Fatal Feng Shui (Domestic Bliss Series #5)by Leslie Caine
Once they were competitors. Then they became partners. Now interior designers Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan wish they’d never gotten involved in a feng shui—inspired makeover—of a home owned by a celebrity chef and his wife, a famous artist with an infamous artistic temperament. Gilbert and Sullivan
Wallpaper, love, and other deadly ideas…
Once they were competitors. Then they became partners. Now interior designers Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan wish they’d never gotten involved in a feng shui—inspired makeover—of a home owned by a celebrity chef and his wife, a famous artist with an infamous artistic temperament. Gilbert and Sullivan are all for feng shui, the Chinese art of harmonious design. But this time Gilbert and Sullivan know they are facing more than bad vibes. An attic erupts in flames. The death of a carpenter strikes Erin too close to home, while a dangerous beauty wants to get much too close to Sullivan. Erin finds herself left on her own with her best-made plans, her worst fears, and someone whose design is to kill her.
Despite the homeowner's attempt to harmonize her household through the Chinese art of feng shui, death and a series of near-fatal accidents stalk a job site manned by Erin Gilbert, returning interior designer and incidental sleuth, and her new partner, Steve Sullivan. In the latest installment of Caine's Domestic Bliss mystery series (Death by Inferior Design), artist Shannon Young seeks to remodel her home with the help of Gilbert, Sullivan and a dubious feng shui consultant by the name of Ang Chung. As it turns out, Shannon has a more serious problem than inharmonious design: a predatory neighbor, Pate Hamlin, is after her house and using a series of dirty tricks to get her to sell. When the construction foreman, Erin's half-brother, dies in what might or might not be an accident, an unsatisfactory investigation by local police causes Erin to start following her own leads. It isn't long before a rival designer shows up, trying to steal Steve away from Erin in more ways than professional. Caine, a certified interior decorator, adds helpful decorating tips to her well-constructed mystery, making this a stylish, satisfying cozy. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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"Confidence 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—my 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. Our additions emphasized and augmented the home's best elements. Unlike her neighbor's 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 shei 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."
"You mean—" he paused as Shannon threw open the door "—Sullivan and Gilbert," 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 literally 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 do 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 any triangle. This one's a jutting triangle! Pate Hamlin is deliberately aiming that sharp point through my window! I haven't been able to work with that . . . that vile 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 uglifying my environment?"
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. And 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?"
"Talk? To Pate?" She chuckled. "Puh-lease. You've obviously never met the man. Trust me. I'm 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 knifepoint aimed straight at my studio window! At least it's out of line with my new entrance . . . and the storefront."
"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 wrong. Those people are cutting chis 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 exactly what's happening!"
"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 also says a good start would be for us to install mirrored windows. In every window in the house that faces Pate's . . . monstrosity." 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.
"It is." 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.
"Just like Ang and I predicted yesterday," Shannon declared firmly, "Gilbert and Sullivan here want me to use one-way glass. You'll install it in every window with the slightest view of Jerk Face's monstrosity."
David shook his head miserably. "We can't do that, Shannon. I already checked with the building inspectors." Confused, Sullivan and I exchanged glances; we'd also done some preliminary checking and had been told differently. David continued, "Crestview County doesn't allow one-way glass to be installed in private residences. They feel the sun reflecting on a mirrored surface doesn't . . . look good."
"But this isn't just a private residence!" Shannon snarled. "Some of the windows will be in the portion of my house that's used to create the source of my income!"
Meet the Author
Leslie Caine was once taken hostage at gunpoint and finds that writing about crimes is infinitely more enjoyable than taking part in them. Leslie is a certified interior decorator and lives in Colorado with her husband, two teenage children, and a cocker spaniel.
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Celebrity chef Shannon Young hires the interior design partners Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan to renovate her home. She also employs feng shui expert Ang Chung to insure her abode contains harmonious flowing vibrations. Conflict arises between Ang and Shannon on one side and Erin, Steve, and contractor David Lewis on the other, as state and county laws prohibit some of the feng shui design.------------- Besides the discordant flow disrupting her serenity, Shannon¿s neighbor Pate Hamlin will do anything to get her to sell her house to him as cheaply as possible. He arranges all sorts of dangerous mishaps to upset Shannon¿s mental state and put the project behind schedule. When the site foreman, Erin's half-brother Taylor Duncan dies in what the local police claims is an unfortunate accident, Erin investigates even as a rival attempts to lure Steve to join her professionally and personally.----------------- The latest Domestic Bliss mystery (see KILLED BY CLUTTER and DEATH BY INFERIOR DESIGN) is an enjoyable cozy as Erin believes her half-brother was a murder victim, but has doubts that Pate killed him. Thus her inquiry after the police quickly sweep the case under the rug considers that Taylor has been a guest of the county. With decorator tips on the side, Leslie Caine provides her fans with an entertaining cleverly designed amateur sleuth.------------------ Harriet Klausner