Julia is odd. Julia is brilliant and confident. And Julia is determined to become the hottest fashion designer in the industry.
But Julia is a threat. When corporate greed destroyed her father, Julia decided to get even; she would make the man responsible pay for his crimes. But she was poor and living on her own. Her only weapon was her strength, her belief in herself and her ability to design clothes that fascinated and bewildered the fashion world.
Julia’s success became an obsession to a man who would stop at nothing to acquire her line of women’s wear and save his failing company.
Including murder. He’s done it before.
This is the third crime novel by Mr. Freriks. It’s also the first ‘romance’ novel, although the intrigue and suspense is the more powerful element.
It’s a rags-to-riches story with revenge and murder and deceit and betrayal…and resolution.
The tall young man got out of the cab at the corner and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck. He felt, more than noticed, the almost-freezing drizzling gray sky that peeked between the pillars of the concrete canyon.
“Hey! You want your change?”
As he was about to turn back to the driver, he stopped short. There was a woman about his age standing ten steps away, looking up at the building.
“Keep it,” he mumbled, distracted.
I love rich people, the driver thought as he pondered how many long-necks he could buy with an unintended $60 tip and rolled up his window.
The man raised one eyebrow as he side-stepped to get a better view of her. ‘Stunningly beautiful’ didn’t fit. ‘Eccentric’? Not quite…well, sort of. He could usually place people in boxes with a quick glance, but he wasn’t easily finding a stereotype that fit her. With her roundish white face, pink/purple lipstick and dead black hair, he could maybe lean toward ‘punk’. He shook his head: the pale blue button-down collar that might almost pass for traditional—but not really—screwed that perception up pretty well. It was the strangely patterned, mysteriously colored but mostly pale butter yellow, over-sized scarf and the oddly cut multi-leathered jacket hanging just short of provocatively over the concoction that made him cock his head. One word came to mind: fashionista.
It was then he recognized her. They had never met, but he had been prepared for her by one of the employees.
The man took a step closer—the building was his destination as well—and stopped, still fully entranced. His engagement needle was climbing past ‘interest’ and creeping toward ‘fascinated’ as he studied her further.
The ragged, torn, and apparently dirty jeans didn’t bring him to ‘punk’. ‘Unkempt’? No. It wasn’t; there was an odd sense of orderliness. He chuckled when he got to the black cowboy boots. They matched her hair, true, but they also looked very much like his own. Weird.
Now, the soft stove-pipe hat? Aside from framing her face elegantly, it didn’t seem to fit…but then, it did. He shook his head again and realized that more than her clothes had grabbed him. Bearing? Pride? Strength? Determination? Anger?
The extraordinary woman stood firmly, looking up at the office building as if it were a dragon to be slain. Unfortunately, it was his place of business. Partly, he clarified to himself.
Then he clarified the clarification: not really. But it should be. Better be.
The woman swung her eyes toward him just as another taxi’s tires hit the water behind her. When they met his gaze, it almost took his breath away. The needle immediately moved fully past ‘fascinated’ and well into ‘wow’.
The cold drizzle was forcing most people to hurry past her into shelter, but she didn’t notice; she wasn’t most people. She looked up at the sign: ‘Ralston Clothing Corporation’ and pulled in a sharp breath. Prepare, she thought. Get strong.
So many emotions coursed through her as she studied the granite façade on 38th Street: anger, fear, and hope, to mention a few. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man stepping toward her, studying her, but she didn’t turn to face him fully.
Behind her, she heard a taxi rush past and sound of the tires hitting the puddle by the curb; she imagined the beginning of a splash. Part of her mind considered the consequences of not moving, but most of her simply instructed the water to fall short.
That wasn’t true: Most of her was thinking about how she got here, about the long path of bumps and thrills, tears and joy—and anger. Julia shuddered slightly when the last nine years flashed past her mind, painful visions of her mother and father. It was her father who ultimately drove her to this place.
Julia noticed that the man had now appeared at her side and rotated her eyes toward him. Then she felt the hand grab her arm and gently push her forward, away from the water leaping over the curb. It did fall short after all. As instructed.
“Almost got you,” a strong male voice said.
Julia slid back to the present. She was still standing in front of her target—her destiny, or her destruction. “Oh, thanks,” was the best she could come up with.
“Not a problem.”
A little rain drained off of the brim of her hat as she turned to engage him and froze. She saw a face that was handsome, rugged, gentle, strong and about six or seven other descriptors that fit. His dark eyes were set into a squarish frame that held a rich, full smile near the bottom and a disrupted tangle of almost-black hair at the top. Whatever it was, it took her next breath; she couldn’t think. Her insides seemed to turn to mush.
The man returned her gaze and gave up trying to classify her. He had been instantly captured by her eyes: deep, dark, crazy green, like emeralds on a china plate. But there was something deeper in them, something like a beam, a tractor beam, that was pulling him in. It could have been frightening to most viewers—unless it wasn’t. And to him, it wasn’t.
“You can get pretty soaked if you’re not careful,” he said, trying to break the joint trance. That was lame, he thought, but it parted her lips. The smile kicked his heart into a higher gear.
Julia heard another taxi approaching—so did the young man.
“Let’s get you inside. You don’t want to be wet, or late.”
She was staring. Whatever miracle had made those eyes reach into her also made the tension and hardness that was preparing her for the coming confrontation suddenly drift away. Forcing words to form, she said “okay” and let herself be guided to the revolving door and into the warm and dry lobby. Pulling her gaze from the man who had just stirred up her insides was difficult. She scanned his features and, as usual, analyzed them for balance and composition. It was perfect; it was like he had stolen his nose from a statue of a young Paul Newman.
Then the past few seconds caught up with her. “Late?”
“For the meeting. You’re Julia Cohen, right?” he said as he shook the water off his leather jacket.
She didn’t think she could be knocked further off balance. “Oh, ahh. Yes. I’m sorry,” she stammered and scrunched up her face. “You know me?” Then she put out her hand; too quickly, she felt, too awkwardly, then tried to pull it back but decided it was appropriate after all then extended it once again. Stupid. Jesus, girl. Get a grip!
He laughed as he finally snagged her wandering hand. “Yes. Kim said you’d be here. I’m Peter Ralston.”
At the sound of his last name, her eyes flew open, and she jerked back abruptly. Now, her mind was fully scrambled; her blood had frozen.
He must have noticed the fear or anger or whatever it was cross her pale face. “Julia. Take it easy. I’m the younger brother, the good one. I know about your family’s problems with George.”
Her life flashed across her face again. It had been a 26-year-old George Ralston who had taken control of the company when his father, Alexander, died almost eleven years before. It was George who decided that Julia’s father’s invention, the ManBag, was a great idea after all but that her father didn’t deserve to be a part of its success. And it was George who waited upstairs, unaware that Julia would start her plan to make it right. Or crush Julia’s dreams, but she didn’t want to think about that.
As hard as she looked, she saw nothing evil in Peter’s face. On the contrary: it was a warm and beautiful face, one that couldn’t belong to an immoral bastard. Could it?
When she started to reply, she realized that the breath required to support speech had begun, but she had no idea what words would escape. However, as usual, she let whatever might come out, come out. “Your brother is…” Further words didn’t form. The beginning had been far less elegant than she had hoped.
“An arrogant prick?” Peter offered.
Julia cocked her head as if she hadn’t heard him right.
“A dickhead? A selfish asshole?” He paused. “Close?”
Something finally escaped. “Keep going,” she said. “You’re on the right path.”
Peter laughed fully. “I could, but he’s still the boss for now.”
That caught her attention. “For now?”
The smile fell away from his mouth but not his eyes. “Long story. Maybe you should go up first. Don’t want them to get the wrong idea. I’m always late, anyway.”
Once again, she had to extricate herself from his eyes to focus on speaking. “Good idea. I’ll see you upstairs, then.”
He turned toward the coffee stand, and her heart quickened as she watched his broad shoulders retreat.
As the elevator door started to close, she saw him turn around to catch another glimpse of her. He smiled when he realized she was looking. Just that gesture did something to her insides again. OMG. What the hell is this?