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"How do you do that?"
The question came from her best friend since childhood, Camille O'Shay. They had grown up together in a tiny rural Texas town, attended the same college and now were sharing living quarters in the heart of downtown Denver.
"Do what, Millie?" she asked absently, her eyes carefully scrutinizing the gentleman under her authority, her eyes taking in every seam and pleat as she tucked and pinned.
"Completely change people's appearances, Izzy, like someone's fairy godmother or something," Camille said with a laugh. "I'm completely astounded by your ability to wave your wand and work wonders."
Isobel Buckley shrugged. "It's my job to dress and press these gorgeous gals and pretty boys and get them looking their best for the boardroom. The final product depends on me. It's hard work, not waving wands, that yields a final product I can be satisfied with."
She wasn't telling her friend any new information — Camille was well familiar that Isabel was a personal shopper and image consultant for a select, high-end clientele. And Camille likewise knew Isobel was every bit the perfectionist she sounded.
"You know, when you think about it, it doesn't really take much to make high-quality fashion look good on those pinup model hunks you work with," Camille observed wryly. "Although, of course, dear heart, you do it better than most."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Isobel was busy straightening a silk tie on one of those so-called pinup model hunks who wanted to look his best for a national conference, and was only half paying attention to her friend's happy chatter.
"Turn around for me," she told the man, who willingly complied.
"Oh, nothing," Camille replied, not sounding the least bit convinced as Isobel turned her attention back to her friend for a moment. "I was just wondering if you could do the same kind of work with an average man, someone who hasn't ever read a men's fashion magazine."
"What are you talking about?" Isobel said, throwing a quick glance in Camille's direction.
"You're babbling nonsense."
"Am I?" she shot back, her grin reminding Isobel of a cat crouched to pounce on a helpless mouse. "What do you think about adding a run-of-the-mill variety guy to your clientele? The kind of guy I usually date, as opposed to the kind of guy you could date if you weren't so caught up in your career?"
Isobel rolled her eyes. "I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
"So are you up for it?" Camille actually sounded excited, as if she were taking the idea for real.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Making a normal slob of a guy into Mr. Right. Blue-collar material, ya know? It would be fun."
Camille was definitely warming up to the idea, while Isobel was beginning to cringe. Her friend was sounding all too serious about this fanatical, half-baked scheme.
"Here's what we'll do. I'll pick the guy, and you'll have six weeks to make him into a real man. The man of every girl's dreams."
"You're kidding, right?" Isobel took a deep breath and held it. She could only hope.
Camille shrugged, a noncommittal gesture. "Maybe. Maybe not. But don't be surprised if I come knocking on your door with a fellow who desperately needs your help for a makeover."
Isobel pinched her lips, deciding to ignore her friend's obviously off-the-top-of-her-head twaddle. It would come to nothing in the long run.
Not more than two days later, her dear childhood confidant made good on her threat. Bursting into Isobel's office, Camille announced in a loud, triumphant voice, "I've found him!"
"I'm sorry," Isobel said, distracted by the pile of paperwork she was muddling through, piece by agonizingly slow piece. "You found whom?"
"The guy, of course. The one you're going to wave your magic wand over." She looked disappointed for a moment. "Our average guy, remember?"
Isobel smoothed her thick, long brown hair with her palm and sighed, desperately wishing she didn't remember. "I would ask if you were joking, but I know you better than that. What possessed you to go through with this crazy scheme? This isn't even remotely close to real life, Camille."
"I wasn't even looking! I'm telling you the truth. No one could have been more shocked or amazed than I. All I was doing was talking with a regular patron at my hotel — a rich, quite handsome, very well-connected patron, I might add."
"All the people who spend time at your hotel are rich," Isobel reminded her friend blithely. "And well-connected. Handsome, though. Since when is that a requirement for hotel patronage?" she teased.
"Oh, Isobel. You have no idea. This guy is out of this world!" She stopped suddenly and clapped a hand over her heart, sighing loudly and dramatically, even as a dark blush stole up her cheeks. "Addison Fairfax."
"But that's not the point." She faltered for a moment, and Isobel found a bit of humor in the fact that her dear friend was actually flustered over this Addison Fairfax. It took a lot for Camille to show interest in a particular man, preferring in general the whole of mankind.
"Go ahead, Camille," Isobel encouraged with a smile and a sly wink that let her friend know she was on to her. "Handsome and ?"
Camille placed a hand on her reddened cheek and continued. "We were making our usual small talk, you know, and I was telling him about my brilliant idea for you to make over some regular guy — not anything like Addison, of course. He dresses divinely."
She followed her high-speed discourse with another long, drawn-out sigh.
Isobel chuckled. "Well, the next thing you know, he's telling me all about his problems. You are the answer to his prayers, Isobel, I kid you not. Neither of us could believe it!"
"I might as well hear it," Isobel said with a groan. "Go on."
"Okay, I'll tell you," she agreed, casually stringing it on with a laugh. "But Izzy, you have to promise to listen all the way through before you jump to any conclusions."
Isobel smiled. She was certain she'd be jumping to conclusions long before her friend was finished telling what was sure to be a wildly fantastical story — but she could promise to keep her thoughts to herself, at least until she'd sorted the whole wild, bizarre idea out in her mind. "So, it's like this," Camille began with a flourish of her hand.
"Once upon a time," Isobel teased.
Camille threw her a mock glare. "If you're going to keep interrupting every time I speak, I'm never going to get through this."
Isobel chuckled. "Sorry. It won't happen again." She made the motion of zipping her lips closed with her thumb and index finger.
"So there's this man I was telling you about, Addison Fairfax, who often uses our hotel for his meetings and conventions," Camille said, her voice growing with excitement at every word. "He's the CEO of Security, Inc. You know it?"
"I've heard of it," Isobel replied. Of course she knew the name. It was only one of the most prestigious financial firms in Denver, probably on the continent.
Everyone had heard of Security, Inc. "You can only imagine how successful Addison is, not to mention how wonderfully handsome he looks. He's always polished, precise and dressed meticulously."
"So, what's the problem?" Isobel asked, wondering how she could help such a high-and-mighty being, and why on earth he would think to pay her for it. Sounded to her as if he had it made.
Unless, like many of her clientele, he was simply too busy to worry about fashion. But then, where would be the challenge in that? He was the type of man Isobel worked with on a regular basis in her business, not something out of her league.
"Oh, it's not Addison," Camille said, holding her hands up, palms out. "You can trust me on this. That man is perfect just the way he is."
Isobel laughed. "It sounds as if you have a genuine, fully loaded crush on the man."
"A crush?" Her friend sounded mortified. "I would never stoop so low. I haven't had a crush on a man since ninth grade." She sniffed, her nose in the air like a cat who'd been offended.
"Tenth grade. Mr. Monahue, our history teacher," Isobel reminded her with a smile.
Camille chuckled. "Oh, he was cute, wasn't he? If I recall, I wasn't the only one who thought he floated over the ground."
Isobel shook her head, smiling at the memory. Every tenth-grade girl in Mr. Monahue's class had had a crush on the charming teacher.
She shook her head again, her mind returning to the present dilemma. "Okay, so Addison Fairfax is interesting," she said, rephrasing for her friend's sake and to keep the conversation on line. "But I still don't understand what that has to do with me."
"It's his younger brother, Dustin. Now, Dustin is a mess — a regular slob, in Addison's words. And Addison actually wants to pay you to whip him into shape. Six short weeks of work and an enormous salary tacked on as a bonus. Think of it, Isobel! You don't even have to stop your own work to help him."
"Why would I want to do this, again?" Isobel asked, crossing her arms and tipping her executive-style black leather chair as far back as it would go, wishing for a short moment it would crash backward, sending her down through the twenty-two floors below and away from her glassy-eyed friend and the half-cocked ideas spouting from her lips.
"Remember our conversation from the other day?" Camille reminded her, dangling the thought out before her like a carrot to a rabbit.
"I remember you saying a bunch of stuff. I don't remember me saying anything at all. Most particularly that I wanted to participate in such nonsense."
"Oh, but you do, Isobel, whether you want to admit it now or not. Think of the tremendous challenge involved. I know you love the idea, deep down. Admit it!"
Isobel crossed her arms and shook her head. Vehemently.