Art of the Lie
Truth & Lies, Book 2
Up-and-coming designer Lindy is going through a lot of changes. A fabulous career opportunity, a big show at a local art gallery and even a promising flirtation with the town’s most eligible bachelor. It’s a lot for a shy, small-town girl to handle. Now if she can just find the time (and nerve) to seduce her sexy neighbor Richard.
Lindy’s wanted Richard since college, and her unrequited crush hasn’t lessened now that they live in neighboring lofts. A wickedly handsome ladies’ man, Richard isn’t boyfriend material. Lindy knows that. But she suspects he’s perfect for the job she has in mind—getting rid of her pesky virginity once and for all.
An Excerpt from Art of the Lie
Copyright © Delphine Dryden, 2015. All Rights Reserved.
When Lindy received the first call from Red House she thought it was a prank.
“Oh come on. Abel, is this you? You say you’re too busy at work to come to town for my show, but you’re still gobbling up my valuable prep time with prank calls?”
Her college friend Abel, who was very fond of practical jokes, seemed the prime suspect. He was certainly no fan of her recent artwork—he thought it was gauche—and this sort of trick was right up his alley. Although Lindy was surprised Abel was a skilled enough actor to mask his decidedly queeny accent so well.
A long pause followed her teasing insult, and then the caller repeated his greeting, but slowly, as if a little unsure of her sanity.
“No, this is Paul Maddox. Of the Red House stores. I’ve been following your work for some time now and I’m very impressed, Miss Moore.” He sounded as though he was beginning to doubt that judgment. “I called because we’re in the process of expanding our store brand to accessories, and I’d love to meet with you about the possibility of a partnership. We like to go with local designers when we can, and I have to say you’ve been getting some very nice press lately.”
Lindy was still distracted, trying to choose between three skeins of similarly colored yarn. The different textures held her attention and she ran her fingers over each of them in turn as she replied. “Uh-huh. Right. A ritzy chain store is cold calling to recruit me as a designer. And then the Colts cheerleading squad is gonna sign on for a lucrative endorsement deal. Give it up, okay? Hey, is Sadie in town right now, do you know? I was going to see if she wanted to go to that new place on Fifth, maybe this weekend some time.”
“Delco’s? I don’t recommend it. They have a decent wine list but the chef really hasn’t developed the menu very well yet.” A muffled voice in the background seemed to be asking the caller something, and his next words were clearly addressed to that voice rather than to Lindy. “Uh, keep this clause but lose the old boilerplate arbitration section, and ask legal if they have the new language ready to go yet. Oh, and Maggie, could you grab me another cup of coffee if there’s any more already made? Thanks. Miss Moore? I apologize for the interruption. Where were we? Besides avoiding Delco’s, I mean.”
Lindy’s mouth had fallen open in horror at some point between “arbitration” and “coffee”, and when she finally replied it was in a mortified whisper. “You’re . . . not Abel, are you?”
“I like to think I’m as able as the next man.”
“Oh fu—Uh . . . rats, I mean. Um.” She pounded her fist against her thigh, cursing silently at the mountain of faux pas she seemed to be amassing. “You’re actually Paul Maddox!”
“Yes I am.”
“I’m—Hi! I’m Lindy. Melinda. Moore, Melinda Moore.”
“Yes, I know, Miss Moore. I called you.”
No rocks were available for Lindy to crawl under, though she looked hard for one.
She thought of the photos she’d seen of Mr. Maddox. Cool and collected, master of all he surveyed. Somebody who, even in a grainy lifestyle-column party snapshot, managed to look crisp and handsome. He was a businessman’s businessman, and he was also on every local magazine’s list of the most eligible bachelors imaginable.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out audibly, Lindy focused on the vivid colors in the closest hank of yarn to try to drive the intimidating image of Paul Maddox out of her mind’s eye.
“So you did, Mr. Maddox. I apologize for my error. I thought you were somebody else. Well, obviously.”
“No harm done.” He sounded amused, much to Lindy’s relief. “So how about it? Can we set up a meeting, talk business, that sort of thing? It would give you a chance to meet with our creative director and some of the others, talk about ideas, see if it seems like a good fit. Of course, we have some thoughts based on what you’ve already done, but if you have anything new lurking in your portfolio you can feel free to bring that along too. Or do you have an agent or business manager I should be speaking with?”
“Oh no, it’s just me. And yes, that would be great. A meeting, that is.” Lindy hoped the man couldn’t hear her doing the happy dance through the phone. Then she quailed at the idea of the meeting Maddox had just described. It was tough enough dealing with owners of small boutiques. She didn’t know if she was quite ready for the CEO of a big store chain.
Maddox had no such hesitation. “How would Friday morning work for you?”
“Let me just check my calendar.” Lindy stared up at the ceiling of her loft, noting the recent proliferation of cobwebs among the exposed ductwork. “Sure, Friday looks pretty clear.”
“My creative director is Stephen Markham, and normally you’d be dealing with him at this point, but he’s had a family emergency so he entrusted me to get the ball rolling for him. We’re still mostly a family-run company,” he explained, “so when somebody is out we all have to help take up the slack. This week, I get to be myself and also Stephen. But he’ll be emailing you later today about what to bring, portfolio and so on.”
After sharing more specific details of when and where the meeting would take place, they ended the call. Lindy stood over the phone for a few seconds afterward, staring at it as though it might ring again. She half-expected a call from Abel, cackling uproariously at the success of his joke. Once reality sank in, and she realized she really had been invited to the Red House corporate headquarters to talk about designing accessories for a statewide clothing store chain, she whooped at the top of her lungs.
The noise echoed against every hard surface in her studio, ringing joyfully back to her.
“I heard a shout. Is everything okay?”
She hadn’t realized the door to her loft was ajar, and the voice startled her into swinging wildly around on her stool. Her neighbor Richard was leaning into her studio from the hall.
“Happy shout. Everything is awesome! Oh my gosh, Richard, I think a big chain of stores wants to buy some of my stuff! Congratulate me!” She spun on the stool like a kid, putting a smile on Richard’s previously anxious face. “Do you have any champagne?” She took a final spin and then jumped off while the stool was still in motion. “Or even some beer that we can put in champagne glasses and pretend is champagne?”
He was leaning against the doorjamb now, watching her with very obvious amusement, and Lindy marveled again at the chance that had made her neighbors with her old art department acquaintance. They’d never kept in touch during the four years after college, but within two months of one another they had moved into this century-old, barely renovated warehouse. She found that her hopeless crush on Richard, still lingering from college days when he’d never looked at her twice, was much easier to manage when he lived right across the hall. They had become friends, and were in and out of one another’s lofts all day long.
“I can take a look. Aren’t you sort of counting your chickens, though? Congratulations of course. But wouldn’t you rather wait until you’ve actually talked to them, found out if it’s really going to work out? Or if it’s even something you really want to do?” He shouted the last from his own loft as he went in search of a pale bubbly liquid suitable for toasting.
“Screw that!” Lindy yelled back, then giggled at her own temerity. “Oh fine. We’ll drink to my upcoming show then. Whatever! I just need to celebrate!”
She knew Richard would have beer, at the very least, and she had already pulled two champagne flutes down from her kitchen cabinet and was waiting, perched on the Formica counter, by the time he returned with a couple of frosty bottles in hand.
“Close enough,” she cheered, and held the glasses as he poured. “So you should be celebrating something too. What good thing has happened for you that’s worth drinking to?”
She knew he might have to struggle for an answer. Richard was only living in this starving artist’s paradise now because he’d moved out on his girlfriend Natasha after he found her cheating on him in his own bed. His run of early artistic successes—from a well-received gallery showing in New York to a piece being purchased for the permanent collection of a prominent local museum—had screeched to a halt after his breakup. It had been months since he had worked seriously on anything.
“It’s my parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary today,” he conceded. “I guess I could drink to them.”
“That’s worth drinking to,” Lindy agreed, clinking his glass with hers and tossing back a hearty swig. Then she coughed at the bitterness. She’d forgotten it wasn’t actually champagne, and she was no beer drinker in the normal course of things.
Richard had the sense to bite his lip and keep from laughing out loud. He turned his back and leaned against the counter next to her, crossing his legs at the ankle and propping himself up on one elbow.
“But,” Lindy finally continued, “while that’s wonderful for your parents, it doesn’t exactly count as something good that’s happened to you. Something positive.”
After a few moments of consideration, he thought of something. “I sold two pieces last week. From the gallery downtown. So I can pay the rent for another couple of months, and I won’t have to decide between food and electricity for a while.”
“Well, that is good news.” She knew Richard wasn’t exaggerating. There had been at least one month recently when he’d had to make that decision, and while she was all in favor of electricity, she wasn’t so sure Richard should have chosen that over decent food.
“Yeah, that poverty diet was getting sort of old.”
“You definitely lost weight on it. Not that you needed to.”
“I didn’t lose much. Thanks to your habit of accidentally making too much food just about every meal.”
She smiled. “And here I thought I was being subtle.”
“And I was pretty dense. I actually didn’t figure it out for a couple of weeks.”
He’d filled back out to his pre-Natasha size now, Lindy noticed, admiring the play of Richard’s biceps against the snug arm of his faded green t-shirt as he tipped his champagne flute back to empty it. She might be more accustomed to him now, but she still couldn’t keep from staring sometimes. Or daydreaming.
Or, more recently, outright plotting.
“So, your parents. Thirty years, really?” she asked, mainly to distract herself from ogling. “That’s so rare.”
“I know. And what’s great is that my parents still really seem to like each other. Turning everything back to myself as usual, because I’m a narcissistic jackass, looking at them always makes me worry that I’ll end up alone. Because how could I ever find something that good?”
Richard knew he was handsome, and he used his Renaissance-portrait good looks to his advantage quite shamelessly. But Lindy thought he had just enough self-awareness to know that sort of behavior wouldn’t get him what he wanted in the long run. His parents had set the bar high, but Richard still saw their kind of relationship as his ultimate goal. She wasn’t above teasing him, though.
“I see you finding some young, lovesick model who’ll be more than happy just to be an ornament in the great artist’s loft. She’ll live for the few moments of attention you can spare from your painting fugue each day to pass on your timeless artistic wisdom. Between the sheets. She’ll try to turn you into a vegan because she worries about your sensitive system and she’ll tell all her friends she’s your muse.”
Richard snorted into his refilled glass. “Okay, I guess I deserved that. You did just describe most of the girls I dated in college.”
“Yeah, you had a lot of muses back then.”
“I was highly amusing.”
She groaned at the pun and tapped his hip with her bare toe in a mockery of a kick. “So I guess you just really decided you wanted a drastic change after all that?”
He shrugged again, suddenly reticent. “Natasha seemed like a good idea at the time. And I think I probably should just leave it at that.”
“Good, because I’m sure I don’t want to know.” She was lying, of course. She was dying to know what the true allure of the pinstriped, spike-heeled, hard-as-nails finance genius had been for Richard. “And we both need to get back to work. But thank you so much for the champagne-beer. And tell your parents congratulations for me, okay? You are going to call them, right? Right?”
“Of course,” he assured her, as he moved to the sink and rinsed out his glass. “How’s the exhibit going? Just a few days away, are you about ready?”
“Just about.” Lindy sighed. “Is it normal to feel like throwing up every time I think about it?”
“Yeah, especially before the first one. But you know me, I hurl if the wind changes. Because of my delicate, sensitive system and all.”
“Well, not me. I’m from that hardy peasant stock, I guess.” Lindy pursed her lips as she patted her tummy, which was well hidden under a long, loose t-shirt that ended just inches above the frayed edges of her cut-offs.
When she looked back up she caught the end of a funny look from Richard, but he glanced away before she could figure out his expression.
“You need to decide where the real celebration will be on Saturday night,” he said, as he walked back toward the door. At Lindy’s obvious bewilderment, he chuckled. “After your show, doofus. You know, when all your friends take you out and everyone whoops it up all night long, then the loyal few who make it all the way through can go out and get copies of the papers to read the reviews? Or check them online, whatever.”
“We’ll come back here, I guess. Oh my god. Reviews. I hadn’t even thought about that. And now I feel sick again. Thanks, Richard.”
“Any time, kiddo.” He gave her an evil grin as he started sliding his loft door shut. “Any time.”
“Don’t call me that!”
It was what she always said when he called her “kiddo”, and as usual Richard ignored her.
She tried to get her mind back on work, but her concentration was hopelessly shot by the phone call, by her anxiety over the upcoming exhibition.
And by her plotting about Richard.
He had been so nice about celebrating with her, such a great neighbor in general. She had grown to really like him over the past several months. It hadn’t really affected her crush much one way or the other, and she didn’t think her plans would harm their friendship. She just wanted to utilize a particular skill of Richard’s once . . . or perhaps a few times. And surely he would be more than happy to help. He was a guy, after all. A straight, single guy. A guy she had secretly admired for years, although she was trying very hard now to remind herself that he was just a friend and nobody she should risk a romantic entanglement with.
In many ways, Richard seemed tailor-made for the job she had in mind, although it had taken Lindy a while to realize he was the perfect candidate. He had extensive experience with women, and she knew he wasn’t usually the type to get emotionally involved. She also knew he wasn’t seeing anybody right now—hadn’t been for months, in fact. And as a practical matter, she knew he was clean. She’d gone with him to the free clinic when he decided to make sure his ex-girlfriend hadn’t left any nasty biological legacies behind.
To hear the girls talk in college, Richard was also more than capable of rocking his partner’s world in bed . . . and she’d heard he liked things on the rough and naughty side, which intrigued her.
All those little pieces of stored information about Richard were more than enough to tip the balance in favor of Lindy’s plan to talk him into sleeping with her.
Two days from now, if everything went as she intended. Thursday night, just in case he already had plans for the weekend. She would invite him over for dinner, pop a suggestive movie into the DVD player, ply him with wine and flirting, and then make her move.
Because twenty-six was much more than old enough, and Lindy was sick and tired of being a virgin.