Fancy Pants

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9780671747152: Fancy Pants

THEY'RE CAVIAR AND BEER. KEROSENE ON FIRE. AND THEY'RE FALLING HEAD-OVER-HEELS IN LOVE....
She was the most beautiful British bauble in Europe's jet-set playgrounds. Now she's broke, furious, and limping down a backwoods road in an ugly pink Southern Belle gown....
He was tall, lean, and all-American gorgeous. He liked his brews cold and women loved to keep him warm. Why in hell is he stopping his car for this woebegone, surly Scarlett?
Meet Francesca Day and Dallie Beaudine, two incredible characters whose tangled love affair is at the heart of this ravishing New York Times bestseller from award-winning author Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Come enjoy the adventure of a lifetime -- an irresistible story that's touching, hilarious, and hellcat-passionate. You'll never forget Dallie and the sassy lady who needs a good swift kick in her...

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About the Author:

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, romance's newest rising star, has been praised as "one of the best writers of contemporary fiction in the twentieth century" (Affaire de Coeur). With her delightful novels, including her most recent hits Dream a Little Dream and Nobody's Baby But Mine, she has touched the hearts and funny bones of readers -- and has soared onto both national and New York Times bestseller lists. A past recipient of the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Favorite Book of the Year award, and the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, Susan Elizabeth Phillips lives with her husband and two sons.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

When Francesca was first placed in her mother's arms, Chloe Serritella Day burst into tears and insisted that the sisters at the private London hospital where she had given birth had lost her baby. Any imbecile could see that this ugly little creature with its mashed head and swollen eyelids could not possibly have come from her own exquisite body.

Since no husband was present to comfort the hysterical Chloe, it was left to the sisters to assure her that most newborns weren't at their best for several days. Chloe ordered them to take away the ugly little imposter and not come back until they had found her own dear baby. She then reapplied her makeup and greeted her visitors -- among them a French film star, the secretary of the British Home Office, and Salvador Dali -- with a tearful account of the terrible tragedy that had been perpetrated upon her. The visitors, long accustomed to the beautiful Chloe's dramatics, merely patted her hand and promised to look into the matter. Dali, in a burst of magnanimity, announced he would paint a surrealistic version of the infant in question as a christening gift, but mercifully lost interest in the project and sent a set of vermeil goblets instead.

A week passed. On the day she was to be released from the hospital, the sisters helped Chloe dress in a loose-fitting black Balmain sheath with a wide organdy collar and cuffs. Afterward, they guided her into a wheelchair and deposited the rejected infant in her arms. The intervening time had done little to improve the baby's appearance, but in the moment she gazed down at the bundle in her arms, Chloe experienced one of her lightning-swift mood changes. Peering into the mottled face, she announced to one and all that the third generation of Serritella beauty was now assured. No one had the bad manners to disagree, which, as it turned out, was just as well, for within a matter of months, Chloe had been proved correct.

Chloe's sensitivity on the subject of female beauty had its roots in her own childhood. As a girl she had been plump, with an extra fold of fat squaring off her waist and small fleshy pads obscuring the delicate bones of her face. She was not heavy enough to be considered obese in the eyes of the world, but was merely plump enough to feel ugly inside, especially in comparison to her sleek and stylish mother, the great Italian-born couturiere, Nita Serritella. It was not until 1947, the summer when Chloe was twelve years old, that anyone told her she was beautiful.

Home on a brief holiday from one of the Swiss boarding schools where she spent too much of her childhood, she was sitting as inconspicuously as possible with her full hips perched on a gilt chair in the corner of her mother's elegant salon on the rue de la Paix. She watched with both resentment and envy as Nita, pencil slim in a severely cut black suit with oversize raspberry satin lapels, conferred with an elegantly dressed customer. Her mother wore her blue-black hair cut short and straight, so that it fell forward over the pale skin of her left cheek in a great comma-shaped curl, and her Modigliani neck supported ropes of perfectly matched black pearls. The pearls, along with the contents of a small wall safe in her bedroom, were gifts from Nita's admirers, internationally prosperous men who were only too happy to buy jewels for a woman successful enough to buy her own. One of those men had been Chloe's father, although Nita professed not to remember which one, and she had certainly never for a moment considered marrying him.

The attractive blonde who was receiving Nita's attention in the salon that afternoon spoke Spanish, her accent surprisingly common for one who held so much of the world's attention that particular summer of 1947. Chloe followed the conversation with half her attention and devoted the other half to studying the reed-thin mannequins who were parading through the center of the salon modeling Nita's latest designs. Why couldn't she be thin and self-assured like those mannequins? Chloe wondered. Why couldn't she look exactly like her mother, especially since they had the same black hair, the same green eyes? If only she were beautiful, Chloe thought, maybe her mother would stop looking at her with such disgust. For the hundredth time she resolved to give up pastries so that she could win her mother's approval -- and for the hundredth time, she felt that uncomfortable sinking sensation in her stomach that told her she didn't have the willpower. Next to Nita's all-consuming strength of purpose, Chloe felt like a swans-down powder puff.

The blonde suddenly looked up from a drawing she had been studying and, without warning, let her liquid brown eyes come to rest on Chloe. In her curiously harsh Spanish, she remarked, "That little one will be a great beauty someday. She looks very much like you."

Nita glanced over at Chloe with ill-concealed disdain. "I see no resemblance at all, señora. And she will never be a beauty until she learns to push away her fork."

Nita's customer lifted a hand weighted down with several garish rings and gestured toward Chloe. "Come over here, querida. Come give Evita a kiss."

For a moment Chloe didn't move as she tried to absorb what the woman had said. Then she rose hesitantly from her chair and crossed the salon, embarrassingly aware of the pudgy calves showing beneath the hem of her cotton summer skirt. When she reached the woman, she leaned down and deposited a self-conscious but nonetheless grateful kiss on the softly fragrant cheek of Eva Perón.

"Fascist bitch!" Nita Serritella hissed later, as the First Lady of Argentina departed through the salon's front doors. She slipped an ebony cigarette holder between her lips only to withdraw it abruptly, leaving a scarlet smear on the end. "It makes my flesh crawl to touch her! Everyone knows there wasn't a Nazi in Europe who couldn't find shelter with Perón and his cronies in Argentina."

The memories of the German occupation of Paris were still fresh in Nita's mind, and she held nothing but contempt for Nazi sympathizers. Still, she was a practical woman, and Chloe knew that her mother saw no sense in sending Eva Perón's money, no matter how ill-gained, from the rue de la Paix to the avenue Montaigne, where the house of Dior reigned supreme.

After that, Chloe clipped photographs of Eva Perón from the newspapers and pasted them in a scrapbook with a red cover. Whenever Nita's criticisms became especially biting, Chloe looked at the pictures, leaving an occasional chocolate smudge on the pages as she remembered how Eva Perón had said she would be a great beauty someday.

The winter she was fourteen her fat miraculously disappeared along with her sweet tooth, and the legendary Serritella bones were finally brought into definition. She began spending hours gazing into the mirror, entranced by the reed-slim image before her. Now, she told herself, everything would be different. For as long as she could remember, she had felt like an outcast at school, but suddenly she found herself part of the inner circle. She didn't understand that the other girls were more attracted to her newfound air of self-confidence than to her twenty-two-inch waist. For Chloe Serritella, beauty meant acceptance.

Nita seemed pleased with her weight loss, so when Chloe went home to Paris for her summer holiday, she found the courage to show her mother sketches of some dresses she'd designed with the hope of someday becoming a couturiere herself. Nita laid out the sketches on her worktable, lit a cigarette, and dissected each one with the critical eye that had made her a great designer.

"This line is ridiculous. And the proportion is all wrong here. See how you ruined this one with too much detail? Where is your eye, Chloe? Where is your eye?"

Chloe snatched the sketches from the table and never tried to design again.

When she returned to school, Chloe dedicated herself to becoming prettier, wittier, and more popular than any of her classmates, determined that no one would ever suspect that an awkward fat girl still lived inside her. She learned to dramatize the most trivial events of her day with grand gestures and extravagant sighs until everything she did seemed more important than anything the others could possibly do. Gradually even the most mundane occurrence in Chloe Serritella's life became fraught with high drama.

At sixteen, she gave her virginity to the brother of a friend in a gazebo facing Lake Lucerne. The experience was awkward and uncomfortable, but sex made Chloe feel slim. She quickly made up her mind to try the whole thing again with someone more experienced.

In the spring of 1953, when Chloe was eighteen, Nita died unexpectedly from a ruptured appendix. Chloe sat stunned and silent through her mother's funeral, too numb to understand that the intensity of her grief sprang not so much from her mother's death as from the feeling that she'd never had a mother at all. Afraid to be alone, she stumbled into the bed of a wealthy Polish count many years her senior. He provided her with a temporary refuge from her fears and six months later helped her sell Nita's salon for a staggering amount of money.

The count eventually returned to his wife and Chloe set about living on her inheritance. Being young, rich, and without family, she quickly attracted the indolent young men who wove themselves like gilded threads through the fabric of international society. She became something of a collector, dabbling with one after another as she searched for the man who would give her the unconditional love she'd never received from her mother, the man who would make her stop feeling like an unhappy fat girl.

Jonathan "Black Jack" Day entered her life on the opposite side of a roulette wheel in a Berkeley Square gambling club. Black Jack Day had received his name not from his looks but from his penchant for games of risk. At twenty-five, he had already destroyed three high-performance sports cars and a significantly larger number of women. A wickedly handsome American playboy from Chicago, he had chestnut hair that fell in an unruly lock over his forehead, a roguish mustache, and a seven-goal handicap in polo. In many ways he was no different from the other young hedonists who had become so much a part of Chloe's life; he drank gin, wore exquisitely tailored suits, and changed playgrounds with the seasons. But the other men lacked Jack Day's reckless streak, his ability to risk everything -- even the fortune he had inherited in American railroads -- on a single spin of the wheel.

Fully conscious of his eyes upon her over the spinning roulette wheel, Chloe watched the small ivory ball jostle from rouge to noir and back again before finally coming to rest on black 17. She permitted herself to look up and found Jack Day gazing at her over the table. He smiled, crinkling his mustache. She smiled back, confident that she looked her very best in a silver-gray Jacques Fath confection of satin and tulle that emphasized the highlights in her dark hair, the paleness of her skin, and the green depths in her eyes. "You can't seem to lose tonight," she said. "Are you always this lucky?"

"Not always," he replied. "Are you?"

"Me?" She emitted one of her long, dramatic sighs. "I've lost at everything tonight. Je suis misérable. I'm never lucky."

He withdrew a cigarette from a silver case while his eyes trailed a reckless path down her body. "Of course you're lucky. You've just met me, haven't you? And I'm going to take you home tonight."

Chloe was both intrigued and aroused by his boldness, and her hand closed instinctively around the edge of the table for support. She felt as if his tarnished silver eyes were melting through her gown and burning into the deepest recesses of her body. Without being able to define exactly what it was that set Black Jack apart from the rest, she sensed that only the most exceptional woman could win the heart of this supremely self-confident man, and if she was that woman, she could forever stop worrying about the fat girl inside.

But as much as she wanted him, Chloe held herself back. In the year since her mother's death, she had grown more perceptive about men than about herself. She had observed the reckless glitter in his eyes as the ivory ball clattered through the compartments of the spinning roulette wheel, and she suspected that he would not highly value what he could obtain too easily. "I'm sorry," she replied coolly. "I have other plans." Before he could respond, she picked up her evening bag and left the room.

He telephoned the next day, but she gave her maid orders to say she was out. She spotted him at a different gambling club a week later and after giving him a tantalizing glimpse of herself, she slipped out the back before he could approach. The days passed, and she found she could think of nothing else but the handsome young playboy from Chicago. Once again he telephoned; once again she refused the call. Later that same night she saw him at the theater and gave him a casual nod, a hint of a smile, before she moved away to her box.

The third time he telephoned, she took the call but pretended not to remember who he was. He chuckled dryly and told her, "I'm coming for you in half an hour, Chloe Serritella. If you're not ready, I'll never see you again."

"Half an hour? I can't possibly --" But he had already hung up.

Her hand began to tremble as she replaced the receiver on the cradle. In her mind she saw a spinning roulette wheel, the ivory ball skipping from rouge to noir, noir to rouge, in this game they were playing. With trembling hands, she dressed in a white wool sheath with ocelot cuffs, then added a small hat topped by an illusion veil. She answered the door chimes herself exactly half an hour later.

He led her down the walk to a sporty red Isotta-Fraschini, which he proceeded to drive through the streets of Knightsbridge at breathtaking speed using only the fingers of his right hand on the steering wheel. She gazed at him out of the corner of her eye, adoring the lock of chestnut hair that fell so carelessly over his forehead as much as the fact that he was a hot-blooded American instead of someone predictably European.

Eventually he stopped at an out-of-the-way restaurant where he brushed his hand against hers whenever she reached for her wineglass. She felt herself aching with desire for him. Under the intensity of those restless silver eyes, she felt wildly beautiful and as thin inside as she was outside. Everything about him stirred her senses -- the way he walked, the sound of his voice, the scent of tobacco on his breath. Jack Day was the ultimate trophy, the final affirmation of her own beauty.

As they left the restaurant, he pressed her against the trunk of a sycamore tree and gave her a dark, seductive kiss. Slipping his hands behind her, he cupped her buttocks. "I want you," he murmured into her open mouth.

Her body was so replete with desire that it caused her actual pain to let him go. "You're too fast for me, Jack. I need time."

He laughed and tweaked her chin, as if he were especially pleased with how well she played his game; then he squeezed her breasts just as an elderly couple came out of the restaurant and looked their way. On the drive home, he kept her amused with lively anecdotes and said nothing about seeing her again.

Two days later when her maid announced he was on the telephone, Chloe shook her head, refusing to take the call. Then she ran to her room and indulged in a passionate fit of weeping, fearing she was pushing him too far but afraid to risk losing his interest by doing anything e...

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