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Lipstick Jungle
by Candace Bushnell
Hyperion, 2005


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September is glorious in Manhattan, and this year was no exception. The temperature was a perfect seventy-five degrees, the humidity low, and the sky a cloudless blue. Coming back to the city from a restless summer, the weather is always a reminder that spectacular things can happen and that greatness is just around the corner. The air buzzes with excitement, and in one day, the city goes from sleepy to frenzied. There’s the familiar crawl of traffic on Sixth and Park Avenues, the air hums with cell phone conversations, and the restaurants are full. For the rest of the country, Labor Day marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the school year. But in New York, the real year begins a few days later, with that venerable tradition known as Fashion Week.

On Sixth Avenue behind the Public Library, Bryant Park was transformed into a wonderland of white tents where dozens of fashion shows would take place. Black carpeted steps led up to French doors, and all week, these steps were lined with students and fans hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite designers or stars, with Japanese photographers (whom everyone agreed were more polite), with paparazzi, with security men with headsets and walkie-talkies, with the young P.R. girls (always in black, sporting concerned expressions), and with all manner of well-heeled attendees shouting into cell phones for their cars. The curb was lined with black town cars three vehicles deep, as if some terribly important state funeral were about to take place. But inside the tents, life was at its most glamorous and exciting.

There were always five or six big shows at which attendance was required to secure one’s place in the social pecking order (or to simply remind everyone that you still exist), and the very first of these events was the Victory Ford show, held at seven p.m. on the first Thursday evening of Fashion Week. By six forty-five, the scene inside the tents was one of controlled pandemonium — there were six camera crews, a hundred or so photographers, and a throng of fashionistas, socialites, buyers, and lesser stars, eagerly awaiting the show with the anticipation of an opening night crowd. A young socialite who was cradling a small dachshund in her arms was hit in the back of the head by a video camera; someone else’s Jimmy Choo slingback was trod on by one of the P.R. girls who nearly ran her over in order to get to someone more important. Those hoping to get a glimpse of a famous movie star were thwarted, however, because movie stars (and important political people, like the mayor) never went in the front entrance. They were escorted by security to a secret side entrance that led to the backstage area. And in this world, where life is a series of increasingly smaller circles of exclusivity (or Dante’s circles of hell, depending on how you look at it), hanging out backstage before the show began was the only place to be.

In the back corner of this area, hidden behind a rack of clothing, stood Victory Ford herself, surreptitiously smoking a cigarette. Victory had quit smoking years ago, but the cigarette was an excuse to have a moment to herself. For three minutes, everyone would leave her alone, giving her a few seconds to focus and prepare for the next sixty minutes, in which she had to attend to the last-minute details of the show, schmooze with her celebrity clients, and give several interviews to the print and television press. She frowned, taking a drag on the cigarette, wanting to savor this one moment of peace. She’d been working eighteen-hour days in the four weeks before the show, and yet, this next crucial hour would pass in what felt like a second. She dropped the cigarette butt into a half-empty glass of champagne.

She looked at her watch — an elegant stainless-steel Baume & Mercier with a row of tiny diamonds along the face — and took a deep breath. It was six-fifty. By eight p.m., when the last model had completed her turn on the runway and Victory went out to take her bow, she would know her fate for the coming year. She would be either on top of the game; in the middle and surviving; or on the bottom, trying to regain her position. She knew she was taking a risk with this show, and she also knew she hadn’t had to. Any other designer would have continued along the same lines that had made them so successful for the past three years, but Victory couldn’t do that. It was too easy. Tonight she hoped to show the industry a new side to her talents, a new way to look at how women might dress. She was, she thought wryly, either a hero or a fool.

She stepped out from behind the rack of clothing, and was immediately accosted by three of her acolytes, bright young women in their twenties who worked almost as tirelessly as she did. They were wearing clothing from the new collection, held clipboards and headsets, and had panic-stricken expressions.

Victory smiled calmly. “Lila,” she said, addressing one of the girls, “are the drummers in place?”

“Yes, and Bonnie Beecheck, the gossip columnist, is freaking out — she says she has ear trouble and we have to move her seat.”

Victory nodded. Bonnie Beecheck was about a million years old and was like one of the evil witches in a Grimm’s fairy tale — no one liked her, but not to invite her would guarantee bad press for the rest of the year. “Switch her seat with Mauve Binchely. Mauve’s so desperate to be seen she won’t mind where she sits. But do it quickly, before anyone notices.”

Lila nodded and ran off, while the two remaining young women vied for her attention. “ ‘Extra’ wants to do an interview...”

“Keith Richards is coming and we don’t have a seat...”

“And four pairs of shoes are missing...”

Victory took care of these problems with dispatch. “ ‘Extra’ gets two minutes, escort Keith backstage and keep him here until the last minute. The shoes are in a box under the makeup table.” Composing her face, she approached the “Extra” camera crew, who were standing in the middle of a swirl of well-wishers, all of whom wanted to say hello. She moved through the crowd with graceful expertise, feeling as if she were floating above her body, stopping to kiss a cheek here, engaging in a few seconds of brief repartee there, and shaking the hand of someone’s solemn and awestruck ten-year-old daughter, whose mother claimed she was already a huge fan.

I hope she’s still a fan after the show, Victory thought sardonically, allowing herself a brief moment of insecurity.

In the next second, however, the “Extra” crew was on top of her, and a young woman with frizzy red hair was shoving a microphone in her face. Victory looked at the girl’s expression and braced herself. Six years of doing interviews had taught her to read an interviewer instantly as friend or foe, and while most of the entertainment press were as charming and gracious as the most seasoned celebrity, every now and then you got a bad apple. Victory could tell by the girl’s forced, disdainful smile that she had an ax to grind. Sometimes the reason was simply a case of having just been dumped by a boyfriend, but often it ran deeper: A general feeling of being pissed off at the world because it wasn’t as easy to get ahead in New York as one had been led to believe.

“Victory,” the young woman said assertively, adding, “you don’t mind if I call you Victory, do you?” The deliberately cultured accent told Victory the girl probably considered herself above fashion. “You’re forty-two years old ...”

“Forty-three,” Victory said, correcting her. “I still have birthdays.” She was right — beginning an interview with the age question was an act of open hostility.

“And you’re not married and you don’t have children. Is it really worth giving up marriage and children for your career?”

Victory laughed. Why was it that no matter what a woman accomplished in the world, if she hadn’t married and had children, she was still considered a failure? The girl’s question was completely inappropriate, given the circumstances, and profoundly disrespectful, for what could this girl know about the vagaries of life and how she’d struggled and made all kinds of sacrifices to get to this point — an internationally recognized fashion designer with her own company —an accomplishment that was probably far greater than what this unpleasant young woman would ever achieve. But Victory knew better than to lose her temper. If she did, it would end up on TV and probably in a few of the gossip columns.

“Every morning when I wake up,” Victory began, telling a story she’d told to interviewers many times before (but still, none of them seemed to be able to get it), “I look around and I listen. I’m alone, and I hear ... silence.” The girl gave her a sympathetic look. “But wait,” Victory said, holding up one finger. “I hear ... silence. And slowly but surely a happiness spreads through my body. A joy. And I thank God that somehow, I’ve managed to remain free. Free to enjoy my life and my career.”

The girl laughed nervously. She tugged on her hair.

“So much of being a woman is telling lies, isn’t it?” Victory asked. “It’s telling yourself that you want the things that society tells you you should want. Women think that survival depends on conformity. But for some women, conformity is death. It’s a death to the soul. The soul,” she said, “is a precious thing. When you live a lie, you damage the soul.”

The girl looked at Victory in surprise, and then, frowning in agreement, began nodding vigorously as they were suddenly interrupted by one of Victory’s assistants, who was talking excitedly into her headset. “Jenny Cadine is here. Her ETA is three minutes ...”

Wendy Healy pushed her glasses up her nose and stepped out of the Cadillac Escalade, looking around at the throng of paparazzi, who were now surrounding the SUV. No matter how many times she’d been in this situation, it never ceased to amaze her how they always managed to find the movie star. They could smell stardom like bloodhounds. Despite all her years in the movie business, she still couldn’t understand how the stars handled the attention, and knew she’d never be able to (or more importantly, want to) deal with it herself. Of course, in her position, she didn’t have to. She was the president of Parador Pictures, one of the most powerful women in the movie business, but to the photographers, she might as well have been someone’s assistant.

Wendy turned back to the SUV, unconsciously tugging on her black Armani jacket. She lived in black Armani separates, and, she suddenly realized, hadn’t actually gone shopping in two years. This was probably inexcusable, given that one of her best friends was the fashion designer Victory Ford. She should have dressed up for this event, but she’d come from her office, and with her job and three children and a husband who was sometimes a child himself, something had to give, and that was fashion. And the gym. And healthy eating. But what the hell. A woman couldn’t do everything. The most important thing was that she was there, and that, as she promised Victory months ago, she’d brought Jenny Cadine.

The crowd of photographers pushed closer to the SUV, as several security men stepped forward, trying to hold back the eager horde, which seemed to be growing larger by the second. Jenny’s personal publicist, a surly-looking young woman who was known by one name only — Domino — emerged from the SUV. Domino was only twenty-six, but had the kind of don’t-mess-with-me attitude one generally associates with male muscle-heads, accompanied by the kind of gravelly voice that suggested she ate nails for breakfast. “They said, ‘Get back!’ ” she barked, staring down the crowd.

And then Jenny Cadine appeared. She was, Wendy thought, even more jaw-droppingly beautiful in person than she was in photographs, if such a thing were possible. Photographs always picked up her slightly asymmetrical features, and the fact that her nose was a bit bulbous on the tip. But in person, these flaws were erased by an intangible quality that made it impossible to stop looking at her. It was as if she possessed her own energy source that caused her to be lit from within, and it didn’t hurt that she was five feet nine inches tall, with hair the pale, slightly golden reddish color of not-quite-ripe strawberries.

She smiled at the photographers, while Wendy stood to the side for a moment, watching her. People outside of the business always wondered what it was like to know such a creature, and assumed that envy would make it impossible to be friends. But Wendy had known Jenny for nearly fifteen years, when they’d both been starting out in the business, and despite her money and fame, would never have considered trading places with her. There was something inhuman about Jenny — she was never excessive or arrogant, nor was she rude or egotistical. But there was a remove about her, as if she might not possess a soul. Jenny was one of her stars, and Wendy knew that they were probably as close as Jenny was to anyone. But they weren’t really friends, like the way she was friends with Victory or Nico O’Neilly.

The security guards managed to create a little space in front of them so they could walk the short distance to the opening in the side of the tent. Jenny was wearing a brown pantsuit with slightly flared trouser legs under a neon jacket that was, Wendy decided, one of the coolest outfits she’d ever seen. It was from Victory’s new collection, and Wendy knew that Victory had made it especially for Jenny, and that Jenny had gone to Victory’s studio several times for fittings. But Victory had been so busy in the last three weeks that Wendy hadn’t been able to talk to her about it, or what she thought about Jenny. Still, she could imagine what Vic would say. Screwing up her face like a child, she’d say, “You know, Wen, Jenny’s a great girl. But you can’t really call her ‘nice.’ She’s probably more calculating than we are — maybe even more calculating than Nico.” And then they’d laugh, because they always agreed that Nico was possibly the most calculating woman in town. She was a master, and the brilliant thing about Nico was that you never saw her machinations. All you knew was that suddenly you were dead.

It had been Nico’s idea to get Jenny Cadine to Victory’s fashion show, which was so obvious Wendy had been slightly embarrassed that she hadn’t thought of it herself. “It’s perfect,” Nico said, in that smooth, cool way she had of speaking that made everything that came out of her mouth sound absolutely right. “Jenny Cadine is the most important movie star, and Victory is the most important designer. Besides,” she said, “Jenny mostly wears male designers. I have the feeling she’s a feminist underneath all that gloss, especially after her breakup with Kyle Unger,” she added, naming the action-adventure star who had publicly dumped Jenny on a late-night talk show. “I’d appeal to her feminist side, although I doubt you’ll have to. She doesn’t have great taste in men, but she has excellent taste in clothing.”

Naturally, Nico had been right, and Jenny had jumped at the chance to be dressed by Victory and to attend the fashion show, where her presence would guarantee Victory even more publicity. And now, watching as Jenny smoothly made her way through the gauntlet of photographers (she had a way of acknowledging their presence while appearing completely natural, as if she wasn’t being photographed at all), Wendy hoped that Jenny’s appearance was a sign that Victory’s show would be a success. Although she never would have admitted it to anyone, Wendy was quite superstitious, and for Victory’s sake, was even wearing her good-luck underpants — an embarrassingly tattered pair of large white Fruit-of-the-Looms, which she’d happened to be wearing when one of her movies was nominated for an Oscar for the first time five years ago.

Jenny entered the tent with Wendy following close behind. Dropping her hand to the side, Wendy quickly crossed her fingers. She hoped Victory’s show was huge. No one deserved it more.

Several minutes later, at exactly seven-fifteen, a brand-new black Town Car with tinted windows pulled up in front of the entrance to the tents on Sixth Avenue. A driver in a pin-striped suit with slicked-back dark hair walked around the back of the car and opened the passenger door.

Nico O’Neilly stepped out. Wearing silver pants with a ruffled shirt, topped with a golden-reddish mink jacket that was nearly the same color as her hair, there was no mistaking the fact that Nico O’Neilly was someone significant. From an early age, Nico had been one of those people who exude an air of importance that causes other people to wonder who they are, and at first glance, with her stunning hair and glamorous clothes, one might take her for a movie star. On closer inspection, one saw that Nico wasn’t technically beautiful. But she had done the most with what she had, and as confidence and success create their own kind of beauty in a woman, the general consensus was that Nico O’Neilly was damn good-looking.

She was also extremely precise. Knowing that Victory’s fashion show wouldn’t start until seven-thirty, she had timed her arrival to guarantee that she wouldn’t be late, but would also spend the minimum amount of time waiting for the show to begin. As the editor in chief of Bonfire magazine (and one of the most important women in publishing, according to Time), Nico O’Neilly was guaranteed a front-row seat at any fashion show she might choose to attend. But sitting in those seats, which were inches away from the runway, made one a sitting duck. Photographers and camera crews roamed the runway like pigs hunting for truffles, and any number of people could simply walk up and accost you, with anything from invitations to parties to requests for business meetings, or simply the desire to schmooze. Nico always hated these situations because she just wasn’t good at small talk, unlike Victory, for instance, who within two minutes would be talking to a garage attendant about his children. The result was that people often mistook her for a snob or a bitch, and not possessing the gift of gab, Nico couldn’t explain that this simply wasn’t true. When confronted with the eager, needy face of a stranger, Nico froze, unsure of what they really wanted, convinced that she wasn’t going to be able to give it to them. And yet, when it came to her work and the impersonal, faceless public at large, she was brilliant. She knew what the general public liked — it was the individual public that got her flummoxed.

This was certainly one of her flaws, but at forty-two, she had come to the realization that it was useless to keep battling yourself and far easier to accept that you weren’t perfect. The best thing to do was to minimize uncomfortable situations and move on. And so, checking her watch and seeing that it was now seven-twenty, meaning she’d only have to be in the hot seat for ten minutes, after which everyone’s eyes would be focused on the runway, she started up the stairs.

She was immediately approached by two photographers who appeared to pop out from behind a large urn to take her picture. Ever since she’d become the editor in chief of the venerable (and dusty) Bonfire magazine six years ago, and had turned it into the glossy, pop-culture bible for entertainment, media, and politics, she’d been photographed at every event she attended. At first, uncertain of what to do, she had posed for the photographers, but she’d quickly realized that standing in front of a barrage of flashbulbs while trying to look even remotely natural (or as if she were enjoying it) was never going to be one of her strong suits. On top of that, Nico never wanted to get caught up in the dangerous misapprehension that plagued this town — that you were only someone if you were photographed. She’d seen this happen to too many people in her business. They started thinking they were celebrities themselves, and before you knew it, they were more concerned with being a star than doing the work. And then their concentration started slipping and they got fired and, as had recently happened to a man she knew, had to move to Montana.

Where no one ever heard from him again.

And so, Nico had decided that while she couldn’t avoid the photographers, she didn’t have to pose for them either. Instead, she simply went about her business, acting like the photographers didn’t exist. The result was that in every photograph of Nico O’Neilly, she was always on the go. Walking from the Town Car to the theater, briskly marching down the red carpet, her face usually caught only in profile as she breezed past. Naturally, this made for an uneasy relationship with the press, and for a while, they’d called her a bitch as well. But years of consistent behavior (“Consistency,” Nico always said, “is the handmaiden of success”) had paid off, and now Nico’s refusal to pose was seen as a sort of charming eccentricity, a defining feature of her personality.

She hurried past the two photographers and through the French doors, where more paparazzi were standing behind a velvet rope. “There’s Nico!” someone shouted excitedly. “Nico! Nico O’Neilly!”

It was all so silly, Nico thought, but not really unpleasant. In fact, it was actually heartwarming that they were so happy to see her. Of course, she’d been seeing them for years, and Bonfire had purchased photographs from most of them. She gave them an amused smile as she passed by, and with a little half wave, called out, “Hi guys.”

“Hey Nico, who are you wearing?” called out a hearty woman with short blond hair, who’d probably been photographing the scene for over twenty years.

“Victory Ford,” Nico said.

“I knew it!” the woman said with satisfaction. “She always wears Ford.”

Most of the crowd was already in the Pavilion, the large tent where Victory’s fashion show would take place, so Nico was able to pass effortlessly through the velvet rope. Inside the Pavilion it was a different story, however. A bleacher eight rows high rose nearly to the top of the tent, and directly in front of the runway were more bleachers sequestered by a low metal railing behind which hundreds of photographers stood, jockeying for position. On the runway itself, which was covered in plastic, the scene resembled a giant cocktail party. There was a festive, back-to-school excitement in the air, as people who hadn’t seen each other since the last big party in the Hamptons greeted each other as if they’d been separated for years. The mood was infectious, but Nico looked at the crowd with dismay. How was she ever going to maneuver her way through that?

For a second, she considered leaving, but quickly rejected the idea. Victory Ford was her best friend. She was just going to have to battle her way through the crowd and hope for the best.

As if sensing her distress, a young woman suddenly appeared at her side. “Hi Nico,” she said brightly, as if they were old friends. “Can I show you to your seat?” Nico put on her best party face — a stiff, awkward smile — and handed the girl her invitation. The girl began pushing through the crowd. A photographer held up his camera and took her picture, several people she knew waved eagerly and pushed in to shake hands or air kiss. Security men were barking uselessly at the crowd, trying to get people to take their seats. After several minutes, Nico and her escort arrived in the middle of the runway, where Nico finally spotted her seat. On a white card edged with the whimsical border that was featured on Victory Ford’s label was printed her name, Nico O’Neilly.

Nico sat down gratefully.

Immediately, there was a cluster of photographers in front of her, snapping her picture. She stared ahead to the other side of the runway, which appeared to be much more organized than her section — at least everyone had taken their seats. Both seats on either side of her were still empty. Turning her head, she caught the eye of Lyne Bennett, the cosmetics mogul. The sight of him made Nico smile inwardly. It wasn’t that Lyne didn’t have a good reason to be at a fashion show, especially since cosmetics and perfume and fashion were so intertwined. It was just that Lyne was such a notoriously macho businessman, she couldn’t imagine him having any real interest in women’s clothing. He was probably there to ogle the models, a pastime that few major New York businessmen seemed to be able to resist. He waved, and she raised her program and nodded to him in return.

She sighed and looked impatiently at her watch. It was nearly seven-thirty, and the staff still hadn’t removed the plastic liner from the runway — the signal that the show was about to start. She glanced to her right to see who was seated next to her, and was happy to see that the card read “Wendy Healy,” her other best friend. This was a plus — she hadn’t seen Wendy for at least a month, since the middle of summer, before both of their families took their vacations. Wendy had gone to Maine, which was the new summer hotspot for movie people, so designated because there was nothing to do and it was supposed to be all about nature. Yet Nico guessed that no self-respecting Hollywood insider would be caught dead in a house with less than six bedrooms and at least one or two staff even in the wilds of the Northeast. Nico had taken her own family skiing in Queenstown, New Zealand, which Seymour, her husband, had pointed out was as far away as you could get from civilization without leaving civilization altogether. Nevertheless, they had still managed to run into several acquaintances, which was a reminder that no matter how far you might travel, you could never really get away from New York ...

She fiddled impatiently with the program, guessing that the delay was somehow caused by Jenny Cadine, who was seated on the other side of Wendy. Movie stars seemed to be a necessary evil of modern-day life, she thought, and looking idly at the name card to her left, she suddenly froze.

“Kirby Atwood,” it read.

She quickly turned her head away, feeling dizzy, guilty, excited, and confused all at once. Was this a coincidence? Or deliberate? Did someone know about her and Kirby Atwood? But that was impossible. She certainly hadn’t told anyone, and she couldn’t imagine that Kirby would either. She hadn’t even thought about him for at least a month. But seeing his name now suddenly brought back the memory of that moment in the bathroom at the nightclub Bungalow 8.

That had been at least three months ago, and she hadn’t talked to him or seen him since. Kirby Atwood was a well-known male model, whom she had met at an after-party Bonfire was sponsoring. She’d been standing by herself at the bar, when Kirby had walked over to her and smiled. He was so good-looking, she immediately dismissed him, assuming he’d mistaken her for someone else — someone who could help his career. And then, when she was sitting at the VIP table, looking at her watch and wondering how quickly she could leave without appearing rude, Kirby had sat down next to her. He was really very sweet, and had fetched her a drink, and after talking to him for five minutes, she’d begun thinking about what it might be like to have sex with him. She assumed that Kirby would never be interested, but it was impossible for a woman to have a conversation with a man like Kirby and not desire him. She knew she was on dangerous territory, and not wanting to risk making a fool of herself, got up to go to the bathroom. And Kirby followed her. Right into the bathroom and into the stall!

It was pathetic, but those few minutes in the bathroom stall had been some of the best moments of her life. For weeks after, she kept thinking about it. The way his dark hair looked on his forehead, the exact color of his full lips (beige cherry, with a darker line where the lip met the skin, almost as if he was wearing lip liner), and how those lips had felt on her mouth. Soft and smooth and wet. (Her husband, Seymour, always puckered his mouth and gave her dry little kisses.) Her whole face felt like it was being enveloped in those lips — her legs literally went weak — and she couldn’t believe she could still feel that way. At forty-two! Like a teenager ...

Thankfully, nothing had happened after that. Kirby had given her his phone number, but she’d never called. Having an affair with a male underwear model would be ridiculous. Of course, at least half of the married male executives at Splatch-Verner were having affairs, and most of them barely bothered to cover it up. And she made no secret of the fact that she found their behavior disgusting ...

But what was she going to do now, here in public, on full display in front of half of New York? Should she act like she didn’t know him? But what if he brought it up? Or worse, what if he didn’t remember? Victory, who was still single, would know just how to handle it — she was probably in situations like this all the time. But Nico had been with the same man for over fourteen years, and when you were with one man for that long, you lost your ability to navigate romantic situations with other men.

This is not a romantic situation, she reminded herself sternly. She would say hello to Kirby as if he were a casual acquaintance (which is what he was), and she would watch the fashion show and go home. It would all be perfectly normal and innocent.

But then Kirby appeared in front of her.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, loudly and enthusiastically, as if he were more than pleasantly surprised to see her. She glanced up, planning to keep a cool, disinterested look on her face, but as soon as she saw him, her heart started beating and she was sure her smile resembled that of a sappy schoolgirl.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, taking the seat next to her. The seats were crammed tightly together, so there was almost no way to sit next to him without their arms touching. She felt giddy with excitement.

“Victory Ford is one of my best friends.”

Kirby nodded. “I wish I’d known that. I can’t believe I’m sitting next to you. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

This was so astonishing that Nico didn’t know what to say. And looking around to see if anyone was observing them, she decided that given the circumstances, it was probably best to say nothing at all.

She nodded, and sneaking a look at his face was immediately reminded of their kiss. She recrossed her legs, beginning to feel aroused.

“You never called me,” he said simply. The tone in his voice made her think that he was genuinely hurt. “And I couldn’t call you.”

She turned her head away, hoping to make it appear as if they were merely having a casual conversation. “Why not?” she said.

He leaned a little closer and touched her leg. “Get this,” he said. “It’s so stupid. I knew who you were — I mean, I knew you were famous and everything — but I couldn’t remember where you worked.”

His expression was partly embarrassed and partly amused, as if he had no choice but to be entertained by his own stupidity, and hoped she would be too. Nico smiled, suddenly feeling a fluttering of hope. If Kirby really didn’t know who she was, maybe he was genuinely interested in her after all.

Bonfire magazine,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“Right. I knew that,” Kirby said. “But I couldn’t remember. And I didn’t want to ask anyone because then they’d think I was really dumb.”

Nico found herself nodding sympathetically, as if she was often in a similar situation and completely understood his feelings.

A photographer jumped in front of them and snapped their picture. Nico quickly turned her head away. That was the last thing she needed — a photograph of her and Kirby Atwood. She must stop flirting with him, she reminded herself firmly. But Kirby wasn’t the kind of young man who was good at hiding his feelings. He casually touched her leg again to get her attention. “I kept thinking I would run into you,” he said, continuing his story. “And then we could ... Well, you know,” he said, with a seductive shrug. “I mean, I just met you and I liked you, you know? And I never like that many people. I mean, I know a lot of people, but I don’t really like them ...”

She glanced over at Lyne Bennett, who was staring curiously at her and Kirby, probably wondering what she had to talk about with a male model. She had to stop this.

“I know exactly what you mean,” she whispered, keeping her eyes forward.

“And now, here I am, sitting next to you at a fashion show,” Kirby exclaimed. “It’s that word ... what is it? Comet?”

“Kismet,” Nico said. She shifted in her seat, the word suddenly causing her to see the inevitable. I’m going to sleep with Kirby Atwood, she thought wildly. She didn’t know when it would happen, or where. She only knew that it would happen. She would do it once and not tell anyone and never do it again.

“That’s it. Kismet,” Kirby repeated. He smiled at her. “I like that about you,” he said. “You’re smart. You know words. Most people hardly know words anymore. Have you noticed that?”

She nodded, feeling flushed. She hoped no one was paying attention. Luckily, it was hot in the tent, so her distress wouldn’t appear unusual. She wanted to fan herself with her program the way several other people were — pointedly, to indicate their annoyance at the show being late — but she decided it would be too undignified.

As if sensing the restlessness, one of the drummers began striking a beat, which was taken up by the other drummers positioned in the front row on either side of the runway. There was a small commotion, and Jenny Cadine, surrounded by four security people, came out from behind the scrim that separated the runway from the backstage area, and took her seat, with Wendy following behind.

The drumming got louder as Wendy sat down and began telling Nico about the mosquitoes in Maine. Two workers quickly rolled up the plastic lining. The blinding white runway lights came up, and suddenly, the first model appeared.

She was wearing a sharp-collared short fuchsia jacket paired with a long green skirt that ended just above the ankle, and Nico’s first thought was that the effect of those two colors together should have been jarring. But instead it looked just right — daring, but subtly so — as if it were perfectly natural that everyone would put these colors together. But after that, she was lost. Nico always prided herself on her ability to compartmentalize, to control the focus of her mind and hone it intently on the matter — or person — at hand, but for once, her famous concentration seemed to be failing her. She stared at the model as she strolled past, trying to remember the details of the outfit so she could talk to Victory about it later, but her brain refused to cooperate. The beating of the drums was pounding away her resistance, and all she could think about was Kirby and that glorious feeling of being overcome.

Excerpted from Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Copyright © 2005 by Candace Bushnell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.











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