INTO THE LIGHT…WITH “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

On Facebook I had a reminder that it has been four years since Interior Designs came out.  It is available in Kindle and Paperback.

Here’s is a blurb:

Meet Martha Scott Cummings: an interior designer, an abandoned wife, and a newly single mother to her daughter Meadow. Now, she must begin an interior journey to reexamine the life she had, the choices she made, and find the strength to begin again.

 

She could wallow in self-pity amongst the detritus that is her life, or she could explore her feelings, study her behavior, and figure out how to redesign her life by changing the way she reacts to disappointments, betrayal, and insecurity.

 

Along the way to rediscovering who she was and who she can be, Martha reconnects with her best friend Maeve, who has been there for her in the past, but was somehow missing from her life during her darkest hour. Martha now realizes that she built walls around herself, shutting out those who could have sustained her.

 

There is strength in numbers, and her old BFF can help Martha retrieve the lightheartedness of her earlier life and even learn to laugh at and love herself again, flaws and all. Lots of girl talk, a girlfriend getaway, and new relationships characterize the days and nights of the newly redesigned Martha.

 

But will she find a new love? And if she does, how can she prevent herself from destroying it all? Taking risks, learning to trust her judgment, and finding out that mistakes are part of the learning process, Martha takes a leap of faith and finds unexpected treasures.

***

This novel is my sixth, and is a sequel to Embrace the Whirlwind.

 

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For anyone interested in reading and reviewing either (or both), please contact me for a copy.

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MEET THE DOMESTIC DIVA: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

It has been a while since I’ve shared an excerpt from Interior Designs, my sixth novel.  I love the MC, Martha Scott Cummings, who was an annoying character in Embrace the Whirlwind, but she is now redesigning her life.

 

An Excerpt from Chapter OneInterior Designs:

 

When I woke up, my thoughts sifted through my mind slowly, like pieces of a dream.  I could feel the sun through the spaces in the blinds, and I gradually saw my surroundings—my pink and white floral Laura Ashley spread, the matching shams, and other assorted pillows—and that normally blissful feeling started to descend.  And then something jarred me fully awake.  I sat up slowly, and the heavy cloak of despair fell down around my shoulders.  My now-familiar life began to take shape.

 
When had my world morphed into this despair that seemed to follow me into every waking moment?

 

Why did my sleep bring my only peace these days?

 
Just as the self-pity threatened to turn my day gray, I jumped out of bed and headed for the shower.  No time for dark thoughts.  I still had a daughter to care for and a business to run.  Nothing could turn my world completely upside down—just because I’d been abandoned by the man I’d thought would be mine forever….

 
Stop those thoughts, I told myself, and tried to find something positive in the beautiful surroundings.  Usually I found serenity in the carefully constructed world I had designed for myself, just as I did for my clients every day of my life; today would be no different.  My gaze swept the room, noting with satisfaction that everything seemed orderly.  I was one of those housewives—oops, wrong term these days!—who joyfully cleaned and restored order, if only to bring back the original design I had envisioned.

 
When things are askew, nothing looks beautiful….Were those my mother’s words?

 
I laughed, hoping the sound would remind me that my life wasn’t over.

 
In the shower, I allowed myself to enjoy the hot pulsating massage of the water, feeling the steam gradually taking away the cloak of despair, while my mind slowly filled up with thoughts of the beauty I could create in the world around me.

 
Someone had told me once, a long time ago, that pleasing visual images could do wonders for the mood.

 
I had barely finished my shower, wrapping myself in the luxurious toweling robe, when ten-year-old Meadow’s voice outside my room brought me back to reality.  “Mommy, where’s my blue sweater?  You knew I wanted to wear it today!”

 
Was that an accusatory tone in her sweet voice?  When had she turned so shrill?

 
“It’s in your armoire,” I called out in what I hoped was a cheerful tone.  “Just a minute and I’ll help you look.”

 
A few moments later, we had uncovered the missing sweater, settled Meadow’s backpack and other school supplies on her shoulder, and descended the stairs together.

 
Normally I was in the kitchen ahead of her, but lately, my days seemed to force their own mold around me.

 
My coffee had trickled its last drops into the pot and the aroma guided me toward the room.  Turning on lights, I looked around, as if to mentally review my surroundings, and thus my life.  I loved this room, which had been the center of my world for many years.  Okay, so it had lost some of its luster, but I could change that.  Wasn’t I the Domestic Diva?  I chuckled to myself, my mood almost restored by my rediscovered sense of humor, and briskly put together Meadow’s breakfast.

***

 

***

DREAMS FROM THE PAST: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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In this excerpt from Chapter One of Interior Designs, Martha dreams of a family car ride that illustrates her feelings about not fitting into her parents’ world.

***

My dreams took me along a quiet country road.  My parents were in the front seat of their old Pontiac, driving and chatting.  They always seemed to be talking about something that only they could understand.  Greg and Jon sat on either side of me in the back seat, pushing and shoving, with me sandwiched in the middle.  But I knew better than to complain.  Nobody dared interrupt my parents when they were deep in conversation.

 
But then one of Jon’s jabs hit me hard in the stomach and I cried out.

 
I noticed my mother’s frown, even before she quickly turned into the parent who smiled and took care of me.  But the momentary annoyance I saw there reminded me of how I should behave.  “I’m sorry, Mommy,” I quickly spoke.  “It was an accident.”

 
She stared at each of the boys, giving them that look that she reserved just for them, and then smiled at me again.  “Okay, then, sweetie.  We’ll be home soon.  Then you can work off some of that energy.”

 
I could hardly wait, and soon, sure enough, we were pulling into the driveway.

 
Running into the house and up the stairs to my room, I settled into my window seat and curled up with a tablet of blank pages for drawing.  I tried to turn my thoughts and frustrations into pictures I could later give to my mother.  Then she would remember that I was the good girl and not the one who complained.

***

 

 

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TENSIONS ARISE: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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Tensions arise between Martha and her assistant after Zach comes back into the picture.  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

 

When I returned from lunch, Caroline was in her little office working away.  She didn’t even look up when I peeked in; almost as if she were avoiding me.  

 
    “Hi, Caroline.  Anything happening I should know about?”

 
    When she glanced up at me, her cheeks turned red.  As if she were hiding something.  But I decided not to put her on the spot, and just waited for whatever updates she’d provide.

 
    Standing up, she moved toward me with a stack of pink message slips, which she just handed to me.  Usually she gave me some kind of overview, in order of priorities, but she had nothing to say.  

 
    I felt curious, but simply said:  “Okay.  I’ll see you later.”

 
    Back at my desk, I soon forgot her reaction and busied myself with some new sketches.  Then I checked e-mails, and that’s when I saw Zach’s.  I felt my face heat up as I read the message:  Hi, gorgeous, looking forward to more between us….I quickly exited the message, and as an afterthought, decided to delete it.  Not that anyone would be checking my e-mails, but I didn’t want to even consider the possibility that others (meaning Caroline) might stumble upon it.

 
    Nor did I reply to it right then.  Something inside my battered heart told me to keep him waiting.

 
    Even though I had vowed to avoid game-playing—where had games gotten me in my marriage battles?—but I also had to protect my heart.  And sometimes games were the only methods that would do just that.
***
    Caroline couldn’t wait to escape the office that day.

 
    As much as she told herself that Martha had first dibs on Zach, she also remembered that she and Zach had a date for this very weekend.  Was he playing some kind of game, or had Martha misinterpreted the lunch she had with him?  But there was no way she could have missed Martha’s slightly disheveled look when she’d returned.  She had that “just been kissed” badge stamped on her face like a tattoo, which puzzled Caroline.  The Martha she’d always known would have polished up her visage, erasing all traces of whatever had transpired between her and Zach.  So was she hoping Caroline would notice?  Did she suspect that something might be happening between her and Zach?

 
    But how could she?  Zach certainly wouldn’t have told her.  No, it was her guilty conscience.  Which made her recall, once again, that she had done nothing wrong.

 
    Driving home, she felt like the “other woman,” even though she knew she shouldn’t.  Nothing had actually happened between her and Zach.  They’d run into each other in a restaurant, had an impromptu meal, and agreed to go to the movies on Saturday.  Did that sound like the beginning of something?  It did to her, but then again, she hadn’t actually started anything with him…yet.  So time would tell what would actually develop.

 
    How on earth did she turn into this person who questioned her every action?

 
    She knew that Martha had been through a horrendous experience with her ex-husband; before he’d been an ex, he’d put her through the wringer.  Her boss had confided some of it to her, but only after it was actually over.  It was like she’d hung in there, fighting like a trooper, and finally had to give up.  That kind of experience really stomped on a person’s ego, especially someone like Martha who had believed she had the perfect life.

 
    When that happened, you had to question everything you’d ever believed about life, love, and marriage.

 
    Caroline had her own rules for relationships.  Never put a man ahead of your friendships with other women; never sit by the phone waiting for that call; and never, ever poach another woman’s man.

 
    But what determined “ownership,” anyway?  

 
    As she pulled into her garage, she pondered this idea for a few moments, while the garage door slid shut behind her.  She quickly opened the back door and entered her space, glancing around, as if to assess any damage done to her abode while she was gone.  This habit had developed when she was living with her last boyfriend.  Or when he was actually mostly living here.  

 
    As much as she’d enjoyed his company—at least in the beginning!—she’d come to resent how he treated her space.  As if her beautiful surroundings were his personal dumping ground.  The coffee table had always been littered with books, magazines, and an overflowing ashtray.  Beer cans dotted almost every available surface, while whatever clothes he’d worn that day managed to layer the floors, like some kind of statement.  Of what, she wasn’t sure.  Maybe his statement was that he couldn’t be bothered to pick up after himself; that she was his personal servant; or even worse, that he didn’t even notice what he was doing.

 
    That’s when she’d realized that their relationship would end…and soon.  Was it because she was a frustrated interior designer, working around beautiful environments by day?  Or did she imagine her space as something that “spoke” to those who entered, and therefore conveyed some kind of personal message?

 
    At first, she’d felt mean and even a little disturbed by what these feelings said about her.  But soon she’d realized that she had every right to feel the way she did.  She’d tried to nudge Derek into some kind of neatness, but he’d only studied her with a weird expression, as if she had dropped into his view from another planet.

 
    They’d finally had some big fight about something she couldn’t even remember now, but she knew that it was only the last straw.  The one that broke the camel’s back.

***

 

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CAN SHE START OVER AFTER A BETRAYAL? — EXCERPTED FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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Out of the blue, a former lover calls to invite Martha to lunch.  What is he up to?  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

Meeting up with Zach at our favorite little bistro reminded me of all those times in the past.

 
He was already there when I arrived, and waved me over.  He stood up and pulled out my chair in a way that reminded me of some kind of prince.  Or a gallant hero in a book I might read.

 
Smiling, I waited for him to outline the agenda.  Was this going to be a business lunch or something else?

 
“Okay, first things first,” he began and grinned.  “May I tell you how gorgeous you look today?  Even more luminous than I recall from the past, and you were definitely a shining example of womanhood then.”  His eyes twinkled.

 
“Thanks, Zach, but what’s going on with you?  I haven’t heard from you in ages…so why now?”

 
“You get right to the point, don’t you?  Okay, I missed you.  That’s all.  I can’t believe that I let you slip away.  There’s just something really special about you that reminds me of the beautiful moments in life….”

 
Not knowing how to respond, I just sat there.  My first thought was that he sounded too charming.  Like someone who was planning a coup.  Now why would I be so suspicious?  Was it just because he had abruptly stopped calling, or was it my own wounded pride from my marriage ending?  That feeling you get when someone betrays you.  Nothing can completely salvage the heart after such an event; the after effects include vulnerability and suspicion.

 
So, instead of responding, I smiled and shrugged, hiding my true feelings.

 
He leaned in and grasped my hand.  “Do you think you could forgive me for my poor judgment?  Is it possible that we can put together a relationship after all?”

 
“Maybe.”  I finally managed to form the tentative response that didn’t really promise much, but offered up the possibility.

 
Apparently satisfied, he began talking about how much he enjoyed the space I had recreated for him.  How guests always asked who his designer was, and how he was so happy to be able to refer many others to me.

 
I started to loosen up, and when the server approached, I ordered a martini.  Not one of my usual additions to a midday repast, but one I’d been enjoying from time to time.  My favorite, a Pomegranate Martini, was soon placed in front of me.  By then, Zach had his Scotch, so we toasted.  As if this were some kind of celebration.

 
Not completely won over, I began to come around.  Or maybe it was the second martini that turned my head.

 
Later I would ask myself how I could have succumbed to his charms…again!

 

But I was withholding judgment until more information was available to me.

 
We walked slowly to the parking lot afterwards, which reminded me of how this whole thing had started months ago.  That moment when he’d leaned in to kiss me.  Would he do that again?  I felt nervous, as if I were waiting for a first kiss.  My insides trembled.  But I thought I should act as if nothing would happen.

 
So I unlocked my car door and started to slide in.  But he leaned toward me, capturing my gaze before he placed the most spine-tingling kiss ever on my waiting lips.  Had that happened?  Had I been waiting for this, despite what I’d been telling myself?

 
He grasped my hand, held it gently, and kissed me again.

 
“I’ll call you,” he whispered.

***

 

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DECONSTRUCTING A LOVE AFFAIR: EXCERPTED FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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As Martha ponders her affair with Zach, she is reminded, once again, of the last days of her marriage…and what she had done to try to salvage it.  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

 

Later that day, after most of our tasks had been checked off the list, I leaned back in my chair, closing my eyes and mulling over the thoughts that had been tumbling around in my head for most of the day.  Ever since Zach’s call I’d been a bit off my game.  I couldn’t concentrate:  I kept remembering the last time we’d seen each other, and how everything had ended between us.  It had just fizzled out.  Nothing major had happened:  no fights, no disagreements, and no drama.   Just “the end.”

 
Had there been any hints in our last encounter, or had he just stopped calling with no warning?

 
Now that I recalled that part of it, I began to feel like I’d been unceremoniously dumped.  I didn’t want to go there again, so why had I agreed to the lunch?  Had I hoped that we would begin again?  Or that he might somehow explain what had happened—or not happened—between us?

 
It had been several months ago, so my mind skipped back there, searching for clues.

 
Not really discovering anything that would explain it all, I thought that maybe I should call him and offer some excuse for why we couldn’t meet.  Yes, that’s what I should do.  I couldn’t even imagine opening myself up to him again, even though our “relationship” back then had always been understood as a “no strings” affair.

 
Perhaps that wasn’t possible for me, though.  Maybe I was old-fashioned and always had this feeling that something more would develop, despite whatever label we’d placed on what was between us.

 
How had I turned into such an insecure creature?  All through my marriage, at least until the very end, I’d believed that I could hold onto anyone I wanted.  Despite all the evidence of Hal’s betrayals and continuing involvement with Amber, I’d kept coming up for air and striking out.  Nobody was going to intimidate me or crush my world into smithereens.

 
Sometimes I felt awash with rage, while other times the guilt overwhelmed me.  Looking back, I couldn’t believe that I’d used blackmail and all kinds of dirty tricks to keep my man.  I’d been watching too many old movies, or maybe even reading too many love stories.  The ones in which “love wins out in the end.”

 
Who believes that crap anymore?  Not I, that’s for sure.

 
How far had I been willing to go to keep Hal in my life?  And when Miranda was no longer useful—when she had turned on me, too, what had I done next?

 
***
A few months after my first meeting with Miranda, I’d called her again.  From a pay phone, as usual, so there wouldn’t be any trace on any of my phone lines.  Yes, she’d delivered the information I’d wanted, but it hadn’t been enough.  Hal kept going to the beach house, while claiming to be on business trips; he hadn’t even been that careful in covering his tracks.  Carl, the man who was in charge of the maintenance there, had succumbed to my charms when I asked him to keep track for me.

 
When Miranda answered the phone, I spoke quickly.  “I need more dirt.  You’ve told me about the underworld business clients, and you’ve told me Amber’s sordid history; none of that is working.  You’ve got to give me more.  Did Amber and Hal use drugs?  Were they dealing?”

 
I listened as she confirmed my suspicions about the drug use; I reminded her that I needed hard evidence.

 
We agreed to meet downtown again.  Miranda didn’t seem all that worried about being able to produce what I needed.  So why did I feel so anxious?

 
A few days later, she appeared at our meeting with a file.  She handed it over as soon as I came through the door.  Then she turned on me and snarled:  “That’s it.  That’s all I have, and I’m done.”

 
Startled by her reaction, I just stared.  I asked:  “What’s wrong?  Has something happened?”

 
She shook her head fiercely, but added:  “Some of the drug dealers have been giving me a hard time.  It’s like they are suspicious of me now.  What have you said or done to make that happen?”

 
I denied stirring up notice from the dealers, of course, but I realized that my questions, and even some of the calls I’d made, could have elicited some kind of action on their part.

 
When I left that day, I kept glancing over my shoulder, wondering who was watching me.

***

 

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AN UNEXPECTED LUNCH COMPANION: EXCERPTED FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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Martha’s assistant, Caroline, enjoys taking a break at a nearby mall…with a good book.  She doesn’t expect to run into the hunk she has been lusting over.  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

Caroline had lunch in the nearby mall most days.  She would take a book and huddle in a back corner.  Today she was reading something for her book club, thoroughly engrossed in it while waiting for her salad, when the voice she heard catapulted her back from the world within the pages.

 
“Hello, there,” he said, in those deep bass tones.

 
Even before glancing up, she recognized the voice.  She’d seen him around occasionally, even in this very restaurant.  Was that why she came here every day?  Hoping to run into him?  No, surely her mind didn’t work like that.  But she smiled and said, in an innocent, yet curious tone:  “Hi, Mr. Lowenstein.  Are you meeting Ms. Cummings here today?”

 
“No, we’re meeting tomorrow, but not here,” he added.  “I do come in here a lot, though.  You do recall that, don’t you?”  He looked amused.

 
She felt her cheeks redden as she nodded.  “But I didn’t expect to see you today.  How’ve you been?”

 
“May I join you?”  He glanced at the opposite bench in the booth.

 
She didn’t really feel up to companionship, but he was so gorgeous….Was that wrong of her, in light of Martha’s relationship with him?  Of course, who knew if they actually had a relationship?

 
“Sure,” she nodded.  She closed the book and waited for him to say something else.

 
“You and I have been like ships passing in the night,” he commented.

 
“Not really.  Yeah, I’ve noticed you here once in awhile, but that’s not unusual.  Isn’t your office somewhere near here?  And you know that mine is, as well.  Nothing odd about us running into each other.”

 
He laughed, gifting her with his magnetic glance.  “Just in case you’re feeling disloyal for breaking bread with me, I’m sure your boss wouldn’t mind.”

 
Caroline’s salad appeared, along with her glass of red wine; the server pulled out her pad and took Zach’s order:  a burger and fries.  Caroline smiled at the boyish appetites of this man.

 
She wondered how old he was.  He was probably a few years younger than Martha, so maybe he was about her age.  Not that any of it mattered.  They were just having a friendly lunch.

 
They talked about casual topics, and when Zach’s burger arrived, they ate in silence for a few minutes.

 
Caroline began to feel as though she were “getting through” a chore of some kind.  When had the lightness slipped away, replaced with these heavy silences?  Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

 
But Zach put down his burger, sipped some water, and met her gaze.  “Would you like to go out to dinner or a movie sometime?”  Just like that, out of the blue.

 
Frowning, she started to shake her head.

 
But he pursued the topic:  “Come on, just two acquaintances getting to know each other better.  You don’t have a big bruiser of a boyfriend who would beat me up, do you?”  And he flashed that sexy grin.

 
“No,” she laughed.  “I guess that sounds like fun.”

 
They agreed on a time for Saturday.  Then Zach stood up, grabbed his check, and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.

 
After he had gone, she sat there for a long while, feeling discombobulated and confused.

 

***

 

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MORNING CHAOS: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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When a morning gets off to a troubling start, the whole day could follow suit, but caffeine helps.  An excerpt from Interior Designs.

***

“Mommy!  I’ve been calling and calling…”  Meadow yelled through my door, and when I invited her in, she burst through it, tears streaming down her cheeks.  When was the last time my daughter had cried like this?

 
I held her in my arms, looking into her face quizzically.  “Whatever is wrong?  You sound like the whole world has crashed down around you.”  I was hoping to bring a dash of humor into the exchange, but now her lower lip stuck out, her eyes huge with tears, and she rubbed her face desperately, as if to wipe away the evidence.

 
“I can’t find Dahlia,” she sobbed.

 
Dahlia was her favorite doll, one that she hadn’t actually played with in a long while.  But when her doll had been her favorite companion, she’d been essential for those times when Meadow was feeling sad or worried about something.

 
“Oh, my.  Well, let’s go look.  Where did you see her last?”

 
“I don’t remember,” she cried softly.  “I think she was on the window seat, ’cause she likes to sit with me when I read.”

 
In her room, which looked pretty messy, I saw that the yellow and white covers on the bed were hanging halfway on the floor; the pillows were tossed aside, too, which must mean that the search had been rigorous.  We looked under the bed, in the closet, and under the window seat pillows.

 
“Well, maybe you took her downstairs.  Why don’t you straighten up your room and I’ll go look.”

 
I had a feeling that when she actually tidied up, she might find the doll, and I was right.  I had no sooner gone into the kitchen and started casually checking when Meadow burst into the room with the doll, her eyes huge and shining, and a big smile on her face.  “I found her,” she cried out.

 
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said, hugging her.  “Why don’t you put her here while you get dressed?  She’ll be waiting for you, okay?”

 
As Meadow trotted up the stairs, I turned and poured my coffee.  I really needed the caffeine this morning.  My sleep had been restless, my morning reverie had taken me to some dark places, and I needed to focus.  Glancing at the clock, I felt a momentary panic.  My idling around and the search for Meadow’s doll had set us back, time-wise.  But I didn’t want to risk Meadow’s mood by pressuring her to hurry.  Instead, I quickly checked her backpack, made sure she had lunch money, and then poured the cold cereal for her breakfast.  Yes, normally I would prepare a hot meal, but some situations demanded shortcuts.

 
Finally we stood outside the front door, ready for Meadow to catch the bus.  Despite my vow to start driving her, I had realized how impractical and unnecessary that would be.  I watched her walk to Jolene’s and then waited until the bus came before hurrying back inside.

 
Caroline arrived within fifteen minutes of Meadow’s departure, and my day had officially begun.

 
We had been working away for an hour or so when Caroline approached, with a strange look on her face.  “You have a call on Line 1,” she said mysteriously.

 
“Okay,” I laughed, glancing at her, waiting for more information.  “And who is it, please?”  I went on, when she failed to supply the missing clues.

 
“Oh, that client—Zachary Lowenstein.”

 
“Thank you,” I replied in what I hoped was a businesslike tone.  I reached for the phone, but when she still stood there, I frowned and dismissed her with a gesture.  Afterwards I thought:  well, I guess that was rude of me!

 
In an attempt to regain my composure, I held the phone to my ear for a moment before speaking.  “Well, hello, Mr. Lowenstein.”

 
I thought I sounded appropriately businesslike, but he chuckled.  “Well, Marty, I guess it has been awhile since we talked, but I was pretty sure that you would have recalled my first name.”  His teasing tone helped relax me.

 
“Of course,” I answered.  “How have you been, Zach?”  I was trying to buy some time, to shore up my strength, as it were.

 
“Oh, so-so,” he answered.  I could almost see him shrug.  “But why don’t we have lunch and catch up?  What’s your schedule like this week?  I’m free today and tomorrow.”

 
Very businesslike, but also to the point in his usual friendly way.  “Tomorrow might be best.  I got off to a late start today.”

 
We exchanged the details, and as we were hanging up, he said:  “I can’t wait!”
I knew my cheeks were burning, which was why I was very glad that Caroline had left the room.  Struggling to regain my focus, I began moving papers around on my desk, tucking some into folders, and finally I stood up and approached Caroline’s space.  “Just in case you were wondering, he’s still pleased with our work.  We’re just going to have a friendly lunch to touch base.  Maybe he can refer some other clients,” I added.

 
Caroline’s expression was unreadable, so I nodded and returned to my office.  Well, she must suspect something, I thought.  But why does it matter?  It’s not as if I’m having an illicit affair.

 
Thoughts of illicit affairs sent me spiraling into memories again, which I had to fight in order to manage the day’s tasks.  Pushing my troubling past aside, I somehow got through the morning.

***

 

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EXPLORING THE DARK SIDE: AN EXCERPT FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

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Martha’s guilty thoughts spiral downward to the dark side, back to those first moments when she met Miranda Templeton.  Excerpted from Interior Designs.

***

It was right after Christmas, when I first met with her.  She’d shot those e-mails in my direction; I’d tried ignoring her; and then, finally, we’d met.  By then, the affair had been full-blown for a year.  Amber had already had her baby, left town, but she and Hal had connected again.

 
I could still recall the first meeting with Miranda in that downtown condo.  It was in a supposedly gentrified neighborhood, but to me it was still a terrifying place to go and I kept looking over my shoulder as I slowly drove through the streets and pulled into the underground parking garage.  I rode up in an elevator and pushed the buzzer on the door of the third floor apartment.

 
Miranda was a total surprise to me.  I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but this sleek, slender, and model-perfect young woman with sculpted cheekbones, short dark hair, and a designer outfit had not been who I had envisioned.

 
I must have stood there with my mouth agape, because she laughed and gestured, inviting me in.

 
“Have a seat,” she’d said.  Just like someone in a movie or on TV.  None of it felt real, but I sat down on the sleek sofa and looked around.  Of course I would do that, being an interior designer and all.  I took in the art on the walls, stunned at her apparent good taste.  Splashes of color in the otherwise black and gray room showed me that this young woman went in for the dramatic.

 
Certainly I should have guessed that part, since our exchanges had been highly dramatic.

 
“So how can I help you?”  So polite, I thought.

 
Smiling, I laid it all out for her.  Information that I needed about Amber, about anything she knew about Hal’s business dealings.  I had surmised that she had a connection to the two of them, and finally realized that she and Hal had had a liaison as well.  Perhaps she had even set Hal and Amber up that first time.  So she must know him pretty well.  Had she been a client at one time?

 
All of these unanswered questions.

 
When I left her that day, she had her tasks and I had given her half the cash.  The rest would come when she delivered the information.

 

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MORNING MOMENTS: EXCERPTED FROM “INTERIOR DESIGNS”

Beautiful sleeping woman

Morning brings titillating thoughts…and reminders of bad choices in the past.   Excerpted from Interior Designs.

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When her alarm clock shrilled, Caroline Jansen jumped out of bed immediately.  She was hard-wired for efficiency, and everything about her day was pre-planned, from the coffee pot timed to start at 5:30 a.m. to her alarm set for 5:45.  She could grab her first cup of coffee even before her shower, just to make sure she was completely awake.

 
Now she stood in the efficient kitchen of her condo sipping from her mug, still wearing the long shirt that reached her knees.  She’d grabbed it from her boyfriend’s closet one morning after a sleepover and had never returned it, not even after they broke up.  Not that she wanted any reminders of him, but it was the perfect size to totally cover her comfortably.

 
Carrying the coffee upstairs, she approached her shower, turned it on, and then placing the mug on the counter, slipped out of the shirt and stepped under the spray.  Closing her eyes and enjoying the beginning of her day, she thought about the tasks ahead.  And naturally, she thought about Martha and how off-track she seemed lately.  Not that her work had suffered, but something wasn’t right.  The divorce could be at fault, but those two had been apart for a couple of years, hadn’t they?  She knew they’d been married for nine or ten years, and before that, they’d dated several years, too.  So she could understand the connection.  But wasn’t it time to move on?

 
Martha wasn’t aware that she knew about Zach Lowenstein.  She thought she’d been so discreet, but Caroline had picked up clues.  And she’d seen them together once, when their eyes had glommed onto one another, like something magical was happening.  So when he didn’t show up anymore, Caroline wondered…And decided that maybe her boss’s aborted relationship might be as much to blame for her mood as the failed marriage.

 
Toweling off, she dressed carefully before applying makeup.  Her look was efficient, just as she was.  Simple A-line styled hair, a bit of eyeshadow and blush, a touch of lip gloss.  Satisfied, she tucked her shirt into the slim skirt and stepped into her sandals.  Tossing her glossy brunette hair and leaning in to study her dark eyes, she smiled at her reflection.

 
She loped down the stairs, ready for her second cup of coffee and the newspaper.  Her day had begun.
***
When the alarm went off, I was not ready to jump out of bed.  I groaned, turned over, and glared at the clock.  Why did I have to wake up so early, anyway?  I was my own boss.  I could certainly change those hours for myself and for Caroline, too.  Or maybe she could start at 8:30 and I could meander into the office an hour later.

 
But then I remembered Meadow.  School would not be out for another couple of months.  Since when had I been marking time this way?  Once upon a time I used to revel in each day and look forward to the moments with Meadow.  Or had I?

 
Maybe the secret in my life was how much I had always hated the obligations and the pretense.  Maybe I, too, wanted to be a slacker, or even run off to the city to experience life.  Perhaps I would like to find myself, too.  Enjoy decadent nights and love affairs.

 
Well, I had done that part, anyway.  That thing with Zach, who, by the way, hadn’t called me back.  I’d left the message for him days ago.  What was up with that?

 
Before I could allow myself to go there, though, I stumbled out of bed and into the shower.  I could already hear Meadow stirring in her room.  Sometimes she actually read or watched TV in there before she came to my room.  I enjoyed the time to begin the day without the pressure.

 
When had I started feeling stressed and pressured by my own daughter?

 
Guilt slid over my shoulders along with the shower spray.  It sluiced across my body and covered me like a thin skin of doubt and shame.  In moments like these, my mind traipsed along memory pathways again, and I was back there, plotting evil with Miranda Templeton.  And that had turned out very badly.

 

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