Cover image for Indiscretions
Doumani, Carol.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Venice, Calif. : Wave Pub., [1999]

Physical Description:
326 pages ; 24 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Enid, a bored housewife, married to a powerful Los Angeles attorney, approaches her neighbor, a Hollywood actor, about starring in her charity event. Enid's innocent action, with a strong undercurrent of suppressed desires, sets off a round of position jockeying and partner swapping in this amusing novel. Patrick is the aging actor, desperate to hang on to his slipping popularity as his boyish charm thins and his waistline thickens. Enid's husband, Sam, is striving to hold on to his position in his law firm against the overreaching ambitions of a ruthless partner. Sam eventually succumbs to the manipulations of Carmen, an ambitious reporter who helps him uncover his partner's skulduggery. Her real motive is to find a husband and join the ranks of the rich and powerful, rather than just write about them. Sam and Enid endanger their 12-year marriage in their indiscreet alliances. But both characters learn something about themselves and their weaknesses in this cynical, scintillating novel. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0964235994Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this flighty sendup of the L.A. social scene, Doumani (Untitled, Nude; Chinese Checkers) offers archetypal characters whose posturing and sexual maneuvering reflect the politics of Hollywood fame, money and power. Enid and Sam Carrouthers enjoy a happy marriage of 12 years, rare in their social set. But when Enid tries to engage her Pacific Palisades neighbor, actor Patrick Drake, for a charity event, she finds herself drawn to the idea of a dalliance with the Hollywood star "famous for his romantic flings." Patrick, at 47 an aging, fading celebrity, makes a tryst with Enid to bolster his own ego and also because he discovers an opportunity to take advantage of her husband's movie industry connections. While things heat up for Patrick and Enid, Sam faces his own adulterous temptation in the form of Carmen Leventhal, a voluptuous muckraking financial reporter for the L.A. Times. Predatory Carmen sees Sam as a potential sugar daddy who will provide her with the necessary luxuries and stimulations of a fabulous lifestyle. She plans to hook him by revealing a shady business deal that one of his law partners is plotting. Glib intrigue and light humor carry the plot as Sam's and Enid's infidelities develop simultaneously toward their guilt-ridden conclusions, with everyone getting exactly what he or she deserves. Things stay mainly on the level of the designer labels affixed to everything in this superficial but entertaining narrative, which may please readers with preconceptions about the L.A. social scene. Author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Set in Los Angeles, this potboiler mixes a conniving actor, a sexy and ambitious reporter, underhanded business partners, and adulterous spousesÄand keeps the reader turning the pages. Fraught with betrayals of one kind of another, Doumani's third novel (after Chinese Checkers, Wave 1996) is a modern morality tale depicting the perils of the rich and famous. In sync with the bewildering phenomenon of naturalism in recent commecial novels, however, it is also beset by graphic and gratuitous descriptions of bodily functions. A scene in which the reporter visits her doctor for hemorrhoid treatment furthers neither the plot nor an understanding of the character. More interesting are the plot twists, the inside looks at film and high society in Los Angeles, and the secret relationships teasingly divulged throughout. Recommended for large fiction collections.ÄSheila M. Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Patrick There she was. In the window. Watching him. Again! Although Patrick had been leasing the house in the Palisades for nearly a year, he had not met his neighbor face to face. But recently he'd noticed her peering out, staring straight into his study. Did she think the tinted glass made her invisible? Or did she want him to see her? Please don't let her be a stalker , he prayed, although it did occur to him that having an obsessed fan would give him a golden moment in the media spotlight. And at this point in his career, the publicity wouldn't do him any harm.     But deep down he knew this neighbor wasn't a threat. She was just worshiping him from afar. The problem was she wasn't that far away. Land on the bluffs overlooking the California coastline was so precious that most homes were built with mere five-foot setbacks on either side of their conjoining property lines, much too close for comfort. Thank God the workmen he'd hired had finally begun erecting the wall which would restore his privacy.     Patrick sighed and turned his attention back to the work at hand, a stack of scripts to wade through, more fan letters to answer, bills, invitations, requests for endorsements, and just plain junk mail, which had been accumulating for weeks on his prized Biedermeier desk. He had paid dearly to restore this treasure to its present splendor, and he loved it, even though most of the time it was a cluttered mess. He caressed the burnished wood, its understated refinement pleasantly tactile, and it occurred to him that the next time Barbara Walters or Entertainment Tonight called for an interview, he should hold court from behind the desk, to show the world his sophistication and style, to prove that he wasn't just a clown whose tastes ran to grown-up toys, like the often-photographed model train set in his bedroom.     Then again, a glimpse of Patrick Drake, man of culture, might distort the image that Peter and his retinue of public relations people at Reagan & Coward had so carefully cultivated and fertilized. Peter was adamant about limiting what was told to the media. God forbid they learn some of his secrets.     Such as the fact that a few years back he was detained by Customs at LAX after a vacation in Cabo San Lucas. The officer had insisted on opening his black bag of love toys -- nothing illegal, but embarrassing nonetheless. Thank God Peter had been able to keep that out of The Inquirer . It was bad enough having everybody standing in line (and every person each of them blabbed to) know that he enjoyed using a little hardware with his software.     No, he'd be wiser to forget the Biedermeier and stick to the train set. It made him appear cute and accessible, just a kid at heart. The less the public knew about the real Patrick Drake, the better.     Patrick opened the desk drawer and idly pulled out a hand mirror. He turned on the desk lamp and adjusted the warm glow so that it flattered his features. Was vanity an occupational hazard for a film star, or did people become actors because they were vain already?     He studied his image in the glass. His gray-green eyes were a little bloodshot, but nonetheless expressive and piercing, framed as they were by long, blond lashes. They were his best feature, he thought, conveying his feelings far more accurately than the dialogue in most scripts he read. Too bad his rapidly worsening vision forced him to hide behind prescription sunglasses on those maddeningly frequent occasions when what one saw was more important than how one looked.     The rest of his face was appealing, but not overly handsome -- his nose was straight, if a bit too long, his chin firm and manly, with just a hint of a cleft, and his ears, once a little large, were now tucked neatly to his head, thanks to the deft hands and scalpel of Dr. Timothy Mueller, professor of plastic surgery at UCLA.     If his forty-seven years showed at all, it was in his hair, still thick and lush to the touch, thank God, but streaked with silver. This sign of age by itself was insignificant, for directors over the years had colored him reddish brown, raven, and even totally blond, depending on the roles he played. But those damn roots.     He sighed and tried to look deeper into the mirror, past the visual image it presented. Who was the person behind the facade? Was he Patrick Drake, movie star extraordinaire, renowned comedian and international celebrity, or was he Patrick Drake, the aging, graying, overweight son of Muriel and Harold Drake of Kewasha, Indiana, who had repeated seventh grade twice and never made it to college? He knew who he saw, but he prayed the public saw the other.     His eyes were drawn back to the window and he wondered which image she saw. Was she just another curious fan, ravenous for an intimate detail about him that she might use to buy status among her friends, or did she see, was she looking for, something more?     The phone rang him back to reality. He listened as his machine kicked in, relishing the twisted thrill of eavesdropping on himself. "You've reached the machine of Patrick Drake. I'm not taking this call because I may not want to talk to you. So leave your name after the beep and I'll either get back to you or I won't, depending on how I feel."     "Paddy, if you're there pick up."     Sara's voice. Patrick pounced on the phone, glad for the distraction. "Yeah, what's your problem?" he growled. It was his standard greeting, but it always threw Sara. Poor thing, she took everything he said literally, and knowing this, he delighted in confusing her.     "Me? Nothing." She was instantly defensive. "I'm just returning your call from yesterday. It was on my machine."     "Sara, we were together last night and we've spoken already this morning. I think you can safely assume I've said everything I had to say to you when I called yesterday."     "Okay, Sweetie, just wanted to be sure. You know how p.o.'d you get when I forget to check in." Sara had an incredibly resonant voice that presaged her voluptuousness; it never ceased to amaze him that even her vocal chords were well developed.     "Besides, I probably just called to hear the sound of your voice," he said. "A little aural sex," he added, even though he knew his bright play on words would be lost in the murky shallows of Sara's mind.     "It sounds better in person," she purred, missing the pun entirely. "I've got some pizza left over from Spago's last night."     Patrick remembered his embarrassment the previous evening when Sara had asked Wolfgang himself to provide a doggie bag for the remains of dinner for six. Fortunately, Wolf was a sport, and he even acted pleased that none of his high-profile cuisine would be going to waste. But Patrick didn't miss the expression of distaste on Barbara's face, and the smirks of the others at the table, who knew bad form when they saw it and put up with Sara only because she was with Patrick.     "Honestly, Sara, people will think I don't feed my girlfriends. It was bad enough that you wanted your leftovers, but to ask for LeMar's.... "Still, he was beginning to salivate thinking of the doggie bag full of duck sausage pizza, and fettucini with gorgonzola, which the perennially dieting LeMar, his agent, hardly tasted.     "Is that what I am?"     "What?"     "Your friend ?"     His hunger formed a hard lump that fell to the pit of his stomach, as it always did when a woman tried to corner him. "Sara, it's just a convenient term."     "Oh, so now I'm a convenience. Kind of like a microwave oven?"     "Well, come to think of it, you are a pretty hot number, and you have been known to nuke men who don't treat you right." Patrick chuckled, not so much because what he said was funny, but because he knew his laughter was an aphrodisiac to Sara. It was, in fact, what most of his women liked best about him.     Sure enough, he could sense Sara melting on the other end.     "Then why don't you come over and I'll zap you?" she countered.     Patrick looked around him at the chaos on the Biedermeier. "I'd love to leap into your microwave, truly I would, but LeMar's going to kill me if I don't wade through these scripts. I haven't even opened the one from Dominion." He picked up a screenplay with a light blue cover and fondled the note on the cover, which was discretely engraved with the initials "J.K." and bore the typed message, "Paddy, this is you. Read it tonight and I'll speak with you tomorrow."     "But save me a piece of pizza," he said to Sara, "I'll eat it when I pick you up tonight."     "Speaking of tonight, what should I wear? I mean, how do you want me to look?" In typical Sara fashion, she began cataloging every item in her extensive, expensive wardrobe, as though she were reciting Shakespeare. "If this thing is really dressy, I could wear the Armani with the cowl neck, or the backless black Versace. Or if it's not that formal, I could wear the Valentino pants with the bolero. The pants are a little tight, but if I take a thirty-minute sauna ..."     The second line began to ring. Patrick eyed it nervously. He hated to deal with more than one call at a time, and the machine didn't pick up off the rotary. Plus there was every chance the caller could be Kesselman's secretary.     "Sara, I've got to get the other line."     "Can't Jeremy get it?"     "He's gone to the market."     "Oh, well, call me back later because I need to--"     "I will. `Bye." He cut her off by pushing the urgently flashing button. "Hello? hello?"     There was a pause. "Yes, may I speak with Patrick Drake, please?"     The voice wasn't exactly familiar, but it wasn't altogether foreign either. And it certainly wasn't Kesselman's secretary Marion, who spoke with a nasal New England twang that was as phony as her hennaed hair.     How annoying to have to deal with a fan. Patrick wrestled with the idea of pretending he wasn't himself, but on an empty stomach it seemed like too much trouble. "You've got him."     "Oh, Mr. Drake!" Whoever it was sounded surprised. "This is Enid Carrouthers."     Patrick thought about it. "Do I know you?"     "I'm your next-door neighbor."     The mysterious voyeur, or should he say voyeuse! Without changing position, he glanced out the window. The facing window was vacant. "Yes, of course," he said slowly. He hoped his voice didn't betray his bemused curiosity. "I'm sorry, I didn't -- I don't believe I ever knew your name."     "We saw you on the Fourth of July, at the Will Rogers State Park picnic. But everyone wanted to talk to you; I don't blame you for not remembering," the voice said.     "No, no, it's just that, over the phone ... if I'd seen you, surely I would have remembered." Yeah, right, as though anyone famous ever remembered anyone who wasn't. "So then, Mrs. Carrouthers, how may I be of service?"     "Oh, please, call me Enid."     "Enid." His mind wandered back to Sara and the pizza. If this Enid would just come to the point, maybe it wouldn't be too late to call Sara back and take her up on her offer.     "Well, I don't mean to bother you, but I was wondering, you see there's something I want to talk to you about and I know you must be terribly busy. But I was thinking, hoping, that maybe you'd be able to join me for lunch one day this week."     With a prick of male ego, Patrick noted that her voice rose an octave when she blurted out this last sentence. If he was any judge of women, she was at that moment blushing at her audacity to have blurted out this proposition, flagrantly offering much more than just an invitation to lunch.     He considered the possibilities. He had never paid much attention to his neighbors, but this one couldn't be all that bad, married to a man as wealthy and powerful as Sam Carrouthers. And her voice on the phone sounded pleasantly refined, yet appropriately reverent.     On the other hand, things were going so well with Sara. And she did have that leftover duck sausage pizza on her side. Perhaps it was unwise to rock the boat.     Then again, he could find out why she'd been spying on him. And if he remembered correctly, there was only one small piece of pizza left.     "Well, I am swamped, but I do have to eat. How about today?"     "Today?" Her voice sounded worried.     Damn , he thought, I must have sounded too eager . "I'm swamped the rest of the week, the rest of the month, it seems. So if it's critical ..."     "Oh, today would be wonderful! It's just, I hadn't expected you to say yes at all, let alone for today."     Oh, God, wait until he told his shrink Ellen about this conversation. She was always chastising him for begging affection from his fans. The "puppy from the pound" syndrome, she called it.     "Then let's make it one o'clock. Giorgio's?"     "That would be wonderful. Shall I drive? I can come by for you."     "That's right, we are both leaving from the same general vicinity, aren't we? No, why don't I come by for you? The Rolls needs an airing anyway." As he spoke, he remembered the Beast's faulty water pump and wondered if Jeremy had gotten around to fixing it.     "About one then? I'll be waiting outside."     "Splendid. See you then."     He hung up the phone with a sigh. What had he gotten himself into? Enid     Enid slowly lowered the receiver, her hand lingering on it as though hesitant to break the fragile connection. How many days had she agonized over making this call, beginning to dial and stopping after three digits? Or, after summoning the courage to punch all seven numbers, how many times had she listened to his voice on the answering machine and then lost her nerve? At last, she had taken the plunge! Her body tingled with delight. She had called Patrick Drake and he had accepted her invitation to lunch!     She looked at the clock. 11:15. Should she call Shelley and tell her the news? No, better to wait until after the lunch, if and when she had accomplished her mission. Besides, she didn't want to use the phone again just yet, while it was still resonating from his famous voice.     As she stepped into the shower, Enid wondered for the ten-thousandth time what her famous neighbor was really like. Since he had moved in next door, she'd spied on him shamelessly, trying to catch glimpses of him as he came and went in his Rolls Royce, even going so far as to peek through the window of her den into the facing window of his house. To her disappointment she couldn't see much, just a distorted view of him sitting at his desk.     She'd tried to find all of his movies on video, but few of the old ones had been released on tape. And although she had read every article she could find about him, they only told her the facts. She was still curious about the person. Very curious.     It wasn't a physical attraction. When Enid thought about what attracted her, she envisioned strong, solid, masculine men like Sam, her husband. Patrick Drake, though tall, was slightly effeminate and sadly out of shape. Oh, he was cute, but cute the way a teddy bear is, in a little-boyish, silly way.     Anyway, she'd never been attracted to another man. Sam was a model husband, kind, generous, even-tempered and loving. And their marriage was one of the few happy ones in her Los Angeles social set. For twelve years they had lived the kind of life most people only dreamed of, filled with travel, beautiful possessions, interesting experiences, and, most important, joy in each other's company. If she had any complaint at all, it was that Sam worked too hard. But what successful man didn't?     So no, her fascination with Patrick had nothing to do with a physical attraction or a need to escape her marriage. Quite simply, she admitted to herself, she was dazzled by the fact that he was a movie star. And he'd moved in right next door! She'd lived in Los Angeles all her life, and she had not one famous friend, had never before had lunch with a celebrity, unless you counted Sam's business partner Harry Ingersol. And Harry wasn't really a star, he was just famous for his $2.5 billion net worth, and that only counted in the business world. It was entirely different, and not nearly as alluring.     A thrill of pride shot through her when she or Sam casually mentioned that Patrick Drake was leasing the house next door. The Patrick Drake, people always asked with envy, the movie star? It was as though the coincidence of their geographical proximity was some special accomplishment, like setting the world's record for the broad jump, or giving birth to quintuplets. Amazing, the universality of the movies. Even Sam's business associates in Japan could name most of Patrick's films -- she smiled to herself -- and at least half of his girlfriends.     That was another thing. Patrick Drake was as famous for his romantic flings as he was for his movies. And there was a certain titillation to being in the company of a ladies' man -- the flirtatious attention, the sexual subtext that underlay every utterance, the flattering image of herself as the object of a desirable man's desires. God, she sounded like a love-starved housewife from New Jersey reading The Bridges of Madison County .     Get a grip, Enid , she told herself. This is business, not pleasure .     But still, he had such a reputation as a Casanova....     She turned the water temperature up to a steamy 102 degrees and let the spray drench her imagination. Then, distantly, she heard the phone ring. A pang of anxiety shot through her. He's canceling , she thought, I knew it. I knew this was too easy. Damn!     She turned off the water and wiped away the steam on the glass door so she could see the phone on the bathroom counter. Its little red light blinked, then held firm, which meant the Carrouther's Chinese houseman, Wallase Ting, had answered it downstairs. Was it Patrick, saying he had something more interesting to do than have lunch with her? She concentrated on wrapping a towel around herself and stepped out of the shower, waiting for the intercom to buzz with the bad news. When she allowed herself to look at the phone again, the little red light was off. She breathed a sigh of relief.     Enid turned on the light of her magnifying mirror and saw the result of thirty-six years of L.A. living. An honest appraisal revealed wide brown eyes (which would need the obligatory eyelid lift in the not so distant future) and hair the color of butterscotch (which she dutifully highlighted with vanilla streaks once a month), a fair bone structure, lightly freckled skin that betrayed her age only when she ate the wrong foods (dairy products) or neglected to get enough sleep (seven hours a night), and straight white teeth, (thanks to two years of orthodontia). Enid thought of herself as looking like someone's older sister, the one who was too short and too shy to make the cheerleading squad, and who dated the president of the French club.     The trick now was to put on enough makeup to look good, without seeming to have gone to too much effort. She opened her dressing table drawer and studied her arsenal of cosmetics. If Sam had his way, she would never wear any makeup at all. Well, that had been fine when they had met and married twelve years earlier, but no facial in the world could restore the smooth, fresh face of that twenty-four-year-old. God, it had been easy then.     The sudden buzz of the intercom made her heart leap again. "Yes, Wallase?" She tried to sound calm, but it wasn't easy the way her heart was pounding.     "Sorry to bother, Missy Carrouthers. Mister Patrick Drake call. I tell you take the shower," the houseman said.     Despite her disappointment at hearing just the words she dreaded, Enid imagined Patrick listening to Wallase's message. Had he been aroused at the image of her, wet and naked?     "Yes, and what did he say?"     "He say, please he can pick you up for lunch at 1:15 instead of 1:00, since late he is running."     "Then he didn't cancel?"     "No, Missy, only he say that he can come late."     Wallase's broken English was music to Enid's ears. "Thank you then, Wallase. I'll be down shortly." Again, Enid studied her face in the makeup mirror. She smiled. At the rate her heart was pumping, she wouldn't have to worry about what color blush to use; her cheeks were as rosy as a bride's. She went to the closet to dress.     The dressing room had been designed by the former owner of her house, a socialite whose personal vanity was exceeded only by the size of her decorating budget. Mirrors covered every available surface and gave the room a disconcerting "fun house" aspect that Enid had learned to live with. But with all of the reflective surfaces, there was no way she could hide from her body and its imperfections.     Early on, she had realized that she would never be voluptuous, and this made life difficult in a city where breast size was a kind of currency. After turning thirty, she had contemplated artificial augmentation, had even visited a plastic surgeon who had successfully resurrected the small or sagging fortunes of many of her friends. It was still an option. But with silicone a questionable solution, she had decided to wait until the medical world came up with something better. For the time being, she fought the good fight, exercising to keep the rest of her figure slim, keeping her hips, waist, and bosom in proportion. So although she wasn't curvy, at least she had the compensation of being able to wear a French size four with comfort.     Enid tried on five outfits before arriving at an acceptable combination -- a light pink Jill Sanders jacket from two seasons ago over beige Armani slacks. Where had she read you could never be mad at a person wearing pink? Probably in one of those magazines targeted at desperate single woman who were willing to try anything to snare a man, hardly her personal profile.     Anyway, why should Patrick Drake be mad at her? Sam     Sam Carrouthers was having a bad day. It had begun when he wrenched his back getting into the black Porsche Turbo Cabriolet that was his pride and joy. The physical pain was brief, but the realization that at forty-eight he was getting too old and stiff to squeeze behind the driver's seat of the sports car really hurt. Then when he'd reached into his briefcase to get his sunglasses, the titanium pair he'd had handcrafted in Germany, he'd found that somehow their right stem had gotten bent, and they were unwearable. It wasn't so much the expense of having the glasses fixed -- although it would surely be costly -- as it was the inconvenience. The little old optician in Munich was an artist, but it always took him months to get around to repairs.     Without sunglasses, by the time Sam had arrived at the public tennis court where he played each morning, he had developed a raging headache. To make matters worse, his partner Blair had failed to show up, and it was almost impossible to find a pickup game at 6:45 in the morning. So instead, he had had to be satisfied with an hour's jog in the hills which, though grueling exercise, did not give him the mental satisfaction of a competitive game of singles.     And when he had stepped on the scale after the workout -- a cheat he knew, to weigh in after sweating for an hour -- his weight had been 204, two pounds higher than it had been the week before, and four pounds more than he thought his 6'1" frame should carry.     But these had all been minor annoyances compared to what had awaited him at work. Usually he considered his law firm ICCM (Ingersol, Choate, Carrouthers, and Morris) a haven. When designing his office, he had gone to great pains to create an environment that reflected his status and made a statement about his style -- clean, strong lines, simple furniture crafted of elegant materials, and just a few of the right contemporary black and white photographs.     His working space contrasted distinctly from the offices of his three partners, Leo, Jim, and Harry, who were so devoid of style that they'd hired a decorator to recreate the staid and stately look of a traditional law firm -- the generic leather couches, dark paneled bookshelves, reproduction empire desks, and botanical prints framed in faux gold leaf frames.     But rather than establish them as members of the Old Guard, these accoutrements only advertised their lack of vision. How could they expect a client to put his or her faith in their foresight, when all around was evidence that they were living in the past, and trying to be something they weren't?     If you had old money and came from an established banking family, fine, Sam thought. Use the family antiques. Wear your grandfather's cuff links bearing the family crest. But no amount of new money could be a substitute for the old stuff. And the guys who bought the real antiques at ridiculous auction prices, rather than discovered them in a dusty back room of the family manse, were even worse than the ones who bought the reproductions. Those poor schmucks thought money could buy class. It couldn't.     Sam prided himself on his individuality. He had never conformed to the stuffed-shirt traditions of his trade, but was respected for having forged his own image and career. In a world where everyone was scouting for new deals, Sam was the man out front with the machete, clearing the path for the others. And he had been very successful at it, a fact that was well known among the cognoscenti -- and to a much lesser extent, the public. He normally avoided the press, leaving publicity to his partners, who loved to bask in the spotlight.     So when he got to his office, he was surprised when his secretary Margie informed him that the pain-in-the-ass financial reporter from the L.A. Times , Carmen Leventhal, was waiting to see him.     Carmen Leventhal. Although they had met only once before, he'd seen her at numerous functions, and he remembered her well. She was by far the most strident and aggressive woman he had ever known. True, she was a knockout, Pamela Anderson Lee in a business suit, but what gave attractive women the right to assume they could manipulate men simply by virtue of their looks?     He had no idea what she wanted today, but he was wise enough to realize that to dismiss her without an audience, however brief, would be asking for trouble. He buzzed Margie back and told her to send Carmen in, then took another phone call so she would see he didn't have time to waste.     His back was to her when she entered, but he could feel her eyes boring into him. Even though he wasn't interested in this piranha, he was glad his daily tennis kept him solid and strong beneath his bespoke suits, and that she had noticed. He found that for many women, the twin aphrodisiacs of money and power were enough to inspire attraction. Only a few realized that a shorter route to his ego was recognition of his steely physique.     He hung up the phone and turned to face Carmen, his smile polite, but carefully calculated to project indifference to whatever it was she was selling. "Hello, Carmen," he said. "If I'd known you were coming, I would have blocked out a little time, but as it is ..."     She was perched on the edge of his desk, not even trying to hide her interest in the papers that littered it. "Hello, Sam," she replied. Her voice was low and smoky. "I would have called first, but," she leaned closer as though to impart a secret, "I don't think your secretary likes me. She always tells me you're out of town."     "I frequently am. In fact, if it weren't for this benefit tonight for the mayor, I'd be in Tokyo right now."     "Ah, yes, the Major Donor's Dinner. I would love to be there myself, but the price of a ticket is more than my annual salary."     "Maybe you should try another line of work."     "Such as?"     He was tempted to say hooking , but settled for something less suggestive. "Writing movie scripts?"     She laughed. "I was hoping you could come up with something a little more provocative than that."     Time to cut this off at the knees , Sam thought. "Look, Carmen, this is a hell of a day for me, and if you don't mind, you're sitting on my briefs."     She handed him the papers. "I can't help it. I'm fascinated by the thought of what's in your briefs, and you know it, Sam."     Her meaning was as sheer as a silk stocking, and was it his imagination or were her eyes really focused on his crotch?     "But actually, I've got a busy day today as well." She flashed what he had to admit was a dazzling smile. "What I had in mind was lunch at Jimmy's. I've got some information I guarantee you will find enlightening, but I'm not willing to trade it for anything less than an expensive salad, your treat."     "In the first place I don't eat lunch," Sam replied. "And in the second, I can't imagine what kind of information you might have that I would be remotely interested in hearing."     "Do the names Leo Choate and Paul Whitney-Smith mean anything to you?"     "I know you know that Leo's one of my partners." Sam looked at his watch. He had better things to do, and he wanted to do them.     "And Paul Whitney-Smith is the CEO of World Investment Trust."     "Gosh," Sam said, "you must read the business section."     "Well, what I have to tell you wasn't in today's paper, but it may be in tomorrow's. And I'll bet my byline you'd rather hear it from me first."     Sam was hooked. He knew Leo had been snooping around Paul Whitney-Smith and WIT for weeks, and it had crossed his mind that Leo might be trying something underhanded, such as making a deal that excluded the other partners. Leo had pulled this stunt before, and Sam had been furious, not only because of the lost financial participation, but for the insulting way Leo had used Sam's contacts to screw him. It wasn't going to happen again.     Sam looked at his calendar. "It will have to be early. I've got a full afternoon. 12:00?"     Carmen's eyes shone with victory. "I'll be there," she said as she went out the door.     One thing he had to say for her: she was smart enough to know that when you got yes for an answer, there was no point hanging around.     Margie's buzz reminded him that the staff meeting had already begun in the conference room, so Sam didn't waste any more time thinking about Carmen Leventhal and their lunch date. As he breezed by Margie's desk, he asked casually, "Leo in today?"     Margie shook her head. "I believe he left word that he'd be out of the office all day. I can check with Karen."     "Just make sure he's coming to the dinner tonight. There's nothing worse than two empty seats at a table of ten. And be sure the driver knows to pick us up at 7:15. I want to get there before everyone is seated so I can chat with the mayor."     "Will do." Margie was already picking up the phone to carry out his wishes. CARMEN     On her way out of the building, Carmen stopped in the ladies room to sneak a celebratory cigarette. She never lit up in public, but allowed herself three or four private smokes a day, to punctuate important moments, or to calm her nerves if things were going badly. The modest amount of nicotine they pumped into her system also helped control her weight, a form of dieting that was far less of a health risk than the fad diets her friend Mary was constantly trying, or the strenuous Iron Woman exercising Sharon was addicted to, or so she convinced herself.     As she inhaled the silver vapor of her Marlboro Light, Carmen indulged in a moment of self-congratulation. She was very pleased with the way she had handled Sam Carrouthers. And she was glad she waited for this situation with Leo Choate to rear its head, although waiting had been difficult -- because Carmen was ready to settle down, and she had set her sights on Sam Carrouthers as the perfect man to settle down with.     Carmen wasn't embarrassed about her calculated effort to snare a man. She knew other women considered her a predator. But she'd lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that only predators survived, and she was nothing if not a survivor.     Of course, it would have been a lot easier if he were a single man with no encumbrances, but Carmen had never been one to let a little thing like a twelve-year marriage stand in her way. All men were fair game; in fact, men weren't even the players. It was a competition between women. And it was up to the wife or girlfriend to keep her man satisfied so he wasn't vulnerable to another woman's attentions. Although Carmen had never met Sam's wife, she knew this Enid was ignorant about the rules of the game. How many times had Carmen observed Sam at business dinners without his wife? There were no pictures of her in his office. Why, he didn't even wear a wedding ring. And she had learned through her sources that there were no kids, therefore, no unbreakable bonds.     Carmen stubbed out her cigarette and took the elevator to the parking garage. On the way down, a young executive tried to flirt with her, and although she was flattered, she rebuffed him by putting on her sunglasses and pointedly staring straight ahead at the elevator doors. Carmen never allowed strange men to approach her. She was always the instigator in her relationships, and had never understood how otherwise savvy women waited patiently at home for Mr. Right to call. If you wanted something, you had to go out and get it. And Carmen always did.     In the subterranean garage, she bypassed the line waiting for the attendant and slipped into her car, a 1959 Mercedes 190 SL. It was her pride and joy, its smooth, rounded lines and sleek simplicity a perfect complement to her own curves and svelteness. She was always happy to tip the attendant an extra five dollars to let her park it herself, and most times the attendants were just as happy to comply, since people who drove classic cars were notoriously nasty about screeching tires and grinding gears.     As she waited to merge into the traffic on Avenue of the Stars, she considered whether to turn left and head back to her office for a few hours, or right, in the direction of Neiman Marcus. In the future, she'd have to be appropriately dressed when she was with Sam Carrouthers, and it had been months since she'd indulged in a shopping binge.     No contest, the little Mercedes seemed to turn right of its own accord.     Ten minutes later Carmen was riding up the escalator at Neiman's to the second floor designer section. She spotted her favorite saleswoman, Nadine, near the Valentinos and made a beeline for her. But before she could flag her down, Nadine disappeared into a fitting room.     "May I help you find something, Madame?" Another saleswoman tried to intercept Carmen.     "Thank you. I usually work with Nadine."     "I believe Nadine is with a customer right now. Perhaps I can show you something while she's occupied."     Carmen resented aggressiveness in other women. But she had done her time in retail sales and had learned quickly that it was part of the job to convince customers to buy, preferably something expensive, and the best way to accomplish that was through intimidation.     Carmen ignored the girl and began to flip through the dresses in the Escada section. "I'll wait for Nadine. I'm sure she won't be long."     "Oh, but she's with a very important customer right now. The wardrobe lady for Eye on L.A . They could be tied up all morning." The saleswoman positioned herself so Carmen could not move down the rack without barging into her. "Perhaps if you tell me what you're looking for ..."     How dare you imply some other customer is more important than I am? Carmen gave the girl one of her haughty looks, and said nothing for an uncomfortable minute, to make the girl squirm. You'd think in a store the caliber of Neiman' s that more care would be taken in the selection of salespeople , Carmen's expression said more clearly than words. Look at your slouch. Even in an Armani uniform you look like a slob, and my God, look at your skin. You could pose for the "before" picture in a Clearasil ad.     The girl got the message. She stood a little straighter and tried to dig her way out. "We've got some Anne Klein dresses on sale," she said, in a voice as flimsy as her polyester blouse.     "I'm not interested in your sale items," Carmen sneered. "I want something current, a cocktail dress or suit, preferably silk."     The girl seemed relieved to have some input from Carmen. "Will you come with me ?" she pleaded. "You look like a perfect size six. Let me show you the Ferre collection. With your figure and coloring I think one of his new white silk suits would be stunning."     Carmen looked over to the Valentino section. Nadine had not reappeared and Carmen had no more time to waste. She followed the girl to the far end of the floor where the Ferres were displayed.     The girl held up two versions of the same suit. One was tailored and traditional; the other had a hand-embroidered silk chiffon scarf attached to its lapels, which made the jacket seem to float.     "These are the suits I was thinking of. I would especially like to see you in this one, with the scarf. Not too many women can carry it off. You have to be strong, yet feminine. It would be striking with your hair and skin, don't you think?"     Carmen hated to think she was a sucker for compliments, but she could see herself wearing this suit to dinner at L'Orangerie with Sam Carrouthers. She could tell without trying it on that the fit would be perfect, and she could tell without looking at the price tag that it would cost her next month's salary to buy it. But if she was going to play in the big leagues, she was going to have to dress for it. And just maybe, by the time the bill came, somebody else would be picking up the tab.     "It's very nice. Bring them both. And I'd like to see some blouses as well, no prints, just intense colors."     "I've got a gorgeous St. Laurent silk, it's just the color of cafe au lait. I'll put you in a dressing room and get it."     Carmen followed the girl into the back, past two women of Carmen's age, who were fingering a magnificent Zandra Rhodes cocktail dress.     "The good thing about her clothes is that they are completely unbody conscious. You could be pregnant and wear this," said one.     "Who wants to spend two hours a day in the gym to wear something that hides every inch of muscle tone? Besides, Joe hates it when I wear this kind of stuff. He likes me in Alaia, skin tight and slit up to here," replied the other.     "If you're going to wear Alaia, I suppose you aren't interested in lunch," said the first.     "I can't anyway. I've got a tennis lesson at twelve and then my herbal wrap at Aida Thibiant. Oh, say, do you have time to swing by Tiffany's with me? There is the most gorgeous pair of ruby earrings in the window. They'd be perfect with my ruby necklace for the SHARE benefit."     It's not that Carmen envied these women, but she knew she could play their roles with so much more panache. Soon, she thought, soon. Copyright (c) 1999 Carol Doumani. All rights reserved.