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"I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine."—Caskie Stinnett
Whoa! Who's that?" Jordan asked, leaning over to pick up the newspaper he'd just knocked off the kitchen table en route to the refrigerator. "She's really hot!"
Mallory Marlowe glanced up from the coffee mug that up until that moment had been the focus of her attention. She assumed that the female who had aroused such a strong reaction in her eighteen-year-old son would turn out to be a member of the Star-of-the-Month club, some actress or singer who was as well known for flaunting her curves as she was for her talent.
So as soon as she saw the face staring back at her from the front page of the New York Times Style section, she gasped.
"Oh, my gosh!" she cried. "I know her!"
" 'Carly Cassidy Berman,' " Jordan read aloud. "She invented some magic potion that makes people young again. Or so she claims."
"Let me see that."
Mallory reached for the newspaper, still wondering if somehow she was mistaken. Yet there was Carly Cassidy, staring right back at her from page one, wearing the same cat-that-ate-the-canary grin she'd worn when she'd been crowned Homecoming Queen. In full color, no less.
"You really know her?" Jordan asked as he retrieved a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator.
"I sure do," Mallory replied. "We went to JFK High together. Everybody knew her. In fact, she was voted Most Likely to Succeed."
"Cool." Jordan plopped down in the seat opposite hers. "She looks amazing—for somebody your age, I mean. Maybe that crazy potion of hers really works."
Mallory had to agree that that was a definite possibility. From the picture, it looked as if wrinkles, not to mention cellulite, had failed to stake a claim during the past two and a half decades. In fact, Carly didn't look much older than she had in high school.
True, her hairstyle had changed. Gone were the long, silky tresses that as a teenager she was forever flipping over her shoulder. While her hair was still just as blond and still just as silky, these days it was cut into a complicated set of layers. It curved around her face in such a flattering way that it looked as if a stylist had meticulously arranged each individual strand.
Her face had also changed since her days of shouting "Who's your worst en-e-my? John F. Kenn-e-dy! Go-o-o, Bulldogs, go!" on the football field every Saturday. But while her girlish prettiness was gone, it had been replaced by a womanly beauty that was at least as striking.
All in all, there was no mistaking that the woman pictured on the front page was indeed Carly Cassidy, apparently now known as Carly Cassidy Berman. After taking a strong sip of her coffee, Mallory began to read.
Bottles the Waters of the Fountain of Youth
Can drinking a magic potion twice a day turn back the hands of the clock? Carly Cassidy Berman thinks so. So do the thousands of believers who have been scrambling to snatch Berman's creation, Rejuva-Juice, off the shelves at health food stores all over the country.
They've also been flocking to Berman's chichi spa, Tavaci Springs, its name derived from the Native American Ute tribe's word for "sun." She opened it less than a year ago in tony Aspen, Colorado, well known as an enclave of the financially and physically fit. Local residents and visitors alike not only endure a six-month wait for a reservation; they also pay upwards of fifteen hundred dollars a day for the privilege of staying at this mountain hideaway that combines the rustic elements of a former silver mining town with an array of touchy-feely New Age accoutrements. The hefty price tag enables guests to imbibe unlimited quantities of the pricey potion, as well as to indulge in facials, massages, body wraps, and even mud baths that incorporate the same ingredients that reportedly make Rejuva-Juice "plastic surgery in liquid form."
But fans of Rejuva-Juice say it's much more than Botox-in-a-bottle. Its devotees insist that it also significantly increases both their energy level and their mental powers.
The secret, according to the elixir's creator, is the unique ingredients, which Berman claims have never before been available. The determined entrepreneur spent two years traveling around the world, trekking to remote villages in such locales as the Himalayas in Nepal, the rain forests of South America, and the tropical islands of the South Pacific. Her mission was to learn about the herbs, roots, and other substances that primitive peoples have used for centuries to improve their well-being and increase their life span.
As for the formula used to make this magical potion, the wizard behind it has no intention of divulging it.
"That's a secret I'll take to my grave," jokes Berman, who is forty-five but looks at least a decade younger, making her a walking advertisement for her product's effectiveness. "Some of Rejuva-Juice's components are already well known, such as acai berries and goji juice. But others, the ones that really make it so amazingly effective, were never available in this country before. That is, until I spent two years slogging through mud and climbing mountains and paddling down rivers to reach the most isolated spots in the world. I was determined to track down these miracle ingredients and bring them back home with me."
Mallory stopped reading long enough to take another sip of coffee. Oddly enough, it suddenly tasted like some of that mud Carly Cassidy had slogged through en route to fame and fortune.
She skimmed the rest of the article, which interwove experts' dismissals of Rejuva-Juice's purported benefits with quotes from some of its die-hard fans, including a few movie stars who were household names. When she reached the end, she sighed loudly and folded the newspaper in half, coincidentally removing Carly's face from view.
Mallory did her best to muster up good feelings about her former acquaintance's success. After all, she had nothing against her, aside from the mild case of envy that suddenly reared its ugly head, momentarily making her feel as if she was back in high school.
Involuntarily, she glanced down at her ratty pink bathrobe, a gift from her daughter long before she'd even started college. In fact, she seemed to remember that it dated back to the time when Amanda still believed in Santa Claus. As if the robe's fraying cuffs and threadbare chenille weren't depressing enough, she was also wearing the bottom halves of what had once been her son Jordan's pajamas. After the seam had ripped along the thigh, he'd deemed them too shabby to remain part of his working wardrobe. Mallory's standards weren't quite as high.
As for the T-shirt that completed her outfit, it had once belonged to her husband. Her reason for hanging onto this particular item was rooted more in emotion than practicality or laziness. Less than two years had passed since David had died. The shock of learning that he had plummeted from the balcony of a high-rise hotel had been bad enough. But her subsequent discovery that his death might have been the result of foul play—and her realization that she would never know the whole truth—haunted her at least as much.
Stumbling upon an exciting new job just a few months earlier had also gone a long way in helping her get her life back together. She'd never expected to find herself writing travel articles, much less writing them for a well-respected lifestyle magazine like The Good Life. But when a friend at the local newspaper here in the New York City suburb of Rivington recommended her for the job, she suddenly found herself embarking upon a whole new chapter of her life.
Mallory realized that all things considered, she'd been fortunate. Yet as she sipped her coffee, she couldn't help comparing her own life to Carly Cassidy's. She supposed it wasn't surprising that the two of them had ended up going off in such different directions. After all, they hadn't exactly started out their lives in the same way. The outstandingly pretty, perky, and popular Carly had not only been Homecoming Queen and captain of the cheerleading squad, she had also been class president during both their junior and senior years. And the year their hometown had held its first and only apple festival, she had been chosen Miss Red Delicious. Mallory, meanwhile, hadn't even made it into the semifinals for Miss Granny Smith.
She had to admit that according to her recollection, she hadn't really minded. Mallory was one of those people who never felt particularly comfortable being in the spotlight—even when surrounded by a dozen other varieties of fruit.
In fact, the long-ago apple festival highlighted how different the two of them were. It was no wonder Carly had built a spectacularly successful career based largely on her natural flair for glamour and self-promotion.
It occurred to Mallory that she might try getting in touch with her one of these days. Even though they hadn't exactly traveled in the same circles, catching up on old times might be fun. She also welcomed the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity about what Carly's life was really like—the glowing New York Times report aside.
She was adding "Google Carly Cassidy Berman" to her mental To Do list when Jordan picked up the newspaper and commented, "I think it's cool that you know somebody so famous—and so hot."
"Who's hot and famous?" Mallory's daughter asked as she bounded into the kitchen.
"That's for me to know and you to find out," Jordan replied, his sister's arrival instantly causing him to regress at least ten years.
Unlike eighteen-year-old Jordan, whom no one could ever accuse of being a morning person, Amanda was as sunny as the bright yellow paint on the walls. While Jordan wore nothing but a pair of baggy blue-and-white-striped boxer shorts, Amanda was fully dressed in a crisp white T-shirt and black sweatpants that actually looked good on her tall, willowy frame. Her little brother's dark blond hair stuck up in a hundred different directions in a way that screamed bed head, but she had brushed her long, straight auburn hair and pulled it back into a neat ponytail.
This had turned out to be one of those odd years in which spring break for both Amanda's and Jordan's schools, Sarah Lawrence and Colgate University, was the same. And Mallory had been relishing the past few days. She had even enjoyed the familiarity of their harmless bickering, a remnant from their childhood that told her things were slowly getting back to normal.
"I have a right to know what you two were talking about," Amanda insisted. She grabbed the newspaper away from her little brother, crying, "Let me see!"
"Hey, I was reading that!" Jordan insisted, scowling.
"Oh, go—go eat breakfast or something." Studying the front page with a frown, Amanda added, "I can't believe you think this Carly whoever is hot. She looks old enough to be your mother."
"Thank you," Mallory breathed into her coffee mug.
In a louder voice, she added, "It just so happens that Carly and I are the same age. We went to high school together."
"You mean you two were friends?" Amanda asked.
"Not friends, exactly," Mallory replied. "More like acquaintances."
"Hey, maybe she has a daughter my age," Jordan commented, lifting the carton of orange juice toward his lips.
"Jordan, don't drink out of the carton!" Amanda shrieked. "That is so gross!"
He shrugged. "I'm the only one who drinks this stuff. What difference does it make?"
And then, as if to demonstrate to his older sister that there was absolutely no reason to conform to the arbitrary rules of society, he chugged down half the contents without coming up for air.
Having lost that round seemed to fuel Amanda's determination to win the next one.
"The woman in the newspaper isn't the only person from that high school who's famous," she insisted. "So is your own mother."
"I'm hardly famous, Amanda," Mallory countered.
"Of course you are!" her daughter exclaimed. "Millions of people all over the country read your column. And The Good Life has a very sophisticated audience."
Mallory was about to thank her daughter once again when Amanda turned to her, wearing a sweet expression that could mean only one thing: She was about to ask a favor.
"By the way, Mother," she said, her tone so syrupy that Mallory wished she'd made pancakes for breakfast, "when I woke up this morning, I realized that classes start up again in only four more days. I was thinking that maybe I'd drive to Connecticut and stay overnight at Lora's. Would it be okay if I took your car?"
"How is Mom supposed to manage without a car?" Jordan retorted. "Stuck out here in the middle of suburbia while you go off with your dorky friends!"
"Maybe she's going on another travel assignment," Amanda replied archly. Focusing on her mother once again, she asked, "When is your next trip, Mother?"
"Yeah, Mom," Jordan said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Neanderthal-style. "Where are you going next?"
"Good question," Mallory replied. "Which reminds me: I'm supposed to call Trevor this morning."
She'd barely gotten the words out before her cell phone, left out overnight on the kitchen counter, began to hum.
"Is that mine?" Jordan asked, glancing around frantically.
"No, I think it's mine," Amanda said, dashing across the kitchen for her purse.
"Actually, I believe it's mine." Mallory reached over and grabbed her phone, then checked caller ID before answering.
"Good morning, Trevor," she greeted the magazine's managing editor before he'd even had a chance to say hello.
"Good morning yourself," he returned congenially. "I hope it's not too early to call."
"Not at all," Mallory assured him. "In fact, my kids and I were just talking about you."
"Nothing too terrible, I hope," he joked.
"Actually, they were asking me where I was being sent next."
Trevor let out a deep, booming laugh. "You make it sound like you work for the CIA."
"The Good Life sends me to much better places," Mallory assured him. "No spies, no microchips, and no cyanide tablets."
"Not to mention that your job description includes some pretty nice perks," Trevor kidded. "Staying at the best hotels, eating at fancy restaurants, going on endless sightseeing expeditions—all in the name of research, of course." He sighed. "In my next life, I think I'll come back as a travel writer."
"No one appreciates how hard we travel writers work!" Mallory shot back in the same teasing tone. "I once had two massages in the same week."
"Poor baby!" Trevor cooed.
"Actually, at the second spa, the massage therapist asked me when I'd last had one. I actually fibbed and told her it was three months ago."
"In that case, maybe I should put a cap on the number of spa treatments per trip."
"I didn't say I minded getting two massages," Mallory insisted. "Although I'm not sure I can say the same about the eight pounds I've put on since I started writing for the magazine."
"The demise of your girlish figure is my fault?" Trevor asked with feigned indignation.
"Not yours, exactly. More like the fault of all those wonderfully generous chefs in those aforementioned fancy restaurants. They always insist that I sample every appetizer and every dessert on the menu. Then there are those who look positively crushed if I say no to the wine pairings . . ."
"I'm definitely putting in my application to be reincarnated as a travel writer," Trevor said, laughing. "And if I have to start wearing a bigger belt, so be it."
"At least it's for a good cause." Her tone more earnest, Mallory added, "I really do take my job seriously. If The Good Life's readers are going to look to me for advice on where to spend their hard-earned vacation dollars, I want to be sure they get the whole story. And that includes the bad as well as the good."
"In that case," Trevor said, "I think you'll appreciate your next assignment."
"I'm all ears."