Exclusive Excerpt: Anna Godbersen's The Blonde
Do you guys remember when that mega-addictive YA series The Luxe hit shelves, back in 2007? We were instantly obsessed with the books and their author, Anna Godbersen. So when we heard she was writing her adult debut, starring Marilyn Monroe as a blackmailed spy, well, we had to know more! So today we’ve got for you an exclusive excerpt from The Blonde, so we can all savor the awesomeness until tomorrow when the book comes out!
Chicago, March 1959
It had taken three Seconal just to stitch together a few hours sleep last night, and Marilyn asked for a second Bloody Mary when she realized that the descent into Midway wasn't going to be smooth. The plane was small, and she could hear every thrum of the engine and the wind through its walls, and that was before they hit the weather over Lake Michigan. For the first time in some years her fear of flying rose beyond a hazily pleasant fatalism, and she put her palm against the little oval window and let her eyes scan the blue surface below to the place where it met land. She wanted to make it there. If she had a father, somewhere in the world, then there was a reason to land safely after all.
The airport was coming up now, and she wondered what was in Chicago. Alexei had only said that it would be better for her to know less, and to be free to arrive at her hotel as she would for any junket. Mostly she disliked being told what to do, but in times of trouble she could on occasion enjoy surrendering to a task, especially when the promised reward was great. And Alexei had made the biggest promise of all. That the thing she was to do here would finally reunite her with her father was the most recurrent thought in the circle of her mind, and she didn't really snap-to until the steps were down and she saw that the publicity people had done their groundwork. A crowd of well-wishers were gathered under a gray sky, and they shrieked when they saw her descending to the tarmac. She took a moment, on the last step, to turn herself up a notch. I'm Marilyn Monroe, she thought, and reviewed a few of the particulars: the clinging, camel-colored turtleneck sweater dress, a long fur, high white pumps, her hair curling flamboyantly toward and away from the line of her jaw. She was glad that she had fixed her lipstick before disembarking. Her shoulders drew back as she moved into the waiting crowd, and she met the eye of as many well-wishers as possible to let them know she appreciated the welcome.
By the time her car pulled away from the airport she was feeling quite alive. Why did she always bitch and balk at these trips? It was invigorating, really, to arrive in some town where you didn't know anybody and have a lot of good people cheer for you. She saw that she had been afraid to leave New York, where her days were structured around visits with her analyst and acting classes. Perhaps all she'd really needed was a change of scenery. Arthur would be halfway up the Saw Mill by now, and she didn't miss him.
A light rain was falling when they arrived at the Ambassador East, but she kept her sunglasses on as she followed her public relations man across the sidewalk. Without so much as raising her chin, she took her key from Daniel (or David?), her publicity minder, and left him at the desk to sort out the practicalities of luggage and a room for her to get dressed in. There would be a luncheon with the local press in a few hours, and she had been firm that she would need time alone before that.
When she turned away from the reception desk the same thing happened that always happened when she walked across a room. A subtle combination of conversations breaking off and chairs creaking as people turned to look and a low murmur (the meaning of which she might read as hostile, depending on her mood). But the sense of freedom her early morning departure from New York had given her was still strong, and she breathed in the rare, reverent atmosphere. That hit lasted until she passed the final column and saw the row of brass elevators, and experienced a presentiment of danger. The old tells -- a tingling along the skin of her ears and a tightening of her throat -- and she knew she was being watched. Not in the way she wanted to be watched, but with predacious, hungry eyes.
Even so, she kept her shoulders relaxed and smiled brilliantly at the young man who was manning the elevators. He looked at her shyly and then looked away. As she waited for the brass doors to open she focused all her good will on him, letting her fur slip off her shoulders and down to her elbows. She remembered that David (or Daniel) was there to take care of her; that Alexei, too, was alert to any threats to her safety; that she had traveled far from the sorrowful, helpless feeling that had sent her out walking late last night; and that she was on the verge of solving the great riddle of her life. But the sensation of being followed persisted until the bell dinged and the doors opened.
"Tenth floor," she said with a wink.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, only half raising his eyes to her as she glided past him into the elevator. She leaned against the mirrored wall, relieved to be alone, and closed her eyes. The mechanism of the doors groaned as they reached for each other, and a man came in after her quite suddenly like an unexpected gust of weather.
"Going up," he told the boy brashly.
The veins in her wrists constricted, but she kept her body in a smooth curve against the mirror. The floor underneath sank a little before it lifted. Without any hurry she let her eyes open, lazily and only halfway.
"I'm Jack." He spoke in a fast, confident way, like a talent agent might.
His sport coat was dark brown and he didn't wear a tie and he was leaning against the wall opposite her with one ankle crossed over the other, in a posture of total ease. The loafers he wore were expensive mahogany leather, and the neat trim of his hair did not obscure its virile thickness. She could see her own face reflected on the mirror just behind him, as though they were some kind of two-headed astrological beast. There was a striking contrast between their faces—the skin of hers was pale, and his was so tan—and the opposing mirrors repeated them over and over and over. Of course she recognized him—he was one of the Kennedy clan the press so loved to fawn over, one of Joe's boys ("that old Nazi," Arthur used to call him)—but she wasn't about to pass up the satisfaction of acting like he was nobody to her.
"Jack." She half-whispered the name, but the tentativeness was for him, not her. Her full lips trembled toward each other without meeting, and she went on, in a voice she might have used to tell some fellow he was her king: "You're awfully impressed with yourself, aren't you, Jack?" The sound was sweet, but she meant it mean.
"I'm awfully impressed with you," he answered, unfazed."That's no crime, is it?"
"Oh, I wasn't really alleging any kind of crime. But I don't care much for pretty boys."
"Lucky me."His gaze shifted slightly, so that he was meeting his own eyes in the mirror behind her. The jauntiness of his grin and the intensity of his look held steady, and she was briefly sorry they weren't focused on her anymore. "There's no way anybody would call me pretty when I'm standing next to you."
His eyes were focused on her again, almost blindingly, and she returned his gaze long enough to let him know she could take it. The thing he wanted to do was plain on his face: He wanted to shove her against the elevator's wall and lift her skirt. She turned, very slowly, and showed him her profile. "You're a real womanizer, aren't you, Jack?"
It wasn't a question, and before he had time to attempt an answer the bell dinged and the brass arrow overhead pointed to the number ten. Languorously she stepped away from the wall. Jack moved faster, already ahead of her, and for a moment she thought that he was going to block her way, but he didn't -- he just straddled the entry, one foot in the elevator and one in the hallway, holding the doors for her. Slowly, exquisitely, she advanced onto the thick golden carpet of the hallway and rotated to face him. Perhaps two feet of air separated their bodies, all of it electric. Just the hint of a smile as she paused, daring him to come up with a line worthy of her.
His grin held steady."Going to the Pump Room later?"
"I don't know," she answered, trying not to show her disappointment that he hadn't tried harder."The studio always has something planned."
"Hope you disregard them, and show at the Pump Room." His tone was practical, staccato, with nothing of her feathery suggestion. He stepped back inside and didn't meet her eyes again until the doors were closing. Then he lifted his chin slightly, and put his gaze on her. "You're even better looking in the flesh," he said, and though he was still grinning, his voice had grown grave.
Before she could reply the doors closed, and she heard the shifting of metal gears lowering him down. What a good idea it had been -- she reflected for the second time -- to get out, away from the rut she'd dug herself, to be reminded that she still had it. And not in some grubby half-punitive way, with bearded, emaciated boys in dirty barrooms, but with beamingly wealthy men pretty much anywhere.
The room the studio had reserved for her was good -- as sprawling and anonymous as she could've hoped. As soon as she entered she let her fur fall to the ground, pulled her dress over her head, unhooked her bra, kicked off her pumps, shimmied out of her half-slip and slid against the sheets. She pressed her face into the silken pillow and her nipples against the mattress. In minutes she was asleep.
The sleep must have been deep because when she awoke it was very suddenly and without any sense of time passing.
The telephone was ringing, and her mouth was dry. It wasn't until she was across the floor, pouring ice into one of the cut-crystal glasses on the bar and over that scotch from one of the decanters, that she remembered that in her dream she had been lying on the sun-warmed deck of a boat next to Jack Kennedy, naked, his fingers nestled between the two halves of her bottom. The phone was still ringing.
"Hello?" She picked it up, took in the beige-and-ivory surroundings, remembered she was in Chicago.
"Oh, it's you." She sank into the stuffed chair next to the telephone and put her tumbler against her forehead.
"You made it."
"Is everything all right? You're comfortable there, I hope?"
"Yes, the room is lovely, just like I told them it had fucking better be."
"Good. I want you to be comfortable."
She drank, letting the ice rattle close to the receiver, and waited for him to get to the point.
"What's the schedule that the studio gave you?"
"I have a luncheon with the local press. Some local columnist, bunch of photographers. And after the premiere I suppose a dinner with notables and plenty opportunity to have my picture taken."
"Good. And perhaps later a drink at the Pump Room? The hotel is famous for it, you know -- all the greats have been there."
Her eyes took a luxurious roll. So much secrecy and allusion, and suddenly he was talking like an eager travel agent, and not even a particularly inventive one."Yes. I went once, when I was married to Joe. Frankie was playing. Frank Sinatra? They were friends, maybe they still are. Anyway, why does everybody want me to go there so bad?"
"It's the local -- how do you say? -- hot spot. The man I want you to meet is the kind who likes pretty women, and I'm counting on the fact that it will be a story that Marilyn Monroe is in the hotel, that he will be looking out for you. That he'll be looking out for you to make a pass, and the Pump Room is where he might expect to find you."
"Yes. He's a United States senator, from Massachusetts. He's going to go for the Democratic nomination next year. The establishment likes Johnson if he runs. But we think this man is going to be the next president of the United States."
"Uh-huh . . ." She curled in around her drink, closing her eyes. So that was it -- they wanted to bring down a politician with a little sex scandal. And what did she care? After the lies Wilder had spread about her, who knew whether she'd work again. This was Alexei's game, and he knew how to play -- that Jack Kennedy was a womanizer, and she was perfect bait. Perhaps he had only underestimated Jack's appetites, didn't realize they would have met already. "How'll I ever know which one he is?" she asked, in false ingénue.
"He's handsome, and a good talker, and I don't think you'll have trouble spotting him. But my guess is he'll find you."
"Yeah, well." She shifted in the chair, eyed the decanter. "I've already met him. In the elevator. Saw me in the lobby, I guess, and followed me."
On the other end of the line, Alexei chuckled. "You see, my dear? That's precisely why we picked you."
"You didn't think I knew who John Kennedy was? His little brother was with McCarthy, you know. They invited Arthur over for their little committee -- Arthur hates those boys. You must think I'm pretty slow."
"My dear, don't talk that way. Of course I don't think you're slow. I only wanted you to meet naturally, as I knew you would if you were staying in the same hotel at the same time . . ."
"Anyway," she went on, standing up and moving across the floor with the telephone in one hand, scotch in the other, the receiver tucked between ear and shoulder. "This bit you did get right -- he is going to be at the Pump Room. He told me he hoped to see me there."
"Good. Good. Go there tonight, get to know him a little. Don't fall in love with him, though - he's said to be quite charming."
"Don't worry about that. I can't fall in love." Was it true? She'd never said anything like that before, but it sounded right, and suddenly all the romantic disturbances with which she'd filled her years seemed like irrefutable proof. "Anyway, what do you want me to do to him?"
"That, my dear, is entirely up to you. The important thing is I want you to get something out of him. A secret."
"Like what? You want to know whether or not your Senator Kennedy has a big dick?"
This time the amusement was fainter, just an exhalation. "That I know already. No, whatever it is, you're going to have to tell me."
The mirror opposite the bed was framed in gilt flourishes, and she regarded herself, listening to the faraway sound of Alexei breathing. Her full, uptilting breasts, the swelling of the abdomen like something from a Rembrandt painting, the whiteness of the flesh. In the flesh, Jack had said. Her mind was bright -- she hadn't imagined they'd meet again, but now she was excited to see him, to put Alexei's scheme in motion, to see what she could learn. She only wished she wasn't quite so heavy at the moment, but that never mattered once she was playing a part; and anyway, there was lots of time to make herself up. She was practically a genius at that by now.
"I'll find you again soon. Don't drink too much; I want you to remember as much as you can." He paused, and for a moment she thought the line had disengaged. But then he went on, softly: "And do take care of yourself, all right?"
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Weinstein Books, from The Blonde. Copyright © 2014 by Anna Godbersen.
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