Breathing Room

October 13, 2009
Avon Books
Available in: Paperback, Audio, e-Book (reprint)

Breathing Room

She’s Dr. Isabel Favor, America’s Diva of Self Help.
He’s Ren Gage, Hollywood’s Favorite bad guy

Sometimes you just know that God has a sense of humor.

She’s lost her money to an unscrupulous accountant, her fiance to a frumpy older woman, and her reputation to headlines denouncing her as a fraud. Lately it seems Dr. Isabel, America’s favorite self-help guru, can fix everyone’s life but her own. Even the shelter of a simple stone farmhouse nestled in an olive grove can’t provide Isabel with the refuge she needs—not when the townspeople are scheming to drive her away, her plan to restore her good name has come up empty…and a movie star villain with a face to die for refuses to leave her in peace!

Viciously handsome and sublimely talented, Lorenzo Gage makes his living killing people…on the silver screen, that is. Vacationing, he hates the feeling that everything he’s neglected in life is catching up with him. Then he spots Isabel sipping a glass of wine in a sidewalk cafe. A good guy wouldn’t think of seducing such a tidy-looking woman…but Ren Gage never saw the fun in playing the hero.

Sometimes all it takes is a special place…a special love…a little breathing room…for life to deliver all its glorious promise..

Originally published June 2002 in hardcover by William Morrow and reissued May 2003 in mass market paperback by Avon.


You’re too much, Michael had said.  Too much of everything.  So why did Isabel feel as if she were too little?

She drank the first glass of wine more quickly than she should have and ordered another.  Her parents’ long term love affair with personal excess had made her wary of alcohol, but she was in a strange country, and the emptiness that had been growing inside her for months had become unbearable….

At the next table, two women smoked, gestured, and rolled their eyes over the absurdity of life.  A group of American students just behind them gorged on pizza and gelato, while an older couple gazed at each other over thimble-sized aperitifs.

I want passion, Michael had told her.

The implication was too painful to contemplate, so Isabel studied the statues on the other side of the piazza, copies of “The Rape of the Sabines,” Cellini’s “Perseus,” Michaelangelo’s “David.” Then her eyes settled on the most amazing man she’d ever seen…

He sat three tables away, a portrait of Italian decadence in a rumpled black silk shirt with dark stubble on his jaw, long hair, and La Dolce Vita eyes.  Two elegantly tapered fingers curled around the stem of the wineglass that dangled indolently from his hand.  He looked rich, spoiled, bored —Marcello Mastroianni stripped of his clown face and chiseled into perfect male beauty for an avaricious new millenium.

There was something vaguely familiar about him, although she knew they’d never met.  His face could have been painted by one of the masters—Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael.  That must be why she felt as if she’d seen him before.

She studied him more closely, only to realize he was studying her in return….


Ren had been watching the woman ever since she’d arrived. She rejected two tables before she found one that pleased her, then rearranged the condiments as soon as she was seated. A discriminating woman. She wore the stamp of intelligence as visible as her Italian shoes, and even from here, she radiated a seriousness of purpose that he found as sexy as those overly lavish lips. 

She looked to be in her early thirties, with understated make-up and the simple but expensive clothes favored by sophisticated European women. Her face was more intriguing than beautiful.  She wasn’t Hollywood-emaciated, but he liked her body—breasts in proportion to her hips, tapered waist, the promise of great legs underneath her black slacks. Her blond hair had highlights she hadn’t been born with, but he’d bet that was the only thing fake about her.  No artificial fingernails or false eyelashes.  And if those breasts were stuffed with silicon, she’d be showing them off instead of keeping them tucked away underneath that tidy black sweater. 

He watched her finish one glass of wine and start on another.  She took a nibble on her thumbnail.  The gesture seemed out of character for such an earnest woman, which made it weirdly erotic.

He studied the other women in the café, but his eyes kept returning to her. He sipped his wine and thought it over.  Women found him—he never went after them. But it had been a long time, and there was something about this one.

What the hell…


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“…witty, moving, passionate and tender.” Publishers Weekly

“In a word, fabulous. This is, without a doubt, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s best book to date…. Known for her warmth and humor, Ms. Phillips has become one of the most cherished authors of our time.” Romantic Times

“Phillips delivers her trademark dead-on characterizations and delicious humor…” Dallas Morning News

“…whatever Phillips writes is a treasure, but perhaps her greatest gift is that…she gives us hope…. I dare you not to feel good after you’ve read one of her books.” Oakland Press

“…splendid entertainment…. Flavored with Phillips’ clever humor and quick wit, this is a pure joy to read.” Booklist

Top Ten Favorite Book of the Year, Romance Writers of America
Best of Romance 2002, Borders Books
Best Contemporary Romance, Nominee, Romantic Times


“Do you really know how to cook,” Isabel asked, “or are you faking it?”
“I’m Italian,” Ren replied. “Of course I know how to cook.”
“You’re only half Italian,” she pointed out. “The rest of you is a rich movie star who grew up in the States surrounded by servants.”
“And a grandmother from Lucca with no granddaughter she could pass the old ways on to.”
Isabel was surprised. “Your grandmother taught you to cook?”
“She wanted to keep me busy so I wouldn’t impregnate the maids.”
“You’re not nearly as rotten as you want me to believe.”
He gave her his bone-melting smile. “Baby, all you’ve seen is my good side.”

I traveled to Italy not to get inspired. I know, a dumb idea. But for years, I’d dreamed of taking a walking trip through Tuscany, and in September 2000, my dream came true. For eight days, my husband Bill and I walked through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world with sixteen other friendly travelers, two charming Italian guides, and helpful people to take care of luggage, since hauling a backpack wasn’t part of my fantasy. We stayed in quaint hotels overlooking tidy village piazzas as well as a lovely country villa set in a beautiful garden.

Each day, we walked ten to twelve miles, wandering through olive groves and vineyards or strolling along country lanes. For lunch, we usually stopped at a rustic trattoria. One memorable afternoon we had a picnic at an old stone farmhouse. At night, over leisurely dinners, we sipped local wines and chatted about our adventures during the day.

From the beginning, I’d been determined not to think about writing while I was on vacation. I’d just finished THIS HEART OF MINE, and I desperately wanted a creative break. The trip would provide much-needed time to refill my creative well. Except…this was Tuscany, the land that had inspired DiVinci and Michaelangelo, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. What could I have been thinking?

It happened on the third day. We were walking along one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever seen, not far from Volterra, Italy. There, with the Tuscan sun shining down on me and the scent of wild sage lingering in the air, the idea for BREATHING ROOM leaped into my head.

I knew immediately that I wanted to put my uniquely American characters in Italy, and by the end of that day’s walk, I had a pretty good idea who they were. My heroine would be Isabel Favor, America’s Diva of Self Help. Life is going well for Isabel until, within a matter of weeks, the empire she’s built comes crashing down. Broke, heartsick, and soul-weary, Isabel heads for Italy in search of a little breathing room.

And whom should she meet but Lorenzo Gage, Hollywood’s favorite villain? Ren is a viciously handsome man whose career was born when the public developed a taste for a bad guy with a face to die for. Needless to say, his intentions toward Isabel aren’t honorable.

What happens when a woman who only wants good for the world is stuck with a man who makes his living killing people on the silver screen? If you’d like a Sneak Peek, click here.

Happy reading, everyone!