Authors: Leslie Caine
To Sheila Hanley King
in appreciation for thirty years of friendship
(Fortunately, we met as infants.)
I owe an enormous debt to Pam and Paul for allowing me to turn their calamity into my subplot. Now that I’ve made this public admission, I can’t give their last names for fear that readers might make incorrect assumptions, but I’m tremendously grateful, nevertheless. During my research, many experts—especially the wonderful subcontractors hired by Odom Construction Service to work on my house—tirelessly answered questions for me. I wish I’d been more careful with my notes so that I could list them by name, but undergoing a major house remodel during the writing of this book proved to be my organizational undoing. Thanks to Sheila, Dan, and Gus for providing me with an office during the aforementioned remodel. My network of author friends provides me with a fabulous and absolutely indispensable support system, and I’d be negligent not to mention Francine Mathews, Diane Mott Davidson, Kay Bergstrom, Christine Jorgensen, Kenn Amdahl, and the supremely talented and generous writers in my Boulder critique group. Thanks to Nancy Yost, agent extraordinaire. Thanks to Mike, Carol, Andrew, and Taffy for everything. Last but far from least, I would like to thank my brilliant editor, Kate Miciak, and all the talented and hardworking folks at Random House.
onfidence and optimism,” I muttered as I made
my way along the curving concrete walkway toward Shannon Dupree Young’s front door.
“Pardon?” Steve Sullivan said.
“Nothing.” My cheeks warmed; I hadn’t realized I’d spoken aloud. Steve and I had merged our interior design companies less than two months ago, and I’d have preferred not to have him discover my idiosyncrasies quite so soon. “Just the mantra I use whenever I get nervous.”
“You’re nervous about this job, Erin?”
I scanned his handsome features, surprised by the lack of the wry grin, which would indicate he was being sarcastic. Things had grown steadily worse here in the six weeks since Shannon had signed on as our very first client. “A little. Aren’t you?”
“Nah. What’s there to worry about? Just a feud raging between neighbors, and our client on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s par for the course for us.”
Steve was being gracious in not pointing fingers. In the past year, my one-woman company, Designs by Gilbert, had experienced such bizarre problems with a few of its clients that I qualified for hazardous-duty pay. And, despite what at the time had been a fierce professional rivalry, Sullivan Designs had somehow gotten dragged into the fray—
fray—more than once.
On the south side of Shannon’s original entranceway, the construction of her addition was finally starting to take shape. We were about to enter the fun phase of remodeling. Normally, I’d have to hold myself back from racing to the door. My head would be filled with one magical, delectable possibility after another—rainbows of colors, astonishing materials, and splendid furnishings. For me, designing a space is nothing less than being able to make my clients’ dreams come true, and every step of the way is a joyous journey.
This particular client’s “dream” was turning out to be a nightmare, however. Thanks to the proverbial Neighbor from Hell—Pate Hamlin.
I turned and eyed his house. Last night, Shannon had called us in hysterics about Pate’s sprawling, fortresslike structure looming directly across the street. The protruding peak of the roof over its new porch was indeed pointing straight at this home—a feng shui no-no. “It’s just that Shannon seemed so nice and rational at first,” I explained to Sullivan now. “I never imagined she’d wind up so paranoid…thinking her neighbor’s architecture was putting her in physical danger.”
Although neither Sullivan nor I was an expert in the art of feng shui, we weren’t neophytes either. We had a healthy respect for its ancient principles, which after six thousand years have more than stood the test of time. Feng shui was among the first schools of design—a beautiful philosophy of harmonizing one’s home with its surroundings. Yet during our phone conversation last night, Shannon had declared that this was “now officially a no-holds-barred feng shui war.” And then she’d asked us to launch a counteroffensive against her neighbor’s designer. That notion made me a little queasy. Granted, Sullivan and I had waged many a battle against each other, but I’d naively thought those days were behind me, now that we’d joined forces.
“Everybody was feng shui fighting…” Sullivan sang to the tune of “Kung Foo Fighting” as we headed up the walk.
“Not funny,” I said, resisting a smile.
“Why is Pate Hamlin so determined to buy this place?”
“Shannon says it’s because she’s got a better view of the Rockies than he does. Plus more land…eight acres.”
We climbed the steps to Shannon’s front porch, which would soon be removed. In its place, we had a fabulous design for a cedar wraparound deck. Its rich wood and gorgeous geometric patterns would embrace both the new and the original entrances of this sixty-year-old home.
additions emphasized and augmented the home’s best elements. Unlike her
slap-happy add-ons, which the architect had apparently drawn up while bouncing around in an old pickup truck. (My refusal to engage in a feng shui war did not, alas, morph me into the Mother Teresa of interior designers.)
“Aw, jeez,” Sullivan said. I followed his gaze. Shannon had recently painted a red dragon on the center panel of her front door. While I was studying her intricate handiwork, Sullivan suddenly staggered forward, clutching at the center of his back. “Ow! Help me, Gilbert! I think I just got hit by a feng shui arrow!”
“Keep your voice down!” I pressed the doorbell. “If Shannon hears us making cracks about this, our first official job as Gilbert and Sullivan Designs will end today.”
—” he paused as Shannon threw open the door “—
” he continued with a smile, deftly turning his correction of me into a greeting.
“I remember who you are,” Shannon snapped. “Hurry up and get in here.” She all but yanked us inside and banged the heavy door behind us. She seemed quite certain we’d
be shot if we lingered on her porch.
Shannon had always struck me as being wound far too tight, but now the thin, attractive, fortyish woman appeared to teeter on the edge of snapping. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she puffed fiendishly on a cigarette. Her strawberry blond hair was an unruly mess—a Bride of Frankenstein look. She wore a navy blue artist’s smock over a plum-colored jogging suit. Her feet were clad in mismatched sandals and white socks.
“Well?” She looked at us expectantly. “What are you two going to
about this? You can see for yourself what that awful man is trying to pull!”
“With his front porch, you mean?” I was dying to open a window. The air reeked of stale smoke.
“The eave of the roof over it!” she shrieked, trembling with fury. “It’s a triangle! And not just
triangle. This one’s a
triangle! Pate Hamlin is deliberately
that sharp point through my window! I haven’t been able to work with that…that
weapon aimed straight at me!”
“We sympathize,” Sullivan said. “But anything Mr. Hamlin can do to you with his exterior design, we can undo with yours.”
Shannon put a hand on one hip and looked up at him in disgust. “‘Anything you can do, I can do better?’” she mocked. “This is all just fun and games to you too, isn’t it! You design a new entranceway to my house, he aims his roof right at the windows of my studio.”
Calmly trying again, Sullivan began: “One possible solution would be—”
“My studio is where my creative yin forces are the strongest,” she interrupted. “I can’t work anyplace else! What am I supposed to do? Build a fence out of fun-house mirrors? How the hell will I get any work done with something like that
I gazed into her studio, which was adjacent to the stark foyer where we now stood. Unlike this whitewashed, forlorn space, that room was warm and spacious. Its walls and beamed ceilings were rough-hewn wood, its windows and skylights flooded with buttery light, the red terra-cotta tile floor…
“Haven’t you people ever worked for an artist before? Don’t you know anything at all about creative inspiration? Artistic vision?”
The harsh words snapped me out of my reverie. “Of course we do, Shannon.” My tone, I was proud to admit, sounded both soothing and professional. “Steve’s and my occupation also hinges on creative inspiration.
on our artistic vision,” I couldn’t resist adding.
Behind the outside wall of the current living room, two or three carpenters suddenly struck up quite a racket as they worked to finish the addition. It occurred to me all that noise wasn’t helping Shannon’s mood. Or her “artistic vision.”
She took a drag on her cigarette and lifted her chin as she blew out a cloud of smoke. “You’re right…you’re right. I’m so rattled, I don’t even know what I’m saying. Artist’s temperament. Forgive me.”
“That’s totally understandable, Shannon,” Sullivan said gently.
Seemingly oblivious to his charm, she said nothing. Instead, she corkscrewed an already tangled lock of hair around her index finger and glared at the checkerboard linoleum floor at her sandaled feet. We’d soon be replacing the vinyl with yummy wide-plank maple.
Although high-strung, Shannon was undeniably talented and extremely successful. Her haunting paintings with their bright primary colors and vibrant shadings had struck a chord with art collectors all over the world. She’d recently been profiled in several magazines, and more than one enthusiastic reviewer had stated that Shannon Dupree—she signed her work with her maiden name—was doing for Crestview, Colorado, what Georgia O’Keeffe had done for Santa Fe. She was also a relatively recent feng shui devotee, with all the boundless zeal of a new convert to a worthy cause.
“Our use of mirrors can be subtle, as we reflect the negative energy lines right back at him, Shannon,” Sullivan soothed. “We should be able to install one-way glass in your windows. You’ll be able to see out as though they were clear glass, but on the other side, they’re silver or gold mirrors.”
Puffing on her cigarette, she nodded. “Erin already mentioned that idea last night, over the phone.”
I decided to pose the obvious question. “Have you tried talking to your neighbor about his porch roof?”
?” She chuckled. “Puh-lease. You’ve obviously never met the man. Trust me.
not a glutton for punishment.”
“How about having your husband talk to him, then?” I persisted. “Pate might be the macho type. Maybe he does better with man-to-man conversations.”
Shannon’s husband, Michael Young, was a talented chef whom my dear friend and landlady, Audrey Munroe, hosted periodically on her television show. Lately Michael had dropped a few hints to me that he was increasingly concerned that his wife was slipping over the edge. Perhaps with good reason.
“Man-to-man conversations!” Shannon snorted. “Oh, that wouldn’t do any good. Michael doesn’t understand why I love this place so. He doesn’t have all that shared family history. I inherited this house from my parents, long before he and I met. I told you about all this when I first hired you, remember? And about how Pate is trying to force me to sell to him?” She cast a disparaging glance out her front window as she stubbed out her cigarette in a striking—if oversized and overflowing—ceramic ashtray, undoubtedly yet another of her amazing creations. “You know, Pate isn’t really even a feng shui practitioner. The pompous phony just wants to use my beliefs against me. He’s trying to drive me so nuts that I’ll sell just to get away from him. As if all those big, octagonal caps on his fence posts weren’t bad enough! Now I’ve got a
aimed straight at my studio window! At least it’s out of line with my new entrance…and the storefront.”
?” Sullivan and I echoed simultaneously, bewildered.
“You wanted that space to be your new living room, didn’t you?” Sullivan asked.
“Things have changed. Ang Chung says I’ll be able to double my profits by setting up a gallery here.”
Sullivan and I exchanged glances. In a New Age college town like Crestview, we had several feng shui experts. Ang Chung, however, had failed to impress either of us. We’d been extremely disappointed to learn last month that Shannon had already hired him to work in tandem with us.
“Ang’s advising you to sell your work here, in your home?” Sullivan asked her.
“Absolutely. I can’t control the feng shui environment of the galleries downtown, like I can here. Some of them are just…all
. Those people are cutting
s as if energy lines were sandwich meat! So as soon as the remodel is finished, I’m pulling all my pieces from all the other galleries. I’ll market them myself. Ang says he can tell me exactly where to place each painting here in my house so it’ll fetch the highest price. He’s charting out the most profitable alignment for my new showroom. He guarantees this’ll be a regular financial windfall.” She frowned. “Just so long as the forces haven’t been thrown off-kilter by outside energy fields. And now, thanks to Pate Hamlin, that’s
“But you’re fifteen miles from downtown Crestview here,” Sullivan pointed out, a moment before I could raise the same objection. “You’ll lose all the exposure of having your paintings in gallery windows along the pedestrian mall.”
She shrugged. “That’s what I was worried about, too. But Ang swears his plan will prove to be far more profitable for me this way.”
“Have you gotten any second opinions on his readings, Shannon?” I asked. “There are lots of highly qualified feng shui consultants in Crestview—”
She narrowed her eyes at me as though I was spouting blasphemy. “That’s part of what I’m paying you two to do. So far, the three of you are in perfect harmony. Ang
says a good start would be for us to install mirrored windows. In every window in the house that faces Pate’s…
.” She spat the final word, reaching for a fresh cigarette as she did so.
“That’s what we’ll do, then.” Sullivan forced a smile. “We’ll make it work.”
“We can also do some creative things with your landscaping to ward off negative energy fields,” I added.
“Ang told me the same thing. In fact, he’s outside with the contractor right now, showing him how to build the gazebo we want. Ang’s also a certified landscape artist, you know.”
He must have gotten his certification out of the same Cracker Jack box that held his feng shui credentials,
I thought, but for once kept my mouth shut.
Shannon whirled, went into the studio, cranked open a window, and leaned outside. “David? Can you come in here, please?”
Sullivan and I migrated into the studio behind her. “We’ll turn your living room design into an art gallery, if you’re sure that’s what you want,” I told her.
.” Shannon fired up the new cigarette.
David Lewis, her contractor, gingerly entered the room. He had been hired from Sullivan’s list of subcontractors instead of from my own. David was a tall, angular man with sandy-colored hair that seemed to be perpetually flecked with sawdust. At the moment, he had the beleaguered look of someone who’d taken a few too many directives from our hard-to-please homeowner. His eyes looked glazed and deeply unhappy.