could hear the pages turning. "I'll see what I can do."
"Great. We can have the emergency summit right after my surprise welcome home party."
Happiness began to well inside Chloe like tears. She grabbed her own appointment book. "I'll get a flight out tomorrow. Let's say Friday for the surprise party. And Saturday morning ... No, that won't work. Not after Friday night ... better make it Sunday brunch. We'll meet for my career planning emergency session then."
"Must go. Feeling better for talking to you. Bye."
Chloe's surprise party was crowded with young, smart Londoners. But, of course, parties she and her friends arranged always were. She'd told Nicky that she wanted only six strategic thinkers at the top-secret Sunday brunch to plan her career. But then as she wandered among her friends, she thought how sensible Rupert Hardwich was and invited him. Toward the end of the night, she noticed Gerald Barton-Hinks standing with a group. He was something to do with property development. Probably he'd have lots of leads for jobs. She rather fancied zipping around London showing flats, or whatever estate agents did. She strolled over and said, "Hello, Gerry. Look, this is very hush-hush, but you must come for Sunday brunch to a top-secret emergency summit meeting about my career."
"You've already asked me, my sweet," he said, sounding rather amused about something.
"Oh, did I?" Then, since he was standing with two other people she knew, she felt it was only polite to invite them as well. But it turned out she already had.
"Oh, well," she said, sipping a glass of champagne that was far from her first. "Not to worry. Many heads are better than one."
"Or is it too many cooks who spoil the broth?" Gerald asked.
"I was never much good at cooking," she told him. "I went to Paris to learn, you know, but I had no idea we'd spend the first week peeling vegetables and deboning things." She shuddered in memory.
Gerald gave her that indulgent smile men had been giving her ever since Daddy experienced her first temper tantrum at the age of two. "How long did you last?"
"I could concoct you a soup that would make you weep, and hors d'oeuvres that would have you sighing in pleasure." She looked at his mouth. "And I could certainly amuse your bouche."
He laughed, then gave her a quick kiss. "You are hopeless, you know that, don't you?"
She pouted. It was a trademark pout, one she'd practiced in the mirror during most of her early teen years. "Main courses are boring. And dessert is fattening."
"Life isn't a series of appetizers, Chlo. Someday you'll learn."
But Chloe thought she could live very well on champagne and caviar, and never stray into the boiled beef of life. She hoped very much that the experts guiding her into her new career would provide her with a champagne and caviar sort of job.
Of course, since she'd been rather freer with the invites than she'd intended, there was quite a crowd at Nicky's brunch. In fact, it was more of a party than a serious gathering, but Chloe was nothing if not a party girl. She'd never met a problem that wasn't better put off for another day while laughter, good friends, and good eats and drinks took over today.
At last, however, when more bottles of champagne had been consumed than was strictly necessary, Gerald stood on one of Nicky's tubular steel sixties-style chairs she'd bought when she redecorated her Knightsbridge flat after watching Factory Girl. "Right, I suggest we bring this meeting to order."
After the giggling and stupid jokes died down, he said, "We are all gathered here to help Chloe find a proper job. Any ideas?"
After a long silence, Miranda Peppertree, who did something in banking and had become rather boring, said, "What experience do you have? What are your qualifications?"
"Well ..." She'd given this some thought, not wanting to come to the summit unprepared. "I'm very good at shopping. I could be a personal shopper."
"Not bad," said Gerald, as though Chloe wouldn't notice that Miranda had rolled her gaze and gone back to picking at a bit of smoked salmon on her plate. "Bit of a crowded field, though."
"And would it be as much fun, do you think, shopping for other people?" Nicky asked. At least Nicky was thinking clearly.
"Oh, good point. I'd probably forget and keep buying things for myself."
There were a few more suggestions, but most jobs sounded bloody boring, and Chloe didn't like the sound of any position that included the words entry level. She saw herself more as a penthouse girl than a street-level girl.
"Too bad you didn't simply marry one of those rich blokes who were crazy enough to want to marry you," Gerald said at last.
There was a sudden hoarse laugh from Nicky. "The only thing you're really good at is breaking up with people."
"That's not true."
"It is. And so creatively."
"Well, one likes to be original." She thought of some of her breakups and had to admit she did have flair.
"You even helped me break up with that awful prat from Wales. The one who insisted on quoting Shakespeare when he'd had too much to drink. Do you remember?"
"Of course I do. We wrote him a sonnet. Quite a good one, as I recall."
Nicky snorted. "It started, 'Shall I compare thee to a bale of hay.'"
"He loved horses and farming."
"And was blockish and irritating."
"Why don't you do that, Chlo? Help people break up bad relationships?"
"But you can't make a job out of helping people break up with other people," Miranda said.
"Why not? We send out our laundry, pay other people to manage our finances, deliver our groceries, cook our food, fix our cars. Why not pay an expert to break up with someone for you?" Nicky argued. Of course, Nicky was the laziest girl in London, but still.
"And if you could do it without the other person ending up really hurt, maybe you could earn a bonus."
"Yes, right. It could be a tailor-made breakup, which, let's face it, most of yours are," Gerald said, sounding enthusiastic, for Gerald.
"Expand the concept a bit. People could hire you to break up really obnoxious couples that all their friends know won't work."
"Ooh, like Henrietta and Jeremy?"
Everyone laughed, including Jeremy.
"But ... so many people already know me here," Chloe said, immediately seeing the flaw in this excellent plan.
"Oh, you can't run your business here, love," Nicky said.
Chloe felt some of her excitement dim. She glanced around at the flat crowded with her friends. "Leave London?"
"Not London, darling. England."
"But where would I go?"
Jeremy said, "You'll have to move to America. They'll love you over there. Very entrepreneurial people, the Americans."
"Go to America?" For some reason, she'd never been.
"It would give you a new start."
She thought for a panicked moment about leaving everything familiar, and then, just as suddenly, excitement began to build. "America. Of course!"
It was the perfect answer. There was more scope for her talents there. She'd always wanted to go shopping on Rodeo Drive and lots of her friends loved New York. And if those television shows were any indication, Americans could use her help sorting out their love lives.
"I'd be a real businesswoman with my own company."
"How much can you charge? To break people up, I mean?" Nicky wanted to know.
Silence reigned for a moment, then Chloe said, "I'll call some matchmaking agencies. And then I'll charge double their rates."
"Of course. As we all know, it's a lot easier to get into a bad relationship than it is to get out."
Gerald laughed aloud. "You know, I really believe you'll do brilliantly in America with this company of yours."
"My company," she repeated, not without pride. Then a puzzled frown knitted her brow. "But what would I call it?" she asked the assembled experts.
Gerald raised his glass. "To Chloe Flynt, The Breakup Artist."
Chapter Two Really, when Chloe thought about it, England was a small island. Too small for her talents. America beckoned, big, sprawling, lovely America with its cowboys and fast food, its freeways and film stars. Chloe felt that she'd finished messing about with her life; she was absolutely done with ancient, draughty castles and men who disappointed one.
She longed for some big, burly cattleman with a very large hat to throw her over his shoulder and call her his little woman. Naturally, she'd have to groom him a bit and hint that outside the bedroom she liked very much to be treated like a princess.
No. She was leaving her past behind her and moving on. Look how it had worked for Fergie?
Chloe wasn't one to waste time once she'd decided on a course of action, but as usual in her life, the men were trying to spoil her fun. Daddy wasn't pleased. "No, poppet. I warned you, when you broke off your engagement and traipsed off to France to paint, that I wouldn't fund any more of these ridiculous ideas. You're going to have to settle down and act sensibly."
She was so stunned that Daddy had said "No" that she couldn't quite take in the rest. "It was Italy, Daddy," she said. "I painted in Italy."
He looked annoyed with her, but she'd bring him round. She always could. But after half an hour of the sprightly chatter that usually had him chuckling and bending to her will, he had barely smiled.
"Really, Nigel, you'll have to tell her," Mummy said, sipping her third scotch.
"Tell me what?"
"It's the money, sweetheart. We can't afford you anymore."
"Can't afford me? But-but, I'm your daughter."
"You're twenty-seven, Chloe. Time you were on your own. We'd so hoped the marriage to the ski racer would work and he could take you off our hands."
"I'm sorry I'm such a burden," she said, feeling huffy on the outside, but underneath feeling a quiver of fear. Mummy and Daddy were the port in any storm. The one place where she always felt safe.
"Of course you're not a burden," Daddy said, glaring at his wife. "And we're not poor, love, we've simply got to retrench."
Mother rose and tottered to the drinks trolley.
"What about my credit cards?" she asked, horrified.
Her father looked ill, and for the first time she worried about him. He looked so old and worn out. She experienced a twinge of guilt.
"I'll pay them up once more. But that will be the last time."
"Don't worry, Daddy," she said, feeling like Hayley Mills in Pollyanna. "Once I get my new company started in America, I'll be sending money home."
She managed to get her first chuckle out of her father. "Of course you will, pet. Of course you will."
She left her home after the weekend, quite worried.
All right. She had hoped to borrow some start-up money from her parents to fund her new venture, but obviously that wasn't going to work.
Luckily, the Italian ski racer she'd been recently engaged to hadn't wanted the vulgar diamond he'd given her for an engagement ring. The thing was the size of a small alp and brought in a satisfyingly large amount of cash when she got her brother, Jack, to take care of a private sale for her.
Six weeks later, Chloe was on her way to Austin, Texas.
Jack, who was very annoying but also quite sensible in a way she never would be, and whose advice was usually right, warned her away from Manhattan. "The shopping and parties will do you in in a fortnight," he'd warned. "And this time you're on your own."
Excerpted from THE ONE I WANT by NANCY WARREN Copyright © 2008 by Nancy Warren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.