About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The edict echoing in her head, Sandra Woolcott swept the graphite pencil over the paper in bold, rapid strokes. Turning a client's dream dress into reality was her business.
Still, this particular request was a first.
A revenge dress.
Sandra sat cross-legged on her living room sofa, sketch pad on her lap, and examined the illustration. A sleek, backless dress with a thigh-exposing split. Sexy and beautiful, the gown encapsulated the hallmarks of a garment worthy of bearing her Swoon Couture label.
She stuck the pencil behind her ear and gnawed at her bottom lip as she continued to study the sketch. Her client had a lot riding on this particular dress.
It had to be better than good. It had to be perfect.
She ripped the page from the sketch pad, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it in the direction of a wastebas-ket stationed near the sofa. It landed on the hardwood floor in a pile of similar wads filled with rejected ideas.
Sandra scrubbed a hand down her face in frustration.
She worked by appointment only, with a private clientele, her schedule packed months ahead with back-to-back appointments for consultations and fittings. She also had to handle the business end of running her custom shop.
Mondays were the day of the workweek Sandra focused solely on the creative side of Swoon Couture.
Instead of retreating to the studio at her shop, she'd decided to work from home, hoping a change of scenery would help her get caught up on the tasks she'd put on hold last week to help arrange her friend Janelle's wedding.
No such luck.
She'd barely made a dent in her to-do list, which included ideas for Everley Madison, a pop singer she was scheduled to meet with in a few days to discuss a gown for her New Year's Eve wedding, and the preliminary designs for clients preparing for the spring season of charity balls.
Instead, she'd spent the majority of the day stumped on the last-minute plea from one of the most prominent citizens of Wintersage, Massachusetts.
"We built that business together. Now he expects me to sit home alone while he strolls into the party celebrating its silver anniversary with his new skank on his arm," Octavia Hall had complained during her design consultation. "A party I spent over a year planning. I didn't even use Alluring Affairs, because I wanted to see to every detail personally."
Sandra had listened patiently while Octavia spent the entire hour painstakingly listing her soon-to-be ex's faults, without giving as much as a clue to the style of dress she wanted.
It didn't matter.
Behind the older woman's bravado, longing had lurked in her eyes. It told Sandra that, deep down, her client was really seeking a gown so breathtaking, the sight of her in it would make her estranged husband think twice about abandoning their marriage for a twenty-year-old.
It was a lofty goal for a dress. However, Sandra intended to do everything within her power to make Octavia, a former Miss Massachusetts, once again the most stunning woman in the room.
The clock on the mantel over the fireplace chimed, and Sandra calculated she could squeeze in another hour of work before making the short walk from her house, overlooking the harbor, to The Quarterdeck for her weekly business meeting/gossip session with her two best friends and business partners. In the meantime, she needed to concentrate on coming up with a showstopper of a gown.
She stared at the blank sketch-pad page. A vague idea of a shimmering dress embellished with beads and sequins no, satin in the same caramel tones as Octa-via's skin danced on the edge of Sandra's imagination.
She closed her eyes and focused as the details slowly unfolded. Excited, she opened her eyes and snatched the pencil from behind her ear. She needed to get this design down on paper quickly, while it was fresh in her mind.
The doorbell sounded. Both the jarring chime and the accompanying pounding on her front door jerked Sandra from her thoughts, and visions of the satin gown faded.
So much for thinking working from home was a good idea. Muttering a curse, she set the pencil and pad aside.
She peered through the peephole and frowned. What were her parents doing in town?
"I thought you two were in New York City." Sandra shivered against a blast of late-October wind coming off the nearby Atlantic Ocean as she pushed the door closed behind them.
"We barely had time to visit with the Kings before your father began griping about getting back to Wintersage and returning to work," Nancy Woolcott said, "and his girlfriend!''
Stuart Woolcott winked at his wife. "Don't be jealous of my side piece. She may be sexy, but you're still my number one."
As they walked into her living room, Sandra couldn't help smiling at her parents' running joke over her dad's prized 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS. He'd acquired the muscle car of his boyhood dreams back when Sandra was in elementary school, and the rare hours he wasn't in his office he spent in the garage, restoring his girlfriend to her seventies glory.
"I got a call about a 454 engine. I need to take a look at it," he said. "Afterward, I'm going into the office."
"That office isn't going anywhere. Surely it can wait until tomorrow morning," her mother countered.
"Woolcott Industries doesn't run itself, dear. And neither of our children can be bothered to help run it, either."
Sandra felt her father's pointed stare as she bussed her mother's upturned cheek.
Here we go, she thought, and steeled herself for the lengthy lecture that always accompanied that look. Sure enough, he launched into it.
"Computer hardware was good enough for me, my father, my grandfather and his father, who started out selling typewriters and adding machines, but it's not good enough for my kids." Her dad walked past her into the living room. "Fred King's daughter, Ivy, is vice president of his company, you know. Her husband also works for their company, and they've given Fred two beautiful grand"
"Don't start, Stu." Her mother cut him off. "Sandra chose her career. When the time comes, she'll choose a husband and when to have children."
"She's not getting any younger," Stuart said, as if twenty-eight years old was ancient. "And I just happen to know Dale Mills has asked our daughter out several times."
Sandra cringed inwardly at the mention of the Wool-cott Industries' executive. Every sentence the man uttered was bracketed with the words, Stuart says or Stuart advises.
No way she'd ever date that brownnosing suck-up.
"Dale's a good-looking young man," her mother added. "And so considerate. Last week, he stood in line overnight just so he could surprise your father with Red Sox tickets for game two of the World Series."
Sandra willed her eyes not to roll. She looked away from her mother to see her father scooping a wadded sheet from her sketch pad off the floor.
Unfurling it, he frowned. "Just think, Fred's daughter's negotiating multimillion-dollar deals."
Sandra reached out to snatch the discarded sketch from his grasp.
Her father shook his head. "Meanwhile, my daughter is determined to make her living doodling stick figures."
Sandra stopped short as a long forgotten voice and a buried memory pushed their way to the surface.
"Whatcha doing, doodling stick figures?" a boy looking over her shoulder in her high school art class had asked.
Sandra remembered spinning around, prepared to give him a piece of her mind. Instead, her angry gaze had locked with the dreamy brown eyes of Isaiah Jacobs, one of the most popular boys at Wintersage Academy.
One smile from him had turned her insides to mush, and all Sandra could do was gawk openmouthed. When she'd finally spoken, her tongue had twisted and her words had spilled out in a jumble.
Sandra sighed. Isaiah had gone on to become her first boyfriend, her first love and her first heartbreak.
"Stu!" Her mother's sharp tone roused Sandra from the errant flashback.
"What?" Her father raised his hands in the air, his expression perplexed. "The girl tested off the charts in math and science, but instead of being an asset to her family's business, like Ivy, she squanders her natural ability as a dressmaker" He made the word dressmaker sound like loser. "How am I the bad guy here?"
Frowning at her husband, Nancy snatched the sketch from his hand and placed it on an end table. "You start this up every time we visit the Kings," she said. "Let. It. Go."
Sandra shot her mom a grateful look. The fact that Swoon Couture specialized in custom dresses and catered to the wealthiest women in Wintersage was lost on her father. As far as Stuart Woolcott was concerned, if Sandra didn't work for Woolcott Industries, she didn't really work.
Noticing the garment bag draped over her mother's arm, Sandra jumped at the chance to change the subject. "I see you had time to do some shopping."
Nancy averted her eyes. "Uh well, I found a few things, including the most adorable Halloween costume for little Mason. He's going to be a Patriots' player."
While her mother prattled on about toddler football helmets, Sandra zeroed in on the garment bag. In particular, the embossed logo of a hot New York designer who'd been getting incredible buzz in the fashion world. It was obvious the contents weren't for Sandra's nephew.
"I know this is a busy time of year for you with the holiday season almost upon us. I thought I'd take some of the pressure off by trying a new designer I read about in Vogue magazine," her mother said, in way of explanation. "In fact, he's been in all the magazines."
"B-but I already have a capsule collection of holiday dresses, designed especially for you." As always, Sandra had prioritized her mother's dresses, having nailed down the perfect cuts, colors and styles for her over the summer. "They're waiting for you at the boutique."
"I'm sure they're beautiful as always, dear, but everybody who's anybody in Wintersage will be wearing your gowns this holiday season. No one will have Zack originals."
"So you brought the dresses to show me?" Sandra asked, trying hard to keep the slighted edge out of her voice.
To be honest, she was also curious to see what the competition offered that was so dazzling her mother had purchased off-the-rack dresses without even bothering to see the custom ones Sandra had prepared.
"Not exactly." Nancy glanced uncomfortably at the garment bag. "Actually, I was hoping to drop them off with you."
"I don't understand. Why would you need to bring them to me?" Sandra asked, confused.
"W-well, you see, your father was in such a hurry to get back home, I didn't have time for a fitting and alterations," her mother stammered. "I thought, well, since you know my measurements. I only need two inches off the bottom of all of them and a little nip at the waist of the green one."
Nancy held the garment bag out to her, and Sandra's jaw dropped as realization dawned. Her mom expected her to handle the alterations.
Stuart took the bag and shoved it into her arms. "Why waste time waiting around when we already have a seamstress in the family?"
Still stunned, Sandra could only blink. She wasn't sure what stung more, her mother's disloyalty or her dad's total disregard.
"I I'm not a seamstress, Dad," she stammered, staring down at the offending bag. "I'm a designer."
"Bottom line is you can sew, right?"
Sewing was something she rarely had time to do as Swoon continued to grow, and she contracted three expert seamstresses to handle the task. "Of course I can, but"
"Good." Her father nodded once, in his view making it a done deal. He glanced down at his wife. "Do you want me to drop you off at home or are you staying to visit?"
Nancy looked from her husband to her daughter. "I'd love to stay and chat a bit, but I need to order Thanksgiving dinner."
"Why? Isn't Milly cooking?" Sandra asked.
Her mother shook her head. "Milly's taking Thanksgiving week off to visit with her grandchildren. I'd cook myself, but I'm committed to spending Thanksgiving morning delivering boxes of groceries for my sorority's needy families program, and the early afternoon helping serve dinners at the church. I simply don't have time to prepare a turkey dinner with all the trimmings." She sighed. "I'll need to order a pie from Carrie at the bakery, too."
"But it isn't even Halloween yet," Sandra said, disappointed that her parents' longtime cook and housekeeper wouldn't be preparing a turkey basted in the sage butter she loved.
"In terms of Thanksgiving in Wintersage, it's already too late. The two best chefs in town aren't taking any more orders, so finding someone to prepare a good meal won't be easy."
A snort came from her father's direction. "Too bad I didn't manage to finagle an invitation from Fred King for Thanksgiving dinner." He turned to Sandra. "Did I mention Ivy prepared a five-course meal while we were there? It was superb."
Sandra pressed her lips together. She loved her Dad, but today he was bouncing on her last nerve like a kid on a trampoline.
Ever since she'd returned home from college and refused to come to work at Woolcott Industries, he'd constantly compared her to the Kings' daughter. The digs had become even more frequent since Ivy had married an executive from her father's company.
Ivy was perfection in the daughter department, while Sandra had descended from Daddy's girl to a big disappointment in her father's eyes. Nothing she did pleased him. All they seemed to do was butt heads.
"Ivy's dinner tasted like it came out of a Michelin starred restaurant. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven with every mouthful," Stuart continued. "And that pie!"
Sandra bit the inside of her lip, hoping her mother would shut him down again.
Instead, Nancy licked her lips. "Which one? The salted caramel chocolate pecan pie or maple bourbon sweet potato pie? Goodness, they both practically melted in your mouth, didn't they?"
"The entire meal did. And to think Ivy made everything from scratch, after putting in a full day helping run their family business" Stuart leveled his gaze at Sandra.
"I run a business, too, Dad," Sandra countered, although she knew it wouldn't matter. "I love what I do, and I'm very good at it."
He shook his head. "This isn't about loving what you do, it's about living up to your potential. When you were in school, I'd brag on you to Fred King every time you brought home your grades. He'd be so envious. Now he's the one boasting about how his daughter's efforts have resulted in record profits for their business. Not to mention she's also a wife and mother." He exhaled. "Guess who's the jealous father now."
Sandra swallowed the lump rising in her throat. She could show him statements proving Swoon Couture had also raked in sizable profits. She could also reveal, depending on the outcome of next week's election, that she was in the running to design the inaugural ball gown for the wife of Massachusetts's next governor-elect.
But she didn't.
Sandra already knew he wouldn't be impressed or proud.
Besides, she'd had enough of family for today. At this point, her best course of action was to get rid of them.
"Well, I know you two were eager to be going," she said, mentally shoving them toward her front door. "I'll take care of the dress alterations."
Her parents didn't budge. They were apparently still too overwhelmed by Ivy's cooking to take the hint.
"She doesn't even bother with recipes. Just uses a pinch of this and a little of that," Nancy said.
"That girl's amazing," Stuart exclaimed. "The Kings definitely don't have to be concerned about their holiday dinner, because their daughter can do it all."
Sandra's fingers dug into the garment bag still in her arms. She kept her lips pressed together in a firm line as her father smacked his lips loudly.
"Just thinking about what Ivy could do with a turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings sets my mouth to watering," he said.
"Actually, she mentioned jerk turkey was on the menu for Thanksgiving," Nancy added.