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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 Isobel was a personal shopper and image consultant for a select, highend 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 confidante made good on her threat. Bursting into Iso-bel'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 hotela 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 guynot 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.
"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 storybut 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, Addi-son 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 Iso-bel 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 messa regular slob, in Addison's words. And Addi-son 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.
"Don't you see? Dustin Fairfax would be a test of your true strength as an image consultant." Camille raised her hands to emphasize the mental marquee board. "I mean, they make gorgeous hunks into ugly bums all the time in the movies. Don't you think you could do the opposite for one poor man who needs what only your special brand of fashion sense can bring to him? He'll be a new man!"
Isobel admittedin her heart, anywaythat she was intrigued, despite every bone of sense in her body screaming to the contrary. Something about the whole setup just didn't seem right, though she wasn't sure what was bothering her.
It sounded innocent enough on the outside, but something.
"How old is this man?" she asked after a slight but pregnant pause.
"Dustin?" Camille asked, her eyes gleaming with the victory she sensed was coming.
Isobel was quite aware Camille knew her better than anyone. They'd spent their whole lives together, been best friends forever. Camille would know that once Iso-bel capitulated in the least, she had her bagged and roasted for sure.
Camille certainly looked like a tiger hunter in full triumph, stripes sighted down her scope.
"Well, I know Addison is thirty-three," her friend supplied thoughtfully. "And since Dustin is his younger brother, I would guess he'd be about thirty, give or take a year."
"And what, exactly, is wrong with him?" she asked, feeling as if she ought to be taking notes. "I have to know the truth, here, if you want me to help."
"Oh, nothing's wrong with him, really," Camille exclaimed with a high laugh. "Addison said he's justflighty. That's the word he used."
Isobel raised one eyebrow. Here, she suspected, was where the roof caved in.
"At least by Addison's standards, Dustin doesn't dress very well. He's not sophisticated. That shouldn't be a huge challenge for you."
"He's not a homeless man or something like that?" Isobel was still cautious. Too much about this story still didn't mesh. Something was offjust a little, though she couldn't put her finger on just what it was.
She gave Camille a hard, serious stare. "Dustin is aware this is going to happen to him? He has agreed to work with me?"
"He happens to own a small flower store on the 16th Street Mall. Retail, you know? He's successful, in his own way, I guess, though he's a long way from the clientele you're used to working with."
Camille paused, running her tongue along her bottom lip. "And as for your other question, he hasn't exactly been told. Yet."
Isobel opened her mouth to argue but Camille held her hands up to cut her off.
"As soon as you agree, Addison will make sure Dustin knows to expect you. It's all been arranged, but Addison didn't want to speak to his brother about it until I'd finalized things with you."
"What if Dustin says no?"
"He won't," Camille said with a firm nod. "He might want to, but he won't. You see, there's money riding on this venture. Apparently quite a lot of money."
"He will get a lot of money if he learns to dress well?" Isobel asked, stymied. "But deep down he really wouldn't want to do this. Is that what you're really telling me?"
"It's complicated," Camille explained with a patient sigh. "Addison was left to execute his father's will, and Izzy, the poor man is beside himself, with the situation being what it is. I feel so sorry for him. What a predicament!"
"Go on," Isobel urged, not at all certain she wanted to hear more.
"Apparently their father was afraid Dustin would squander his inheritance away instead of doing something useful with it. Addison is terribly worried about his brother. I guess he's kind of stubborn, and he's definitely his own man. Marches to the beat of his own drummer, so to speak."
She paused, clasping her hand over her heart in the melodramatic way that was uniquely Camille's. "Can you imagine the tremendously heavy burden their father left on poor Addison?"
"Addison was named Dustin's trustee in the will, even though Dustin is a full-grown man. You can imagine how Dustin felt. And Addison certainly didn't ask for the formidable task of bringing Dustin into line. According to the terms of the will, Dustin has certain obligations to meetdelineated by his fatherin order for Addison to release the funds to his brother."
"He has to learn to dress well?" Isobel asked again, befuddled. "In order to get his hands on his rightful inheritance?"
None of this made the least bit of sense, and Isobel was beginning to feel very much as if she'd stepped into another dimension.
What kind of a man was Dustin, that his father would put such insane demands on him?
One thing she knew for certainshe would balk at such radical and unusual demands being placed upon her. If Dustin were half the independent spirit Camille had described him to be
Camille laughed. "No, of course not, silly. He has to make a splash in society or something outrageous like that, and of course clothes make the man, right?
"It's a good start," Isobel said with a laugh and a shrug. I'd be looking for a little more than that in a man.
Camille giggled. "After I told Addison about you, he thought you'd be the perfect person to bring Dustin around. You, of all people, can guide him in making a true contribution to society. Those are the exact terms of the will. Can you believe it?"
"I see," Isobel said under her breath, though she wasn't sure she did. The idea was intriguing, of course; definitely intriguing. The thought of transforming a scalawag of a man into a prince would be a challenge, but it also sounded kind of fun.
"Okay," she said after only a brief pause to consider the short- and long-term ramifications of her decision. She didn't want to examine her own motives too closely. "I'll do it."
She didn't ask how much money she would make. She was taking on this project for the challenge, and she trusted Camille that the time she spent would be worth her weight in gold. Literally.
And she was surprised by how excited she was at the prospect of making over the erstwhile Dustin. It had been a long time since she'd done something truly stimulating, and her heart was pounding with anticipation.
"I knew this was something you'd want to do," Camille squealed, throwing her arms around Isobel's neck and dancing her around in dizzying circles. "Oh, how wonderful for you!"