"CLEAN BREAKS," SYNOPSIS
Sometimes, all a girl needs to walk away from a breakup is the right pair of shoes, preferably Italian leather with a four-inch heel. Sometimes the girl is not ready to take those first steps. Especially if she’s still in love. What then? My novel, Clean Breaks, is a fantasy for everyone who’s ever walked away and stumbled.
SUMMARY: In a “Charlie’s Angels meets Sex in the City”-style send up of the matchmaking industry, Ann Coldwater, a 30ish entrepreneur, opens a business called Clean Breaks, Inc. to rescue women on the brink of reuniting with ex-boyfriends or, worse, marrying the wrong guy.
Ann prescribes custom treatments to help her clients move on. From skydiving to “tropical internment” to detox and hard labor—nothing is off limits in finding the cure for love. Company agents prowl the city, conducting treatment ops and maintaining 24-hour surveillance on clients at risk of recidivism.
The story revolves around three characters: Ann Coldwater (business owner), Julia Townsend (satisfied customer) and Rose Glamorgan (media heiress and Ann’s most disappointing failure).
Like all Clean Breaks clientele, Julia and Rose sign contracts pledging to stay away from their ex-boyfriends. But when Rose’s ex, John Tanner Graves III, a lothario in deck shoes, shows up with a ring, Rose has a change of heart. After realizing that Rose’s contract can’t be broken without severe, legally enforceable penalties, the couple conceals their engagement and plots to sabotage Clean Breaks. After all: no company, no contract.
While posing as a model client, Rose taps the company’s database and shares damning information that riles the ex-boyfriends in town to file a class action suit. Julia, who has joined the staff of Clean Breaks, smells something funny about Rose, but Ann is too focused on expanding her business and dealing with screwball legal claims to address Julia’s suspicions. So Julia enlists the muscled aid of Sheffield, the agency’s heartthrob and tech guru, to find proof that Rose is up to no good and stop her before it’s too late.
In the end, Ann must pick herself up from a tumble off the corporate ladder and face a loss she didn’t expect. Rose must look her callow lover straight in the pompadour and ask herself: “Good enough?” And Julia must summon the courage to step off the automated track to Nowhere Relationships and try an unfamiliar path with a sexy, available Mr. Nice Guy.
ABOUT ME: In the 90s, I started out as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins and later was as an assistant editor at Guideposts Magazine. Now I work in the financial sector.
"CLEAN BREAKS" first 2000 words
A self-assured lawyer with a Casanova smile and a lot to lose leaned toward his fiancée. As he reached to touch her hair, he caught his reflection in the mirror on the wall behind their table and his hand detoured to his own dark curls. Mirrors relaxed him. They showed the best of him. Because, unfortunately, the best of John Tanner Graves was only skin deep.
“I want to be a better man.” He waited for her to look up. “For us.”
The woman across the table from him was the loneliest woman he’d ever met, and he knew she could never resist the way he said us.
“Tell me again you love me.” His smile was heartbreakingly sweet.
Had she looked beyond his chiseled cheeks and Olympic build, had she studied his actions and considered his character, had she taken the time to think about anything other than an overwhelming determination to marry, Rose Glamorgan, John’s fiancée of a few short hours, might have avoided an avalanche of pain and destruction—not to mention a mountain of legal woes.
A week earlier, Rose had broken up with John. He had given her ten good reasons—all of them blonde with high volume hair and boobs like party balloons. When Rose could no longer ignore John’s unfaithfulness, she’d let him go. But he wanted her back, and he knew there was only one way to make that happen. So he bought a ring.
“I love you, John,” Rose answered at last. She was unsure what to say next. “I really do.”
John signaled the waiter for more champagne. “It will never happen again.”
Rose wished John would quit apologizing. Apologies always made it harder to pretend that nothing had happened. They were engaged now; that was what mattered. In time she would forget that he had cheated with the model, the dancer, the beauty queen, the neighbor, the judge, the personal trainer, the personal trainer’s second cousin, the second cousin’s best friend. The more she thought about it, the less she forgot. With her hand on the waiter’s arm, Rose drained her glass and lifted it for a refill. By the time she realized that John hadn’t actually apologized, the champagne had numbed the hurt.
Rose was a girl who lived up to her name. Temperamental. Elegant. Vulnerable with a self-protective sharpness. She required a lot of pampering. And what she cared about most—aside from John—was her appearance. At the moment she was wearing a strapless yellow cocktail dress, diamond bangles on both wrists—and the new engagement ring, of course. Her light brown hair was loose.
“You are my beautiful Rose,” John said, toying with the new ring on her hand.
No one else had ever told her she was beautiful. John might be as full of clichés as a paperback romance, but his delivery was convincing and more than anything, Rose wanted to be convinced. Then there was the flash bulb on her left hand; just bright enough to blind her to any remaining doubts.
If the diamond had been even a little smaller, Rose might have thought it through a bit longer, because unlike most engagement rings, this ring was not a symbol of John’s love and fidelity. Instead, it was a sign of his financial distress. Rose was an heiress wealthy enough to fund a small European country, and John was a nobody with expensive taste and political aspirations. So the new ring was not a promise that he had changed so much as a clue that he was short on cash. And judging by the size of his recent purchase—running low on credit.
The front door swung open and heads turned. Rose was still distracted by the ring; but had she looked up, she would have seen John ogling a blonde with runway legs who was turning the distance between the front door and the bar into a personal catwalk. But Rose didn’t look up, and John kept the champagne flowing, fully aware that the blonde was watching his table.
The waiter gave the blonde a wink as he topped off John’s glass. With the slightest nod and a swing of her waist-length hair, she turned to the bartender. John, never one for subtleties, figured the gesture was for him. They just can’t resist. He let go of Rose’s hand to unbutton his blazer.
Meanwhile a van cut its lights and pulled into the alley behind the restaurant. For a long while, nothing moved but time. Then the driver flashed the headlights into the kitchen window and waited.
“To us, babe!” John boomed. Their glasses kissed.
“Isn’t it bad luck to toast ourselves?” Rose whispered, hoping he would lower his voice. Not that she minded the attention, but even by Il Giglio standards the mood was subdued.
John laughed. It was a habit of his not to take her too seriously. “Since when are you superstitious?” he teased.
“People are staring.”
The blonde at the bar looked over her shoulder directly at John. He held her gaze as long as he dared.
“What do we care, babe?” John asked turning back to Rose. “Don’t they always?”
Rose raised her chin. “Good point.” She tapped John’s glass again. This time, she smiled.
Il Giglio had sexy corner tables that were prized above the chef’s highly rated menu. The dining room was full and the bar was packed, but a few things were different that night. Velvet drapes were drawn across the view of harbor lights. The signature candelabras and white tapers which normally lit the room had been replaced by low strung lights. Those weren’t the kinds of details that Rose or John would notice. They weren’t exactly close observers of the world.
The back door opened. The chef walked outside and tipped her hat to signal the van. By the time the headlights winked, she was back in her kitchen.
“Aren’t you hungry, Rose?” John mopped the last of the peppercorn sauce with a crust of bread.
The fresh catch was untouched on her plate. Rose never ate in public, as John knew. She had a high profile life and, a favorite of the local paparazzi, the last thing she needed was to be photographed chewing sea bass. Instead of eating, she drank. And that night her spirits were rising with the bubbles in her glass.
Her circumstances were not ideal, but Rose was finally where she wanted to be—across the table from a stunning man with a ring on her finger. She had reached her thirties. Her clock wasn’t just ticking: The alarm was blaring so loudly that she let it drown out everything else, including professional advice to stay away from John.
Everyone, it seemed, was married, and no matter where she went, she was asked the same question: So…why haven’t you settled down? Sometimes the question was asked with the smirk of superiority. Sometimes it was asked from a place of concern. But no matter who asked or what the motive, Rose heard a very different question. And that question was: So…what’s wrong with you?
It was impossible for Rose, who had grown up with every advantage—except kindness and affection—not to feel devalued. She was determined to have what all the other girls had. And that’s when John came along.
He was imperfect. Rose had discovered the other women, of course. And she sensed there were money issues. But she knew she was more to John than a bank. They had a connection. They laughed in the movies when no one else laughed. They took their coffee the same way. They held hands for no reason. They had a stormy electric chemistry that could cause power outages. So what if John was after money? She was after his name. They turned to each other for what was missing in their own lives. And if that wasn’t love, it was close enough for Rose.
“How about a June wedding? When the roses bloom?” He managed to say it without flinching. The knot he needed to tie was beginning to feel like a hangman’s noose. “Want to have your publicist give my office a call?”
Rose straightened in her chair, making a mental note to fire the publicist who was quite pretty. “June? This June? Impossible. I need a year to plan the wedding.”
The color drained from John’s face. He knew how much Rose wanted to be married, but he had underestimated her desire to be a bride.
“Six months, babe,” he countered, trying not to sound too desperate. “Don’t make me wait a day more.”
Before she could respond the waiter began to clear the table. He promised to return with the dessert cart.
“The what?” John snorted. “A dessert cart? In this place? Is that a joke?”
“Who knows?” Her laugh was fashionably thin.
The chef stepped into the alley and lit a cigarette. She stood for a moment as if it were any other night, and then she tipped her hat at the van. This time, a key turned in the ignition.
The dessert cart, with its overlarge mahogany cabinet and brass fixtures, was completely out of place in the shadowy den. The waiter wiped his brow as it rattled to a halt in front of Rose.
“What the hell,” said John, eyeing cakes and crystal glasses with cubed gelatin.
“Our special tonight is blackout cake,” announced the waiter. “It’s made with a blend of three European chocolates. The chef recommends it.”
“Mmmm,” said Rose and her lips tickled. “I’m tempted, but ...”
Then on cue, the waiter snapped his fingers and the lights were cut.
For a moment the restaurant was dark and still. John was ready to shout a string of profanities when suddenly a wave of chaos broke, overturning chairs and smashing china against the hardwood floors. Footsteps shelled the room as the restaurant’s posh crowd stumbled for the exits. A woman screamed.
“Rose?” John jumped to his feet. He searched his blazer for a lighter. At the first flicker, the overhead lights sputtered back on.
“Regular or decaf?” The blonde from the bar sat in Rose’s seat holding two silver coffee pots. John blinked and starred into cleavage, trying somehow to reorient himself. He and the blonde were the only people in the room. “Where the hell is Rose?”
“Sit down, John.” She poured a cup of decaf as he followed her instruction. “Rose called things off last week.” From an overturned slice of cake she salvaged a strawberry garnish, the perfect stopper for his gaping jaw.
He dodged the strawberry and grabbed her wrist. “How do you know my name?”
“Hmm? Didn’t quite catch that.”
“I said: How-do-you-know-my-name? And how did you know that Rose dumped me last week?”
“It’s my business to know.” She twisted from his grip and gestured to the envelope, perfectly centered on a dessert plate in front of him. His name stared up at him in bold script.
As he opened the envelope, eyeing the blonde and searching the room for answers, the glittering diamond fell to the table. Dear Mr. Graves, the letter began. We regret to inform you that your engagement to our client, Rose Glamorgan, has been terminated. He read the line again.
“What? This had better be some kind of joke. I’m a partner at Carson, Crabtree, Davidson, Davis, Graves, Graves, and…” John looked up. The blonde was gone, but she’d left her card.
Clean Breaks, Inc.
In the alley behind the restaurant, a dessert cart rolled into the back of a black van. The driver met the chef on the back steps to hand over a thick roll of cash and offer a cigarette.
“Nice touch.” The chef accepted the cigarette and looked over her shoulder. “Better hurry.”
Soon the black van was stealing through darkness and mist to an industrial park at the edge of the city.
Wow! This will strike a chord with women everywhere, Allison.
I love the line "and his hands detoured to his own dark curls". And, " apologies always made it harder to pretend that nothing had happened". You so perfectly capture their denial and narcissism and shallowness. I want to read more.
I love chick-lit this would be one I would definitely read. Let me know when the book is published!
A big dream and a big compliment. Thanks, Julie. Let's stay in touch.
This is a wonderful, engaging story. The characters are rich and interesting, and some a little hideous :) The idea is ingenious. I want more!!!!