Thankfully Gretchen didn’t have much of an ego, or it would’ve been decimated. It had taken about seven hours so far, but she thought she might—might—be done. She was wrapped in a fluffy robe in the serenity room. Every time someone came through, they took her into another room and exposed her to another treatment, but she couldn’t come up with anything else they could possibly do to her.

 This time, when the door opened, it was Amelia. If Gretchen’s lady parts weren’t still tender, she’d leap up and beat her friend with an aromatherapy pillow for putting her through all this. Instead, she sipped her cucumber-infused mineral water and glared at her.


 “Don’t you look refreshed!” Amelia said.

 “Refreshed?” Gretchen just shook her head. “That’s exactly the look I was going for after seven hours of beauty rituals. Julian Cooper’s new woman looks so well rested!”

 “Quit it, you look great.”

 Gretchen doubted that. There were improvements, but “great” took it a little far. “I should, after all this,” she joked. “If this is what the women in Hollywood go through all the time, I’m glad I live way out here in Nashville.”

 “It wasn’t that bad,” Amelia said in a chiding tone. “I’ve had every single treatment that you had today. But now is the fun part!”

 “Lunch?” Gretchen perked up.

 Amelia placed a thoughtful hand on her round belly. “No, shopping. They were supposed to feed you lunch as part of the package.”

 “Yeah, they did. Sort of.” The green salad with citrus vinaigrette and berries for dessert hadn’t really made a dent in her appetite.

 “If you promise not to give me grief while we’re shopping, I’ll take you out for a nice dinner.”

 “I want pretzel bites, too,” Gretchen countered. “Take it out of my makeover money.”

 Amelia smiled. “Fair enough. Get dressed and we’ll go buy you some clothes and makeup.”

 “I have makeup,” Gretchen complained as she got up, realizing as she spoke that she’d already broken her agreement not to give Amelia grief. It just seemed wasteful.

 “I’m sure you do, but we’re going to have the lady at the counter come up with a new look for you, then we’ll buy the colors she puts together.”

 In the ladies’ locker room, Gretchen changed back into her street clothes, all the while muttering to herself about Italy. It would be worth it, she insisted. Just think of the Sistine Chapel, she told herself.

 She continued the mantra as the woman at the department store did her makeup. The mantra got louder as Amelia threw clothes at her over the door of the changing room. Gretchen wasn’t really into fashion. She bought clothes that were comfortable, not too expensive and relatively flattering to her shape, such as it was.

 But as she turned and looked at herself in the mirror for the first time today, something changed. She was still the Gretchen she recognized, but she looked like the best possible version of herself. Those hours in the salon had left her polished and refined, the makeup highlighting and flattering her features. And although she wouldn’t admit it readily to Amelia, the clothes looked really nice on her, too.

 It was an amazing transformation from how she’d woken up this morning. This department store obviously used fun-house mirrors to make her look thinner.

 “I want to see,” Amelia complained. “If you don’t come out, I’m coming in.”

 Reluctantly, Gretchen came out of the dressing room in one of the more casual looks. She was wearing a pair of extremely tight skinny jeans, a white cotton top and a black leather jacket. It looked good, but the number of digits on the price tags was scaring her. “I only have two thousand dollars, Amelia. I don’t know how much we blew at the spa, but I’m certain I can’t afford a three-hundred-dollar leather jacket.”

 Amelia frowned. “I have a charge account here. They send me a million coupons. We’ll have enough money, I promise. You need that jacket.”

 “I’m going to a wedding. Isn’t it more important for me to get a nice dress?”

 “Yes, but all the formals are marked down from homecoming, so we’ll get one for a good price. You’re also going to the welcome party and the rehearsal dinner. You need something casual, something more formal and a few things in between just in case you get roped into the bridal tea or something. And you’re going to own this stuff long after this week is over, so it’s important to choose good bones for your wardrobe. I like that outfit on you. You’re getting it.”

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