“I will.” Briana Olsen, a willowy Scandinavian beauty, mounted the scale.
“One hundred and twenty.” Portia noted the weight on her chart. “You've picked up a pound since last month, but with your height, that's not a problem. Your manicure, though…” She gestured toward the chipped mocha polish on Briana's index finger. “Honestly, Briana, how many times do I have to tell you? Appearances are everything. Get it fixed. Inez, you're next.”
Inez's extra pounds were a foregone conclusion, but she had fabulous skin, a marvelous touch with makeup, and a way of putting clients at ease. Besides, the reception desk was high enough to cover the worst of her chub. “If you ever want to get another husband…”
“I know, I know,” Inez said. “One of these days I'll get serious.”
Kiki, always a team player, took the heat off her. “My turn,” she chirped. Flipping her silky black hair over one shoulder, she stepped on the scale.
“One hundred and two pounds,” Portia noted. “Excellent.”
“It's a lot easier when you're Asian,” SuSu said sullenly. “Asian women are small-boned. I'm Jewish.”
As she reminded them at every weigh-in. But SuSu had a degree from Brown and connections to some of the wealthiest families on the North Shore. With her great hair—incredible caramel highlights—and her infallible eye for fashion, she radiated a Jennifer Aniston kind of sex appeal. Unfortunately, she didn't have Aniston's body. Portia gestured toward the scale. “Let's put you out of your misery.”
SuSu balked. “I want to go on record. I find this demeaning and insulting.”
“Possibly. But it's also for your own good, so up you go.”
She reluctantly climbed on. Portia noted the number with a sigh. “One hundred and twenty-seven pounds.” Unlike Inez, SuSu had no desk to hide behind. She was out in the clubs representing Power Matches. “Everybody else, back to work. SuSu, we have to talk.”
SuSu hooked a lock of that gleaming hair behind her ear and looked sullen. Kiki shot her a sympathetic glance then filed out with the others. SuSu picked up her black Banana Republic sheath and held it in front of her. “This is discriminatory and illegal.”
“My lawyer disagrees, and the employment contract you signed is clear. We talked about this before I hired you, remember? Personal appearance is paramount in this business, and I put my money where my standards are. No one offers the bonuses and benefits that I do. In my mind that means I deserve to be a little demanding.”
“But I'm the best associate you have. I want to be judged by my work, not by how much I weigh.”
“Then grow a penis.” SuSu still didn't understand that Portia had their best interests at heart. “Did you even try?”
“How tall are you?” Portia knew the answer, but she wanted SuSu to come to terms with this herself.
“Five feet four.”
“Five feet four and one hundred twenty-seven pounds.” She leaned against the hard glass ridge of her desktop. “I'm four inches taller. Let's see how much I weigh.” Ignoring the resentment in SuSu's eyes, she slipped off her shoes and sweater, dropped the pearls on her desk, and stepped on the scale. “One hundred and twenty-two. I'm up a bit. Oh, well. No carbs for me tonight.” She stepped back into her shoes. “Do you see how easy it is? If I don't like what I see on the scale, I cut back.”
SuSu collapsed on the couch, her eyes filling with tears. “I'm not you.”
Women who cried on the job reinforced every negative stereotype about females and the workplace, but SuSu hadn't developed the hard shell of experience, and Portia knelt at her side, trying to make her understand. “You're a terrific worker, SuSu, and you have a great future. Don't let obesity stand in your way. Studies show that overweight women receive fewer job promotions and make less money. It's one more way the business world is stacked against us. But at least our weight is something we can control.”
SuSu regarded her mulishly. “One twenty-seven isn't obese.”
“No, but it's not perfect, is it? And perfection is what we all need to strive for. Now go into my bathroom and take a few minutes to pull yourself together. Then get back to work.”
“No!” Red-faced, SuSu leaped to her feet. “No! I do a good job for you, and I don't have to put up with this. I'm quitting.”
“I hate working for you! Nobody can ever live up to your expectations. Well, I don't care anymore. You might be rich and successful, but you don't have a life. Everybody knows that, and I feel sorry for you.”
The words stung, but Portia didn't flinch. “I have a very good life,” she said coolly. “And I won't apologize for demanding excellence. Obviously, you're not prepared to give it, so clear out your desk.” She walked to the door and held it open.
SuSu was crying and furious, but she didn't have the nerve to say more. Clutching her dress in front of her, she rushed from the office. Portia closed the door carefully, making sure it didn't slam, then leaned back and shut her eyes. SuSu's angry words had struck home. By the age of forty-two, Portia had expected to have everything she wanted, but despite all the money she'd made and the accolades she'd received, the pride of accomplishment eluded her. She had dozens of friends, but no soul-deep friendships, and she had a failed marriage. How could that have happened when she'd waited so long and chosen so carefully?
Carleton had been her perfect match—a power match— urbane, wealthy, and successful. They'd been one of Chicago's A-list couples, invited to all the best parties, chairing an important benefit. The marriage should have worked, but it had barely lasted a year. Portia would never forget what he'd said when he'd left. “I'm exhausted, Portia… I'm too worried about having my dick cut off to get a good night's sleep.”
Too bad she hadn't done just that because, three weeks later, he'd moved in with a bubble-headed twenty-three-year-old event planner who had breast implants and a giggle.
Portia splashed half a bottle of Pellegrino into one of the Villeroy & Boch goblets Inez kept by her desk. Maybe someday SuSu would understand what a mistake she'd made by not taking advantage of Portia's willingness to mentor her. Or maybe not. Portia wasn't exactly drowning in thank-you notes from either former employees or the women she tried to mentor.
Heath Champion's file lay on her desk, and she sat down to study it. But as she gazed at the folder, she saw the gold teapot wallpaper in the kitchen of the Terre Haute house where she'd grown up. Her working-class parents had been content with their lives—the discount store clothes, the imitation wood end tables, the mass-produced oil paintings bought in a famous artists' sale at the Holiday Inn. But Portia had always craved more. She'd used her allowance to buy magazines like Vogue and Town & Country. She'd posted photographs of beautiful houses and elegant furniture on her bedroom bulletin board. In junior high school, she'd terrified her parents with the crying jags she'd thrown if she didn't get an A on a test. Throughout her childhood, she'd ignored the fact that she'd inherited her father's eyes and coloring and pretended she was a victim of one of those freakish hospital mix-ups.
Straightening in her chair, she took another sip of Pelle-grino and turned her attention back to where it belonged, finding Heath Champion the perfect wife. She might have lost two prominent clients and an equally prominent husband, but she wouldn't fail again. Nothing and no one would keep her from making this match.
Match Me If You Can
The deep male voice rumbled its displeasure into the phone. “I've got a call coming in. You have thirty seconds.”
“Not enough time,” Annabelle replied. “We need to sit down together so I can get a more specific idea of what you're looking for.” She didn't waste her breath asking him to complete the questionnaire she'd spent so many hours perfecting. The only way she'd get the information she needed was to pull it out of him.
“Let's put it this way,” he retorted. “My future wife's idea of a good time is sitting in Soldier Field in January with the -wind blowing in off the lake at thirty knots. She can feed half a dozen college athletes a spaghetti dinner with no warning and play eighteen holes of golf from the men's tees without embarrassing herself. She's sexy as hell, knows how to dress, and thinks fart jokes are funny. Anything else?”
“It's just so darned hard to find women who've had lobot-omies these days. Still, if that's what you want…”
A muffled snort. Whether it was displeasure or laughter, she couldn't tell. “Would tomorrow morning be convenient?” she asked, chirpy as one of the cheerleaders he'd undoubtedly dated by the gross in his college playing days.