Gorgeous, flamboyant Maxi Amberville is twenty-nine and has already discarded three husbands on two continents. Life is a stream of endless pleasure in her lavish Trump Tower apartment—until her widowed mother married a man who plots to sell her father's magazine empire. And Maxi turns her incredible lust for living into a passionate quest for power.
Maxi takes over the small weekly Buttons And Bows. She gathers her hot-blooded ex-husband, sassy daughter and a coterie of the powerful elite. Then, risking all, Maxi creates B&B—the glitziest, ritziest, most successful fashion magazine in the country. Here is a dramatic, sizzling story of love, family, ambition and one unforgettable woman who gives life and love everything she has.
|Random House Publishing Group
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Maxi Amberville, with characteristic impatience and a lifelong disregard for regulations, sprang out of her seat in the moving Concorde that was taxiing to a stop, and raced along the narrow aisle toward the forward exit. Her fellow passengers sat in the aloof tranquility of those who have paid twice the price of a first-class ticket to travel from Paris to New York and felt no further pressure to hurry. As she flew by a few eyebrows were elegantly raised at the sight of such an unpardonably pretty girl in an undignified rush.
“What’s taking so long?” she demanded of the stewardesses.
“We have not yet arrived, Madame.”
“Arrived? Of course we’ve arrived. Damn these things—they spend more time on the ground than in the air.” Maxi quivered in fury and every inch of her body, packed with nervous energy and intensity of purpose, expressed disapproval of Air France.
“If Madame will please return to her seat?”
“The hell I will. I’m in a hurry.” Maxi stood her ground, feet planted in the flat boots she always wore for travel. Her short, dark hair was ruffled in seven different directions, here standing straight up and there covering part of her forehead with thick bangs that fell over her indignant face. She would have been riveting in a room full of beautiful women, for she made mere beauty seem not only irrelevant but uninteresting. In the subdued daylight of the cabin she was as alight with anticipation as if she were about to enter a ballroom. Maxi was wearing an old, tightly belted cognac-colored suede jacket and well-worn jeans tucked into her boots, a shoulder bag slung like a Sam Browne belt from one shoulder to the opposite hip, and as she pushed her bangs back impatiently she revealed the thick blaze of white hair with which she had been born, a streak that sprang out of her hairline over her right eye.
The Concorde whispered to its final stop and the stewardess, with dignified disdain, observed Maxi as she stomped through the exit door before it was fully open, clutching an American passport in her free hand.
Maxi came to a full halt at the closest Immigration booth and thrust her passport at the inspector. He opened it to her picture, studied it casually, and then looked at it intently.
“Maxime Emma Amberville?” he asked.
“Right. Isn’t it a god-awful photo? Look, I’m in a hurry. Could you just stamp that thing and let me get out of here?”
The inspector looked at her with noncommittal scrutiny. He calmly punched up some keys on his computer.
“Who,” he asked her finally, “is Maxime Emma Amberville Cipriani Brady Kirkgordon?”
“I know. I know. An unwieldy name at best. But it’s not against the law.”
“What I mean, miss, is why don’t you have your full name on this passport?”
“My old passport expired during the summer and I renewed it at the Embassy in Paris … you can see that it’s new.”
“Did you change your name legally?”
“Legally?” Maxi said, offended. “All of my divorces were perfectly legal. I prefer my maiden name so I returned to it. Do you want to hear the whole story of my life? Everyone on that blasted plane is going to get ahead of me. Now I’ll have to wait at customs!”
“The baggage isn’t off the plane yet,” he remarked reasonably.
“That’s the whole point! I don’t have any baggage. If we weren’t haggling about my lurid past I’d be in a taxi right now. Oh, bloody, bloody hell!” she complained, ardent in her fury.
The inspector continued to study the passport. The photograph didn’t manage to convey her quality of electric vitality and as accustomed as he was to bad pictures he had not, for a brief moment, been convinced that the snapshot was legitimate. It showed mostly bangs and a neutrally smiling mouth, but the woman standing wrathfully in front of him, her hair looking like the feathers of an outraged bird, had a boldness, an audacity, that would have forced him to notice her, as if a flare had been sent up in front of his nose. What’s more she didn’t look old enough to have had more than one husband, much less three, in spite of the date of her birth, twenty-nine years ago.
Reluctantly the inspector stamped her passport with the day’s date, August 15, 1984, and gave it back to her, but not before he’d made a special illegible notation on the back of her customs declaration.
Moving with the tadpole agility of the born New Yorker Maxi slapped her shoulder bag down on a customs table and looked around impatiently for an inspector. At this early hour they were still gathered in one corner of the big room finishing their morning coffee, not anxious to start the day’s work. Several of the customs men caught sight of Maxi at the same time and each of them put down his mug of coffee abruptly. One of them, young and redheaded, broke from the pack and started off toward Maxi.
“What’s your hurry, O’Casey?” asked another inspector, catching him by the arm.
“Who’s in a hurry?” he asked, shaking off the arm. “This pigeon just happens to be mine,” he announced, walking quickly toward Maxi, outdistancing the closest of his fellows by several yards, in his determination.
“Welcome to New York,” he said. “The Countess of Kirkgordon, unless my eyes deceive me.”
“Oh, cut out the countess nonsense, O’Casey. You know I dumped poor Laddie a while ago.” Maxi looked at him with a trace of unease, her hands on her hips. Just her bad luck to fall into the hands of cocky, freckled, far-from-unattractive Joseph O’Casey who fancied himself some kind of throwback to Sherlock Holmes. There should be a law about civil servants like him molesting decent citizens.
“How could I have forgotten?” he marveled. “You got divorced just before you came through with a major new wardrobe from Saint Laurent.… You never were much of a seamstress, Miss Amberville—those labels you sewed on from Saks were very unprofessional. Will you never learn that we study the European fashion lines as soon as they’re photographed?”
“Good for you, O’Casey.” Maxi gave him a solemn nod of approval. “I’ll keep it in mind. Meanwhile, could you do me a favor and check out my shoulder bag? I’m in a desperate hurry today.”
“The last time you were in a hurry it was a question of twenty bottles of Shalimar, the two-hundred-dollar size, and the time before that it was a new Patek Polo, the one you were wearing in plain sight on your wrist, thinking no doubt of the story of the purloined letter. It was carved out of solid gold and worth eight thousand dollars, no less. And then, let’s see now, it wasn’t too long ago that there was that little problem of a Fendi mink, the one dyed pink, that you told me was a fun fur from a flea market worth under three hundred dollars. Fifteen thousand bucks in Milan if I remember correctly.” He smiled, pleased with himself. There was nothing like a memory for details.
“The Shalimar was a gift,” Maxi objected, “for a friend. I don’t even wear perfume.”
“You’re supposed to include gifts, it says so right here on the declaration,” O’Casey said blankly.
Maxi looked up at him. There was no mercy in those Irish eyes. They were smiling, all right, but not harmlessly.
“O’Casey,” she admitted, “you’re perfectly right. I am a habitual smuggler. I have always been a smuggler and I’ll probably always be a smuggler. I don’t know why I do it and I wish I could stop. It’s a neurosis. I’m sick. I need help. I’ll get help, when I have a chance. But I swear to you that this time—this one single time—I haven’t got anything with me. I’m just here on business and I have to get into the city fast. I should be there now, for pity’s sake. Search my bag and let me through.” She spoke imploringly. “Please.”
O’Casey studied her intently. She was so pretty, this chance-taking dame, that he felt his toes curling right down into the soles of his shoes at the mere sight of her face. As for the rest of her, for like all customs inspectors he was trained in the meaning of body language, it betrayed nothing at the moment. God knows what she must be bringing in to be able to stand there so innocently.
“Can’t do it, Miss Amberville,” he said, shaking his head in regret. “Immigration knows about your record, he noted it right there on the declaration, and there is no way I can just wave you on. we’ll have to do a body search.”
“At least look through my bag, damn it!” Maxi demanded, no longer the supplicant.
“Obviously it wouldn’t be there. It’s got to be on you, whatever it is,” O’Casey replied. “You’ll have to wait till a female inspector comes on duty. There should be one here in an hour or two and I’ll make sure she attends to you first.”
“A body search? You’re not serious!” Maxi cried in unpremeditated astonishment. Twenty-nine years of having her own way in almost everything had created a conviction that ordinary rules just did not apply to her life. And certainly nobody did anything to Maxi Amberville without her permission. Never. Never ever!
“I’m perfectly serious,” O’Casey said calmly, with a hint of a grin on his lips. Maxi looked at him incredulously. He really meant it, this power-mad bastard. But every man has his price, even Joe O’Casey.
“Joe,” she said, giving a deep sigh, “we’ve known each other for years, right? And I have never been a bad citizen, have I? The United States Treasury is much richer from my fines than if I’d just paid the duty.”
“That’s what I’ve told you, every time I’ve caught you, but you just won’t listen.”
“I’ve never brought in drugs or unpasteurized cheese or a salami with foot-and-mouth disease—Joe—can we make a deal?” Her voice traipsed the range from cajolery to delicate, yet unmistakable down-and-dirty.
“I don’t take bribes,” he snapped.
“I know,” she sighed, “I know only too well. But that’s your problem, Joe. You’re neurotically honest. No, I want to make a trade.”
“What kind of nonsense are you giving me, Miss Amberville?”
“Call me Maxi. I am suggesting the straightforward, honest surrender of a body in exchange for an unnecessary body search.”
“A body?” he repeated blankly, although he had a clear notion of her intention and the very possibility of such an extravagant bounty was enough to make him forget the uniform he wore.