Chapter Excerpt

Being Committed

Chapter One

Every woman likes to be proposed to, even if she means to refuse. At least, until I'd racked up a couple of marriage offers myself, that's what I believed. Aged fifteen, I read of one thirty-something who'd totted up five and was happy to boast of it in a national newspaper. Then, I considered her lucky, glamorous, popular with boys. Everything that I, as a teenager, wasn't. (My adolescence can be summarized by one incident in which I took a gobstopper out of my mouth on a train. A man leaned forward in his seat and said, "Oh! I thought you were deformed.")

Years later, I realized that the proposal collector and I were a lot alike. You have to be quite a twit to allow matters to escalate to the point where some guy assumes you'll agree to rely on him for your life's entertainment when you have no intention of doing any such thing. (No man pops the question unless he is convinced of a yes. Which says not very much for the perception and self-regard of quite a few men.)

I'm being harsh. If it happens once, it's understandable. There are certain men who need to get married, for whom the woman is almost incidental to proceedings. The wife is the tedious yet necessary ingredient, similar to yeast in bread. This sort of man fixes on his target rather like a pit bull, and any girl who can't run fast enough is at risk. Then it's not her fault.

That said, sometimes it is. A persistence in finding you perfect can transform even a man of moderate charms into an accidental fiancé. I know that women, as a gender, are renowned for hankering after men one politely describes as "a challenge." But I'll bet that even those men have at one point (perhaps by having sex with us) given the impression of finding us attractive. I think it's instinct to gravitate toward those who find us delightful.

Disagree, but you'll disagree until the day you meet a person who dislikes you on sight and doesn't bother to hide it. Then you'll realize there's little more repellent. You won't be able to get away quick enough.

So, putting you at the right end of the desirability scale as it does, it's no wonder that a marriage offer is glorious in fantasy. A man, not noticeably defective, falling at your feet with a shower of gifts: flowers, jewels, big dinners, himself. A vitamin shot to the ego. The fact that out of all the millions of women he has met in his life, you are the one he finds most bewitching. (Or who he thinks will have him.)

Alas. The reality of an unwanted proposal is spitefully different from the dream format -- I discovered this the embarrassing way. And, as I believe that it cheers the spirit to hear of another person's romantic woes now and then, I feel it's only my duty to share. Patience, however. As I said, I have had two marriage offers -- wait! Three, now that I think about it -- one of which was successful. I'm going to detail one here and, to reassert my dignity -- presently making for the hills -- I've decided not to tell you which it is just yet.

I hope you're sitting comfortably. Even if you don't deserve to.


Jason drove. And not just because our weekend away in St. Ives was to celebrate my birthday. He always drove. As I was unbothered about who drove and of the implications were Jason ever to be seen in public being driven by a woman, I let him drive. Indeed, whenever we traveled together, I'd head for his car, no question. I'm all for granting favors at no cost to myself. Driving is an activity that men engage in to boost their self-esteem, which I can relate to but not in a Fiat. Anyway, as we both discovered awhile back when I directed him to Swindon out of spite (we were supposed to be going to Oxford), the navigator holds the real power.

Perhaps I'm not giving the greatest impression of myself. My sister-in-law Gabrielle says this is inevitable as I grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb. She means that a typical native of "the Suburb" -- a seemingly quaint residential area of London, characterized by big beautiful houses, trim heathland, and fierce conservation orders—is a rude rich person who drives a large car badly (when your nose is that high in the air, it's hard to see the road) and serially mistreats au pairs, cleaners, waiters, and anyone apparently poor -- that is, who takes home less than £1 million a year.

I've reminded Gabrielle that I drive a Vauxhall and am comfortably unsuccessful, but her reply is "Yes, darling, but for some reason you're still rude."

If that's true, I apologize, and offer the weaselly excuse that I'm only being defensive. Gabrielle has a point. The Suburb, though picturesque and exclusive, is a bitchy village with a high concentration of unhappy families who resent their neighbors. Even though a friend of mine who's plod -- pardon, a police officer -- says they have zero to sneer about because half of them are bent. Still, if you don't conform -- say, you smile at a gardener or divorce (or worse, divorce, then smile at a gardener) -- you are shunned like the traitor you are. It's an environment that stunts your natural affability, if you had any to begin with.

My job doesn't help. I'm a private investigator, but not a very good one. You can imagine how that went down with Next Door. If I'm not in the mood to offend (rare), I tell people I'm in public relations. Which isn't a lie. Occasionally -- when I don't botch things -- I do help the public with their relations.

Pretty much the rest of my time is spent tracing people, which I hope sounds glamorous ...

Being Committed. Copyright © by Anna Maxted. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Being Committed by Anna Maxted
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.