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PROLOGUE

Do you know that familiar voice in your head that reminds you to count calories and prods you to work out? The one that warns you not to take chances, urges you to resist change and fear failure. I bet you hear it daily; making you question what other people think about your hair, your make up, your attitude. And, no, I’m not talking about your mother.

Do you ever wonder who that incessant voice is, and how you make it shut up? I questioned whether the voice I heard telling me not to wear those jeans because they made my thighs look fat was the reason I wasn’t searching for Mr. Perfect. Okay, it could’ve been that my shattered heart was still on the mend, and the subsequent dates I’d had were disastrous. Whatever the reason, I wanted the bickering in my brain to stop. I was tired of hearing, “Put on makeup in case you run into a hot guy at the grocery store.” I was also fed up with feeling like I had to fight back with, “I’m a successful woman, I don’t need a man.”

I had fabulous friends, a house most my age would be envious of, and a cat who provided unconditional love. Even though the cat-thing might have led you to believe I was lonely, I wasn’t. If I allowed myself to be truly honest, I was unhappy. Why, though? I didn’t know. I shouldn’t have been.

It was 2012 when I decided that my typical resolutions, like lose ten pounds and drink less alcohol, were lame. What I really wanted was to squelch the voice in my brain that sounded like it had commandeered a megaphone. I also wanted to tame the pampered and pompous performers in the design circus that had become my life.

This is how my journey to find peace and maintain my sanity began…

 

CHAPTER 1

December 31, 2011, I was startled awake when the alarm clock yanked me out of a fitful night of sleep. I struggled to peel open crusty eyelids. My head was throbbing. I had major congestion and no cold medicine.

My sleeping partner, a grey tabby named Jasper, stared at me from the foot of the bed.

I wish I had a cat’s life. I’d sleep all day.

After hitting the snooze button three times, I threw on an emerald-green wrap dress and pulled on knee-high boots. Checking myself in the mirror, I felt old. Ugly.

Somehow, I sensed it wasn’t my reflection that bothered me most. It was the anxiety building in my chest. At twenty-nine years old, the stress from owning a successful, interior design firm in Greenwich, Connecticut was intense.

Even though the government wanted us to believe the economy had rebounded, my rich, residential clients still weren’t splurging on extravagances. No matter what sunny outlook the news media was spinning, my clients’ once rosy attitudes had grown thorns.

I had a luxury sports-car dealer and his head-hunter wife back out on building a new house at the same time a technology giant, who survived the dot-com crisis, put his project on hold. For me, the recession had caused more than crow’s feet.

I leaned toward the mirror.

Holy crap! I’ve got the Grand Canyon on my forehead!

I attempted to rub the gorge away and ended with a red forehead that matched the rosacea on my cheeks. Annoyed, I headed to the back door, cinched my winter trench and looped a scarf around my neck.

I dashed out of my quirky, shingle-style house and eyed the rusty snow shovel. Four inches of fresh, white flakes blanketed the quarter-mile driveway and a two-foot drift blocked the door of the detached garage. With no energy to sling snow, I repositioned the heavy workbags on my shoulders and trudged to the train station. I had an important, late morning meeting with Mr. Portman, a prolific political donor, and his new bride, Patricia, at their Manhattan penthouse. Canceling wasn’t an option. Star Interiors couldn’t afford another derailed project. I needed to keep their design work on track.

Due to train delays, I arrived at Grand Central Station twenty-seven minutes later than I’d projected. I didn’t have time to purchase relief for my battered head and nose drip. Hoovering snot against gravity, I sucked in a breath before rushing across the terminal and zipping out the door into a yellow taxi. I had three minutes to reach the Upper East Side.

Damn it!

I’m going to be late.

I hate to be late.

Seventeen minutes later the Portmans’ silver Bentley cut off the taxi as it slid to the curb in front of the pre-war apartment building. I braced myself. The taxi skidded to a stop.

I should’ve known it wouldn’t matter if I was late.

Slipping on ice, I scrambled to the sidewalk hoping to intercept Ginger Cooper, my office manager, before she had to face the staggeringly bad conduct of Patricia alone. Ginger’s disdain for clients’ arrogant attitudes, combined with the fact that she wasn’t good at editing herself, caused me to pick up my pace.

Henry, the sixty-year-old doorman with a lovable grandpa face, strode to the curb and winked. “Top of the morning, Miss Lear.”

“Good morning, Henry.” A smile tugged at my cheeks. “Please, call me Chanda.”

Henry yanked open the Bentley’s door.

Patricia looked up from under blunt, black bangs. Her collagen-plump lips and taut face didn’t move. She snapped her fingers repeatedly and Henry lunged for the tiny Tiffany bag she was waving. Chloe, her bedazzled poodle, jetted past.

Juggling workbags, with blueprints ready to tumble to the street, I clumsily grabbed Chloe’s leash. “Good morning,” I called out.

Waving, as if she were shooing a fly, she didn’t look back.

Nice to see you, too.

I scanned the sidewalk for Ginger, who was usually punctual, yet never predictable. Considering she had spent the night in the city with her latest fling, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was late. After a tumultuous divorce from a verbally abusive husband, she was empowered by promiscuous behavior, as long as it was on her terms.

Ginger raced out of the Tudor building. Dressed like a funky fashionista on a Target budget, she brushed spiky strands of platinum hair off her forehead and greeted Patricia. Without a word, Patricia strutted past.

“Pompous Bitch,” Ginger hissed under her breath.

Struggling to keep up with the poodle circling my feet, I leaned toward Ginger. She smelled like an expensive men’s cologne that I recognized but, with a stuffed up nose, couldn’t place. “I see your nickname for Patricia has escalated once more. Let’s see, didn’t you start with Greedy or wait, was it Tight Face?”

Although I was nervous I might blurt out one of Ginger’s less-than-loving nicknames, I secretly admired her gusto. “Personally,” I leaned in close, “I think it should be Gold Digger.”

Ginger’s giggle turned to a grimace as the Pompous Bitch yelled from the warmth of the lobby, “Quick! Bring Chloe.”

I spun toward the luxury apartment building and nodded with a fake smile. Easing my shoulders down, I lowered my head in an attempt to untangle the leash. Chloe was peeing on my boot.

Oh my God!

There’s GOT to be more to life than this.

I shook whiz off brown suede.

At least she didn’t shit.

Waiting outside the elevator, the Pompous Bitch impatiently tapped a Givenchy pump. Dragging Chloe, I urged Ginger to keep up. The Pompous Bitch stripped off her calf-length mink and thrust it at Ginger. Begrudgingly, Ginger grabbed the fur. She peered around, nervous PETA might throw paint.

The Pompous Bitch stepped into the mirror-clad elevator, turned and thrust her hand at me. I happily relinquished Chloe’s leash.

Admiring her most recent rhinoplasty, as if she needed a further upturned nose, the Pompous Bitch caught a glimpse of my reflection. “You know, Chanda,” she said in her cringe-worthy, Long Island accent, “if you don’t get Botox you’ll never get a date.”

I bit my tongue as a forced smile crept across my face.

“Take Kate Carlisle,” the Pompous Bitch tipped her head toward the end of the building where the family of a potential British client owned a penthouse, “at thirty-two, she doesn’t have a wrinkle on her face. And after tonight, she’ll have a giant rock to flash.”

“Hmm…” Ginger cocked her head. “I didn’t take Kate to be the type to parade around with a giant diamond when there are school children who can’t afford to buy lunch.”

I discreetly elbowed Ginger’s ribs.

The Pompous Bitch scowled.

“Thank you for referring your neighbor, Kate, to Star Interiors,” I said.

The Pompous Bitch bent over and scooped up her beloved poodle. “It wasn’t me.”  

Of course it wasn’t.

“I’ll make sure I thank Mr. Portman then,” I said. “Is he waiting for us?”

Aggravation radiated from her eyes, but her plastic forehead and puffed-out, upper lip remained motionless when she replied, “His mother phoned last night. He flew off to Palm Beach.”

“He won’t be joining us?” I choked out.

“No,” the Pompous Bitch answered, through clenched teeth.

What the hell?

Why are we here?

Seven years prior, when I left the Manhattan architectural firm – Morris, Lancaster, Howell Associates, I had jumped at the chance to design a bedroom suite for Mr. Portman and his then long-time girlfriend Patricia, the Pompous Bitch. After she had arrogantly bragged that they’d been dating for six years, the bizarrely eccentric Mr. Portman turned to her. “I still have no plans to date you exclusively,” he announced, in his gravelly, I-smoke-three-packs-a-day voice. “You’ll have your own entrance across the hall.”

She managed a mask of happiness in front of him, while I was the one who had to put up with her idea of being dealt lemons throwing them at people.

Pleased with my work, Mr. Portman had said, “I’ll happily refer you to friends and associates.”

I wasn’t foolish enough to think he was merely impressed with my design knowledge. He was impressed with my ability to dodge lemons.

My current endeavor was attempting to make lemonade while designing their new residence in Palm Beach. The Pompous Bitch, who had patiently clung, like saran wrap, to Mr. Portman for thirteen years, was now acting like a spoiled New York housewife. She wanted everything yesterday, yet couldn’t make a decision if Chloe’s head was on the chopping block.

“How come you didn’t join Mr. Portman in Florida?” Ginger asked with a devilish grin. “I bet it’s blissfully warm there right now.”

Thankfully, the elevator doors opened. Ginger knew full well the Pompous Bitch despised her mother-in-law. If she had her wish, the old lady would die a quick, miserable death. Whereas Mr. Portman was born wealthy with Howard Hughes tendencies, the Pompous Bitch was born middle class. A fact her mother-in-law wouldn’t let her forget. 

The Pompous Bitch punched her code into the security keypad before cooing with her face pressed to Chloe’s nose. Chloe wiggled free and scampered through the grand foyer. Her nails skittered across vintage herringbone floors.

I made a beeline to the formal dining room where we normally sat at the long mahogany table. Heavy silk draperies framed iconic views of the Manhattan skyline.

The Pompous Bitch didn’t follow me; she stopped in the parlor where the star of the wood-paneled room was a tufted, Chesterfield sofa. As if she was Cleopatra, she dramatically plopped on the damask fabric. 

I dashed back and dropped to my knees in front of the cocktail table. Turning the marble top into a makeshift work place, I hastily unrolled design drawings. Ginger pulled out a notepad and unloaded samples from my workbag.

“I can’t do this today.” The Pompous Bitch said with a dismissive hand flick. “I have cramps.”

I wanted to scream, “MIDOL! Have you heard of it?”

I didn’t.

Instead, I said, “I brought all of the samples so we could do a full review now that the design drawings are complete. We really need

The Pompous Bitch rolled her head back and closed her eyes. Let yourself out.

That was it. Meeting over.