Stripping is not the best way for a woman to earn her living. I mean, really. To start out with, the clothes you have to wear are nothing to write home about, and then look at what it does to your skin. All those caustic chemicals ruin your hands. At least I’m the kind who wouldn’t be caught dead at a nail salon; the cost of manicure upkeep would rival the federal deficit.
As an interior designer and new owner of a major auction house, I come in contact with more than my share of old pieces that need nips and tweaks if not complete face-lifts. For that, I have to rely on those nasty stripping compounds. And don’t even think about the all-natural or organic kind. They just don’t do the job as well or as fast.
That leads me to my other problem. No matter what kind of gloves I use or how fast I work, they always wind up melted before I finish the fix to the furniture’s finish. That’s what my newest pair had started to do when the phone rang in the workshop at the warehouse.
“Norwalk & Farrell’s Auctions, Haley Farrell speaking.”
“Hi, Haley.” The fudgy voice was more than familiar. Before I could respond, Noreen Daventry continued. “I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”
For my gooey gloves, and the phone, no time would be good. The gloves were done for, and I’d have to douse the receiver with stripper to rid it of the rubbery mess, then hope and pray that it too wouldn’t succumb to the chemical. But I couldn’t tell one of the richest women on the West Coast I was too busy to talk to her.
“It’s never a bad time for a chat with you, Noreen.”
“That’s very kind, Haley.” A hint of humor underscored Noreen’s voice, a clear reminder that we know more about each other than either likes.
“Since you’re in such a benevolent mood,” she went on, “this should be a good time to ask you a favor.”
Groan. “Sure. What do you need?”
“I don’t need anything. But I do have friends whose home is in dire need of your talents.”
Now she was playing my kind of tune. “Really? What’s their problem?”
“Oh, no problem. Just a house that hasn’t been touched in the last . . . oh, I guess it must be fifteen years now. They’re newlyweds, and Dr. Marshall would like to offer his darling new bride the chance to make the house hers.”
“Dr. Marshall . . . do you mean Stewart Marshall, the plastic surgeon?”
“You know Stew, then.”
“No, but I do read newspapers.”
“Then you already know this job would be very lucrative for you. And I’ve raved about your work to Deedee, the new Mrs. Marshall. They’d like you to come over as soon as possible—this evening, even—to take a good look at their place and give them your expert opinion. They like what you did with my new home.”
Noreen bought a white-elephant money pit almost a year ago at the first auction I ran after my inheritance cleared probate. I worked like a horse to finish the redesign in time for her to move in this spring. She’s been in the home a mere eight weeks now and has already hosted six social-column-worthy bashes.
“I’m glad.” I checked every surface for paper and pen or pencil but found none. Besides, my hands were in no condition to touch anything. “Tell you what. I . . . ah . . . have a minor mess to clear up here, and then I’ll call you back.”
A throaty laugh flowed over the connection. “Hope you’re not in trouble with the law again.”
The nerve of the woman! I haven’t been in trouble with the law.
They just jumped to judgment a few months back and thought I’d committed a crime that anyone with a shred of brain matter would know I never could have done. But I had to hold my tongue if I wanted to land the job—not a piece of cake for me.
“Um . . . er . . . no. Nothing like that. I just need to take care of some ah . . . paperwork—” paper towels might do the job “—to give the Marshalls my complete attention.”
Another chuckle tested my patience, so I sent a quick prayer heavenward.
“I’ll be waiting for your call, then,” Noreen said. “Oh, and by the way. You might as well know ahead of time. The Marshalls decided to hire Dutch too.”
This time I couldn’t keep the groan to myself.
Noreen laughed harder. “That’s what I thought. I suppose I should warn Deedee that fireworks will be a daily thing when her general contractor and interior designer come face-to-face.”
What could I say? Dutch Merrill and I don’t see eye to eye on much. Actually, we don’t see eye to eye on anything, as we discovered during the months we were forced to work together on Noreen’s remodel.
Well, I’ll admit his work at Noreen’s place was outstanding.
A tantrum wouldn’t do; I had to get a grip.
I had no choice but to play nice. “You’re right. The Fourth of July has nothing on us. But we did do a good job on the Gerrity mansion. You haven’t stopped raving about your new home, and the Wilmont Historical Society feels that although we didn’t necessarily restore the mansion to its original glory, we didn’t hurt its architectural or historical integrity either.”
“You’ve a point there. Even if you did fight like cats and dogs the whole time, you and Dutch somehow worked a miracle. The house looks fabulous, you both came in under budget, and you even finished three weeks ahead of schedule.” She paused. Then, “But you have to agree, your spats did add much-needed of comic relief to a dreary process.”
Oh yeah. A woman always likes to hear she’s become entertainment fodder for the obscenely wealthy. Dignity, Haley. Shoot for dignity.
“Don’t worry, Noreen. Dutch and I can work just as well for the Marshalls as we did for you. Now, if you don’t mind, I do have to get back to this mess—I mean, to the matter I have to clear up.”
With still more of Noreen’s laughter ringing in my ear, I ran to the bathroom next to the office in the warehouse, scraped the mushy remains of rubber gloves off my hands, and made use of my favorite bank-busting but essential moisture cleanser. The thick, creamy lather soothed my itchy hands, and the lukewarm water felt like a balm.
Was I ready to face off against Dutch Merrill again?