I've made the occasional off-hand reference to writing the second book in The Walsh series, The Space Between, before finishing Underneath It All and since we're coming up on the anniversary of that release, here's a quick recipe as to how it happened.
Combine a New Year's snow storm, an infant with RSV, and the sinking sensation of not knowing how to solve the problems in a current work in progress. When all of these things have marinated for several days, a perfectly formed chapter of an entirely new book will present itself and demand to be written in the middle of the night.
Maybe I'm the only one who will find this curious and fascinating, but that chapter barely changed during the multiple (MULTIPLE) rounds of revision and editing this book went through. I'm still waiting for that to happen again.
So, rather than listening to myself talk about The Space Between, which is a boss/apprentice, grumpy x black cat, age-gap romance, here's that lightning strike first chapter.
Sometimes I have that nightmare where I show up at work or school naked, on display for everyone to stare and laugh. I never studied psychology or sociology, or whichever -ology that fit into, but I could say with some confidence it more than likely related to feeling vulnerable.
Everything I wanted to guard from the outside world was illuminated, offered up for judgment. Then again, maybe it was from eating questionable sushi before going to bed.
Meeting Patrick Walsh was exactly like that: a waking naked-at-work dream.
"How would you adapt the roof geometries of a Queen Anne for maximum rain water catchment while keeping it historically accurate?" he barked.
It didn't matter that the ink on my Master of Architecture degree from Cornell University was barely dry. It definitely didn't matter that I wasn't quite twenty-five, or that I was a woman in a field where men outnumbered me four to one. I was good, and I knew it.
"What's your approach to handling conflicts between strict preservation guidance while also meeting LEED Green specifications?" he asked.
I'd been fantasizing about this for years—Walsh Associates was the ultimate apprenticeship and interviewing was my jam.
But Patrick wasn't nearly as excited about the interview. No, Patrick interrupted before I offered any substantive comments, glowering from across the rectangular conference table. He squinted at me while I spoke, stripping away the artifice of interview and openly dissecting my words. His lips twisted into grimaces while his eyebrows quirked and furrowed. He even rolled his eyes when I discussed my passion for original Bostonian masonry.
Everything about Patrick was assertive. Staring into his hazel eyes, I immediately knew it wasn't limited to architecture.
"Walk me through your approach to construction waste management. Specifically, CFC-based refrigerants."
I left my friends' apartment this morning pleased with my edgy-conservative outfit that avoided all manner of architecture school chic—no corduroy, no khakis, no ponytails, no wrinkles. My confidence was swinging high when I arrived at the hallowed halls of Walsh Associates, though I never noticed how frizzy the dry winter air turned my long, raven curls until I felt Patrick's eyes cataloging every errant strand.
He made little effort to manage his reactions and he clearly took issue with my appearance. I was unapologetic about my wardrobe and its shades of black simplicity—I was a charter member in the 'selective pops of color' cult—yet he repeatedly drank in my black skirt suit, pearl gray shirt with delicate beading around the neck, and black knee-high boots, with an arched eyebrow and blatant scowl.
I wanted him to glance at my résumé, leaf through my portfolio—anything to take his piercing hazel eyes off of me long enough to regroup and strategize. Something about his fierce gaze—how he'd stare, scowling, his jaw rigid—made my thoughts freeze and words dissolve into a fumbling, garbled mess.
Missing out on this apprenticeship was not an option. I didn't work my ass off for the past five years, fighting for every tedious assistantship, internship, and design fellowship, to blow it when I finally got my shot. I wasn't surprised when Shannon Walsh's assistant called to schedule my interview; I was perfect for their firm. Now it was just a matter of getting this interview back on track and them believing it as much as I did.
Despite the fact Patrick was annoyed that I was taking a second of his time, I would happily pluck my eyelashes if it meant learning from him. He didn't have any National Preservation awards—yet—or much more than a decade in the industry, but he transcended it all with his talent. It wasn't every day that early thirty-somethings received the type of acclaim Patrick earned from the start. No one bothered to tell him or his siblings—his partners in this work—it should have taken them longer to achieve this much success.
He could have turned out to be a bridge troll, and I probably wouldn't have noticed. I was prepared to endure an endless supply of his surly attitude if any fraction of his greatness rubbed off on me. Maybe I was a little infatuated, but plenty of my grad school friends geeked out over the reigning industry legends. I was fine. Definitely not over-the-top, boy-band obsessed.
The truth was his work got me fired up about historical preservation and its place in sustainable design. His master's thesis was my favorite bedtime story through undergrad and I pulled it out whenever I needed inspiration.
His siblings were equally brilliant—shockingly so—Matt, the structural engineer, Sam, the sustainable design guru, and Shannon, the grand master of it all. I heard rumors of the fifth Walsh, Riley, who recently joined the family business, though my research yielded limited information about him or his background.
I admired all of the Walshes but the love of the craft spoke to me in Patrick's thesis, grabbing me by the throat and demanding I believe in his philosophy. I wanted to fangirl all over him.
He sat back in his chair, minutely swiveling while his fingertips drummed against the arm. I didn't expect him to be so…big. At five-eight, I wasn't short but I knew he'd tower over me. None of the online photographs accurately portrayed his presence. His harnessed intensity brought the walls closer and thickened the air. His stare was cool and observant, and I experienced a profound sense he could slough away my layers with one glance.
"Where do you see yourself in five years, Miss Asani?"
Time for the Hail Mary response, the one I prepared with my mentor, Charlotte, but never expected to use. My chance to put it all on the line was in front of me, and if I didn't appeal to Patrick as a visionary craftsman, I might as well pack my drafting kit and start designing rural fishing lodges back home in Maine. God knew I couldn't accept any of the commercial real estate design apprenticeships waiting in my inbox. I'd be happier working on Barbie dollhouses.
I wanted Patrick to train me. Teach me. Shape me. Infuse the unique spirituality of his craft into my marrow. Pour his wisdom into me until I overflowed with the muscle memory necessary to bring history back to life.
Fine, so I was completely boy-band obsessed.
"I see myself as a partner in a sustainable preservation firm, and I'd like to spend several years learning under you—"
"Thank you for coming, Miss Asani. Shannon's assistant, Tom—"
I held up a hand. "I wasn't finished, Mr. Walsh."
His icy stare turned molten, his eyes narrowing as if trying to assign a name to my defiance. I suspected he didn't hear 'no' very often. He lifted an eyebrow in challenge, and a smile pulled at my lips.
"I want to learn everything from you. I don't get coffee or copies, and I don't do busywork. Your philosophy on the role of sustainability and efficient design in preservation shaped my entire approach as an undergrad and beyond, and I've spent the past five years absorbing every field experience possible to prepare me for this work. With you. At this firm. I want to learn from you, Mr. Walsh. I want to learn the soul of preservation. I want to learn everything you have to teach me because your work fascinates and enthralls me."
On top of Patrick's vision seeping into my blood and bones, his family was gaining legend status in their corner of the architectural universe. In an age when architecture had more to do with erecting sterile filing cabinets as lifeless boxes for work and home, and sustainability was being co-opted as a hollow branding strategy, the Walsh family was proving boutique firms could run with the big dogs.
Their successes weren't accidental. It was clear they ran a tight ship, and I knew much of the credit belonged to Shannon Walsh. Talking to the petite redhead was like being caught in a tornado—she yelled, exaggerated wildly, cursed like a frat boy, and walked faster in four-inch stilettos than physics should allow. The aggressive click of her heels coupled with the fifteen hair-thin jingling silver charm bracelets on her wrist meant everyone knew when Shannon was coming, and they made sure to pass inspection.
"Is there anything else, Miss Asani?" Patrick asked, his voice taking on a thick, gravelly quality that tickled the hairs on the back of my neck.
I didn't want to talk about architecture anymore. I only wanted that voice. And it was all wrong.
"This is the only apprenticeship I want," I continued, my eyes zeroing in on Patrick. "I know everyone you've interviewed. Zemario? He's only interested in checking off the historical box so he can get started on his doctorate and teach undergrads how to hold a ruler. Heywood? He wants residential—McMansions—and he's going to leave the second something opens up in the Sun Belt. Morton-Myers? He's smart, but lazier than most housecats. I'm the one for you, Mr. Walsh. You're not going to meet anyone else as eager to learn from you or as invested in sustainable prez."
Patrick ran his thumb and forefinger along his chin, his stubble rasping against his fingers and filling the silence with a slight grating sound. He stared at me, and I held his gaze while curiosity replaced his chilly indifference.
"You know a lot about the competition."
"I make it a priority to always know what I'm going up against," I replied. "And as I'm sure you know, there's no shortage of gossip at Cornell."
"Do you always succeed? Do you always know what you're up against?"
I offered a slight shrug.
"All right. Andy, it was amazing to meet you," Shannon interjected, an eye trained on her brother.
The articles I read about Shannon suggested she knew her shit and enough of everyone else's too—real estate license at eighteen, first seven-figure sale at twenty, business degree at twenty-one, law degree at twenty-five. Everything I read pointed to her real estate savvy as the kick-start Walsh Associates needed to survive and thrive through the housing market crisis, though she insisted that success was a product of their team.
And f*** me if I didn't want to be on that team more than I wanted warm blood pumping in my veins.
"We expect to finalize our candidate pool this week, and you'll be hearing from me. Can I give you directions to South Station, or call you a cab? Do you have a sense about town?"
"No need," I replied, my eyes locked on Patrick while I responded to Shannon. "I'm here a few more days."
Standing, Shannon extended her hand across the table. "In that case, enjoy the week and stay out of the cold. Not too different from Ithaca, I know, but I think we have better restaurants."
"More variety," I offered. "I'll take Boston over Ithaca any day."
"Funny," Shannon said as she rounded the table and gestured toward the door. "Patrick says the exact same thing." Shaking her head, she smiled. "My assistant, Tom Esbeck, will show you out. Again, so fantastic to finally meet you." She leaned out the door and bellowed, "Tom!"
I nodded, taking in the pristinely preserved Beacon Hill offices. Working here would be a dream come true.
I glanced back at Patrick. He didn't offer any parting words or acknowledgement, but the inquisitiveness in his eyes seemed to grow with each moment I held his gaze. I felt his stare on me as I exited the conference room, and a subtle toss of my hair told me he was still staring when I walked down the hallway.
I hope you're doing well, my friend! If you haven't yet, you should stop by my private reader group. We're debating the all-time best Walsh family Thanksgiving holidays.
My recent book recs:
Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan – I'll never not be obsessed with this audio. I need to set aside time to explain to you why this whole book is so immensely good because it really, really is. I'm ready to throw elbows for an early look at the next book in the series.
Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma – I mentioned this in my Insta Stories but I haven't given a proper rec yet and I'll need a minute to really unpack all my thoughts about this series because there's so much there. If the dysfunctional-complicated family element of The Walshes or The Santillians works for you, you'll love this series.
The Rough Riders series by Lorelei James – anyone in their cowboy romance era needs this series. Cowgirl Up and Ride and Chasing Eight are personal favorites. The first 6-7 books really can read as standalones and it's easy enough to pick and choose. Bonus: all in KU right now and all tropes listed at the top of every blurb.
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