Melissa’s jaw dropped open. “Are you kidding me?”
“I can never quite seem to pull it off.” She gestured vaguely toward the closet. “It’s not that I don’t have the ingredients. I’ve got plenty of clothes, shoes, beauty products. But I can never figure out what to do with them. I bought a makeover magazine once. I ended up looking like a clown.”
“You’re beautiful.” Melissa recovered her voice. “Beyond beautiful. You’re stunning.”
“I have a little-girl nose, ugly freckles and funny-color eyes.” She leaned forward, screwing up her face in the mirror.
“Most women would kill for your nose,” said Melissa honestly. “The freckles are pretty, and you just need a new shade of shadow.” She turned the stool, looking critically at Stephanie’s skin tone and features. “Go wash your face. Let’s start over.”
Stephanie perked up. “You’ll help?”
“You bet I’ll help.”
Stephanie jumped up and headed for the bathroom, turning on the taps in the sink. “Did you have a mom and sisters and stuff?” she called.
“A mom, yes,” said Melissa. “But I have five older brothers.”
Stephanie popped her head back into the room. “Five?”
Melissa nodded. “Adam, Ben, Caleb, Dan and Eddy.”
“So probably no makeup tips from them.”
“Nah. But I can frame up a cabin, change a car’s oil and whistle.”
Stephanie laughed as she rubbed cleanser over her face. “And I can rope a calf in under thirty seconds.”
“You never know when these skills might come in handy.”
Stephanie rinsed and dried, walking back into the bedroom, clad in her terry robe. “Where did you learn about makeup?”
“Girlfriends at school, cable TV, demos at the mall.” Melissa glanced around the room and realized the wide sill on the bay window was a good height.
“My friends were in the 4H club. And we didn’t get many channels out here while I was growing up.”
“Can you hop up there?” Melissa gestured. “That way I won’t have to bend over.”
“Sure.” Stephanie held her robe as she got settled, her bare feet dangling.
Melissa selected some lotion and a few cosmetics and piled them on a small table in the alcove. “It’s all about subtlety now,” she explained, tipping Stephanie’s chin toward the light. “Women want to look natural, just a little more beautiful than nature intended. Earth tones will bring out the subtle silver in your eyes, instead of clashing with it.”
“Can you cover up my freckles?”
Personally Melissa liked the freckles. “I’ll tone them down a bit. They’ll be less noticeable. You have amazing skin.”
“Fresh air and healthy living.”
“It works. I’m in an office all day, air-conditioning and recycled smog.”
Stephanie’s forehead wrinkled. “You have a job?”
“I used to have a job.” Melissa cursed inwardly at her stupidity, struggling to recover from the gaff. “I delivered office mail for a while. Very boring.”
“You seem so smart.”
“I’m not that smart.”
“Jared said you knew about Sierra Benito.”
“That was a stroke of luck.” Melissa found a thin brush and some powdered, charcoal eyeliner. “I happened to read an article in the newspaper.”
“But you remembered it.”
“I suppose. Close your eyes.”
“You must have a good memory.”
“Decent.” Memory was a critical attribute for a journalist-names, dates, faces, events. Melissa gently stroked on the liner, chose silver, blue and pale purple for shadow, added a subtle blush and finished off with a neutral lip gloss.
Then she found a comb and piled Stephanie’s thick, wavy hair in a loose twist at the top of her head, freeing a few locks to frame her face and trail at the back of her neck.
Melissa stood back. “Go take a look.”
Obviously self-conscious and nervous, Stephanie hopped down from the ledge. She gingerly crossed the floor to the mirror, squinted, opened her eyes, then stared in silence.
“Wow,” she finally breathed, turning her head from side to side. “I’m gorgeous.”
“You certainly are.”
Stephanie raised her brows to Melissa, mischief lurking in her silver-blue eyes. “Let’s do you.”
It wasn’t often Jared saw his little sister dressed to accentuate her femininity. Not that he ever forgot she was feminine, but she’d run around the ranch yard like a tomboy ever since he could remember. So tonight when she waltzed into the great room in an ultra-flirty dress, he was momentarily stunned. It was white on top, with bows at the shoulders and a full black skirt that billowed around her knees. She’d done something with her hair, too. And her face looked-