When obsessed pet owners have pooches or kitties they want immortalized on canvas, Kate Disney is the artist of choice. From her shed (which doubles as a studio and apartment) in London’s Primrose Hill, Kate caters to the whims of the rich and famous while herself living a decidedly bohemian existence. The problem is, she has a tendency to cater to her on-again, way-off-again boyfriend as well. Jake is so erratic, that most of her friends don’t understand why she even bothers. But it’s hard to fall out of love with a man who writes her songs and calls her “Angel”–even if he disappears for weeks at a time.
Luckily for Kate, Mirabelle Moncur isn’t buying any of that claptrap. Mirri was an actress, a legend in her time. Now, at age sixty, she’s given up on fame and men and lives in Africa, where she raises lion cubs. But her reclusive nature has done nothing to dull her beauty, mar her incredible figure, or dampen her outrageous joie de vivre.
After sweeping into London to have Kate paint a portrait of her favorite cub, Mirri seizes hold of Kate’s life–from the baggy wardrobe to the hopeless taste in men. Under Mirri’s tutelage, Kate learns to dance on tables with abandon, drink like a dockworker, and flirt like a goddess. And when her old friend Louis reenters the picture, she begins to see things in a whole new light. But Mirri has secrets that hint at a less than divine future. Now it’s Kate’s turn to teach Mirri a thing or two about life, love, and being fabulous.
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Kate Disney was having sex with her ex when the legendary Mirabelle Moncur first came into her life. Actually she came into the wooden garden shed that Kate called home just as Jake’s naked bottom appeared over the top of the sheets in anticipation of his last few enthusiastic thrusts. It was the moment that Kate had been waiting for since she and Jake had broken up a month ago. Since that Sunday night she’d existed in a fathomless abyss of pain, memories of Jake, and tears. Until about an hour ago, when Jake, in answer to her prayers and a good deal of amateur witchcraft, had shown up on her doorstep on his way home from a night out.
“Hello, angel, I’ve missed you.” It was three in the afternoon and he smelled of whiskey and cigarette smoke, his shirt was half unbuttoned, and his jacket was torn.
“Jake.” Kate had been cleaning her paintbrushes when she’d heard the tap on the shed door. She’d wiped her hands down her old T-shirt and unbolted it. Jake was the first and last person she expected to see standing there.
“It was my birthday yesterday,” he told her, and propped himself up in the door frame. “And the only present I really wanted was you.”
“Jake, you’re drunk,” Kate said. Though she knew he wasn’t.
“You’ve got paint in your hair.” He leaned forward to touch her bangs. Kate shrank back but knew that she’d already lost the battle. She knew that she was going to let Jake in. “You look terrible,” she lied.
“Don’t I even get a birthday kiss?”
“You’re lucky I haven’t punched you.”
“I love you.” Jake looked at Kate and she felt her will dissolve. Maybe he really meant it this time. Because even though she and Jake had been together on and off for almost three years, he had told her that he loved her only once before, the same night that he’d been signed to a small record label. And that night he really had been drunk.
“We’re only going to talk,” she said, and stood back to let him through the door.
“I know.” Jake pretended to believe her.
“I’ll make some tea.” Kate turned her back on him and with shaking hands filled the kettle in the large butler’s sink in the corner. This wasn’t how she’d imagined it would happen—Jake coming back to her. And she had imagined it—night and day, waking and sleeping. She’d hoped that it would be a bigger moment—that it would involve a declaration and a diamond rather than a cup of tea at the end of a long night out. But then after three years with Jake, Kate was accustomed to being underwhelmed. Thankfully the sex wasn’t underwhelming. It was fabulous. It was even more fabulous right now because they hadn’t so much as laid eyes on one another for a month. And as Jake kissed her neck and Kate trailed her fingers down his freckled brown back, she forgot about the underwhelmingness, and about the note he’d written to her, telling her that it was over because he had nothing left to give; she’d even forgotten that it was Jake’s fault that she was living in her boss’s garden shed. Well, not strictly his fault, but she and Jake had been saving for a place together and she’d agreed to give up her overpriced studio flat so that they could buy somewhere quicker and be together. But Kate forgot all these things and bit hard into Jake’s shoulder and let bygones be bygones. Until Mirabelle Moncur walked in and ruined everything.
“Kate Disney?” she demanded, without so much as a knock on the door or a polite cough to announce herself first. Jake, who was submerged somewhere in the vicinity of Kate’s left breast at that moment, completely lost his stride and practically gave himself whiplash as he turned to see who was behind him. Kate gave a cry of pain as Jake crushed her right leg.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” Jake asked the intruder as he ungraciously wrestled the sheet from Kate’s grasp to cover himself up. Kate suddenly remembered why he was her ex. Apart from the fact that he’d dumped her. He always put himself first. He was completely self-absorbed, not to mention, she noticed in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the shed window, a bit on the fat side.
“Oh, you don’t need to cover up.” At the foot of Kate’s bed stood a strikingly attractive woman, possibly in her late fifties, with disheveled blond hair, the sort of cheekbones that hold a beauty together no matter how far south her face gravitates, and deep green eyes that at this moment in time were locked on Jake’s crotch. “You have absolutely nothing to hide.” And with that she glanced the tip of her Gitane cigarette with a lighter and raised an unimpressed eyebrow. Jake turned beet red and looked uncomfortable.
“Yes, who the bloody hell are you?” Kate demanded as she reached for an old nightdress that was lying on the floor to cover herself with and clambered from her bed.
“I’m Mirabelle Moncur,” the woman said in a French accent as thick as nightclub smoke as she looked around the shed. “Do you actually live here?”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Kate demanded crossly. Knowing full well that she didn’t. Though there was something familiar about Mirabelle Moncur.
“I want you to come and work for me,” the woman said and watched unabashed while Jake stumbled into his boxer shorts, one leg at a time. Kate had never seen him so ruffled.
“Well, you could have knocked first,” he muttered under his breath.
“Look, I don’t know who you are, or how you got in, but this is actually a private residence and if you want me to work for you then you’ll have to make an appointment and come back.”
Mirabelle sniffed the air in a way that told Kate that she didn’t believe this to be a residence of any sort. Let alone a private one worth knocking at. She walked over to where a few of Kate’s canvases were stacked up against the wall and began glancing through them. “These are your paintings?”
“Yes, and as I’ve said, you can make an appointment to come back later and see them. But right now, as you can probably see, I’m busy.”
“They’re a little old-fashioned but I suppose you’ll do,” the woman said. “I want you to paint Bébé for me. He’s very beautiful, so I suppose it’ll be easy to do. Even for someone like you.”
“Who the hell is Bébé?” Jake asked, not, Kate noticed, leaping to defend her work, which he’d never complained about when it was funding his cigarette habit, paying for recording studio time, and keeping him in whiskey and the cashmere socks he absolutely had to wear or his feet got too hot, for the past three years.
“Bébé is my pussy. He arrives tomorrow morning from Mozambique and you can begin work in the afternoon,” Mirabelle Moncur filled in. Jake looked staggered.
“Right, well, I’m sure we can discuss my old-fashioned paintings later. And whether I’m prepared to paint your . . . pussy. But for now would you mind leaving me and my . . .” Kate always hesitated to call Jake her boyfriend, even before they’d split up, lest he get nervous and feel like she was trying to tie him down and put him under pressure. She turned to look at the man who was sitting on the corner of her bed waiting for her to deal with their intruder so that he could get on with the birthday treat. “. . . my friend alone.”
“I’ll come back later, if you prefer,” Mirabelle Moncur said as she dropped a glowing cigarette butt on top of a yellow canister of fertilizer with a skull and crossbones on the lid. “There’s nothing worth hanging around here for.” She looked at Jake with a sneer and walked out the door, without closing it behind her, leaving Kate to pick up the burning Gitane or risk being blown up.
“Who on earth was she?” Kate asked as she went to the window and watched the woman disappear down the garden path.
“Mirabelle Moncur. Rings a bell,” Jake said. “Now, sweetheart, cute as you look in that little nightie, I prefer you without it.”
“You do?” Kate laughed girlishly and went in a pair of old sneakers to Jake’s side. He pulled the white cotton slip over her head and began to kiss her stomach.
“Mmmhhhmmm,” he said. “I’d forgotten what a great body you had.” Kate smiled inside and ran her hands through Jake’s hair. She, in her turn, forgot how ungracious he’d been with the sheet when that weird woman had barged through the door. Amnesia was a requirement with Jake as a boyfriend. If you remembered all the bad stuff, you’d have to wonder what had happened to your mind. Because you certainly weren’t in possession of it. Kate chose to concentrate on her body instead, and how good it was feeling right now.