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"I can't get married looking like this!"
Dylan Camden heard his sister's lament as he went into the kitchen of his grandmother's home. He was coming from an apology lunch he hoped would gain him a few more good-grace points with his family. He had fences to mend and he was trying to act on every opportunity to do that.
But the minute he set eyes on his sister he couldn't help laughing before he caught himself and agreed with her. "You're right, that is not good hair."
It looked like a rats' nest with bows.
Lindie and Georgianna Camdenthe grandmother they all called GiGiturned at the sound of his voice.
"And this is the third try!" Lindie said. "Three different stylists from three different Camden Superstores salons. No wonder revenues in most of them are down if this is their quality of work!"
"I think I might have a solution that will kill two birds with one stone," GiGi said. "You know about the visit from the prison chaplain"
It had come as a surprise to everyone three days ago when a chaplain from the state penitentiary had shown up at GiGi's house in the heart of Denver's Cherry Creek. He'd come a long way with a request.
In the final week of longtime inmate Gus Glassman's life, Glassman had asked that the chaplain track down a lockbox of his belongings to be given to the daughter he'd abandoned twenty-eight years ago when he was incarcerated.
The incident that had caused the man to be imprisoned was something GiGi had read about in the recently discovered journals of her late father-in-law, the founder of the Camden fortune, H.J. Camden.
During their lives, H.J., his son Hankwho was GiGi's late husbandand GiGi and Hank's sons, Mitchum and Howard, had all been suspected of heavy-handed, unscrupulous business practices. Rumors and accusations had flown about ruthlessness, deceit, and callous, cold-blooded and unprincipled practices.
Nothing had ever been proven. And because GiGi and her ten grandchildren had never met with anything but loving care and kindness from the men, it hadn't been difficult to deny what had seemed like only false accusations.
Then H.J.'s journals were discovered, proving that all the accusations were true.
As a result, the current Camdens were trying to quietly seek out those who were wronged in the pastor their descendantsand atone in some way that wasn't disloyal to the men they'd all loved, and also didn't open the gates to unfounded lawsuits.
Gus Glassman had been sent to the Colorado State Penitentiary for manslaughter when heworking as an enforcer for the Camdenshad gone too far while giving a beating to a factory supervisor who was trying to form a union. The beating was given on H.J.'s orders. GiGi had explored the possibility of making amends to the family of the man who had died, but he'd left no descendants so she'd moved on to other incidents.
But the prison chaplain had relayed information that there was another person caught in the fallout of Glass-man's deadly errand. An innocent whose existence was unknown until Gus Glassman revealed it to the prison chaplain.
Gus Glassman had left behind a then-two-year-old daughter.
When GiGi heard that, she'd assured the chaplain that she would find the lockbox and Gus Glassman's daughter and take care of everything.
"I didn't want this to wait any longer so I've been looking into it since the minute I said goodbye to the chaplain," GiGi went on, "and you aren't going to believe it, Lindieshe's a stylist for that salon, Beauty By Design. The one that Vonni said a lot of her brides are using instead of Camdens."
"The one that advertises their special-occasion team?"
The seventy-five-year-old matriarch nodded. "The hairdresser who manages the shop and does the special occasion events is Abby Crane"
"Gus Glassman's daughter," Dylan contributed. His cousin Cade had just told him over lunchafter Dylan's profuse apologies to Cade and Cade's wife, Nati. "But you can't be thinking that Lindie could find a way to make amends to her in the middle of this sprint to her wedding!"
"What I was thinking," GiGi said to him with that putting-him-in-his-place tone that he recognized well, "is that if we could get this group to do the wedding, the girls might all get their hair done the way they want and in the process we'd be establishing contact with Abby Crane."
Mellowing her tone, GiGi included Lindie again as she went on. "According to the chaplain, Gus Glassman made sure his daughter wouldn't know who her father was, or anything about where she came from. All he left her with was a blanket and a note saying her name was Abby. But I have learned that she grew up in foster care, moved around from home to home"
"No telling how happy or unhappy that might have left her," Dylan interjected. "She could be a pretty tough cookie. So let me do it. That's why I came byCade told me about what you'd found out. And I should be who does this project."
"You want your hair, makeup and nails done for the wedding?" Lindie goaded him.
"I could start with a haircut to get my foot in the door so I can tell her who she is," he suggested.
"But we also need someone to do wedding hair," GiGi reasoned. "That's two birds with one stone."
"And I'm in charge of security for the weddingand security for everything leading up to itand trying to keep the circus that's developed around this to a minimum," Dylan reminded her. The task was a natural fit for him, given his usual position as head of all Camden business security.
Lindie had met her fiancé, Sawyer Huffman, only a little over a month ago when GiGi had sent her on her own make-amends mission.
But Sawyer Huffman had made a career out of mounting very public opposition to every Camden Superstore being opened in the country. So when word had leaked that these two adversaries were coming togethercoupled with the fact that any Camden major life event drew the mediait had caused a flurry of attention that was complicating the already problematical planning of a big wedding in a month's time. A month's time when they'd begun. Now the wedding was just over a week away.
"In order to have people outside of Camden Superstores doing anything with this wedding I need to find out if this woman can be discreet," Dylan reasoned. "I need to check out the salon to see if you girls can go in and get what you need done without photographers taking everyone's pictures through the windows"
"And you do need a haircut before the wedding," GiGi commented.
"So give me this make-amends mission and I can start with a haircut. That'll get me in the door. Then I can approach Abby Crane about doing the wedding and to tell her that I know who she is. After twenty-eight years this shouldn't wait any longer. It has to be one of the worst things we've learned about what was done in the past," Dylan finished.
Both Lindie and GiGi sobered noticeably. It was clear to see they agreed.
"So let me take care of it," Dylan reiterated.
For a moment neither Lindie nor GiGi said anything.
Dylan wasn't sure whether that was due to the weight of what had happened twenty-eight years ago, or because no one in the family particularly trusted him these days.
Then, with some levity to her skepticism, Lindie said, "You're going to be the one to set up a hair-and-makeup trial for me and my bridesmaids?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"And you know that if we don't like what Abby does, we won't hire her, either, and that's going to make the other part a lot harder."
"I'm up for any challenge," he claimed.
"The first one will probably be scheduling your own haircut in a busy salon on short notice," Lindie said. "Let alone getting them to fit in a test run and an entire wedding party in just over a week."
"I'll do whatever it takes," he assured them.
Lindie looked to GiGi, who put Dylan under the kind of scrutiny she'd used on them when they were kids trying to bargain themselves out of punishment.
When Dylan didn't waver she seemed to give in without much enthusiasm and said, "Well, give it all a try and let's see how you do."
"And make it fast!" Lindie added, before she said she had to run and left Dylan alone with his grandmother.
Who returned to staring at him.
"Lunch went all right?" GiGi asked after they heard the front door close behind his sister.
"I think so. Nati wasn't really warm and fuzzy toward me, but she said she accepted my apology."
"We're okay. Nati had to be somewhere so she left right after lunch. Once she had, Cade said he was cutting me a little more slack than she was because we're family and he thought I'd had the wool pulled over my eyes. But that I should have known better "
A sentiment that seemed prevalent among his entire family. "I agreed and by the time I paid the check things were more like always between us. He even said he'd work on softening up Nati a little more." Dylan paused, then said, "What about Jonah?"
Jonah was Nati's grandfather, and the high school sweetheart GiGi had reconnected with and married several months ago.
"He told you that his granddaughter would never have been unkind to Lara," GiGi said with enough of an edge to her voice to make Dylan aware that she was still slightly miffed at him.
"I know, I know," he said. "ButI can only say it for the hundredth timeLara was convincing, and I blindly took her side " Because he'd been in love with her.
"Jonah will be all right," GiGi admitted then. "He's forgivingor how would he and I be together now?"
Because one of those long-ago Camden misdeeds had been done to him and his family.
"I can only say how sorry I am," Dylan repeated what he'd said more times than he could count.
"And we all see that you're trying to make things right againthat's important," GiGi said, the caring tone of a grandmother creeping into her voice to let him know that while she might not have appreciated what had happened to their family at the hands of his former fiancée, she still loved him. "It's just going to take time. We've never had that kind of thing go on among our own. We're used to battling what comes at us from the outside, but from the inside?"
"I know," Dylan repeated, willing now to accept the truth he'd denied. And to do whatever it took to get things back to where they were pre-Lara. To get himself back to where he was before he'd become the black sheep. And to make his own amends to his family.
GiGi patted his cheek gently, comfortingly. "You made a mistake, Dylan, but it'll all come out in the wash."
He nodded, hoping that was true. That he'd only rocked the boat.
That he hadn't knocked an irreparable hole in the side of it.
And that maybe doing one of these atonement-projects on behalf of them all would help.
Great hair. Great-looking guy Abby Crane thought as she saw the man being led to her station on that Friday afternoon, the first week of October.
She was in the break room, wolfing down a late lunch between appointments. But she could see into the salon through the latticed partition that separated the two spaces.
After situating the superhunk, her best friend, China Watsonwho was filling in for their receptionist todayjoined Abby.
"That is not Betty Grove," Abby said.
Betty Grove, her scheduled appointment, was ninety and there certainly wouldn't be any mistaking her for the lean, muscular, broad-shouldered, six-foot-three man with the full head of lush, espresso-brown hair.
He wore it short on the sides, longer and in controlled disarray on top. And that was only the beginning of his appeal.
The guy had a squarish, angular, very masculine face with a sharp jawline and a just-prominentenough chin. He had a slightly long but well-shaped nose, and lips that weren't too full or too thin lurking amid some very sexy stubble that told her he probably had to shave twice a day if he wanted to keep that altogether hella-handsome face perfectly smooth.
But unless he was going to do damage to some lucky girl's face when he kissed her, Abby thought, he shouldn't bother with a second shave because the stubble gave him an air of simmering sensuality and an irresistible badboy appeal.
"He's something, isn't he?" China said, as if she knew exactly what Abby was thinking. "He called for an appointment with you about forty-five minutes ago and he wanted in so bad he was offering to pay double if I'd work him in any way I could"
"So you bumped Betty? Hasn't she had enough disappointments this week with her granddaughter calling off the wedding she paid for?"
"No, I didn't bump Betty. I put Mr. Beautiful on hold because I was going to come and see if you wanted to stay late. But just then Betty called to say she couldn't make it todayI guess Janette is a basket case from calling off the wedding and Betty doesn't want to leave her. Anyway, I got back on the phone with this guy, told him if he could make it here in twenty minutes he could have the appointment and there he is."
"He really did want in today. But I'm not seeing any reason for it to be an emergency," Abby observed, still studying him from the distance.
"His name is Dylan Camdenone of those Camdens, do you think?"
Abby shrugged. "I don't know. But if he is, why would Mr. Richie Rich be here? Or asking for me?"
"Word of mouth, Ab! You're good, and it's even getting around in elevated circles. So go show him your stuff!" China finished, her tone loaded with innuendo as she nudged Abby with her shoulder.
"You show him your stuff," Abby countered jokingly.
"He does not need makeup. But if I was the one he was so bent on seeing today, I'd show him plentylook at him!"
Abby just shook her head at her friend.
"Are you going right out or should I keep him company?" China asked then.
"I'm going out. Just let me wash lunch off my hands."
"I'll ask him if he wants coffee or something " China suggested, heading back the way she'd come as Abby got up from the table, threw away the paper plate she'd used and went into the employee's bathroom.
As she washed her hands she glanced in the mirror above the sink to make sure she looked okay.
But not because of the hot guy waiting for her.
Appearance was her line of work so she always wanted to look her best. It just seemed like a smart business practice.