Jane Heller’s riotous novel proves the maxim, “Be careful what you wish for.” Six years after saying, “I do,” Elizabeth Baskin discovers that her sexy soulmate Roger has become a self-absorbed, pot-bellied, passionless slob. Her solution: slipping him a magic herbal potion guaranteed by a Beverly Hills doctor to turn Roger back into Prince Charming. The potion works too well: Roger not only wants her, but every other woman to cross his path. The Secret Ingredient is hilarious, but also ruefully dead-on in depicting the dangers of not appreciating one’s mate – warts and all.
February 17, 2002
Jane Heller brings screwball comedy to the page in The Secret Ingredient. Her heroine, Elizabeth Baskin, is long on dreams and short on common sense, a classic combination for mistakes that generally come out all right in the end. A knight in shining armor (or shining auto) rescues Elizabeth from an overheated car during rush hour and proceeds to propose a happily-ever-after life in the luxury of Santa Monica. But Elizabeth finds that marriage and romance aren’t always compatriots and that life with Roger has slid into stasis. Rather than adjust her expectations, Elizabeth determines to adjust Roger. Enter the Hollywood witch doctor, with his eponymous secret ingredient to be mixed discreetly into Roger’s morning orange juice. Elizabeth forks over the cash for a triple dose – in case Roger needs the high-octane eye of newt – and gets ready for the miracle. A few impatient days later, she and Clover – they met in the purported doctor’s waiting room, seeking the same solution to the problem of uninterested husbands – decide what the heck and administer the other two doses to their unsuspecting beloveds. Tampering with Mother Nature and flaunting instructions give Elizabeth and Clover far more than they bargained for in the spousal libido realm. When they dash back to Hollywood for the antidote and find the good shaman is on the lam, they turn to crime, cross-country chases, bribery and tears to get back the husbands they had so wanted to change. Of course, there’s no going back, but after a little kidnapping and soul-searching, Elizabeth learns that going forward with a new expectation for happily ever after is far more effective than any potion. Heller’s novel is a quick and amusing read, her characters engaging….”
People Newspapers (Dallas)
February 14, 2002
The Secret Ingredient explores the critical time in a relationship when things get stale and a partner begins to look for some ingredient to re-ignite the passions. Heller’s heroine finds a secret herb that guarantees her husband will be transformed into his previously sexy self; but the potion goes awry, leaving her with an over-the-top man she didn’t plan for and leading her to the realization that she loved the flawed man she married
The Dallas Morning News
February 11, 2002
Romance would be so much easier if we could just fix our partners, now wouldn’t it? That’s the emotionally risky premise behind Jane Heller’s latest romantic comedy, The Secret Ingredient. The supremely talented Ms. Heller delivers snappy wit, lush romance and plenty of surprises in the story of Elizabeth Baskin, an unhappy wife who calls on the “stud stimulant” offered by a Beverly Hills doctor to help save her stuck-in-a-rut marriage. The magic potion doesn’t bring exactly the results that Elizabeth had in mind, of course. Readers will be delighted at the saga of the hapless Elizabeth and her magically “transformed” hubby. Just the thing to spark a romantic adventure of your own.
New and Used Books.Com
February 5, 2002
When she married her spouse Roger six years ago, Elizabeth Baskin thought he was an eleven in a male ranking system that tops out at ten. As an undercover field agent for luxurious properties, she seeks perfection in the hotels she clandestinely canvases. Elizabeth expects the same in her personal life. Thus, she decides she must renovate her heavier and lazier real estate attorney spouse so that instead of him sleeping away the night….they make love. Elizabeth knows she needs professional help to accomplish her agenda. She visits Dr. Gordon Farkus, a Beverly Hills “life enhancement” guru. Gordon persuades Elizabeth to buy an herb that magically changes an aging, over-the-hill dud into a lovemaking stud. However, Elizabeth puts too much of the elixir in Roger’s orange juice. Instead of lovingly turning to her, he becomes a narcissistic babe magnet. Desperate to regain her husband, the sloth, Elizabeth seeks a cure for the cure. The Secret Ingredient is a humorous contemporary tale with messages on perfection and satisfaction….Jane Heller shows she continues as one of the top satirical humorists with this enjoyable frolic.
Romantic Times Magazine
Like many women before her, Elizabeth Baskin suddenly finds herself worrying that the romance is going out of her marriage. For six years she and Roger were happy. Recently, it seems as if the joy and magic are slipping away. As an undercover inspector of luxury hotels, Elizabeth is used to searching for perfection. Unfortunately, Elizabeth makes a fatal mistake and tries to “fix” her unsuspecting husband Roger. Through her celebrity reporter sister, Elizabeth learns about an exclusive doctor who claims to be a specialist in “life enhancement.” Dr. Gordon Farkus, guru to the stars, can address the problem areas of one’s life and fix them with a special formula. Desperate, Elizabeth makes an appointment to “enhance” Roger in order to save her marriage. While in the waiting room, Elizabeth meets another wife, Clover Hinsdale. They decide to keep in touch to monitor the progress of their husbands. Elizabeth and Clover give their unsuspecting husbands the specialized potions only to rediscover the old saying…Be careful what you wish for! The wit and irony contained in the novels of Jane Heller is a true joy to behold. No one can take an everyday situation and turn it on its ear quite like she. If you’ve never tried a Jane Heller book, you are missing out on some of the most delightful, satirical and just plain fun books around.
December 10, 2001
Frothy as a double latte with extra foam, Heller’s latest romantic satire (after Female Intelligence) playfully follows the misadventures of Elizabeth Baskin, a dissatisfied wife searching for a magic potion to revitalize her husband, Roger, only to discover that quick fixes can be disastrous. She’s a finicky hotel field inspector spy for AMLP, America’s Most Luxurious Properties, who’s almost ready to downgrade her own marriage as uninhabitable. Roger, an overworked real estate lawyer, has developed a paunch, a bald spot and a penchant for going to bed at 11 instead of making love till dawn. He drools and drops crumbs everywhere when he eats, and she yearns for the old romance of their first meeting when he rescued her from a breakdown on the “dreaded 405,” a Southern California freeway. Brenda, who’s Elizabeth’s well-meaning sister and a celebrity-obsessed journalist, suggests Dr. Gordon Farkus, a Beverly Hills “specialist in life enhancement.” Elizabeth buys into the trendy hocus-pocus and purchases a “stud stimulant” to drop into her hubby’s fresh-squeezed orange juice, but in her eagerness to rev up Roger, she overdoses him and suddenly her sweet but dull husband becomes a sexy but terribly self-absorbed hunk no woman can resist. Mortified by the havoc she’s wrought, Elizabeth decides to ask for the antidote, only to discover the notorious “life-enhancer” has split town. Featuring fun-filled shenanigans played out against L.A. area and resort backdrops, not to mention some rugged adventures on nearby Mt. Baldy, the novel zips along like the latest issue of People and packs the punch of a big bite of pink cotton candy – good for a sticky smile on a lazy afternoon.
I had just finished writing Female Intelligence and was casting about for an idea for my next book. During a phone conversation with my friend, novelist Ruth Harris, she mentioned that her husband drove her crazy by leaving a sticky ring of orange juice on the counter every morning, simply because he always filled his glass too high and it overflowed and it never occurred to him to wipe up the mess. I countered by complaining about my husband’s propensity for littering the kitchen floor with English Muffin seeds, not to mention for leaving black smudge marks everywhere after reading the newspaper. That provoked a torrent of wicked giggles from each of us. It also unleashed confessional after confessional about how our husbands, lovable though they are, were no longer the tidy, well groomed stud muffins they’d been when we married them — or at least that’s how it often seemed to us. After we hung up the phone, I started thinking how true it is that the beginnings of relationships are so exciting, so thrilling. Each partner is on his or her best behavior. Each partner is dying to have meaningful conversations, have free time to spend together, have sex — and then all of a sudden the beginnings are over and the day-to-day routine kicks in. Where’s the romance? Where’s the communication? Where’s the lovemaking? I decided I wanted to write a novel about a wife who experiences the realization that the initial magic of her marriage is gone and that her husband doesn’t seem to notice or care. I wanted to write about what happens after that delicious beginning period in a relationship slides into the stale middle period. I wanted to create a heroine who goes to any length to recapture that magic — even if it means fooling Mother Nature. The result is The Secret Ingredient. I think women everywhere will relate to Elizabeth Baskin’s tale. I know my friend Ruth and I do!
Read the First Chapter
The Secret Ingredient
If only he would change… If only I could change him…
Is there a wife on the planet who doesn’t harbor such thoughts occasionally?
Go on, admit it. There’s at least one characteristic about your husband that you’re dying to change, isn’t there? More than one, I’ll bet — everything from the way he forgets to cap the tube of toothpaste to the way he forgets your anniversary. And why is this the state of affairs? Because at some point — even if your relationship got off to a promising start, even if your union seemed destined for greatness, even if your man has genuinely admirable qualities — there comes that inevitable period of dissatisfaction in every marriage or romantic partnership when minor irritants become mega-irritants; the inevitable realization that he is no longer writing you intimate little notes, surprising you with bouquets of flowers, rendezvousing with you in the middle of the day for a roll in the hay; the inevitable moment when you look at him as he’s splayed out on the sofa, fiddling with the TV remote, feeding his face with something disgustingly artery-clogging, oblivious to your very existence, and you wonder, Who the heck is this bozo? Where’s the prize I won? And how do I get that guy back? What is also inevitable is that you will decide that the trick to getting him back is by you fixing him. It’s an automatic reflex on our part, an irresistible impulse, a foolhardy descent into what psycho-therapists call “magical thinking.”
There. I’ve said it. Magical. The M word. The word that figures prominently in the story I’m about to share with you, the story involving my own marriage.
It was a marriage that began well, as most marriages do, with an auspicious first encounter to kick it off. People always say that love comes calling when you least expect it, and that was certainly the case with us.
How did Roger and I meet? He rescued me on the 405 — the “dreaded 405,” as southern Californians refer to the freeway whose traffic is the stuff of nightmares, particularly at rush hour. My car had overheated, and I’d managed to navigate it across six lanes to the shoulder, after which I’d climbed out, planted myself on the pavement in the blistering August sun, and prayed for some good Samaritan to help me. (I appreciate that many women know exactly what to do when their cars break down — women who can reel off the name and purpose of each hose and belt and wire under the hood — but I am not one of them. I don’t even know how to fill my own gas tank; among my favorite words in the English language are full serve.)
So there I was, sweltering, stewing, speculating about how I would ever make it back to my townhouse in Santa Monica before dark, when a car pulled up behind mine and a man got out.
Be careful what you wish for, I thought as he walked toward me, setting off an orgy of “what ifs” in my head. Like, What if he’s a serial murderer whose M.O. is that he pretends to be a rescuer of women but then abducts them, drags them back to his lair, and kills them by some hideously inventive method?
“I see you’ve got a problem with your car,” said the man, who wore a friendly, if not downright cheerful, statement.
I squinted, gave him the once-over. He was about my age — thirties — and handsome, although hardly GQ cover-model material. He was in the six-foot range, lean but broad-shouldered, and he had curly brown hair, a prominent jaw and nose, and, to the right of his mouth, a very deep dimple, an indentation I found quite adorable. He was nicely dressed too — well-tailored sport jacket and slacks, open-necked shirt, sporty loafers. And, when he removed his sunglasses, he revealed a pair of soulful, thoroughly captivating green eyes. Still, I couldn’t let my guard down. Ted Bundy wasn’t bad-looking either.
“Yes,” I said. “I think the engine overheated. A little red light went on, and the next thing I knew the car smelled like some oily fish that was left on the grill too long.”
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You,” he said. “You have a funny way of describing things.”
“How can you tell?” I said. “I only described one thing. Maybe the way I describe other things isn’t funny at all.”
“Maybe, but let’s try you out,” he said. “How would you describe me, for instance?”
“How would I — ” This was weird. Weird, but interesting. “Well, for starters, you have a sinkhole in your cheek.”
He laughed again, running his fingers over his dimple. And then he gave me the once-over, his green eyes skipping over my body, which was as thrilling as it was discomforting. “Back to business,” he said, as if reminding himself to be a Boy Scout. “I’m sure you’d prefer dealing with your car problems to discussing the peculiarities of my face.”
Not necessarily. I liked his face. “Right you are,” I said. “Do you know how to fix my engine?”
“Fix it? Sorry, I’m a real estate attorney, not a mechanic. But I’d be glad to lend you my cell phone so you could call for a tow.”
“That would be great. I would use my own cell phone, but, like the car, it isn’t working. It’s just not my day, I guess.”
“The day’s not over yet. Stay positive. Let’s walk back to my car and you can call from there.”
I followed Mr. Positive to his car, a silver Mitsubishi something-or-other, but I refused to get in.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“How do I know you’re not going to kidnap me?” I said.
He laughed again. “I don’t usually have to kidnap women to get them to go out with me.”
Go out with him? That wasn’t what I’d meant, obviously. But since he mentioned it and since I was unattached, the idea was rather appealing, provided he wasn’t one of America’s Most Wanted.
I peered inside his car. No weapons that I could spot. No drops of blood. No newspaper clippings of his heinous crimes. I did see a shopping bag full of children’s toys resting on the back seat and was curious about it.
“Are you married?” I asked.
“Why?” he said. “Are you proposing?”
“No. I was wondering if the toys were for your kids.”
“For one kid. I’m in the Big Brother program and my Little Brother is a six-year-old. I get together with him once a week.”
So he was a lawyer with a conscience. A lawyer with a conscience who was also attractive and single. Maybe he was right; the day would turn out better than I’d thought.
I got in his car and called AAA. “They said they’ll be here in forty-five minutes,” I reported after I’d finished with the dispatcher, “which means it’ll be more like two hours.” I reached for the door handle. “Thanks for the phone. I really appreciate it. Take care.”
“Hey, where are you going?” he asked as I was about to return to my poor excuse for an automobile. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Oh.” I grabbed his hand and shook it. “It’s Elizabeth.”
“Nice to meet you, Elizabeth. I’m Roger. And I don’t intend to let you wait on the dreaded 405 for two hours by yourself. We’re in this together. So which will it be? Your car or mine?”
He wanted to wait with me? What was that about?
“What’s wrong now?” he said. “You’re staring at me.”
“Sorry. I was just wondering why you don’t have to be anyplace.” Like back at the federal prison before bed check.
“Who said I don’t have to be anyplace?” He picked up his cell phone, punched in a number, and told someone named Samantha that he wouldn’t be able to make the movie after all.
“Am I hearing things or did you just cancel a date?”
“Actually, I think I just cancelled a relationship.”
“Cancelled a–” I felt guilty. Okay, no, I didn’t. I was beginning to really like this guy.
“Listen, I know this is going to sound crazy, Elizabeth, but have you ever had a hunch that you were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time with exactly the right person?”
“That’s a pretty heavy thing to say,” I remarked, counting all the exactlys. Roger was either a kook or a catch, and I was definitely sticking around to find out which one.
“I don’t want to scare you,” he said lightly. “Why don’t I put on some music while you digest my question. Do you like Eric Clapton?”
“Who doesn’t?” I said, settling into the passenger seat of his car as he popped in a CD.
“How about something to drink? I’ve got bottled water in the cooler.”
“Water would be wonderful, thanks.”
He reached into the back seat, retrieved two plastic bottles, and handed me one. Then he clinked his bottle against mine. Well, not clinked; plastic doesn’t really clink. “Here’s to being in the right place at the right time with the right person.”
“May I ask you a question, Roger?”
“‘What makes you think I’m the right person?”
He took a swallow of water before answering. “Because my heart is leaping around in my chest in a way it’s never done before. Of course, I could be going into cardiac arrest, but since I’m only thirty-four years old and I keep fit and eat healthy and try not to indulge in type A behavior, my guess is I’m falling in love.”
I couldn’t believe this. I absolutely could not believe this. Let me add, though, that I wanted very much to believe it.
“So you do think this is crazy,” he went on. “You’re too cynical to buy the whole love-at-first-sight thing, is that it?”
“Well, sure I’m cynical. You don’t even know me. And while I’m very grateful for your help today, I don’t know you either.”
“Do you have any desire to know me?”
He smiled. “Then why don’t I get started?”
While we sat in his car for two-and-a-half hours, he told me about himself, let me know him, injecting the story with charming, self-deprecating jokes. What I learned that day about Roger Baskin was that he was a good, kind man to whom the words “What can I do to help?” came naturally; that he considered it a no-brainer that he would volunteer in the Big Brother program instead of spending his free time on a golf course; that, because his parents had died of cancer within a year of each other, he had a maturity about him, an understanding of how to be alone without being lonely. I learned that he loved the beach and swam in the Pacific when it was too cold for most mortals; that he loved camping and slept under the sky even in crummy weather; that he loved dancing and had earned the nickname “disco king” back in college. I learned that he was smart — not an intellectual, but bright, quick, well educated; that he was a partner in his law firm and worked hard but not compulsively; that he was successful but not one of those awful strivers who is consumed by his place in some pecking order. Mostly what I learned about Roger, by the end of those two-and-a-half hours, was that I wanted to marry him. And so I did marry him, a mere eight months later. We anticipated that we would enjoy a long and happy life together.
Six years into the marriage, however, our relationship took the unfortunate turn I hinted at earlier.
What happened was this: I, Elizabeth Baskin, an otherwise risk-adverse, play-it-safe sort, had the brazenness, the impudence, the gall to mess with Mother Nature, and the result was a total disaster.
No, I did not have a botched face-lift. My miscalculation was far more serious — a truly bad, bad thing.
I’m not suggesting that I was a paragon of virtue before I committed this act. I had my faults, just like the next person. I spent too much money on my clothes. I had a habit of employing sarcasm whenever I was trying to mask my true feelings. I was often suspicious of people, as I demonstrated during my first interaction with Roger. And — this was, perhaps, my most glaring shortcoming — I was obsessively neat. (I viewed my Dust-busters with the kind of reverence others reserve for their televisions.)
But on the whole, I was a decent woman, not somebody you would point to and say, “Watch out for that one.” What’s more, I’m not so sure that, if you’d been in my situation, you wouldn’t have done the same bad, bad thing that I did. If only he would change. . . If only I could change him. . . You’ve uttered those words, remember? You have. It’s possible that you, too, would have used a little magic, reached for the quick fix, resorted to the identical strategy I did — the bonehead move that riled Mother Nature and sullied my marriage to Roger, the nice, sweet man who’d saved me on the 405.
Oh, come on. Just hang on a second, would you? I swear this won’t be yet another sob story about a woman whose husband took a powder. Not in the conventional sense.
No, this tale has legs. But I suppose the only way to prove it is to dispense with the throat-clearing, spill my guts, and let you make the call about me. Am I worthy of redemption? Did I get what I deserved? Would you have done the same bad, bad thing if you’d been in my Manolo Blahniks?
“Bye, Roger. I’m off to the airport,” I said to my husband one Tuesday morning in March. (I’ve decided to begin the story here because it’s the morning I became aware that I wanted to kill Roger. Well, not kill him, exactly. Just slap him around a little.) “Roger?”
There was no response from him. Not even the slightest flicker. It was as if he were alone in our three-bedroom house on the corner of fifteenth and Idaho in Santa Monica, as if he didn’t have a wife of six years who was about to leave on a business trip, as if he had morphed from a husband who takes his marital responsibilities seriously into a husband who takes his marital responsibilities for granted. Such a shame, wasn’t it? Especially after our dreamy start on that freeway?
“Roger,” I tried again. “I said goodbye.”
He was sitting at the kitchen counter, reading the L.A. Times, drinking coffee, and eating an English muffin. There were crumbs everywhere, including those pesky little seeds that regularly slough off the underside of English muffins. I was itching to grab the nearest Dustbuster, but there wasn’t time. I was running late. The Town Car from Ascot Limo was picking me up any minute to take me to LAX.
“Oh, are you going now, hon?” he said sweetly, innocently, turning his head in my direction at last, answering with a mouthful of food. His question sounded more like Ohyougonaha? I often thought of hiring a translator for those precious moments when Roger spoke while he ate.
“Yes. I’m taking a nine o’clock flight, remember?” I had only told him that ten thousand times.
“When will you be back?”
“Thursday night,” I replied impatiently. I had told him that too. I’d told him where I was going and what time I was going and when I would be home, but he hadn’t been paying attention. Not for a long time. When we were first married, he hung on my every word, not to mention hung up his clothes, and now he did neither. He was always too busy, too tired, too something, and, as a result, I was always carping. “I really wish you’d listen to me when I talk to you, Roger.”
He took a sip of coffee. Slurped it, actually. A renegade drop dribbled down the side of his mug onto the counter. I hated how tempted I was to wipe it up.
“And I really wish you wouldn’t go off on a trip on such a harsh note,” he countered. “Besides, I do listen to you when you talk to me. I’m allowed to forget the details, aren’t I?”
He honestly didn’t get it, didn’t get the disconnect that had occurred between us. Or if he did, he didn’t want to face it — or, God forbid, have a conversation about it.
“You never used to forget the details,” I said wistfully.
“Sorry, hon. You know how tied up with work I’ve been.”
Tied up with work. Ha! Roger had become a card-carrying workaholic. When we were first married, he couldn’t wait to get away from the office so he could be with me. Now, the reverse was true, or at least it seemed that way.
“Is it really work, Roger?” I said. “Is that what’s distracting you? Or is it that the thrill is gone? That our marriage is in trouble?”
“Elizabeth. Don’t start that again.”
“‘Why not? You’ve changed. I can’t help that I notice it.”
“I haven’t changed. It’s just. . . just… I don’t know… reality, I guess. People get bogged down by the routine of marriage, the everyday-ness of marriage, the blah-blah-blah of going to the office and dealing with the house and figuring out whether it’s our turn to have the neighbors over. It can’t be the way it was when we were first married. It never is.
“That’s not true. There are plenty of couples who’ve been married a long time but act like they’re still on their honeymoon.”
I thought for a minute, taking a quick inventory of all our friends, many of whom were no longer our friends because they’d gotten divorced, remarried, and moved on to other friends. “I can’t. Not right this second. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”
“Elizabeth.” He said this with a patronizing tone. “I appreciate that you have high standards and demand the best of everything and everybody, but marriage isn’t a honeymoon. It isn’t supposed to be.”
“I don’t believe that. I refuse to believe that. Maybe what’s really going on between us is that you’re having an affair.”
First, he did the jaw drop. Next, he did the eyebrow arch. Then, he did that thing people do with their neck where they sort of extend it forward and hold it there, to register their shock and disbelief — and buy time.
“Nice stall,” I said.
“I’m not stalling,” he said. “I’m just stunned by your question. I’m processing it.”
“What’s to process? A yes or no will do.”
“Elizabeth. What’s gotten into you?” He shook his head, so as to indicate that he thought I was emotionally unstable. “Of course I’m not.”
“Having an affair, for God’s sake!”
“Would you tell me if you were?”
“Okay, stop this.” He put his hand up, like a school crossing guard. His palm was smudged with newsprint. His fingertips were glistening with margarine. The cuff of his shirt revealed a small coffee stain. I had an impulse to haul him over to the sink and hose him down. “I’m sorry I didn’t remember what time your flight is leaving this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t remember when you’re scheduled to come home. I’m sorry if you feel I haven’t been as attentive as I should be. But I am not having an affair. I am in love with my wife. And I would appreciate it if she would let me finish my breakfast.”
“Sure. Okay. Fine.”
The truth is, I didn’t really suspect him of having an affair, despite my accusation. When men have affairs, they generally dress spiffier, log in more time at the gym, wear too much cologne. Roger, on the other hand, had slacked off in the area of his personal grooming. Remember the lean and rangy guy who’d rescued me on the 405? Well, sorry to report that he had sprouted baby jowls, not to mention an actual gut. Plus, the hair on his head was beginning to thin while the hair in his nose was beginning to grow, and don’t even get me started on his hopelessly dated wardrobe. No, I didn’t think he was cheating on me I was just trying to be provocative in an effort to shake him up, get him juiced, snap him out of his coma, rekindle his old spark. I would have been devastated if he’d admitted he’d been sleeping around. He’d been acting like a clod lately, but he was my clod.
“I love you too, you know,” I said out loud, inching my way over to him. “That’s why it hurts me so much that we’ve drifted apart.”
“We haven’t drifted apart. I’m right here, hon.” He smiled, showing off the dimpled grin that had made me weak-kneed at our first meeting.
“If we haven’t drifted apart, then why does it feel as if we’re just going through the motions?” I said. “Can you deny that we don’t even communicate?” Sure, I knew relationships went through stages, passages, whatever you want to call them; that the adrenaline rush didn’t last forever. But I wasn’t ready to forfeit excitement for contentment. Not yet, anyway.
“We’re not drifting apart and we’re not going through the motions and we communicate as well as can be expected,” said Roger.
“As well as can be expected? What’s that supposed to mean?” I said, my stomach twisting as it always did when we fought.
He swatted the newspaper at some invisible bug. “Don’t put me on the defensive, Elizabeth. I hate when you do that.”
“Then tell me what you meant by that last remark.”
“Nothing. Let’s just forget I said it.”
I was about to argue that I couldn’t forget it and why should I forget it and once people say something it’s too late to take it back, but I heard the doorbell.
“There’s the car,” I said. “I’ve got to go. I’ll call you when I get to Seattle.”
“Right? Is that the best you can do? What if my plane crashes and ‘right’ turns out to be your final word to me? Is that your idea of communication, Roger? Is it? Because I remember a time when you said beautiful words to me — words full of poetry and depth and intimacy. What happened to them, huh? Tell me that, if you can.” I had become unhinged and it was unattractive of me, but the guy was making me nuts.
“Elizabeth.” Roger extended his hand to me.
“Because I don’t think you should leave like this.”
“How should I leave then?”
“By walking over here and letting me kiss you goodbye.”
Letting him — oh, well, why not, I figured, surprised and delighted that he was the one initiating the physical intimacy for a change. He had said “kiss,” so my assumption was that our lips would make contact and that our tongues might even get involved. For a couple who hadn’t had sex in months, that was pretty hot stuff.
“Roger,” I murmured, my voice softening, my body relaxing. I sidled up to him, rubbed his thigh, and puckered up.
“Travel safely, hon,” he said, then deposited a dry little peck on my cheek.
Yeah, on my cheek. How about that for heat, huh? Now, do you see what I’m talking about?
Where was the passion? The lust? The saliva? Where was the man who was so demonstrative when we were in the throes of our courtship? The man who claimed I turned him on, rang his chimes, lit his fire? The man who was so gallant, so chivalrous, so endearing the day he picked me up on that damn freeway? Was he still in there, still inside that body? Or had he been replaced by somebody’s old-fart uncle? He was only forty at that point — just two years my senior and hardly ready to be carted off to an assisted living facility, So where was the guy I married? How was I going to save him? How was I going to save us?
Every woman who’s ever been involved with a man has harbored the thought: If only he would change. It’s just the way we’re wired, just the way we look at love. We’re deliriously happy with him at the beginning of the romantic relationship, but then, ever so gradually, ever so scarily, we decide he needs to be fixed. But what if we get our wish and we do fix him? And what if it turns out that we were better off with the guy he was before we fixed him?Meet Elizabeth Baskin, who falls in love, gets married, and discovers six years into her union that the magic is gone – or, rather, fading. Her husband, Roger, has grown a paunch, lost interest in sex, and seems allergic to conversation. What’s a disgruntled wife to do? She could go into denial. She could drag him into therapy. Or she could take her sister’s advice and consult a certain Beverly Hills doctor who is spoken about in hushed, reverent tones – a doctor to Hollywood stars whose practice is, well, a bit unconventional. After scoring an appointment with the doc, Elizabeth is convinced that she’s found the secret ingredient to saving her marriage. It seems so simple, so innocent. All she has to do is slip the prescribed packet of miracle herbs into Roger’s orange juice and then – presto! – she’ll have him back the way he was before he started coming home from work and falling asleep in front of the television set!
Little does she know that her plan will go dramatically awry and that, instead of rekindling her romance with Roger, she will find herself stuck with a man she hardly recognizes and doesn’t even like. Suddenly, Elizabeth is breaking into the doctor’s office, running from the law, and teaming up with a transplanted Southern belle, all in a desperate attempt to restore Roger to his old, imperfect self. What she learns is that perfection – especially when it comes to husbands – is highly overrated. The question is: Does her revelation come too late? Filled with Jane Heller’s keen observations about relationships and her trademark sense of humor, The Secret Ingredient is another delicious novel of romance, suspense, and laughter.