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North of Forty

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 87,882
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North of Forty is the new twenty...

Cecelia Carter, Sasha Simms, and Nadine Peterson have worked hard and gained the upper hand in work, life, and love. As curvy women in the bridal world, an industry that's more about size and image than about the actual marriage, they do their best to keep their clients focused on love, and a life well-lived beyond the "I do."

When Sasha's approached about doing a wedding reality series, she's intrigued, but she doesn't know if she can sell Cecelia on the idea. The format is supposed to focus on their bridal businesses, women's challenges in the business world, with a little bit of their personal lives thrown in, culminating in Cecelia's own upcoming wedding. It seems innocuous enough—until the cameras start rolling. And when they catch moments they shouldn't, things begin to spin out of control—Cecelia's vindictive ex looking for a payday. Nadine's engagement hanging in the balance over a secret that could ruin her life with her new fiancé. Sasha's boyfriend caught on camera, turning what she thought was a dream man into a heartbreaking nightmare. And Cecelia's own upcoming nuptials...

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Instinct told her opportunity was in the air the moment Sasha entered Le Cirque. She didn’t have the chance to speak before the maitre d’ escorted her to the table where she was greeted by Barry and Eliza before she sat down. The velvet-glove job was in effect.

In a navy blue Michael Kors dress, Eliza Miller was a typical, voluptuous television producer. She sought out ways to connect with real women/viewers. She wasn’t interested in the uber thin, super wealthy woman who never met a carb she didn’t avoid. She spoke to women with jiggly bits. “Sasha.” Eliza kissed her on both cheeks. “I’m so glad you’re here. I know Lia Bridals keeps you busy.”

Sasha laughed. “I manage to escape every now and then for a long lunch.”

“You’re a vision, Sasha.” Barry also kissed her cheek.

“You don’t look half bad either, Barry. Marriage agrees with you after all.”

Tall and slim with flecks of gray around his temple, Barry looked distinguished. A onetime confirmed bachelor, he’d recently married Norma Gallagher. The well-respected owner of three galleries in the city was the woman who had tamed Barry’s ways and captured his heart. “I love married life with Norma.”

“I’m not surprised,” Eliza added. “You’re both in the prime of your lives. You can take in the city or jet off to Paris at a moment’s notice. Not bad work if you can get it.”

“That deserves an amen.” Barry sat down. “We ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon. I hope that’s OK with you, Sasha. We could change it to a bottle of Riesling or Pinot Grigio if you’d like.”

“Cabernet works for me. Good wine is good wine.”

Barry summoned the waiter over who filled their glasses.

Sasha inhaled the fruity notes of the wine before she sipped. “This smells quite good.”

“It does smell luscious.” Barry raised his glass.

After a few sips, Sasha put her glass down. “You two have known me for a long time. I’ve never danced around the mulberry bush. What’s this meeting about? Bottom line me.”

Eliza and Barry glanced at each other before Eliza began to speak. “I’m certain you are aware of a little phenomenon called reality programming.” Eliza smiled faintly.

“You can’t turn on the television without stumbling across a reality show with naked, drunk kids or out of control forty-somethings. It’s Barnum & Bailey with three plus rings and more clowns than any VW Bug can hold.”

Barry laughed again. “Not to mention its share of manure.”

“You are right, my friend.”

“We want to bring an atmosphere of civility, love, romantic style, and luxury to viewers,” Eliza said.

“We’d like you, Cecelia, and Nadine to do a women’s lifestyle reality show based on your business and personal lives. Our current working title is North of Forty,” Barry said.

Sasha nearly choked on her wine. “Excuse me?” She put her glass down, deliberately.

“You’re successful women over forty who run multimillion dollar companies, have steady personal relationships, and continue to grow your brands without sacrificing what’s important to you. We think your lives will resonate and inspire viewers.”

“I know fashion seems like a lovely, delicate, and erudite world somewhere between earth and heaven. However, pull the drapes back and it’s a tough business with personalities who range from crazy to just plain rude.”

“I’m sure Cecelia and Nadine don’t fall into those categories.”

“They don’t.” She paused. “The timing for Nadine is perfect with two new projects coming down the line soon. As for Cecelia, she enjoys life behind the sewing machine and not in front of the camera. It’s a miracle every time she attends the Met Gala.”

“She didn’t want to go to the Met Gala?” Eliza asked, astonished. “I know people who’d sell body parts on the black market to go.”

“Somehow Cecelia always manages to hit the red carpet the same time some A-list celebrity arrives and slips by unnoticed.”

“Is she trying to avoid a particular designer?” Barry made a fan motion.

“No. She respects Mr. Lagerfeld as a design icon as long as he’s talking fashion and not size.”

“He does talk about size quite a bit.” Eliza paused a moment. “I have to admit he’s been rather quiet lately. Did Cecelia play a little part in his apparent come-to-Jesus moment?”

“She played an indirect role, as sales among curvy women are on the way up across the board while the sales numbers for straight sizes have tumbled. More designers are hopping on the full-figured train.”

“Money talks. No one likes skinny profit margins.” Eliza grinned.

“Now that Cecelia’s engaged, we feel it’s the perfect time.” He paused dramatically. “I know it sounds like I’m blowing smoke up your ass, but most of the reality you see on television is the result of a production company casting women who don’t know one another or were slight acquaintances. Then they make it look like there are real friendships between them. All they have to do is put them in situations that would never occur in actual reality, set up the cameras, and watch the bitchiness, pettiness, and occasional physical fights unfold. If weaves or wigs come off, it’s a ratings bonus.”

Sasha grinned. “It’s the modern day version of Rome’s Colosseum. Only the gladiators wear Gucci, Christian Louboutins, and are armed with Chanel bags, Rome’s best gladiators wouldn’t stand a chance against these ladies. They’d take their chances with the wild animals. Better odds.”

Everyone at the table burst into laughter.

Sasha thought about it for a moment… “Let me play devil’s advocate. Why not a wedding special?”

“A wedding special is only a peek that might last two episodes. Your lives are based around fancy shoes, walk-in dressing rooms, and thousand-dollar bottles of champagne. You’re real businesswomen running and sustaining companies.”

“How long of a commitment are we talking about?”

“We’d like to do a nine-episode season.”

Sasha nodded. “Nine sounds doable.”

“We’ve given it great consideration and believe viewers would love to find out what happens when a bridal gown designer becomes the bride-to-be. Does she maintain her professional attitude, or does she act like an average bride-to-be?”

“Cecelia’s a wild card. I’ll have to convince her to do a reality show that includes her wedding. That’s a tall order.”

“You graduated summa cum laude,” Barry said confidently. “If anyone can make this happen, it’s you.”

“You can stop drilling, Barry. You struck oil.” Sasha recognized the magnitude of the task. “The sooner I figure out my approach, the better.” She put the wineglass to the side. “No more wine for me. It clouds my mind. I have to be sharp.”

“I’m sure you will,” Barry added. “You, Nadine, and Cecelia are quintessential American women: smart, successful, sexy, over forty and unapologetically full-figured.”

“I said you struck oil.” Sasha winked playfully. “E-mail the proposal to me.”

“Consider it done.”

They had a good laugh and ordered lunch.