Home > Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(9)

Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)(9)
Author: Catherine Bybee

His father had died eight years prior from a sudden heart attack. His mother had lived out her years in a mausoleum of a home with a full-time nurse and a truckload of medication. From what Avery knew, Sheldon made sure his adoptive mother was being cared for and that no one was squandering the accumulated wealth of the Lankford family fortune.

And it was quite a sum.

Sheldon had learned of her services through her ex-husband. When Bernie heard that she was working, he offered to cut her another check. As tempting as that sounded, Avery liked that she was providing a service and being paid for it. Since most of her clients were in the upper ends of the tax bracket, her payday matched her spending habits . . . or it was getting there.

“Family photographs?”

Sheldon shook his head. “I’ve already taken what I want.”

“Okay, then. A house this size will take some time to go through. I have a questionnaire.”

Sheldon frowned. “Homework?”

She smiled. “People collect crazy stuff in their lives. I need to know what your parents held value in. Did your mother collect art? Did your dad have a habit of buying antique flasks or pens? I’ll bring in the experts needed to place the pricey items in the correct auctions. You’re paying me a percentage to take the burden off of you. A few questions and I’ll make sure the overlooked frame old Grandma Beth is in isn’t discarded. Once I’ve farmed the stuff of known value, I’ll hold the estate sale.”

Sheldon nodded. “What about the house itself?”

“You’re selling?”

“Could you live here?”

Dark, dingy . . . full of spiders—she cringed at the thought it was the exact opposite of how she lived. “Do you want to sell as is or get top dollar?”

“Are you suggesting remodeling?”

“I don’t think dark paneling and dated kitchens sell homes. But the location would bring in investors and people who can’t afford to come into the neighborhood at a high dollar. That said, it is Brentwood. You’ll make millions walking away, regardless.”

Sheldon took a breath and Avery cut him off. “But since you’re hiring me to go through the interior, I would urge you to get as much as you can from the home itself.”

“I don’t want to deal with any of it,” he confessed.

“Then we sell.”

“I’m also allergic to work.”

Avery grinned. “Let me come up with a couple of contractors and bids for the basics. Do you have a Realtor in mind?”

Sheldon shook his head.

“I’ll find a couple . . . get an idea of what we’re talking about. Money invested, time . . . and bottom line, money in your pocket.”

“What do you charge for that?”

“I can’t say I’ve done it before. So nothing. I have to be here to sift through a lot of stuff, so inviting a real estate agent or two over to give their opinions on things isn’t going to take any more time from me. You’ll have to pick who you like and what you ultimately want to do.”

“You’re obviously not allergic to work.”

“I used to be. Then I bored of spending money . . . or more importantly, I realized that I needed to work in order to shop the way I wanted to. Growing up in a world of boarding schools and pretentious parents made this job perfect for me.”

Sheldon turned on his leather loafers and tugged on the silk sleeves of his two-hundred-dollar shirt and looked her up and down as if for the first time.

For a brief moment, Avery felt a chill.

“How long is this going to take?”

“You want it done right or fast?”


“It’s an eight-thousand-square-foot house with fifty years of living.” She set out a timeline they could both work with, taking into consideration the smaller estate she was working with in Seattle that she was wrapping up. At least Brentwood was closer to home.

By the time Avery left the Lankford estate, she had the keys and a signed agreement for her services. Services that apparently now included obtaining a Realtor and a contractor. It was time to start hitting the networking circuit and finding contacts.

Chapter Seven

“I used to hate these things,” Shannon told Avery as they walked into the mixer wearing professional, I’m more than just arm candy attire.

Of course the designer shoes, clothes, and attitude completed their professional yet high-class facade.

They approached the reception desk and gave their names. The intern wrote each name on a standard sticky label and handed it to them.

Avery looked at the tape disguised as a name tag. “This is Chanel.”

Shannon laughed. From her purse, she produced a magnetic name tag that she attached to her dress jacket without tape or a pin.

“That’s cheating.”

“Good thing I had one made for you, too.”

Avery wadded up her paper name tag and tossed it in a nearby trash can before placing the nondestructive tag on her blouse.

“So how do we do this?”

“It’s a mixer. We mix.”

“Looks like everyone is just standing around drinking.”

Shannon led them to the bar and asked for two glasses of chardonnay. “One glass, and make it last all night.”

Avery dropped the glass from her lips. “So it’s a prop.”

“Yup. If you’re not holding it, some will think you’re a recovering alcoholic, if you’re overindulging, you’re going to be labeled as one.”

“Critical group.” Avery pointed to an elderly woman dressed to the nines and well into her wine. “What about her?”

“That’s Mandy Wilson. She doesn’t count. She’s not here to drum up business.”

“Then why is she here?”

“Probably to find a future ex-husband. C’mon, let me introduce you.”

Mandy Wilson looked to be in her late sixties. Yeah, it was apparent she’d had the usual cosmetic surgeries wealthy women did in order to hold back Father Time, but that was something Avery was used to looking past.

“Well, look who is here.”

Shannon smiled at Mandy as she leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. “Mandy, I want you to meet a friend of mine.”

She made the introductions, and Avery accepted the thorough once-over from the older woman.

“What brings you two uptown women here? Looking for a husband?”

Avery shook her head and Shannon laughed. “We’ll leave that to you. Any prospects out there tonight?”

Mandy scowled. “Sadly, the place is shy on men. Too many liberated women joining the workforce.”

“Some of us like to make our own money,” Shannon teased.

“Don’t start that with me. Your divorce was public record. Unless of course you’ve blown through it all already . . . have you?”

“What a juicy bit of gossip that would be. I like being busy.”

“The right man keeps you busy at night and has enough money to afford all the pampering and fluff a woman needs during the day.” Obviously this was Mandy’s philosophy.

“So what brings you here?” Mandy addressed Avery.

“Not a husband. I’m with Shannon on that.” She glanced around the room. “Realtors, contractors. I’m in estate sales.”

“Selling dead people’s stuff.”

Avery had said that to herself on more than one occasion. “That would be it. Rich dead people.”

This particular networking mixer was put on by an exclusive company that offered discounts for things like private air travel, high-end cars, memberships to exclusive golf courses . . . all for an annual fee, of course. Not just anyone could get in, and therefore people in entry-level vocations weren’t there.

“I can’t say I know of any contractors here, not for residential real estate, at least. Bowman.” Mandy pointed to a short, balding man talking to a small group of men. “He’s the mayor of . . . oh, what was the name of that town? It doesn’t matter. Mayor and a broker. He might be able to help you. Although he’s a bit pompous even for me. I’d suggest you find out if anyone has recently purchased or sold.”

“Thank you.”

Mandy smiled and turned to Shannon. “And you? You’re still taking pictures?”

“That I am.”

“Mavis Ellendale said something about her daughter expecting a proposal. First marriage.”

Shannon tilted her head. “You’re a gem, Mandy.”

“Yes, I know. Be sure and tell me if you find any ill eighty-year-olds. Rich, of course. But that goes without saying.”

Mandy turned away, and Shannon and Avery moved deeper into the room.

“She’s a riot.”

“Two divorces and one funeral,” Shannon said.

“You’d think she’d be set.”

“Oh, she’s set. She just likes the chase. Her profession is finding a rich man who isn’t put off by the fact that she’s searching him out. At seventy-five, you’d think she’d take a break.”

Avery did a double take over her shoulder. “Wow, I want to know who her plastic surgeon is.”

“Thirty years from now when you need him, he’ll be gone.”

Two hours later, long after Avery had poured out her glass of wine because it became too warm to drink, she’d determined that Bowman was a pompous ass and the small town where he held a position as mayor was nowhere near the league of Brentwood real estate. She did pick up one lead from a financial adviser that sounded promising.

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