“Dresses are way in the back,” said Stephanie, flicking on the closet light and gesturing into the long room. “Pick anything you want. I’ll hunt through the bathroom and see what I can find for makeup.”
“What are you planning to wear?” Melissa gazed through the open door at rows of blazers and blouses, situated above open shelves that held blue jeans and jodhpurs. She stepped over several pairs of polished boots as she made her way across the carpeted floor.
Stephanie hadn’t been exaggerating. There were at least two dozen dresses, most with the tags still on. They were black, gold, red, sleeveless, gauzy, and one gorgeous printed silk that shimmered gold and peach, with a jeweled scoop neckline that looked like something off a Paris runway.
“Try that one,” came Stephanie’s voice from the doorway.
Melissa shook her head. “I couldn’t.”
“Why not? Royce brought it back from Europe last year. The straps are too narrow for me. It makes me look like I have linebacker shoulders.”
“It does not.” Melissa laughed. Stephanie had a wonderful figure.
“I’m okay with sleeveless, even strapless, but there’s something about those spaghetti straps that don’t work. You want to hop in the shower? I put out fresh towels and a robe.”
“I feel bad invading your privacy,” Melissa said.
“Are you kidding? I can’t wait to dress you up and wow my brother.”
Melissa placed the dress back on the rack and turned. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” she told Stephanie honestly. “Jared and I barely know each other.”
“You have to start somewhere,” Stephanie replied, obviously undaunted by reality.
“The odds against he and I clicking are about a million to one.”
“The odds against me winning Spruce Meadows last week were about a million to one.”
“But you practiced. You worked hard for years and years to win that competition.”
“I’m not expecting you to marry him next weekend.”
Melissa took a step closer to Stephanie. “I’m not going to marry him at all. You have to understand that. He’s a nice man. And maybe he thinks I’m pretty-”
“He’s going to think you’re a knockout in that silk dress.”
Melissa sighed. “You’re killing me here, Stephanie. I need to know you know this isn’t going anywhere.”
Some of the optimism went out of Stephanie’s blue eyes. “But you’re going to try, right?”
“It doesn’t matter whether I try or not, the odds are still stacked way against it.” And those odds were a whole lot higher than Melissa could admit.
“I’m not afraid of the odds,” said Stephanie, a new equilibrium coming into her eyes. “I’m just leading a horse to water. He drinks or not will be up to him.”
“I take it Jared’s the horse?”
“And you’re the water.”
Relief poured through Melissa. Stephanie understood just fine. She wasn’t some flighty young girl with impossible dreams. She was simply trying to match up her brother and bring some balance to the family’s gender numbers.
The plan didn’t have a hope in hell of working with Melissa, but she could respect the effort.
“Robe’s on the door hook,” said Stephanie. She nodded to the en suite. “Towels are stacked on the counter.”
“Okay,” Melissa agreed. She could play dress-up and ply Jared with questions. Maybe they’d have wine with dinner. Even better. She’d sip slowly and let his tongue loosen up.
She followed Stephanie’s directions, enjoying the marble tub and the luxurious bath products. The towels were big and plush, and Stephanie’s hair dryer gave Melissa’s straight, blond hair some body and bounce.
She exited the room to find Stephanie sitting in front of her vanity in a white robe, her auburn hair damp around her ears.
Stephanie swiveled on the small stool. “What do you think?”
Melissa blinked at the unexpected sight. Stephanie’s delicate features had been all but obliterated by glaringly bright makeup. With spiked lashes, bright blue shadow, dark blush and a fire engine-red lipstick shade, she looked ready for the lead in a 1980s disco flick.
“Uh…I…” Melissa struggled to find words.
Stephanie’s face fell. “It’s that bad?” She glanced back to the mirror.
Melissa rushed forward, reflexively putting her hands on Stephanie’s shoulders. “The look’s a little dated. That’s all.”
Stephanie hardened her jaw, glaring at her features. “Is it me? Do I just not have a feminine face?”