Beginning Again: Book 1 in the Second Chances series (Crimson Romance)

Beginning Again
Peggy Bird

Avon, Massachusetts

This edition published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, Ohio 45242

www.crimsonromance.com

Copyright © 2012 by Peggy Bird

ISBN 10: 1-4405-4406-9

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-4406-4

eISBN 10: 1-4405-4405-0

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-4405-7

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

Cover art © istockphoto.com/123rf.com

To Ginny Foster

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Also Available

Chapter 1

“What the hell are we doing?” Liz Fairchild didn’t bother hiding her irritation from her ex-husband. “When I agreed to have lunch with you, I expected food and a martini, not a tour of Northwest Portland.”

“Bombay Sapphire is good gin, but pouring it over a few ice cubes doesn’t make it a martini,” Mason Fairchild said with a grin, “even if you do throw in a couple olives. Although I’ve always been pretty sure you know that.”

“Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.” Dismissing his comment with a wave of her hand, she persisted. “Answer the question — where are we going?”

“You’ll see in a minute. We’re just about there.” After maneuvering his Mercedes around a streetcar that had stopped to pick up passengers, he pulled into a small parking lot behind what looked like a row of townhomes, nosed the car into a parking space, and cut the engine. “This is it.”

“And what would
it
be?”

“A live/work space a client of mine has on the market for a very attractive price.”

“If I knew what a live/work space was, that might impress me. But I don’t, so I’m back to wondering why I’m not sitting at your favorite restaurant with a martini in front of me.”

“Patience has never been your virtue, has it?”

She pursed her mouth and cocked her head. “You of all people should know just how patient and understanding — ”

“I apologize. You’re right.” He unfastened his seat belt and leaned over to unhook hers. “Just extend your understanding for another fifteen minutes and I promise there’ll be gin in your very near future.”

Although the dissolution of their marriage had been quite civilized, Liz was surprised when Mason called and suggested lunch. They had no reason to see each now that their divorce was final. But, curious about a business opportunity he said might interest her, she’d agreed.

She’d prepped for their lunch with almost as much care as she had for their wedding day. Her hairdresser cut and styled her hair so it looked fabulous, covering the few white invaders in her brunette waves with a subtle rinse. She wore her favorite silk suit — the one that matched her intensely green eyes — and a pair of expensive heels that made her legs look like they went on forever and let her tower over almost everyone in the room by adding three inches to her five-eleven height. She added a tennis bracelet and a diamond pendent Mason had given her. She wanted the look to say she felt great and was moving on, but didn’t think unkindly of him. It was a lot to ask of a silk suit, a pair of shoes, and two pieces of jewelry but she thought she’d pulled it off.

However, the message was getting lost in her irritation and the dust of a parking lot in Northwest Portland. Peering through extremely dirty windows into a building she thought had all the earmarks of a chop shop for computers she said, “I thought your clients were small businesses about to go big. This looks like a junk shop.”

“Don’t let the mess fool you. The guy’s a genius. He’s doing something I don’t understand with tablet computers and ‘The Cloud.’ ” He put air quotes around the last two words. “He needs more space so he’s moving into bigger facilities out in Washington County.”

“And we’re here because … ?”

“This space was an art gallery before he turned it into Portland’s version of Steve Jobs’s garage. I wondered if you’d be interested in buying it.”

She was sure she looked as shocked as she felt. “Me? What would I do with it?”

“Use your art background to exhibit up-and-coming new artists, your exquisite taste to help clients figure out what to do with their living spaces, and your organizational skills to run a gallery/interior design business.”

“You’re joking. I’ve never run a business in my life.”

“No, but I have and I’ve made quite a bit of money teaching other people how to do the same. I’ll work with you. The least I can do now that I’ve wrecked your personal life is help you build a professional life that will make you happy.”

“One of the things I have always liked about you, Mason, is your willingness to take responsibility for your actions.” Liz put her hand through the crook of his arm as they walked around to the front of the building.

He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “You’re a beautiful woman who was a superb wife. I hurt you by being unfaithful and by lying about who I was … who I am. I want to make what amends I can. I haven’t given you any reason lately to believe me, but I do love you. Not the way you should be loved but … ”

Shrugging off his apology, she interrupted, “It’s done. Over. We both survived. And if you hadn’t been trying to live a lie, I’d never have an investment account and an income anyone would envy. For that, I should be thanking you.”

“And that’s one of the things I’ve always loved about you. You’re not only willing to face the unvarnished truth head on, you’re quite likely to say it out loud.” His laugh was warm and familiar.

“So, now that we have established our mutual admiration society, what’s the deal with this space?” She stopped in front of a large display window on the street side of the building.

“It’s a live/work space that — ”

“Wait. I still don’t know what a ‘live/work space’ is.”

“It’s exactly what it says: a place where you can both live and work. The second floor is a two-bedroom apartment that has access both from the downstairs workspace and the parking lot out back. It’s small compared to what you’re living in now — only 1,200 square feet, like the downstairs — and pretty basic. But you were thinking about selling the house anyway so maybe it would suit, at least in the short run.”

When Liz tried to look through the window, she couldn’t see much for the dust. With the help of Mason’s handkerchief, she rubbed some of it away. Seeing the space more clearly didn’t improve her opinion of it. “It looks like it would take a lot of work to make it habitable for an art gallery.”

“It’s really not that bad. Only the walls and floors need attention. Once my client gets his stuff out of here, you could — ”

“Stop.” Returning his handkerchief she said, “If you want me to listen to any more about this deal, we better get to the martinis. And it’s plural now.”

Over a two-martini lunch, Mason outlined why he thought an art gallery would work in the space and why he thought Liz was the right person to run it. At the end of his pitch he asked, “Why do you look so concerned? Surely you’re not worried about money.”

“It’s not the money,” she admitted. Their divorce settlement gave her enough cash to comfortably capitalize a small business. “It’s everything else.”

“Like what?” he asked.

She ticked off her objections and he countered every one. No experience running a business? He would take her on as a client to help her get it up and running. For free. A location with notoriously difficult parking? The streetcar ran close by; there was the small lot in the back and a larger one a block away. Hadn’t the previous art gallery failed? No, the owner was so successful he moved to a larger space. How would she get clients in this bad economy? The adjacent shops that catered to the upscale neighborhoods nearby were doing well, and part of Mason’s help would include a well-thought-out marketing plan. Expensive display equipment needed for a gallery? The original owner had left behind a hanging system and a storage unit full of pedestals.

Maybe it was Mason’s enthusiasm and confidence that she was the right person to start this business, maybe it was the second martini, maybe she just ran out of reasons to oppose the idea but after almost three hours of talking, Liz agreed to look into it.

A month later, not only satisfied she could do it but excited about the possibilities of running a gallery, she signed the papers to transfer ownership of the building. The Fairchild Gallery was born.

Chapter 2

Liz decided to do the work of renovating her gallery herself for two reasons. The first was straightforward: She believed in sweat equity. The place wouldn’t really be hers until she put some effort into it. So after she cleaned out a Dumpster-load of stuff the former owner left behind, she tackled the job of rehabbing the floors and walls herself. Every brushstroke, every pass of the sander across the floor made it more
hers
.

The second reason she was working ten-hour days was more complicated.

Mason had chosen the week before her forty-sixth birthday to announce that, although he loved her, he’d been hiding some important things from her. First, he’d been unfaithful to her throughout their marriage. Second, he’d fallen seriously in love so, third, he was leaving her for a younger man.

Alone, she’d “celebrated” being more than halfway through her forties. Over several martinis she contemplated the looming big 5-0, the subsequent descent into Medicare, the search for a doctor who’d accept government reimbursement at lower-than-cost levels from an old woman who lived alone with her cats. The need to acquire the cats.

This seemingly bottomless well of self-pity kept her occupied for several weeks after Mason turned her life upside down. Finally one Saturday, having neither dressed nor eaten all day, she decided it was time to do something other than wander aimlessly through her life. She began making lists of things to do.

First up, an embarrassing visit to her doctor to get a panel of tests for various STDs, all of which, thank God, were negative. Next, a divorce. That turned out to be easy. Mason wasn’t about to fight her on anything. Her lawyer could have phoned it in, although Liz was sure she’d take credit for the size of the settlement. Mason’s $7 million in assets, their residence in a community property state, and no prenup in place must have given her lawyer a hard-on just thinking about it. Assuming female attorneys got hard-ons. Or was the plural hards-on? Whichever, she was sure her lawyer had one, regardless of her sex.

The big one on the list, however, was what to do with herself. Although she didn’t need a job for the money, she did need a purpose in life. Not easy for a midlife woman with an extremely dusty resume and a degree in art history to figure out.

The gallery was the answer to a prayer she hadn’t even known she’d raised. Working to get it ready gave her a goal, an interest beyond herself, and more exercise than she’d had in years.

Mason helped. He guided her through developing a business plan and worked with her on an approach to marketing. He even suggested someone to help her do the renovations. His name was Jamie Bruce. He had the face of an angel and the body of a young god. She’d always liked pretty, young men and Jamie was certainly one of those.

He was also Mason’s new partner.

Jamie had worked in IT for Mason’s business, but left the company when they moved in together. Now at loose ends, he’d offered his assistance. At Mason’s suggestion she’d accepted, mostly because her ex-husband was doing so much to help set up her business and she didn’t want to look too dog-in-the-manger.

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