“Riotous, hilarious, but also ruefully dead-on in depicting the dangers of not appreciating one’s mate – warts and all.” – WOMAN’S OWN
The magic of married life might be fading a little for Elizabeth Baskin, but after six years is it any surprise? That her husband Roger has grown a little paunchy is no big deal. She wouldn't kick him out of bed for bringing along a spare tire, if he bothered to show any interest. Lately Roger's great love affair seems to be a sordid three-way between the couch and T.V.
Wondering what happened to the chiseled daredevil who rescued her after her car broke down on the freeway, Elizabeth turns to her sister. When she tips her off to a Beverly Hills doctor who has a pack of miracle herbs that cure every disinterested husband's ailments, Elizabeth just has to buy it.
She slips the herbs into Roger's orange juice hoping to get a taste of the man she married, but things go a little sideways. The new Roger isn't the man she once loved. In fact, he isn't even someone she likes.
Desperate to get the old Roger back, she breaks into the Beverly Hills doctor's office looking for the cure and risks jail time, her marriage—and her life.
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About the Author
Jane Heller promoted dozens of bestselling authors before becoming one herself. She is the author of Cha Cha Cha, The Club, Infernal Affairs, Princess Charming, Crystal Clear, Sis Boom Bah, Name Dropping, Female Intelligence, and the forthcoming Lucky Stars. She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she is at work on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
Bye, Roger. I'm off to the airport," I said to my husband one Tuesday morning in March. (I've decided to begin the story here because it's the morning I became aware that I wanted to kill Roger. Well, not kill him, exactly. Just slap him around a little.) "Roger?"
There was no response from him. Not even the slightest flicker. It was as if he were alone in our three-bedroom house on the corner of fifteenth and Idaho in Santa Monica, as if he didn't have a wife of six years who was about to leave on a business trip, as if he had morphed from a husband who takes his marital responsibilities seriously into a husband who takes his marital responsibilities for granted. Such a shame, wasn't it? Especially after our dreamy start on that freeway?
"Roger," I tried again. "I said goodbye."
He was sitting at the kitchen counter, reading the L.A. Times, drinking coffee, and eating an English muffin. There were crumbs everywhere, including those pesky little seeds that regularly slough off the underside of English muffins. I was itching to grab the nearest Dustbuster, but there wasn't time. I was running late. The Town Car from Ascot Limo was picking me up any minute to take me to LAX.
"Oh, are you going now, hon?" he said sweetly, innocently, turning his head in my direction at last, answering with a mouthful of food. His question sounded more like Ohyougonaha? I often thought of hiring a translator for those precious moments when Roger spoke while he ate.
"Yes. I'm taking a nine o'clock flight, remember?" I had only told him that ten thousand times.
"When will you be back?"
"Thursday night," I replied impatiently. I had told him that too. I'd told him where I was going and what time I was going and when I would be home, but he hadn't been paying attention. Not for a long time. When we were first married, he hung on my every word, not to mention hung up his clothes, and now he did neither. He was always too busy, too tired, too something, and, as a result, I was always carping. "I really wish you'd listen to me when I talk to you, Roger."
He took a sip of coffee. Slurped it, actually. A renegade drop dribbled down the side of his mug onto the counter. I hated how tempted I was to wipe it up.
"And I really wish you wouldn't go off on a trip on such a harsh note," he countered. "Besides, I do listen to you when you talk to me. I'm allowed to forget the details, aren't I?"
He honestly didn't get it, didn't get the disconnect that had occurred between us. Or if he did, he didn't want to face itor, God forbid, have a conversation about it.
"You never used to forget the details," I said wistfully.
"Sorry, hon. You know how tied up with work I've been."
Tied up with work. Ha! Roger had become a card-carrying workaholic. When we were first married, he couldn't wait to get away from the office so he could be with me. Now, the reverse was true, or at least it seemed that way.
"Is it really work, Roger?" I said. "Is that what's distracting you? Or is it that the thrill is gone? That our marriage is in trouble?"
"Elizabeth. Don't start that again."
"Why not? You've changed. I can't help that I notice it."
"I haven't changed. It's just ... just ... I don't know ... reality, I guess. People get bogged down by the routine of marriage, the everyday-ness of marriage, the blah-blah-blah of going to the office and dealing with the house and figuring out whether it's our turn to have the neighbors over. It can't be the way it was when we were first married. It never is."
"That's not true. There are plenty of couples who've been married a long time but act like they're still on their honeymoon."
I thought for a minute, taking a quick inventory of all our friends, many of whom were no longer our friends because they'd gotten divorced, remarried, and moved on to other friends. "I can't. Not right this second. But that doesn't mean there aren't any."
"Elizabeth." He said this with a patronizing tone. "I appreciate that you have high standards and demand the best of everything and everybody, but marriage isn't a honeymoon. It isn't supposed to be."
"I don't believe that. I refuse to believe that. Maybe what's really going on between us is that you're having an affair."
First, he did the jaw drop. Next, he did the eyebrow arch. Then, he did that thing people do with their neck where they sort of extend it forward and hold it there, to register their shock and disbeliefand buy time.
"Nice stall," I said.
"I'm not stalling," he said. "I'm just stunned by your question. I'm processing it."
"What's to process? A yes or no will do."
"Elizabeth. What's gotten into you?" He shook his head, so as to indicate that he thought I was emotionally unstable. "Of course I'm not."
"Having an affair, for God's sake!"
"Would you tell me if you were?"
"Okay, stop this." He put his hand up, like a school crossing guard. His palm was smudged with newsprint. His fingertips were glistening with margarine. The cuff of his shirt revealed a small coffee stain. I had an impulse to haul him over to the sink and hose him down. I'm sorry I didn't remember what time your flight is leaving this morning. I'm sorry I didn't remember when you're scheduled to come home. I'm sorry if you feel I haven't been as attentive as I should be. But I am not having an affair. I am in love with my wife. And I would appreciate it if she would let me finish my breakfast."
"Sure. Okay. Fine."
The truth is, I didn't really suspect him of having an affair, despite my accusation. When men have affairs, they generally dress spiffier, log in more time at the gym, wear too much cologne. Roger, on the other hand, had slacked off in the area of his personal grooming. Remember the lean and rangy guy who'd rescued me on the 405? Well, sorry to report that he had sprouted baby jowls, not to mention an actual gut. Plus, the hair on his head was beginning to thin while the hair in his nose was beginning to grow, and don't even get me started on his hopelessly dated wardrobe. No, I didn't think he was cheating on me. I was just trying to be provocative in an effort to shake him up, get him juiced, snap him out of his coma, rekindle his old spark. I would have been devastated if he'd admitted he'd been sleeping around. He'd been acting like a clod lately, but he was my clod.
"I love you too, you know," I said out loud, inching my way over to him. "That's why it hurts me so much that we've drifted apart."
"We haven't drifted apart. I'm right here, hon." He smiled, showing off the dimpled grin that had made me weak-kneed at our first meeting.
"If we haven't drifted apart, then why does it feel as if we're just going through the motions?" I said. "Can you deny that we don't even communicate?" Sure, I knew relationships went through stages, passages, whatever you want to call them; that the adrenaline rush didn't last forever. But I wasn't ready to forfeit excitement for contentment. Not yet, anyway.
"We're not drifting apart and we're not going through the motions and we communicate as well as can be expected," said Roger.
"As well as can be expected? What's that supposed to mean?" I said, my stomach twisting as it always did when we fought.
He swatted the newspaper at some invisible bug. "Don't put me on the defensive, Elizabeth. I hate when you do that."
"Then tell me what you meant by that last remark."
"Nothing. Let's just forget I said it."
I was about to argue that I couldn't forget it and why should I forget it and once people say something it's too late to take it back, but I heard the doorbell.
"There's the car," I said. "I've got to go. I'll call you when I get to Seattle."
"Right? Is that the best you can do? What if my plane crashes and 'right' turns out to be your final word to me? Is that your idea of communication, Roger? Is it? Because I remember a time when you said beautiful words to mewords full of poetry and depth and intimacy. What happened to them, huh? Tell me that, if you can." I had become unhinged and it was unattractive of me, but the guy was making me nuts.
"Elizabeth." Roger extended his hand to me.
"Because I don't think you should leave like this."
"How should I leave then?"
"By walking over here and letting me kiss you goodbye."
Letting himoh, well, why not, I figured, surprised and delighted that he was the one initiating the physical intimacy for a change. He had said "kiss," so my assumption was that our lips would make contact and that our tongues might even get involved. For a couple who hadn't had sex in months, that was pretty hot stuff.
"Roger," I murmured, my voice softening, my body relaxing. I sidled up to him, rubbed his thigh, and puckered up.
"Travel safely, hon," he said, then deposited a dry little peck on my cheek.
Yeah, on my cheek. How about that for heat, huh? Now, do you see what I'm talking about?
Where was the passion? The lust? The saliva? Where was the man who was so demonstrative when we were in the throes of our courtship? The man who claimed I turned him on, rang his chimes, lit his fire? The man who was so gallant, so chivalrous, so endearing the day he picked me up on that damn freeway? Was he still in there, still inside that body? Or had he been replaced by somebody's old-fart uncle? He was only forty at that pointjust two years my senior and hardly ready to be carted off to an assisted living facility. So where was the guy I married? How was I going to save him? How was I going to save us?
Excerpted from THE SECRET INGREDIENT by Jane Heller. Copyright © 2002 by Jane Heller. 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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New York Times bestselling author of Beaches