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The Next Mrs Russo
Author: Jana Aston

Chapter One

 

 

Everyone has to start somewhere. A first step. A first sentence. A first kiss. We all start over too. Every day is a do-over, in a way.

Every time you think you’ve had your last first, you’re proven wrong. Which is exhilarating, if you think about it from the right perspective. I’m working on that. My perspective.

My perspective would be brighter if I wasn’t broke.

What I need is a sale. Desperately.

The fashion scene in Albany isn’t what it was in New York City. Shocker, I know.

Cost of living is cheaper though, by about a bajillion dollars. And it’s a new first step. Besides, online is where it’s at in vintage clothing rehab. I know, I know. That’s not exactly a thing. Yet. But it should be. Giving new life to vintage clothing is my passion.

I like old stuff and fresh starts, I guess. Bolts of brand-new fabric do nothing to inspire me. But an old suit with shoulder pads from the 1990’s? A vintage designer gown from the 1980’s?

The potential is almost enough to get me off.

A seam ripper, my sewing machine, a dash of inspiration and slam bam, that garment hiding in the back of Grandma’s closet becomes a one-of-a-kind custom, treasured piece, instead of languishing in a resale shop forever. Or, worse, being dumped in a landfill.

It’s hard to find an audience for one-of-a-kind custom pieces though. So until I can build a name for myself online, I’ve created a little boutique in the first floor of my brownstone.

Sure, a shop in the Hamptons would have been a better move after I fled the city, but unfortunately this brownstone I inherited is in Albany, so here I am. Does that sound charming and romantic? A historic brownstone in one of the oldest cities in America? It’s not. It’s Albany. It might be the capital of New York State, but everyone knows New York City is the capital of the world, fashion and otherwise.

And this brownstone is a money pit I can’t sell. The first floor I’m using as a shop isn’t terrible. Hardwood floors and vintage wood trim never go out of style. The kitchen and bathroom, however… yeah, don’t ask. Sadly, my skillset at renovating old stuff doesn’t extend to anything requiring a power saw or a sledgehammer.

But it’s fine. This is just a first step.

And my best customer is trying on something I redesigned with her in mind. By best customer, I mean this is her third time in my store. I caught her eyeing a vintage gown on her last visit and I pounced on the opportunity.

“It’s awfully outdated, darling,” she said while fingering the fabric wistfully.

“I can fix it,” I promised her. “Tear it apart and make you something brand-new.”

“Tearing apart a vintage Valentino seems a bit tragic though, doesn’t it?” She eyed me speculatively, as if to ascertain whether I was up to the task or simply a crazy person.

“Well, there’s a huge rip in the fabric here,” I pointed out, “and the hem is stained beyond fixing. No one is ever going to wear it again like this anyway, so we’d be doing the dress a favor.”

“Hmm,” she hummed while glancing over the offending imperfections, “you’re not wrong.” Then she added the magic words I longed to hear. “I’ll be back in a week.”

She’s trying on the dress right now and I’m pacing across my shop floor, waiting to hear her verdict. I tore it apart and turned it into a cocktail dress. It’s unrecognizable from where the dress started, mid-calf length with a tasteful v-neckline. I added a trail of hand-stitched sequins around the collar. They’ll catch the light perfectly and if Mrs Bianchi doesn’t love it… well, it’s fine. I can sell it online. But I’d prefer a quick sale right now with a built-in repeat customer. One who might have friends also in need of dresses.

Nothing but silence from the fitting room.

I fidget. Exhale.

“What you need is a man.”

I side-eye my assistant. He’s not really my assistant, because I didn’t hire him and I don’t pay him. But he keeps telling people he’s my assistant and he won’t go away, so there you have it. “Ugh, gross. Miller, the last thing I need is a man. Also, you’re fired.”

“I don’t actually work here, so you can’t fire me.” He flips through a rack of vintage St John I picked up over the weekend at an estate sale. “You need a man,” he begins again but I cut him off before he gets the chance.

“I do not need a man.” I place emphasis on the word need, then I drop the side-eye in order to turn and glare at him head on. “And that was really sexist. Like I need a date to fill some void in my life? Please. I expect better from your generation.” I don’t attempt to hide my eye roll.

He stops flipping through the rack to give me a teenage glance of disdain. “You need a man to fix the leaky pipes,” he deadpans with a meaningful glance upstairs. I’m on my third plumbing estimate. “And another one to patch the drywall.”

Oh.

“Still sexist,” I grumble. “You know the last electrical estimate was from a woman.”

“Whatever.” He pauses, no doubt for dramatic flair. “But since you brought it up, a date wouldn’t kill you.”

“I did not bring it up!” I don’t think. Damn teenagers. I wasn’t anywhere near this much of a know-it-all when I was that age.

“A little romance would be good for your creativity. And maybe he’d know how to use a hammer.”

“Miller!”

“What?” He glances up from the rack. “Don’t be gross, that wasn’t an innuendo. You clearly need the help around here. And a date.”

“I don’t—” I cut myself off. Forget it. I’m not arguing with my teenage non-employee about my nonexistent love life. It’s none of his business. Besides, teenagers are master arguers. I need to focus on Mrs Bianchi. Not that there’s anything for me to do but stare at the fitting room curtain and wait.

“I could make you an online dating profile.”

Okay, clearly my focus needs to be redirected to nipping this idea in the bud.

“Online dating? Have you tried online dating, Miller?” I level him with what I hope is a serious look. Eyebrows raised, hands on hips. Freaking kids these days. They have no idea what it’s like out there in the real world.

“Of course not. I’m still in high school,” he scoffs.

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