After the dot-com bubble burst, Dan Porter is laid off from his job and must decide what is truly important. His wife of twenty years, Jackie, a beautiful and successful managing director at a clothing designer shop, no longer connects with him. His teenagers, Josh, Nina, and Millie, are distant and confusing. Jackie is tempted by the attentions of a younger man at her office, and thanks to an opportunity suggested by a magazine article, Dan finds himself contemplating a drastic change in his life.
A Risk Worth Taking is an insightful, thought-provoking novel of a man who has to discover what he really values in his work, marriage, and life. Robin Pilcher writes fluidly and well, and he is unerringly adept at capturing the details of his characters' lives. He has written a poignant and engrossing story about the real choices many adults face when they start taking stock of their lives.
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About the Author
Robin Pilcher is Rosamunde Pilcher's eldest son. Both his novels, An Ocean Apart and Starting Over, were New York Times bestsellers and have quickly become favorites among Pilcher fans, old and new. He lives with his wife and children near Dundee, Scotland.
Robin Pilcher is the son of bestselling novelist Rosamunde Pilcher. His first three novels, An Ocean Apart, Starting Over, and A Risk Worth Taking were New York Times bestsellers. He lives in Dundee, Scotland.
Read an Excerpt
A Risk Worth Taking
By Robin Pilcher
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Robin Pilcher
All rights reserved.
The alarm clock went off, as it had for the past fourteen months, at seven o'clock. Not at six, as had been the case when he had to get up to go to work. Nevertheless, it was still a shock to the system. Dan Porter groped out an arm from under the duvet and felt for the lever that would stop those infernal bells, but they rang with such vehemence that the clock juddered away from his searching hand and toppled from the bedside table onto the carpeted floor. There it continued its muffled clanging whilst the hand still blindly explored the surface of the table.
"Where the hell is it?" Both verbal and physical explosions came simultaneously. The duvet was thrown aside and Dan swung his legs over the bed and sat up. Not a wise act, he thought, as he screwed up his eyes to stop himself from being so completely aware of the oxygen pumping into his brain. As the sensation subsided and his hearing became oriented, he looked down at the clock on the floor, where its fading momentum spun it slower and slower, like a fly in its death throes.
He groaned and keeled forward to pick it up. It was still out of reach. He slid off the bed onto his knees and stretched out for the clock, but he never made it. He watched blearily as it was picked up by a beautiful, slim hand, its fourth finger bearing a band of gold that was held in place by a raised cluster of rubies set around a glinting diamond. A red-painted thumbnail flicked the lever on the clock and put it out of its misery. Dan turned his head to follow up a pinstriped arm, stopping when his eyes came to rest on the gold pendant that hung in the cleavage of her breasts, these being wholesomely accentuated by the way in which she had left open the top three buttons of her white cotton shirt. He turned his head only degrees more and looked up at his wife's face. He had often thought that if ever he had been called upon to write down a full description of her features, he would have sat forever in front of a blank piece of paper because he could never have written all that crap about her eyes being too wide set, or her nose too flat, or her ears too big. Maybe one word was sufficient. PERFECT in big black letters. Jackie always had been, and still was, a complete turn-on. Halfway through their twentieth year of marriage, and she still had that effect on him.
Today, however, it was obvious that the feeling was not reciprocated. Her mouth bore a trace of a smile, but it was one that he could read as meaning "Dan, you really are a sorry sight" rather than "Hullo, my darling, how are you this morning?"
Dan pushed himself to his feet and flopped back on the bed. He lay there with his hand supporting the side of his face and watched as Jackie placed the alarm clock on the dressing table before slipping all her makeup necessities for the day into her handbag.
"Hey," he said, creasing up the corner of his mouth into what he hoped might be taken as an evocative and sexy smile.
"What?" Jackie asked in a clipped voice, without looking in his direction. She walked over to the wardrobe and took a raincoat off one of the hangers.
Dan decided to persevere. "Any chance of you lying back on this bed while I ravish you?"
Flipping the raincoat over her arm, Jackie now turned to look at him. She gave him concentrated appraisal, taking in his regular nighttime attire of grey baggy sports shorts and faded blue T-shirt with the moth hole just above the left nipple.
"I wonder if I'm in the least bit tempted," she said, slowly shaking her head.
Dan's hand fell away from his face and he slumped over in feigned dejection. "Well, at least someone makes the suggestion every now and again," he mumbled into the duvet.
"What was that?"
Dan pushed himself to his feet. "Nothing."
"I heard you."
"Yes, well, it was just meant to be a joke."
"And I don't think it was very funny."
Dan let out a deep sigh. "All right, then. Sorry." He pushed his hands into the pockets of his shorts. "Do you want me to make you a cup of coffee?"
Jackie shook her head. "No, I've got to be in the office by eight. There's a finance meeting at nine, but before that I've got to give our set designer a kick up his backside. He was asked at least three months ago to do some modifications on our set for the show in Paris, and so far he hasn't come up with the goods." She scanned the room briefly to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, then turned and walked towards the door, reaching up and brushing a meaningless kiss onto Dan's cheek as she passed him. He followed on close behind her as she made her way along the narrow landing and down the staircase.
"What are you doing today?" she asked, throwing the question over her shoulder.
"I don't know. I might entertain myself once again with a spot of light housework."
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Jackie turned to look at him, and once more he realized that his witticism had fallen on a stony face.
"Did you call Ben Appleton?" she asked.
"Right now he's firing, not hiring."
Jackie's eyes narrowed, as if trying to detect some evidence of an untruth being told. "Did you really call him?"
"Of course I did." Even though innocent of the apparent crime, he felt his face flush under Jackie's continued stare. "Listen, contrary to what you think, I am still looking for a job."
"Really? Excuse me if I find that rather hard to believe, Dan. There's certainly not much evidence of it up in your office."
Dan's eyes momentarily flickered up the stairwell. "When were you up there?" "This morning."
Jackie let out a long sigh. "I wasn't actually going to your office, Dan. I went up to fetch the hairdryer from Millie's room. But the door of your office was open, and I did happen to notice that your computer didn't have its screensaver on."
"It still had an unfinished game of solitaire on it."
Dan laughed. "Oh-oh."
"Don't think it's funny, Dan," Jackie replied sharply. "You cannot go on hiding up there, day after day, doing nothing."
"For heaven's sakes, I'm not doing nothing!"
"But you're not bringing any money into the household, Dan. That's what we need."
"I know we do, but hey, listen, we're not on skid row yet."
"We're not? In that case, I seem to have misunderstood our present circumstances. You've lost your job and most of your money on the dot.com fiasco, and because of that, the children have had to change schools, we cannot afford to go on a summer holiday for the first time since Josh was a baby, and you've also been forced to trade in your rather comfortable Mercedes for a fifteen-year-old Saab. Well, forgive me, Dan, if my opinion differs from yours. I would say that we're pretty damned close to being on 'skid row.' You need to get a job, Dan Porter, because my income won't support us forever. I may be the managing director of Rebecca Talworth Design Limited, but the position doesn't carry huge bucks with it, because we're still ploughing profit back into growth."
"I understand all these things, but as I've said countless times before, it'll take a bit of time to find another job."
"We don't have time, Dan!" Jackie cut herself short by glancing at her wristwatch. "And I certainly don't have time to discuss all this now." She walked along the short hallway, avoiding the schoolbags that lay ready for the day, and opened the front door, allowing the warm September sun to flood in across the stripped pine floorboards. Dan followed on behind her into the small front garden. He stood barefoot, his hands still thrust into the pockets of his shorts, as he watched his wife open the gate that led out onto the tree-shadowed pavement of Haleridge Road.
"Could you tell Nina that I will try to make her concert tonight?" she said, closing the gate behind her.
Dan nodded. "See if you can be there this time."
Once again, her expression demonstrated only too well her reaction to the remark. "Not only is my job extremely important to the whole family, Dan, but it also happens to be quite full-on right now."
Dan held up a hand in silent apology. He didn't want her to say any more, having just heard the front door of the adjoining house slam shut. There was no love lost between himself and Mrs. Watt. She was their busybody of a neighbour, and Dan, on more than one occasion, had expressed those exact sentiments to her face. Nothing would give Mrs. Watt more pleasure than to listen in on one of their marital disagreements, even though, over the past few months, she would have every reason to have become bored with their regularity. Her front gate clicked open and Dan watched as Jackie turned to smile a good morning to her. Mrs. Watt appeared from behind the overgrown yew hedge that surrounded their property, and as she passed by Jackie, she slowed down long enough to shoot Dan a tight-mouthed glare of disapproval. He returned the disparaging greeting by thrusting forward his hands in the pockets of his shorts, giving the impression that he was more than a little excited to see her.
"Good morning, Mrs. Watt," he called out in an airy voice.
The woman quickly averted her eyes and, with a loud sucking of teeth, walked quickly on.
Jackie shook her head. "For goodness' sakes, Dan. When will you ever start to take things seriously?" She turned on her heel and disappeared from view behind the yew hedge.
Dan stood for a moment peering up into the cloudless sky as a Boeing 747 roared low overhead on its final approach to Heathrow Airport. He watched it disappear over the roofline of the houses opposite, then walked to the gate and peered over. He was in time to see Jackie's neat figure cross the street and head off down the low-stone-walled alleyway that led to South Clapham tube station. He thought about calling out something like "Have a good day, my sweet!" but knew that she was in no mood for any of his lighthearted banter that morning, so he turned and went back into the house.
As soon as he opened the door into the kitchen, he could tell that one of their recent fosterlings from the Battersea Dogs' Home had done it again. What's more, it took no great powers of detection to work out who the culprit might be. Biggles, the cross collie/spaniel, lay cowering in his basket, whilst his smaller companion, Cruise, made a solid show of proclaiming his innocence by dancing energetically around Dan's feet.
"Bloody hell, Biggles!" Dan exclaimed, pinching his nostrils. "Not again!"
He found the unwelcome evidence of the dog's misdemeanour centre stage in the conservatory extension to the kitchen. He picked up the coal shovel that now resided permanently beside the sliding glass door that led out into the small back garden.
"I don't know how good your geography is, my boy, but I should remind you that the dog home is only a half-hour's brisk walk from here." He gave Biggles a hardened glare just to demonstrate how displeased he was, and the dog reacted by closing his eyes in shame, displaying the dark-ringed "flying goggles" that had given rise to his name.
Having cleaned up the floor and clandestinely discarded the contents of the shovel over the fence into Mrs. Watt's garden (he reckoned that, on that particular morning, she more than deserved it), Dan returned to the kitchen and picked up his mobile phone from the sideboard. As he filled up the kettle, he punched out a joint text message to Millie and Nina, informing them that it was time to get up. It was a ruse that seemed to work much more effectively than a yell up the stairs, his subtlety of thinking being that, even though his daughters were almost one hundred per cent sure that the text was from him at that time in the morning, there was always the slimmest chance that it could have been from someone considerably more exciting than their father.
It never failed to work. Just as the kettle came to the boil, he heard a thump on the floor above. Nina was on the move. He poured himself a cup of instant coffee, waiting for her usual riposte. When it came ringing down the stairs, he mouthed out her words in perfect synchronization. "Dad, stop doing that! It's so unfa-yer!"
"Morning, Ni," he called back. "Make sure Millie's up, will you? You've got twenty-five minutes to get out of the house."
"I'm not waking her up. She's a cow." She said it in a crescendo, obviously wanting her sister to hear.
Dan shook his head and walked through to the hall. Nina, still in her pyjamas, sat slumped at the top of the stairs, her feet resting halfway up the banister post.
"She is not a cow, Ni. She is your loving, if not slightly tetchy sixteen-year-old sister who happens to be two years your senior, so I would be grateful if you didn't give her any more excuse than that to splatter your brains against the wall." He took a gulp of coffee. "Okay, tell me. Why is she a cow?" "She's got my Atomic Kitten CD," Nina replied moodily.
"Ah." Dan paused. "Well, she hasn't actually."
"Yes, she has, Dad. Why do you always have to protect her?"
"I am not always protecting her. I know she hasn't got it because I've got it. You'll find it in the CD machine in my office."
Nina's face sneered disapproval. "That's so sad," she said, getting up from the step and stomping off to her bedroom.
"Wake up Mill —" The door slammed shut before Dan could finish. Letting out a long sigh, he returned to the kitchen and pulled out a chair from the table. He sat down, resting his elbows on the table, and began to work his fingers at the throb of anxiety in his head. Biggles, noticing that this might be an opportune moment for reconciliation, crept from his basket and gently laid his muzzle on his master's knee. Dan looked down at the dog and smiled. "Well, thank you, Biggles. At least someone in the world gives me a vague inkling that I'm still loved and appreciated."CHAPTER 2
Back then, he had always thought that it could have read rather like one of those smart announcements in the social columns of the Times; or even printed on a stiff-carded invitation with raised letters, the kind that one might find tucked into the cracked edge of a gilded overmantel mirror in the drawing room of some well-connected household.
Dan Porter and Jackie Entwhistle are pleased to announce their plan for life, formulated whilst consuming two quarter-pounder cheeseburgers and French fries in the Central Park Diner, High Street, Kensington on 3 April 1984. Following their wedding at Chelsea Registry Office on 18 April (which is to be paid for by Jackie's parents who say that it is the last thing that they will ever do, financially speaking, for their daughter) and the arrival of their firstborn on (circa) 8 September of the same year (that being the reason for the breakdown of relationships with Jackie's parents), Dan and Jackie will be moving (when they can afford it) to a large house in (London suburb, south of the river — somewhere) where they will add two more children to their family, plus two dogs — eventually. Thereafter (when Dan has reached retirement age, having made his fortune in the City, which he is bound to do), they will be moving to a small cottage in the country (South Devon coast preferably) where Dan will sit with a smug smile on his face, knowing that he has not only done his bit to perpetuate the human race, but has achieved it with distinction.
Excerpted from A Risk Worth Taking by Robin Pilcher. Copyright © 2004 Robin Pilcher. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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