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She went to bed thinking, “Jerk.” She thought, “Cross off another one.” The next day she was back at her office, a little sad, trying to lose herself in work.

Over the 30 years that she had built Ambrosia Interior Design, it had been her refuge amid many romantic disappointments.

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Work was the realm in which her success was unqualified. She liked to hire single women and mothers because she could remember how it felt to be alone, with one child and another on the way, after her first marriage broke up.

When people walked into one of her exquisitely arranged rooms, they were invited to imagine their futures in them. By the second or third date, he was telling her he loved her, that he wanted to marry her.

She called them “approachable dreams.” They were like glossy ads in upscale lifestyle magazines — purged of kids’ toys and dirty dishes and other real-world complications. She didn’t mind his idiosyncrasies, like his habit of wearing his faded blue medical scrubs everywhere, even to a formal-dress cancer benefit she invited him to.

In her big Irvine warehouse, among the vases and mirrors and other decorative bric-a-brac, stood shelves of color-coordinated hardback books — aqua, navy, gray, brown — because books made nice furniture in perfect homes. The titles didn’t matter, as long as they omitted the words “sex” and “death.” Her perfect rooms were like the face you presented on dates, inviting people to fantasize about the piece that may complete their lives. Some people snickered, but she thought, “Busy doctor.” “So you are the real thing,” she texted him after one date.

The first word people used to describe her was “sweet.” She was living in Las Vegas with her boyfriend, Jimmy, and studying to be a dog groomer.