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Authors: Eileen Goudge

The Replacement Wife

BOOK: The Replacement Wife
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The
Replacement
Wife

Eileen Goudge

“But love is blind and lovers cannot see

The pretty follies that themselves commit.”

—William Shakespeare,

The Merchant of Venice,
Act II, Scene 6

To Susan Ginsburg,

who’s always had my back,

and whose own love story is an inspiration to so many.

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

A Biography of Eileen Goudge

The

Replacement

Wife

CHAPTER ONE

“W
e had a nice time,” Kat said.

Camille Harte felt her heart sink and the fizz go out of the celebratory bottle of champagne she’d mentally uncorked. In her line of work, she’d learned to read nuances and inflections the way a fortune-teller did tea leaves.
It did not go well,
she thought. Damn. She’d been so
sure
.

“But?” she prompted in a mild tone.

A lengthy pause at the other end of the phone, then Kat said slowly, “Well. He’s a great guy and all. But . . . Let’s just say I know more about his ex-wife than I do about him.”

Camille suppressed a sigh. Clearly, the message figuratively chiseled in stone over the doorway to the Harte to Heart Agency had failed to sink in with Mr. Once-Burned:
Abandon all talk of exes, ye who enter here.
Maybe she should require a minimum wait of one year following a divorce.

“What did you talk about besides his, ah, ex?” she asked.

“Oh, you know, his job, my job . . . the fact that we’re both into rock climbing and love jazz.” Kat ticked the boxes in a bored voice. “Did you know he has the ‘lost’ recording of Clifford Brown?” She grew slightly more animated. Camille did know, in fact; Stephen Resler had shown off his vast CD collection and state-of-the art sound system during her home visit. Less impressive to her was his Rat Pack–worthy bachelor pad, which had been in desperate need of a do-over. She’d called in her “commando” decorator, Jeffrey Rabin, and three weeks later, after a fresh paint job, updated window treatments, some new furnishings and throw pillows from West Elm, the place was transformed. Now any woman Stephen brought home wouldn’t feel as if she were entering the Playboy mansion circa 1967. Not that Kat would ever venture there; she’d seen enough, apparently. “Like I said, he’s a great guy,” she repeated without enthusiasm.

“So, no kiss?”

“What?” She gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, that. No. Definitely not.”

“If you had to rate the date on a scale of one to ten . . . ?”

“I don’t know. A five?”

She was being generous, Camille knew. Excessive talk of one’s ex did more than put a damper on the evening: It was the equivalent of a cold shower. She suppressed another sigh and absently pushed a hand through her hair, momentarily taken aback, as always, by its springiness. Hair that for the first thirty-nine years of her life had been bone-straight and in high school the bane of her existence (as well as the victim of several awful home perms and one truly tragic salon job that had left her looking like a cross between Orphan Annie and Lucille Ball), and which, after she’d lost it all to chemo, had grown back curly: her consolation prize, courtesy of the Man Upstairs.

She smiled into the phone. “Not to worry. It wasn’t a good fit, that’s all. We’ll keep trying.”

“You still think he’s out there?” Kat asked in a small voice. A reporter for a local TV news station, she was known for her fearlessness and hard-charging investigative style, but here she was just another single woman pushing forty who’d caught the brass ring but not the gold.

The “he” in question was someone tall, handsome, kind, family-minded, with a good sense of humor who earned a high six-figure income. “He” drove a luxury car, owned not leased, and lived on a high floor in an upscale neighborhood, preferably in the 212 area code. “He” led an active life and had the body to show for it, and was equally super-charged in his profession (with, ideally, a corner office to show for it). “He” was able to secure prime tables at the best restaurants, knew the difference between gnocchi and
gnudi
and could knowledgeably discuss wines with sommeliers. “He” was a skilled lover who knew how to pleasure a woman. And, last but not least, “he” would never, under any circumstances, cheat on “her.”

Camille’s high-powered female clients wanted in their personal lives what they strove for in the workplace: the position to which they felt entitled, with all the attendant perks and benefits.

So much for simple kindness and a great smile.

Camille hadn’t had a wish list when she met Edward. While these days she might liken herself to a fairy godmother who waved her magic wand to spin white satin out of Calvin Klein executive threads, back then she’d been too inexperienced to know what she did now, at forty-two. As a teenager, she’d devoured paperback novels that featured corseted bosoms and bronzed, bulging pecs on the cover. Other than that, she hadn’t had a clue what to look for in a man. She’d merely gotten lucky with Edward. She hoped the same for Kat that she did all her clients: that they wouldn’t be so blinded by their expectations they’d fail to see what was in front of them.

“Absolutely,” she replied.

“You don’t think I’m being too picky?”

“You’re entitled.”

Camille didn’t believe in settling. The right man was out there. And Kat had a lot to offer. Looks-wise, she was an eleven on a scale of ten, with a glamorous and highly visible career. The trouble with her was she had so much on the ball, the ball had just kept rolling. She’d come of age having men fall at her feet and had happily partaken of all that fallen fruit. But as she’d grown older, the pickings had grown thinner. By the time she was in her mid-thirties, most men her age were either taken or had more baggage than the cargo hold of a 747. “I’m not looking to play Florence Nightingale to the walking wounded,” she’d stated bluntly in their first interview.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” Kat said now. “But if he’s still a no-show by the time I turn forty, I’m officially declaring him MIA.” She had a sense of humor about it, at least, which put her in good stead.

Camille hung up feeling more spurred on than discouraged. She was reminded of why she’d chosen this profession. It was the Rubik’s cube of romance: challenging, yes, but also deeply satisfying when you got all the little colored boxes to line up. Mostly, it was a matter of applying her expertise—a matchmaker was combination headhunter, den mother, makeover artist, and shrink—in finding someone who either fit a client’s requirements or fulfilled some subconscious need. But she also had to know when to go with her gut. And judging by the number of successful matches she had made—more than three hundred to date—she figured she must be doing something right.

She thought back to her most recent triumph. At first glance, Alice Veehoffer and Andy Stein appeared to have nothing in common other than that their first names both started with an
A
. Alice was a chemist who spent her days cozying up to test tubes, Andy a customer relations expert whose job relied on the personal touch. The ideal Sunday for Alice was wandering on her own through a museum or curling up with a good book at home, and for Andy hanging out with his pals or bicycling in Central Park. Their first date had been an unmitigated disaster, with Andy doing most of the talking, and Alice, as she put it, relegated to the role of “crash-test dummy.” But Camille had had a gut feeling, and she’d prevailed on them to give it another go.

The second time was the charm. Andy took Alice to a showing of
The African Queen
at the Lincoln Center Theater, and afterward they chuckled over the unlikely pairing of Rose and Charlie and how it mirrored their own. Which, in turn, led to a discussion of things they
did
have in common. They’d both minored in Russian in college, were passionate foodies, and loved to travel. Alice described a recent trip to Saint Petersburg; Andy regaled her with tales of his junior year abroad in Florence. They talked for hours—about everything from Russian literature to their careers and what more they wanted out of life—while nibbling on
salumi
and sipping prosecco at Bar Boulud.

Five months later, they were standing under the chuppah, saying their vows. At the reception afterward, Andy raised his glass in a toast to Camille, saying with heartfelt gratitude, “Cupid may be a lousy shot, but you scored a bull’s-eye.”

She was nothing if not persistent. It was the same persistence that had kept her going when she’d been at death’s door the previous year. A year that, to quote the good Queen Elizabeth, had been her own personal annus horribilis. First there was the shock of diagnosis. Radiation and chemo followed, then with the cancer continuing its relentless Sherman’s March, a stem cell transplant, which left her battling everything from mouth sores to a blood infection. Even after she was released from the hospital, she was dog-tired most days and prone to nausea and fevers. Nevertheless, she dragged herself to work whenever humanly possible. And when all her hair fell out, she bought a high-priced wig from a shop in Borough Park, Brooklyn, that specialized in
sheytls—
the first goy ever to cross the threshold, from the astonished look on the Hassidic shopkeeper’s face. Most importantly, she adhered to her cardinal rule: Never let on. Her clients didn’t need to feel sorry for her while fretting about their own uncertain futures.

“Dara, get Stephen Resler on the line,” she called to her assistant.

Dara Murray sat at the only other desk in the agency’s tiny office on the twenty-ninth floor of the Hearst Tower, at West Fifty-Seventh Street and Eighth Avenue. All client meetings took place outside the office, mainly in restaurants or coffee shops, or if the client was from out of town, Camille traveled to meet with them (at their expense), so the small space suited them. Over time, it had taken on the look of a college dorm room. On Dara’s desk sat a framed photo of the all-girl rock band for which she’d been bass guitarist back in the day; next to it, an outsize martini glass from some promotional event. On the table against the wall an iPad dock shared space with an espresso maker, and the loveseat where they took their proverbial coffee breaks held a plush parrot, a souvenir from a recent trip to Key West, and a needlepoint pillow with the slogan
Kiss a frog . . . you might get lucky.

“He’s in a meeting,” Dara informed her after she’d placed the call. “His secretary wants to know if it’s urgent.”

Urgent?
Of course it was urgent, Camille thought. If she’d learned anything from the past year, it was that life was short. And Mr. Once-Burned wasn’t getting any younger. He was paying her good money to find him a wife, but so far he’d sabotaged three dates with three separate women. Reports from the front had a disturbingly similar ring: The evening would start out promisingly enough; then a couple of drinks in, as it was getting cozy, talk would turn to the subject of his ex-wife. He wasn’t even aware of it half the time and was always remorseful afterward. On the plus side, he didn’t get defensive when she pointed out the error of his ways, and unlike many of his Wall Street brethren, Masters of the Universe for whom image was everything, he wasn’t out to land the “perfect ten.” He was more interested in whether a woman was smart and her heart was in the right place than in her bra size.

“I’m not looking for perfection,” he’d informed Camille over lunch at Patsy’s, at their first meeting. “I’m not the guy who wants Angelina Jolie but who isn’t willing to take a good look in the mirror. I don’t delude myself into thinking I’m Brad Pitt. That said, I think I have a lot to offer.”

“That you do,” she agreed wholeheartedly.

Stephen Resler was an inch or two shorter than most women wanted in a prospective husband, with close-cropped hair that was thinning on top, but he made up for it with an abundance of charm, smarts, and sheer physicality. He’d grown up on the mean streets of the South Bronx having to defend himself with his fists, and despite his Ivy League education and years as a Wall Street mover and shaker, he still looked the part: sturdy as a truncheon, with a gaze that could cut through steel and a muscularity that didn’t come from power lifting at the gym.

BOOK: The Replacement Wife
11.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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