The time has come! Here you go, the long awaited and much talked about first excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Red Dress!
I am super excited (and just as nervous) to share this with you all! This has been a long, long road, but I am proud of the work that I’ve done. All I can hope is that you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it! If you like this—and I hope that you do—there will be a few more excerpts to come as the publication day draws near.
Until then, I give you Stephanie Hawthorne and Daniel Atwell!
There’s an art to approaching acquaintances for help with a problem before seeking out a complete stranger. I practice it. Some people collect stamps; I collect people. But I do have to question the wisdom of asking the wife of an old flame for help with your own marital problems.
Which was exactly why Andrea Swope paced before Stephanie Hawthorne’s desk this morning. Mind you, she wouldn’t get very far. I’ve always imagined the avenues of Stephanie’s mind as a game of baseball. When Andrea arrived an hour late to her appointment, Stephanie assessed the equivalent of the first strike. Actually, that was strike two. Strike one was Andrea’s past relationship with me, long dead by the time I married Stephanie. The pacing amounted to strikes three and four. This should say more about Stephanie than my knowledge of baseball.
“I told you already,” Andrea said. She was a curvy woman, still attractive despite the onset of years. Unfortunately, that’s where my memories came into conflict with the woman who stood before me. A bottle had obviously provided the deep brown of her hair, she wore too much make-up, and no woman, no matter the age, had breasts that perky without artificial help. “I know where Arthur went. He’s with that awful Patricia Vice woman. That’s no secret.”
Stephanie’s lips barely moved, yet words crisp and clear filled the room. “I have already explained myself, Mrs. Swope. If you wish, you can either sit down so we can discuss this like adults or continue to pace like a caged dog, in which case you are free to leave.”
Andrea looked shocked, sitting without further comment.
“Thank you.” Stephanie leaned back. Her sweater, a mix of the colors stolen from a pink poodle and chocolate cake, clashed with the faux black leather of the chair. “As I mentioned before, I don’t handle cases involving conflict between spouses. I detest such messes.”
Andrea flapped her arms like a spoiled child. “I just want him to stop seeing her. She’s using him. I don’t want to divorce him.” Had my spouse been worth several million dollars, I wouldn’t want a divorce either.
“I don’t question your intent. However, the damage such information could cause is the issue. I will not be party to the ruination of any person’s marriage, warranted or not.”
“You have to help,” Andrea sputtered. “My friend Michelle Hetter—you remember her—she said you helped her out of a similar bind. She said you’d get results. Expensive results.” She said that last bit as if she’d eaten something spoiled.
“Her case was hardly similar.” Stephanie rubbed the bridge of her nose with her middle finger. “And what I charge is my affair. People assume that I am the best at what I do. I happen to agree with their assessment. You pay for quality, Mrs. Swope.”
Andrea said, reaching forward as if to grab Stephanie’s hand. “And I can pay, too. Just help me with Arthur. Imagine the embarrassment for poor Robert.” I suspected Robert would survive any such embarrassment, being twenty-five-years-old and a recent graduate of Harvard. Andrea turned to me for help.
Strike Number Five. Andrea couldn’t see it, but I saw the fingers of Stephanie’s right hand start to move: thumb to pinky, thumb to ring and forefingers simultaneously, thumb to middle, then back again, over and over. It was a miniscule thing, unnoticeable to most, but fidgeting like that meant one of two things. Either Stephanie was lost in thought or she was angry. This didn’t require anything close to rumination.
I shrugged and leaned back in my chair. Back when I knew Andrea Swope, then with the surname of Brown, she was the definition of spoiled. After graduating high school, she dated a series of men her father found inappropriate, including a certain rookie private detective. Our relationship was short and turbulent, ending in a spectacular explosion. “Don’t look at me,” I said. “The last time I changed her mind was to keep from having to brush my teeth every time I ate a pickle.”
Andrea’s face shifted into well-remembered annoyance, and I felt a spike of pleasure. I had no interest in Andrea’s affairs beyond what Stephanie required, and those were based solely on business considerations. So I lounged back, enjoying the moment.
Stephanie’s full lips pinched in exasperation. “May I have your attention again, Mrs. Swope?” Andrea’s glare failed to faze my wife. “Thank you. I am unable to assist you in this matter. Your cajoling of Mr. Atwell is in vain. Unless you require something else, I have other business to attend to.”
Andrea stood up in a huff. “You forget who you’re dealing with.”
“I assure you, ma’am, I do not.”
That only enraged Andrea further. Spittle flew along with her words. “I’ll tell everyone about you. How you won’t help a woman in need. After I’m done, beggars won’t come to you for loose change. I’ll ruin you!”
With that, she stomped out of the office, the front door slamming behind her. I walked over to the window and watched as Andrea sped off in a black sedan. Stephanie eyed me as I returned to my seat. “Well, that was fun,” I said. “Any other old girlfriends we should dig up?”
“What did you see in that detestable woman?”
“The same thing any guy sees when looking at an attractive woman with a rich father. New car smell.”
“Dealing with that is not worth a new car.”
“I can tell you’ve never owned a new car.”
Stephanie stood and ran a hand through her hair as she walked around her desk. Any time Stephanie walked anywhere in front of me, I found it hard to think of anything else. My wife was a beauty with curves and soft spots in all the right places. Deep red hair and green eyes belied a sharp mind. Only her God-awful homemade sweaters ruined her looks. “I’ll be back.”
That broke through my mental block. I raised an eyebrow. “Where’re you going?”
She stopped and eyed me from the doorway. “Any time I deal with one of your former amours, I require some fresh air. Dinner is your responsibility.”
The front door slammed as I remained in my chair. “That’s the only one you’ve met.” My words echoed pointlessly through empty halls.