RICKY HART wants to the get the hell out of small-town Arizona to escape the fate of generations of women in her family – a boring, nothing future.
Inspired by Basia Johnson, a penniless cook who married into the Johnson and Johnson fortune, Ricky sets in motion a plan to get inside a rich old man’s house. Once there, she will do the rest. She is twenty-two years old, blonde and unashamedly brazen.
And she is ready to make a deal with the Devil.
What she hasn’t counted on is seventy-year-old SANDFORD KEANE, the Arizona Copper King, a notorious sonofabitch with an agenda of his own, and a family with a long history of other ambitious wives.
One of them is SUZANNE NELSON-DRUMMOYNE-GRAFF-CARMEL, a serial marrier who has finally found love. Unfortunately it is not with her latest husband. At war with her mother-in-law, PHILIPPA, a legendary old viper and trophy wife of another era, Suzanne is thirty-seven and terrified that she is about to hit her “use-by” date.
From the richest enclaves of Connecticut and Manhattan to the wilds of the Arizona desert and New Mexico, the novel brings these women together on a raunchy, life-changing encounter that will make them question the roles they have chosen for
themselves, and the high price they have all paid to live the pampered life of a rich man’s wife.
It was great to be back home. Pearl had taken Ricky’s old bed out and put in a queen so now they were both sharing it. After talking all day they lay there and yapped all through the night, too. Pearl was feeling anxious.
“You’re crazy, upping and leaving like that. You’re gonna lose your job for sure. And just when I was due for a week’s vacation. I was plannin’ on driving up to see the ranch. And maybe Big Bird while I was at it.”
“Will you quit worrying and get some sleep. I ain’t gonna want some old slack-jawed yawning wreck for a bridesmaid.”
Pearl nearly died laughing, and just as Ricky was getting ready to give her a whack, her phone rang. Sandy’s number jumped out at them in the dark. She quickly switched it off and tossed it into the dirty clothes hamper.
“If he wants to get me he’s gonna have to try a whole lot harder than that,” she scoffed.
The next morning, when everyone had gone off to work and school, and Eileen said she wasn’t expecting any calls, Ricky unplugged the landline as well. She headed over to Nelly’s, and they sat out on the porch working their way through a pile of magazines. Nelly tried with no success to wriggle some information about Ricky’s love life out of her. But exactly two hours later her secret was out of the bag…and overflowing from her house to Nelly’s. Fifty dozen roses – he must have bought every last one in the state – were sticking out of vases, old bottles, trash cans, bathtubs and anything else that would hold a stem. The house looked like a funeral parlor, and so did Nelly’s. Eileen even perked up and started asking questions about Ricky’s mystery admirer, but she told her momma she was just gonna have to be patient. She did show her the card that was delivered with the flowers, however.
Eileen read it out loud to Nelly. “Wild Thing. You Make My Heart Sing.”
They looked at each other bemused. Then Eileen studied the card some more and declared, “That’s an old man’s writin’.” Ricky just smiled mysteriously, and Eileen shrugged. “No fool like a old fool.”
He might be a old fool, Ricky thought as she headed for the bathroom to give herself a full beauty treatment in preparation for things to come, but he’s my old fool.
After a whole day of being incommunicado she knew that things were coming to a head when a State Trooper pulled up with a sealed letter on Stillwater Ranch stationary. Ricky thanked him and went inside to read it. All it said was, “Please Call.” As she scrunched it up and tossed it in the trash she realized that the trooper was still standing on the step waiting, and it occurred to her that what he was waiting for was a reply.
“Thank you, that’ll be all,” she said, and as the neighbors watched she walked him back to his car and waved him off.
The next morning the family was all straggling in and out of the kitchen getting their own breakfasts when Ricky heard a familiar noise right over the house. Pearl recognized it too.
“Big Bird!” she shouted, shooting Ricky a look as she darted into the bathroom to do something about her hair. Ricky was wearing a short frilly robe, and her hair was blown dry. Her eye makeup had taken her twenty minutes to put on, and she was teetering sexily in white satin kitten slip-ons with white fur trim. She stayed quite still, like she was having a Buddhist moment. Her life was about to change forever, and she felt a strange mix of calm and excitement start at her toes and work its way right up to the top of her head. Right then dust and old papers started blowing all down the street, and the kids ran out to see the first helicopter that had ever landed in that shitty little Wilcox street.
Sandy was wearing his best western outfit – a beautiful grey suit with dark blue piping, white embroidered shirt, plain silver bola and alligator high heel boots. His silver hair was tied back in a band, and his beard was gone. Ricky heard Eileen’s jaw drop onto the linoleum as she opened the door and ushered him inside their family home. It wasn’t much by anyone’s standards, especially his, but he hadn’t come for the décor.
Ricky sat down on the green vinyl couch and patted the seat beside her. Out the window she could see Pearl leaning on the chopper blowing smoke at John. Inside she could hear Sandy’s knee creaking as he eased himself down onto it. Nelly was hovering in the doorway, and Eileen was clutching her wrist for support. It was, Ricky thought, just like a opera. ‘Cept no one was singing.
Sandy fumbled in his jacket pocket and pulled out a little box. He handed it to her, and she slowly opened it. Sitting there on black satin was a lovely band of pink gold. Mounted on its six-pronged setting was a ruby to make your heart stop. Eileen, Nelly and Ricky all gasped together. Then Sandy, all nervous, took hold of Ricky’s hand. “It was my mother Lillie’s engagement ring. Now I’d like it to be yours.”
Ricky stared at the ring, and for a long moment she was silent. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Nelly fixing to stride clear across the room and throttle her if she kept them all waiting any longer. Finally, she looked up at Sandy and smiled. “Is that a pre-nuptial agreement in your pocket, Sandy Keane, or are you just happy to see me?”
About Billie Morton
Billie Morton is a British screenplay writer and film maker who originally set out to make documentaries about tribal life. Along the way she took a detour to California where she spent many years filming the natives and their social customs.
How To Un-Marry a Millionaire is her first novel. It was inspired by meeting young – and not so young – women across the globe all busily performing a colorful array of mating dances. Some were dancing as fast as they could. Others were looking to take a little time and add love to the dream. And some were grabbing the microphone at the nearest karaoke bar to belt out Tina Turner’s classic – What’s Love Got To Do With It?
These were the ones she chose to write about from her new home in the rainforest of northern Australia.
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