She just sighed, as though I’d disappointed her. “I was too direct, wasn’t I? Now you don’t trust me.
I’m blunt, Bianca, but we don’t have to be enemies.”
I just gave a little shrug, wanting to end the awkward and personal conversation as quickly as possible.
“Hair and makeup?” I asked coldly.
She sighed again. “Follow me. They’ve set up a room for it.”
She led me to a large room one floor down. It had glass walls, and I thought it must have been some sort of entertainment room before they’d taken it over. There was a huge flatscreen TV mounted on the wall, and several reclining chairs pushed up against the wall, as though to make room for the salon-like setup.
Two ladies were waiting and chatting, looking antsy as we entered the room. There was a barber shop chair set up in front of a a table loaded with hair products and cosmetics. It was intimidating to imagine the setup was all for my benefit.
A thin, dark-haired girl strode towards me, smiling. Her heavy chestnut hair hung in waves nearly to her waist. Her nose dominated her thin face, but in an attractive kind of way. It was somehow a distinctive nose, rather than just large. Her big, dark eyes helped. And her artfully applied makeup, with smoky eyes and plum colored lips.
“I’m Amy,” she said. “I’ll be doing your makeup. It’s very nice to meet you, Ms. Karlsson.”
I shook her hand, thinking that her amiable approach had to be the polar opposite of Jackie’s. “Nice to meet you, Amy. Please, call me Bianca.”
The second woman stepped forward, her smile just as friendly as Amy’s. “I’m Ariel. I’ll be doing your hair. Nice to finally meet you, Ms. Karlsson.”
I shook her hand, smiling. The friendly women were already helping me shake off the awkwardness that was Jackie. “Bianca, please. Nice to meet you, as well.”
They sat me in the chair, tripping over each other to discuss my hair and makeup, then giggling at each other. They were obviously friends.
I made it easy on them. “You’re the experts. I trust your judgement, so fix me up however you think is best.” I’d never spared much time or thought on my appearance, and I didn’t intend to let my strange new lifestyle change that.
This seemed to please them both, and they set to work. I closed my eyes, just letting them. They worked on me, blowdrying my hair, and applying my makeup for maybe ten minutes before I felt James enter the room. Both women paused for scant moments before resuming their ministrations. I guessed that he’d waved them back to their work, sitting somewhere to watch. I felt Ariel begin to play with my hair, pulling it back and twisting it.
“Leave her hair down,” James said from somewhere to my right.
Ariel let it fall without a word, smoothing it out.
James wasn’t quiet for a full minute before speaking again. “Are you ignoring me, Love?”
Impatient man. “If you didn’t notice, Amy is applying makeup to my face. I’m trying to hold still.”
He made a little noise of displeasure in his throat.
“You can open your eyes, Bianca. I can work around it,” Amy told me. I could tell she was just trying to appease James, since I could still feel her working on my eyelids.
“It’s fine. I’ll hold still until you’re done,” I told her.
It was maybe thirty seconds before James spoke again. “Did you like the cuffs?” he asked me.
“They’re lovely. Thank you,” I told him.
Amy and Ariel began to ooh and ah over my diamond jewelry. “That is luxe. Who did you borrow from? You’ll need a bodyguard for this kind of jewelry.” Ariel’s voice was awed.
James answered for me, but I felt my cheeks redden. I had tried very hard not to think about how much the jewelry he gave me was worth, but her comment made it harder to ignore.
“I actually had it all designed for her,” James told them. “It’s her own personal collection.”
More oohs and ahs. “What a generous boyfriend,” Amy said, her voice dreamy.
“That’s nothing. I haven’t even begun to gift her with my mother’s jewels. She left me a queen’s ransom’s worth,” James said, a clear grin in his voice.
I thought the two women were going to swoon as they rushed to tell him how wonderful he was. He was wonderful, but I couldn’t bring myself to be pleased with the prospect of more extravagant gifts. They still just made me uncomfortable. And if he wasn’t joking, if he really did intend to give me some of the jewels his mother had left him, well, that was even more disconcerting. It seemed like such a huge step.
You didn’t give a woman things with such sentimental value unless she was your wife, or you were certain that she would be. The thought still made my blood run cold. Would he really push this issue so soon after I had agreed to live with him? I still couldn’t believe we were moving so incredibly fast, and yet he only wanted more. I tried not to panic at the thought.
“She even left me her five-carat princess cut diamond engagement ring, surrounded by sapphire baguettes. Don’t you ladies think that would look particularly lovely on Bianca’s left hand?”
I felt myself get a little light-headed, but the ladies went crazy, gushing over how romantic he was. I told myself, rather desperately, that he was only joking, that he was just having fun at our expense, but I was beginning to know him well enough to be worried.
“Just take deep breaths, Love. You’ll grow accustomed to the idea, once the initial shock wears off,”
James told me, his tone rather casual considering the topic matter.
The ladies giggled, as though he were joking. If only.
“James,” I began.
“Deep breaths,” he said again, the clear smile in his voice infuriating. But I took a few deep breaths, and it did help a little.
Amy and Ariel finished my hair and makeup within seconds of each other, almost as though they had it down to a science. They seemed to be used to working together, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.
“Thank you, ladies,” James said, his voice a touch husky.
I knew that tone. It wasn’t fit for company. It was way too tender and affected for that.
“You can open your eyes, Bianca. Tell us what you think. We can change anything you don’t like,” Amy said, her voice endearingly earnest.
I looked. I was…stunned. I looked more lovely than I had thought makeup could make me. My eyes were lined in a soft brown, my lashes sooty and black. My lids were a pale lavender near the brows, with a more vibrant violet along my lashes. The color brought out my eyes startlingly, the liner making them look huge in my rounded face. Just a touch of bronzer on my cheeks had me glowing, and a soft, shiny pink lip made my lips look plump and kissable. My hair was straight and smooth, the short bangs working with the makeup to bring out my pale aquamarine eyes.
“Wow,” I managed to get out.
“Exquisite,” James murmured.
My eyes traveled to him when he spoke. He had turned one of the reclining chairs towards me, and was lounging in it comfortably, one perfectly tailored leg crossed over a knee, shiny navy shoes gleaming in the light. They were the mens version of my shoes. I knew he’d get a kick out of that, if he hadn’t noticed already. Hell, I got a bit of a kick out of it. He looked amazing, of course. Jackie had been right about his tux being fashion forward. It was sleek and navy, more fitted than a normal tux, showing off his stark muscular build to perfection. Even his sleek dress shirt and bow tie were a dark navy that caught the light a bit more than the rest of the ensemble. It was something you would normally only see on a runway at fashion week, because no one who wasn’t a damned supermodel could pull it off. The dark navy set off his dark tan, his turquoise eyes shining vibrantly against the dark contrasts. His hair was slicked back just a tad.
I pointed at him. “Did it really only take you ten minutes to look like that? That is so unfair.”
He looked at his watch. It wasn’t one I’d seen before. I had quickly caught on that he liked to collect watches. Expensive ones, of course. “Love, it only took you forty-five minutes, so you can’t really complain, either. That’s unheard of for a red carpet event.”
I waved a hand at the women hovering behind me. “It took a team to get me ready that fast, Mr.
Amy and Ariel giggled at the name.
James smirked. “Every woman attending tonight had a team getting them ready, love, and I guarantee that no one other than you only took forty-five minutes, team or no.”
James politely dismissed my ‘team’ of beautifiers, and I thanked them again.
When we were finally alone, he pulled me to my feet, whipping off the white robe that protected my gown. His eyes were hot as he just stared at me, studying me from head to toe. He smiled when he saw our matching patent-leather navy shoes.
“I take it you like me all dolled up like this. Are you going to try to have those two follow me around to achieve the affect more often?” I asked him, only half-teasing. There was no telling what the crazy man would do.
He ran his tongue over his teeth, a gesture that always drove me wild. “To tell you the truth, I like you best bare of makeup and everything else. I’ve never met a woman who looked more beautiful without a thing on. But I have to admit that I love the idea of shoving you in the face of the press when you look so polished and lovely, and when they’ve printed so many unflattering things about you. It will make them all look like fools, after some of the nonsense that’s been posted.”
I gave a little shrug. I really couldn’t let the things being said about me get to me, or I’d never leave my house again. I thought that it was a little naive for James to think that he could change anyone’s mind after the things that had been said about him. I certainly wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Jackie reappeared as we were almost to the elevator, handing me a tiny navy patent-leather clutch. It was cute, but I hated having something on me that would take up the use of my hand for the entire night, so I declined. She looked baffled by the refusal, looking at the clutch in her hand as though it had done something to warrant the rejection.
I looked at James. “Do I need to take anything?”
He considered. “Only what you would consider essential. If you don’t have anything you want to bring, then you certainly don’t have to.”
“But it completes the ensemble!” Jackie said.
I just looked at her. If she was paying attention, she could have seen in my eyes that I just didn’t care that much about ‘completing the ensemble’. She finally got the idea, moving out of our way, though the look she gave me was less than friendly.
“Will you be attending tonight?” James asked her as he led me into the elevator by a hand on the small of my back.
She shrugged. “I may come to hound the red carpet press about who I dressed tonight. Free publicity and all that.”
James just nodded, pushing the button.
Jackie hurried into the car. She seemed to have just realized that she was leaving, too. She pushed the button for the fifteenth floor. She saw my look.