Prosper in Love
Till temptation do us part…
Theirs is a marriage in the best sense of the word. From the start, Jamie and Lynn Prosper were meant to be. The same people who nodded their heads approvingly at their engagement are now happy witnesses to their wedded bliss. But sometimes, even in the very best of marriages, all it takes is a mischievous outsider to bring the perfect couple toppling off the top of the cake…
Jamie is a young lawyer who travels frequently but is devoted to Lynn. A young museum curator, Lynn doesn’t even question the security of their rock-solid marriage. But when Lynn’s old college friend turns up at a cocktail party, tiny chinks of their previously unassailable armor start to open up.
Before either Lynn or Jamie realizes what is happening, the young couple finds themselves divorcing. As they struggle to reverse the direction of events that seem to have spiraled out of control, will love be enough to make this marriage last?
Lynn and Jamie Prosper were hardly one of those couples that seemed doomed from the start. On the contrary, they’d been happily married for two and a half years when F. X. Donahue reentered Lynn’s life.
It was at one of the museum’s cocktail parties. Lynn was chatting up an important collector when she happened to let her eyes stray around the edges of the large, stark gallery, part of the new addition—and there he was. She hadn’t seen F. X. since college. At first she thought she must be mistaken. It had been, what, seven years? No, eight since he graduated— he’d been a year ahead of her. The last she’d heard, he was in sales for some company in Connecticut. She could see him only in profile, but really, there was no mistaking the hand¬some, too-large head, the blunted nose. And though he was not short, he had that bantam stance of men used to getting their way with women.
The elderly collector was busy regaling her with tales of having flirted with Françoise Gilot on the beach the very day that famous photograph was taken—Picasso marching behind his mistress in the sand with an oversized parasol. But at last he wound down. His glass was empty. Lynn of course offered to get him another drink, but he turned her down with a great show of chivalry. In his worldview, midlevel female curators in their late twenties were barely distinguishable from pert secretaries.
F. X. spun around when Lynn tapped him on the shoulder. “Why, Lynnie Kovak,” he said, his face creasing into a grin, but in such a way as to make her wonder if he’d known all along that she was there.
“It’s not Kovak anymore,” she said.
“Yes.” Lynn couldn’t help beaming.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Is he as good-looking as I am?”
If only Lynn had never met F. X.
But is that fair? Just as easy to say a jealous man should never marry a flirt, or that sometimes differences in back¬ground can be too great to overcome. Those are the sorts of comments made in hindsight, as if one should have known all along and in fact seen disaster coming. But Lynn and Jamie’s decision to wed had seemed obvious and inevitable and right to anyone who knew them. They even looked like a matched set, both slender, with glossy brown hair and dark, intelligent eyes, Jamie three inches taller, Lynn four months older. In their living room, in front of a pretty bay window, was a long, comfortable sofa—one of their first purchases as a married couple—and their favorite thing to do on weekends was curl up there, one at each end with a book, their feet touching in the middle.
“Is he nice?” F. X. smirked. “Rich? Successful?”
“Of course,” said Lynn. She was as yet unaware of how the intervening years had treated F. X. “Well, not rich. But very smart. And funny. He’s a lawyer with Gerhardt, Lyons.” It was one of the best firms in Los Angeles. “But what are you doing here? Visiting?”
“I live here now.” He was watching her closely, as if this were a trick question.
“Did you just move?”
It was June. It was irrational to feel hurt that he hadn’t called; there was no reason for him to know she was in Los Angeles, except that it was where she was from. Lynn wouldn’t say that she and F. X. had been close back in college, but they’d often gravitated toward each other at parties, leaning against walls and joking about what was going on around them. Niceness wasn’t one of F. X.’s stronger attributes, but he did have a sharp sense of humor. He was so critical, so unforgiving in his assessment of people, particularly women, that it was flattering to be deemed acceptable, if only for light conversation. Lynn had made the rather self-congratulatory assumption that he put women worth talking to somewhere above women worth sleeping with. And F. X. had made no bones about sleeping with lots of women. The fact that he had a girlfriend, a very pretty Southern blonde, didn’t seem to stop him. Lynn had taken a perverse pride in her friendship with F. X., especially when the sweet guy down the hall in her dorm took her aside to tell her she really shouldn’t be hanging around with him, that he’d hurt her. “But we’re just friends,” she’d protested. “Still,” he’d said, clearly not believ¬ing her, “it’s not good for your reputation.” Having always been a nice girl, Lynn had liked this, too.
“I’m working for Richard Plante,” F. X. said.
Richard Plante—one of the four famous Plante brothers, the second generation of one of the largest, most profi table family-owned businesses in the country. They’d been written about again and again—how the company had started off in livestock feed but was now so diversified as to defy descrip¬tion. Its base was still Oklahoma, but the brothers were spread out all over the United States, each responsible for a different arm of the business. Richard was the youngest brother and was widely acknowledged to be the least talented.
“Yeah, I know,” said F. X. “You thought I had some lame job in Stamford. I did, but Plante Brothers bought out the company.”
“F. X., I never thought—”
He waved this away. “Don’t worry, I knew you never thought I was that smart. Got by on animal cunning, right? And the fraternity term- paper files. It’s okay. I always knew you were a snob.”
“Me? You’re the one from Darien.”
But F. X. was right, and the fact that he was from an affl u¬ent Connecticut suburb only played into Lynn’s dismissal of him. His mother had been a housewife, his father an insurance company executive. When F. X. went home he’d take his dirty laundry with him, and his mother would mail back his boxer shorts the next week, washed and ironed. Still, to Lynn, the product of West Coast Jewish intellectuals, there was some¬thing exotic in all this. Once, F. X. had mentioned that as a good Catholic (Lynn had needed to be told that his initials stood for Francis Xavier) he was saving himself for marriage. Knowing his dating history, she’d scoffed. F. X. had seemed genuinely offended.
“I’m serious,” he’d said.
“You’ve slept with tons of women.”
“But I’ve never gone down on any of them. That’s what I’m saving for marriage.”
If F. X. had been a typical frat boy on the East Coast, there was something refreshing in the sight of him in his (surpris¬ingly well-cut) khakis amid all the slick, dark, Italian, L.A. suits. “So, how did you end up in L.A.?” she asked.
“Richard got it into his head that he wanted to try his hand at the entertainment business. So here I am. I’m just his assistant—his yes-man, bag carrier. But I like it here. L.A.’s all right. You should have invited me out when we were in college.”
“We weren’t that good friends.”
“Hmm. Are you sure we didn’t . . .”
“Because I could have sworn . . .”
“That’s only because you did with everyone else.”
“Now I remember why I always liked you.”
“What about you?” she asked, pleased despite herself. “Are you married?”
“Me? No, free as a bird. Hey,” he said, “you look great. Really great. So, are you a donor?” A devilish eyebrow lifted. “I was told this party was for heavy hitters.”
“I work here. In the education department. So I know you’re not a donor. You’d be on my list.”
“Your list to educate?” There was a curl to his lips, which were sensuous looking and mobile to begin with. Suddenly Lynn was not quite at ease.
“Actually,” he said, as if he realized he’d gone too far, “I’m here under false pretenses. Someone Richard knows invited him, but he had to go back to Tulsa at the last minute and passed the invitation on to me. In fact,” he added, “you’ll probably have my boss on your list soon.”
“Really?” None of the Plante brothers was known as an art collector.
“Hey, want to grab a bite? Or do you have to go home to make dinner for hubby? What’s his name, anyway?”
“Jamie. And he’s on a business trip, so I don’t have to go home and make dinner. I mean, not that I have to go home and make dinner any night.”
F. X. looked amused.
“Oh, you know what I mean.” But Lynn felt flustered, as if somehow, by accident, she’d been disloyal.
Why shouldn’t Lynn have dinner with an old college friend, one she hadn’t seen or even thought of in years? Anyone would be curious, and Jamie was out of town. She probably would have ended up just stopping at the market for a salad bar dinner otherwise. And it seemed graceless and childish to keep insisting on driving herself to the restaurant when she could leave her car in the museum employee lot. F. X. had to pass back that way anyhow on his way home.
He surprised her by choosing a new restaurant she’d heard of but hadn’t been to yet. She had to remind herself that F. X. had already been in Los Angeles for months and didn’t need her to play tour guide. Even more disconcerting, the hostess seemed to know him, and although the place was packed and Lynn had heard it was impossible to get reservations even on weeknights, they were shown to a table right away. The hostess was ravishing in that typical L.A. restaurant hostess way, sloe-eyed with a perfect figure. But F. X. didn’t eye her in his usual predatory manner. He had either changed or grown subtler.
The room was beautifully, expertly lit; the whole place seemed to glow. Lynn settled back in her chair. She loved restaurants; she’d practically been raised in them. Her mother, a feminist scholar, didn’t cook. Oh, she’d opened cans now and then when Lynn and her two sisters were little, poured cereal, washed strawberries—never grapes, not during grape-picker strikes—but for the most part the Kovaks dined out. Jamie, on the other hand, had grown up in St. Louis, with home-cooked meals every night. Lingering for hours over dinner and coffee in the latest restaurant was not his favorite way to spend an evening in the best of times, and lately he’d been working so hard that all he wanted at the end of the day— when he was in town to begin with—was to come home and rest.
Lynn realized that F. X. was watching her. He smiled—an indulgent smile. That’s fine, she thought; let him think he was indulging her. For whatever reason, he was content to enter¬tain the young wife while her adored husband was away. Lynn rather liked that role, for both of them. At the same time, she couldn’t help but wonder what was in it for him. The F. X. of old rarely acted outside his own self-interest.
Lynn eyed the hostess again as she led new arrivals to their seats. She really was astonishingly attractive. Everyone in the restaurant was. Lynn took in the profiles of the gazelle-like women seated around her. It was very possible she was the least attractive woman in the room—except for one frizzy-haired woman in a suit jacket. But she looked important, a studio executive or a big agent.
“Do you want wine?” F. X. said, distracted by the menu, not at all flirtatious. “Or to start with a drink?”
It suddenly occurred to Lynn what she was for F. X.: a break from beauty and pulchritude. A rest, a relief even. It was probably what he had seen in her back in college, and she didn’t mind that, either.
He snapped his fingers. “I know, let’s have champagne. Didn’t you always like champagne?”
“Sure,” she said, flattered that he remembered. “I’d love a glass.”
“A glass? Let’s have a bottle. Come on, live a little. Anyway, I’m driving.”
This was accurate only up to a point. Lynn would have to drive home from the museum.
“Same Lynnie,” F. X. said, “never out of control, never straying remotely close to the edge.” He laughed at the look on her face. “It’s okay—a sweet, nice girl is a good thing to be. When I decide to get married it’ll be to someone like you.”
“Right, then have affairs with the exciting, dangerous ones.”
“Maybe.” But he met her eyes with his own gray-blue ones. “Seriously, when I get married it’ll be for good.”
“Your wife won’t mind the philandering?”
“She won’t know about it.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Not that I’m saying I will. I just don’t believe in divorce, that’s all. I’m going to marry someone who feels the same way.”
“Do you really not believe in divorce?”
“Not for myself. It’s not that I disapprove on principle. Others can do what they like.”
“But what if you realized you’d made the wrong choice and were miserable?”
“That’s part of being a grown-up. You live with your choices. In the Catholic Church,” he said, “marriage is a sacrament.”
It had always been a favorite game of F. X.’s to lead people on, then laugh at them for not realizing he’d been joking all along. “Well,” said Lynn, “I guess I childishly went into mar¬riage without giving it as much thought as you have.”
“Nah, I’m sure you guys are perfectly happy. You look happy. You look great.”
They happened to reach for their waters at the same time and accidentally clinked glasses. F. X. grinned at her across the table.
“Are you seeing anybody?” she asked.
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
But Lynn had just remembered his comment about being free as a bird. She felt sorry for the woman, whoever she was. “Is she here in L.A.?”
F. X. nodded. “She’s from Brazil.” She had imagined him with a preppy blonde like his old college girlfriend. “How did you meet?”
“A strip club.”
“A stripper? Or another customer?”
“Nice, Lynn, you’re getting better. I thought I had you there.”
“You didn’t really meet her in a strip club, did you?”
“What do you think?”
Lynn realized that her phone was vibrating in her purse. Probably Jamie. He’d probably called home first and was wondering where she was. She couldn’t answer—she hated when people answered phones in restaurants, and anyway she wouldn’t want F. X. listening in. Another beautiful girl, very young, but with a sommelier’s cup on a heavy chain dangling into her cleavage, arrived with the champagne. Lynn had the feeling F. X. knew her, too. She was gratifi ed to see him leer after her when she turned to go. He saw Lynn watching, and winked.
He hadn’t changed at all. Lynn was sure that Jamie, who was an excellent judge of character, would detest F. X. on sight. She missed Jamie. How lucky she was.
“What?” said F. X.
Lynn looked back at him. “What, what?”
“You were smiling. You don’t believe in my Brazilian girl¬friend?”
God, Lynn thought, he couldn’t stand not being the center of attention for even one minute. It hadn’t occurred to her to question the existence of the Brazilian girlfriend, but now of course she had to. That was how it worked with F. X. If you were quick enough to catch his hints, he’d give you that private, congratulatory smile. You didn’t even have to say anything— he’d catch the look in your eye. And it was exhilarating, that feeling of operating on all cylinders. Suddenly, though, the idea of it made her tired. Why was she here with him? If she’d been home, she could have talked to Jamie.
Lynn looked more closely at F. X. across the table. He had the same cheekbones, the piercing light eyes, the cleft chin, but his face was also rounded, almost babyish. He was still very good looking, but in the years since she had last seen him his brow had thickened. His features seemed less finely drawn, the skin over his nose coarser. She was twenty-nine; he was only a year or so older. Was this what it meant to lose one’s looks with age? She had never doubted that it happened, but it was the first time she’d noticed it in someone she knew.
F. X.’s shoulders rose and fell infinitesimally, a small sigh escaping his lips. One thing about F. X., he had an instinct for where he stood with a woman. He was alert to the subtlest changes in chemistry or emotion. Lynn reached for her glass of champagne. It’s okay, she told herself. No danger here.
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