Food of Love: A Comedy about Friendship, Chocolate, and a Small Nuclear Bomb by Anne R. Allen - Read Online
Food of Love
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Summary

Part thriller and part screwball romantic comedy, Food of Love tells the story of Regina, a former supermodel, now princess of a tiny European principality, who has lost her skeletal figure and finds herself threatened by an unknown assassin. 

Published: Anne R. Allen on
ISBN: 9781498945639
List price: $2.99
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Food of Love - Anne R. Allen

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Page 1 of 1

Redux

Southern California, 1997

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Chapter 1—Regina: The Smile of the Spoon

Her Royal Highness Regina Saxi-Cadenti, Princess of San Montinaro, backed out of the bathroom stall on her knees, pulling the scrub bucket.

She felt her backside collide with something. Someone.

She froze.

So the assassins had found her, even here at the Recovery Clinic, half a world away from the palace and its intrigues. They were back to finish last night's botched job. She knew the falling oven hood in the kitchen had been no accident, any more than the other mishaps back in San Montinaro. Through the thin silk of her Dolce and Gabbana skirt, Regina felt human flesh: bony and death-cold.

You could watch where you're going, your Highness.

False alarm. Regina's breath came back. She unclamped her hand from the bucket and turned to give a polite smile to the sour-faced woman who spoke. Regina recognized her from the Clinic's orientation meeting last Friday—a former child actress, addicted to cocaine. She'd been one of TV's Partridge Bunch or Diff'rent Spoons or something.

The poor dear did look like a spoon, her skeletal body supporting a moon-shaped face that must have been adorable at age eight.

Sorry. I'm still a bit clumsy with this.

Regina nodded at her cast, the result of last night's accident that had left her with several shattered bones in her foot—and come so close to smashing her skull.

It's not your foot that's a menace.

The Spoon gave a venomous glance at Regina's ample derriere as she stomped into a stall.

Regina was used to the venom. Her newly matronly figure made some people feel it was their right, even their duty, to treat her with contempt. Last month's Italian tabloid photos—taken by a hidden camera while she tried on an awful spandex thing in the dressing room at the House of Porfirio—probably fueled the girl's scorn. The pictures had already been pirated into the U.S., in spite of the lawsuits. When she'd arrived at LAX last Friday, she'd caught sight of a tabloid headline touting:

Secret Pix! Prince Max Sues over Heartbreaking Photos of Porky Princess.

So much for escaping to safe obscurity in California.

Still, the Recovery Clinic at Rancho Esperanza, much lower profile than nearby Betty Ford, seemed a fairly good place to wait for the paparazzi to settle down, although she could have done without the chores and insufficient meals. But, as Max pointed out, any lingering bad press could be put off by hints at a bit of fashionable substance abuse.

She hummed and fantasized about her favorite California foods as her unfed stomach growled in low counterpoint to the murmur of the Clinic's New Age Muzak: Shrimp Louis, artichokes with melted butter, Double Rainbow chocolate ice cream.

Oh, yes, chocolate. What was that Shakespeare thing her mother used to quote?

If music be the food of love; play on.

If Mr. Shakespeare had spent more time with women, he would have known the food of love is not music but chocolate.

The promise of that sweet, soul-satisfying reward gave her the will to keep on. That nice London hairdresser with the heroin problem had promised to risk dire consequences to sneak her a Cadbury's after group therapy. She'd confessed her craving to him last night when he caught her hobbling back from the infirmary, too late for dinner. Nigel, his name was. A sweet man. He'd loved her since her first Vogue layout in the '70s, he said.

Bless him. Gay men were such a comfort.

I can't deal with this. What have you done in here?

The Spoon banged her way out of the stall, her voice a grating mix of childishness and condescension.

Your Highness, the toilet water is pink!

Yes, dear. I let the cleanser soak in a while. The ring on that bowl was a bit stubborn. But please. No titles. Call me Regina.

Even in such a heavily guarded facility, the wrong person might overhear a random Your Highness and drop a lucrative tip to the media.

Addiction knows no class boundaries dear. She hoped she sounded gracious.

Whatever. But I cannot throw up into a bowl of toxic chemicals! The Spoon disappeared into a different stall with the clang of a metal door.

Regina gave the bowl another scrub and pulled the chain of the old-fashioned toilet tank to flush. The ring hadn't faded.

When she got home, she would have to ask Titiana about toilet rings. Titiana knew about things like that. Regina felt lucky to be blessed with a head chef who was also a wise and trusted friend. Her only friend, really. Life in a country with only as many inhabitants as Rodeo Drive during a good sale at Gucci made gossip the primary national sport.

Gossip, yes, and intrigue—but not murder.

So why were these things happening? Why would anyone want to hurt her?

As the doctors kept reminding her, she was one of the most beloved women in the world—the ordinary American girl whose fairy-tale wedding to the fashion designer-monarch of the tiny Alpine kingdom of San Montinaro had defined the fantasies of every pre-pubescent girl on the planet.

Even after twenty years and forty extra pounds, the public loved her.

And if Max wanted to be rid of her, he had only to say so. Divorce had always been legal in San Montinaro, a country so conservative it still followed the laws of ancient Rome rather than those of the Vatican.

She had dreamed of him last night; Max at his most handsome, in all his princely regalia: Prince Maximus Saxi-Cadenti, as he had looked when she married him.

When she had almost loved him.

In the dream, he was feeding her noodle pudding, the sweet Hungarian dessert her father used to make—but somehow, the food never reached her mouth. She watched Max's silver spoon come toward her, smiling at her with the seductive curve of a noodle nestled in glistening apricot sauce. But when it reached her mouth, she tasted nothing—nothing but air, empty and noodle-less.

She woke to gnawing pains in her stomach.

But now her knees were causing more pain than the hunger. She needed something softer to kneel on. Spotting a newspaper stuffed in a trash basket, she retrieved several sections and smoothed them out to use as a cushion. But she stopped as a photograph caught her eye.

It couldn't be.

Holding her breath, she stared at the slim, elegant, African-American woman in the picture.

Cady. A thin, beautiful Cady. Her foster sister and childhood best friend.

Here. In nearby Los Angeles: former Congresswoman Rev. Cady Stanton (R. Mass.) anti-pornography crusader and former size eighteen, in the February twelfth L.A. Times—wearing one of those creamy new Donna Karan knits and looking no more than a size ten. She was promoting a new Christian TV talk show at an old-fashioned box social at the Silver Cathedral in Anaheim.

She looked wonderful. The very fact made Regina feel betrayed—selfishly, childishly—betrayed.

February twelfth. Yesterday. Cady's birthday, wasn't it? The same as Abraham Lincoln's. She'd be forty-nine. A year older than Regina. They hadn't seen each other in years. Too many darkly hoarded secrets and clashes of politics and religion had reduced their communication to an occasional holiday card.

Regina knelt on the paper and scrubbed, attacking the toilet ring as if it were the invisible barrier that imprisoned her here.

Cady was so near.

If only she could tell her about the accidents—the brakes that had mysteriously failed on the brand new Ferrari; a skittish young horse that had appeared in the stall that usually housed her docile old mare; and the Venetian chandelier—perfectly secure for three centuries, that had suddenly broken from its chains and crashed down on her bed.

Cady would have a rational explanation.

She could always make things right, in the old days. Regina felt an empty pang. Why had she let their friendship slip away? Was it Max's intolerance? The San Montinaran royals, who traced their bloodline to pre-Indo-European Etruscans, were historically so racially biased they viewed Italians as ethnically impure upstarts, but it was Cady's size that Max had been most insensitive about.

What had he called her? So intimidating; so larger than life.

Would he be less intimidated now that Cady was a size ten?

With a clatter, the Spoon pushed her way out of the stall.

Won't flush. Stupid cowboy plumbing. I'm surprised they don't make us dig our own outhouses—they're so into the hard labor thing around here. I had garbage duty this morning. Those cans weigh an effing ton. She massaged a spindly arm.

Regina's stomach let out a growl. She laughed. With all this starving and hard work, maybe I'm losing weight.

The Spoon's pinched face lit up with a lovely, genuine smile.

Oh, God, I wish! She studied her scrawny reflection in the mirror over the sink.

Regina returned the smile. They had found common ground—the contemporary woman's compulsion to diminish herself.

I am getting so fat. The Spoon pinched her face hard as she grimaced at herself in the mirror.

She craned her neck to study her buttocks, barely grapefruit-sized in spandex leggings.

I'm as big as a house! One week off cocaine and I must have gained ten pounds. She hit herself hard on the backside with a clenched fist. At least you have the tits to balance your butt, Princess. I used to, but I had to have them out. The silicone was leaking.

She lifted her sweater to reveal a gruesomely scarred chest.

Do you think the incisions are healing? The doctor said the drugs were wrecking my immune system. That's why I'm here. They won't give me the new saline boobs until I'm officially off the toot. Like it's going to matter if I look like a whale.

Regina turned away. The poor thing looked like a torture victim.

Here. The Spoon made a grab for the scrubbing brush. I'll finish the floor at this end. I don't know why they didn't change your duty when you broke your foot. You finish mopping. We don't want to be late for group.

Why, thank you. Regina grabbed the mop as her new-made friend marched toward the uncleaned stall with surprising vigor.

~

I still can't flush this thing, the Spoon said a few minutes later. The chain is stuck. Want to give it a try?

Regina limped into the stall and pulled the chain hard. The girl was apparently so weak from her bulimia she couldn't flush a toilet.

Princess! My God! Look out!

Regina heard a crash and the gush of water as she felt bony arms yank her backwards.

The old toilet tank had pulled from the wall, smashing onto the bowl beneath. The roaring water scattered ragged porcelain shards across the tile floor.

Oh, my God, that could have been me! said the Spoon.

Or me. Regina watched the water rush around her ankle, ruining the Prada pump on her good foot as well as soaking her skirt. If you hadn't wandered in, that certainly would have been me.

Stupid wild-west plumbing. The Spoon gave a shrug. You'd think they'd have redone this stuff when they turned this place from a guest ranch into a clinic. Accidents like this must happen all the time.

Regina stared at the shattered bowl, her chest tightening.

I suppose so, she said without conviction. Accidents happen.

Chapter 2—Cady: Crisco and Prayers

Reverend Cady Stanton tore through the makeshift office she'd set up in her suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, yanking the white linen pumps from her blistering feet.

What do you mean, I have to be at Spago at noon? I'm trying to stick to a diet here, people. I'm promoting a TV talk show, not a food franchise.

She sank into a chair next to the desk where her secretary, Florence Adams, typed furiously on her laptop, and Albert Sneed, the network P. R. man, studied the tyrannical appointment book that had ruled her life since she'd arrived in Los Angeles.

Why Spago? All that talk about Washington pork is a metaphor, you know. Can't those network people think of anything for a former Congresswoman to do but eat?

Little Albert looked up at her with his pale, dead-fish eyes.

Because you're booked for Spago, Reverend. Twelve o' clock. The limo's on its way.

Cady smoothed the skirt of her two-thousand-dollar designer suit, stretched taut against her heavily girdled belly.

Do you know what I've had to put in my stomach today, Mr. Sneed? Bagels and cream cheese at the power breakfast with the Monsignor's lawyers; doughnuts with the network studio crew, brioche with the sponsor's wife in Pasadena—and you don't even want to know about the pie at the video shoot at the Downey Foursquare Gospel Church Ladies' Auxiliary Community Breakfast and Bake Sale.

She grimaced as she pulled in her belly.

If Crisco was prayers, I tell you, those ladies could save the world.

Albert gave a pained smile. The limo will be here in five minutes.

Five minutes? Till I have to eat goat cheese pizza? I don't think so. These diet pills make me nauseous when I even get near grease.

You could stop taking them, Flo said, glancing up over her glasses.

Cady sighed. She hated it when Flo was sensible. But she couldn't blimp out again. Not after all the media hype about her weight loss. She couldn't go through the hell of losing that forty pounds again—the fasting, the pills, the frenzied self-hatred.

After twenty years of looking matronly, she finally had her teenage figure back. She wasn't going to give it up without a fight.

And—she found this difficult to admit, even to the Lord—not without the pleasure of being asked out on a date. At least once before she hit fifty. She'd given up hope of traditional marriage when she entered politics, and the possibility of motherhood had been snatched from her thirty years ago by butchering doctors, but she could still hope for a little romance.

The Reverend has to keep taking the pills, Albert said in Florence's direction. "We don't want to see her plastered on the cover of the Star looking like Miss Piggy in her skivvies. Did you see that photo of Princess Reggie yesterday?"

Cady stiffened. Even though she and Regina hadn't spoken since Regina's mother died, she hated to hear cruel talk about the only white woman she ever truly considered a sister.

There's nothing funny about invading somebody's privacy like that—especially Regina. She's so fragile. When we were kids...

She stopped herself. That was fatigue talking. The last thing she needed right now was for the soured friendship between her and the bad-girl princess of San Montinaro to be aired in the media.

'Judge not according to appearance'—John 7:24. Flo gave Albert her withering over-the-glasses stare as she quoted the line of scripture. Besides, I heard some bottom-feeder stole that picture from the surveillance video of a designer's dressing room. There's not a woman alive who deserves that kind of treatment.

Albert parried with a smirk.

There's not a lot of women alive who are former supermodels married to fashion-designing European royalty. Sorry, but privacy doesn't come with that job description. Not that you'd know, the way these people whine. I heard on the radio this morning that the princess is so depressed about the photo, she had to go into hiding. He chortled into his Starbuck's cup. What's that old joke about how do you hide an elephant...?

Speed ahead, Mister. Hell's not half full, Flo said.

After a thirty-two year career as a Boston schoolteacher, and another ten as the first black president of the Boston chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Flo was never going to be intimidated by a white boy half her age, network or no network.

Cady smiled carefully. She needed to keep the peace between her two top aides.

I think people shouldn't judge the Princess until they walk a mile in her Manolo Blahniks.

She massaged her own throbbing foot.

Anyway, don't I have some fund raiser at the Silver Cathedral today? The Reverend Elmo Greeley is expecting me at one o'clock, so I can't do lunch at Spago.

Albert wrinkled his nose in a snotty-kid gesture that made him look even younger than his twenty-seven years.

Not 'do' lunch at Spago, Reverend. Nobody 'does lunch' any more. What I said was 'get' lunch. Pick it up. Your box lunch. For the social at the Silver Cathedral. You don't have to eat it until after the auction. That may take a long time. Reverend Elmo has called out the troops. Each of you celebrities will auction your lunch on the air, and the highest bidders get to share the lunch with the celebrities.

I know what a box social is, Cady said. I'm old enough to remember when churches gave them for real. But I didn't know Wolfgang Puck made box lunches.

She might be a Hollywood outsider, but at least she could show him that she was aware of Spago's celebrity owner-chef.

He doesn't, Albert said. Our people talked his people into doing this as a donation, but only with the provision that you accept it on camera. That's why you have to be there at noon. The crew is already en route.

Then you can route them right back home again, Flo said. The Reverend has a twelve o'clock appointment right here.

Cancel it. And by the way, shoes are required at Spago, Albert said. What Bozo made a twelve o'clock appointment?

Cady kept massaging and prayed for strength.

She wasn't good at taking orders; especially from a pipsqueak like Albert. When she lost her Congressional seat in November, she thought she'd go back to her Boston parish. But then the call had come. A bigwig Roman Catholic calling a Baptist minister—a black woman Baptist. The Monsignor's Alliance for Christ was starting a family values television network. He wanted her on board.

Television talk without the trash. It had sounded so good

I made the appointment, Flo said. He's been calling all week. I thought we ought to see him. He's been so insistent, and he sounds sincere. He has a lot of clout with the younger voters, you know.

Voters? What voters? Albert wrinkled his nose again. Reverend Stanton isn't running for office here. She's launching a new television show. And we're not going for a young demographic. Our biggest sponsors are fart pills and adult diapers. Doesn't that tell you something about our target audience? I don't care if you've booked her with Mickey Mouse; she's going to Spago.

Flo said nothing as she tapped away on the computer keyboard. Albert picked up his mobile phone.

At least I'm going to wear a more comfortable pair.

Cady picked up the white pumps and headed for the bedroom. She rummaged through the closet for her Nikes, then collapsed onto the bed, fighting another surge of nausea.

A few minutes later, she heard an authoritative knocking at the outside door, followed by strained silence from Albert and Flo, and more knocking.

Isn't anybody going to answer that? Cady got up and peered out the bedroom doorway.

Flo didn't slow the rhythm of her typing.

Albert shot an angry look at the back of Flo's head as he put his phone in its belt holster and walked slowly—very slowly—toward the door.

Chapter 3—Cady: King of the Wild Frontier

––––––––

A compact, muscular black man entered the room and all petty squabbling ceased in the hotel room.

Albert's head bowed forward. He seemed to shrink.

Even Flo's quick fingers stopped as she took an audible breath.

Cady dropped her Nikes and automatically smoothed her hair.

In spite of the man's outrageously casual dress; a too-big T-shirt and baggy Levis, the hint of expensive cologne, the Rolex watch, and the two hundred dollar haircut signaled some big money. He wasn't movie-star handsome, but he had velvety brown eyes and full, sexy lips that seemed about to break into a grin.

Power Magee? Albert's voice was hushed, reverent. Mr. Magee, sir. We're... honored.

The poor kid was nearly genuflecting.

Reverend Stanton, Mr. T. Power Magee, the film director is here.

I can see that, Cady said.

So this was the famous man—Tyrone Power Magee, exploiter of African-American womanhood and egotistical moviemaker extraordinaire, the man Vanity Fair called the Black Fellini. Big deal. A pornographer was a pornographer. What was he doing here? How dare he come to her office dressed like some down-and-out homeboy? How could Flo have done this to her?

But of course, Flo couldn't help it. She might be a conservative when it came to family and education, but she was also a veteran activist. To her, any black man was a brother, even one as sexist and anti-family as T. Power Magee.

Albert backed away and disappeared into the bedroom with his cell phone. The man really was no use at all.

Cady stepped into the center of the room.

I'm sorry, Mr. Magee, but there's been some miscommunication with my office staff. She gave him her most distant, professional smile. I'm unable to meet with you at this time. I'm on my way to Spago.

She moved toward the door, hoping Mr. Magee would at least have the manners to stand aside.

He didn't.

I heard this new God Bless America Network was low-budget, Reverend. But it's hard to believe one of their biggest stars is forced to go around barefooted.

Mr. Magee's coldly appraising gaze moved from her unshod feet up her Valentino-suited body until it rested steadily on her face. He had not moved an inch.

It was Cady who had to turn away.

Flo, hand me my Nikes. Cady's voice came out shriller than she meant it to be. I'll put them on in the limousine.

There's no limo, Albert called from the bedroom. I sent him for the lunch.

Then call me a cab. Didn't you say I had to be at Spago at noon? Cady's watch said 12:05. And you'd better call and tell them I'll be late. She leaned against the wall and jammed a foot into a sneaker.

I have a limousine outside, Power Magee said. I'd be honored to escort you to Spago, Reverend Stanton.

Absurdly, he sank to one knee and started to tie Cady's shoelaces.

And maybe you'll let me treat you to a birthday lunch, he said.

Birthday? What birthday? Albert looked angry. She's got to be in Anaheim at one o'clock. Is today your birthday, Reverend? February twelfth? Why didn't you tell me? We can use this. I've got to tell the Cathedral people. He reached for his phone holster.

Flo laid a firm hand on Albert's arm.

It was yesterday. Leave it alone.

Cady and Flo exchanged smiles. Flo knew Cady didn't see this unwanted milestone as an occasion to celebrate, although Flo had quietly presented her with a copy of Terry MacMillan's racy new book.

I'm not going to leave it alone, Power Magee said. Birthdays used to be real important to this lady. I can't believe things have changed that much. He concentrated on his elaborate lacing of Cady's shoes. "She once even broke the law so she could keep a birthday promise to a friend. Got herself in a hell