She knew it was just a dress, but there was something transformative about it. She didn’t want to feel that feeling. That was worse than Christmas spirit.
She’d avoided the bulk of Colin’s holiday bet by staying busy with a wedding all weekend. But now it was the start of a new week and she had no doubt he would find some way to slip a little Christmas into each day.
In addition to the wreath and the peppermint bark, she’d also received a Christmas card that played carols when she opened it. A local bakery had delivered a fruitcake to the office on Friday, and a florist had brought a poinsettia on Saturday morning.
What he didn’t know was that she’d received plenty of well-meaning holiday gifts throughout the years. That wasn’t going to crack her. It just gave her a plant to water every other day.
As she entered the waiting room of the salon, she found Colin and the storekeeper, Ruby, searching through the tall racks of gowns. Ruby looked up as she heard Natalie approach.
“Miss Sharpe! There you are. Mr. Russell and I were looking through a few gowns while we waited.”
“Not a problem. Thanks for scheduling us with such late notice.”
“This is the bridal business,” Ruby said with a dismissive chuckle. “You never know what you’ll get. For every girl that orders her gown a year in advance, I get one pregnant and in-a-hurry bride that needs a gown right away. After being in this industry for twenty years, I’ve learned to keep a good stock of dresses on hand for times like this.”
Ruby was good at what she did. Natalie referred a lot of brides to her salon because of it. “Did Colin fill you in on what we need?”
“Yes. He said you need something in a street size six that will fit a winter wonderland theme. He also said the bride won’t be here to try them on.”
“That’s correct. We wear the same size, so I’ll try on the dresses in her place.”
“Okay. I’d recommend something with a corset back. You don’t have a lot of time for alterations and with a corset bodice, you can tighten or loosen it to account for any adjustments in your sizes.”
Brilliant. She’d have to remember this in the future for quick-turnaround brides. “Perfect.”
“Great. If you’d like to take a seat, Mr. Russell, I’ll take Miss Sharpe to the dressing room to try on a few gowns to see what you like.”
“Have fun,” Colin said, waving casually at her as she was ushered into the back.
She was officially on the other side now. She’d passed the curtain where only brides went. It made her stomach ache.
“I’ve pulled these three dresses to start with. I think you’re pretty close to the sample size, so this should be a decent fit. Which would you like to try first?”
Natalie looked over the gowns with apprehension. She needed to think like Lily. Everything else about the wedding had turned out to be Natalie’s choice, but when it came to dresses, it seemed wrong to pick something she liked. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’m going to let her brother choose.”
“Then let’s start with the ruched satin gown.”
Natalie slipped out of her blouse and pencil skirt and let Ruby slip the gown over her head. She was fully aware how heavy bridal gowns could be, but for some reason, it seemed so much heavier on than she had expected it to.
She held the gown in place as Ruby tightened the corset laces in the back. Looking in the mirror, she admired the fit of the gown. The corset gave her a curvy, seductive shape she hadn’t expected. She never felt much like a sex kitten. Her shape had always been a little lanky and boyish in her opinion, but the gown changed that. The decorative crystals that lined the sweetheart neckline drew the eyes to her enhanced cleavage.
“Do you like the snowflake?”
Natalie narrowed her gaze at her reflection and noticed the crystal design at her hip that looked very much like a snowflake. Perfect for the theme. “It’s nice. It’s got a good shape and the crystals give it a little shine without being overpowering.”
There was more apprehension as Natalie left the dressing room. This wasn’t about her, but she wanted to look the best she could when she stepped onto the riser to show him the gown. She focused on her posture and grace as she glided out into the salon.
Her gaze met his the minute she cleared the curtain. His golden hazel eyes raked up and down the length of the gown with the same heat of appreciation she’d seen that night at the engagement party. Natalie felt a flush of heat rise to her cheeks as she stepped onto the pedestal for his inspection.