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Dear Prince Charming
By Donna Kauffman Bantam Copyright © 2008 Donna Kauffman
All right reserved.
At age thirty, Valerie Wagner had begun to fear that the fashion career she’d dreamed of since opening her first Vogue at age nine was actually a grand and cruel delusion, and that perhaps medical intervention might be required in getting her over it.
Maybe her fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Spagney, had been right all along. She’d sent Vogue-enhanced Valerie home from school the following day with strict instructions to never scare the other students like that again. Privately, Valerie had thought Ms. Spagney could use some heavy kohl eyeliner and spiky bangs herself. It would have done much to hide the deep grooves that came from too many years of frowning down at young, independent thinkers like herself.
However, she’d been objective enough to realize that maybe makeup and hairstyling weren’t her strengths. So she’d stared down at her flat chest and thought . . . hmm. Valerie had been the only girl in her sixth-grade class secretly thrilled not to need a training bra. After all, she’d never walk the runways in Milan if she had boobies.
Unfortunately, she’d forgotten about the height clause. By sixteen, even in wobbly heels, with hair gelled to within an inch of its life, she barely flirted with the five-eight mark. Much shorter than thefive ten she knew from her by-then slavish devotion to W, was the minimum of industry standards.
Cruelly, the now-welcome boobies had never appeared.
Undeterred, she’d resolutely turned to design. If she wasn’t made to model fashion, by damn, she’d create it. Which would have worked beautifully except stick figures sporting Magic Marker–colored, triangle-shaped outfits weren’t exactly going to win her any scholarships. And yet, she’d hung in there, convinced her calling was still within reach. She’d go for a degree in fashion merchandising and work for an upscale chain as a buyer. She envisioned trips to Paris, London, Milan. So what if she had as much chance of balancing her checkbook as she did of discovering the formula for cold fusion? It wasn’t like she was going to be spending her own money, right?
Then had come the Big Breakthrough. In her senior year of high school, the brokerage firm her father worked for had transferred him to Chicago. She’d gotten a summer job with Madame magazine—for full-figured gals, not call-girl employers—though as switchboard operator she’d heard every hooker joke and pimp pun on the planet. She hadn’t minded.
She’d found her people.
Obviously she’d just misinterpreted the gospel according to Elle. It wasn’t the people populating those glossy pages that called to her. It was the glossy pages themselves. Fashion magazines, the force that drove the industry, deciding what was hip and what was hopelessly last year . . . that was her true calling, her primary function, her niche.
Ten years later she’d become a serial niche killer. There wasn’t a job she hadn’t held. Or gone on to abandon, feeling more unfulfilled and depressed with each failure. Fortunately, she’d stumbled upon her last hope before getting a prescription for Paxil.
When she’d heard that the owners of Glass Slipper, Inc., the company renowned for performing life makeovers, were looking for a publicist for their new endeavor, the bimonthly glossy Glass Slipper magazine, she knew she’d found the career Holy Grail she’d been searching for. And it was do-or-die time.
She’d winged her way through what she privately thought was the best job-pitch performance of her life. And by performance she meant audition, because it had been the acting job of the century. She had no specific qualifications for the job. But when had that stopped her? She might have been slow finding her own niche, but the upside was that she knew a whole lot about everyone else’s. So she talked a good game. In fact, talking people into doing things her way was the one special talent she knew she had. In spades.
So when Mercedes Browning contacted her to tell her she’d gotten the job as the publicist for their new endeavor, she hadn’t been completely surprised.
The real shock was that she hadn’t realized her true calling sooner.
And now, six months to the day later, she’d topped it all by scoring the biggest coup in magazine history. Not only had she landed Prince Charming, the mysterious and elusive best-selling self-help author, as Glass Slipper’s spokesperson and exclusive columnist . . . she’d gotten him to agree to show his face to the world for the very first time, on the cover of their launch issue!
Valerie wove her way through the crowded outdoor tables at Sonsi’s, Potomac’s newest swank spot, where Washington movers and shakers came to see and be seen. Because, honestly, despite Chef Andre’s impeccable and well-advertised qualifications, no one was here because they had an undying craving for venison-stuffed pumpkin or Moulard duck wrapped in foie gras and fig.
At the moment, however, she didn’t care about unnatural food combinations. She was too busy savoring her triumph and trying to refrain from conga-ing her way around the tables. So many years of trying, of wondering, of worrying if she’d ever get to this moment. Hell, wondering if this moment actually existed. And now, finally, it was here. And it was even better than she could have hoped for.
“Cinderella, eat your heart out,” she whispered beneath her breath.
She had the Glass Slipper; she had Prince Charming; she even had her own fairy godmother—three of them, in fact. All she needed now was the Be-Dazzler-encrusted pumpkin carriage and the fairy tale would be complete. Her smile spread to a grin. However, her brand-new, sporty little Beemer would definitely do in the meantime. Life was good.
She waved to the Godmother Collective as she spied their table. Mercedes Browning, Aurora Favreaux, and Vivian dePalma—the founders of Glass Slipper, Inc., and now Glass Slipper magazine—nodded, fluttered, and lifted a drink, in that order, in her general direction as she navigated the final handful of tables.
Flushed with her success and hoping she didn’t look as smug as she felt—oh, what the hell, how often did one reach a career pinnacle?—Valerie took her seat across from the three women. “Everything is set,” she announced. “Nigel is on board. We shoot the cover Monday morning.”
“We never had a doubt!” Vivian exclaimed, lifting a bottle of Cristal from the ice bucket next to the table. Her trademark flame-red hair had been teased into a spiky pouf around her head, her makeup had been stenciled on with laserlike accuracy, and her outfit was as outrageous as always. Of course, most women couldn’t make zebra prints work. Valerie had quickly learned that Vivian wasn’t most women. The youngest of the three at sixty-eight, Vivian was also the most outspoken. “Let me pour you a glass or three, honey. Lord knows, you’ve earned it.”
“A proper celebration is definitely in order,” Aurora added after a quick frown at Vivian. Swathed in layers of gossamer silk, Aurora had that effortless, delicate Southern charm that quite successfully hid the steel magnolia beneath.
“So, everything is in order, then? You’ve spoken with Elaine, I assume? No other last-minute emergencies?” Mercedes’ expression was serious as always. Valerie privately thought of her as the Eeyore of the group. It had come as no shock to learn that, prior to launching their life-makeover empire, Mercedes had been headmistress of a private New England girls’ boarding school.
“For heaven’s sake, Mercy, let the girl have some bubbly before you start interrogating her.” Vivian handed Valerie her glass, then topped off the other three. “I’m sure everything is just fine.” She beamed at Valerie, but her gaze was sharp as ever. “You’ve all but taken over the reins of this whole endeavor, haven’t you?”
Valerie was surprised by the comment, but as Vivian seemed to mean it as a compliment, she continued to smile. “Hardly. Elaine is doing the work of ten people,” she said, referring to the managing editor. “I’m in constant awe.”
“But you were clever enough to come up with the spokesperson and cover model idea,” Vivian commented.
“Yes, but of course we had no idea Mr. Jermaine would refuse to deal with anyone but me. I just did what I had to to ensure he signed with us.”
Aurora flipped her scarf at Vivian. “Of course you did, dear. And we’re ever so grateful.” She lifted her glass a bit higher as she turned her attention to them all. “Here’s to our new venture, and the dynamite publicist who single-handedly assured us a smashing debut!”
“Hear, hear,” Vivian agreed readily. “Here’s to knocking those bitchy industry insiders on their collective jealous ass! And they said our plan to launch a magazine in this economic climate was foolhardy. Ha!”
Mercedes’ frown only deepened, but she tipped glasses with the rest of them, then spoke before they’d barely finished swallowing. “You’ve confirmed with Mr. Jermaine the cover shoot for Monday?”
Valerie assured her she had, even as Vivian rolled her eyes.
“We’re all looking so forward to finally meeting him in the flesh,” Aurora said, leaning forward a bit, the multiple rings on her fingers sparkling as the sun reflected off the champagne glass.
“Flesh you’ve promised is cover-model worthy,” Vivian reminded her.
“Oh, you won’t be disappointed, trust me,” Valerie said, enjoying the feel of the fizz as it tickled her nose. Did it get better than this?
“If he’s as good-looking as you say, I find it surprising he’s kept his light under a bushel for so long,” Aurora offered.
“I don’t think he really thinks about his looks one way or the other.” Although privately she agreed with Aurora. Eric was six feet plus of tanned muscle and beachboy godliness. He already had women all over America swooning with his no-bullshit insight into the male mind. He was proof positive that caring, sensitive men did exist. All that and drop-dead gorgeous, to boot. She wouldn’t be surprised if the female population took one look at the way his perfectly sun-streaked and tousled blond hair fell in endearingly boyish waves across his broad, tanned forehead, those stunning aqua-blue eyes, and a mouth that Cupid must have had a hand in sculpting . . . and had a spontaneous group orgasm. He’d certainly left her feeling a bit damp. “He’s just a very private person.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Mercedes said. “We’ve been reduced to negotiating via phone conferences.” She settled her napkin in her lap as their salads arrived.
Valerie said a silent thank-you for the timely intrusion. Mercedes had been the only one who hadn’t been all that enthusiastic about hiring Eric sight unseen. It was too late now, however, so there was no point in yammering on about it yet again.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Dear Prince Charming by Donna Kauffman Copyright © 2008 by Donna Kauffman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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