Fancy Pants (Wynette, Texas #1)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips


Sable sucks,” Francesca Serritella Day muttered under her breath as a series of strobes flashed in her face. She ducked her head deeper into the high collar of her Russian fur and wished it were daytime so she could slip on her dark glasses.

“That's not exactly a popularly held opinion, darling,” Prince Stefan Marko Brancuzi said as he gripped her arm and guided her through the crowd of paparazzi that had stationed themselves outside New York City's La Côte Basque to photograph the celebrities as they emerged from the private party inside. Stefan Brancuzi was the sole monarch of a tiny Balkan principality that was rapidly replacing overcrowded Monaco as the new refuge for the tax-burdened wealthy, but he wasn't the one in whom the photographers were most interested. It was the beautiful Englishwoman at his side who had attracted their attention, along with the attention of much of the American public.

As Stefan led her toward his waiting limousine, Francesca lifted her gloved hand in a futile gesture that did nothing at all to stop the barrage of questions still being hurled at her—questions about her job, her relationship with Stefan, even a question about her friendship with the star of the hit television series, “China Colt.”

When she and Stefan were finally settled into the plush leather seats and the limo had pulled out into the late night traffic on East Fifty-fifth Street, she groaned. “That media circus happened because of this coat. The press hardly ever bothers you. It's me. If I'd worn my old raincoat, we could have slipped right through without attracting any attention.” Stefan regarded her with amusement. She frowned reproachfully at him. “There's an important moral lesson to be learned here, Stefan.”

“What's that, darling?”

“In the face of world famine, women who wear sable deserve what they get.”

He laughed. “You would have been recognized no matter what you'd worn. I've seen you stop traffic in a sweat suit.”

“I can't help it,” she replied glumly. “It's in my blood. The curse of the Serritellas.”

“Really, Francesca, I never knew a woman who hated being beautiful as much as you do.”

She muttered something he couldn't hear, which was probably just as well, and shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her coat, unimpressed, as always, with any reference to her incandescent physical beauty. After a long wait, she broke the silence. “From the day I was born, my face has brought me nothing but trouble.”

Not to mention that marvelous little body of yours, Stefan thought, but he wisely kept that comment to himself. As Francesca gazed absently out the tinted glass window, he took advantage of her distraction to study the incredible features that had captivated so many people.

He still remembered the words of a well-known fashion editor who, determined to avoid all the Vivien Leigh clichés that had been applied to Francesca over the years, had written, “Francesca Day, with her chestnut hair, oval face, and sage green eyes, looks like a fairy-tale princess who spends her afternoons spinning flax into gold in the gardens outside her own storybook castle.” Privately, the fashion editor had been less fanciful. “I know in my heart that Francesca Day absolutely never has to go to the bathroom....”

Stefan gestured toward the walnut and brass bar tucked discreetly into the side of the limo. “Do you want a drink?”

“No, thanks. I don't think I can tolerate any more alcohol.” She hadn't been sleeping well and her British accent was more pronounced than usual. Her coat slipped open and she glanced down at her beaded Armani gown. Armani gown... Fendi fur... Mario Valentino shoes. She closed her eyes, suddenly remembering an earlier time, a hot autumn afternoon when she'd been lying in the dirt in the middle of a Texas road wearing a pair of dirty blue jeans with twenty-five cents tucked in the back pocket. That day had been the beginning for her. The beginning and the end.

The limo turned south on Fifth Avenue, and her memories slipped further back to those childhood years in England before she had even known that places like Texas existed. What a spoiled little monster she had been— pampered and petted as her mother Chloe swept her from one European playground to another, one party to the next. Even as a child she'd been perfectly arrogant—so absolutely confident that the famous Serritella beauty would crack open the world for her and make all the pieces fall back together into any new configuration she wished. Little Francesca—a vain, feckless creature, completely unprepared for what life was going to hand her.

She had been twenty-one years old that day in 1976 when she lay in the dust on the Texas road. Twenty-one years old, unmarried, alone, and pregnant.

Now she was nearly thirty-two, and although she owned every possession she had ever dreamed about, she felt just as alone now as she had been on that hot autumn afternoon. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to imagine what course her life would have taken if she'd stayed in England. But America had changed her so utterly that she couldn't even envision it.

She smiled to herself. When Emma Lazarus had written the poem about huddled masses yearning to breathe free, she certainly couldn't have been thinking of a vain young English girl arriving in this country wearing a cashmere sweater and carrying a Louis Vuitton suitcase. But poor little rich girls had to dream, too, and the dream of America had proven grand enough to encompass even her.

Stefan knew something was bothering Francesca. She had been unusually quiet all evening, not at all like herself. He had planned to ask her to marry him tonight, but now he wondered if he wouldn't do better to wait. She was so different from the other women he knew that he could never predict exactly how she would react to anything. He suspected the dozens of other men who had been in love with her had experienced something of the same problem.

If rumor could be believed, Francesca's first important conquest had occurred at age nine on board the yacht Christina when she had smitten Aristotle Onassis.

Rumors... There were so many of them surrounding Francesca, most of which couldn't possibly be true... except, considering the kind of life she had led, Stefan thought that perhaps they were. She had once told him quite casually that Winston Churchill had taught her how to play gin rummy, and everyone knew the Prince of Wales had courted her. One evening not long after they had met, they had been sipping champagne and exchanging anecdotes about their childhoods.

“Most babies are conceived in love,” she had informed him, “but I was conceived on a display platform in the center of Harrods’ fur salon.”