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Friday, July 12, 2013
Author Lisa April Smith On Tour
It’s always a delight when I have the opportunity to welcome an author back to Thoughts in Progress. Today I have the pleasure of welcoming author Lisa April Smith back.
Before discovering a passion for writing, Lisa sold plumbing and heating, antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM. She also returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art. Lisa is the author of three intriguing books: EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS, PARADISE MISPLACED, and DANGEROUS LIES. She has graciously answered a few questions for me. Welcome Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you for inviting me, Mason.
Mason - Let’s start with a fun question. Tell us 10 things about yourself that fans might find interesting or surprising? Lisa: Gladly. 1. I make jewelry but refuse to sell it. Occasionally, I give a piece to a very good friend. 2. I love watching “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Pickers.” 3. I don’t need a time machine, black hole or a crack in the universe to step back in time. A visit to any museum, historic mansion, or dig site that has art or artifacts from the past will transport me. When I can’t get to one of the above, and I desperately need a break from the frantic Age of Instant Access, an antique store will do. 4. I’m impossibly impatient. I record all TV programs I want to see so that I can condense a 60 minute episode into 30. 5. I’m fascinated by all facets of crime, criminals and deviant behavior. 6. I’m a volunteer tutor at an after school program for disadvantaged kids. 7. I love watching lightning. Fortunately, I live in the Lighting Capital of the United States. 8. I’m equally parts left and right brained, a condition I share with the late Oliva Goldsmith, author of First Wives Club. When I worked at IBM it troubled me not to be primarily left brained, like most of my geek colleagues. Goldsmith’s must-read primer for novelists, The Bestseller, assured me that the condition was ideal for writing fiction. The creative right side provides the original characters and plot, while the practical left side organizes, evaluates and bullies the right side into endless editing. 9. I grow orchids and cactus. One might view them as opposites. 10. As a kid, I was so impressed that my mother could whistle through her fingers that I practiced and practiced until I could do it. My daughter is the 3rd generation of women in our family that accomplish this awesome feat.
Mason - That was fun. Now for a serious one. What particularly pleases you about writing fiction?
Lisa: The creative experience. I’ve always envied painters, sculptors, composers. Imagine applying oil to canvas and fashioning a masterpiece. Imagine hearing wonderful music in your head that hasn’t been heard before. Imagine turning a shapeless lump of clay, or block of stone, into an object that produces emotions in viewers. Writing is an art too. With words as their sole tool, authors weave them into stories and place invented people into invented problematic situations. If the author is truly skillful, she not only entertains, she touches, transports and meaningfully moves readers. That’s a powerful and addicting drug.
Mason - What made you chose suspense for your genre? Lisa: Once you’ve created fascinating characters you have decide what to do with them, what troubles to inflict and how your protagonists will deal with them. My goal is to keep my readers involved and turning the pages far into the night. That’s why I construct my books around suspense/mystery. While readers are being alternately charmed, dazzled, entranced, amused, aroused, outraged and entertained by my characters, they’re busy looking for clues and guessing what surprises await them. That’s what gets my juices bubbling.
Mason - Where do you get your inspiration? Lisa: All three of my books were inspired by media coverage of events and people that I find intriguing. A few years ago, Florida television and newspapers were reporting a story of a local Palm Beach socialite (ironically named Fagan) arrested for kidnapping his daughters eighteen years earlier, when they were 2 and 5 years old. The primary reason that it had taken eighteen years to find Fagan was that he had successfully reinvented himself. As William S. Martin, a handsome widower with two young daughters and no apparent means of support, Fagan had met and married a wealthy Palm Beach widow. After their divorce, another affluent woman agreed to wed and maintain his family’s plush lifestyle.
Neighbors, friends and the teachers at the girls’ tiny private school all described him as “likeable,” “charming” and “devoted father.” Throughout his arrest and subsequent proceedings, his loyal third wife steadfastly stood by him, as did both daughters. Perhaps what most surprised people who followed the case was that the girls’ mother, a research scientist teaching at the University of Virginia, through the media and her attorney, repeatedly begged her daughters to meet with her and they refused. To my knowledge, that continues to this day. As I was following the case I found myself thinking that there was an even juicier story behind this headline-grabber and set out to create one. I began with a few core facts. A man with an invented name and history, twice married to wealthy widows, living in Palm Beach, playground of the mega-rich and famous, and involved in a crime. Two adoring daughters unaware of their true identities. Over time my imagination happily supplied the rest. A townhouse off Fifth Avenue. A sprawling estate in Virginia. Romantic Paris in the years prior to WWII. A riveting past for Jack Morgan: skilled lover, lack-luster artist and irresistible rascal. A full-blown range of challenges and hard-wrought triumphs for his traumatized daughter Charlotte (Charlie).
One great character inspired two books: Exceeding Expectations and its sequel, Paradise Misplaced. Two books, so far. Mason - If you could spend an hour or two with any author, dead or alive, who would that be and why did you choose him/her?
Lisa: Tough decision. I think if I had to choose one it would be Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). He was a brilliant author, entertaining speaker and daring social commentator. Portraying black characters as brave, loyal, admirable human beings with souls, he took a stand against slavery and social injustice. Black or white, his characters were memorable, flawed and real. Clemens’ life was dotted with failures, loss and personal tragedy, but he was known for his wit and engaging disposition. How I would love to sit down with him one lazy afternoon for an unhurried chat.
Lisa: Many times. I can absolutely see George Clooney as Jack Morgan at fifty. He has the talent to play serious and comedic roles, and the looks and sex appeal to play Jack. The problem is, what actor could convince viewers that he’s George Clooney at twenty-five? Maybe false eyelashes would help. I see a very young Gwyneth Paltrow playing Charlie. She is tall, blond, thin and has the patrician looks and bearing. Sadly, I don’t know how to turn back time. As for Raul, I visualize Shiloh Fernandez. I’ve seen him in a number of movies. He’s very handsome and oozes testosterone. I’d love to hear recommendations from your members.
Mason - How do you feel about speaking to book groups and at book events?
Lisa: I love speaking with people who love to read. I’ve done some events via Skype and many, many more in person. Generally, I tell a little about myself and then ask for questions. Some questions are about me – Did I always want to be a writer? Some relate to the book – Was a great deal of research required? Are my characters based on people I know? That’s where attendees relax and become actively part of the experience. Exchanges get lively. I get to hear what moves readers, entertains and/or fascinates them. The time allocated flies.
If I’ve been invited by a group that is featuring one of my books, in addition to answering questions, I ask some of my own. I also supply provoking questions for book groups that I can’t attend, on request, via my email WriteLisa@LisaAprilSmith.com. For me, book events are not only enjoyable, they’re enlightening and energizing. Lisa, thanks for visiting with us again. It’s always fun to learn more about authors and their likes.
Lisa is graciously sharing chapter 2 of EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS with us today for your reading pleasure and to entice further reading. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading:
The last time I saw Andrew Regis, my stepmother’s attorney, was six weeks ago at my father’s funeral. I assumed the reason he had invited me to his office was to discuss my father’s will. Normally, Regis smiled, a broad smile meant to assure the listener of his sincerity and pure intentions. Today his expression was suitably grave. I, on the other hand, appeared composed. I could do that, hide my emotions – look calm when I was agitated, or angry, or grief-stricken, as I was now. It was a keystone of my social set, a trick we’d been trained to perform from infancy, in the same way children of circus performers are taught to juggle or ride a unicycle.
“Mrs. Morgan contacted us from New York,” Regis said. “I understand she plans to spend the rest of the season there.”
My stepmother had left town the day after the funeral — scarcely after Palm Beach’s winter social events began.
“No doubt she had some urgent business to attend to,” I said, hoping to move our conversation to the real reason for my presence. I had been seated in his office for thirty minutes and Regis had yet to say anything meaningful. I estimated the time to be thirty minutes, but it could have been five. Since my father’s death time advances at an agonizingly slow pace.
“Ah, yes, business. Very sad.” Regis waited for me to nod my acknowledgment of his considerate distress. I complied and he continued. “This is particularly awkward to do at this time, so I’ll try to make it as brief as possible. Naturally we were shocked to learn about your father — the accident. Tragic. How old a man was your father? Fifty-five, I’m told. Every member of this firm thought highly of him. Splendid sportsman. Dreadful loss. I’m sure you’re anxious to get on with things — know where you stand – financially and otherwise, so you can make plans for your future.”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“As you know, Mrs. Morgan is very fond of you and your sister. She assures me that you will always be welcome in her home. This must be so difficult for you — and of course Amelia. How is she progressing? Well, I hope. No doubt, she’ll mend quickly. Young people do.”
My sister Amelia currently receives callers at Silver Glades, a private clinic euphemistically termed a rest home. If only Regis would get to the point. His babbling was chipping away my veneer of control. My throat was dry and my eyes were threatening to betray me. The idea of blubbering in front of this stranger was appalling. I did my blubbering in private.
“It would help if I could make plans for our future,” I prompted.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Regis swallowed and deadened his face. “I regret to say that your father left no will. Nor was one necessary. He had no holdings other than a small sum in his checking account, and his personal effects.”
I willed my stomach to settle while I corrected what had to be a mistake. “My father had to have a will. Perhaps it was misplaced.”
“No will was filed. Records have been checked. Your father held no assets beyond those I’ve described.”
“What about stocks and bonds?”
“There were none.”
“A small trust fund? He was an only child. His parents died before I was born. He had to have inherited everything.”
Regis shook his head. “I’m sorry. There is no record of a trust fund from any source.”
“That’s impossible. My father wasn’t employed. How did he support us without an income? What about the allowance he gave us?”
“He wrote checks to you and your sister from his checking account. Mrs. Morgan’s accountant made monthly deposits to that account.”
“That can’t be. My father was a wealthy man. I know our homes belong to my stepmother, but we never had to concern ourselves with money.” Feeling queasy and lightheaded, my brain attempted to focus. “What about the horses and riding equipment?”
“All belong to your stepmother, and either have been, or will be, sold as per her request. Mrs. Morgan doesn’t ride and doesn’t wish the unnecessary expense. She intends to sell the estate in Virginia, as well.”
“But how are we to live?” I stupidly blurted before I could stop myself.
“For the next three months, your allowance and the expense involved in maintaining Amelia at the” – Regis glanced at his notes – “Silver Glades, will be provided by Mrs. Morgan, which I’m sure you’ll agree is very generous of her. She is under no obligation to do so. Your charge accounts, naturally, have been terminated. Oh yes. And you may stay on at the house here in Palm Beach until next season. Mrs. Morgan intends to stay in New York. So that’s it. All of it. I’m sorry if this all comes as a shock.”
A shock? My legs had turned to Silly Putty and my upper body had fossilized. Forcing air into my lungs required all my concentration. I could taste rancid baby food, which had somehow managed to remain lodged in a crevice of my stomach for the last twenty-two years.
“I can imagine what you must be thinking. Would you like me to repeat any part of what I’ve said?”
“No. Thank you,” I replied in a voice barely audible to myself. “I’m quite certain that won’t be necessary.”
Exiting Regis’ office I walked faster than my normal pace, temporarily unconcerned if I was seen limping in my quest for the Ladies Room. Mercifully, it was empty. I had the luxury of regurgitating into the porcelain bowl in privacy. I flushed several times during the process to muffle the sound. When I turned to the sink, the mirror corroborated my expectations. Like the Italian flag, I was red, white, and green. I bathed my face with cold water, rinsed out my mouth, and applied face powder before exiting.
On my way past thickly carpeted offices and conference rooms, I decided to forgo all earlier resolutions regarding self-pity. Learning I was a pauper entitled me to a three-month orgy of self-pity, or until the last dollar of my allowance was spent. After that, Amelia and I would convert to Catholicism, join a convent, preferably one with good wine, minimal requirements for self-flagellation, and an abbey with a dazzling view. I had visited several lovely facilities in France. Escape was within my reach until I felt a hand touching my shoulder.
“Wait! Please. We should talk.”
I turned and stared directly into a man’s eyes. He was a few years older than I am and an inch or two shorter. I could hear him speaking. The language was English, but the rhythm and deep cello undertones were foreign. With the exception of Richard Burton and a few other Brits trained for the theater, English-speaking voices lacked that resonance. He had to repeat himself before I understood.
“I’m sure I could be of help if you could give me a few minutes.”
I stared at the man – dark wavy hair, skin the color of a pecan, and dark chocolate eyes. And he wore a suit. A Latin man. A Latin man wearing a suit, doubtless a common sight in Barcelona or Madrid, an imaginable occurrence in Manhattan, but not in Palm Beach. In Palm Beach, residents employed Latins as gardeners and household staff. But this man with the long sweeping lashes and glacier-white teeth seemed completely at ease in his suit.
“Raul Francesco.” He extended his right hand. “I’m an attorney with the firm. Neville Byrd is my uncle. He’s asked me to speak with you. My uncle considered your father more of a friend than a client. As dreadful as things may appear at the moment, there may be some way we can help.”
Neville Byrd was the firm’s founder. My father hadn’t abandoned us, hadn’t left us destitute. Andrew Regis had been mistaken. I shook the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Francesco.”
“My uncle thought you might appreciate some assistance, letters of recommendation, advice on employment. We’d like to help in some small way. And please call me Raul.”
So there wasn’t any money. Advice! I didn’t need advice. I needed my father and hard cash. In lieu of that, I needed to be alone. At the very least, I was entitled to a good cry and the half bottle of sherry I had stashed in my bedroom. “Perhaps some other time. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“What about tomorrow? How about lunch? We could meet at Taboo.”
“Tomorrow? Lunch? Ah, that would be impossible.” I responded, hoping to dissuade my persistent pursuer with a thin pasty smile.
“Then coffee or a drink in the evening?”
“I’ve made other plans.”
“What about later this week? I absolutely promise to be helpful.”
Realizing this insistent man would simply continue suggesting times and days, I decided to name a day. “I’m free on Friday.” That gave me three full days to invent an excuse.
“Where and when?”
“The Sandbar, three o’clock.”
“Three o’clock, Friday, the Sandbar,” he replied, once again flashing those outrageous teeth.
* * *
When I returned home the house was empty. Carlos and Maria, the couple my stepmother employs, had gone out for the evening. I was alone in my lilac and cream flowered bedroom that now seemed sickeningly precious. I opened the white wicker dresser that held what remained of the sherry. It was the last alcoholic beverage not under lock and key. Over the past six weeks, I’d drained three decanters of after-dinner liqueurs I’d found in the living room, five bottles of table wine from the butler’s pantry cooler, a silver flask my sister kept filled with cognac for emergencies, and a bottle of scotch my father stored in his library.
I remembered the day we learned of my father’s death. Petal had been in a tiff because Daddy had left without advising her of his plans. Amelia was spending a chaste weekend with her fiancé Hal, at his parents’ home. It didn’t occur to me to be overly concerned. I assumed that he had left a note explaining his absence and it would soon be found. Daddy often made trips to and from New York.
We were having breakfast on the lanai that faced the pool and rear garden. The doorbell rang but we ignored it until Maria informed us a man from the Sheriff’s office wanted to speak with Mrs. Morgan. Curious, I took my glass of orange juice and followed Petal to the front door.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs. Morgan, but your husband’s car was found a couple of miles outside of Hamilton Grove. He had an accident,” the grim uniformed man said.
“Go on,” Petal ordered, squaring her shoulders. “Has he been hospitalized?”
“No, ma’am. It was too late for that.”
I remembered hearing the loudest, shrillest scream and the sound of glass shattering. It wasn’t until later that I realized that both the scream and glass were mine.
Daddy’s letters arrived the following day as we were preparing to leave for New York for the funeral. I didn’t see Petal’s reaction to her letter; she took it to the small study adjoining the master bedroom to read privately. Amelia and I sat in the breakfast room and held hands as we read ours. Amelia was calm, chalk white, but calm. I sobbed uncontrollably until I threw up. The family’s physician was summoned. He gave me a shot to sedate me and left pills. The next ten days were a blur. I either slept, wept, or woodenly obeyed Petal’s orders.
As I disintegrated, Amelia grew more and more serene. People compared her to young Princess Elizabeth after her father died, until my sister was found huddled in her closet, catatonic, and had to be carried away. No one dreamed that she would collapse, least of all me.
Amelia was the girl with the Shirley Temple dimples and irresistible smile. She wasn’t the sister who called the police when she was thirteen, because she saw escaped convicts lurking in the trees. She wasn’t the one who heard lions prowling in the tall grass when other people heard house cats. It’s not that I’m phobic. Bats, cockroaches, centipedes, spiders, worms, mice, rats, ghosts, vultures, vampires, snakes, lightning, and thunder don’t frighten me. It’s simply that I have an overactive imagination. It was only reasonable to assume that I would be the sister in a cloistered room and Amelia would be dealing with this nightmare.
Seated in my favorite chair, I glanced down at one of our family photo albums that had not left my room in weeks. Most nights I could find some comfort in the pictures of the three of us. Mother died when Amelia was four and I was two. No image appeared when I tried to imagine her, nor could my sister provide one. We knew nothing of my mother or her family. Any reference to her caused my father to leave the room.
Nevertheless, Amelia and I had never felt neglected. Daddy was always there to lavish us with attention and affection. But being a motherless child did set one apart. For example, Amelia and I still referred to the area we sat on as down there, as in “Wash down there, Charlotte.” I’m certain my mother could have provided a better term than down there. I turned to a photograph I particularly liked, taken at a horse show when I was twelve. In it, I was holding two of the three ribbons I’d won that day. The date beneath read May, 1950. Learning to ride was my father’s idea. He encouraged me to participate in sports where my limp wouldn’t be a disadvantage. My right leg was partially immobile, the result of a birth defect. Daddy had offered no sympathy. “Throw your head back, Charlotte, and stand tall. You’re Jack Morgan’s daughter and you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Stand tall. When one stood a mere inch shy of six feet in stocking feet, what other choice remained? Memories of being the last girl chosen at Mrs. Medford’s Dance Academy still plagued me. I’d always been the tallest girl in my class. The only thing I truly envied of my sister’s was her height. I often felt like Alice-in-Wonderland after she ate the cake, her head jutting out of the roof, her feet the length of a coffee table. Lucky Alice. Her tears caused her to shrink to her original size. My tears have thus far proved futile.
The photo on the facing page showed the three of us that day. Daddy and I were in riding clothes; Amelia wore a navy dress with a full skirt and a white lace collar. She had lost all interest in horses a year earlier. Amelia the Beautiful. Immediately after losing their hearts to my father, two stepmothers and countless others fell in love with my sister’s pale blond curls and bluebonnet eyes. In the photo, a hat hides my waist-length braid, which had darkened to muddy blond. Like Amelia, my skin was fair and scorched easily. No bluebonnet eyes for me, My eyes never could decide whether to be blue or green. At fourteen, Amelia was petite, feminine, and shapely. At twelve, my chest was mirror smooth. Except for the addition of breasts, which still require “a hint of lining” to fill up a B cup, I looked pretty much the same. Amelia’s lips are bow shaped and neatly defined. Mine are full and oddly shaped – particularly my upper lip.
I stared into the photograph. You, the most loving father ever, had no right to run your car off the road and kill yourself – your body so hideously burned that you had to be buried in a sealed casket. No right to abandon us! No right at all. Without saying good-bye. How could you do this to us? How could you do this to me?
Do you remember, Daddy, I asked his photograph, when Amelia and I both came down with the chicken pox? I was seven and Amelia was nine. Lucky Amelia had two pox on her back, one on her stomach, one on her forehead, another on her chin, and no more than two on each arm and leg. I, conversely, had no area larger than a half-dollar devoid of itchy red blotches. They invaded my underarms, my inner ears, and eyelids. We were forbidden to scratch. Scratching left scars, you warned us, and since you never left our side that endless week, the relief scratching might have provided proved impossible. Other parents doused their children with calamine and left them to amuse themselves by listening to Arthur Godfrey or Art Linkletter on the radio. When we complained we were bored, you tinted the calamine with food coloring and painted pink, red, and magenta anemones on our spots. With her measly dozen or so pox, Amelia was merely attractively embellished. I, on the other hand, was an ambulatory floral display.
I reached for the sherry. The bottle was empty. Closing the album, I climbed into bed. The image of the three of us surviving chicken pox faded. I fell asleep once more trying to figure out why my father killed himself and how I could have prevented it. Why hadn’t I seen the signals or symptoms? If I’d done this or said that. If I’d known what demons haunted him, surely I could have done something.
* * *
I glanced again at my watch. It read 3:15. I was not fond of people who kept me waiting, and Raul Francesco was late.
The Sandbar was a local spot to have lunch or, later in the day, to stop for drinks. I had deliberately selected three o’clock, a time too late for lunch and too early for cocktails. In the restaurant’s dim interior, an elderly couple appraised me when they believed they wouldn’t be observed. The pair was attired in the expected Palm Beach mode for their generation. For the lady, a long-sleeved frock buttoned to the neck, stockings, wide-brimmed summer hat, and sensible shoes. For the gentleman, navy blazer, tan slacks, panama hat, and loafers — no socks. I wore my generation’s local feminine attire: cotton skirt, blouse, sandals, and Episcopalian features. Raul arrived at 3:25. The couple noted his presence by openly staring their disapproval.
At Raul’s suggestion we ordered the Sandbar’s legendary martinis.
“How are you related to Neville Byrd?” I asked, making certain I could be heard at the next table.
“My mother is his wife’s sister,” he replied in that hypnotic voice. “When my mother was young, she went to Cuba with two girl friends. It was Carnival. People in Cuba go a little crazy during Carnival. My parents saw each other across a crowded plaza and fell in love. Romantic, no?”
“When did they leave Cuba?” I said, trying to keep the topic away from myself.
“When I was in my final year of law school, just after Castro took control. Since my mother never gave up her American citizenship, it was easier for us to get out.”
His eyes insisted I was intriguing and attractive. Doubtless a well-rehearsed act, but as I was in desperate need of reassurance, I nodded in the appropriate places while he talked. He had attended college and then law school in the States. As for his reasons for returning to Florida he explained, “I have two older sisters, but I’m the only son. In a Cuban family an only son has obligations.”
The martini was growing on me — both the taste and the effect. “Do you like being a lawyer? Working with clients?”
He dropped his gaze and smiled. “I don’t see many clients. My work is mostly research, done where I can’t be seen. I took the job because it’ll look good on my resume. I can never hope to a partner at Byrd, Regis and O’Dell. At some point I’ll have to leave the firm, and either go out on my own, or join one with a more diverse list of clients.”
“Oh.” Did he have to be so blunt? I decided to ignore the pointed remark as he continued staring at me with those provocative eyes.
“Someday, I’m planning to do something more interesting than help rich people hang onto their money.”
He moved when he spoke — with his hands, with his head, with his shoulders. I was accustomed to men who stayed fixed, but his gestures were graceful and masculine.
“Charlotte! Charlotte is more than a beautiful name. It should be sung, accompanied by a guitar.”
“Frankly, I’ve always hated it. Maybe you should just call me Charlie.” When Raul crooned Charlotte with his cello-like voice and slight Spanish inflection, the effect was . . . Distracting. Unnerving. While I was unhappy about volunteering something so personal as my nickname, I wasn’t about to risk becoming a slack-jawed, wide-eyed schoolgirl every time he said my name. “Unfortunately, you forgot to bring your guitar. But that’s not why we’re here, is it?”
“No it isn’t. I promised to help you. So, what are your plans, Charlie? Maybe I can give you some ideas.”
Plans? I had no plans other than the deal I had offered God every night since Daddy died. I would devote my life to charity and good works, and He would put everything back as it was — my father would be alive and the events of the last six weeks would be a bad dream. “My plans are sort of vague right now.”
“Okay. Let’s start with college. What was your major?”
“Ski weekends. I minored in sorority teas.”
“It’s great that you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
Having made a joke I got to see those outrageous teeth again. “I have a bachelor’s degree in art history. Any ideas?”
“Umm. How would you rate your skill at drawing or painting? Honestly! Don’t be modest.”
“Honestly? Good enough to get through classes.” I’d liked this man better before our conversation took this unsettling turn — when I could simply study the fine bone structure of his face, listen to his musical voice, and pretend that he was taller and richer. I didn’t need anyone to remind me how totally unprepared I was. When I wasn’t battling guilt and fear, that little tune repeated endlessly in my brain. “It was always understood, when I was ready, I would meet the right man and get married.”
He glanced down at the simple pearl ring on my right hand and grinned. “You’re not wearing an engagement ring, so I assume that you’re not engaged.”
“True, but I’m sort of seeing someone,” I lied. There was no point in encouraging this man who shared my father’s easy charm. At the moment, I had no interest in dating anyone. Raul Francesco could be as innocent and pure as a saint, or as evil as the Marquis de Sade. I no longer trusted my judgment.
“Sort of seeing someone. Just a promise not to date other people?”
“Then we’d better come up with a marketable skill until he makes up his mind or you decide that he’s not the right guy for you. What about modeling? Have you ever considered modeling?”
I glared at him. I’d heard too many jokes at my expense to find the remark amusing. In the past five weeks I’d lost eight pounds that I could scarcely afford to lose. “You mean I’m tall enough to be a model. In my opinion, the only thing good about my height is being able to reach objects on high shelves.”
“You’re not just tall. And I not going to say you’re beautiful, because it’s obvious that you’re not going to believe me. You’re interesting looking – different – exotic. Most blonds are wishy-washy.”
I raised my brows, pursed my lips, and shook my head — the accepted way a lady signals that a subject was closed. But this man would not take the hint.
“Come on. You can’t deny that you’ve got terrific skin. I bet you have a few freckles on your shoulders. Some men find them sexy.”
Freckles sexy? I adjusted my collar. How dare this stranger toy with me. “I’m sure you mean well,” I said, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
“Okay, forget modeling. What about hobbies?”
“I ski. I play golf and ride.” I omitted mentioning my eight years of ballet lessons – another one of Daddy’s ideas to correct my limp. The mental image of me in tutu was too absurd to share. I instinctively tucked my size eleven sandaled feet under the table. “And I sculpt. Anything marketable there?”
“Maybe. Are you good enough to teach any of the above?”
I mentally compared myself with former instructors and shook my head. “I doubt it.”
“I suppose it’s useless for me to ask if you can type or take dictation.”
“What about a musical instrument? You don’t play the piano, do you?”
“Well enough to be in an orchestra or a band?”
“I sincerely doubt that an orchestra exists that’s desperate enough to hire me.” I’d never thought I’d have to rely on a job to support myself. Right before Daddy died, feeling useless with so much time on my hands, I’d seriously considered returning to college, so that I could teach art – in high school. But that was out of the question now. Rapid heartbeat and nausea, my personal panic symptoms, were rapidly returning.
“I’ve upset you. That wasn’t what I intended.”
“I’m sure you mean well, but I haven’t been able to think clearly . . .” I swallowed in an attempt to regain my composure. “Not since my father’s . . . Not since . . .” Appalled that I was about to lose control in front of this stranger, I stopped and forced myself to smile.
Raul leaned toward me and gazed at me with empathetic soulful eyes. “Suicide is a horrible thing to do to the people left behind. I can’t even imagine how you feel.”
“I’m not myself today. Please excuse me,” I said, reaching for my handbag and rising. Apparently, this recent import from sunny Cuba was aware, not only of my financial devastation, but of my father’s decision to end his life. “You’re trying to be helpful, but I’m just not ready right now.”
If he said anything as I raced off, I was moving too fast to hear.
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