Book Debut: Hemphill Towers by Leona Pence
Check it out at MuseItUp!
Riley Saunders has her dream job. As an art director at a leading advertising agency, she works every day with her two best friends, Stella and Birdie. All three have been assigned to ensure that the Grand Opening of the Peterson Art Museum is nothing short of a success.
When a girl’s night out at a hot new Italian restaurant ends with a spilled bottle of wine, it sets in motion a series of events that leaves Stella and Birdie caught up in whirlwind romances, and Riley fearing for her life at the hands of a deranged stalker. But, when the handsome museum curator, Trent Peterson, learns of her situation, he vows to keep her safe.
In a quick-paced tale of fine art, wine forgery, and the Russian Mafia, Riley and her friends soon discover their pursuit of love will require them to expose a crime, thwart a murder, and trust the one thing that has never failed them…their friendship.
Her eyes were drawn to a window table across the room. Riley recognized JB Edwards, but wasn't quite sure about the man seated with him. Oh Lord, I hope Stella doesn’t freak out when she sees JB. She could go weak in the knees, or worse yet, refuse to eat.
She saw Stella and Birdie approaching the table, both looked happy and carefree. Birdie's hair swung long and lovely, and Stella, of course, was about to pop a button from the center of her blouse.
Just as Birdie started to sit down, she glanced across the room.
Stella and Riley stared at Birdie.
"Who is that man with JB Edwards?" Her hands touched her flushed cheeks.
Stella glanced their way, and Riley could tell her mood changed spotting the object of her affection. "He’s a friend of JB’s, Federico Martinique of Martinique Wineries. We’ve done advertising for him. He loves good Italian cuisine and he’s probably trying out the new restaurant with JB for the same reasons we are."
Across the room a similar conversation was taking place. "JB, do you know who that vision of loveliness is at that table with those two other ladies?"
JB Edwards tried to glance without appearing to be staring, but he recognized all three as his employees. He wasn’t surprised to see them gearing up for a new campaign, but even he was a bit taken aback by them in this setting. Stella Mason rarely ever let her guard down and Birdie Orwell looked so different that he almost didn’t recognize her.
"Well, my friend,” he said. “I can tell you who they are, but I'm not sure which 'vision of loveliness’ you are referring too."
"That magnificent hair! That beautiful face! I must meet her!" exclaimed Federico.
JB called a waiter and whispered to him. The young man walked toward the ladies with his message.
“Excuse me, ladies, but the gentlemen at the window table request the honor of your company for dinner.”
Birdie’s face turned pink, obviously smitten. “I don’t know, girls. What do you think?” Stella absently ran her fingers through her hair.
“Let’s go,” said Riley.
“I…I’m not sure I can.” Birdie’s eyes were downcast, her face still flushed.
Riley stood with determination. “Let’s go, you big chickens. It’s time to live a little.” She started walking and the other two followed.
The young server led them into a more secluded area where they could dine without being disturbed by people passing by.
At a large round table, Stella sat to the right of JB, Riley on his left, leaving Birdie and Federico seated together.
An array of dishes, already being assembled for them, emitted a tantalizing aroma of marinara and calamari. Brochette bread covered with mozzarella cheese and plates of smoked salmon served with capers and cream cheese, all there to tempt their appetite.
“Ladies, this is my friend Federico Martinique. Federico, meet Riley Saunders, Birdie Orrwell, and Stella Mason. I believe you’ve met Stella at the office.”
“Yes, it’s good to see you again, Stella.” He shook hands with all three, but held Birdie’s hand while gazing her into eyes.
“Ahem.” JB politely cleared his throat.
JB ordered the wine and, of course, selected an FMartinique label for both the appetizer and main entree. When the waiter brought the wine and offered the cork to JB, he demurred and said, “My friend here is my guest, please let him test the wine.”
Federico smiled and went through the procedure of smelling the cork, swirling the wine after it was poured, sniffing it and then tasting. After a moment, he said, “Very nice, vine, planted in 1966, first wine pressed in 1971, and this particular bottle, if I am not mistaken is actually, August 15, 1999. Am I not correct?” The waiter looked dumbfounded and unsure how to reply. JB and Federico laughed at his confusion.
JB said to the waiter, “Sorry, my friend, but this is FMartinique, the man who bottled this wine.”
The waiter gave a smile of relief. “It is an honor to have you in our restaurant.” He then poured the wine and said he would return later to take their orders.
Federico grinned, then lifted his glass and said, "To new friends, good food, great wine.”
All lifted their glasses for the toast. Stella and Riley ‘ummmed’ at the taste of the wine.
“This is delicious, Federico.” Birdie took another sip.
“Thank you.” Federico tipped his glass toward her, his eyes lingering on her lips. The attraction between them was palpable to the others at the table.
The appetizers were especially good, the taste enhanced by the sparkling wine. Soon more waiters appeared with platters laden with a wide sampling of the menu choices. The sauces were superb. The cheeses, blended and melted into mouth watering delights, covered the pastas, breads, and dishes they could barely pronounce.
A little later, Stella put down her fork unable to eat another bite. She was listening to JB tell Federico a story about his latest fishing trip. JB raised his arm in a mock casting of a line, and in doing so, hit the wine bottle with his arm causing it to strike Stella's full glass. The contents of both poured all over the front of her clothes.
Stella gasped when the chilled liquid came in contact with her body, soaking through her white blouse and bra. JB jumped up, grabbed a cloth napkin and began dabbing at the rapidly spreading red stain. Then the inevitable happened. First one button then another popped from her blouse and landed in the middle of the table.
JB stood dumbfounded, staring at the lacy exposed bra. Stella snatched the napkin from his hand and covered herself. Her face was much redder than the spilled wine. Riley could no longer contain her laughter and was soon joined by Birdie. Stella looked at them and then at the stricken face of JB Edwards; she began to laugh herself. Tears ran down their cheeks. JB sat back down, relieved there would be no repercussions from his gaffe.