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Authors: Francine Saint Marie

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Fortune Is a Woman

BOOK: Fortune Is a Woman
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Fortune is a Woman 

[a.k.a Keeping Mr. Right]

by

Francine Saint Marie

 

 

P R E F A C E

 

“I conclude then that fortune varying and men remaining fixed in their ways, they are successful so long as these ways conform to circumstances, but when they are opposed then they are unsuccessful. I certainly think it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to take her by force. And it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by the bold rather than by those who proceed coldly.”

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

 

 

Chapter 1

Fortune Is a Woman

 

Hump day. And by the time those five o’clock whistles blow, nearly half a billion people will have fantasized about getting lucky with someone else’s woman–437,694,138 to be precise.

 

She was keeping her without meaning to, absorbing her platitudes silently as she studied the patterns in the silverware. Forming on the tip of the tongue were the kind of words Lydia Beaumont hated to use, difficult pronouncements like “no” and “because I don’t want to.”

“You can do this for me, Beaumont, unpopular as it may be. It’s better to be feared than loved anyway.”

Through with the dog-eat-dog stuff for the moment, Paula Treadwell was once again resorting to Machiavelli.

“I know, I know,” Lydia answered. “But–”

“No buts. Love fades, fear is everlasting. What–losing your drive?”

“No…avoiding being despised or hated. Also important, you may recall.”

Paula peered over her reading lenses and snorted with exaggerated disdain for her squeamish associate. Bloody hands were, she knew, just an occupational hazard in business. “If you can actually avoid such things, good luck.”

“True. But it’s still preferable to be loved.”

Preferences, smeferences. Paula glanced meaningfully at her watch. She had grown impatient with this lunch topic and Lydia’s reticence. “Personally I take my love ambitions to the bedroom not the boardroom,” she quipped, plunging her fork into an already mangled slice of cherry pie.

How to suppress a corporate coup without spilling a single drop of blood on the president and without the press ever hearing about it. Get the senior vice president to do it! The senior vice president nodded grimly and scanned the dining room. Firing people was not exactly her cup of tea.

There was a lot of background noise in the club, not just glasses clinking or forks scraping plates. If she closed her eyes, couldn’t she also hear a few sabers rattling, the crunch of daggers digging deep into the bone, the rustle of cloaks? How many conversations like theirs, Lydia wondered, could be heard in here today?

“I know how you feel about it, Beaumont, but it really is a dog-eat-dog world,” Paula opined for the fiftieth time today. She was running out of metaphors. And cherries.

“All right. Enough please,” Lydia mumbled, feeling queasy. “I’ll do it.”

“Good, and quickly please. I’m tired of having to look over my shoulder.”

Lunch sucked and it was raining again. “Consider it done.”

“Done,” Paula replied, flipping open her briefcase. “Here’s your hit list.”

Lydia wiped her hands with her rumpled dinner napkin and examined the names of the conspirators. No surprises, she folded it several times and jammed it in her pocket. There was a brand new copy of
The Prince
in Paula’s briefcase, she had noticed, and it dawned on her that it was that time of year again, time for Treadwell’s initiation rites. One single copy.

“Who’s your prince this year?” she asked, guiding the subject only slightly away from sedition and sabotage.

“One candidate–can you believe? The rest nothing but a bunch of slobs and miscreants. Absolute first-rate prison fodder.”

She could believe that. “Who is it, Paula?”

“Unh, unh. Top secret. You know that.”

Who gets a copy of Machiavelli’s five-hundred-year-old treatise is still top secret. “Fine.”

VP Beaumont’s edition looked just about five hundred years old. Stashed somewhere in her office, it was dog-eared, highlighted and tattered to shreds by now, a gift from Paula when the two were merely mentor and protégée, given long before anyone ever imagined that Paula Treadwell would one day rule the mighty kingdom of Soloman-Schmitt, the financial giant’s first woman president.

“All politics is corporate,” Paula had penned on the inside cover. “Read it.”

Lydia laughed, remembering. Read it or else. Whoever it was had no idea what they were in for, the true nature of this very mixed blessing. The pop quizzes, the endless grillings, the midnight inquisitions, the ruined cocktail parties, the elevator hell rides, indigestion at the favorite restaurant they thought Paula would never find out about. They had better read it, Lydia knew. She watched the woman reorganizing her paperwork, closing the briefcase and setting it on the table with a loud smack. President Treadwell had a delivery to make, the sound declared. A tradition to uphold. “I’m sorry to have kept you so long, Paula.”

“Anything else, ladies?”

“No, we’re done here,” Lydia informed the waiter. “Put it on the bill, please.”

Outside she wrestled hopelessly with her umbrella until at last a gust of wind came to the rescue and blew it open for her. She loomed pensively under it, Paula pacing under the restaurant awning, both waiting for their drivers.

Fear, love, Machiavelli, and a bone-chilling drizzle. Lydia shivered.

“Listen,” Paula said, “I know how you feel about this cloak and dagger stuff, believe me.”

Lydia doubted that.

“But the bedroom is, after all, the only place where I’d ever consent to being eaten alive.”

Their cars arrived, one behind the other. Lydia smiled bleakly and got in hers.

Paula had more to say. Always more to say. She motioned for Lydia to roll down her window. Lydia rolled the window down.

“Speaking of human flesh, how is your blond Venus, Beaumont?”

“Nice segue–midtown please,” Lydia told the driver, “Soloman-Schmitt.”

“Well?”

Her blond Venus. A much more agreeable subject. Lydia grinned as she rolled the window back up. “Ravenous,” she replied, through the crack of it.

_____

 

“So? How did it go up there?”

VP Beaumont let her briefcase drop to the floor and collapsed in the nearest chair. “Lots of silver platters to fill, I’m afraid.”

“Out, out damned spot?”

“You got it,” she said, forcing a smile for a clever assistant and coming up with something instead that felt just shy of a grimace. She was a henchman today, battle scarred and weary. She glanced at the time. Three already. “Any calls?”

“No calls. Get happy.”

No calls. Lydia reclined in the chair and exhaled deeply. She was exhausted, her feet hurt.

“You look exhausted, Ms. Beaumont.”

“Mmmm…that I am,” she acknowledged with closing eyes and a wide yawn. “You know,” she drawled sleepily, letting her head fall back against the chair, “I think you have something for me.” Behind the blanket of her lids she was ready to float away. “You have something for me?” she asked, yawning again, trying to stay focused on the question and listening over the edge of a widening abyss for the answer.

A squawk came from her assistant’s chair, no answer.

She could sleep, Lydia realized. Right here if she wanted to. There was just the humming of an office computer and a squeaky chair preventing it, an unanswered…her body jerked and she opened her eyes again. Her assistant had an expression she had never seen her wear before, one of complete stupefaction. “What’s wrong?”

“I–what are you asking me, Ms. Beaumont?”

What was she asking? “What did I–?”

“I’m not sure what you meant.”

“I’m asking about the memo?” Lydia prodded doubtfully. “I’m thinking the memo?”

(Ah, the memo! She’s thinking the memo, fool. THE MEMO.)

_____

 

Venus Angelo was not blond. Even if she bleached her hair she could never be mistaken for a blond. And being blond or not being blond was not exactly what troubled her these days, though it was somewhat relevant to the problem.

The young woman sat lost in her thoughts, thumbing absently through a brand-new edition of
The Prince
and scowling unintentionally at a poster of Marlene Dietrich who gazed lasciviously back at her from behind the bar at Frank’s Place.

It was Wednesday. Unlike Friday’s happy hour, all was quiet this evening at midtown’s favorite corporate hangout, no weekend warriors hanging from the chandeliers. Venus sucked in the calm and listened to Sinatra as she finished her dinner.

She should be home, she was thinking. Home with her husband. Newlyweds, they both ought to be in bed right now, ordering pizza and drinking champagne and thinking up names for their yet unborn children. Nine months married and it was already a fiasco. Doomed, she realized, from the very beginning.

And to think it was not his fault at all. She toyed with her band of gold guiltily and questioned how people could wear one so long. Just the short while she had worn hers had been so indescribably unbearable and it was not simply the plainness of the ring that bothered her, or that it seemed to make her finger swell, but that it was always in the way: when she worked out, when she got dressed, when she braided her hair, when she simply wanted to sit and chill.

Twenty-eight was too young to marry, Venus concluded this Wednesday. Especially to someone she didn’t love. She searched the room for the waiter and avoided Marlene Dietrich.

Why couldn’t she love Michael?

She was desperate to love Michael. She loved his body, she loved his face, she loved his hands. She could even say that she loved his mind. And didn’t it help that her mama liked him, approved of him even if he was just a white boy? What was wrong with her? How could she not love a man that was kind and attentive, not too smart and not too stupid? Why not love a man who was so damn good to her, good in bed?

Venus drowned her sigh in a sip of cognac. It was, she told herself, all her fault. Her fault, because from the beginning it wasn’t Michael she wanted to be married to. She signaled the waiter. She shouldn’t have said yes to him, should have stood her own ground. Things had been fine when they only lived together. Living together hadn’t seemed so daunting to Venus. But now, till death do they part? Damn! And so here she was, with a husband that she didn’t want because...she closed her book and slipped it into her coat pocket. “The bill, please.”

She should be home with her husband or putting an end to the charade that was hurting them both. She could do this without ever mentioning her boss, without Michael ever really knowing she was in love with her boss, without anyone ever knowing about her boss including her boss. She could say honestly that the marriage proved to be a mistake for
her
, that
she
wasn’t ready and had been too stupid to know it at the time. Michael had his own money, their finances were not too mingled as yet, and they had no debt. They could call the whole thing off. Surely, he would go for that solution, considering their present predicament. Surely, the truth was as obvious to him as it was to her. Everything so self-evident, she hoped.
Except
that she was in love with her boss.

_____

 

VP Beaumont was out of breath and flustered with herself this morning. Up late lovemaking and she was dragging herself all over the court. To make matters worse, her assistant was attempting to show her a bit of mercy. “Hit the goddamned ball, Venus!”

Venus lunged and missed. “Yours again.”

“Bullshit. You’re letting me win.”

Venus killed the ball. “Bullshit,” she mimicked. “And why would I do that?”

“Because I’m making a spectacle of myself.”

“That simply would not move me, Ms. Beaumont.”

“Then hit the goddamned ball!”

Venus served. There followed a series of twangs, a successful volley, and then Lydia ran out of fuel again, defaulted and threw herself in a panting heap against the side wall.

Venus stood over her, barely out of breath. “You all right?”

“Stop feeling sorry for my middle-aged ass.”

Venus laughed. “Then get your sorry, middle-aged ass off the floor and play ball with me.”

They played terribly for another half-hour and then headed for the sauna to sit and steam over it together, their towels and robes hanging side by side. Venus didn’t mention the match, but she could tell by Lydia’s expression that she was obsessing on it, pouting over her sluggish performance. It was no big deal, Venus wanted to say, but she sat quietly, too, and pretended with her boss that it was, until, at length, Lydia stood up and sullenly announced that she was leaving.

“I’m going,” she said, without making eye contact. “See you at the office.”

Venus didn’t answer her, just swooned in the heat, too hot and too damp to speak. Shake them nasty thoughts, she scolded herself, as she watched VP Beaumont half limp, half saunter away.

BOOK: Fortune Is a Woman
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