Are You Going to the Clementes’?
Lally Chandler Clemente had come back to San Carlino with magnificent style.
“Lally’s back!” The word spread like canyon fire through salons and spas and the ecru-toned waiting rooms of the city’s high-end dermatologists. It crackled over cell phones and ricocheted across thirty-two-dollar luncheon entrées. San Carlino society, which had begun settling in for the more relaxed pace of summer, began primping itself for a second social whirl.
Fabulous Lally! She’d been a Bond girl in her twenties (opposite Roger Moore in one of the late eighties flicks), then married to a succession of famous men—a rock star! a cinematographer! a game show host!—before waltzing off with local billionaire David Clemente (CEO of the Clemente Group International and currently tied for number 163 on the Forbes “400 Richest in America” list). The couple had married in mid-March, then embarked on a lavish honeymoon trip, the details of which had preceded the newlyweds back to town—a trek around the world via the Clemente private jet and an oceangoing ketch once owned by the late prince Rainier of Monaco, as well as by more exotic forms of transportation: camels through the Draa Valley; some sort of customized junk to navigate the tricky backwaters of the Yangtze. They had toured the Pyramids and the Parthenon and gazed with wonder at Angkor Wat, and they’d been wined and dined in the villas and palazzos of wealthy acquaintances on three continents.
And knowing Lally, her old friends sniggered, they were sure she had managed to shop up a storm—a speculation confirmed by the blizzard of boxes and baggage that had been FedExed back in advance.
The Clementes arrived home in the middle of June—the time of year on the California coast when thick fog billows in from the Pacific each day at dawn, stoppering the sky with a gray cottony quilt, retreating for only a few hours of sickly sunshine in the late afternoon. June gloom! But there was no gloom on the Clemente estate. Within a week after settling in, Lally and David threw open the doors of their baronial mansion and began to entertain. Select little dinners and butt-up-against-butt crushes. Coffees and cocktails and elegant high teas. The invitations flew and flurried onto the city like New Year’s Eve confetti. “Are you going to that thingy of the Clementes’?” became the first question on every Zyderm-plumped pair of lips.
But, as everyone quickly came to realize, all these “thingies”—the dinners and crushes and high teas—were actually in the service of a higher purpose. David Clemente also presided over the Clemente Foundation, which was endowed with a billion dollars (give or take a few hundred million), and he’d appointed his new bride executive director. Word had it that the couple had combined their honeymoon with a humanitarian mission and that the new, serious Lally had inspected sub-Saharan irrigation projects with the same verve she used to apply to picking out the perfect Hermès handbag; that she now courted Carmelite nuns working for famine relief as assiduously as she’d once pursued A-list actors for her dinner table.
So everyone who attended an affair at the Clementes’ knew to bring along a checkbook, because by the end of the morning, afternoon, or evening, they’d be hit up for a serious donation.
dCaitlin Latch arrived at the Clemente estate with her checkbook securely tucked into the bottom of her bag, a knockoff Louis Vuitton monogram tote.
It was just after seven on a Thursday evening. The affair she was attending was a largish wine-and-finger-foods bash “in honor of Suraya Burab, founder of the Afghan Female Literacy Project.” Caitlin considered this a marvelous cause. Educating oppressed women was something she supported wholeheartedly. She would love to contribute generously to it.
Problem was, her checking balance currently stood at minus seventy- six dollars and eleven cents, and her savings account was zilch. Meaning sometime during the speeches, after the elaborate thank-yous, and just before the appeal to cough up an additional donation, she’d have to try to melt inconspicuously away.
The Clemente estate occupied nineteen breathtaking ocean-view acres in Colina Linda, the swanky village nestled like a crown jewel on San Carlino’s northern crest. Caitlin snaked up the long, crushed pink stone drive, her rattletrap Volvo wagon sandwiched between a Mercedes sedan and a Range Rover. She surrendered her car to one of the pack of mauve-jacketed valets who swarmed it and then she entered the foyer of the enormous main house.
It had been nearly eight months since she’d last been here, and she was immediately struck by a sense of both familiarity and strangeness. Nothing much had changed—nothing, that is, except her relationship to it all, and that had changed decisively. And there was that awful Clemente butler, a terrifyingly haughty man named Eduardo. For one dreadful moment, she was certain he was going to stop her: You’ve got no business being here! I’ll have to ask you to leave! But if he even recognized her, he gave no indication: His heavy-lidded gaze slid past her without even a flicker.
Another mauve-jacketed functionary checked her name from a digital list. “Follow the arrows,” he barked.
Fluorescent orange arrows were taped to the walls, pointing the way down a spacious hall. Kind of tacky, Caitlin thought. Not quite what she’d expected from the haut stylish Lally.
She followed them dutifully into a cavernous room she’d never been in before—the ballroom, she guessed you’d call it—all butterscotch and rose, with high, coffered ceilings and soaring rectangular multipaned windows, the walls hung with the huge contemporary canvases David famously collected. It was already packed, people spilling out the tall French doors into the gardens. Women outnumbered men, Caitlin detected in a glance. This was almost always true in San Carlino: The city had unattached females the way Venice had pigeons—in huge, pecking, and almost identically arrayed flocks that gathered in the most advantageous places. The only singular thing about this particular flock was that a sprinkling of them sported Islamic head scarves.
Caitlin spotted Lally immediately. Hell, you couldn’t miss her: Lally towered over six feet tall in the stiletto Jimmy Choos she favored. Flanked by the guests of honor, a gaunt elderly lady in a sari and a blooming young woman in a scarf, she was constantly in motion: She kissed, waved, laughed, hugged, vigorously pumped hands. Her husky voice blared like a train station announcement above the social babble: “Nice to see you! So very nice to see you! It’s so very good of you to come!”
Caitlin hesitated. When you were attempting to move in social circles superior to your own, it was crucial never to give the impression that you were in over your head. This, she had discovered, was rule number one. Look and act as though you belonged, and you could pretty much soar along with the current. But one slipup and chances were you’d be savagely pecked apart.
So okay, she was pretty confident in the way she looked. Her teal blue DKNY pants suit (eighty percent off retail at the outlet in Camarillo!) was properly understated and deemphasized her spectacular figure. The Vuitton bag might be a fake, but it was a really good one— only the sleazy vomit green lining would give away its counterfeit status, and no one was likely to get a look at that.
But here was her real dilemma: What was the proper etiquette for attending a function at the home of newlyweds when several months before the wedding you’d been sleeping with the groom?
She pretended to examine a massive painting that looked like Chinese writing—slashes of black on a white background—while she puzzled the problem. She’d had a brief fling with David Clemente the previous autumn, shortly after he’d separated from his first wife and before he’d astonished the entire town by taking up with Lally—so it wasn’t as if she’d gone behind Lally’s back or anything. Really, it was no big deal. And Lally obviously didn’t hold it against her—she’d even invited her to the wedding. True, there’d been seven hundred other guests, but it still indicated Lally harbored no hard feelings.
And, Caitlin reflected, nobody else would even remember that she and David had ever met.
“I suppose you’re thinking all of this might’ve been yours,” cackled a voice at her ear.
She whirled. Shit! It was Janey Martinez.
In a city that teemed with moneyed and snobbish divorcées, Caitlin considered Janey about the worst. Hers was the type of snobbery that arose from old wealth—the sort that made her take it for granted she was superior to you, despite her thunder thighs, and a grate-on-your- sinuses personality, and an ex-husband serving time in minimum security for some kind of Internet fraud.
“The big fish that got away,” Janey added with an unpleasant smirk.
Caitlin forced a breezy laugh. “Oh, Janey, of course not. David and I were never anything more than friends.”
Janey’s smirk stretched wider. “Oh yeah, I’m sure. The very best of friends.” She tugged at the hem of her Chanel jacket, which had the effect of widening the V opening, exposing a bit of disconcertingly prodigious cleavage. Janey had been a grade A frump, all oatmeal- colored cardigans and eyebrows that scraggled into a unibrow, until Lally had taken her under her wing and performed some radical makeover action. She was now waxed and streaked and Botoxed into what would be a semblance of chic, except for one peculiar thing—in the process, Janey seemed to have acquired a gargantuan new pair of tits. D cup at least. Possibly double D.
Could Lally really have suggested those? Caitlin wondered. Almost impossible to believe.
“So are you still working at that college rape place?” Janey pursued.
“The Rape Crisis Center? No, the university consolidated it with another department, and my job was cut.”
“What a shame. And yet here you are generously supporting one of Lally’s pet causes. Good for you. It must be quite a sacrifice.”
“Not really,” Caitlin said crisply. “I give to a lot of charities.”
“Well, we all know you support thrift shops.” Janey gave a nasty giggle.
Caitlin reddened. She knew precisely what Janey was referring to: Caitlin had worn to Lally’s wedding a practically new Prada chiffon she’d scored at the Pioneer Daughters Resale Shoppe on Village Road, only to have Janey gleefully point out it was one of Lally’s own cast- offs. It had been one of the most humiliating moments of her life.
Janey’s attention suddenly flicked to the center of the room. “There he is!” she muttered, wheeling abruptly, and made a dash to a man emerging through the milling crowd, two overfilled glasses of wine balanced precariously in his hands.
A remarkably good-looking man, Caitlin noticed, tall and lean, with bronzy hair flopping into thick-lashed eyes and the kind of humorous, long-cornered mouth that made you think irresistibly about kissing. He glanced at Caitlin and gave a quizzical smile, causing a flutter kick of excitement in the pit of her stomach.
Then Janey snatched up one of the glasses he was holding, linked a proprietary arm through his, and steered him efficiently out of sight.
Who was he? Caitlin wondered. And why in heaven’s name was he with someone as singularly unappetizing as Jane Kern Martinez?
But of course she knew why. They belonged to the same tribe. The boarding school and sailing club and never-think-twice-about-price tribe. The bottom line was, it didn’t matter if you looked like one of your purebred Shar-Peis or you possessed the personality of one of your Rottweilers, being a member of the tribe was the principal thing that counted.
She was suddenly swept by a bitter feeling of rejection—the geeky girl left on the sidelines at the high school dance. There was a trick she’d picked up some years ago from an article in Cosmo: When you were feeling insecure, you repeated to yourself, “I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad.” Not only did it act like a bit of self-hypnotism, reinforcing your confidence, but when you ended with a stress on the word glad, it left your lips curved in exactly the right pleased-to- be-here smile. She mouthed it now: “I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad”; and then she threw back her shoulders and arched her back, and plunged into the fray.
The milling crowd propelled her out into a garden that formed a crescent around a water lily–strewn reflecting pool. She fought her way through the crush at a bar positioned under a bower of old-growth olives. “Chardonnay, please!” she shouted.
A glass of red wine was thrust in her hand. “Excuse me, I asked for white,” she called to the retreating bartender. A pink-faced man muscled in front of her, roaring for a Glenfiddich on the rocks. With a sigh, Caitlin turned with the glass of red and began edging back through the packed bodies.
Thank God, a friend! Or at least someone she had a friendly acquaintance with—Jessica DiSantini, who used to be a lawyer, was divorced from a brain surgeon and was now romantically involved with a world-famous composer. No question of whether or not she fit in with the tribe, Caitlin thought wryly.
She lifted her free hand to wave. Someone jostled her from behind, and wine from her glass splashed onto the silk shantung sleeve of a woman beside her.
“You clumsy idiot, look what you did!” the woman snarled. “This is brand-new Saint Laurent!”
“I’m so sorry!” Caitlin exclaimed.
“You’ve ruined it!” The woman glared at her. Others were gawking with contempt or grins of snide amusement.
“I’m really very, very sorry,” Caitlin muttered again. I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad! Her lips gelled in a pleasant curve, and she slunk quickly back into the house.
dJessica DiSantini, who had just stepped away from the bar with the San Pellegrino water she’d virtuously asked for instead of the merlot she craved, observed this little mishap with a great deal of delight— not over poor Caitlin Latch’s embarrassment, but because the despoiled shantung sleeve belonged to Kiki Morrison, and Kiki was (a) the wife of Stu Morrison, a kill-the-earth shopping mall developer who’d bulldozed most of the few remaining orange groves in the county; (b) the bossy and officious chairwoman of half the charities- that-counted committees in town; and (c) a bony-assed slut whom, several years back at a yacht club Christmas party, Jessica had stumbled upon vigorously tongue-kissing Jessica’s then husband, Michael, in the staff ladies’ room.
Excerpted from To Keep a Husband by Lindsay Graves. Copyright © 2007 by Lindsay Graves. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.