Home > Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(4)

Cream of the Crop (Hudson Valley #2)(4)
Author: Alice Clayton

It was converted from a single-family residence back in the fifties, and much of the original woodwork and detail was still intact. The main central staircase had been preserved when it was closed in, making each apartment a self-contained unit sharing the same stairs. Beautiful honeyed wood shone brightly in the entryway, with an original period mirror poised just inside. A bronze umbrella stand, complete with antique parrot-head parasol, stood proudly in the corner, another shared item.

I let myself in my own front door, which had been rescued from a salvage yard when my father renovated the building years ago. The original renovation had been done on the cheap, with ugly flat steel doors. My father had scoured antique shops and architectural salvage dumps until he found beautiful mahogany doors, likely pulled out of another brownstone in the city. Replacing them throughout the building made it feel more homey, and certainly more fitting for a house built in the late 1870s.

I carried my bags through the living room with its shiny pocket doors and eighteen inches of intricately carved crown molding, in through the dining room and its waist-high chestnut wainscoting, on into the galley kitchen with its marble tiling and butcher-block counters. Setting my bags down as I slipped out of my shoes, I listened to the relative quiet. Relative because it was never truly quiet. Cars honking over on Bleecker, a faraway siren, and the ever-present background hum of 1.6 million people living in twenty-two square miles.

It had been a great day. I’d landed a great account based on my unconventional yet killer pitch. I had the entire weekend to look forward to. I had a bagful of luscious cheese to indulge in. And I had a headful of luscious images to indulge in. Pouring a glass of red wine, I let my mind run wild . . .

Oscar. His name was Oscar. I know this because my best friend, Roxie, had clued me in, knowing him from the small hometown she had recently moved back to. Her boyfriend lived on the farm next to Oscar’s. Before I knew this, I only knew him as The Hot Dairy Farmer I Crushed On at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

I had it bad for Oscar. I’d lived most of my adult life able to date pretty much whomever I chose. A late bloomer, I’d spent much of my teen years hiding my ample body under big sweatshirts and a loud mouth, never letting boys close and certainly never letting anyone under the big sweatshirts. My freshman year at culinary school (a disastrous decision considering I could burn water, but a great decision considering I met my two best friends, Roxie and Clara), I embraced my curves, my natural good looks, and realized that confidence went much further than a small ass in tight jeans.

I’d spent the first part of my life as an observer, watching the world as it went by instead of participating, particularly when it came to men. I’d watched my girlfriends fumble through relationships, watched guys run circles around them, especially when the girl lacked confidence. I learned things about how men and women operate by listening and watching and remembering.

I’d had one boyfriend, just the one, and when it ended, it ended badly. It nearly broke me, in fact, and when I came out the other side of it I was determined to never let a man define me again. Moving across the country and enrolling in culinary school on a whim, I found a new family of friends that welcomed me with open arms.

No one knew me. No one knew my story. No one knew I was the ugly duckling, and in a school where everyone was as in love with duck fat as I was, no one blinked an eye at a pretty (which was news to me), chubby girl who was finally finding her way back out of the dark.

When I finally found my own confidence, I took my sharp tongue (honed from years of defense humor) and my surprisingly good looks (a mother with gorgeous Celtic genes mixed with a Viking-like father) and used every trick of the trade I’d observed over the years on the opposite sex.

I found a certain kind of power in walking into a room where I knew no one, and figuring out how everyone ticked. Narrowing in on the best-looking guy in any room, and going on the offense. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be timid. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be shy. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be grateful for any male attention, and to feel especially honored if a good-looking man paid attention to them.

Fuck all that noise. I took the best-looking guy home with me whenever and however I pleased. Confidence went a long way. You walk into a room armed with the knowledge that you can have anyone you want? You can literally have anyone you want.

Plus I had a sweet rack. Which always helped.

I made up for lost time, dating as much as I could, discovering what men liked and what men loved. And when it became apparent that a career in the culinary arts was not in the cards for me, I said good-bye to my new best friends, packed my bags, and headed east. I crashed back onto the scene in Manhattan, unpacking confidence and a touch of cheeky along with my new sexy clothes, determined to keep the party going New York style.

Enrolling at Columbia, where I’d had been accepted my senior year of high school but deferred while I played line cook in Santa Barbara, I discovered a newly untapped talent for writing quick and edgy copy. I spent four years pursuing an advertising degree, dating almost nonstop the entire time, and when I graduated at the top of my class, I had my pick of junior copy editor positions at several New York advertising firms.

Mmm, professional men. I loved it.

I loved men, and I didn’t apologize for enjoying them. I wasn’t looking to get married, I wasn’t looking for someone to take care of me, and I certainly wasn’t looking for a man to take me home and stick me in an apron. But I did enjoy myself.

Did I run into jerks? Sure, that was par for the course. Are there great-looking guys out there who are also assholes? Of course. But instead of shying away, I went crashing right on through, making them want me, making them need me, making sure the thought of sleeping with a big girl as a pity fuck was a thought they’d never have again.

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