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It wasn't the yelling and swearing kind of pissed off either. This was the kind that left her too angry to speak and on the verge of tears. She stood frozen in the front hall of her apartment, still trying to process the evidence in front of her.
The whole situation had started out so small. Insignificant, really.
First, it was a pair of crystal earrings. They were inexpensive, but with the right outfit, they sparkled like one-carat studs. Then it was her favorite travel mug-the only memento from her college days in Pittsburgh that had miraculously survived the numerous moves in the last six years.
Now, several weeks and various other items of increasing value later, it had come to this!
Renee picked up one half of her most prized possession, pinching it with the very tips of her fingers as though she could catch a fatal communicable disease off the surface. Her face revealed a mix of disbelief and outrage as she examined the still-wet, salt-stained leather of her perfectly sculpted, cobalt-blue platform pumps.
No! her mind screamed.
How many times had she walked by that boutique on 52nd Avenue, admiring the pair on display like art and wishing she had the impulsiveness to spend four hundred sixty dollars on shoes just because they were beautiful? And even when the price was reduced to under two hundred dollars in a post-Christmas sale, Renee still had to talk herself into buying them. In the weeks that followed, she had worn them exactly twice, but only inside the office, and only for very special client meetings.
Now they looked as though they had trudged through the dirty slush still lingering on the Manhattan sidewalks: beat up, worn out, and ruined!
Renee finally focused her eyes on the closed door of her guest room. She imagined her childhood friend, Angela Simpson, inside sleeping off another night of reckless drinking, oblivious to the turmoil that her thoughtless actions had caused.
How dare Angela wear her suede shoes without asking, and out in the February weather!
Though it had been well over three years since the women had been in regular contact, Renee had tried to be a good friend by agreeing to let Angela crash at her apartment for a few weeks until she found a job. But it was a bad situation from the beginning. Angela seemed to lack any consideration, discipline, or basic common sense. At twenty-eight years old, she was older than Renee by about six months, yet she still behaved like she was in high school.
Renee threw down the shoe in frustration, then rubbed at her forehead, trying to calm down. She squeezed her eyes tight to ward off frustrated tears and to stifle the need to scream. Things had just gone too far now, and something had to be done. Angela was going from bad to worse, and Renee was not going to put up with it anymore. It was time for her to get the hell out of the apartment.
But, of course, Renee had no time to address it now. She had a client presentation at nine-thirty, and that gave her about fifteen minutes to pull everything together and another twenty minutes or so for the cab ride into midtown Manhattan. As an interior designer for the small design firm the Hoffman Group, Renee always had to be at the top of her game in the competitive, high-end New York market.
Her newest client, Cree Armstrong, was a middle-aged B-movie actress who could be described as eccentric at best. She had a penthouse condo off 5th Avenue and wanted to revamp the décor in celebration of the recent revival of her career. After a couple of meetings to discuss the design theme, Cree had settled on a new interpretation of 1950s Hollywood glam. The meeting this morning was to finalize the design and decide on fabrics and some of the new furniture pieces.
Despite her sour mood, Renee made it to her client's appointment on time and with a cheerful smile on her face. Cree Armstrong's mood was also sunny, but it was soon obvious it was probably drug-induced. But Cree was agreeable, and Renee left the apartment with a clear feeling of accomplishment. The project was big, including a redesign of all eight rooms in the two-thousand-square-foot space, but did not require any major construction. Cree's new television role would start filming in two weeks in Burbank, California, and was expected to go into late spring. The apartment would be relatively empty for at least three months, and Renee committed to have the full redesign completed in that time frame.
With their meeting over by late morning, Renee decided to run a couple of errands before the office staff meeting at two o'clock. Almost four years ago, she had joined the Hoffman Group as the assistant to the owner, Amanda Hoffman. By the end of the first year, Renee was leading client meetings and contributing design ideas for large projects. Then she started bringing in her own clients and projects and was promoted to associate designer before her second anniversary.
Renee loved her job, but Amanda was not the easiest woman to work for. She was temperamental and demanding, and not easily impressed. From what Renee understood, the Hoffmans were a wealthy family with old money, and Amanda and her brother had been raised as part of New York's upper-class elite. But sometime during the early 1990s, much of their money disappeared into bad investments and extravagant spending. The worst of it wasn't realized until her playboy father died suddenly. At around thirty years old, Amanda found herself practically broke and with no means or skills to support her lifestyle. She started Hoffman Designs in 1996 after doing several successful renovations and design projects for family friends. It eventually grew to the Hoffman Group with the addition of four associate designers.
By the time Renee was hired, Amanda was mainly doing magazine features and was a regular contributor to several local talk shows. Now there were four full-time designers, including Renee, who did regular client projects. Two years later, Renee was still the most junior designer on the team, but she had a good, well-established reputation and a growing client list. She also had the freedom of managing her own time and doing the bulk of her planning work at home. Her trips into the office were mostly for weekly Monday-afternoon status meetings, large team projects, or the occasional one-on-one meeting with Amanda.
The Hoffman Group was located on the second floor of a restored 1940s building on Lexington Avenue near 41st Street, right in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Renee made it there by 1:30 P.M. with a large spinach salad in one hand and a selection of new upholstery fabric samples in the other. She had just enough time to eat and return a few phone calls before the meeting.
"Hey, Renee," announced the receptionist, Marsha Adams. She had been with the firm almost from the beginning and was the source of almost all of the details Renee knew about Amanda Hoffman.
"Hi, Marsha," Renee replied with a warm smile as she walked by the front desk.
"Wow, is that a new hairstyle?" Marsha asked, clearly taken aback.
Renee stopped walking long enough to touch the top of her head, lightly exploring the unusual texture of her short and spiky hair. She smiled shyly. "Yeah, I just got it done on Saturday. I'm still getting used to it."
"It makes you look so much younger! And the color is perfect. I love it!" declared Marsha.
"Thanks. I was worried that it was too light. My stylist wanted to go blond, but thank God I talked him into light brown highlights instead."
"It looks a bit like a Mohawk, doesn't it?"
Marsha had already stepped out from behind her desk and was up close inspecting the hairstyle with fascination. Renee was not offended by the reaction. Though Marsha had worked in the interior design industry for about ten years, she was still a very conservative middle-aged woman from New Jersey, and all things African American remained new and intriguing to her.
"It's called a 'faux-hawk,' actually," Renee told her with a light giggle. "It's just styled like a small Mohawk with a bit of gel, but it's really just a short cut."
"Well, you just look stunning, my dear. It really brings out those big, beautiful cat eyes."
"Thanks, Marsha," she replied bashfully before continuing the walk to her desk.
Apparently, the change of her hair from a boring, shoulder-length cut to a funky, spiky crop was more of a statement than Renee had anticipated. Everyone she passed in the office stopped to comment and compliment her, though a couple of her coworkers were actually speechless for a few seconds. By the time she started eating her lunch, there was less than ten minutes before the staff meeting. When her desk phone rang, she picked it up quickly without thinking, her mouth half full of salad.
"Good afternoon, this is Renee Goodchild," she stated.
"Good afternoon, Miss Goodchild," the female caller replied in a cool, professional voice. "I'm calling on behalf of Mr. Trent Skinner. He was referred to you by a colleague and would like to book a meeting with you for Wednesday afternoon if you are available."
"All right. Is this for an interior design project?" Renee asked. The name didn't sound familiar, but she was excited to meet any new clients. She quickly opened the calendar on her computer to check her schedule.
"Yes, I believe he is looking to redecorate a room in his home."
"This Wednesday, right?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Skinner is free at two-thirty P.M. and would like you to meet him at his residence in Greenwich."
"I'm sorry, did you say Greenwich? Greenwich, Connecticut?"
"Yes, ma'am. If two-thirty works, I will send a car for you at one-thirty."
Renee paused with surprise and was about to ask more questions until she realized that her meeting was in less than five minutes. She scanned her schedule and saw that there were a couple of meetings booked in the morning, but they should be done by at least one o'clock.
"Okay, I think that will work. And it was Trent Skinner, right?"
"Yes, ma'am," the woman confirmed.
"Did he mention who had referred him to me?"
"I'm sorry, no, he didn't. Now, I'll get your address for the car and we'll be all set."
They spent a few more seconds on the phone; then Renee had to run to the boardroom, leaving half her lunch on her desk.
The staff meeting went smoothly. Amanda seemed a little distracted, listening to each designer give a status update of his or her project without adding any questions or comments. Once the team had finished its review, Amanda had an announcement of her own. She was going to Aruba for a month for some relaxation and to work on a client's vacation home. The news was a little surprising, since Amanda rarely took time off, but she assured everyone that she would stay in touch daily and would be easily reachable by e-mail or phone if needed.
Renee was just as startled as everyone else but had struggled to stay focused for most of the meeting. She kept replaying the mysterious phone call regarding the new client meeting and pondering how odd the whole thing seemed. The idea of a new project was exciting, but the call had been so strange and formal. Who was Mr. Trent Skinner, and why couldn't he call her himself to set up a meeting? Why would someone she didn't know want her to do a design all the way in Greenwich, much less send a car for her just for the first meeting?
The minute she got back to her computer, Renee did a Google search on her new prospect. According to a professional networking site, Trent Skinner was a senior funds manager with Goldwell Group, a private equities firm in Greenwich. There wasn't much else. She went through several pages of search results but could not find anything else that seemed relevant.
Eventually, Renee put the mystery in the back of her mind and got back to work. Rather than pack up early and restart at home, she decided to stay in the office to complete a long list of calls to suppliers and stores to check on orders or works in progress.
She had three major projects under way, including the job for Cree Armstrong, all at various stages of completion. One was a small redecoration for a longstanding client, Margaret Applebaum, who just wanted to redecorate her guest room. Renee was only waiting for the upholstery and fabric work to be completed; then she would paint and finish the room. It was scheduled to be finished in about four weeks.
The other was a large renovation of a classic New York brownstone. It was for new clients, Wayne and Rachel Gibson, a couple with a young son, and they were redoing the second-floor bedrooms and bathroom. The structural changes were currently in progress, and Renee was still working with the clients to decide on furniture and finishes. She spent about two days a week working on the design and managing the contractors. Cree's project would take an additional two days a week until completed, so Renee felt comfortable that she could take on another small commitment. This Connecticut client might be ideal if the project wasn't too complicated.
Finally, at about six-thirty, she packed up and left the office. The subway ride uptown took only a few minutes, but it was enough time for her to remember the situation that was waiting for her at home. Since it was almost dinnertime, it was pretty likely that Angela would be in the apartment, watching television and waiting to see what Renee brought home to eat or volunteered to cook. But Renee vowed to herself that it wasn't going to be like that anymore. She wasn't as angry about the shoes anymore, but the situation was still unacceptable. She and Angela were going to have a long talk, and it wasn't going to be pleasant.
"Trent, did you call Colin McDougall back?" asked his assistant, Nancy Cavanaugh, as she cracked open the office door and stuck her head in.
Trent swung around to face her. She was a very attractive girl, somewhere in her early twenties, with rich brown hair and bright blue eyes. Most men would not be able to get past her pretty face and firm, athletic body, but Trent had seen the determination in her eyes the minute they met. When he hired her over eighteen months ago, it was for her sharp mind and natural ability to handle difficult people and situations.
"Yeah, I just got off the phone with him a few minutes ago. He seems fine now, but do me a favor and set up another call with him on Monday? I want to make sure we stay on top of the situation. We're too far into negotiations now for this leveraged buyout to go sideways. And have the team look at the books again to make sure there aren't any red flags we missed," he explained.
"Sounds good," replied Nancy. "Did your cousin get in touch with you?"
"He left me a message. I'll call him in a few minutes."
"Okay. Bob Smiley is still confirmed for your four-thirty call. Are you coming back here for the meeting, or will you join from home?"
"I should be back, but I'll let you know if I won't be."
Nancy nodded before walking away, closing the door behind her.Trent checked his watch again. It was just after two o'clock. He let out a long breath, then picked up his cell phone and checked for his wallet inside his suit jacket. He grabbed his overcoat from the hook behind the door and headed out of the office.
Trent's town house was located on a lakefront development overlooking Greenwich Harbor. It was several blocks south from the office. Once he got his car out of the underground parking lot, it was about a ten-minute drive on a slushy, winter afternoon. Trent used those few minutes to call his cousin back.
Nathan answered after the first ring. Anxiety made his cousin's voice high and sharp. "Trent? I've been waiting for your call for over two hours!"
"Sorry, man, I've been in back-to-back meetings."
"Well, it's almost time. Are you at the house yet? Is she there?" Nathan demanded, barely waiting to hear Trent's excuse.
"I'm heading there now," replied Trent in an even, cool voice. "I'll be there shortly."
"Okay. So, what are you going to do? What if she doesn't take the bait?"
"Nathan, calm down, all right?"
"How can I calm down? Trent, if this plan doesn't work, I'm screwed, man!"
"Nate, just relax," Trent said sharply. "Everything is going to work out the way we planned. Once this chick thinks I can offer her the good life, she'll forget all about you and the promise of a measly ten thousand dollars. Let me meet with her, turn up the charm, and take it from there. But freaking out isn't going to solve anything."
Nathan let out a long breath. They were both silent for a few seconds.
"Sorry, Trent. I know you're just trying to help," he finally replied.
Excerpted from Tempted to Touch by Sophia Shaw Copyright © 2010 by Sophia Shaw. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 1, 2010
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Tempted to Touch is only the second book I've read by Ms. Shaw....and it's definitely more PLEASANT than the first book I read by this author...it's an INTERESTING romance with a mixture of mystery and LOADS of drama...a few HOT & SENSUAL encounters between Renee and Trent...and even though I find the storyline a bit slow at times...it's still an ENJOYABLE enough read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.