Marge Webster has always known what she wanted, and how to accomplish it. As editor-in-chief of Lady Fair magazine, she’s got influence and fame, a social calendar as packed as her closet, and a gorgeous attorney boyfriend. Jerry is successful, loving, and ready to settle down. As for Marge—she just feels exhausted. Maybe that explains her weak knees and fluttering heartbeat when she runs into Sam Packard, her high-school crush.
Back then, Sam was the most popular and charismatic guy around. He didn’t always understand Marge’s dreams, but their connection was undeniable. Marge isn’t that awestruck girl anymore—but for the first time in her life, she has no idea which path to follow. Maybe the answer is to step back, take a doctor-ordered European vacation, and explore exactly what and who makes her happy. The answers might surprise everyone—especially Marge…
Praise for A Cowboy’s Love
“This sweet, modern cowboy tale is just the book you’re looking for!”
–RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars Top Pick
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"When does his plane get in?"
"Not till three."
"And he's coming here first thing?"
"Yes. He should be here by four."
"And that's actually what he said?"
"Yes, Marge. That's actually what he said. He did the shoot. He didn't like the pictures. He's not sending them in." Frieda was poised near the door, hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible.
"He knows the issue closes in less than two weeks, doesn't he?"
"I'm sorry, Marge."
Marge closed her eyes briefly, took a single deep breath and smiled a small, patient smile. This, too, could be managed. Then she spoke very quietly to her assistant, Frieda Cox.
"He's a genius." She pursed her lips ever so slightly. "Piero Massione is a photographic genius. But he must be almost seventy by now, and the older he gets, the more he becomes a prima donna. Give me twenty minutes with him as soon as he arrives. We'll work it out." She stood up and slipped into her jacket. A collarless linen from Oscar de la Renta — perfect for the soft breeze of this early September morning. And she got her sunglasses out of her handbag. The sunglasses were from Celine. The bag from Chloé. She glanced at the Mark Cross calendar on her desk — a gift from Jerry Germaine. Jerry was Marge's long-time boyfriend. "I'm on my way to that retailers' meeting. Then I'll be at the Bryant Park for lunch, meeting Bridey Berrigan to talk about her next food column."
"And call Jerry. Tell him yes, I can meet him at seven for dinner. At Galba's."
And she was out of the office and down the hall to the elevator.
"Yes, Marge," Frieda called after her. And to the empty air, she whispered, "Marge Webster handles disasters like they were soap bubbles."
* * *
It was just too good a day not to be outside in the sun. The retailers' meeting had gone really well and ended early with smiles all around. She was ahead of schedule for her lunch appointment and the city was inviting her to come out and breathe a little.
"Luke. Stop the car." She looked at her watch — a gift from Hermès — and said, "I have some time. I'm going to walk from here. You go on to the restaurant and wait for me till it's time to go back to the office."
"Okay, Ms. Webster." Before Marge could move, Luke was out of the car and came around to open the door for her. "Nice day for a walk," he said. "Summer's winding down. It'll be fall soon. "
"Yes." She smiled. "You can feel it in the air." It seemed, despite Piero Massione's childish behavior, the world was full of smiles now.
"You sure can. Need to enjoy what's left of the good weather." Luke smiled, too. "Have a good one," he said, and he got back into the car.
Marge watched the big black town car blend in with the rest of the traffic — the moving mass of other big black town cars and boxy yellow taxis, the private cars, the buses, and the trucks that made the city feel always on the go.
She turned away and smiled again; she'd just slipped out of the day's tightly packed schedule and found a little escape time just for herself. It didn't happen often. It certainly didn't happen often enough. She really needed just a small escape — needed to get away from her mental to-do list. She took one big, deep breath and looked around, looked to see where she had landed.
It was an ordinary neighborhood street, somewhere in the Village. Small shops, some brownstones, people just quietly going about their business. Babies in strollers. Dogs being walked. Teenagers falling in love. A city street. Always a treat. Better than any television screen for variety, humanity, action, the potential for drama, a laugh, something new.
She took off her jacket, hooked it over her arm and started to walk. A man passed her, turned to look, and kept going. At the corner, a street vendor was filling the air with the irresistible aroma of honey roasted nuts. She paused at his cart, checked her watch once more — forty minutes till she had to meet Bridey — decided she could indulge in a snack before lunch. She paid her dollar and started to walk away with her paper bag of honey roasted peanuts. But an idea stopped her. She turned and watched as a mother and her little boy approached the cart. The mother gave her boy the money to buy a bag. And Marge thought about it.
Street food in New York. Surprisingly, it really is very good. Good, and often very interesting. Might be an idea to discuss with Bridey. See what she thought of a piece on the street food of New York. It would make an amusing story. "What to Wear While Dining Out." With the emphasis on "out," of course.
Always new ideas. Can't help it. I just love the magazine so much.
She really needed to take more breaks like this one.
I know. I know. Doctor Diaz says I have to ease up a little. Working too hard.
She did a little deep breathing, quietly, as she walked along. Marge would never let anyone know, but it was beginning to worry her. Carrying it all on her shoulders. She was feeling the stress, she was seeing the signs of overwork, the wound-up overdrive of her thoughts that kept her from falling asleep. The little wrinkles forming at her lips. The need for concealer under her eyes.
But who would — who could — run Lady Fair as skillfully as she did? Marge knew it was her ability to be the calm in the eye of the storm that was her major asset — that had gotten her hired for this job at the impossibly early age of twenty-nine.
She'd first come to the notice of the magazine's owners early on, when she was a young features editor, first months on the job, and an article of hers won an ASME award. Not bad for a rookie. Not bad for anyone! Then, a month later, there was her memo to upper management suggesting a cost-cutting digital innovation that resulted in an annual bottom-line savings of more than eighty thousand dollars. And the clincher came the day a crazy ex-con broke through the lobby security downstairs and ran naked through Lady Fair's reception area, waving a long Tanaka knife. While the receptionist cringed behind her chrome and glass desk, paralyzed with terror, and the staff trembled in the corridors and behind their locked doors, it was the still-a-rookie Marge whose gentle and sympathetic voice talked the man down and kept him quiet until the police arrived to escort him out of the building, wrapped up in a gorgeous blue floral wool-and-silk shawl from Gucci, produced at the last minute by one of the design people, out of the nearest fashion closet.
When an ABC reporter did the interview about the incident for the evening news, Marge credited the outfit she'd been wearing. "It was probably the charcoal gray Valentino I had on. It's a very no- nonsense business suit, suitable for handling any office crisis. Maybe," she added, "he thought I was his parole officer."
But it wasn't only Marge's steel in the face of danger together with her light touch that got her noticed. She was a brilliant writer, knew how to work to a deadline, and understood the difference between a good story and an indispensable story. She'd proven she understood the dollars and cents of the industry, and she had a respect for its full product range from the low end of a strip mall's ready-to-wear to the haute couture of the most exclusive salons. And, perhaps the most important skill in a potential editor in chief, Marge had not only a passion for fashion but a sure sense of its exact place in today's social scene as well as in the scene that would appear over tomorrow's horizon.
What no one included in the mix, not even Marge herself, was what it was costing her to be cool and effective, day in and day out. No one, that is, except Dr. Martine Diaz who had been telling her to take it easier.
* * *
She continued walking and nibbling on the nuts. Licking the honey off her fingertips. This little break in her day was precious. Nothing like a walk on a sweet day like this to put everything in its proper place.
She passed a small neighborhood park. To one side of the park, there was a playground. Children playing on swings and seesaws, with pull toys, and in a sandbox. Mothers on the benches, chatting, keeping an eye on their kids. To the right of the playground, a basketball court where some teenagers, all boys, were playing an energetic game. A few girls — girlfriends, perhaps? — were clustered around the edges, watching, commenting on the game, sharing their secrets, giggling now and then. School wouldn't start till after Labor Day and they all had a few days more to be free — to be able to play all day. Marge stopped to watch for a while, looking through the chain link fence that separated them from the street. She remembered how it was to be young. Remembered how it was to be Marge Webster at fifteen.
And knowing she sure didn't want to go back there again. Not ever!
More kids came down the street and went into the park. Two boys, three girls. The girls joined the girls already watching the game, sat down with them on the benches, joined in the chatter. Clearly they all knew each other, probably from school. The boys joined the ballplayers. Big greetings all around, high fives among the boys, playful make-believe punches in the gut, on the arm, and hair tousling. A couple of boys peeled off and walked over to sit with the girls. The ball was tossed to the newcomers and play started again.
Marge was struck by the difference — compared with the physical exuberance of the boys, the behavior of the girls seemed almost sedate.
She was still thinking about that as she continued on her walk. And it was still in her thoughts half an hour later as she arrived at the restaurant. For a change, her mind was not on the magazine. It was not on fashion. For a little while, she had managed to take it far from work.
* * *
Bridey had already arrived, ordered wine for them both, and was nibbling on a breadstick when Marge walked into the garden restaurant. Bridey was a true carrot-top and her halo of brilliant red curls caught the sunlight that filtered through the overhanging greenery. Marge spotted her instantly and she waved off the hostess who approached her. "I see her," she said, and hurried over to the table
"You look terrific," Bridey said, looking up from the manuscript she was reading.
Marge acknowledged the compliment with a smile and a nod. "I'm feeling good. I just had a nice long walk."
"In those heels?"
The heels were at least three and a half inches, from Prada.
"I'm fine. I really needed the break." She draped her jacket over the back of the chair and got herself settled down. "Next issue, the big one for the year, closes in two weeks, and as usual, there are always disasters waiting to happen. Had another one drop in my lap just before I left this morning. We'll take care of it, but boy, did I need to calm down." The waiter was right there and poured wine into her glass. She nodded a "thank you" to him, and continued. "Sometimes I get so damned mad. But when I do, I need to sit on it. You get mad at people who work for you, you wind up creating enemies and political entanglements all around, and then the whole organization is in chaos." She could feel her stress level rising again and took a deep breath to calm down. "So it was really therapeutic to just stroll around before I came here. I feel much better now." She picked up the glass, swirled the wine a bit, and took a sip. "And there was something I saw while I was walking. Down near Bleecker Street, made me think. I'd stopped to watch some kids in a playground playing basketball. And it's still on my mind."
She paused, trying to find the right words.
"I was thinking. Bridey, do you ever want to be a little girl again?"
"Are you kidding? Why would I want to do that? I'm still trying to grow up." She laughed and set her manuscript to one side.
"That's what I was thinking. Maybe I'm wrong, but as I was walking here, I was thinking about all the women I know — have ever known. It must be hundreds, maybe thousands. And I can't think of a single woman I've ever known who wants to be a little girl again. Oh, every woman wants to look young, of course. But that's a different thing. I mean be a kid again. To act like a kid. Seems to me, no matter what her age, women seem to want to keep growing. Or, at least, seem to think they're somehow going to keep getting better. I don't know. It's a fuzzy idea."
"Do you think men are different?"
"Well, that's what I mean. I was watching these boys on the playground, in their basketball game. Being just — I don't know — just so young. And I've seen lots of grown men, much older men, when they get together — it's like they go back to being kids again. It's like no matter how old they get to be, they keep wanting to be little boys. They greet each other, play together, like kids. "
"I don't know —"
Marge seemed irritated with herself. "I'm not saying it well. I don't know what I mean, exactly. Like I said, it's a fuzzy notion. Maybe not all men, I suppose." The waiter arrived to take their order and she picked up the menu. "I'll have to think about it some more. Figure out what I mean." She glanced at the menu but didn't need it. She always ordered the same thing. She smiled at the waiter and said, "I'll have the grilled asparagus salad. But instead of the hollandaise, do you think —"
"I know, Ms. Webster." He interrupted her. "Just some lemon juice and pepper."
"You're a dear," she said. "And a cappuccino." She handed the menu to him. "That'll be all."
Bridey ordered a hamburger and sweet potato fries. And a small green salad. The waiter took her menu and disappeared.
The manuscript she'd been reading was on the table in front of her, and she opened her tote bag to put it away.
"Is that for the new book?" Marge asked. "Or your next column? For us?"
"It's the column. For the December issue."
"The 'Christmas in Scandinavia' theme. And you still proof on paper?"
"It's a good check. I miss a lot on screen."
"You're so old-fashioned."
"I know. Serves me well."
"Mack loves you that way."
"Mack is old-fashioned, too. In a way."
"Jerry is, too. Sort of."
"We're both lucky."
They were both quiet for a moment.
Bridey spoke first. "So, what other deep thoughts have you been having on your way over here?"
"Actually, an idea for you." She took a breadstick from the basket. "You know those carts you see on the streets around town. The ones that sell roasted nuts. The honey-roasted kind?"
"I know. I could eat bags of the peanuts. Those are my favorite. And I love how the aroma fills up the whole street."
"Exactly. Well, I bought some while I was walking. And while I was eating them, I was thinking of all the great street food we have here in New York. Not just hot dogs. You can get Ethiopian and Chinese and Indonesian and Peruvian and God-knows-what-else. And it's all really good. So I was thinking about doing a 'Cart Food in New York' theme, with fashion to go with each one. Just a thought. But I think there's something there and I'm going to work on it. What do you think?"
"It would work."
"Maybe call it 'What to Wear While Dining Out.'"
Bridey smiled. "That's cute. I like it. And it would be fun research for me."
"I might join you. I could really use the break."
Bridey waited a minute — choosing her words. Then, gently, she said, "You work awfully hard, Marge." She looked seriously at her friend. "Is it okay to tell you?" She paused, then not waiting, she plunged on ahead. "You're looking — tired."
"Oh, Bridey. Not you, too." She took a sip of her wine. "My doctor's been telling me to take a rest."
"Okay, okay. You don't need to nag me." She took another breadstick and gestured with it as she talked. "Tell you what. As soon as this next issue is out, I'll take a vacation. Promise. Jerry's tied up in some big litigation for the foreseeable future so I'll hardly get to see him anyway."
"Promise." The waiter was there with her asparagus and Bridey's burger, so she paused while he set it all down, offered the additional twists of pepper, made sure they had everything they wanted, then disappeared. She continued, "And here's a thought. How about let's do it together. You and me, without the guys, just a girls' week out of town. Or at least a few days. We could go to Cape Cod or even a Caribbean island, someplace gorgeous, and drink wine and loaf in the sun. What do you think?"
"I think you need a whole lot more than a week and I'd be lucky to be able to spare even that much."
"Oh, come on. Mack can take care of the kids for a few days. He'd love it. He's great with them and it wouldn't hurt you to take a short trip without them. It'll be an interesting change."
Bridey laughed. "Are you kidding? I know what you're doing, Marge. Like when we were kids. You'll wind up getting me into some kind of mischief."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Who Would You Choose?"
Copyright © 2018 J. M. Bronston.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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