Designing Hearts

Designing Hearts

by Robin Strachan


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Jill Hennessy is the envy of women everywhere. She has a flourishing interior design business, a handsome celebrity talk show host husband, and two successful adult sons. Then, suddenly, the entire world knows her "perfect" marriage is a lie. Jill learns the truth via a televised news flash exposing David's affair with his young assistant. Her illusion of being in control of her life is shattered, and she can finally see the cracks in her husband's shiny persona: his increasing distance from their family life, his self-absorption, his flagrant disapproval of their gay son. As Jill struggles to come to terms with her new reality, David pours on the charm that drew her in to begin with. Can she forgive him and rededicate herself to his happiness and their family life, even if that means losing Denny, a respected artist who has the potential to be her true soul mate? Jill is an expert in feng shui, a system of organization and color in the home meant to optimize life's possibilities. She has a rare talent for putting her clients on the road to health, wealth, and happiness. Can she work these same miracles for herself?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603812603
Publisher: Epicenter Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Pages: 334
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Robin Strachan's poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been published in local, regional, and national publications for over thirty years. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, she began her writing career as a reporter doing features. Designing Hearts is her second novel. Her first, Manifesting Dreams, was released in November 2011. A third is in progress. Since 1981, Ms. Strachan has served in executive and development roles in higher education, health care, and medical research. She holds a bachelor of arts degree with dual majors in English and philosophy. She is also a published poet and a professional artist. She makes her home in the Chicago area. For more information, go to:

Read an Excerpt


The musical alarm on her laptop calendar jingled its three-tone reminder as Jill Hennessy looked up from an enormous stack of wallpaper catalogs. She was ready for a break. She'd just spent two hours hunched over her work table, reviewing hundreds of samples for a client. Rising from her chair, she arched her back in a catlike yoga move to ease the stiffness in her neck and shoulders. If she left now, she wouldn't be noticeably late. She had scheduled a lunch meeting with Tom Becker, managing partner of the architectural and design firm where she worked. Despite her best intentions, the morning had gotten away from her.

Checking her cellphone, she noticed that her husband David had phoned mid-morning. He almost never called during the day, and she was disappointed to have missed him. She quickly punched in the code to her voicemail, but found no messages. He probably just wanted to remind her to pick up his dry cleaning. Grabbing her purse, she closed the office door, careful not to interrupt Monica, her assistant, who was calculating a column of numbers.

"I'm heading over to have lunch with Tom now," Jill said when Monica's fingers finally paused, suspended over the keys. "If David calls, would you tell him I'll call him back after lunch?"

"Sure thing." Monica's fingers resumed their rapid movements. "Before I forget, will you tell Tom that the new painter, Denny MacBride, filled out his HR paperwork?"

"Tom finally hired a new painter?" Jill's face broke into a grin. "He just told me last week that he didn't think we needed another one. It's all about the budget, you know." She rolled her eyes.

"You must have been persuasive. Oh, and Jill? Wait until you see this guy." Monica leaned back in her chair and batted her eyelashes. "He can color my world anytime."

"Always nice to have painters that go well with the décor." Jill winked. "Be back in an hour or so."

Before leaving the building, she ducked into the restroom and gave herself a quick inspection in the large mirror over the sinks. She drew a comb through chestnut hair cut in a sleek, chin-length style that emphasized high cheekbones and a peaches-and-cream complexion. She wet a finger and rubbed away a speck of soot beneath large, cobalt-blue eyes, fringed with naturally thick eyelashes that required only a touch of mascara. Despite a healthy appetite, she was blessed with an hourglass figure that was still a trim size eight. Not bad for late forties, she thought, glad that she was secure in her marriage, with no need to obsess over the small signs of aging — the faint lines at the corners of her eyes and across her forehead. Satisfied with her appearance, Jill refreshed her rosy matte lipstick, blotted it with a tissue, and headed out the door and down the backstairs.

She took the grassy shortcut from her building to the nearby shopping plaza that included her favorite lunchtime deli. When she pushed open the front door, Tom Becker was sitting at a corner table, staring off into space. He looked distracted and tired — a mood she had observed more and more lately. She also noticed that he had thoughtfully ordered her favorite lunch: a turkey sandwich with sprouts on whole grain with guacamole and a chai tea latte.

She cleared her throat to get his attention and arranged her purse strap over the back of the chair. "Hey, thanks for ordering for me. Did I just interrupt a heavy thought?"

His eyes met hers in a way that confirmed her impression. "I was thinking about something I'd like you to do. I haven't mentioned it yet because I'm almost afraid to ask."

Jill eased into her chair and removed the lid from her latte. "No, Tom, I won't help you paint your foyer this weekend. You need a professional for those vaulted walls over the stairs. Or is that why you finally hired another painter?"

For a moment, Tom's expression went blank. Then he offered his shy, crooked smile. "Okay, you were right. We did need another painter. We can't afford to get behind on projects, especially with revenue down this quarter." He paused. "Actually, I wanted to ask you to do something for us in the way of marketing and public relations. I know you're going to give me a dozen reasons why it's not a good idea, even though it is."

"If I do, I'm sure they'll be good reasons," Jill said mildly. "Go on."

"Just listen. The community college has a continuing non-credit education program for adults called 'Communiversity.' I thought maybe you could offer a class on feng shui. It'd be a new way of marketing our services."

While Jill's eyes widened in dismay at the thought of teaching a class, Tom continued as if his idea was a fait accompli. After taking a huge bite of his Reuben sandwich, he stabbed two battered French fries into a pool of ketchup, crammed them into his mouth, and said, still chewing, "You'll be great." He took another few seconds to swallow the mouthful of food before adding, "After you get the hang of what works, we could try a class onsite in the new conference room. I'm thinking it could help bring in new customers."

"But I've never taught feng shui." Jill's brow furrowed as she stirred her latte.

"It'll be good for you," he said. "I know you hate public speaking, but you're actually better at it than you think."

"I doubt that. Do you suppose there's even enough interest in feng shui to fill a class?" Jill gingerly bit into her sandwich, half hoping the idea would flop. But she knew that in Tom's mind, the class was already a done deal.

For as long as she could remember, she had avoided public speaking. Although she loved visiting with clients one-on-one or in small groups, whenever she was required to make a presentation, she carefully prepared her remarks and either memorized or read them verbatim. That way, there was less chance of flubbing up and embarrassing herself. Unlike David, her husband of twenty-five years, Jill suffered from stage fright. David was used to performing for an adoring public and seemed to relish his role as a celebrity news commentator and talk show host for a major television network. As she picked at her lunch, she couldn't shake the feeling of anxiety that Tom's suggestion produced. Nevertheless, she knew her partner was right: it was important to broaden her comfort zone for the sake of the business. Clearly, revenue was down enough to cause concern.

The lunch hour passed quickly as they discussed current design projects and ways to keep them on schedule. There were some new projects in the pipeline, but Tom needed to finalize details, and nothing was certain. He glanced at his watch and frowned. Then, picking up his lunch tray, he said, "Sorry, I've got to run. HR needs to meet with me about our benefits package. We're probably going to switch healthcare providers again this year." He chewed the inside of his cheek. "The economy is pinching us hard — right in our collective bottom line."

"Ouch. Sorry you have to deal with all that." Jill winced in sympathy. "Okay, I'll teach the class. I'll start putting together a syllabus and call somebody over at the community college to find out when the next session starts."

"They already have 'Introduction to Feng Shui' listed on their website. Classes start in two weeks." Tom grinned and ducked as Jill playfully threw a wadded-up sandwich wrapper at his face. "I figured I could talk you into it, eventually."

Jill stayed behind to finish her latte as Tom headed back to the office. She had to admit that his idea for her to teach a feng shui class was brilliant, one she might have suggested herself — if there had been someone else to teach it, that is. Throughout her marriage, she had always admired David for his ability to host nightly news and talk shows without breaking a sweat. He made it look easy.

There he is, she thought, and her heart skipped a beat as David's handsome face suddenly appeared on the television screen above the lunch counter. She turned sideways in her chair to get a better look at her husband, dressed impeccably in a charcoal-colored suit. She noticed it was not the light gray suit he had worn at home that morning as he left for the network's offices in New York City. He was surrounded by a crowd of what appeared to be security officers, reporters, and camera-wielding crews. But there was something different about this press conference. The crowds did not look friendly; instead they lined his path like a gauntlet.

In the background, the well-known voice of Hollywood entertainment host Mary Fox could be heard saying, "It's the latest scandal to rock television news. Did conservative political commentator David Hennessy, a voice for family values, have an affair with a young female colleague?"

Jill froze in her seat, her breath coming shallow and rapid, as video footage of David continued, showing him being ushered into a waiting limousine. The teaser ended with, "Get the whole story tonight at five o'clock and again at six on Entertainment Tuesday."

Leaving the remains of her sandwich, Jill snatched her purse from the chair and rose on wobbling legs. As she stumbled out of the deli, beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. She felt on the verge of throwing up. It was fortunate, at least, that no one else in the deli knew her identity. Yanking her square compact mirror from her bag, she stopped for a moment to study her reflection. The attractive, carefully made-up face she had seen in the restroom mirror less than an hour earlier now appeared different to her. In its place she saw a woman nearing fifty, crow's feet clearly etched at the corner of her eyes, a jawline that was no longer firm and youthful, with hair that needed frequent touch-ups to keep its shiny chestnut color.

She had always taken considerable pains to look her best. Until this moment, she had believed herself to be lovely and youthful in every way. David had always told her so, and she had believed him. Had he been lying to her all these years? She smoothed her hands across the front of her navy skirt and back to her waist with shaking hands, and felt the rise above her waistline — barely noticeable most days. Today, however, her tummy definitely felt bigger. She leaned over to stop the second wave of nausea that engulfed her and touched her knees, noticing with dismay that they, too, had more flesh on them than in years past. I'm not the young woman I used to be. Standing up straight, she took a few deep breaths to steady herself, wondering what else she might not have noticed before today. Have I let myself go? Surely there was a reason David had strayed. Why didn't I allow the dermatologist to do the filler around my cheekbones and mouth? I should have tried harder to get to the gym.

She was grateful, at least, that Tom hadn't been there to hear the television promo. In college, Tom and David had been fraternity brothers, but not particularly good friends. Rather, Tom and Jill gravitated together as friends and study partners, and had remained close. Years later, after Tom started his own architectural firm, Jill joined him as an interior designer, eventually becoming a full partner. She and Tom were still the best of friends, but Jill knew that he often held his tongue regarding David. As thoughts paraded through her mind — mental film clips of years gone by — Jill wondered whether Tom's coolness toward David over the years had anything to do with playboy behavior she hadn't known about in college.

She felt shaky and light-headed as she made her way back to the office — taking the longer route this time. Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of David's betrayal, but she blinked them away. By this time, the story had to be on the Internet. That meant her coworkers might already know what had happened. It was more important than ever that she appear poised and unruffled — show them the face of a celebrity wife.

As she walked along the path to the office, she ransacked her mind for signs from the night before or early that morning that something was amiss with David. He had gotten home around eleven o'clock the night before. He'd been attending a cocktail party, or so he said. This, in itself, wasn't unusual. David often drove home later at night in an effort to miss heavy evening traffic from New York City to the Connecticut suburbs. Jill was barely asleep when he silently raised the covers and crawled into bed, spooning against her. She felt his mouth graze her bare shoulder and then, feeling grateful that he was home, she turned to face him and raised the silky nightgown over her head, initiating lovemaking. Afterward, she nestled her head against his shoulder and strummed her fingers against his chest as his heartbeat slowed. He whispered his usual, "Love you, babe," and fell asleep. She wondered how it was possible for an unfaithful man to make love to his wife, as David had done last night.

Just hours ago, earlier this morning, she had handed him a mug of coffee while he shaved. As he stood before the bathroom mirror in his white boxers, naked from the waist up, he looked so gorgeous that Jill leaned in for another kiss. Flashing a grin, he wiped shaving cream off her cheek with his towel, kissed the tip of her nose, and finished dressing. Then he grabbed a homemade muffin and a banana and left for the city — his usual routine. Nothing about his actions suggested that anything out of the ordinary was about to happen.

"Are you okay?" Monica asked in alarm, rushing around her desk to meet Jill.

Up and down the hallway, there were no signs of life. In fact, the entire second floor was suspiciously deserted for this time of day. Feeling numb, Jill realized her coworkers knew what had happened. Monica rounded the corner and circled an arm around Jill for support as she unlocked Jill's office door. A moment later, Tom appeared and gathered Jill against him as the first tears flowed. He patted her back as she sobbed.

"I don't understand how he could do something like this!" Jill cried, finally pulling away from Tom's embrace. "I've worked so hard to be the best wife I could possibly be, to support his career, raise his sons, to be there for him. What more could I do?"

"There is nothing, nothing more you could have done. You don't deserve this," Monica muttered, her strong features strained in anger. Monica was tall and heavyset, but she wore her size well, projecting a larger than life confidence. She usually wore slacks and cashmere sweaters and would have made an excellent TV cop. Anger visible on her face, she added, "Did you suspect anything at all?"

Jill shook her head and collapsed in her desk chair. "I had no idea. He acted so ... . We were together last night and ... ." She shook her head again — too much information. "How could something like this happen? He's everything to me — always has been. I thought he felt the same way."

Tom dropped into a chair and leaned forward. "Jill, if you haven't talked with David yet, it would be good to hear what he has to say first." The suggestion was gentle and balanced, typical of Tom. "I know he loves you. Sometimes men do stupid things. And it's possible he's been wrongly accused."

"Yes, it's possible," Jill said, blowing her nose. "But please, Tom, I need to know. Did he cheat on me when we were in college?"

"If he did, I wasn't aware of it," Tom said. "It was mostly his ego that bugged me. I'm just saying you'd be better off if you gave him the benefit of the doubt until you know the truth. Whoever is accusing him might've made the whole thing up to get publicity."

"You're right. It could be a publicity thing." But Jill's voice trailed off as an ugly certainty took root. David had been away from home more often than not the past year. He often stayed overnight in the city, complaining that he was too tired to commute home to Connecticut. He also was missing in action most weekends. Although Jill realized now that his frequent absences the past year were suspicious, it had never occurred to her that he could be unfaithful.

"He's always been my Prince Charming," she said, shaking her head. "Stupid of me, I know. Or maybe I just wanted to believe in fairytales." Deep down, somehow she knew the story on Entertainment Tuesday was true.

Tom and Monica exchanged worried looks. "Do you want one of us to take you home?" Tom took her hand and warmed it between his. "You shouldn't drive, as upset as you are."

"I'll be fine. But thank you." The vertigo had passed and Jill was clear-headed again. "The drive home will give me time to pull myself together before I talk to David."

"I certainly hope he has something to say in his defense," Tom said, his mouth set in a thin line.


Excerpted from "Designing Hearts"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Robin Strachan.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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.

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