School of Fortuneby Amanda Brown, Janice Weber
A fun, fresh frolic of a novel starring a spoiled but lovable Texas heiress out to reclaim her fortune
Pippa Walker's wedding was to be huge—Texas huge—complete with twelve bridesmaids under contract from Pippa's mother to stay lean and long-haired, gondolas flown in from Venice, A- and B- guest lists. But when Pippa finds out her/i>/p>/b>
A fun, fresh frolic of a novel starring a spoiled but lovable Texas heiress out to reclaim her fortune
Pippa Walker's wedding was to be huge—Texas huge—complete with twelve bridesmaids under contract from Pippa's mother to stay lean and long-haired, gondolas flown in from Venice, A- and B- guest lists. But when Pippa finds out her handsome husband-to-be isn't what she thought, she bolts from her own wedding, shocking society and getting herself disinherited. The only way she can get a piece of the family fortune back is to earn a degree from a school. Any school. It's a tough assignment for a girl who dropped out of SMU after pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma and shopping at Neiman's for a year.
But Pippa is nothing if not up for a challenge. Attracting one hilarious misadventure after another, she tries to earn her sheepskin at: driving school, matchmaking school, even a circus academy. It's only when she hits rock-bottom—The Mountbatten Savoy School of Household Management—that things begin to look up. But can she really be falling in love with a…valet?
"Great, silly fun, guaranteed to be seen at a beach near you." - Kirkus Reviews
- St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter One The elastic on Wyeth McCoy's sleep mask snapped just as his nightmare reached a horrific climax. In his dream he had been best man at a squillion-dollar wedding. The bride had arrived late, drunk, then had fallen into a pew while barreling up the aisle. Her nosebleed left hideous splotches on a gown previously owned by Elizabeth Taylor; the sight of blood caused the groom to become sick all over his powder-blue tuxedo. When the organist wouldn't stop playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," people began pelting him with their cell phones until he fled, taking all four harpists with him. The preacher couldn't remember the names of the couple getting married and neither could Wyeth, a humiliating snafu since he had known the groom since childhood. Nonetheless the ceremony stumbled on until Wyeth, desperately searching for the wedding ring, discovered it dangling from his own pierced earlobe. The mother of the bride began pulling it with all her might, tearing it free just as his sleep mask gave up the ghost. Wyeth awoke with a scream to find the sheets damp with his fear. His ear hurt where the ruptured elastic had stung it. His sleep mask lodged uselessly over his nose. However, grateful to be experiencing the light of dawn, he poured himself a glass of sweet vermouth from the bottle at his bedside. Sipping, he revisited his nightmare, the seventh in seven nights. Always a ruined wedding, always ending in a scream. Always the same mother of the bride. Even now that he was safe in the real world, the image of her perfect blond bouffant and glacial blue eyes made him shudder: that witch was Thayne Walker, the most intimidating woman he had ever met. Wyeth poured himself a second glass of courage. Only a fool ignored his nightmares. Today he would put an end to them. As he showered away the night's terrors, Wyeth rehearsed his resignation speech. The shorter the better. In and out, like a dagger. He'd be gone before she found anything to throw at him. "Madam," he orated to the swirling steam. "I regret to inform you that, due to personal reasons which I am not at liberty to disclose, I can no longer oversee your daughter's nuptials. You must immediately engage another wedding coordinator. I wish you well. I am certain this will be the most riveting event in Dallas since the Kennedy assassination." Perfect! He left the shower. Wyeth repeated his speech half a dozen times as he donned his best linen suit and a supersized red bow tie. Decades ago, when he believed he would be the greatest Hamlet since Sir Laurence Olivier, Wyeth had studied drama. It hadn't been a total loss because now, with each syllable, his classical enunciation was coming back to him. Soon he'd sound like Shakespeare himself. Again Wyeth shuddered, remembering that Hamlet hadn't exactly punched out in a cloud of glory. When the last drop of vermouth was gone, Wyeth strode to his beloved Hummer, the only one in the country (if not the world) painted metallic lilac. He felt this was a brilliant artistic statement showing his creative side while shielding him from aggressive idiots in SUVs. He was worth protecting: Wyeth was not only the whirlwind behind Happily Ever After, Inc., crème de la crème of wedding coordinators, but he was a potent good-luck charm. After twenty years in the business, not a single one of the weddings he had put together had ended in divorce. Was that a world record or what? Naturally the word had spread. Now superstitious and superwealthy clients on every continent hired him to make their unions a permanent reality, and Wyeth always delivered. He ran a fond hand over the gold letters on his car door. Happily ever after, indeed! He was not going to allow Thayne Walker to break his unblemished record, even if it meant abandoning Dallas's bash of the century. Thayne had been planning this wedding since the day her daughter was born; even now Pippa liked to joke that she felt like a stage prop rather than the bride. For the engagement party, a Venetian-themed fête, Thayne had had a gondola shipped from Italy and lowered by crane through a skylight into her swimming pool. That petite soirée had started a six-month crescendo toward the main event. At this very moment Thayne was midway through a five-day pentathlon of luncheons, cocktail parties, dinners, and nightclubbing that would culminate in a ceremony attended by five hundred nearest and dearest friends. There would be roses, trumpets, unfurled carpets, and choruses of angels. There would be Vera Wang, five hundred place settings of Flora Danica, a major spread in Town & Country, and respectful coverage in the New York Times. Wyeth had organized it all; in addition to the karma, he was renowned for staging weddings of stratospheric visibility. For months his every waking thought had been focused on this merger of two quasi-royal Texas families, the Walkers and the Hendersons. He had drifted to sleep running the numbers through his head: seventy people to help with décor, six thousand hydrangeas flown in from Colombia, two thousand rolled beeswax candles, one hundred hand-embroidered tablecloths, hot air balloons, fireworks, two blimps . . . eat your heart out, Cecil B. DeMille! For the wedding feast itself he had ordered a four-foot-high Sylvia Weinstock cake. Sylvia would be there and so would Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque, along with one hundred staff members flown in from New York on a chartered jet. Also arriving by jet were seven hundred lobsters, four kilos of triple-zero caviar, and half a ton of filet mignon. The sheer volume of the event would have traumatized an ordinary wedding coordinator, but Wyeth was no mere mortal. Until the nightmares began. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about this affair was definitely off. Maybe it was just too good to be true. Pippa Walker and her fiancé, Lance Henderson, were a publicist's dream. Cameras loved Pippa, who had a body made for couture, the sweetest heart-shaped face, and a bewitching smile. Although Wyeth had difficulty imagining how this adorable blonde could be the offspring of a termagant like Thayne, he was very happy for her. Lance was the perfect groom: agile, energetic, natural as a colt, with looks that caused women (and Wyeth) to swoon. Recently drafted into the NFL after four years as a Big Ten quarterback, Lance had a quiet humor and eyes that shone like dark pools as he answered questions at press conferences or signed autographs for hordes of besotted females. He'd make a fine husband for Pippa. Yet a tiny voice kept nagging Wyeth in the dark of the night, warning that this would be the marriage that spoiled his perfect record. This morning the reason had hit him like a bolt of lightning: it wasn't the couple at fault, it was the mother-in-law! No marriage could survive Thayne's meddling. Wyeth should know: six months of her demands, insults, and wheedling had left him exhausted, and he was used to dealing with the Chanel Pastel Mafia. He couldn't imagine a son-in-law putting up with Thayne for more than a month. Lance might even kill her! Wyeth shivered: that would be the kiss of death for Happily Ever After, Inc. The break in his karmic chain would end in bankruptcy. He sighed, acknowledging the sad truth: this wedding, despite its pomp and circumstance, just wasn't worth it. Wyeth pulled up to Fleur-de-Lis, the Walker mansion. Thayne's exquisite home was inspired by the palace of the Comte de Mirabeille, a nobleman beheaded in the French Revolution. The fleur-de-lis was also the official flower of Kappa Kappa Gamma, Thayne's beloved sorority. Recognizing the Hummer, the guard opened the iron gates. "I won't be a moment, Charlie," Wyeth said, smiling pleasantly. "You might just leave those gates open." "Against house rules, sir." "Then keep your damn finger on that button. I may be leaving in a rush." After parking behind the dozen vehicles lodged in the driveway, Wyeth stood a moment wistfully observing the hubbub he had orchestrated. Gardeners were trimming the shrubbery and edging Thayne's already perfect lawn one last time before tomorrow's wedding reception. As florists installed fifty marble pedestals for the hydrangeas, a crew of half-naked men scrubbed the massive front staircase. Foodies with crates of produce rushed in and out of refrigerated trucks. Wyeth and Thayne had argued for months whether to have an indoor or outdoor reception; after consulting three top meteorologists and an Oklahoma farmer famous for predicting rainfall, they had decided to go en plein air. Again Wyeth sighed. Saturday would be clear and temperate, perfect wedding weather. He hated to exit just as the curtain went up on the greatest show of his career. Careful not to slip on the wet granite steps, he proceeded to Thayne's doorbell. Margarita, the maid, ushered him into a foyer the size of an urban train station. The house was so cool, empty, and startlingly quiet that Wyeth needed a moment to gather his wits. Now or never, old boy! He threw his shoulders back, his chest forward. "I must see Thayne," he pronounced. "Immeejetly." Margarita frowned. "But you know Mrs. Walker exercises this time of day, sir. She cannot be disturbed." "Oh, stop! I've seen women in tights! It does nothing for me!" Wyeth stormed off toward the gym, quite a long walk in a fifty-thousand-square-foot edifice. He finally arrived, out of breath, at the glass doors of the indoor swimming pool. Marching past the water, a terrified Margarita at his heels, Wyeth entered Thayne's gym. Thayne was deep into the Alpine-slope portion of her treadmill routine as she watched her favorite show, Growing Up Gotti, on TiVo. The volume of both the television and the treadmill was deafening. For a long moment Wyeth contemplated his client's ultrahoned body, her perfect ponytail, moisturized-for-workout face, her raspberry/blueberry striped unitard: Thayne didn't even sweat without controlling every aspect of the experience. For a moment he considered slinking away like a whipped cur. Over the grunts of three Gotti sons at the dinner table, Margarita shrieked, "I could not stop him, Mrs. Walker!" Thayne coolly glanced over. Without breaking stride, she pressed the mute button on her remote. "Thank you, Margarita." The maid receded forthwith. "What are you doing here, Wyeth? Surely you have plenty to do for the next forty-eight hours." "Tonight's the rehearsal dinner," he replied lamely. "I don't work for Rosimund Henderson." "What's the problem, then?" Thayne increased the speed on her treadmill until her silver Pumas looked like two flying bullets. "Spit it out. I have four minutes left." "It's about my perfect record. And my nightmares," Wyeth sputtered. "Can't hear you!" Thayne shouted over the whirring of the treadmill. Wyeth cursed himself for taking on a High Black Tie wedding that would make Emilia Fanjul's Dominican Republic nuptials look like amateur hour. The financial rewards were great, but oh, the ethical sacrifices, the groveling! He felt terrible about abandoning Pippa, the loveliest bride he had ever known, but his no-divorce record was as sacred as virginity: once violated, it wouldn't come back. The sight of Victoria Gotti onscreen, having her roots touched up, suddenly gave him courage. Wyeth pulled Thayne's $250,000 check, ten percent of the cost of the wedding, from his pocket. "Madam," he began, "I regret to inform you that--" His mind went blank. Too late Wyeth realized he had even forgotten to employ his faux British accent. Damn! "I quit!" Thayne ratcheted up the treadmill another notch. "You must be suffering from exhaustion," she panted. "I know how you feel. But quitting is unacceptable." "No deal," Wyeth shouted. "I'll send you to Hawaii when it's over." "No! I won't continue another minute. It's not the exhaustion, it's the bad karma." Thayne's eyes darted to her full-length mirror. Botox kept her expression serene but she was reddening with anger. Worse, her tomatoey complexion clashed violently with the raspberry stripes in her unitard. How dare Wyeth desert her on the biggest weekend of her life! "Karma? Since when did you become a Hindu, Wyeth?" "Karma's Buddhist, not Hindu." "I don't care if it's Rastafarian, you can't back out now. I'll give you a fifty thousand bonus. And a hundred cases of that appalling vermouth you seem to live on." Severely tempted, Wyeth wavered. As he battled with himself, Thayne raised her hand and confidently pointed the remote at her television. At just that moment, the light caught her triple diamond ring. Wyeth's eyes boggled: that was the ring she had tried to yank out of his ear in last night's nightmare! The gods had sent their final warning. "Sorry," he shouted, tearing the check in half. "My decision is final." Thayne continued to walk vigorously as the paper bits fluttered to the floor. "Yes, you will be sorry," she pronounced finally. "You will never do another wedding in Dallas. Consider yourself dismissed." Thayne did not watch him leave. Instead she pressed the mute button, smiling as sound reavalanched throughout her gym. If this hapless twerp thought quitting was going to ruin her wedding, he was sadly mistaken. She had been through much worse and landed on her feet. Thayne concentrated on toning her calves for an extra two minutes. Presently her complexion lost its ruddy hue and calmed to a vernal pink. She shut off the treadmill, stripped naked, and dove into her swimming pool, where she did her best thinking. As she was completing her tenth lap on the kickboard, her husband, Robert, entered, dressed for the golf course in apple-green slacks and an impeccable white polo shirt. He knew immediately that something was very wrong; Thayne never destroyed her hairdo unless Armageddon was at hand. "Good morning, dear. Can I do anything for you today?" From the middle of the pool she said, "Wyeth McCoy just quit. He thinks this wedding has bad karma." "What rot! Do you really need him?" "Are you joking? That's like Eisenhower quitting on D-day minus one." "But you've rehearsed everyone to the bone." Thayne had probably ground away most of the bone, too, but Robert let that slide. After twenty-five years of marriage he and his wife had come to an understanding: she ran the show and he played golf. Thayne reverted to scissor kick. "Fortunately I know a dozen wedding planners who would cut off their right leg to be part of this event." More likely they'd cut off both legs not to be involved, but Robert called, "You are absolutely right, darling. I'm sure you'll have a replacement within the hour." He turned to leave. "Robert! Make sure you're at the hotel at four. The rehearsal begins promptly at five." "Certainly, dear. Call if you need me." That had been Robert's exit line for the last quarter century. Thayne had not once taken him up on it. She left the pool after eight more laps and wrapped herself in a thick terry robe. Without showering, Thayne went to an upstairs bedroom that had been converted into Command Central. Striding to her desk through a jungle of dry erase boards, mannequins, printers, slide projectors, spreadsheets, invoices, faxes, swatches, and mountains of brochures, Thayne opened her laptop and located a phone number. Seconds later she was calling Steve Kemble, the hyperfabulous event planner whose show, Whose Wedding Is It Anyhow, held a national audience spellbound week after week. "This is Thayne Walker," she said in an unusually melodious, carefree voice. "Connect me to Steve, please." "I'm sorry, ma'am. Mr. Kemble is in Madagascar for two weeks." A tinge of irritation crept into Thayne's voice. "He doesn't have a cell phone?" "Excuse me, who is calling?" "Thayne Walker from Dallas. I'm sure you're aware I have a wedding this weekend." All too aware: Wyeth had been wailing to Steve almost daily about his tribulations. "How may we help you, Mrs. Walker?" "You may connect me to Steve, as I have already asked." "I'm sorry, ma'am. Mr. Kemble is in Madagascar for two weeks." "Are you a robot? I understood you the first time." Thayne needed a moment to resettle her voice to a more honeyed level. "Would you be so kind as to tell me exactly what he is doing there?" "Filming the nuptials of a supermodel and an Iranian prince. I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but this is all very secret." "Would he be able to fly to Dallas this evening?" "I believe I just explained he was in Madagascar." "Thank you for telling me a third time," Thayne snapped. "I could have my jet there in seven hours. He could disappear for a day. No one would be any the wiser, certainly not a supermodel and an Iranian." A frosty silence elapsed. "If you leave me a number, I'll have Steve return your call as soon as possible." "If you were Pinocchio, your nose would be longer than the Texas panhandle." Thayne slammed down the phone, resolving to have a word with Steve about the rudeness of his staff. She proceeded to the next name on her list. "Gizelle? This is Thayne Walker." Hearing no reply, she continued, "Something has come up. We need a little extra help with the wedding this weekend." Last January Gizelle and her six employees had spent two solid weeks preparing a proposal for Pippa's wedding. Thayne had chosen Happily Ever After, Inc., instead; she didn't like the looks of that sleazy z in Gizelle's name. "Surely Wyeth can find some extra help for you," Gizelle replied, hanging up. Thayne proceeded to the third name on her list. "Bartholomew? This is Thayne Walker." "Don't bother me." Click. What was the matter with these people? Business was business. Were Pippa not an only child, were another Walker wedding a future possibility, Thayne was sure that Steve, Gizelle, and Bartholomew would be falling over themselves to assist her now. Clearly they were still hurt that she had chosen Wyeth to do Pippa's wedding. Thayne related to that. She had felt the same crushing disappointment when she didn't get into Kappa Kappa Gamma on the first try. Thayne called two more wedding planners, both "busy," neither able to recommend anyone else who could help. Her lower digestive tract began to feel her pain. Thayne rushed into her pink marble bathroom, there to swallow her first pint of Kaopectate as she considered her options. Maybe she should take over. No, bad idea: if she had learned anything over the last six months, it was that underlings didn't respond to her laser-sharp management style. Besides, this was her time to reap the harvest of all her hard work. The mother of the bride should now be basking in the reflected glory of her daughter's white gown. She should not be down in the sweatshop with the peons. Margarita, the maid, tapped on the bathroom door. "Are you all right, madam?" "What is the problem, Margarita?" "The pastry chef is fighting with the fish chef over the lemons. They want to speak with Mr. Wyeth right away." "He just left on an errand that will take all day. Buy another crate of lemons and tell them to grow up." "They are fighting with knives, Mrs. Walker. I am afraid." "Margarita, I can't deal with this right now. Go downstairs and remove their knives." "But--" "Do as I say! That's an order!" Thayne flushed the toilet, drowning out her maid's protests. She took half a step toward the shower before the need to return to the toilet became overwhelming. Her arms were beginning to itch from the chlorine in the pool. Thayne thought she saw a few blotches forming on her face as well. To think that an hour ago, she had been jogging on her treadmill, happy as a victor of Survivor! The phone next to the toilet rang. Surely that was one of the wedding planners coming to his/her senses, about to grovel for mercy. "Yes?" Thayne snapped. "Mama? Are you all right? You never miss my wake-up call." "I'm sorry, Pippa. It's been a busy morning. Are you and the girls done in the gym?" "Yes. We're getting ready to go for our manicures." "Good. I'll see you at the bridesmaids' luncheon." "Weren't you going to get your nails done with us?" "Don't push me!" Thayne shrieked. "If I can, I can, if I can't, I can't!" Like her father, Pippa knew when to back a few miles off. "Sounds good. I'll take care of everything here. Don't you worry." "Thanks, sweetheart," Thayne replied weakly. "See you at the luncheon." She managed to take a shower before her intestines recurdled. Thayne considered calling Wyeth McCoy and promising to lock herself in her bathroom for the weekend, if only he'd come back. Then her phone rang. "Yes?" "Twinkie? How are you bearing up?" Dusi Damon, Thayne's old college roommate, was calling from Rangoon, where she and her husband, Caleb, had gone for a month-long, four-star vacation involving a bit of plastic surgery. Thayne was the only person in the world who knew that Dusi and Caleb hadn't gone to Asia to photograph sampans in the Bay of Bengal. "I am not bearing up at all," Thayne answered, breaking down into sobs. "Wyeth just quit on me. He thinks the wedding is jinxed." "He quit the day before the wedding? That is unconscionable. I would sue, if not hire a hit man." "I would do both if I could leave the bathroom." Thayne told Dusi about her digestive troubles. "How am I ever going to manage the rehearsal tonight? Wyeth is the only one who could keep all the marching and music straight." "Hire a band leader. Like John Philip Sousa." "This is my daughter's wedding, not intermission at the Cotton Bowl!" Thayne screeched. "God is punishing me, Dusi. I should never have created the wedding of the century. I should have settled for wedding of the half century." "That's nonsense, Twinkie. You can do it. No one's irreplaceable, including Wyeth." Dusi thought a moment. "You must call the Mountbatten-Savoy School of Household Management in Aspen. Their people are used to handling events with a guest list of thousands." "Mountbatten-Savoy, you said?" Thayne weakly scribbled the words in lipstick on the pink marble tile nearest the toilet. "Thanks so much. How was your surgery, by the way?" "Fantastic. Caleb looks so much better. I'm devastated we can't be there with you." "You're an angel." Thayne sniffled. "You go out and show Rosimund Henderson who's in charge! She's just a Theta." Reinvigorated, Thayne got the number of the Mountbatten-Savoy School of Household Management in Aspen. "I'm Thayne Walker of Dallas," she announced grandly. "Hello! You're having a wedding this weekend." "Who is this? How did you know?" "I'm Olivia Villarubia-Thistleberry, director of the school. We're following events in Texas with great interest. It's not every day that the American equivalent of two royal families are united in marriage." Thayne immediately liked this woman. "My wedding planner has come down with a case of adult measles. I'm in need of someone who can handle a rehearsal involving a symphony orchestra, a two-hundred-voice choir, two brass quintets, a bell choir, an organist, and thirty-one attendants, not to mention an obstreperous mother of the groom. I'll pay you fifty thousand dollars to get someone here this afternoon. On top of your usual fee, of course." "I don't think that would be a problem for Cedric," Olivia said after a gut-wrenching hiatus. "He has personally dressed the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz for twenty years. He has organized three royal weddings. And he happens to be here this week presenting master classes on Large Scale Events Requiring Hats." "Hire a jet and fly him to Dallas at once." "This is very exciting, Mrs. Walker. I'm so glad you called." "I'll e-mail you all my files. Cedric can study them en route." Thayne consumed another half pint of Kaopectate before feeling confident enough to venture into her fifteen-hundred-square-foot closet. She conducted a phone interview with Zarina, a Hollywood society reporter, while Margarita fixed her hair. She phoned Rosimund, Lance's mother, to say she'd be late for the bridesmaids' luncheon. She phoned Pippa and told her to proceed with the food service; she would get there as soon as possible. After choosing eight items of pearl jewelry to wear, Thayne finally allowed herself a smile. They didn't call her Superwoman for nothing. Copyright © 2007 by Amanda Brown and Janice Weber. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
AMANDA BROWN is the author of three novels, including Legally Blonde, which became a hit movie starting Reese Witherspoon and also a Broadway musical. She lives in Los Angeles.
JANICE WEBER is a concert pianist as well as a novelist. She lives in Massachusetts.
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I loved the characters our heroine met along the way each person helping her on her way. Like Amanda Brown's other books, the heroine is a nice girl who stays nice and who stays her course. It is a happy read and a fun book.