“I’ve never been so excited and so nervous at the same time!” Ava Grace exclaimed.
Performing at the American Association of Country Music awards show was a big deal, and so was being nominated for an award, but Amelia couldn’t believe Ava Grace would rank that event above all others.
She shot her best friend a doubtful look. “Not even during the American Star finals?”
Ava Grace braked at a red light. “No, not even then. Winning American Star doesn’t mean you’re good, it means people like you. Winning an ACE means you’re good. It means you have the respect of the entire industry.”
Amelia nodded. She could understand Ava Grace’s desire to be respected by country music singers who’d performed at the Grand Ole Opry because she craved the respect of other designers.
They were on their way to Nashville’s Green Hills neighborhood to try on evening gowns for the awards show. Ava Grace’s manager, Randi Arron, had arranged for a selection of evening gowns to be flown in, and the dresses were housed at a local bridal boutique.
Ava Grace had suggested that Amelia design their gowns, but she had demurred. She wasn’t an evening gown designer, and moreover, she thought it was better for Ava Grace to wear a variety of styles and designers.
“I’m excited for you, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed you’ll win. You’ve worked really hard, and you deserve it. I’m sure you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’m so proud of you, Ava Grace.”
The light turned green, and Ava Grace directed her attention back toward the road. “You’re going to make me cry, Millie.”
Amelia laughed. Ava Grace didn’t cry.
In fact, she couldn’t think of one instance in which her best friend had let loose with the waterworks. Ava Grace
hadn’t shed a tear when she’d broken her wrist when she’d been seven years old or when she’d burned her forearm on one of the commercial presses at the dry cleaners where she had worked during high school.
Like Amelia, Ava Grace had avoided relationships, so she’d never had her heart broken, and she’d never cried over a man, at least not as far as Amelia knew. Neither had Amelia, or at least she hadn’t until she had met Quinn. Now she could say she’d definitely cried over a man.
Surprisingly, Ava Grace hadn’t interrogated her after she had finished her crying jag on Sunday night. She had stayed beside Amelia while she cried, smoothing her hair and telling her everything would be okay. When her sobs
had faded into little hiccups, she’d brought her a box of tissues and a glass of water.
Afterward, Ava Grace had stretched out on the sofa, turned on the TV, and watched two hours of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She hadn’t asked Amelia one single question except “Do you want rocky road or cookie dough?” when she’d taken a break to dish up some ice cream.
Amelia had been shocked by Ava Grace’s restraint. She knew her best friend must be burning with curiosity, and three days later, she still hadn’t asked why Amelia had cried. She probably thought she already knew, but it was doubtful she knew the true extent of Amelia’s sadness.
Amelia sighed, and Ava Grace gave her an assessing glance. “I’ve been meaning to ask you …”
And here we go.
“How do you want to handle the arrangements for the show? I’m going to have to be there early, so I think it’s best if I send a limo for you.”
Amelia’s eyebrows crawled up her forehead. That was what Ava Grace had been meaning to ask her?
“I’ll have Erica set it up.”
Amelia frowned. “Who’s Erica?”
“Oh! I forgot to tell you. I fired George. Erica is my new assistant.”
She was stunned. Ava Grace gave people second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. George must have done something really bad.
“When did this happen? Why did you fire George?”
“Last week,” she answered, waving her hand. “It’s not worth talking about.”
But she wasn’t fooled by Ava Grace’s nonchalance. “Tell me,” she demanded. “Right now, Ava Grace Landy.”
Ava Grace exhaled loudly. “I didn’t even want to think about this again, and now you’re making me tell you!” She grimaced. “I caught him in the laundry room jacking off with a pair of my panties, okay?”
Amelia gasped. “Are you serious?”
George had been Ava Grace’s assistant for a little more than six months, and he regularly visited the farmhouse to meet with her. It wasn’t that unusual. Most musicians had various employees coming in and out of their homes since they rarely kept official offices.
Ava Grace nodded. “It was horrible. And what’s worse, he wasn’t even embarrassed. He asked if I wanted to take over.”
She choked. “He did not?!”
Ava Grace shuddered. “He did. And when I told him to leave, he asked if he could take my panties with him. I freaked out, and he told me it wasn’t a big deal because he already had some at home.”
Amelia frowned. At first, she’d thought Ava Grace’s story was funny, but now she was a little scared because George sounded like a stalker. She shared her concerns with Ava Grace and was glad to hear the other woman hadn’t dismissed George’s potential threat.
“Randi was worried, too, and she’s been in contact with a security firm that specializes in high-profile clients. I’m scheduled to meet with one of their guys next week.” She turned on the radio. “I really don’t want to talk about this anymore, Millie.”
They made the rest of the trip without speaking, and Amelia regretted that she’d made Ava Grace talk about George. It clearly had put a damper on Ava Grace’s previously buoyant mood. Once they arrived at the bridal boutique, however, her spirits rebounded.
Randi met them at the door and shepherded them into an area called the gran salon. Two young women waited in the opulent room, which was festooned with yards and yards of cream-colored velvet and satin. An elevated platform stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Randi gestured toward the women. “Ann and Anna. They’re going to help you two try on the dresses.” She threw her gigantic leather bag on one of the overstuffed chairs situated in the room. “We’ve only got this room for five hours, so we’re going to have to hurry.”
Amelia and Ava Grace stared at her. “Just how many dresses are there?” Ava Grace asked faintly.
Randi laughed. “You can never have too many options. And since you two have such different body types, I had to bring in twice as many gowns.”
She pointed to a large door across the room. “The gowns are in the dressing area. I worked out a deal with the designers so your dresses will be free. In exchange, you both have to mention the designer’s name every chance you get.”
Ava Grace nodded. “I’m cool with that.”
Randi clapped her hands together. “Okay. Get to it. I’ll be waiting out here.”
Amelia and Ava Grace dumped their bags on the floor beside Randi before heading toward the dressing room door. Ava Grace pushed it open, and both she and Amelia gasped. Racks and racks of evening gowns in a rainbow of colors filled the room.
Ann pointed out which gowns were Amelia’s and which ones were Ava Grace’s, and Amelia rushed over to the rack closest to her and flipped through the dresses. They were all fabulous, and she was reminded yet again of how much her life had changed because of Ava Grace.
She turned to Ava Grace. “I have an idea. You pick out three dresses you want me to try first, and I’ll do the same for you.”
Ava Grace cocked her head. “Why?”
“Because that will keep both of us from sticking to our comfort zones.”
“I’m not sure I have a comfort zone anymore,” Ava Grace replied softly.
They switched places, and she browsed through the gowns that had been selected specifically for Ava Grace’s willowy body. Her best friend tended to prefer bold, bright colors, so Amelia looked for dresses that were muted and pastel. Finding three excellent choices, she handed them off to Anna.
Ava Grace still browsed through the racks so Amelia wandered back into the gran salon. Randi was on the phone, gesturing wildly and talking loudly, so she decided to take a look at the wedding dresses showcased in the boutique’s main room.
She ran her fingers across the pricey materials, enjoying the feel of chiffon, silk, tulle, and lace against her skin. Her childhood had not allowed for the typical little-girl dreams of a white wedding, and as an adult, she’d been focused on survival instead of fairy tales.
A dress with a sweetheart neckline, pleated bodice, and trumpet skirt caught her eye. It was quite possibly the most gorgeous creation she’d ever seen. As she caressed the organza ruffles on the skirt, she felt a pang of longing. She would like to wear a dress like this one day….
“Why are you looking at wedding dresses?” Ava Grace asked from behind her.
Amelia hadn’t heard her come into the room, and she jumped with fright. “Ava Grace! You scared me to death.”
Ava Grace tilted her head. “I called your name. You must have been lost in your thoughts.” She smiled. “I’m sure you were thinking about work. Evaluating the silhouette of the dress, the quality of the materials, the expert craftsmanship.” She paused meaningfully. “Or maybe you were thinking about what it might be like to wear a dress like this when you marry a man who adores you. A man you can’t imagine living without.”
Blood raced into Amelia’s cheeks. Ava Grace knew her too well.
“It’s pretty,” Ava Grace said as she ran her hand across the bodice. “It’s a lot more frou-frou than I thought you would like, though.”
She huffed. “You don’t know everything about me, you know.”
Ava Grace arched an eyebrow. “Oh, I have no doubt there are things I don’t know about you. I’m also equally sure I know things about you that you haven’t even realized yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked with a frown.
Ava Grace shook her head, but before she could answer Amelia’s question, Randi bellowed at them. “What are you two doing? Get your butts back in here and try on these damn dresses,” she ordered.
They stared at each other before breaking into giggles. And then, like two little girls caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they scampered to do as Randi had demanded.