Read an Excerpt
"OH, THAT FEELS SO GOOD," the woman on the bed murmured, her chest rising slightly with pleasure.
"Can you take it a little deeper?" Mercedes Estevez asked her.
"Yes," she moaned. "Oh, yes."
Mercedes pushed her fingers deeper into the skin and muscle of the woman's shoulders, chuckling at the exaggerated moaning that ensued. "You sound like you're having sex."
One eye, outlined in a deep-conditioning face mask, opened. "Honey, I never feel this good when I'm having sex. You have magic fingers, and the smell of these products is divine."
"They're made from old family recipes." A bubble of excitement rose within her. Her female ancestors had been making and sharing their creams and lotions for a hundred years, first on the family estate in Guadalajara and more recently on the family farm in California.
The women in her family kept their beauty and youthful skin far longer than nature could possibly have intended. Now it was Mercedes's dream to use those family recipes as the foundation for her own beauty empire. Estée Lauder and Helena Rubenstein were her role models; only, she was building her empire her own way. Keeping the products available only within her spa. Soon Indulge, San Francisco, the tasteful, sybaritic, luxurious day spa that was Mercedes's creation, would be running smoothly without her, and she had big plans for more spas in California, including L.A., and then she'd jump straight to Manhattan.
She had great products, a fabulous spa concept, drive, determination and boundless energy and optimism. Mercedes was going to make a success of her life, and nothing was going to get in her way.
"I don't know what I'll do if youever leave." Mrs. Huddington sighed, as though she'd read Mercedes's mind.
Mercedes hadn't yet told any of her clients that soon she would be splitting her time between several spas and would no longer be able to keep clients of her own.
"I promise that if that day comes, I'll make sure to train my replacement so she's at least as good as I am. Maybe better."
That one eye opened again. "You're not getting bored, are you, dear?"
Mercedes smiled and told her client to lie back and relax, but she was jolted. Was it so obvious? In fact, boredom was her besetting sin. Well, one of her besetting sins. She seemed to have been beset with more than her share. It was the flip side of the ambition that made her tick.
That driving ambition married with quick boredom probably was a genetic thing. The same drive and determination had encouraged her grandparents to make the move from their native Mexico to California. Their modest farm had grown as healthily as the crops on their land. Even though her mother had married an all-American type, an insurance salesman from San Jose, Mercedes still felt a great kinship with her Mexican grandparents, spending summers picking fruit, refreshing her Spanish every year and, finally, having the family secret recipes shared with her. Not only the recipes for sopa de flor de Calabaza and enchiladas, but for those creams and lotions that now formed the basis of her product line.
Only her abuela was left now, still living on the farm. Mercedes loved it there as much as she always had, but it wasn't enough for her. She'd be bored crazy. So she took the magic ingredients growing on that land to create her spa products. And dreamed of success. Enough success to cure her once and for all of the restless boredom that boiled within her at the oddest times.
"I love challenges, that's all. You never know where I'll end up."
"Well, you're the best there is in this city. I've never felt so pampered or looked so good."
If that statement was an exaggeration, it wasn't a huge one. Maybe she didn't entirely believe her abuela"s assertion that the roots of her herbs had been blessed by Aztec priests. Still, she wouldn't be happy if those original plants brought from Mexico died. They were babied, propagated and nurtured with care. Indulge, Mercedes's little upstart business, the one she'd opened when she realized that she didn't have the temperament to work for somebody else, was thriving. At the five-year mark, she knew it was time to move to the next part of her plan. At moments like this one, she was overcome with a sense of pride in her accomplishment.
The treatment room was decorated in soothing blues and greens and muted terra-cotta. She'd told the decorator she wanted the feel of a Mexican courtyard. The decor was perfect, with hand-painted tiles, stone floors and a small stone fountain spilling in the corner. Her treatment beds and facial equipment came from Paris and were the best on the market. Her luxurious linens were Egyptian. Her beauty products were all natural and, apart from her own limited line, imported from Italy, though she planned to stock nothing but her own products within twenty-four months.
Mrs. Huddington said, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but my husband loves it when I've been to your spa. He says it makes me...frisky." She spoke the last word in a whisper, and Mercedes could feel the heat of her blush under the layer of cream.
"That's good. I think it's because you relax and feel good about yourself after you've been here." She glanced down, her eyes crinkling in a smile, "I'll tell you a secret. My great-great-grandmother, in Guadalajara, was known not only for her secret creams for keeping the skin young, she also sold a special love potion."
"That's what my abuela, my grandmother, says."
"Do you have the recipe?"
She laughed as Mrs. Huddington tipped her head back to look at her. "What would you do with an aphrodisiac? It sounds like Mr. Huddington and you have a good marriage."
"Well, yes, but I've always wondered..."
"No. I don't have an exact recipe. And besides, I wouldn't like to fool around with people's lives that way. Though so many of my clients have told me the same thing you just told me--about how the creams make them a little frisky--that I think maybe a little of the aphrodisiac slipped into these recipes."
She continued massaging her client's neck and shoulders for the five minutes the deep-cleansing mask needed to work and then cleansed Mrs. Huddington's pores with a refreshing lotion and turned on the steamer for the next stage of the extra-rich facial for aging skin. Her movements were slow and nearly soundless since relaxation and pampering were part of the experience. Mrs. Huddington was one of her favorite clients. Every two weeks, year-round, and once a week during the hectic holiday season, the society matron faithfully came to Indulge.
"Remind me, when I leave, to pick up two extra jars of your night cream."
"Two? One should last you several months."
"I was thinking of my friend Ursula. She and her husband could use a lift. I think your cream would make a nice present."
"Don't tell her it's an aphrodisiac. It's really not."
"Of course not. I think it will refresh her skin, that's all. And I might throw in a day at the spa."
"You're a good friend."
"And you're a good saleswoman, my dear."
Her clients weren't all like Mrs. H., of course. Not everyone could give up the better part of a day "Just for myself" every couple of weeks. And that was fine. Mercedes's philosophy was that every woman--and a growing number of men--should be able to experience the utter decadence of being pampered. She had special packages for brides, for new mothers, there was her popular lunch-hour refresher and after-work wind down, which included a glass of Napa Valley wine. She could pamper a client all day, or she could have a working woman in and out in fifty minutes with time left in a lunch break to grab a quick sandwich and be back at work inside an hour.
After ninety minutes, and a few more moans of bliss, interspersed with the latest news about Mrs. Huddington's grandchildren, Mercedes turned her over to the manicurist, then slipped into her small office at the back of the spa.
Today was Monday, the day for the weekly meeting of her very exclusive women's club, the Sisters of the Booty Call. If there was a way to transform the age-old Monday-morning blahs into anticipation, she and an eclectic group of women working in the turn-of-the-century building in the financial district of San Francisco had found it.
Mercedes sat at her small desk in her small office and picked up the gray-green stone she used as a paperweight. The only personal memento in the businesslike space, she kept it as a good-luck charm and as a reminder of where she came from. That stone was from the original family estate, and every time she looked at it she remembered who she was and where she came from. She rested her fingers fleetingly on the cool stone. It was up to her now. All the family history and traditions were hers to carry on. She wasn't the first to embrace risk and dare to dream. Of course, she also dared failure, but she wasn't going to think about that. Not when she was getting ready to settle on a second location. A second Indulge.
After checking that there were no e-mails or phone messages that couldn't wait, she took off her crisp white smock and let herself quietly out the back door. She walked into the stairwell and jogged down to the main level and out into the heat and bustle of lunchtime in the financial district on a warm and sunny September day. She grabbed a salad to go at the corner deli, no garlic, since she had clients in the afternoon, and hurried back to her building, where she ran back up the stairs and entered the ladies' restroom tucked away down the hall beside her spa. In keeping with the Wentworth-Holt building's vintage, the facility also boasted a ladies' lounge.
There, among the potted plants, silk flowers, burgundy carpet, chintz upholstery and a gilded mirror, several women were sitting on a couch and matching chairs, their feet propped up on the mahogany coffee table.
"Hey," she said, when she saw Tamara Clarkson.
"How's it going?"
"Great. What are you doing here? You don't need a booty call." She widened her eyes in case one of the cutest romances she'd ever seen play out had bitten the dust and nobody had told her. "Do you?"
Tamara laughed. She barely resembled the shy young woman with low self-esteem who'd been dragged in here a few months earlier. "Nope. I'm still in love. Today's a nostalgia trip. And I'll be handling the boot."
Mercedes munched her salad and chatted until a group of eight women had assembled. Then Tamara walked to the glass boot sitting on the marble vanity under an ornate gilt mirror. "Getting ready, ladies?"
"Sure." Mercedes was never certain why she participated in this weekly routine. It was fun, she guessed, and a good way to hang out with the single women in the building.
Finally Milla Page ran into the lounge. She wore her blond hair in short, chin-length layers, and her green eyes were deliberately smudged. She was the hippest of them all. "Sorry, had to run down from the tenth floor."
"Don't worry about it, we haven't started yet." Even though Milla worked for MatchMeUpOnline.com and so knew all the hot spots for singles, she still enjoyed the Monday ritual. And she was a great resource for any of the women searching for somewhere fresh to take their dates.