Read Mr. Love: A Romantic Comedy Online
Authors: Sally Mason
When Jane, feeling bleary and tired after
the restless night on her couch, enters the Park Avenue offices of the Jonas Blunt Agency she is confronted by all the staff, led by the imposing figure of her boss himself, standing to applaud her.
Jonas walks over and kisses her on both cheeks, then he puts an arm around her shoulders (she always feels like a child beside him, fitting snugly
into his armpit) and says, “Come with me, my conquering hero.”
He leads her past her cubicle to a corner office, the door of which—as he promised—sports a darling little sign saying:
JANE COOPER – AGENT
s the door open and she sees the desk positioned before a sweeping Midtown vista
“All yours, darling.”
“Thank you, Jonas.”
“Needless to say, you’ve also nudged yourself up a few notches on the pay scale.”
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
slumps on the sofa that occupies a corner of the office.
“Before I leave you to get settled in, let’s have a quick pow
-wow about this big fish you’ve landed.”
a chair opposite him.
Jonas says, “What’s she like, this Mindy?”
“Bitsy! Okay, first order of business, that name has to go. What’s it short for, anyway?”
“Elizabeth, I believe.”
“Elizabeth Rushworth. Mnnnn, that’s a little staid. How about Liz? Liz Rushworth? A bit racier, what do you say?”
“Yes, but it’s a little, well, unfriendly isn’t it?”
“You think so? Unfriendly?”
“A bit intimidating. The name of an investigative reporter or a scientist.”
“Then what would you suggest?”
“How about Lizzie?”
“Lizzie Rushworth,” Jonas says, closing his eyes, repeating the name as if he’s tasting a vintage wine. He blinks and says, “I love it! It’s peppy and saucy, but a name that gets you smiling as you say it. Perfect.”
“What does she look like?”
“Well . . .”
“Don’t doll it up, Janey, just give it to me straight.”
“She’s around forty. Short and skinny, with mousy hair going gray. When I met her she was dressed by Costco: a shapeless sweater, badly fitting jeans and no-name sneakers.”
“God, how awful. Is she redeemable?”
“Yes, I think so. But she’ll need a serious makeover, top to toe. And a new wardrobe.”
“When is she arriving?”
“Her train gets into Penn Station around 6:30 this evening.”
“Okay, tell her to go directly to
The Pierre, I’ve reserved a suite. Then spend the day with her tomorrow getting her transformed. I’ll schedule the media for the following day.”
He sees her
“Darling, I know you landed her and you’ll be there every step of the way, but this is too big for you to fly solo. You just let me do what I do, okay?”
“Of course, Jonas, I understand.”
He flashes her a blinding smile and bounds to his feet.
“Exciting, exciting. When we take this book out to auction there’s going to be a frenzy of note.”
“Just one thing,” Jane says.
has a brother. Gordon. He’s going to be traveling with her, as a kind of chaperone-cum-advisor.”
“Fine, get him a room at
The Pierre. Nothing too fancy.”
The thing is, Gordon is also a writer and Lizzie only signed with us on the understanding that whoever publishes
publishes his book as well.”
“You agreed to this
“I’m sorry, what option did I have?’
“Understood, understood. Have you read his book?”
“The first few chapters.”
“It’s terrible. He’s striving for
David Foster Wallace by way of Jonathan Franzen and falls horribly short.”
Jonas makes a dismissive gesture.
“No worries, leave it to me. Whoever gets
will gladly do a limited release of his abortion. What’s a couple of thousand copies going to cost them? They’ll never even let them out of their warehouse.”
He’s heading for the door.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I had a word with a very nice new lady editor at Exeter Press this morning. She’s just dying for you to send that bleeding heart memoir of yours over. That doctors in distress thing.”
winks at her and is gone, leaving Jane with her head spinning as she sits behind her new desk, staring out over Manhattan.
Can things keep on going so well?
No, she fears.
And right on cue her
cell phone bings and she sees a text from Tom, who she has done her best to keep out of her thoughts on this day of success.
The message is to the point:
shoves her phone away and looks out over the city she has come to love.
it just the Tom debacle causing her anxiety?
No, she fears, it is not.
And the gnawing certainty that she is conspiring with Gordon Rushworth, that his sister is just his beard, takes some of the shine off the day.
Gordon sits watching the industrial parks that litter the outskirts of
New York City blur by in the failing light, lulled almost to sleep by the motion of the train and by the wine he’s been consuming since lunch.
He’s going to have to reign in this drinking of his during the next few days of what Jane Cooper, talking on the phone earlier, described as
“a process of limited media exposure.”
He hasn’t shared his suspicions with Bitsy, but he’s pretty sure that this means that his dowdy sister is going to be tossed to the
slavering Manhattan media wolves.
He’s done his best to prepare
Bitsy, spending the last few hours of travel going through
with her, getting her as familiar with the damned thing as if she wrote it herself.
Bitsy may be an underachiever but she’s a quick study and he’s confident sh
e knows the book well enough to fake being the author.
But it’s her nerve
—or lack thereof—that worries Gordon.
How convincing will she be?
Bitsy, back from the bathroom, sits down opposite him, looking even more wan than usual.
“I’m terrified, Gordon,” she says, giving voice to his own fears.
“You’ll be fine.”
“No, I won’t. You know me, I can’t lie.”
He stares at her for a few seconds.
“Then why did you agree to do it, Bitsy?”
She avoids his eyes, watching an ugly smear of passing suburbia.
“I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“You’re right,” he says. “You can’t lie.”
He reaches across and touches her knee.
“What’s going on, Bitsy?”
She shakes her head, then she looks at him, a stricken expression on her face, and it all comes tumbling out about how she has pledged money to
a bunch of New Age charlatans.
“And if I don’t do it,
” she says, “the Quant Foundation will disappear. And it will be my fault.”
Gordon bites back the venom he wants to spew.
No, what business is it of his how his brainwashed sister chooses to spend her money?
Keeping his face expressionless and his voice level he says,
“So, overcome your trepidation and do it, Bitsy.”
She hugs herself.
“I’m really scared.”
“This Quant person, didn’t he give you any . . . any
to deal with anxiety?”
“There is a sequence of breath work. I tried to do it in the toilet, but I was quite overcome by the smell in there.”
Gordon has to laugh and after a moment his sister joins him.
“It’s a game, Bitsy, like we played when we were kids. Dress up, or whatever. It’s just pretence.”
“I don’t remember playing many games.”
“No, me neither. We didn’t exactly have that kind of childhood, did we?”
She shakes her head.
“Even more reason to make up for it now. Tell yourself that you’re Viola Usher. That you woke up one morning bursting with a story to tell.”
“Was that how it was for you, Gordon
“I wouldn’t want to bore you.”
“Please,” she says, “tell me.
I want to hear.”
So tells her about Suzie Baldwin appearing to him
—his sister the only person in the world he could ever share this with.
“Oh, Gordon, that is so wonderful,” she says.
“Yes. You carried Suzie with you, in your heart, all these years. That’s so beautiful.”
“Well, she did pretty much disappear when I hit thirty. I thought she was gone forever.”
“That’s when you decided you were an adult, Gordon, wasn’t it? That you needed to put away childish things?”
“Well, Suzie was your muse. You should feel very privileged.”
“I don’t know about muse, Bitsy. She was more a midwife, helping me to give birth to some misshapen bastard child.”
She stares at him and shakes her head.
“You don’t get it, do you?”
“Get how good
“It’s crap, Bitsy.”
“No, it’s powerful and engaging on an emotional level. Not everything has to be about grand ideas and philosophy, Gordon. You should be proud of it.”
Well, I’m not.”
She stares at him.
“What?” he says.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Everybody’s in that book
—all the people who had an affect on your life. Except me. I’m not in there, am I?”
“No, you’re not.”
save for Suzie, all the characters in the book are people who wronged me in one way or another. Writing it was my bit of childish revenge on them.”
He smiles at her.
“You never wronged me, Bitsy. Ever. So take your absence as a compliment rather than a slight.”
She seems mollified.
“So?” he asks. “Are we going to do this thing?”
“Yes,” she says. “I suppose we are.”
“That’s the spirit,” Gordon says and relaxes back in his seat, watching the saw-toothed skyline of Manhattan rise into view.
Jane, knocking at the door of Bitsy’s suite at The Pierre, is unsurprised when Gordon Rushworth answers.
What does startle her, just a little, is that she’s pleased to see him.
“Hello, Jane,” he says. “Don’t you have all kinds of posh book events to attend?”
“Your sister’s my priority right now,” she says, following him into the suite.
“Bitsy’s taking a bath,” Gordon says. “She has a thing about public transport and germs.”
He yells out: “Bitsy, Jane’s here when you’re done delousing yourself
Despite herself, Jane has to bite back a smile at his unchivalrous behavior.
Gordon points to an armchair.
“Please, sit. Can I get you a drink?”
“I’d kill for a Heineken.”
He crosses to the bar.
“I wouldn’t have tipped you as a beer girl.”
beer’s the comfort food of booze.”
“Don’t tell me: summer nights on the porch with dad?”
He sees her face and laughs.
“Oh, don’t worry, I lay no claims to psychic abilities. It’s an archetypically American tableaux, isn’t it? Almost Rockwellian.”
Jane conjures him at the lectern, smugly talking down his students.
He would not have been the professor they would have wanted to buddy up to.
But, despite his priggishness—or maybe because of it—she finds him oddly attractive.
Perhaps because he is the antithesis of her ex-fiancé, who had gone as Mr. Nice before his true nature had surfaced
Watching Gordon pop the cap of a beer and pour it quite skillfully into a glass, with just the right amount of head, Jane scolds herself.
He isn’t different.
He’s also a liar.
Remember that, Janey.
Handing her the beer he seats himself opposite her and r
aises his wine glass.
“I’m pleased to have a moment alone with you, Jane.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“Well, I’m looking forward to your comments on the book, prior to it going to the publishers.”
“I’d rather discuss that with Bitsy present, Gordon.”
“I’m talking about
Too Long the Night
“Are you serious?”
“Never more so.”
“Gordon, I understand you’re invested in your novel, but—how can I put this without being rude?”
“Oh, speak, speak. I have a dartboard for a skin.”
This is hardly the time to talk about
“Please don’t call it that.”
“But it is.”
He looks crestfallen.
So much for the thick skin.
he needs this man on her side.
Jane scrambles to undo the damage.
“Gordon, I’m just kidding.
Too Long the Night
is a huge book,” she says, somehow managing not to say a huge
of a book, “that deserves my full attention. You wouldn’t want me to rush through it, would you?”
He shakes his head, seemingly
“The next few days are all about
Then, I promise you, I will take the time to do a detailed reading of
Too Long the Night
and give you copious notes. Okay?”
“I would appreciate that.”
“Meanwhile, I need you to stay in the background, Gordon. Bitsy is going to be showcased. Yours is strictly a supporting role, do you understand?”
“Perfectly. She’s Meryl Streep and I’m Kathy Bates.”
Jane laughs and so does he.
It’s the first time she’s heard him laugh and it’s surprisingly deep and even a little ribald.
The door opens and Bitsy, drowning in a fluffy toweling robe, appears.
Her sparse, stringy hair
is still damp, her myopic eyes blinking.
Jane almost loses her nerve, daunted at the huge amount of work it’s going to take to get this mousy little woman anywhere near camera-ready.
“Are you comfortable here?” Jane asks.
“Oh, gosh, yes. This place is so
Gordon, seen only by Jane,
raises his eyebrows before burying his fine nose in his wine glass.
“There are a couple of things I want to bounce off you,” Jane says.
Bitsy, taking the couch, her feet folded under her like a child, stares at Jane.
“Well, your name for starters.’
God, is this little woman going to repeat every question the media sling at her?
“I spoke at length with
my boss, Jonas Blunt, and he feels that Bitsy doesn’t quite have the ring that it should have.”
? What do you want to call me?”
“Lizzie. Lizzie Rushworth.”
“Sounds like the madam of an Elizabethan bawdy house,” Gordon says.
ots him a dirty look and he smirks into his glass.
says, “I’ve never thought of myself as a
“It’s just a game,” Gordon says. “Like we discussed on the train.”
“Yes,” Bitsy says. “I suppose it is. That’s okay, I guess. But you two will have to keep on reminding me. I’m terrible with names. Even my own.”
“We’ll be with you every step of the way, I promise,” Jane says.
“Now, I’m not sure what you want me to wear. I brought a few outfits, maybe you could have a look?”
Jane holds up a hand.
“No need. Tomorrow we’re going to give you a complete makeover. Top to toe.”
Bitsy stares at her, looking anguished.
“I’ll be here at 9
A.M. and we’ll spend the day together, getting your hair done, getting you a range of clothes and working with a stylist on your make-up.”
“I don’t wear make-up.”
Gordon says, “Bitsy,
wears make-up for TV and photographs.”
“Gordon’s right. It’s just part of the deal
,” Jane says.
“I have a terribly delicate skin. I’m allergic to almost everything.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll work with a professional.”
“Oh, I’m feeling
all panicky now, Jane. This seems so . . . so
. Can’t I just be myself?”
Gordon stands and puts a hand on his sister’s shoulder.
“Bitsy, just think of the author photographs on the romance books you vacuum up. Those women make Jacqueline Susann’s war paint look positively understated.”
“I suppose you’re right. Some of them look almost
“Exactly,” Gordon says, tipping Jane a wink.
“Well, I hope the two of you have a pleasant night.”
“Some meditation and then to bed for me,” Bitsy says.
Gordon shows Jane to the door and Bitsy disappears into the bedroom.
“She’ll be okay, I promise,” Gordon says. “She’s just a little overwhelmed.”
“Thanks for what you said back there. You helped.”
“Oh, it was nothing. That’s why I’m here.”
Gordon, but when you allow yourself to, you really
women,” Jane says. “Which is probably why
is so huge.”
“I fear that Heineken has gone to your head.”
“Good night, Gordon.”
“Good night, Jane.”
She walks away telling herself that she won’t look back, but—just before she reaches the elevators—she
sneak a look and he’s still standing in the doorway, watching her.
When he sees her turn he ducks inside and Jane steps into the elevator feeling oddly buoyant.