This week on the blog hop, A.S. Fenichel says:
It’s been a while since we shared anything about our own books. How about we share an excerpt from our work in progress and the inspiration for the book?
I have two works in progress right now. One is the start of a new series about a book club that is so much more than reading and drinking wine. I’m still feeling my way around those characters and settings (though you can be assured it is set in Prince George as usual).
The other manuscript I’m working on is my next release (I think it will be ready for the world in January 2021). It is called RICHLY DESERVED, and features a heroine who runs a frame shop and the bald, bearded artist she is trying to lure into exhibiting at her brand new art gallery. Once again, the characters are around fifty years old, and bring with them baggage from past relationships, family and careers.
This is how their story begins:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a businesswoman acting as her own general contractor must be in need of a large hammer.
With which to hit recalcitrant sub-contractors on the head.
Unfortunately, bastardizing Jane Austen wasn’t going to fix the current situation.
Claudia Aronson bared her teeth. The grizzled man in front of her jerked a shoulder toward his ear and looked away.
“Tell me again, Cecil, why the paint on that wall is not the colour I chose?”
Cecil spun the roller in his hand. Claudia took a step back to avoid the drops flicking off the fuzzy head and almost stumbled, her heel catching in the drop cloth protecting the floor. Her temper flared and she clamped down on it.
“You said you wanted white,” Cecil said, waving a hand at the wall behind him. “This is white.”
“I chose Dove Wing in a matte finish,” Claudia said with what she thought was admirable patience. “This is Super White in glossy.”
Cecil squinted at the wall. “Well, sure. But they’re both white. And this was on sale.”
“I don’t care. It is not the white I chose.” She nudged the paint can with the toe of her shoe. “Return this, get Dove Wing, and redo the wall. And if there is no refund, you’ll have to absorb the cost of the correct colour. I did not order Super White, so I am not paying for Super White.”
Without waiting for a reply, she sailed through the door leading to the main room. Thank goodness she had caught Cecil’s error before he’d finished more than one of the smaller walls in the rear of the gallery.
The main exhibition area was still in the throes of renovation, but Claudia could already see the finished space in her imagination. She stood in the middle of the room with her hands on her hips and let the vision that had been dancing in her head for months erase the tension of the last few moments.
The entire front of the building was a wide expanse of glass that allowed muted daylight in—enough to give the room a natural glow but not enough to cause issues with potentially fragile artwork. Of course, it would be supplemented by discreet, appropriate lighting where necessary. Half the space soared two storeys high, while the other half had a twelve-foot ceiling that didn’t detract from the lofty, airy feel. The walls, now a bedraggled canvas of unfinished Gyproc and drywall mud, would be the soothing, classy shade of white she’d lost sleep deciding on, now that she’d sorted that issue out. Drawing a deep breath through her nose, she reminded herself there were still four weeks until her soft opening, and there was plenty of time to correct Cecil’s mistake.
He wasn’t all bad, after all. While he might have rebelled over her choice of paint colour, he had followed her instructions exactly when it came to the false walls she’d had him construct. These were currently lined up like dominoes, waiting for their own coats of paint, but when completed she’d be able to place them in various locations throughout the space, giving her the ability to customize traffic patterns and displays. She’d even gone to the considerable cost of having an electrician run wiring under the floor—being careful to preserve the original hardwood as much as possible—and installing discreet outlets in a number of places so that the portable panels, each wired internally, would have proper lighting.
She heard the backdoor slam shut and deduced that Cecil had left to get the correct paint. Stepping carefully around the piles of construction paraphernalia, she manoeuvred toward the folding banquet table placed near the front windows that was serving as her desk until her office—in the back, next to the smaller gallery that was also going to be a client lounge—was completed. Her heels clicked on the floor, which still needed to be sanded and refinished, but that would be one of the last steps to avoid any potential damage. The deep honey colour she’d chosen for the stain would soften the white of the walls even further and warm the space from industrial to natural.
Flipping open the lid of her laptop, she began reading and replying to emails. While the gallery was taking up a lot of her time and energy, she still had her framing business to run. Its decades of success were the foundation on which she was building this new venture, and it deserved her attention.
Dreams were all well and good, but they needed to be rooted in practicality.
She had worked her way well into her to-do list when a shadow crossed her desk—and stayed. Assuming it was just a lookie-loo wondering about the work going on in the long-abandoned space, she ignored it. When, after long moments, it didn’t move on, she looked up.
Silhouetted against the sharp June sunlight was a man. A large, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head, heavy eyebrows, and a short dark beard. He wore stained, ripped jeans and a slouchy black hoodie and stood with his hands in the pockets, staring intently past her into the interior of the gallery.
Still expecting him to move on, she waited. He didn’t appear to have noticed her, tucked into the corner against the wall, and his gaze swept the room, sharp and assessing. An uneasy feeling trickled down her spine. No artwork was stored in the building yet, but the tools and supplies visible were worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
She reached slowly for her phone, before remembering with relief the front door was locked. The movement must have caught the man’s attention, though, as he turned his head toward her.
The glass did nothing to dim the concentrated focus in his eyes. Claudia blinked, frozen with one hand on her phone and the other gripping the edge of the table.
“Can I come in?” he asked, his voice muffled but audible, and moved to the door.
Not on your life, Claudia thought, and remained in her seat.
He grasped the handle and tugged firmly, rattling the frame. “It’s locked,” he said, though this time Claudia couldn’t hear the words, could only read his lips. He raised his eyebrows and smiled, gesturing her to approach.
Cautiously she rose, circled round the table, and stood in front of the door. Now she was no longer seated, she realized he wasn’t quite as tall as she’d thought, probably only a couple inches taller than herself. But since she was wearing two-inch heels and was five-eleven in her socks, that still put him well over six-feet.
“What do you want?” she said.
“Are you Claudia?” he said. “Claudia Aronson?”
Most of the tension leaked out of her shoulders. “Yes. And you are?”
He placed a small square card flat on the glass. A stylized rendition of a mountain framed three words forming two lines of text.
Titus Wilcox. Artist.
She unlocked the door.
Titus was used to being regarded with caution. His size made many women—and some men—step warily around him. He didn’t mind. He wasn’t one for small talk, didn’t enjoy meeting strangers, and was happiest on his own. If others preferred to keep him at a distance, he was fine with that.
Once he’d made up his mind to interact with someone, he wanted to get it over and done with. Claudia Aronson had initiated the contact, so now she’d have to deal with him on his terms.
As he waited for her to release the deadbolt, he scanned the small, professional printed sign fastened to the glass just beside the door. Future home of FAUNA, it read in large font, and below, in smaller type, Art Gallery Opening Soon. He liked the name. It gave him a good vibe.
Claudia swung the door open, stepping back to allow him in. “Thanks.” He moved past her, deeper into the large room. The multi-level ceiling gave it character, made it feel less warehouse-redone chic. “Nice,” he said. “Versatile. Location’s a little out of the way, though.”
“Prince George isn’t a big city. Nothing’s that out of the way,” she said with a faint bite. He imagined she was holding back a none of your business retort. “We’re only a few blocks from the downtown core.”
“In a light industrial area.”
“It’s changing. There’s a craft beer pub just down the street and a communal artists workshop one block over.”
He’d obviously poked a sore spot given the blue fire in her eye and the faint flush rising to her pale cheeks. He liked the vigour of her response, though. If he was going to allow her to show his work, he’d want her to tap into that passion to make sure it sold.
“You never replied to my emails,” she said.
“I read them. That’s why I’m here.”
“I appreciate that,” she said, not hiding her sarcasm quite as well this time.
She hadn’t moved from position near the door. She stood straight-spined with her hands clasped at her waist like a nun in a medieval painting. An Amazonian-nun, he thought, one confident in her height and voluptuousness. An electric blue skirt clung tightly to generous hips and her white blouse was unbuttoned at the neck, not indiscreetly low but enough to hint at abundant breasts. Her shoes were an eye-catching blend of colours with slender heels high enough to emphasize the strong curve of her calves.
“I rarely do exhibitions,” he said, wandering around a pile of supplies to get a closer look at a row of unfinished, free-standing panels. They were placed like books on shelf, spines facing out, each about ten feet square and fifteen inches wide.
“I know. But you’ve just moved to town. I’m opening a new gallery. It would benefit us both.”
“I’ve been here ten months.” And would be moving on in two more. A year was the most he stayed in one place. “I hate schmoozing.”
“Ten months is nothing. I’m good at schmoozing. And making sales.”
“I don’t need the money.”
“Everyone needs money. But I agree, it’s not about the money. It’s about sharing your art.”
He shot her a glance over his shoulder. Did she really understand that was the basis of all creativity? Or was she just that good at her job?
She had left her sentry post and now stood a few feet away, neat and pristine in the middle of renovation rubble. Her blond hair was textured and wavy, slightly longer than chin length, and if it was coloured to hide the grey a woman of her age might be expected to show it looked natural and flattering. Her blue eyes met his with calm assurance.
Before he could say anything further, the front door opened, reflecting light like a sword-stroke across the room. Claudia turned her back on him.
“Mae,” she said, striding toward the young woman standing uncertainly in the entrance. “Is it that time already? I’ll be ready for you in a moment.”
Titus noted the narrow, rectangular, paper-wrapped package clutched in Mae’s right hand. Was she another artist Claudia was courting? The young woman had straight dark hair and, next to Claudia’s vibrant persona, appeared slight and frail. When Claudia gently took her arm and escorted the younger woman toward the table in the corner, he noticed tiny arms and legs dangling from a baby-carrier strapped to her front.
Claudia hurried across the dusty floor back to him. “I’m sorry, I have another appointment.”
“That’s okay, I can wait.”
“I want to get a feel for the space,” he said. “It will help me decide about the show.”
“It’s a construction zone.”
“I’ll use my imagination. I am an artist, after all.” He nodded at the panels. “Movable walls?”
She nodded. “Yes. Almost any configuration you want.”
She hovered, a frown creasing between her brows.
“Go.” He shooed her away with one hand, and she went, giving him one last puzzled glance over her shoulder.