Thanks for continuing with me on this writing journey. I’ve started the process of setting up things to self publish. Because I want to do this WELL it’ll take some time, but I welcome all advice that you may have. In the coming weeks I will be working on setting up my llc so that all my books will be published under the same ‘press’ AND, good news, this will help with the vision God has placed on my heart in the future. I can’t wait to see how this will turn out–I’m working on things I never thought I would!
I’ve included the FINAL draft of the first two chapters. PLEASE any and all feedback is WELCOME as I finish up. The working title is Pursuing Perfection, but given some of the feedback I’ve received I’m looking for new title suggestions. I will post those on my Facebook page as polls soon!
Sitting straight up in bed, Andrea Cartier gasped, feeling the sweat bead on her forehead. Her eyes darted from one object to another in the dark room, until finally her muscles relaxed as recognition set in.
“It was just a dream,” she heard the words bounce off the walls of her bedroom as she sank back against the pillows and her breathing normalized, but his voice still echoed in her mind.
The name Cartier is wasted on you.
Rubbing the sheets between her fingers, she felt the tension retighten her muscles. Cotton sheets, 400 thread count—normal. Not the expensive silk ones she slept on nearly her entire life, yet infinitely more comfortable than the words that seized her in her dreams.
How disappointed your father must have been in you.
“You don’t live that life anymore. Greg isn’t here,” she growled throwing the sheets off with more confidence than she actually felt.
Her feet touched the cold surface of the original oak floors. After buying the downtown warehouse space, she had converted the upstairs into a loft living space. Economically, the plan was brilliant: live upstairs, work downstairs—which turned out to be wise planning, since the newly opened bookstore wasn’t generating any real income yet.
If Greg was right, maybe it never would.
Despite the dawn of the digital age, she believed—she hoped—there was still a place for her little bookstore in Bentenville, Texas where mega warehouses and bargain bookstores had yet to infiltrate. The words tugged at her, denting her confidence. Still, she moved forward.
Andi stretched, grabbed her clothes laid out on the chair the night before, and headed to the shower. She let the hot water run over her, rinsing away the remains of the nightmare. Once she emerged, every hair in place and makeup carefully applied, Andi folded and placed her nightgown in the right drawer. Uncertainly, she sized up the bed. Stepping back from her attempt, she frowned. The made bed certainly didn’t look the way Consuela had always managed. Quarters bounced off the housekeeper’s bed, but would be lost in the wrinkled upheaval of Andi’s effort.
“Three months,” Andi pursed her lips. “I’ve been here three months and I still can’t make a stupid bed.” So far, her independent living endeavors had been marginal at best. The growing piles of laundry in the closet still mocked her. Last time she tried to move that mountain, she ruined her favorite pair of white jeans, now a sickening shade of light pink. Who knew one sock could do such damage? Ignoring the nagging cadence of failure, Andi shut the door firmly behind her.
After all, she could always just buy new underwear when she ran out—again.
Settling in at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and her daily Greek, nonfat, plain yogurt, Andi stared at her journal, Bible, and the thin layer of dust accumulating on top. Guilt gnawed at her insides. What had once been a joy was beginning to feel more and more like a chore.
Coffee in one hand, Andi pushed away from the table and turned her back on yet another failure.
It was time for work anyway.
Descending the stairs, she made her way into the bookstore. The hum of the computer at the checkout counter filled the silence as she booted it up. Andi closed her eyes and breathed, feeling the serenity of her sanctuary surround her.
Relationships she destroyed. Domestic she was not. Religion she had failed. But this, this she could do.
The ting of email notification broke the silence. Andi opened her eyes to a glaring red exclamation mark. The email, an alert from her bank manager, stared back at her shattering her momentary confidence.
“What do you mean my accounts are closed?!”
The demand, aimed at the bank manager, fell on the unwavering monitor. Even after reading the email a second time, she didn’t feel any closer to the answer than she had when she’d yelled at the mocking punctuation.
Slamming her coffee on the counter, the liquid sloshed over the side, forming a ring around the bottom of the mug and spreading outward. Andi reached for the phone and punched the number for her bank, feeling the beats of her heart sync heavily with each number she dialed.
“R and C Banking,” the woman on the other end chirped when Andi had finally made her way through endless computer generated commands.
“Kevin Alderman, please,” Andi managed through her grinding jaw.
“May I ask who’s calling?” Each syllable of the woman’s alto voice struck deep into Andi’s already fragile nerves.
“Oh, Miss Cartier! I beg your pardon,” the rushed apology saturated with panic continued with,“ I will put you right through.”
“This is Kevin Alderman.”
“Kevin, it’s Andrea,” Andi’s fist clenched tighter around the phone, her knuckles turning a pale white.
“I expected to hear from you today,” Kevin hesitated. “I assume you got our note. It’s automatically generated when things like this happen.”
“Things like what, Kevin?” Andi cut in. “Why would my account be closed?”
Kevin paused. Andi could hear the hum of machines in the background and, she imagined, the wheels turning in the man’s head.
“Kevin,” she pushed.
“Look, I really can’t give you much information, Andi. Your account is tied into the company’s and, well, you’re not a part of the company anymore. So, well, you’re going to have to, you know.” Kevin had never sounded so flustered, but now she understood.
“If I want to know what’s going on, then I have to call—“
“Gregory DeFoe. Yes,” Kevin sighed. “I really am sorry, Andrea, I know you, well, he, well I’m really very sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, Kevin. I just really thought,” Andi took a deep breath. “I guess I should have known it wouldn’t be so easy.”
“Andrea, I’m sorry I know this is difficult and messy, but—“
“Right,” she nodded though she knew he couldn’t see her. Her voice was clipped and short, caught in the back of her throat with emotions she’d rather not deal with. “Thanks, Kevin.” Andi disconnected the phone and stared at her hands. Hugging herself tightly, she shut her eyes and counted to ten, taking deep and calming breaths. She rubbed her fingers along the row of tiny scars marching up her ribcage. She could get through this. After all, she’d been through much worse.
The bell over the door alerted Andi she was no longer alone.
“Andi?” Jollie’s familiar voice rang out while Andi shut down her email and tried to gather her scattered wits. Tugging on her shirt, she straightened her posture. By the time Jollie rounded the corner, Andi’s finishing school smile returned. As if the world hadn’t just flipped upside down and inside out beneath her.
“Good morning, Jollie,” Andi reached under the counter for the roll of paper towels. “I spilled my coffee all over the place. I can be such a klutz.”
She busied herself mopping up the mess, though her heart still beat in her ears drowning out the soft jazz Jollie switched on.
“What? You never make a mess,” Jollie laughed, taking the sopping paper towel from Andi’s hand. “Seriously, what happened?”
“I—it was really nothing, I mean, I just,” Andi stumbled over her words, then bit the inside of her lip until she tasted the acidic blood from a small puncture.
“Relax, Andi. I was only teasing. Even you, textbook perfectionist, are allowed to make mistakes every once in a while.”
Jollie tossed the paper towel in the tiny trash can then propped her elbows on the counter. Her ebony curls flowed down around her shoulders in a chaotic cascade. Normally, her business partner’s infectious optimism warmed Andi. But today, even Jollie’s twinkling violet blue eyes felt like a noose, tightening life’s injustices around Andi’s neck.
“I have to make some phone calls this morning,” Andi said grabbing her phone and heading to the back room. “Can you handle the opening?”
“Of course I can,” Jollie laughed. “You go make those calls, girl. I got this.”
Andi nodded and slipped away.
In the privacy of the office, Andi tapped her phone on the desk, trying to decide her next move. Calling Greg disgusted her. When she’d left, her lawyer had done the talking—severed her relationship with the company, dissolved joint assets, even dealt with her mother. All while she quietly started her new life here. Changing her number, twice.
Away from them.
All of them.
After all these months, he’d trapped her. She would have to call. Biting her fingernail, she picked up her phone and dialed his private line. He answered on the second ring.
“Gregory Defoe, Cartier Incorporated, CEO.”
“Nice.” Bitterness soaked her voice dripping through the phone lines. “Sure didn’t take you long to snake your way into the role, did it now?” Even she was surprised by how strong her voice sounded. When it came to Greg, she felt anything but strong. However, a couple hundred miles of distance sure helped.
Greg didn’t respond.
The pregnant silence pounded loudly, marking time with her heartbeat in her ears.
Andi swallowed, afraid she’d throw up.
Finally he spoke, his voice smooth, almost disinterested. As though he expected her to call. And, she supposed, he did. After all, her accounts hadn’t closed themselves.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?”
She didn’t miss the irony. There had been nothing pleasurable in their relationship since, well, high school. Maybe ever. At least not to her.
“What did you do to my accounts, Greg?”
They’d been through too much to be coy.
“Oh,” Greg laughed. “The princess ran out of money, did she?”
Andi’s grip tightened on the phone and her knuckles turned a sickly shade of white. “I didn’t run out of money, you—“
“You can forget it, Andrea,” he went on, his voice now frigid. “You won’t get another dime out of this company.”
“I don’t want anything from the company, and you know it,” she spit out. “I want you to stop playing games and give me what’s mine.”
“Sorry, princess, can’t do it.”
Andi took a deep breath. “What do you mean ‘you can’t’?”
“Exactly that. Legally that money is frozen—untouchable—unless…”
“Unless what?” she asked, her hand shaking as she waited for Greg to finish.
“Unless you decide to rejoin the company, of course,” he paused. Andi could hear the squeak of his chair. Greg had put her on speaker, and she could only hope his secretary wasn’t listening in—or worse, her father’s business partners. “Or unless you marry me, which personally I would vote for. It’s what your dad wanted. After losing Jordan—”
“Shut up, Greg!” Andi could feel the sting of his words piercing through her stomach as the bile rose. How dare he bring up Jordan!
“And since the board has lost faith in your leadership,” Greg continued as though she had never spoken. “I’m sure our marriage is what your father would have wanted for his company.”
“Why would you do this, Greg? You don’t even want to marry me.”
“Who said I didn’t want to marry you?” his voice remained casual. “We were so good together, princess. And, of course, if we were to marry then the company would legally become mine—and my heirs.”
A multi-billion dollar inheritance. Of course he wouldn’t mind marrying her. As it stood right now the company passed to her heirs, regardless of Greg’s status as CEO or how many shares he had in the company. Enough had been secured through her father’s conniving will that even after his death he had figured out a way to ensure his company remained in the Cartier family line.
Unfortunately, her father’s plan didn’t include Andi’s happiness. Nothing in the will was for her benefit, but always for the preservation of the company. Greg didn’t mind marrying her at all. Twenty-first century or not, her father had still managed to put a bride price on her.
At 22, she was the prize of her father’s will.
Shackles would have been more comfortable.
The color in Andi’s face drained away along with every ounce of fight left in her. She closed her eyes, feeling the nightmare come alive around her. “Why now?” she whispered. “It’s been months since I left.”
“The probate court just closed in favor of your mother’s petition. Though the wording is a little vague in the will, the gist of it is that your inheritance depends on your ties to the company, really. No company, no money. I know sports aren’t your thing, but ball’s in your court so to speak, princess. You want the money, you better pack up and come home. Otherwise…” his voice trailed off.
Andi could just picture her father sitting in the high back leather chair in his office with, smug, triumphant smile on his face. They’d spent months figuring out the legal ramifications of her father’s complicated will. Andi had thought she was free from it.
As it turns out, running away didn’t free her from anything at all.
Regardless, she wouldn’t go back. She couldn’t. No amount of money was worth Greg’s…affection; if it could even be called that. Andi shivered, feeling the walls continue to close in around her.
“And Ashlyn?” she murmured, barely able to say the name without images of the two of the—arms and legs tangled around one another, skirts and shirts on the floor—of Richard Cartier’s office no less.
“What about her, princess?” his tone suggested he had no illusions about her reference. He just didn’t care. Boffing other women was his right, no matter how engaged he had been to Andi at the time. Andi clinched her fist even tighter around her phone.
“Not very Christian of you, darling,” he interrupted, verbally slapping her into silence. Instead of responding, she hung up and threw her phone across the room, growling a little as it landed with a harmless thump on the small couch. Finding Greg and Ashlyn together had been the nail in the proverbial coffin of their relationship. A relationship that had already died long before Greg cheated. Maybe she should have thanked Ashlyn for her sluttish ways, but the hurt was still too raw.
Andi covered her face with both her hands and felt the hot tears through the crack of her fingers as they clung to her closed eyelids.
This was not what she had planned.
How would she keep this business afloat with no money? The endeavor had been risky to start, but the trust money had kept her secure and given her the courage to try. She still had to eat, pay bills, drive, order supplies. Her mind tumbled over the numbers.
Abruptly pulling open the bottom of her desk drawer, Andi stared down into the jumbled contents. Beneath the paper clips and roles of tape, it beckoned her. Hidden away, but now calling to her.
A knock on the door kept her from it. She slammed the desk drawer closed and wiped at her face, hoping tears weren’t as evident as they felt.
“Come in,” her voice was choked—not nearly as collected as she had hoped. Heart racing, she looked down at the desk and pretended to straighten the papers on top.
Jollie pushed open the door, but didn’t look up from the bar code scanner in her hand.
“Andi I think this thing may have a glitch or something. Is everything okay with our internet?”
Andi ducked under the desk to check the router and wireless, simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief.
“It looks okay, but I’ll reset it just to be sure,” her voice was muffled, but more importantly her face was hidden. Jollie couldn’t see her meltdown
“Excellent. I’ll let you know if it works.”
“Great,” Andi breathed. “I’ll be out in a sec.” She waited for the office door to shut then sat up. The desk drawer tempted her, but she left it closed. For months she had resisted, insisting she didn’t need help to quit. Yanking a compact from her purse, her hands still shook as she dabbed concealer under her eyes and wondered if she would ever be as strong as she pretended to be.