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Breathing Room
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Avon, 2003


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Chapter One

Dr. Isabel Favor prized neatness. During the week she wore exquisitely tailored black suits with tasteful leather pumps and a strand of pearls at her throat. On weekends she favored tidy sweater sets or silk shells, always in a neutral palette. A well-cut bob and an assortment of expensive beauty products generally tamed her blond hair's inclination to rearrange itself into disobedient curls. If that failed, she resorted to narrow velvet headbands.

She wasn't beautiful, but her evenly spaced light brown eyes sat exactly where they should, and her forehead rose in proportion to the rest of her face. Her lips were a shade too lavish, so she camouflaged them with nude-toned lipstick and dotted foundation on her nose to mute an unruly splash of freckles. Good eating habits kept her complexion creamy and her figure slender and healthy, although she would have preferred slimmer hips. In nearly every respect she was an orderly woman, the exception being a slightly uneven right thumbnail. While she no longer bit it to the quick, it was markedly shorter than her other nails, and nibbling at its edges remained the only habit from her very untidy childhood that she'd never entirely been able to conquer.

As the lights in the Empire State Building went on outside her office windows, Isabel tucked her thumb inside her fist to resist temptation. Lying on her art deco desk was that morning's issue of Manhattan's favorite tabloid. The feature article had festered inside her all day, but she'd been too busy to brood. Now it was brooding time.

America's Diva of Self-Help is Driven, Demanding,
and Difficult

The former administrative assistant to well-known self-help author and lecturer Dr. Isabel Favor says her employer is the boss from hell. “She's a total control freak,” declares Teri Mitchell, who resigned from her position last week....

“She didn't resign,” Isabel pointed out. “I fired her after I found two months' worth of fan mail she didn't bother to open.” Her thumbnail crept to her teeth. “And I'm not a control freak.”

“Coulda fooled me.” Carlota Mendoza emptied a brass wastebasket into the receptacle on her cleaning cart. “You're also -- what was those other things she said -- driven and demanding? Sí, those, too.”

“I am not. Get the top of those light fixtures, will you?”

“Do I look like I got a ladder with me? And stop biting your nails.”

Isabel tucked away her thumb. “I have standards, that's all. Unkindness is a flaw. Stinginess, envy, greed -- all flaws. But am I any of those things?”

“There's a bag of candy bars hidden in the backa your bottom drawer, but my English isn't too good, so maybe I don' understand this greed stuff.”

“Very funny.” Isabel didn't believe in eating her feelings, but it had been a horrible day, so she slid open her emergency drawer, pulled out two Snickers bars, and tossed one to Carlota. She'd simply put in extra time with her yoga tapes tomorrow morning.

Carlota caught the candy bar and leaned against her cart to tear it open. “Just outta curiosity...you ever wear jeans?”

“Jeans?” Isabel smooshed the chocolate against the roof of her mouth, taking a moment to savor it before she replied. “Well, I used to.” She set down the candy bar and rose from the desk. “Here, give me that.” She grabbed Carlota's dust cloth, kicked off her pumps, and tugged up the skirt of her Armani suit so she could climb onto the couch to reach a wall sconce.

Carlota sighed. “You're gonna tell me again, aren't you, about how you put yourself through college cleaning houses?”

“And offices and restaurants and factories.” Isabel used her index finger to get between the scrollwork. “I waited tables all through graduate school, washed dishes -- oh, I hated that job. While I wrote my dissertation, I ran errands for lazy rich people.”

“What you are now, except without the lazy part.”

Isabel smiled and moved on to the top of a picture frame. “I'm trying to make a point. With hard work, discipline, and prayer, people can make their dreams come true.”

“If I wanted to hear all this, I'da bought a ticket to one of your lectures.”

“Yet here I am giving you my wisdom for free.”

“Lucky me. You done yet? 'Cause I got other offices to clean tonight.”

Isabel stepped down from the couch, handed over the dust cloth, then rearranged the cleaning bottles on the top of the cart so Carlota wouldn't have to reach so far for the ones she needed. “Why did you ask about jeans?”

“Just trying to picture it in my mind.” Carlota popped the rest of the Snickers into her mouth. “All the time you look ritzy, like you don't know what a toilet is, let alone how to clean one.”

“I have to maintain an image. I wrote Four Cornerstones of a Favorable Life when I was only twenty-eight. If I hadn't dressed conservatively, no one would have taken me seriously.”

“You're what, sixty-two now? You need jeans.”

“I just turned thirty-four, and you know it.”

“Jeans and a pretty red blouse, one of them tight ones to show off your boobs. And some really high heels.”

“Speaking of hookers, did I tell you those two ladies who hang out by the alley showed up at the new job program yesterday?”

“Those whores'll be back on the street by next week. I don' know why you waste your time with them.”

“Because I like them. They're hard workers.” Isabel kicked back in her chair, forcing herself to concentrate on the positive instead of that humiliating newspaper article. “The Four Cornerstones work for everybody, from streetwalkers to saints, and I have thousands of testimonials to prove it.”

Carlota snorted and...



Excerpted from Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Copyright © 2003 by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.









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