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The Chic salon was still decorated in its signature rose color, each workstation large and private. An abundance of fresh flowers graced the lobby and lounge where juice, Evian and wine were served to the prominent and wealthy clients while they donned silk robes and waited for their grooming services. Not a thing had changed in a year. Only Sara.
"Girl, I don't know what that guy did to you." Sara lifted her horrified gaze to her hairdresser's reflection in the mirror. How could Chloe possibly know about Cody? No one knew. Except Sara's sister. And the ladies from Eve's Apple, the Web site where women went to vent or ask advice about men, anonymously if they chose.
"I could've given you a better cut with my eyes closed."
Sara relaxed. As much as she could. Her nerves were shot from lack of sleep. She'd only been back in Atlanta for a month, but with all the family obligations it seemed like a year.
"I can't believe you've been walking around like this.You should've come to see me as soon as you got back." Chloe's hair was red this month, her green eyes rimmed with too much black. "Everybody makes a big deal out of New York and L.A. hairdressers. They treat them like frackin'gurus." She held up a thick blond lock of Sara's hair and frowned at the dry ends. "How much did you pay for this highlighting?"
"None of your business."
Her experience in New York hadn't lived up to her expectations. In fact, it'd gone bad. All she'd wanted was to live like anyone else. Earn her keep. What she hadn't counted on was meeting Cody Shea, and having her life turned upside down. She thought about him way too much as it was, she had no desire to talk about it, not even with Chloe. "Would you forget it, already?"
"How many years have I been doing your hair? How many boyfriends have we gone through together?"
Sara raised her eyebrows. "Okay, so they were all mine. The point is, I tell you everything."
"Yes, you do. Whether I want to hear it or not." Chloe grinned. "Speaking of which, guess where I'm going tonight?" She paused, and before Sara could hazard a guess, she said, "The French Riviera."
"Just for the weekend?"
"No, for a whole week. It's our annual convention."
"Are we talking hairdressers or nudists?"
"Please." Chloe set the mixed color solution aside and got out the foil squares. "Like I'd fork out that much money to spend the week with a bunch of prima donnas who think they know more about hair than I do."
"Of course not." Smiling, Sara watched her strategically choose strands to highlight and then clip them off to the side.
In the ten years that Sara had known Chloe, she'd gone from a cosmetology graduate to one of Atlanta's most popular and expensive hairstylists. Admittedly, discovering that Chloe was a nudist had been somewhat of a surprise. Sara couldn't grasp the attraction. Running around naked, in the stark sunlight, every flaw on full display. The thought alone gave her the vapors.
"Shelby still in Europe?"
"Last I heard. But you know how my sister is."
"I haven't read about her in the local papers lately so I figured she was still out of town. Hey, is that a new bracelet?"
Sara automatically touched the row of abstract gold hearts, unwanted memories filling her head. Stupid to even wear the thing, but she hadn't taken it off since that night. "I got it in New York."
"But you hate bracelets. You don't even like wearing a watch."
"Don't go too light," Sara said, eyeing the bowl of color solution Chloe had dipped the brush in and started to work on the pre-selected strands.
"You're a natural blonde. How light can I go?"
Chloe said, as she wrapped a square of foil around the strand.
Sara said nothing. All she'd really wanted to do was distract Chloe from the bracelet. She glanced down at it. Were those really hearts or was that what she wanted to see? She'd browsed in Tiffany's often, and even had several of the store's signature gifts given to her tucked away in her drawers, but she'd never seen this style.
"You gonna get that?" Chloe nudged her chin toward the cell phone Sara had left on the counter. The ringing cell phone.
She'd been expecting an important call from her father and grabbed the phone before the call went to voice mail. The second she pushed the button she saw that the call was from New York. Too late. She had to answer. Anyway, it could be Dakota. "Hello?"
Except that it was Cody. Her throat constricted. For a second she couldn't speak.
"Yes." She looked at Chloe who was staring at her with curiosity. "Um, could you hold on a moment?" She lowered the phone to her side so that he couldn't hear and struggled to her feet, getting tangled in the cape and tugging it from around her neck.
Brush in midair, Chloe backed out of her way. "What are you doing?"
"I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?"
Sara didn't answer. Nor did she acknowledge the stares of the other clients as she hurried through the salon in the pink silk robe and with packets of foil wrapped in her hair. She went past the reception desk and straight out into the street before bringing the phone to her ear again.
"Sorry," she said, trying to blend into the landscaped courtyard beside the entrance.
"Is this a bad time?" His deep voice went right through her, taking her back to that night. That kiss.
"No, not really. I'm just surprised to hear from you." She figured Dakota might have called, but never Cody.
"Yes. Really." She turned her back to a couple strolling by on the sidewalk. When a teenage boy riding a skateboard slowed down near her to stare, she glared at him. "What?"
"I beg your pardon?" Cody asked uncertainly.
"No, not you. It was this kid-"
"This is a bad time."
"No, I mean-is there anything in particular you wanted?" That came out totally wrong. She should've sent him a thank-you note for the bracelet. She'd even made several attempts. But in the end, cowardice won over manners.
After a long pause, he said, "How about I call you back later?"
"No, it's okay. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for the bracelet." The breathless words were barely out of her mouth when she heard the salon door open and turned to see Chloe frowning at her.
"You realize you can exchange it if you don't like it."
She gave Chloe her back and lowered her voice. "Oh, no, I love it. I'm wearing it right now, in fact."
"Good." He sounded genuinely pleased. "Look, the reason I called is to ask if you'd have dinner with me."
"Dinner?" Was he kidding? "When?"
"But-" In the background, she heard a woman's voice announcing that a flight to Acapulco had been delayed. "Where are you?"
She nearly dropped the phone.
"What's going on?" Chloe got in her face.
Sara fiercely waved her away while putting distance between them. "Are you at the airport?"
"I just arrived."
She swallowed. He hadn't wasted any time calling her. Should she be flattered, or scared out of her mind?
The truth wasn't her friend at the moment. She wasn't who Cody thought she was, and she wanted it left that way. She cleared her throat, then asked, "Here on business?"
"Yes, for the week."
That wasn't the answer she'd expected. When she'd worked for the firm, Cody never traveled. He'd always sent an underling. "Must be a big client."
"Yeah," he murmured. "About tonight?"
Cody. Here in Atlanta. It didn't seem real. "All right," she said slowly, trying to remember if she was supposed to be somewhere tonight. But she couldn't think straight. Not that it mattered. How could she not see him? "Where are you staying?"
"The Ritz-Carlton on Peachtree. Would you like to meet there?"
"No." She squeezed her eyes shut, mentally kicking herself for her abruptness. But she couldn't get through the lobby without a dozen people recognizing her. "I thought maybe you'd like to experience a little local color."
"Sure. Name the place."
Oh, God. "Could you hold for just a moment, please?" Without waiting for his answer, she turned to get Chloe. She was at the door of the salon about to go inside. Sara frantically motioned her back, and then met her halfway, holding the phone behind her back. "I need a name and address of a restaurant."
Chloe narrowed her gaze. "Is this a joke?"
She gave Sara a curious look, and then said, "Café Tu Tu Tango in Buckhead."
"Thanks, I'll be right back in." She waited, keeping the phone right where it was so he couldn't hear.
Chloe gave her another questioning look and then went into the salon.
Sara brought the phone back up to her ear as the name Chloe had given her registered. Chloe wouldn't send her to someplace too weird, would she?
Ignoring the older woman with the ridiculously permed hair and disapproving look who climbed into the rear seat of a limo, Sara turned her attention back to Cody. "How about we meet at Café Tu Tu Tango in Buckhead? Any taxi driver will know where it is." Not that she did. Of course, she'd been to the Buck-head district many times, but not that restaurant.
"Fine. What time?"
She glanced at her watch. God, she was insane for doing this. "Seven-thirty?"
"I'll be there."
"Okay, me, too." She cringed at her lameness.
"I'm looking forward to seeing you, Sara," he said, his voice so low and husky her mouth went dry. Then he disconnected the call, leaving her weak-kneed and questioning the prudence of showing up tonight.
Of course she would. She had better manners than to stand anyone up. Oh, God. Where was Shelby when she needed her? Sara took a deep breath and headed back into the salon to face the stares and exchanged looks as she passed through the lobby. She ignored them all as she nonchalantly lowered herself back into Chloe's chair.
Chloe didn't miss a beat. She draped the cape Sara had discarded, then picked up the bowl of color solution. After glancing around, Chloe leaned close to Sara's ear. "What the hell is going on?"
"Yeah, that's what I figured." Sara disregarded the sarcasm. This wasn't something she'd discuss with Chloe, especially since the woman's answer for everything was to go for it. Besides, Chloe didn't understand what it meant to be rich. She was like so many other people who thought money solved every problem. How could you be unhappy if you could buy anything you wanted?
Fortunately, they hadn't been defined by a trust fund, like Sara and her sister. As soon as a man heard Sara's last name, it was over. There was no way to tell if it was her he wanted. Or the money. Or the publicity. Those people who thought she had it so good hadn't had expectations so huge they thought they would choke on them. One mistake and the local press was all over them, almost as if they'd been waiting for one of the Wellingtons to fall from grace. There was no privacy. Not in Atlanta, anyway.
And here Cody was. In the thick of things. What was he doing here for an entire week? It didn't make sense. At least she knew where he was staying. She could call and excuse herself for tonight. Tell him she'd forgotten an engagement on her calendar.
In fact, now she had his cell number. Her gaze fell to the small cell phone she still clutched in her hand. Should she program his number, or...
"Fine. Give me the silent treatment." Chloe turned to sip her French vanilla latte and then with an acerbic look returned to brushing on the highlights.
Sara wasn't big on sharing confidences. Except, of course, with Shelby. Although she didn't have to worry about Chloe. She was discreet, just like every other stylist at Papillon in deference to their high-profile clientele.
"Okay, there was this guy in New York..."
"Yeah?" Chloe's eyebrows went up but she kept working. "And?"
"He didn't step up to the plate until my last night there. So honest, nothing to tell."
Stepping back, Chloe gave her a wry look. "I'm serious."
"He give you the bracelet?"
"Yes, but nothing happened. He was...out of reach, you know?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were high. The only man that could be out of reach for you is damn Prince Charles, but that's not the point. When was the last time you had a date?"
"I can always count on you to make me feel better."
"Sorry." Chloe smiled sheepishly. "Tell me about this guy and I promise to skip the editorials."