A small, black-haired woman walked out of the closet, clutching hangers full of colorful dresses in each hand. She grinned at us.

She was beautiful, with sleek, long black hair pulled back from her stunning face. Her dark eyes were almond shaped and vibrant, with heavy violet eye shadow that brought out her olive skin to perfection.

Her lips were pure crimson and the shade suited her coloring. She was one of those people who could have been just about any race, but whatever it was, it was lovely.

She wore cute little eyeglasses on her nose that were so attractive that you had to wonder if they were just a fashion statement, or if she really required them. She wore an impeccably fitted emerald green sheath with a bright blue belt. Her shoes were five inch stilettos and hot pink. She wore a necklace of deep jewel-toned stones, with heavy gold hoops in her ears. Both of her wrists were heavy with intricate metal bangles.

She looked fashionable and intimidating, and though the outfit somehow worked beautifully, I could tell at a glance that she was a woman who wasn’t afraid to try and fail at fashion. I was betting that she would think that not trying was the only way to fail. Her outfit was timeless elegance but still managed to be trendy. I was impressed. I would have been happy to achieve either of those things. It was ambitious to try for both.

She eyed me up and down without shame as James introduced me. “Jackie, this is Bianca. Bianca, Jackie. She’s responsible for all of the new additions to your wardrobe.”

She smiled at me rather expectantly. “What do you think? It’s okay if you hate it all. I just need feedback, so I can get an idea of what you do like. James here is my favorite client of all time. He lets me dress him however I like. Can you imagine? It’s every stylists dream, a supermodel of a client who will wear damn near anything I pick out.” She eyed me critically as she spoke, as though mentally taking my measurements. She even began to circle me. I thought she was a strange little woman.

“I, uh, haven’t had much of a chance to look at it.”

She nodded, pursing her lips. “Well, when you do, any feedback would be good. It will give me some direction for your sense of style.”

“Bianca likes the preppy look for men, Jackie,” James told her. “Keep that in mind when you’re shopping for me as well.”

She snorted. “And so it begins.” She sounded very put out by his request. “I’ll keep it in mind.”

I shot him a baffled look. Where did he come up with this stuff?

He shrugged at me, smiling a little. “You forget that Stephan and I talk.”

She was still circling me, studying me rather unnervingly. “James had you right on, size-wise. A size 5/6 in the waist and hips, and a 7/8 in the bust and shoulders. You have a body that’s fun for men to play with, but not too fun to dress. Your legs are a plus, though. There’s nothing I love to dress more than a killer set of legs. If you lost about ten pounds, though, you could have model proportions. That would be ideal. Something to think about.”

Some part of me agreed with her about the need to lose ten pounds, but it still stung to hear it. It was petty, but I had gone from kind of liking her to thinking she was awful in a few short sentences.

“Jackie,” James said, a cool warning in his voice. “She doesn’t need to lose a pound. If you talk her into a diet, I will fire you.”

She just grinned, uncaring about the warning and my stiff expression. “Okay, okay, just a mild suggestion.”

She laid the colorful armfuls of fabric onto the bed. “Based on your body type and skin tone, I picked out five dresses that I thought had the best shot of suiting you. Try them on, if you please, or anything else you see that catches your fancy.” She seemed to dismiss me completely after she finished speaking, approaching James with wide eyes.

She stabbed the red ink on his chest. “When did this happen? It has to be brand new!”

He just grinned, turning to show her his back. She was struck speechless at the sight.

I turned my back on them, grabbing the dresses on the bed and heading into the closet to try them on, while they continued to chat.

You wouldn’t have known it was a guest room if you were going by the closet. It was the size of a guest room all by itself, with mirrors lining every wall. I assumed this was the room where he usually worked with Jackie, going by the clothing, both male and female, lining the walls, tags intact.

I hung Jackie’s choices on a bare stretch of racks, eyeing them up dubiously. They were gowns. I liked skirts and sundresses well enough if they were cool and comfortable, but I felt overwhelmed even trying on the gowns I was looking at now.

I took a deep breath, plunging in. I wouldn’t let someone like Jackie see that I was intimidated by the clothes, or any of it, for that matter.

I grabbed a plain navy gown first. I could see by the cut of the top half that I wouldn’t be wearing a slip with it, so I slipped out of it before working the silky material over my legs, hips, and finally my bust. It was a strapless gown, with a long slit up the side. It zipped in back, and I couldn’t manage on my own. I almost took it off just because of that, but with a sigh, I stepped out of the closet to get a hand.

Jackie was still studying James’s shoulder tattoo when I stepped out of the closet. He shot me a admiring smile. “That looks great.”

I gave him a rather weak smile. The more I got ready for the gala, the more I felt a little overwhelmed by my misgivings. This was not my world, I didn’t want it to be, and I didn’t know if I could fake it, even for James.

“Can you zip me?” I asked him, my voice very stiff. He did, after all, have a strange woman running her fingers along his back.

He moved to me, completely ignoring Jackie’s demand for him to hold still. He held the back together, zipping me in with more ease than I would have expected. The dress didn’t have a bit of give in the silken fabric, and I’d thought it would be tighter.

I turned to the huge mirror mounted on the wall, approaching it to eye the gown with a critical eye.

James followed me, watching my face more than anything. I thought he could sense my uncertainty.

I thought the dress looked nice enough. “It fits,” I said flatly. “And it’s actually long enough. That’s pretty impressive, I suppose.”

Jackie made a little humming sound in her throat. “They make them long like that, for heels. Looks like you’ll need at least a three inch heel to pull that one off. It fits well enough. A little plain, but it fits.”

I headed back into the closet, biting back a comment about the fact that she had been the one to pick the thing out.

I chose a pretty lavender gown next. The top was a halter, and it didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t wear a bra with the neckline.

I usually wouldn’t be caught dead going braless in public, but I tried it on, just to see. The way it tied gave the top a surprising amount of support in the bust area, and the silk was soft against my skin.

It was fitted, but not tight, from neck to about mid hip, where it fanned out in fluffy layers of chiffon, a high slit showing a lot of one leg. Jackie liked her high slitted gowns. It was ultra-feminine but still sexy, and I loved it instantly.

James blinked at me as I walked out, his jaw going just a touch slack. I was gratified. I decided instantly to wear the dress. Jackie’s input be damned.

Jackie whistled. “Very nice. I almost want to save that one for a bigger event.”

“No. I’ll wear it tonight,” I told her. I needed all of the confidence boosting I could get for the night, and James looking at me the way he was looking at me did exactly that.

He swallowed, then licked his lips. All of his nervous tells. It made me smile.

“You look beautiful,” he said, with feeling. “But it seems a little revealing. Do you think it’ll pick up as see-through with the camera flashes, Jackie?”

She gave him a ‘do you think I’m an amateur?’ kind of look. “It wouldn’t be in the pile if it did.” She turned back to me, her voice brisk. “Now to accessorize. You can go start getting dressed yourself, James. I got this.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Jackie pointed me in the direction of shiny navy wedges with a peep toe and a four inch heel. They were more comfortable than they looked, though that wasn’t saying much.

“Does the navy go with the lavender?” I asked dubiously.

She gave me a very exasperated look. “Would I pair them if they didn’t? And James is wearing this amazing all navy tux. It’s very fashion forward. Only a supermodel like James could pull it off. And he mentioned that he likes you guys to match, so I think he’ll like the shoes.

Eyeing myself up in the mirror, I had to agree that the shoes went well. I would have never guessed the the dress would pop even more with shiny navy shoes, but I was no stylist.

She sighed, looking at my jewelry. “James obviously wants you wearing that choker and earrings.

While they’re lovely, I had other accessories in mind for that dress. Oh well. Sometimes I must compromise my vision. A girl’s got to eat.” As she finished speaking, James was striding back into the room, a jewelry box in his hands. He was still shirtless. He set it on the bed without a word, just smiling as he strode back out.

Jackie sighed again, opening the box. Her eyes widened. She shot me a speculative glance. She took two thick diamond studded cuffs out of the box, walking to me. She snapped them on my wrists, making no comments about the abrasions that they covered. She circled me, pursing her lips as she tugged at several spots on my dress, adjusting it just so.

“It doesn’t need alteration, since you’re so damned tall, so that saves time.” She grabbed a smooth white robe off of a rack, holding it up for me. “So you don’t mess up the dress while you get hair and makeup done. We have a minute to talk.”

I thought that sounded ominous, but I met her gaze squarely.

She arched a brow at me. “James and I go way back. We went to school together. I’m his stylist, but it’s not because I need the money. I love fashion, but I come from money myself. I’ve had to dodge my fare share of fortune-hunters, but it’s nothing compared to what James has to deal with.”

She eyed me from top to bottom, but it only made my spine straighten. “You’re attractive enough, but I must admit, I don’t get it. Is your vagina gold plated? He’s been chased by supermodels and playboy bunnies. He fucked a lot of them, hell, most of them, but he never even talked about having a girlfriend.

Not once. Now you’ve moved in with him, and he’s acting like he’s a one woman man for life all of a sudden. I’ll admit, I’m intrigued and mystified by the change in him, but I don’t understand any of it. How did you wrap him around your little finger, Bianca? And how do you feel about him? As one of his few close friends, I’d like to know your intentions.”

I returned her narrowed gaze with an icy one of my own. If I’d had any doubts before, I knew it now; Jackie and I were not going to be friends.

“If you and James are such close friends,” I began coldly, “you should be having this conversation with him, not me. You’re a virtual stranger to me. I won’t be discussing my feelings, or my intentions, with you.”


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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