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Safeword: Davenport

By´╝ÜCandace Blevins

Chapter One

Dana tucked the chain holding her husband's wedding band under her blouse. He'd been gone a year and a half, and she'd moved forward with her life in so many ways, but his ring was still a welcome anchor.

Finished dressing, she eyed herself in the mirror and saw a nice mix of quirky artist and professional businesswoman. Her thick blonde hair fell to her waist two years ago but now barely brushed her shoulders. Garnet wanted it long and she'd been happy with the length but cutting it ultra-short was one of the first executive decisions she'd made after his death. She might let it grow another couple of inches, but no longer. She was finding balance, she reminded herself, as she ran her hands through the loose curls around her face, dividing them up.

Sliding her arms into her coat, she reached for her tablet before walking out the door to meet her new client.

The house was at an odd angle, set back from the road, and she followed the driveway through some woods, not seeing the shape or details until she was directly in front of the imposing structure.

Dana unhooked her seatbelt and looked around to get a feel for the place. The outside hardscaping and winter plantings appeared fine; if the client insisted on a change, perhaps they could replace the fountain with a large statue or sculpture. She made a mental note to ask for outside pictures taken in spring and summer, wincing as she realized the memories she'd make him drag to the surface.

Her research on this man hadn't turned up much. She'd hoped to gain insight into what style he might have, the circles he ran in, or even friends or associates they both knew. She hadn't found a single picture of the man, though she'd come across news articles that made her want to cry for him.

Zachary Irving's wife died a year and a half ago, within a few weeks of Garnet's death, and Dana was here to help turn their home into his home. She understood the need for change; within six months of losing Garnet, she'd sold their house and bought a nice condo, going from five thousand square feet to sixteen hundred, though both had cost about the same. She'd needed to be surrounded by people and activity, and moving to the heart of downtown had been a good call.

She wasn't here to play therapist or commiserate so she wouldn't share her own loss. He wanted his home renovated and redesigned, nothing more. He'd expect her to figure out his style and create a look he'd like—helping decide what would stay or go, and to choose new pieces. Seven thousand square feet of change. She'd be working with him a long time so their initial face-to-face meeting was important.

Noting the delicate vine work in the front door's leaded glass, she wondered if he'd want a more masculine entry. A handsome young man opened the door as she walked up the steps, and she introduced herself. “Hello, I'm Dana Bennett, here to see Mr. Irving, please."

The man gave an annoyed smile. “Yes, Ms. Bennett. I'm Zachary Irving. Please come in."

She'd assumed a man who'd lost his wife and had enough money for this neighborhood would be much older, but the gorgeous man inviting her in was probably in his late twenties. He looked like a bit of a rogue even with the upscale clothes and fashionable haircut, something in his eyes and the way he held his body.

"I apologize if I offended you. Do you wish to change anything outside? It looks masculine enough I think, but we could replace the fountain with a large ball with water flowing from the top, or perhaps a modern sculpture in a reflecting pool."

He smiled, his icy blue eyes turning warmer. “Wonderful. Get me pictures of things you think would work and we'll discuss it. Please come in. Let me to take your coat and I'll give you a tour."

She noted his empty ring finger as he took her coat and wondered how long it'd taken him to stop wearing it. She'd found a jeweler who resized hers while she watched and now wore it on her right middle finger. She shook her head, trying to get her mind back onto her purpose.

"You're an inventor, Mr. Irving?"

"More of a researcher but since my research often leads to new breakthroughs I suppose it's an accurate statement."

Zachary Irving was thirty-two years old—a few years older than he looked—and he'd invented a way for solar panels to draw twenty percent more energy from the sun. He was apparently making a fortune licensing the technology to manufacturers.

"Do you use solar electricity here?"

"Yes, but not throughout the house. My wife wanted to cook with normal appliances, light the public areas of the house without worrying about power consumption, and just generally entertain without having to make excuses for her crazy inventor husband. We compromised—the main floor, outside lighting, fountains, and pool equipment are on the grid. The top two stories and part of the basement run on DC power. Any electrical items you replace on the upper levels will have to be custom made or retrofitted, as there aren't usually direct current options available for decorative fixtures."