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The last thing Shelley Wilde expected to find tucked away in the self-conscious gilt and velvet of her client's house was a man like Cain Remington.
Not that the French antique reproductions were Shelley's fault. She had done everything except hold a gun to JoLynn's stylish head and demand that she have a home that lived up to the spare elegance of its Pacific Palisades setting.
The land was magnificent.
The sky was a cloudless, burning blue. To the west, dry hills marched steeply down to the Pacific Ocean. Bleached by southern California's sun, grass on the hillsides rippled in a tawny echo of the sea's restless waves.
The view of water, wind, and land was untamed even by the expensive homes that stood astride the very crests of the hills.
At least the architect understood the view, Shelley thought. The house itself has clean lines and a wonderful sense of place.
What a pity that my client has neither.
The air inside the house was filtered, refrigerated, and carefully odorless. It could have belonged to a hotel anywhere in the world.
Outside the house, the wind was hot and alive, vivid with the scents of chaparral and the secrets of a dry, wild land. She could barely restrain herself from yanking aside the heavy drapes and throwing open the sliding glass doors that led to a redwood deck overlooking the sea.
If she had been given a free hand to decorate the house, die view would have become a living piece of art, a compelling sweep of primary color and primal force.
But Shelley's hands were well and truly tied. The client had insisted on a certain type of decor for her rented house. There must be nothingunusual or unexpected, and absolutely not one thing that wasn't universally applauded and labeled as tasteful.
If an object wasn't labeled, JoLynn didn't know what to think of it.
And despite man's best efforts, Shelley thought humorously, the Pacific doesn't yet wear a designer label sewn neatly along the seam where land meets sea.
So instead of the Ellsworth Kelley oils and the Saarinen furniture Shelley would have chosen, her client had required that the formal curves and stilted curlicues of Louis XIV, fill the multilevel, ultramodern glass house.
From that choice had followed all the rest. One result was heavy blue velvet draperies shutting out the glorious view. Another was the rented crystal chandelier that looked rather startling against the open beamed ceding of the dining room.
Talk about not getting it. I' m surprised JoLynn didn't pout until the landlord let- her paint the beams white.
With a sigh that was also a mild curse, Shelley set aside her notebook. She didn't need to write down obvious or subtle signs of personality and use them to puzzle out the best choice in finishing touches for this house. Whatever individuality JoLynn might have was carefully hidden.
There was excellent taste in the house's interior decor, but no originality. There was great beauty but nothing unusual, nothing to give a clue to the unique combination of education and experience, hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments that made up JoLynn Cummings.
Unhappily, Shelley looked around again, hoping she had missed something.
If there's anything more compelling than insecurity beneath my clients stunningly well-kept surface, she's not letting on. Everything she rented from my partner could have been taken right out of a catalog of museum knockoffs.
Maybe in the next room, she told herself. Maybe the Louis Quatorze Fashion Police haven't been there yet.
And then again, maybe they had.
In room after room, hallway after hallway, nothing was out of place. Even the maid's quarters were all gilt and grace, elegance and gilt. The blue and white and gold fragility was suffocating.
Not that the decor or furniture itself is at fault, Shelley admitted. The furnishings are exquisite, like everything Brian rents to our wealthy clientele.
Yet the unrelieved perfection made her itch to put in accents that would subtly remind people that this was a home, not a museum reproduction.
Yawning, she abandoned the fantasy of subtlety and JoLynn. It was obvious that the client didn't have enough confidence in her own taste to survive any ripples in the perfect surface Brian had created for her.
People like that are the easiest and least satisfying kind of client, Shelley thought idly. Give her a room straight out of the last museum she saw. and she thinks you're brilliant.
Less individuality and sense of adventure than a clam.
Hope I can stay awake long enough to do my duty. Or at least look like I'm doing it.
She glanced over her shoulder, but saw no one to relieve the boring perfection of the decor.
Brian and JoLynn must still be out in the garden discussing lawn furniture and outdoor marble statuary. White, of course.
Or do they still sell gilded cherubs? Shelley wondered with a shudder.
Part of her was afraid they did.
She skirted the large, flawlessly furnished living room with its velvet-and-chiffon draperies distorting the view of the wild sea. Without much hope, she approached the final wing of the house.
The first door at the end of the hall recently had been repainted white with gilt trim. With a shrug, she opened the door.
The room beyond made her take a quick, surprised breath. Someone in the house was fighting a battle for breathing space amid all the French perfection.
She smiled, then began laughing softly. Intelligent life, she thought eagerly. Finally!
Louis XIV replicas were almost buried beneath a random assortment of clothes, games, and unidentifiable objects. Posters of barbarians in full sword-and-sorcery costume were tacked to the eggshell walls.
The hem of the velvet drapes had been ruthlessly stuffed over the top of the curtain rod. Now the spectacular view was part of the living space rather than an enemy at the luxuriously barred gate.Where the Heart Is. Copyright © by Elizabeth Lowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.