By Heather Webber
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Heather Webber
All rights reserved.
There comes a time in every girl's life when she realizes her father isn't perfect.
For me that discovery had come many years ago and recurred with shocking regularity.
Most recently the realization struck again after my father had a near-fatal heart attack while partaking in the horizontal tango on a Marblehead beach with a woman other than my mother.
He being with someone else wasn't the shocker.
It was the fact that he'd been on a beach. My father detested sand.
Luckily, his current flame must have had experience with the occasional cardiac arrest, because she had seen to it that my father was in an ambulance and on his way to Mass General before any permanent damage to his ticker had taken place.
That had been two weeks ago.
Currently I watched him pace his spacious designer bedroom, trekking back and forth from his walk-in closet to the bed, where two T. Anthony leather suitcases sat open atop the rumpled duvet. Sunlight filled the room from a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Boston Harbor, making the room seem bright and cheerful when the atmosphere was anything but.
My father, Oscar Valentine, was handsome in a distinguished old-fashioned movie star kind of way. He'd turned fifty-five in August but could pass for late forties easily. Standing six feet tall, he had a slim, trim build thanks to his regular workouts at his exclusive condominium gym and his health-nut lifestyle. The heart attack had come as quite a surprise.
"Stop it, Lucy," he ordered me. He ran a hand through his silver-streaked dark hair and looked around the bedroom for anything he may have forgotten.
I tried not to notice how pale he appeared against the chocolate brown walls. "Stop what?"
"Staring at the bed that way."
I had been staring. As much as I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about how many women had been in it with him. And why he'd risk his stellar reputation by getting caught with a bimbo on the beach.
After twenty-eight years of having him as a father, I should be used to his behavior by now. I wasn't. I'd always known my father had women on the side, but I'd never seen one, never heard him speak of one, and honestly, I wished I was still living in denial.
"And you," he said to my mother, "you can stop smirking, Judith."
My mother, Judie, fanned her face with an Architectural Digest magazine. At fifty, she was smack-dab in the middle of menopause and losing the battle with hot flashes. "A beach, Oscar? You couldn't have ponied up for a decent hotel?"
"You do have more than enough money," I piped in. As he was one of the country's wealthiest men, money was the least of his worries. "Fifteen Beacon is a nice place. Or the Charles."
The pages of the magazine flapped, creating a cool breeze. "I've always been partial to the Ritz-Carlton. Ooh, or the Boston Harbor Hotel. All are discreet. Much more so than a public beach."
My father stopped mid-pace and took a good long hard look at us, shook his head as though he were a man long-suffering, and resumed packing. He folded an Armani shirt into a neat square and placed it on top of the other six he'd already packed in the suitcase. "You two are not amusing."
"Oh, we are, too," my mother countered. Her elbow poked my rib cage. "Aren't we?"
I agreed. "We're nothing if not amusing."
I think my father mumbled something about thanking God he was getting away.
Running away was more like it.
Because in the eyes of the public, Oscar Valentine, the country's premier matchmaker, had blatantly forsaken monogamy. He'd been caught, quite literally, with his pants down. And if he couldn't find everlasting love, then how could his clients? There was nothing like a scandal to obliterate his nearly perfect matchmaking track record.
The papers, especially the Herald, were having a field day. Reporters were still calling, trying to garner an exclusive interview with the King of Love himself.
His mistress-of-the-week had already sold out. Her interview hit newsstands last Thursday. It didn't take long for my father to suddenly decide he needed a little R & R.
In St. Lucia.
What the public didn't know was that my parents had been happily leading separate lives for close to twenty-five years now. Sure, they were married, but in name only, both agreeing that a renowned matchmaker seeking a divorce would be bad for the family business and, therefore, their bank accounts.
So my mother, Judie, had claimed the manor house in Cohasset, and my father, Oscar, had kept his penthouse condo in Boston's exclusive Waterfront district. They'd remained close friends, sometimes lovers, and constant companions.
They were great parents, if a bit odd.
No wonder I turned out as I did.
What the public also didn't know was that although the Valentines had been able to successfully matchmake for generations, they were hopeless at matching themselves. Every single Valentine marriage had failed. It was the family's best-kept secret.
My father zipped one suitcase, set to work on the other. He snapped his fingers. "Forgot my bathing suit."
"Lord, I hope it's not the thong," my mother whispered, shuddering. "No man over fifty should own one, let alone wear one. Someone should tell him."
"Don't look at me," I said.
My father popped his head out of his huge walk-in closet, stared at us. He raised a silver-streaked eyebrow in question and then he disappeared again. However, not five seconds had gone by before he said, "Now listen, Lucy." His voice rumbled. "I've left a detailed list with Suzannah. She'll get you settled."
I straightened. "Settled?"
Out popped his head again, like a mole in an arcade game. "Yes. Settled. At the office."
He sighed, heavy and deep. I'd heard that sigh many times in my life, starting with when I wanted to dye my blonde hair magenta all the way to when I told him I wanted to make it on my own, without the trust fund he'd set up for me. But mostly when I decided to forsake the family business and go into hotel management.
The magenta hair had been spectacular. Turned out, he was right about the hotel thing. It wasn't for me. Neither was my stint, among other things, as a dental hygienist, barista at Starbucks, personal assistant, or, more recently, day-care worker.
And sometimes I missed the money. Like when my rent was overdue. Like now.
"Are you listening, Lucy?"
I realized he'd been chattering away. "No."
He sighed again. Twice in one day. This was a personal record.
Pulling the strap down over my heel, I slipped off my shoes. "It's silly for me to take over the business. You know I can't —"
"You'll start," he glanced at his Cartier Roadster watch, "in an hour. Suzannah is expecting you. You have meetings with clients all afternoon."
Sure, I was currently between jobs, but I knew the family business would be better off without me. He had to know it, too. "What do you mean?"
"You," he said slowly, losing patience. "Meetings. What don't you understand, Lucy?"
"Me," I said slowly, echoing him. "Taking your meetings. That's what I don't understand. Haven't you been listening to me?"
He adopted his stern voice, one saved for my most egregious errors. "You, Lucy Juliet Valentine, have an obligation to this family."
"Now, Oscar." My mother fanned furiously, her cheeks fire engine red.
He held up a hand. "You know as well as I, Judie, that a Valentine must be at the helm of the business. Otherwise it will sink. Think of all the love lives out there that will flounder without our help leading them in the right direction. I've already missed too much work as is, with the attack and all. Someone needs to take over while I'm gone. And that someone is you, Lucy."
I rose and strode to the windows, the thick carpet squishing between my bare toes. Outside, the sun was losing its battle with a thick layer of clouds. Snowflakes whirled in a mesmerizing pattern, floating downward, disappearing into the dark choppy water of the harbor. Soon it would be Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
People hated to spend holidays alone. Business would be booming, all those lonely hearts looking for love.
Coming to me for help.
The thought turned my stomach. "How? You know perfectly well I don't have —"
He cut me off. "Fake it."
"Don't you think that will lose clients faster than someone else running the company?"
"The key to our success is in our genes. Our DNA. It has to be a Valentine running the company. You're it, Lucy. The last in a long line of Valentines — until you have children of your own."
For a second there, I thought he was going to lecture me about having babies. I heard enough of that from my grandmother, Dovie, every chance she got.
It was true every Valentine had the ability to matchmake. We'd been blessed with the ability to pair lovers for centuries. Rumor in the family was that the gift had been bestowed on an ancestor by Cupid himself.
But my dad left out one small detail.
Every blood Valentine possessed this gift except me.
Mine had been zapped right out of me by an electrical surge when I was fourteen, only to be replaced with an extrasensory talent of a completely different sort.
My mother set down the magazine, looked at me. "You don't have to do it."
"I heard that!" my father shouted.
"Glad your hearing wasn't affected by the infarction," she snapped playfully.
I loved the way they bantered with each other. Actually, if they weren't so busy pretending their marriage was a sham, they could probably make a decent go of it.
The mistresses notwithstanding, of course.
"Dammit! I can't find my swimsuit. Lucy?" He appeared, blinking dark brown eyes at me.
My mother shook her head, pleading with me not to do it.
I looked between the two of them, seeing my own eyes in theirs. I had my mother's slightly downward shape and a blend of their colors — a golden brown. I could see a little of myself in each of them, some traits I liked, some I didn't. But I knew one thing for sure. In a battle of begging, my father would win hands-down every time. It was the big, brown-eyed puppy-dog look that did me in.
"Oh, all right," I said to him.
He held out his hand, and I took it between both my own. In a flash, I saw the suit. "Third drawer on the right, smushed behind the stack of Playboy magazines."
His cheeks colored.
"Traitor," my mother murmured as he went in search.
Fighting the wave of dizziness that hit whenever I had a vision, I sank next to her on the down love seat. "Sorry. Are you all packed?"
"My bags are downstairs. We'll take the water taxi over to Logan."
"You don't have to do it," I said, echoing her words to me.
She tucked a strand of hair that had escaped my ponytail behind my ear. Tucking my hair had been a habit of hers since I could remember. "Who can turn down a trip to St. Lucia this time of year? I'd be a fool to say no. Plus, there's all that sand. I can't resist the temptation to tease your father."
"All right, but don't do anything I wouldn't do. And maybe you should have Dad take a blood test when you get to the island." I looked at the bed. "Maybe two."
She eyed me suspiciously, the golden flecks in her hazel eyes sparkling. "Is there anything you would do? You haven't had a date in three years."
"I've had plenty of dates."
"Just the ones Dovie's set you up on. Those don't count."
They really didn't.
"Maybe it's time to find someone for you, LucyD," she said, using her pet nickname for me.
"Why bother?" There hadn't been a single Valentine marriage that had escaped without divorce or separation. In our family the inability to stay happily wed had become depressingly known as Cupid's Curse. It was truly a painful irony — to have the ability to match ... everyone else.
My mother's nose twitched. It did that when she knew I was right but didn't want to admit it. She dropped her head onto my shoulder, cuddling. The gelled spikes of her edgy pixie-styled blonde hair pricked my cheek. "Better to love and lose than never love at all?"
"Good try, Mum."
"Aha!" Dad shouted, thong bikini in hand.
My mother straightened. "Had you, of all people, doubted her?"
"Not at all. But it still amazes me."
"It" being my ability to find lost objects.
My family liked to play up the Cupid part of our history, but the truth was that every single Valentine had been blessed with the psychic ability to read auras. A gift, generations ago, my family capitalized on by professionally matching lovers based on their colorful auras.
The ability has always been kept secret. No one within the family wanted to battle public perception. We knew of other psychics labeled charlatans and frauds, and great pains went into keeping the family name above reproach. Inquiries as to our success rate were simply brushed off as being too pedantic to answer. In turn, most thought my family snobby. Simply not true, but a notion that was fostered to keep curiosity at bay.
When the electrical surge transformed my aura-reading abilities into the gift of finding lost objects, a type of ESP, it was also kept quiet because one revelation might lead to another. Only a few within the family knew my secret. And only a few trusted outsiders knew about the auras.
My dad held out his hand again and said, "Passport?"
I took his outstretched palm, held it. Dizzying images flashed. "In your library. Top desk drawer, right side."
"Thanks, Lucy. Are you sure you're okay about taking over? I know I can be pushy —"
"Manipulative," my mother corrected.
He ignored her. "But the pay is good, plus you'll be doing your old man a favor."
"Lordy, not the guilt, too." Three thin gold bangle bracelets on her arms clanged as she shook her finger at him.
He shot her a look, then softened his gaze as he met mine. "Lucy?"
My rent was due. I had bills to pay. And besides, how long would it be for, anyway? How many love lives could I screw up in the span of a week or two? And maybe, just maybe, I could use this time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.
He pulled me into a hug, squeezed tight. "That's my girl. Everything will be okay. Just go with your instincts."
My instincts stunk, but I kept that tidbit to myself.
"You're welcome to stay here, as well. Closer to the office."
I thought about it for a split second before declining. I loved my cottage, despite the fact that I rented it from Dovie. Besides, if I lived here, I wouldn't be able to bring Grendel with me, since Dad was allergic to cats. "Have you spoken with Dovie yet?"
My grandmother had been vying to try her hand at matchmaking for thirty years but had been denied since she had married into the family and didn't share the Valentine gift. She wasn't going to take well to my being in charge of the business, since she knew full well I lacked any ability as well.
"I'll handle Dovie," my mother said, standing. Tall and pleasantly plump, she wore a flattering tunic top and dark denim jeans. She slipped her feet into gold ballet slippers and fastened her beautiful cream-colored cashmere wrap with a chunky gold broach.
My father zipped his last suitcase. I gave them both hugs, elicited promises to send postcards, and made a snarky comment about staying off the beaches.
"Don't look so grim, Lucy," Dad said, ignoring my jibe. "You're dealing with matters of the heart. It's not like it's life or death."
"I suppose you're right." But I couldn't help but feel that he was wrong.
Valentine, Inc., was located near the intersection of Beacon and Charles just on the outskirts of swanky Beacon Hill. Autumn leaves whirled down the street, bright wisps dancing in and out of traffic.
"There's nothing but brake lights ahead," I said.
"Right. Lunch." My stomach churned like rusty gears at the thought of food. I shifted on the leather seat, adjusted my lap belt. My father had loaned me his Mercedes, and the services of Raphael, his driver, valet, houseman, and all around go-to guy, for the time he'd be gone. At first I balked at the extravagance, but I figured if I had to come into town every day from Cohasset on the South Shore, Raphael would make my life just that much easier.
"Nervous?" he asked me.
I'd known him since I was three years old. In some ways I thought he knew me better than my parents did. After all, he'd been the one playing marathon games of Monopoly with me while my father was off at the symphony or various other events.
True colors are often shown during high-stakes games of Monopoly.
"It will be all right, Uva." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Truly, Madly by Heather Webber. Copyright © 2010 Heather Webber. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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