The Cinderella Deal Read online

  Dear Readers,

  I wrote The Cinderella Deal a long, long time ago, but it’s still one of my favorites because it was so hard to write and I learned so much writing it. I’d written six romantic comedies before this one and in all the commentary on them, there was one recurring theme: My stories were a little … cold. More comedy than romance; no heart, no soul. That was a fair assessment; if there was one thing I’d learned in my creative writing classes it was to avoid melodrama, to never be sentimental, to go for irony and detachment whenever possible, because otherwise I’d get killed in the critiques. But I think I knew all along I was wimping out, that if I’d had any backbone, I’d have gone first for the hearts of my readers, so I decided that for my first book for Bantam, I’d try something new, something different. Hearts would be touched, tears would be shed. By God, I was going to be emotional.

  Then I sat down to write it and I’m here to tell you, writing comedy may be hard, but writing honest emotion is ten times more difficult. Every time I got near an over-the-top moment, I had to fight my knee-jerk tendency to step back into irony or even worse, to make a joke. After a while it got easier, and I can truthfully say that there are moments in this book that are downright weepers—well, I cried—but the important thing I learned is that tragedy is like comedy. You can’t add it to a book, you have to find both the humor and the pain within the story and then write both as truthfully as you can, even if it means that critics will accuse you of being sentimental or melodramatic. Good stories are about both hearts and minds, but the heart always comes first.

  Here’s hoping you like the heart at the center of The Cinderella Deal.

  Best wishes,

  Jenny Crusie


  The Cinderella Deal

  Trust Me on This

  For Jack Andrew Smith,

  a true hero and firefighter,

  and the best of all possible brothers


  THE STORM RAGED dark outside, the light in the hallway flickered, and Lincoln Blaise cast a broad shadow over the mailboxes, but it didn’t matter. He knew by heart what the card on the box above his said:

  Daisy Flattery

  Apartment 1B

  Stories Told, Ideas Illminated

  Unreal but Not Untrue

  Linc frowned at the card, positive it didn’t belong on a mailbox in the dignified old house he shared with three other tenants. That was why he’d rented the apartment in the first place: it had dignity. Linc liked dignity the way he liked calm and control and quiet. It had taken him a long time to get all of those things into his life and into one apartment. Then he’d met his downstairs neighbor.

  His frown deepened as he remembered the first time he’d seen Daisy Flattery in the flesh, practically hissing at him as he shooed a cat away from his rebuilt black Porsche, her dark, frizzy hair crackling around her face like lightning. Later sightings hadn’t improved his first impression, and the memory of them didn’t improve his mood now. She wore long dresses in electric colors, and since she was tall, they were very long, and she was always scowling at him, her heavy brows drawn together under that dumb blue velvet hat she wore pulled down around her ears even in the summer. She looked like somebody from Little House on the Prairie on acid, which was why he usually took care to ignore her.

  But now, staring down at the card on her mailbox, appropriately backlit by the apocalyptic storm, he knew there was a possibility he might actually have to get to know her. And it was his own damn fault.

  The thought gave him a headache, so he shoved his mail into his jacket pocket and went up the stairs to his apartment and his aspirin.

  Downstairs, Daisy Flattery frowned too, and cocked her head to try to catch again the sound she’d heard. It had been something between a creaking door and a cat in trouble. She looked over at Liz to see if she was showing signs of life, but Liz was, as usual, a black velvet blob stretched out on the end table Daisy had rescued from a trash heap two streets over. The cat basked in the warmth from the cracked crystal lamp Daisy had found at Goodwill for a dollar. The three made a lovely picture, light and texture and color, silky fur and smooth wood and warm lamp glow. Unbelievably, fools had thrown away all three; sometimes the blindness of people just amazed Daisy.

  “Hello?” The petite blonde across the chipped oak table from Daisy waved her hand. “You there? You have the gooniest look on your face.”

  “I thought I heard something,” Daisy told her best friend. “Never mind. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m broke.” She shrugged at Julia across from her. “Nothing new.”

  “Well, you’re depressed about it. That’s new.” Julia took a sugar cookie from the plate in front of her and shoved the rest toward Daisy with one manicured hand, narrowly missing Daisy’s stained glass lamp. The lamp was another find: blue, green, and yellow Tiffany pieces with a crack in one that had made it just possible for her to buy it. The crack had been the clincher for Daisy: with the crack, the lamp had a history, a story; it was real. Sort of like her hands, she tried to tell herself as she compared them to Julia’s. Blunt, paint-stained, no two nails the same length. Interesting. Real.

  Julia, as usual, had missed color and pattern completely and was still on words. “Also, you’re the one who has to come up with the bucks for the feline senior cat chow. I should eat so good.”

  “Right.” Daisy scrunched up her face. She hated thinking about money, which was probably why she hadn’t had much for the past four years. “Maybe leaving teaching wasn’t such a good idea.”

  Julia straightened so fast, Liz opened an eye again.

  “Are you kidding? This is new. I can’t believe you’re doubting yourself.” She leaned across the table to stare into Daisy’s eyes. “Get a grip. Make some tea to go with these cookies. Tell me a story. Do something weird and unpractical so I’ll know you’re Daisy Flattery.”

  “Very funny.” Daisy pushed her chair back and went to find tea bags and her beat-up copper teakettle. She was sure the tea bags were in one of the canisters on the shelf, but the kettle could be anywhere. She opened the bottom cupboard and started pawing through the pans, books, and paintbrushes that had somehow taken up housekeeping together.

  “I’m not kidding.” Julia followed her to the sink. “I’ve known you for twelve years, and this is the first time I’ve heard you say you can’t do something.”

  Daisy was so outraged at the thought that she pulled her head out of the cupboard without giving herself enough clearance and smacked herself hard. “Ouch.” She rubbed her head through her springy curls. “I’m not saying I can’t make it as an artist.” Daisy stuck her head back into the cabinet and shoved aside her cookie sheets long enough to find her teakettle and yank it out. “I believe in myself. I just may have moved too fast.” She got up and filled the kettle from the faucet.

  “Well, it’s not like you ever move slow.” Julia took down canisters one by one, finally finding the tea in a brown and silver square can. “Why did you put the tea in the can that says ‘cocoa’? Never mind. Constant Comment or Earl Grey?”

  “Earl Grey.” Daisy put the kettle on the stove and turned up the heat. “This is a serious moment, and I need a serious tea.”

  “Which is why I’m drinking Constant Comment.” Julia waggled her long fingers inside the canister and fished out two tea bags. “I have no serious moments.”

  “Well, pretend you’re having one for me.” Daisy sighed, envying Julia’s optimism. Of course, Julia hadn’t quit a safe and solid teaching job to become a painter, or spent the past four years living on her savings until she didn’t have any. Daisy felt her head pound. “Julia, I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’m tired of scraping to pay my bills, and I’m