Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Breathing Room

© 2002

To Michael Spradlin and Brian Grogan

Every author should be lucky enough to have the two of you in her corner. This is just in case you don’t know how much I appreciate you.


I am so grateful to Alessandro Pini and Elena Sardelli for showing me the beauties of Tuscany. Bill, I couldn’t have had a better companion on those unforgettable walks than you, even if you had to squeeze those (fabulous) shoulders into the tiny Italian showers. I am especially grateful that Maria Brummel came into my life at just the right time to help with the Italian translations. (Thanks, Andy, for having the good sense to marry such a wonderful young woman.) Thank you, too, Michele Johnson and Cristina Negri for your invaluable help when I needed it most.

Once again, my fellow writers came to my aid with their knowledge and insight, especially Jennifer Crusie, Jennifer Greene, Cathie Linz, Lindsay Longford, and Suzette Vann. Jill Barnett, Kristin Hannah, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Meryl Sawyer, I can’t imagine doing this job without the friendship and phone calls. Barbara Jepson, you were the best present I’ve ever given myself. Without the many things you do for me so efficiently and cheerfully, I’d have no time to write.

Thanks, Zach Phillips, for sharing your wisdom about metaphysics and human behavior patterns. Lydia, you’re not only the best sister in the world but the best listener, too. We’ll always have Paris! Steven Axelrod, I’m eternally grateful for the way your steady hand keeps us on course. Ty and Dana, sharing your happiness has brought me such joy this past year. To the “Seppies” on my website bulletin board-you’re the world’s best cheerleaders. Cissy Hartley and Sara Reyes have done an incredible job creating and maintaining my website. And to all the readers who write me such wonderful letters and send that encouraging e-mail, thank you so much. It’s a great way to start the day.

It is long past time for me to recognize the talented and enthusiastic people at William Morrow and Avon Books who so frequently go above and beyond the call of duty for me. Carrie Feron, my gifted editor and guardian, has also been a wonderful friend. I am deeply indebted to all of the people who market and sell my books, design my beautiful covers, and cheer me on. These include Richard Aquan, Nancy Anderson, Leesa Belt, George Bick, Shannon Ceci, Geoff Colquitt, Ralph D’Arienzo, Karen Davy, Darlene Delillo, Gail Dubov, Tom Egner, Seth Fleischman, Josh Frank, Jane Friedman, Lisa Gallagher, Cathy Hemming, Angela Leigh, Kim Lewis, Brian McSharry, Judy Madonia, Michael Morrison, Gena Pearson, Jan Parrish, Chadd Reese, Rhonda Rose, Pete Soper, Debbie Stier, Andrea Sventora, Bruce Unck, and Donna Waitkus. You’re the best!


Dr. Isabel Favor prized neatness. During the week she wore exquisitely tailored black suits with tasteful leather pumps and a strand of pearls at her throat. On weekends she favored tidy sweater sets or silk shells, always in a neutral palette. A well-cut bob and an assortment of expensive beauty products generally tamed her blond hair’s inclination to rearrange itself into disobedient curls. If that failed, she resorted to narrow velvet headbands.

She wasn’t beautiful, but her evenly spaced light brown eyes sat exactly where they should, and her forehead rose in proportion to the rest of her face. Her lips were a shade too lavish, so she camouflaged them with nude- toned lipstick and dotted foundation on her nose to mute an unruly splash of freckles. Good eating habits kept her complexion creamy and her figure slender and healthy, although she would have preferred slimmer hips. In nearly every respect she was an orderly woman, the exception being a slightly uneven right thumbnail. While she no longer bit it to the quick, it was markedly shorter than her other nails, and nibbling at its edges remained the only habit from her very untidy childhood that she’d never entirely been able to conquer.

As the lights in the Empire State Building went on outside her office windows, Isabel tucked her thumb inside her fist to resist temptation. Lying on her art deco desk was that morning’s issue of Manhattan’s favorite tabloid. The feature article had festered inside her all day, but she’d been too busy to brood. Now it was brooding time.


The former administrative assistant to well-known self-help author and lecturer Dr. Isabel Favor says her employer is the boss from hell. “She’s a total control freak,” declares Teri Mitchell, who resigned from her position last week…

“She didn’t resign,” Isabel pointed out. “I fired her after I found two months’ worth of fan mail she didn’t bother to open.” Her thumbnail crept to her teeth. “And I’m not a control freak.”

“Coulda fooled me.” Carlota Mendoza emptied a brass wastebasket into the receptacle on her cleaning cart. “You’re also-what was those other things she said-driven and demanding? Si, those, too.”

“I am not. Get the top of those light fixtures, will you?”

“Do I look like I got a ladder with me? And stop biting your nails.”

Isabel tucked away her thumb. “I have standards, that’s all. Unkindness is a flaw. Stinginess, envy, greed-all flaws. But am I any of those things?”

“There’s a bag of candy bars hidden in the backa your bottom drawer, but my English isn’t too good, so maybe I don’ understand this greed stuff.”

“Very funny.” Isabel didn’t believe in eating her feelings, but it had been a horrible day, so she slid open her emergency drawer, pulled out two Snickers bars, and tossed one to Carlota. She’d simply put in extra time with her yoga tapes tomorrow morning.

Carlota caught the candy bar and leaned against her cart to tear it open. “Just outta curiosity… you ever wear jeans?”

“Jeans?” Isabel smooshed the chocolate against the roof of her mouth, taking a moment to savor it before she replied. “Well, I used to.” She set down the candy bar and rose from the desk. “Here, give me that.” She grabbed Carlota’s dust cloth, kicked off her pumps, and tugged up the skirt of her Armani suit so she could climb onto the couch to reach a wall sconce.

Carlota sighed. “You’re gonna tell me again, aren’t you, about how you put yourself through college cleaning houses?”

“And offices and restaurants and factories.” Isabel used her index finger to get between the scrollwork. “I waited tables all through graduate school, washed dishes-oh, I hated that job. While I wrote my dissertation, I ran errands for lazy rich people.”

“What you are now, except without the lazy part.”

Isabel smiled and moved on to the top of a picture frame. “I’m trying to make a point. With hard work,

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