Authors: Amanda Brown
School of Fortune
Also by Amanda Brown
Elle Woods: Blonde at Heart
Also by Janice Weber
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The Secret Life of Eva Hathaway
School of Fortune
Amanda Brown and
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
SCHOOL OF FORTUNE
. Copyright Â© 2007 by Amanda Brown and Janice Weber. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
School of fortune / Amanda Brown and Janice Weber.â1st ed.
Â Â Â Â p. cm.
1. WeddingsâFiction. 2. MothersâFiction. 3. Children of the richâFiction. 4. Rich peopleâFiction. 5. TexasâFiction. I. Weber, Janice. II. Title.
First Edition: July 2007
10Â Â 9Â Â 8Â Â 7Â Â 6Â Â 5Â Â 4Â Â 3Â Â 2Â Â 1
To my three girls
School of Fortune
he elastic on Wyeth McCoy's sleep mask snapped just as his nightmare reached a horrific climax. In his dream he had been best man at a squillion-dollar wedding. The bride had arrived late, drunk, then had fallen into a pew while barreling up the aisle. Her nosebleed left hideous splotches on a gown previously owned by Elizabeth Taylor; the sight of blood caused the groom to become sick all over his powder-blue tuxedo. When the organist wouldn't stop playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” people began pelting him with their cell phones until he fled, taking all four harpists with him. The preacher couldn't remember the names of the couple getting married and neither could Wyeth, a humiliating snafu since he had known the groom since childhood. Nonetheless the ceremony stumbled on until Wyeth, desperately searching for the wedding ring, discovered it dangling from his own pierced earlobe. The mother of the bride began pulling it with all her might, tearing it free just as his sleep mask gave up the ghost.
Wyeth awoke with a scream to find the sheets damp with his fear. His ear hurt where the ruptured elastic had stung it. His sleep mask lodged uselessly over his nose. However, grateful to be experiencing the light of dawn, he poured himself a glass of sweet vermouth from the bottle at his bedside. Sipping, he revisited his nightmare, the seventh in seven nights. Always a ruined wedding, always ending in a scream. Always the same mother of the bride. Even now that he was safe in the real world, the image of her perfect blond bouffant and glacial blue eyes made him shudder: that witch was Thayne Walker, the most intimidating woman he had ever met. Wyeth poured himself a second glass of courage. Only a fool ignored his nightmares. Today he would put an end to them.
As he showered away the night's terrors, Wyeth rehearsed his resignation speech. The shorter the better. In and out, like a dagger. He'd be gone before she found anything to throw at him. “Madam,” he orated to the swirling steam. “I regret to inform you that, due to personal reasons which I am not at liberty to disclose, I can no longer oversee your daughter's nuptials. You must immediately engage another wedding coordinator. I wish you well. I am certain this will be the most riveting event in Dallas since the Kennedy assassination.”
Perfect! He left the shower. Wyeth repeated his speech half a dozen times as he donned his best linen suit and a supersized red bow tie. Decades ago, when he believed he would be the greatest Hamlet since Sir Laurence Olivier, Wyeth had studied drama. It hadn't been a total loss because now, with each syllable, his classical enunciation was coming back to him. Soon he'd sound like Shakespeare himself. Again Wyeth shuddered, remembering that Hamlet hadn't exactly punched out in a cloud of glory.
When the last drop of vermouth was gone, Wyeth strode to his beloved Hummer, the only one in the country (if not the world) painted metallic lilac. He felt this was a brilliant artistic statement showing his creative side while shielding him from aggressive idiots in SUVs. He was worth protecting: Wyeth was not only the whirlwind behind Happily Ever After, Inc., crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of wedding coordinators, but he was a potent good-luck charm. After twenty years in the business, not a single one of the weddings he had put together had ended in divorce. Was that a world record or what? Naturally the word had spread. Now superstitious and superwealthy clients on every continent hired him to make their unions a permanent reality, and Wyeth always delivered. He ran a fond hand over the gold letters on his car door. Happily ever after, indeed!
He was not going to allow Thayne Walker to break his unblemished record, even if it meant abandoning Dallas's bash of the century. Thayne had been planning this wedding since the day her daughter was born; even now Pippa liked to joke that she felt like a stage prop rather than the bride. For the engagement party, a Venetian-themed fete, Thayne had had a gondola shipped from Italy and lowered by crane through a skylight into her swimming pool. That petite soiree had started a six-month crescendo toward the main event. At this very moment Thayne was midway through a five-day pentathlon of luncheons, cocktail parties, dinners, and nightclubbing that would culminate in a ceremony attended by five hundred nearest and dearest friends. There would be roses, trumpets, unfurled carpets, and choruses of angels. There would be Vera Wang, five hundred place settings of Flora Danica, a major spread in
Town & Country,
and respectful coverage in the
New York Times.
Wyeth had organized it all; in addition to the karma, he was renowned for staging weddings of stratospheric visibility. For months his every waking thought had been focused on this merger of two quasi-royal Texas families, the Walkers and the Hendersons. He had drifted to sleep running the numbers through his head: seventy people to help with decor, six thousand hydrangeas flown in from Colombia, two thousand rolled beeswax candles, one hundred hand-embroidered tablecloths, hot air balloons, fireworks, two blimps ... eat your heart out, Cecil B. DeMille! For the wedding feast itself he had ordered a four-foot-high Sylvia Weinstock cake. Sylvia would be there and so would Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque, along with one hundred staff members flown in from New York on a chartered jet. Also arriving by jet were seven hundred lobsters, four kilos of triple-zero caviar, and half a ton of filet mignon. The sheer volume of the event would have traumatized an ordinary wedding coordinator, but Wyeth was no mere mortal.
Until the nightmares began.
He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about this affair was definitely off. Maybe it was just too good to be true. Pippa Walker and her fiancÃ©, Lance Henderson, were a publicist's dream. Cameras loved Pippa, who had a body made for couture, the sweetest heart-shaped face, and a bewitching smile. Although Wyeth had difficulty imagining how this adorable blonde could be the offspring of a termagant like
Thayne, he was very happy for her. Lance was the perfect groom: agile, energetic, natural as a colt, with looks that caused women (and Wyeth) to swoon. Recently drafted into the NFL after four years as a Big Ten quarterback, Lance had a quiet humor and eyes that shone like dark pools as he answered questions at press conferences or signed autographs for hordes of besotted females. He'd make a fine husband for Pippa.
Yet a tiny voice kept nagging Wyeth in the dark of the night, warning that this would be the marriage that spoiled his perfect record. This morning the reason had hit him like a bolt of lightning: it wasn't the couple at fault, it was the mother-in-law! No marriage could survive Thayne's meddling. Wyeth should know: six months of her demands, insults, and wheedling had left him exhausted, and he was used to dealing with the Chanel Pastel Mafia. He couldn't imagine a son-in-law putting up with Thayne for more than a month. Lance might even kill her! Wyeth shivered: that would be the kiss of death for Happily Ever After, Inc. The break in his karmic chain would end in bankruptcy.
He sighed, acknowledging the sad truth: this wedding, despite its pomp and circumstance, just wasn't worth it.
Wyeth pulled up to Fleur-de-Lis, the Walker mansion. Thayne's exquisite home was inspired by the palace of the Comte de Mirabeille, a nobleman beheaded in the French Revolution. The fleur-de-lis was also the official flower of Kappa Kappa Gamma, Thayne's beloved sorority.
Recognizing the Hummer, the guard opened the iron gates. “I won't be a moment, Charlie,” Wyeth said, smiling pleasantly. “You might just leave those gates open.”
“Against house rules, sir.”
“Then keep your damn finger on that button. I may be leaving in a rush.”
After parking behind the dozen vehicles lodged in the driveway, Wyeth stood a moment wistfully observing the hubbub he had orchestrated. Gardeners were trimming the shrubbery and edging Thayne's already perfect lawn one last time before tomorrow's wedding reception. As florists installed fifty marble pedestals for the hydrangeas, a crew of half-naked men scrubbed the massive front staircase. Foodies with crates of produce rushed in and out of refrigerated trucks. Wyeth and Thayne had argued for months whether to have an indoor or outdoor reception; after consulting three top meteorologists and an Oklahoma farmer famous for predicting rainfall, they had decided to go
en plein air.
Again Wyeth sighed. Saturday would be clear and temperate, perfect wedding weather. He hated to exit just as the curtain went up on the greatest show of his career.
Careful not to slip on the wet granite steps, he proceeded to Thayne's doorbell. Margarita, the maid, ushered him into a foyer the size of an urban train station. The house was so cool, empty, and startlingly quiet that Wyeth needed a moment to gather his wits.
Now or never, old boy!
He threw his shoulders back, his chest forward. “I must see Thayne,” he pronounced. “Im
Margarita frowned. “But you know Mrs. Walker exercises this time of day, sir. She cannot be disturbed.”
“Oh, stop! I've seen women in tights! It does nothing for me!” Wyeth stormed off toward the gym, quite a long walk in a fifty-thousand-square-foot edifice. He finally arrived, out of breath, at the glass doors of the indoor swimming pool. Marching past the water, a terrified Margarita at his heels, Wyeth entered Thayne's gym.
Thayne was deep into the Alpine-slope portion of her treadmill routine as she watched her favorite show,
Growing Up Gotti,
on TiVo. The volume of both the television and the treadmill was deafening. For a long moment Wyeth contemplated his client's ultrahoned body, her perfect ponytail, moisturized-for-workout face, her raspberry/blueberry striped unitard: Thayne didn't even sweat without controlling every aspect of the experience. For a moment he considered slinking away like a whipped cur.
Over the grunts of three Gotti sons at the dinner table, Margarita shrieked, “I could not stop him, Mrs. Walker!”
Thayne coolly glanced over. Without breaking stride, she pressed the mute button on her remote. “Thank you, Margarita.” The maid receded forthwith. “What are you doing here, Wyeth? Surely you have plenty to do for the next forty-eight hours.”
“Tonight's the rehearsal dinner,” he replied lamely. “I don't work for Rosimund Henderson.”
“What's the problem, then?” Thayne increased the speed on her treadmill until her silver Pumas looked like two flying bullets. “Spit it out. I have four minutes left.”
“It's about my perfect record. And my nightmares,” Wyeth sputtered.
“Can't hear you!” Thayne shouted over the whirring of the treadmill.
Wyeth cursed himself for taking on a High Black Tie wedding that would make Emilia Fanjul's Dominican Republic nuptials look like amateur hour. The financial rewards were great, but oh, the ethical sacrifices, the groveling! He felt terrible about abandoning Pippa, the loveliest bride he had ever known, but his no-divorce record was as sacred as virginity: once violated, it wouldn't come back. The sight of Victoria Gotti onscreen, having her roots touched up, suddenly gave him courage. Wyeth pulled Thayne's $250,000 check, ten percent of the cost of the wedding, from his pocket. “Madam,” he began, “I regret to inform you thatâ” His mind went blank. Too late Wyeth realized he had even forgotten to employ his faux British accent. Damn! “I quit!”
Thayne ratcheted up the treadmill another notch. “You must be suffering from exhaustion,” she panted. “I know how you feel. But quitting is unacceptable.”
“No deal,” Wyeth shouted.
“I'll send you to Hawaii when it's over.”
“No! I won't continue another minute. It's not the exhaustion, it's the bad karma.”
Thayne's eyes darted to her full-length mirror. Botox kept her expression serene but she was reddening with anger. Worse, her tomatoey complexion clashed violently with the raspberry stripes in her unitard. How dare Wyeth desert her on the biggest weekend of her life! “Karma? Since when did you become a Hindu, Wyeth?”
“Karma's Buddhist, not Hindu.”
“I don't care if it's Rastafarian, you can't back out now. I'll give you a fifty thousand bonus. And a hundred cases of that appalling vermouth you seem to live on.”
Severely tempted, Wyeth wavered. As he battled with himself, Thayne raised her hand and confidently pointed the remote at her television. At just that moment, the light caught her triple diamond ring.
Wyeth's eyes boggled: that was the ring she had tried to yank out of his ear in last night's nightmare! The gods had sent their final warning. “Sorry,” he shouted, tearing the check in half. “My decision is final.”
Thayne continued to walk vigorously as the paper bits fluttered to the floor. “Yes, you will be sorry,” she pronounced finally. “You will never do another wedding in Dallas. Consider yourself dismissed.” Thayne did not watch him leave. Instead she pressed the mute button, smiling as sound reavalanched throughout her gym. If this hapless twerp thought quitting was going to ruin
wedding, he was sadly mistaken. She had been through much worse and landed on her feet. Thayne concentrated on toning her calves for an extra two minutes. Presently her complexion lost its ruddy hue and calmed to a vernal pink. She shut off the treadmill, stripped naked, and dove into her swimming pool, where she did her best thinking.
As she was completing her tenth lap on the kickboard, her husband, Robert, entered, dressed for the golf course in apple-green slacks and an impeccable white polo shirt. He knew immediately that something was very wrong; Thayne never destroyed her hairdo unless Armageddon was at hand. “Good morning, dear. Can I do anything for you today? “
From the middle of the pool she said, “Wyeth McCoy just quit. He thinks this wedding has bad karma.” “What rot! Do you really need him?”
“Are you joking? That's like Eisenhower quitting on D-day minus one.
“But you've rehearsed everyone to the bone.” Thayne had probably ground away most of the bone, too, but Robert let that slide. After twenty-five years of marriage he and his wife had come to an understanding: she ran the show and he played golf.