The Husband Habit

The Husband Habit

by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
The Husband Habit

The Husband Habit

by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

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From the bestselling author of The Dirty Girls Social Club comes a novel about a young woman in Albuquerque who seeks her perfect mate—but it seems like all of them are taken.

Why does Vanessa keep falling for married men?

Not that she knows she does. At least not at first. But every man who seems like he might be the one turns out to be someone else's. So maybe the right thing to do is take a vow to stay single, to keep away from all men, until she can figure things out.

At least work is a bright spot: It's an anchor to be so good at something, to lose yourself in your job, and Vanessa is a whiz of a chef, so good she makes her grandstanding boss, Hawk—of Albuquerque's chic Nuevo American restaurant hawk—look good. After all, it's his name on the awning above the door. If only her friends and family would get on board with Vanessa's plan and stop trying to fix her up. If she can't fix her life, nobody else is going to get the chance to try—not her parents, not her friends, and certainly not her ultra-well-meaning but just-not-getting-it sister, Larissa.

And nothing could be more with the plan than helping out at her parents' house—gardening, keeping them fed, getting them organized with her loyal pet Red Dog by her side. Red Dog is all the companionship she needs. Until Vanessa meets Paul, her parents' neighbor—he's all wrong on paper, but he's got great manners and certainly seems safe. Not bad in the kissing department, either. But just when Vanessa's guard goes down, the red flag goes up: Could Paul be yet another married man?

Bursting with Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's trademark wit and originality, The Husband Habit introduces a rich and complex heroine in chef Vanessa. You're not going to want to leave her world when the novel comes to an end.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429984751
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2009
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: eBook
Pages: 384
File size: 299 KB

About the Author

About The Author

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is an award-winning journalist who is the author of five novels. She was named one of today's twenty-five most influential Hispanics by Time magazine. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and son.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist and a former staff writer for both the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. With more than one million books in print in eleven languages, she was included on Time magazine’s list of "25 Most Influential Hispanics," and was a Latina magazine Woman of the Year as well as an Entertainment Weekly Breakout Literary Star. She is the author of many novels, including Playing with Boys and The Husband Habit. Alisa divides her time between New Mexico and Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt



April. Spring. Hope in the air. Vanessa Duran in the air, too. The plane's wheels touch down in darkness of night, and though our heroine is no longer superheroing through the blue-black sky, she has brought the Eternal Hope of Love down out of its chilly heights with her — along with her inexpensive carry-on bag and an expectant box of condoms.

Off she goes, a propitious spring to her step, into the cool and sterile quiet of the Philadelphia International Airport. She has come here for a man, but first she must locate a bathroom. Grooming issues are likely to have come up on the tedious, bumpy flight from New Mexico. Interminable, really. Interminable and cramped, with all that noise and all those constant thoughts of the plane falling to the earth, the sort of thoughts creative types are given to entertain in such moments. At any rate, rumpling is inevitable with hours spent crushed in a tiny seat against a cold oval window, with smoothing imperative at this point. Smoothing of fabric, skin, hair, disposition. Perhaps, Vanessa hopes, there will from this trip come a smoothing of her own turbulent love life.

Not tall, not short, she walks from the Jetway into a corridor that during the day must be under construction, but which now seems to be a mess of drywall and cement bags. Her heart falls a bit. She accepts the metaphor when it presents itself from the universe, her life having always somewhat echoed those details within it. Vanessa has little use for horoscopes, because life, and, in particular, her garden, offers her clues at every turn. This is no garden, she tells herself. No scent of earth and growing things here. In her excellent nose, the hard gray aroma of new cement.

She follows the more practical signs next, finds the one with the cutout figure of a woman in a skirt, meaning "women's room." She wears jeans. She wonders why bathrooms are still segregated. She wonders if there are actually women among us who wear triangular skirts of this type. She begins to think about the many false ways the world tries to make women different from men — the artificially smooth legs, the artificially pink cheeks, the artificially doe-eyed lashes. Her insides begin to rumple from this, so she suggests to herself, recalling the words of her sister, Larissa, that she stop overthinking everything and try to just be. And in just being, be happy. Larissa's advice — Larissa being older, wiser. Larissa, who is happy and would never fly cross-country to meet a man she'd found on the Internet. Oooohm. Deep, cleansing breath. Shoulders up and back, belly in, yoga back, yoga neck, long and graceful. That's better. It will all turn out just fine.

Vanessa, mind clear as a drink of water, steps into the bathroom, gets slapped in the forcibly peaceful face by the foul hand of fetidness. Like a woolly mammoth took a dump in here, and died promptly after. Metaphor, dear universe? She takes the symbolism and twists it through her body. Bad things coming. Cement. Excrement. Experiment. Disillusionment. Wonders what is meant. Wonders what she has gotten herself into. Wonders why hope, of all things, has, so far, smelled so rancid. Reminds herself to stop. Stop. Overthinking. Every. Little. Thing. Jesus. Walks across the curiously wet and rotted tiles of the bathroom floor, hopes the eau du dead mammoth will not stick to her shoes like toilet paper.

She stops at the long bathroom mirror over the bank of sinks, looks at her reflection. Horrified to find that the front of her rust-colored silk blouse is dotted with grease spots, as though some distracted fishwife had run into her with a fistful of offal as she fled the king. How did she get so stained? Then she remembers. It's her own fault, of course it is. Butter.

Curses to the homemade butter scone she had brought on the plane with her, a terrible choice for a woman in a silk shirt. Curses to her palate and its inability to tolerate the chalky mouth paste of airline peanuts. Curses to silk shirts, which she never wears and which she was talked into borrowing from her best friend, Hazel. You might think that the name Hazel is enough to sway you away from any of said person's suggestions, but this particular Hazel is as pretty and fashionable as her name is not, and, well. Vanessa was in a low place, susceptible to suggestion. If it had been left up to her alone, she would have worn a T-shirt. The haircut, neither long nor short, and the dark brown dye job were also Hazel's idea, Hazel having long been opposed to Vanessa's lack of concern for the army of grays determined to colonize her head.

Vanessa is horrified, upon looking more closely at her reflection, to find that she has also sweated dark wet spots into the armpits of the silk shirt.

Offal, offal, fishwife, damp. Gah. She's like an independent movie about the ancient English countryside, on PBS.

She glances around, looking for a solution. Spies the wall-mounted hand dryer, positions her body twistingly beneath it, so that her armpits face the blast of air, like brave and slippery penguins against the Arctic wind. Only this wind is hot, which serves mostly to make her sweat more. Curses to nerves. Curses to humid cities. Curses to stinky bathrooms and low-hung hand dryers. Curses to love and all its variety of humiliations.

An old woman shuffles from the handicap stall to the sink in shoes like chunks of chocolate, ogles Vanessa up and down. Vanessa tries to look natural as she cooks her pits.

"Sweat," offers Vanessa, with a mock-exasperated roll of her eyes that she hopes will breed sisterhood across the generations. "Humid here in Philly!"

"Disgusting," creaks the crone.

Vanessa does not know whether this single word, spat at her with the venom of the ages, is intended for her, Vanessa, or for the concept of humidity, or for the city of brotherly love itself.

"Yes, well, have a good evening," replies Vanessa, as the hag shuffles out without washing her hands.

Pit stop complete, Vanessa sets off down the concourse in her awkward heels, something of a fake reptile skin to them. Hazel's shoes, of course. Vanessa feeling a fool. She doesn't wear heels as a rule.

No self-respecting chef wears heels. Not unless she wants to destroy her back, or unless, say, she is hoping to impress a strange man in a strange city — a man who, from his online dating site profile, appears to prefer overtly feminine women. Back in Albuquerque, looking at his delicious smile in the online photos, Vanessa thought she could feminize herself just a bit. A little lipstick never killed anyone, even if it does destroy the taste of whatever you drink or eat while wearing it. Gah, a million times gah. Ludicrous, this whole arrangement. She doesn't know how long she can keep this frilly illusion up. Maybe a week. She has no idea how other women do it. Maybe she'll adjust. Maybe she should just go home now, and tend to her garden and her dog. No, no, no, she tells herself. Onward ho. Where, she wonders, has she placed her dignity? Ah, well. She totters on.

Darrius Colfax is waiting for her in front of the crowd outside the restricted gate area from which she emerges. She gasps at the sight of him, just a little, fast inhale. He is six feet tall and has a ruggedly handsome face, dotted now with just a manly trace of stubble. His blue eyes are smallish, but sparkle with intelligence and humor beneath the serious yet playful brow. Right, she thinks. That's why women do it. Maybe she could keep the illusion up indefinitely.

Unlike so many less fortunate men his age, Darrius is blessed with a full head of hair, dark hair in his case, cut rather short but with enough length on top to look tousled and not at all militaristic. She mistrusts men who look like they belong in the military. It's the liberal in her, the pacifist, the child of New Mexico ex-hippies. She notices that he holds a book, which only serves to turn her on even more. It can be difficult, in a city like Albuquerque, to find single men who read for fun, and in public. Perhaps he has done it just for show, she thinks, before quickly banishing the thought from her mind. Think positively, she tells herself, and good things will come.

Darrius's well-formed mouth turns up on one side, into a grin, as if he is simultaneously pleased and amused by the sight of her, and he steps forward from the crowd, his shoulders broad but not overly so, and just a tiny hint of chest hair wisping in the V formed by his button-down shirt, beneath his excellent, masculine neck.

"Vanessa?" he mouths, from across the crowded room.

She nods, grins like a goof.

His answer is a smile, and arms held open for her. They have emailed for two months, sent instant messages in their downtime at work, she at the restaurant, he at his shipping-and-imports business.

She hurries to him in her ridiculous footwear, conscious of the sweat stains sprouting anew in her armpits. She hopes he doesn't notice. He takes her in his arms, and she falls against him, breathes him in as her hands feel the strength of his muscular back through the excellent fabric of the shirt. He smells good. This had worried her. It was, in fact, the only thing she really thought could, at this point, be a deal-breaker — if the man smelled bad, smell being a central sense for the professional chef. But there is no issue. If he were a wine, he would be a full-bodied, rustic red, a fine pinot noir, paired with a smoky duck breast.

In jeans, he is tanned and healthy-looking, like he's been chopping wood all afternoon or something, and when the lips part, his teeth sparkle with promise.

"Vanessa, Vanessa, Vanessa," he says in his sexy low rumble of a voice. He says her name as if he cannot believe she is finally here, kissing her neck, her chin, her lips, her cheeks. He speaks firmly, with control and conviction. A grown man. If she were a less independent woman, she would relax now. As it is, she remains ever watchful for the thing that will pop the bubble of her happiness.

He smiles at her when he's done, and again she sees a dazzling light of intelligence and humor in his eyes.

"Darrius," she whispers back, hissier than she'd like to sound, but he doesn't seem to notice. It's not easy to say "Darrius" without sounding like a snake with a lisp. And they kiss again. They stand like this, hugging and kissing like teenagers, and she notices a few among the crowd of people smiling at them in their happiness.

"Here," he says, grabbing her carry-on bag from her hands and tucking the book under his arm. She sneaks a look at the title. It is a Dickens novel, Bleak House. She swoons harder at this, of course. He is her soul mate, she is certain. She relaxes now, but just a little. In another incarnation, years ago, Vanessa was a Victorian-literature professor, back before she realized her true passion lay in cooking. Books are the second key to her heart, food and drink being the first. Darrius, the reading foodie. Gulp.

"How are you?" she asks him. "I forgot to ask you that."

"Aching for you now," he says, pulling her close again, with his free arm.

"So I pass the test?" she asks.

"Let's get to the hotel," he suggests. "I'll answer you there."

His black Mercedes is parked near the entrance to the parking garage, and he opens her door for her to get in before stuffing her bag in the trunk.

When he gets in, he hands her a bottle of port with a red ribbon around it. She stares in astonishment, for this is a brand and year she knows to cost upward of two thousand dollars a bottle. A port older than she is. A man with more to blow on a bottle of wine than she has in her checking account.

"Oh, Darrius," she cries, trying not to think of how this man might actually be able to finance the restaurant she has been wanting to open for years. "Thank you for this."

Darrius taps his temple, smiles that James Bond smile, and says, "The only catch is that you have to drink it with me tonight, my love."

She ignores his use of the corny phrase "my love," because it would be too devastating to begin hating him so soon.

The dark gray interior of the car is spotless, except for a photo of his two children that dangles from the rearview mirror. She has seen their photos before, in e-mail attachments. The teen boy is handsome like his father, though a bit fat, and the young girl is pretty in a mousy sort of way.

She stares at the children in the photo and wonders, again, if they will like her, because she has already stupidly allowed her mind to rush to that place where she imagines herself married to this man, stepmother to his children. In food, she is all about slow — grown slowly, cooked slowly, savored in the mouth. But in love, she has unfortunately been all about the sprint. That she is in her midthirties now does not help in the least. Tick, tick, tick. She would like children, and this man comes with them built-in.

Darrius settles in behind the wheel, leans to kiss her passionately once more before pulling out of the space. She watches as he produces a slick leather wallet, as he pays the parking attendant with crisp, clean cash. Vanessa's cash, when she has it, tends to be as rumpled and stained as her silk shirt, which she at the moment tries to conceal with arms folded across her chest. Larissa, Vanessa's sister, will be pleased to hear about how responsible and adult Darrius Colfax has turned out to be. Vanessa can hardly wait to tell her.

The lights of nighttime Philadelphia slide past outside the window, and Darrius, with a calm, loving expression on his face, takes her hand and kisses it gently. They talk, catch up, make each other laugh. Lovely. Already, Vanessa imagines moving to this city and, with Darrius's help, opening the restaurant. Lovely indeed.

Soon, Darrius turns the Mercedes into the valet area for the luxurious Rittenhouse Hotel. Vanessa looks at the bronze sculpture of the free-spirited woman sprouting up out from a fountain in the flowerbed to their left, and she takes a deep breath. Metaphor come to her here, now. Yes.

Darrius leaves the car with the valet, and together, looking every bit the normal couple in love, they begin to walk toward the revolving door of the stately old hotel.

In short order, however, they are stopped by the sound of a car horn bleating in close proximity, and the sickening crunch of metal on metal as a large white Lexus SUV comes barreling through the valet area and smashes with purpose into the back of Darrius's Mercedes, with the poor, surprised valet inside.

Vanessa gasps, which seems to be something she cannot stop doing on this trip, and watches as Darrius drops her hand (along with his jaw). The Lexus backs up, only to smash into his car again, leaving no doubt that the driver has intended this destruction.

Vanessa looks into Darrius's face, expecting him to look worried, or afraid, or stunned, any of the normal emotions (not that she is any great expert on normal emotions, she understands, but she can at least theorize about them). But he does not exhibit those feelings.

Rather, he looks angry, furious, really, in a way that reminds her of her own mother's tight-lipped rage — not that she is analyzing herself at this moment, though you are free to interpret her associations in any way you choose.

Darrius looks suddenly very cruel and cold. He makes direct eye contact with the obese but pretty woman behind the steering wheel of the Lexus. He seems to avoid the furious gaze of the chubby teenage boy seated next to her.

Vanessa recognizes the boy's face as being the same one that smiled at her from the rearview mirror all the way here from the airport.

In front of the hotel and on the sidewalk just beyond the sprouting statue of the liberated woman, people are screaming and shouting to one another to call the police. The valet has gotten out of the Mercedes and run to the side of the driveway with a couple of frantic glances over his shoulder at the commotion.

Smash, smash. The Lexus crashes again and again into the Mercedes.

"Darrius? What's going on?" Vanessa asks, as she watches the horrible Lexus come at the Mercedes again like an angry hornless bull.

"Oh, Jesus," says Darrius, slumping his shoulders just like the boy in the Lexus, shrinking into something less than confident. He covers his face with his hands.

Before she has time to say another word, the Lexus pulls back and rams the Mercedes yet again, jabbing it into the statue in front of the hotel and knocking the free-spirited woman off her feet. Of course. Metaphor, metaphor.


Excerpted from "The Husband Habit"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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