What happens after happily-ever-after fades? Susan Fales-Hill’s novel “One Flight Up” is about four New York women who seem to be living the perfect life — marriage, wealth and power —but suddenly start craving more and become caught up in the world of temptation. An excerpt.
The One That Got Away
India made her way down the brightly lit corridor, the thick carpeting muffling the sound of her steps so that she moved quietly as an angel. She looked up, admiring the moldings and the bas-reliefs of pseudo-Grecian revelers in diaphanous togas. She sensed someone had stopped right in the middle of the hallway and was staring straight at her. She looked down from the crown moldings and saw Keith Wentworth, her former fiancé. She gasped and froze in her tracks. Keith’s mahogany locks framed a chiseled face completely unchanged by the hands of time. Beneath his tux, his six-foot-three frame was still a V‑shaped marvel of anatomy. Once India resumed breathing, she tried to read his expression. Was that shock? Had the color truly drained from his cheeks? He had never had much to begin with, much to the delight of his light-skinned mother.
No doubt I’ve turned him to stone with my middle-aged office Medusa grooming, India thought with despair. The closer he gets, the luckier he’ll feel that I called off the marriage.
More in books
Keith started to walk toward her. Through the fluid wool of his bespoke tuxedo, each slow and deliberate step suggested the outline of a different perfectly defined leg muscle. India’s heart pounded in her chest. It was too late to turn and run in the other direction. Perhaps she could pretend she was someone else, a homely India Chumley lookalike. As he drew closer, she forced a smile, well, at least a constipated grin. At last he stopped, inches away from her, his endless lashes rising to unveil huge indigo eyes that stared directly into hers. He flashed a half smile revealing teeth so white and even they could have passed for cultured pearls. At thirty-eight, he was still a statue of a Roman god brought to devastatingly beautiful life. Was it any wonder she had almost been razed Carthage to his conquering Scipio?
“How’s it going, Chumley?” Keith said nonchalantly, the way one might have greeted a colleague, not the girl one had nearly married and with whom one used to have sex that would have registered 10 on the Richter scale.
“Good evening, Keith,” she managed to eke out woodenly.
“Whoo,” he answered trying to lighten the mood, “Felt the breeze on that one.”
India couldn’t think for the conga drum beats of her heart. She laughed nervously.
“There’s no breeze, Keith,” she reassured him.
“Could have fooled me,” he bellowed in a “hail fellow well met” voice. “Anyway, water under the bridge,” he added with a wave of his perfectly formed right hand.
“What are you doing here?” India asked awkwardly.
“Didn’t you read your program, Chumley? I’m the honoree, the Bright Futures Torchbearer of the Year,” he answered nonchalantly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. My hostess didn’t tell me,” India sputtered, mortified. Now she’d compounded her haggard appearance with ignorance and stupidity. “Congratulations,” she hastened to add.
“For what — being the check magnet of the year? This isn’t about me, they just needed rich, corporate, nonwhite,” he joked.
India had always loved Keith’s ability to cut through society’s euphemisms and hypocrisies. Now she smiled in earnest and wide.
“There it is, that’s my smile,” Keith said quietly, smiling back with his whole face. India paused to savor the moment’s warmth, then remembered she shouldn’t get too comfortable. This was, after all, the man who had demolished her heart. And she had moved on to another more worthy of her affections.
“The organization is fortunate to have you, whatever the reason,” she said with formality, to reestablish a boundary.
“Yeah, and I’m damned glad to meet you, too. So what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in LA.”
“I moved back just a few months ago.”
“Hard to keep track of your moves. You don’t give people much advance notice ...”
India refused to take the bait. She would never admit to Keith that their breakup had caused her to go to Los Angeles in the first place. She strongly suspected he knew. Like most beautiful men, he was fully aware of his power over women.
“Bigger opportunity at the firm here. They made me a partner.”
“That was bound to happen. You’re good,” Keith tossed out. The offhand compliment stunned India. Keith had never been generous in his praise.
“Maybe we can have lunch sometime,” he suggested, as he took a step or two away from her.
“Yes, that would be nice,” India found herself answering and, to her shame, wishing he would pull out his BlackBerry on the spot. She wanted to kick herself for letting down her guard but then rationalized that befriending him was actually a sign of how far in the past her feelings belonged. Platonic friendship — that was all that remained, in spite of his flawless good looks and edible body.
Keith stared at her, taking in all the planes of her face. India allowed her eyes to meet his. To her shock the cerulean blue irises conveyed affection. Just as she began to settle in for another moment’s silent exchange with the man she’d nearly married, she heard a lilting female voice cry, “There you are, sweetie. I’ve been waiting for you.”
At the door of the ladies’ room, a sinewy, chiffon-clad creature appeared, like a wood sprite in an ancient myth. She was diminutive, five feet three or four, at most, with the fat-free lithe body of a dancer or a gymnast, a flawless complexion, big bright doe brown eyes, and flowing dark hair. She rose on tiptoe to kiss Keith full on the lips then turned her pep-squad smile on India, who wanted nothing so much as for the earth to open up and swallow her whole.
India looked to Keith for an explanation. He flinched for a moment, but without skipping a beat, slipped an arm around the apparition’s minuscule waist. It was not measured in inches, India thought, but in ring sizes. Who was this nymph, this Tinker Bell to her hideous Captain Hook? Suddenly India felt the lines of her forehead gape like Grand Canyons, revealing the continental divide in their ages. How old was she? Not more than twenty-six with a soul and spirit as unblemished as her complexion, no doubt.
“Serena,” Keith said warmly. “This is India Chumley.”
“India. What a pretty name,” Serena uttered in a tone of sheer amazement. “I’ve never met anyone with that name.”
Of course you haven’t. You’re eight years old. I, on the other hand, am a contemporary of Queen Victoria’s, India wanted to answer but smiled instead. Clearly Keith had never even mentioned her to this child. But then, why would he have? Maybe she was just a passing fling, a wife for the evening, or a holdover from the weekend. Yet scrutinizing her fresh-faced sorority girl demeanor, India had to admit she looked like the “to wed” type, not merely the “to bed” type. Something about her carriage, her perfect, prim posture suggested Wellesley BA, with honors, less than five years before.
More from TODAY.com
Groom-less bride poses in sweet solo wedding photos
- ‘A hot meal can make people cry’: BBQ volunteers comfort Oklahoma victims
- Joe Francis: 'Retarded' jury should be 'shot dead'
- Joy amid tornado's destruction as owners find lost pets
- PTC angry after Ke$ha drinks pee on TV
- Groom-less bride poses in sweet solo wedding photos
The last word hit India like a knockout punch. Everything afterward turned blurry and vague like an out-of-body experience. She had expected anything but this. Why hadn’t Monique warned her? For that matter, had Monique known Keith would be there all along?
“When did this happen?” she managed to muster, instantly regretting having asked. She might as well have added the word “disaster.”
“Three days ago!” Serena gushed. “Can you believe it?”
“That is ... wonderful. Really. Best wishes to you, Serena. Congratulations, Keith. Well done.” When in doubt, offer a good British turn of phrase.
“Well done?” God, what a clunker. India willed herself to do an about-face and walk away from the happy pair, completely forgetting that her original destination was the ladies’ room. She hoped she’d turn invisible as she walked away.
Excerpted from "One Flight Up" by Susan Fales-Hill. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from Atria.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive