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Authors: Genevieve Gannon

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance

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BOOK: Husband Hunters
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‘I can’t believe you’re going to be my boss,’ he said.

‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘You have to do as I say.’

He hooked his finger over the band of her jeans and pulled her to him. ‘Only when we’re at work.’

From then on it was a haze. Daniela’s mind was addled by lust, and the memories escaped like skittles dropped in the street. The last thing she remembered was the echoey thud of James’s heart as her head lay against his chest.

When she woke up the next morning he was on the other side of the bed with his back to her. She lay still for a few moments before reaching out her hand and resting it on his waist. He didn’t move. After a moment, Daniela spoke: ‘Are you awake?’

‘No,’ he mumbled.

Rebuffed, she withdrew her hand. ‘Stupida,’ she whispered to herself. She should have known he wasn’t really interested in her. Even at university, James Jensen had never really been interested in her.

She lay in his bed for another ten minutes, watching the rise and fall of his chest, waiting for a signal that she wasn’t just a one-night stand. Willing him to roll over and sling his arm across her shoulders.

‘James,’ she whispered. ‘James!’

He stirred. ‘So drunk,’ he said dozily.

Her flicker of hope died. She got dressed and tiptoed out the door.

That was a year ago.

She turned off her radio and dialled his number. He may not want her, but he could help her find someone who would.

‘Dani?’ he answered. The sounds of Emerson’s drinks party played in the background.

Daniela heard hoots of ‘What’s up boss?’ from the guys.

‘What are the details of your brother’s party?’ she asked. ‘I’d love to come.’

It was time to go hunting.

Chapter 4 Clementine
 

Clementine threw her arm over her buzzing handbag to smother the sound. It hummed again. There were people all around. What if they heard? But none of the busy commuters jostling up and down Foveaux Street cared about her phone. They didn’t wrestle her to the ground, screaming ‘adulterer’, like she expected them to. She reached into the outer pocket of her satchel and pulled out a bottle of vitamins. B
12
for nerves, and C to help her sleep. She was exhausted.

Her phone had been going off all day, interrupting her clients’ sessions and derailing her train of thought. It was set to silent, but she could still detect the muffled rattle as it shook against her personal organiser. Every rumble represented another message from Jason. An entreaty, a plea, an excuse. After each appointment Clementine pounced on the phone and greedily devoured the messages before the next client arrived. Some of them were sweet. Some were not. About 3.30 she was almost caught by Caitlin Messner, a twice-divorced mother of four.

‘I really need you today, Ms Crosley,’ Caitlin said, dropping heavily into the chair opposite Clementine’s desk. ‘Are you …?’

‘What?’ Clementine said, stuffing the phone back into her bag. Her sweaty palm covered the screen and the incriminating words
I can’t stop thinking about your smooth, soft …

Clementine half expected Caitlin to say: ‘Are you reading career-destroying text messages from a married man?’

But she didn’t. She simply asked whether Clementine was too hot. ‘Your face is red and sort of blotchy.’

‘No, no, I’m fine,’ Clem said, walking across her office and opening a window.

She had re-read the message after Caitlin had left, biting down on the heel of her hand the whole time. Now, she was tempted to sneak another look. Instead, she stopped at a corner store and bought a litre of water. She sucked down half the bottle and told herself she didn’t need Jason.

Then she headed to the first official meeting of the husband-hunters.

The venue was Pucci, a Surry Hills micro-bar Annabel had insisted they try. Clementine pushed open the upholstered door to discover walls swirling with ‘sixties prints. For the fiftieth time that day, she checked her phone. Another message:
Remember Byron Bay?
Her cheeks burned. She did remember Byron Bay; three whole days together, and a deserted beach where they’d left their bathers on the sand and swum out to salt-crusted buoys. She spotted Dani and hid her phone away.

‘Are you ready for this?’ Clem asked as she took a seat next to a psychedelic panel.

‘Ready? I could have saved myself two decades of fighting with Ma if we’d thought of this at uni. Honestly, I’d marry a Mormon if I thought it would get her off my—’ She stopped mid-sentence. ‘Oh, Clem, I’m sorry.’ Her brown eyes widened, stricken. ‘I didn’t mean to—’

‘Dani, it’s fine.’ Clem reached for the wine list. ‘I completely understand. Mum and I used to bicker all the time.’

‘I don’t mean to complain about her. Really.’

‘Don’t worry about it.’ Clementine put her hand over Daniela’s. ‘I want to hear all about your ma. Don’t … don’t feel like you have to tiptoe around me. It’s been years.’

Dani nodded, but still looked warily apologetic.

‘Hello there!’

Annabel arrived in a miniskirt and satin high heels that matched her aquamarine eyes. The day had been punctuated by several short, hazy sun-showers, and her near-white hair had fluffed-up in the damp air. It looked like gilt fairy-floss.

‘I can’t believe we’re really doing this,’ she said, taking a seat. ‘It’s kind of exciting.’

‘I know,’ said Clementine, idly checking her phone again.

‘You’re not still thinking about him, are you?’ Daniela smacked it out of her hand. ‘We have to break that habit.’

‘I can’t help it,’ Clem protested. ‘It’s a compulsion. There’s a reason they say: “I’m crazy about him”, not “I enjoy his company in a rational way”.’

‘I thought you said you never wanted to see him again,’ Annabel said.

‘I know.’ Clem shook her head. ‘I’m being stupid.’

The wedding had reminded her how little she really knew about Jason. Amanda was so different to her; the man she loved wouldn’t have picked a woman like her. And then there had been Damon. From what Clementine could tell, he was Jason’s best friend and she had never even heard of him.

‘Just keep reminding yourself he’s married,’ said Annabel.

Clementine twisted her ring again. The band had grown loose. Along with her future and the love of her life, she had lost seven kilograms in the breakup.

‘He won’t stop messaging me,’ she said. ‘Some theorists believe our scents hold clues about our biological makeup that help us pick partners who would be good genetic matches. It’s like there’s something buried deep in my being that’s drawn to him. It’s more than just his smile and his sense of humour. It’s primitive; as instinctive as a survival mechanism.’

‘But what about your career?’ Dani leaned forward and lowered her voice. ‘If word of the affair gets out, it won’t survive.’

‘I know, I know!’ Clem jammed her phone back into her bag. ‘I have to keep away from him.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Annabel. ‘We’ll find you a husband of your own. Someone else who’s perfect for you. So’— she reached for the wine list — ‘how does this work?’

Clementine chewed her lip. ‘It doesn’t have to be anything radical. We’re just going to be, you know, strategic. If, say, Dani, you wanted to meet a guy who plays rugby, we’d go along to some games with you. Maybe a sports bar or two.’

‘How do we know who to target?’ Dani said.

‘Well there’s one thing that’s non-negotiable for me,’ said Annabel.

‘Yes?’ The other two looked at her.

‘Manners.’

‘Manners?’ Daniela pulled the face you might make if you found out your date enjoyed eating his own earwax. ‘I thought we wanted men, not Martha Stewart?’

‘Think about it,’ said Annabel. ‘Manners mean he’s considerate. He’ll never leave you waiting. He’ll never be slovenly. Manners are about thinking about the people around you. If we’re going for a purely utilitarian husband, I’d like one who is respectful.’

‘Okay,’ said Dani. ‘I guess I’d like a husband with big muscles.’

‘You don’t want him to be too perfect,’ Annabel said. ‘I get self-conscious about my body when I’m with a man who has Fabio abs.’

‘And it’s not really supposed to be about what they look like,’ Clem said.

‘He has to be fun,’ said Daniela.

‘Kind,’ said Annabel. ‘No tempers.’

‘Solvent,’ Clem said, thinking of Jason’s ivory French cuffs and silk ties.

In the weeks since ending their relationship she had tried to focus on finding an alternative to Jason. Someone like him, but not him. She saw possible future dates everywhere. She projected personalities onto the business men smiling at her from cafés and on trains. Even billboard posters. There was a Ralph Lauren model spruiking a blue double-breasted suit on a bus shelter near her office whom she was particularly fond of. In her imagination she named him Tim. He was a cardiologist. Every time she walked past him she thought ‘There could be someone like Tim out there waiting to meet you, but it will never happen if you don’t stop moping over Jason.’ She ignored the striking resemblance between the two of them.

‘And most importantly, single,’ Dani said, snatching the phone that was once again in Clementine’s hand.

‘I’m so tired of men telling me they’re just not ready to settle down with one woman,’ Clementine said. ‘All of the men who wanted marriage and children were weeded out by quick-witted girls ten years ago, and all we’re left with are the players, who are only getting worse because they’re more in demand.’

‘Junk male,’ Daniela nodded. ‘Spam that indiscriminately fills inboxes.’

‘And is likely to give you a virus,’ said Clem.

Annabel laughed and swirled her drink around in her glass. ‘I read an article that said women are being too picky. Historically, we’re conditioned to marry up. Until recently the only way a woman could improve her status was through marriage, and popular culture’s only role models were Cinderellas. Elizabeth Bennet was rescued from ruin by a man. Even Carrie Bradshaw marries someone far wealthier than she is. The problem is that with half the professional positions being filled by women, there aren’t enough of these so-called heroes to go around. The piece urged women like us to stop being so elitist.’

‘Elitist?’ said Clem, as she contemplated the fact that her most successful relationship of late was with a poster.

‘I don’t want to settle,’ said Daniela. ‘I don’t demand to be a kept woman who gets a side of diamonds with breakfast in bed every morning, but nor do I want to marry an unemployed boob with halitosis just because I fear being alone.’

‘Do you think this is a new phenomenon?’ Clementine hollered. ‘This isn’t new. Thousands of years ago everybody would have gone to some big rock on Friday nights to eat berries after a long week of hunting and gathering. The men would have tried to get the women to go back to their cave by complimenting their thick winter leg hair and promising to take them out for a nice piece of speared roo. Afterwards the women would have waited all week to get a smoke signal from the men, but it would never have come. And their friends would have said, “Oh, he’s probably just lost his flint.” But they all would have known he was out chasing another gatherer who wore a shorter animal skin.’

‘The greedy bastards.’ Daniela shook her head.

‘We have to be ruthless.’ Clementine slammed her glass down. ‘Phase one,’ she said, writing in capital letters across her notebook. ‘What’s our first move?’

‘We have to find some men,’ said Annabel.

‘Right, and how are we going to do that? Dani, what do you think? You know where men go.’

Dani shrugged. ‘All the usual places. I guess bars are a good place to start.’

They looked around. Pucci’s customers were mostly women and gay men. There was a booth of much older gentlemen, and two waiters in pink and green shirts unbuttoned to show hairy chests.

‘Bars that aren’t modelled on a kitsch fashion movement,’ Dani added.

‘Exactly.’ Clementine started a list. ‘We can’t just go to any bar. We have to be more targeted. Bars near sports stadiums, bars near large consulting firms …’

At that moment, four young blonde women entered Pucci. Daniela, Clementine and Annabel watched as they moved across the room and slid into a booth. Every woman scrutinised their shoes, legs and jewellery. Every man sat up a little bit straighter.

‘Bars that aren’t popular with hot twenty-one-year-olds,’ said Daniela.

Other options they came up with were rugby games, the beach, public transport — especially the ferry — galleries and beer gardens. ‘We need to place ourselves in the path of good men,’ Clementine said. ‘It’s all about proximity. Regular contact is statistically the number one reason people fall in love.’

‘But this is what I’ve been saying,’ Dani persisted. ‘I’m not single because I don’t know where to find men. I’m single because they don’t seem interested in me.’

‘That’s why we have phase two,’ Clem said. ‘The pitch.’

Annabel smiled. ‘If we’re going to be pitching, maybe we need to approach it the way you would business networking. Forming new professional acquaintances is always more effective if you have got a mutual colleague who is willing to vouch for you.’

Clem nodded. ‘Yes, that would weed out some of the ratbags. If a friend has introduced you to a man, there’s less chance he’s fundamentally evil.’

‘I’ve got something to get us started,’ Daniela announced. ‘My friend James from work’s older brother is having a party on the weekend and we’re all invited. He said it was going to be a big celebration. The more the merrier.’

By the end of the night there was a three-point plan and guidelines for men to track. Anybody single, working, friendly and open to a long-term relationship was to be considered.

‘A large sample size increases our chance of success,’ said Clementine.

The first mission would be the party.

‘We’re not to be distracted by superficial prejudices we have developed over the years,’ Clem instructed.

Daniela couldn’t reject a man because he had love handles, and Annabel was banned from dismissing men who didn’t meet her Prince Charming archetype. Clementine’s only assignment for the night was to engage a bachelor in conversation.

‘You’re wounded,’ Annabel said. ‘You’re not ready for a fully-fledged hunt.’

‘To phase one,’ Clem raised a glass.

‘To manners,’ said Annabel.

‘To muscles,’ said Daniela.

‘To marriage,’ Clementine said.

Half an hour later, decidedly tipsy, Clementine hailed a cab. When she got to her front door and started rifling through her bag for her keys, she saw that the little light on the top of her mobile was flashing. There were three missed calls from Jason and a text message:
I need to speak to you.

She deleted it, but immediately wished she hadn’t. Straight away another message buzzed. It was a voicemail alert. She dialled.

‘Clem [long pause] I really need to talk to you. [Sigh.] I miss you. I know everything’s messed up. I know I messed it up but … call me, will you?’

Clementine listened to the message three more times in the dark of the hallway. She wanted to call. She had never heard him sound so remorseful. So crushed. Her fingers were on the buttons. But it was nearly midnight. She looked at herself in the mirror above her hall table. Her eye liner had started to run, and wisps of Titian hair were coming loose from her bun. She put the phone down and went and had a shower.

She woke feeling exhilarated and proud that she had resisted the urge to call Jason. But by the time she was on her way to work she could feel her resolve weakening. She held her phone in her hands. ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ she intoned quietly.

Clementine knew with intuitive sadness that he was never going to leave Amanda. He wasn’t in love with her; he was just restless, insecure, frustrated, feeling unloved. A coward. If she could get over him, she would be happier.

BOOK: Husband Hunters
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