Saturday, May 18, 2013

Excerpt: Matching Wits with Venus - Therese Gilardi

Chapter One

“You have GOT to do something about that woman or before you know it they’ll be tearing down all those statues of me and calling HER the goddess of love!”

Venus flicked her cream silk scarf over her slender shoulders as she peered through the ultra-powerful telescope she had set up in her hilltop villa, which was a replica of one of her favorite Roman palaces. She knew she should stop looking through the lens every hour, but she couldn’t help herself. For thousands of years, across all parts of the globe, high in the heavens and deep in the underworld she’d been the undisputed queen of matchmaking. But now, for the first time in over two millennia, Venus was beginning to fear she’d met her match.

In the valley below, not far from a string of psychic reading rooms, the Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” museum, and the famous thirty foot white block letters that spelled out “Hollywood”, Amelia Coillard stretched out her hands to receive a large homemade almond vanilla pie.

“I spent all evening making this for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” A tall woman wearing an enormous pear shaped ruby on her left ring finger sputtered as she bowed slightly. “Really, Amelia, you’re the best. David and I want to invite you to our wedding. On June twenty-first. It’ll be a way to mark our own new season together.”

Amelia smiled. She was used to these follow-up visits from grateful clients, women and even some men who had been certain they’d been fated to be alone until they’d discovered “Happily Ever After by Amelia.”

“Glad we could help Susanna. Don’t forget to tell your friends about us.”

The woman giggled as she pushed past the wrought iron marble topped café table where Amelia met with clients. As she pulled the beveled glass door closed behind her the intertwined pink and purple wooden hearts that hung against the wooden frame banged together. Amelia waved as Susanna disappeared into the rising March sun.

“We’ve got another wedding. Guess when,” Amelia called out to her assistant Jennie as she stepped into the backroom and placed the pie on a distressed pine sideboard, next to the boxes of chocolates, baskets of figs, bottles of champagne, potpourri sachets and bundles of beeswax candles. If there was a foodstuff or a house ware associate with love, lust or fertility Amelia had received it from a satisfied client.

“Not the summer solstice,” Jennie said, and Amelia rolled her eyes.

“Of course. Flowers in bloom, longer days, baby animals at the zoo. It can all mean only one thing. June brides. I don’t know how people can be so sentimental.”

Jennie laughed.

Amelia walked to the little cupboard in the corner and withdrew the fitted white crocheted sweater she always wore when she was at work. She’d gotten it two years ago, right after she opened “Happily Ever After by Amelia,” at the Rose Bowl flea market. The woman she bought it from said it had originally been part of the trousseau of one of the old studio stars that lived up in the Hollywood Hills. Although Amelia didn’t believe her, the delicate pattern had reminded her of wedding lace, so she’d worn it to every meeting since, believing it sent out positive subliminal messages to her clients. She pulled it over top of her black mini-dress and adjusted her wavy auburn hair over its pearl-trimmed collar.

“So what’s the day look like? Oh, wait, there’s Justin.”

Amelia rapped her knuckles on the window as a man whose face and body reflected the brutal realities of living rough in the hot California sun passed by. He was like many others in the neighborhood, most likely younger than the lines on his face implied.

She opened the door and smiled as the tall, slightly scruffy man in the red and black jacket turned around and came back to where Amelia stood at the door that opened onto the alley.

“I’ve got something for you.”

Amelia handed Justin the pie, along with a fork, cloth napkin and water bottle.

“Thanks Amelia. I’ll bring it by later,” Justin said, nodding at the place setting.

“No problem. Now, what’s on tap,” she said, turning back to Jennie.

“Three women coming in this morning to fill out their personality profiles. You know one actually had the nerve to ask me if you’d e-mail it to her so she could complete it on her own time? Yeah, and she can forward it to everyone she knows and before you know it your secret formula is out in the open.”

Amelia laughed.

“It’s not as mindless as that. You make it sound like I’m just making random matches, sending someone out there to shoot arrows into an unsuspecting public. Who do you think I am, Venus?”

Jennie smirked.

Amelia looked out the window at the back of her little storefront, toward the faded ocher stucco mansion with long French windows and a red-tiled roof that sat atop the highest of the Hollywood Hills. Long verandas seemed to wrap around the house, although it was impossible to know for certain if they ran across the back of the home, since the far side of the walled property was not accessible by road or foot. It sat atop a fault line. No one dared venture onto the rocky terrain, for fear of disrupting the crusty earth beneath the bougainvillea bushes.

Jennie put her arm around Amelia.


“Don’t what?”

“Don’t go down that path, Lia. It’s not going to take you anywhere you want to be.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come on, let it go.”

Amelia sighed.

“Do you have any idea how many cakes, cookies, tarts, baskets and bouquets I left on those stone steps? Do you know, I used to climb up to that gate every year on Christmas Eve and what should’ve been my parents’ anniversary and leave her these hand written letters I’d actually sealed with a kiss. I taped those little Hershey’s candies to the envelope when I was little and then, when I was in high school, I’d slather on red lipstick and run my mouth across the envelope. I can’t believe I was so stupid!”

“We all do dumb things.”

“Yeah but come on. Believing that an ancient Roman goddess exists AND that she lives right here in my own neighborhood?”

Jennie laughed.

“It does sound absurd when you put it that way. Plus everybody knows that house has been abandoned for decades. Why they don’t add it to the Haunted Hollywood tour is beyond me.”

Amelia nodded. As she took a final look at the mansion, she thought she saw a flash of rose-colored light shooting across the bottom floor.

1 comment:

  1. This was the first title by Astraea press that i read!
    I reviewed it back when reviews were still allowed. :)