Bachelorettes on Parade Chapter 1

“You did what!” A man’s deep voice bellowed through the crack in the office doors.

Marissa settled deeper in the plush leather chair and glanced at the secretary, but the young woman kept her eyes glued to the documents in front of her.

The voice rose again. “I may have told you I wanted to increase my visibility in the community, but I never said I wanted to become the bachelor of the month! I’m not interested in dating, nor do I want to get married.”

Though Marissa couldn’t hear the answer of the other person, she discerned the irate man didn’t get the response he desired because the tirade continued.

“Jason, that’s not good enough. Get rid of those women. I won’t do it!”

Marissa darted another look at the secretary in time to see her reach frantically for her intercom button. “Mr. Jernigan…”

Apparently, the upset man was the owner of this corporation…and Marissa’s benefactor.

His voice came through the intercom, loud and clear. “Not now, Ms. Phillips, I’m in an important meeting.”

“But Mr. Jernigan, there’s a…”

“Whatever it is can wait. Please don’t interrupt again.”

Ms. Phillips cast a beseeching eye toward Marissa. “I’m sorry, Miss. If you could just wait a few more minutes…”

She smiled at the poor woman. It wasn’t her fault her boss was having a bad day.

“Now, Jason, send out a letter to those prospective…brides. Explain that it was a mistake.”

Another mumbled reply sent the secretary to the edge of her seat. Was she attempting to hear the other person in the room?

“I don’t care how you explain it. Say the printer made a mistake, say I died…”

Marissa waited for ‘Jason’ to answer, but he apparently knew how to keep his composure under fire.

“Get rid of those girls…or else!”

“Or else what, Seth? Are you going to fire me? We’ve been together since college, but if you’ve had enough of me watching your backside…”

Apparently, the longsuffering Jason finally had enough of his loud-mouthed boss.

It might be time for Marissa to leave. Somehow, she didn’t think today would be a good day to pay her respects. She stood.

The secretary immediately perked up with a smile. “Can I help you, Miss?”

“I think it would be better if I left a message. I can send Mr. Jernigan a note later. Please tell him that Miss Marissa Green appreciates the vacation, and I look forward to the opportunity to thank him properly.”

The petite brunette scribbled quickly on a pad. “Yes, Miss Green. I’ll be sure to tell him.”

Marissa walked to the elevator and pushed the button.

When she arrived home, she called Pastor Williams. “Hi, it’s Marissa. Are you sure about that all-expenses paid vacation? I went by Jernigan’s corporate office to thank him, but I never got the chance.”

“Why? I’m sure he wanted you to stay at his new resort. His public relations man called here weeks ago.”

“I never got to see him because he was having a very loud argument with someone named Jason. You know those local ads about the new Bachelor show? It seems Seth Jernigan is going to be the Bachelor, and he’s not happy about it.”

“I hadn’t heard, but I do know the name of the public relations man…Jason. According to him, Mr. Jernigan makes it a point to bless the churches in whatever community he does business. He considers it one way to give offerings to God.”

“Admirable, but how did they get my name?”

“I gave it to them, Marissa. Jason picked a church out of the phone book and called our office. He wanted the name of someone I felt had experienced difficulties. Winning a free vacation is supposed to be encouraging. Are you having second thoughts about going?”

Marissa sighed. She had nothing else to do, and it would be fun to stay at a Destin Beach resort. Her skin was so pale from months inside she’d probably need several bottles of sunblock.

She still held the phone to her ear, but she hadn’t replied.

“Uh, no, Pastor. I still want to go. I can understand why Mr. Jernigan wouldn’t want to have his private life invaded by a bachelor show.”

“Yes. When do you have to be out of the house?”

“When I leave for the resort. I’ve gotten rid of everything I can. The Salvation Army came by. My clothes are so old, I kept what I’ll need for this little vacation, and the rest I gave away. The few belongings I want to save are in storage until I find a place to live…and a job.”

“We’re expecting you to stay with us after your vacation.”

“Thanks. I’m counting on it. Well, gotta go. I’ll talk to you in another week.”

“Hey, what about the car? Didn’t you sell it?”

“I did. I’m debt-free now. I’m going to drive it to the resort, and the new owner will pick it up there.”

Marissa arrived at the Destin Palms Hotel and checked in at three, the time specified in her letter. The spacious lobby bespoke the time and energy Jernigan Enterprises spent in the planning and development of their new endeavor.

She particularly enjoyed the pineapple fountain situated in the foyer. Water shot out at the top, cascading down into a white tiled basin where gold, red, and silver-white koi frolicked amidst water lilies.

She turned full-circle, absorbing the feel of tranquility and luxury pervading the lobby. Small areas set aside as sitting rooms offered the weary traveler a chance to collapse into overstuffed chairs and sofas. The many palms, reflecting the hotel’s name, created an illusion of privacy for each setting.

A gleaming brass trolley rolled past, and the glass doors swept open as the bellboy approached. He slowed, bringing the trolley to a stop at the door of a black limousine parked outside.

Definitely an upscale establishment.

She turned away and braved the last few steps to the desk.

A uniformed hotel clerk beamed at her. “Welcome to the Destin Palms. How may I assist you?”

Marissa managed a timid smile and held out the letter.

“Good afternoon, Miss Green. The other contestants are already at the pool. Here’s your room key. Why don’t you get settled then you can join them. Do you need someone to carry up your, uh…luggage?”

The young woman eyed Marissa’s dilapidated suitcase, a frayed holdover from her father’s college days.

“I can manage if you could just tell me where…”

“Certainly. Right through those glass doors and follow the left side of the path around the pool to the high-rise in the back. Your room is on the first floor at the pool level. Have fun!” Another high-wattage smile accompanied her words.

Marissa picked up her suitcase and ambled out the glass double doors. It was like entering a jungle. She found herself surrounded on either side by landscaped palms, elephant ears, caladiums, flowers, and a variety of other plants she couldn’t identify. A small stream flowed through the foliage.

She paused to peer into the water, catching the reflection of silver and copper coins. Why would people pay to come to a resort then throw away their change? They’d probably accuse her of being too practical.

She followed the twists and turns until she reached the pool. When she stepped out of the shaded path, her jaw dropped. A mountain, quite realistic with jagged stone and green moss, rose from the center of the pool. Waterfalls gurgled down into blue water.

She took a few steps closer, straining to see the top, but her eyes blinked in protest to the bright sunlight. She dug in her purse for some sunglasses.

Before she could locate them, a hard body crashed into her side, sending her spiraling toward the pool. She threw out her arm, trying to regain her balance but only managed to throw her purse sky-high.

Her fingers grabbed at the first solid object they found and held fast, causing the solid object to follow her into the pool. The strong odor of chlorine assailed her nostrils as she sank into the cold, deep water.

She opened her eyes, trying to find the surface of the pool, but a body blocked her way. With lungs near bursting and eyes burning, she clawed at the fully-clothed man over her. He grabbed her wrists in a firm grip and pulled her to the surface. She choked and gasped as someone hauled her up the ladder.

When she felt the warm concrete beneath her hands, she rolled on her side and coughed up what felt like several gallons of water. Her throat felt raw when she finally stopped choking.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and shook her.

“Miss…miss. Are you all right?”

She knew that voice.

The sun disappeared as the towering body dripped water over her.

“Miss?”

Marissa opened her eyes and coughed again. “You should…you should watch where you’re going.”

“Forgive me. I didn’t expect you to stop so suddenly. If you’re sure you’re all right…We need to get into some dry clothes.”

Marissa stared. Seth Jernigan posed an attractive picture, even wet. Damp blond curls dripped over ice-blue eyes, squinting against the bright sunlight. At the corner of his eyes, she noted the tiniest of crinkles.

When she hesitated, he flashed a tentative smile. Beautiful white, even teeth above a clefted chin.

“Wow,” she said.

“Pardon?”

“Uh, the waterfall over the pool.”

“Yes, it’s impressive.” He held out a hand. “Can you find your room now?”

“It’s on the pool. I mean it’s over the pool.”

He frowned. “Oh…you’re one of those. Go through that door on the end. You shouldn’t have any trouble.”

He turned away and left Marissa standing there, dripping on the concrete before a crowd of curious onlookers. She fumed then bent to search for her belongings.

A bikini-clad hottie handed Marissa her purse. “Here you go, honey. That was a novel approach if I do say so. At least you’ve got his attention, but I’m not sure it was positive attention.”

Marissa watched the girl as she continued to rattle on like she’d known Marissa for years.

“Still, that’s better than anyone else has done. I’d say you’re definitely in the lead. Once you get a guy thinking about you, it doesn’t take much to give him the right kind of thoughts.” The gorgeous redhead grinned. “I could help you, you know. I think we’re roomies. But, I guess if I help you, I’ll be cutting my own throat.” The strange, babbling girl held a pink manicured finger, which coordinated with her hot pink bikini, to her chin as she considered. “Oh, well. I’ve got plenty going for me, and frankly, you’re a train wreck. Come on.”

She pulled at Marissa’s arm, and Marissa followed, unable to resist the girl’s flamboyant appeal.

As they passed the ladder, her new friend pointed at the bottom of the pool. “Was that your suitcase?”

“Oh no!”

Her ancient luggage lay in pieces at the bottom of the pool. Her clothing floated across the water. Already, hotel employees raked the water with hooks to drag her unmentionables to the side.

“That’s everything I own.” Tears burned her eyes.

“Don’t sweat it! I’ve got enough for the both of us. But, I bet you anything, Seth Jernigan will take care of everything you need. You’re kind of set, if you know what I mean.”

Marissa didn’t have the slightest idea what the girl meant, but she didn’t want to watch as strangers fished her belongings out of the water, so she let the woman lead her away.

“By the way, I’m Susan Fletcher, your roommate. And your name is Marissa, right?”

“Yes, but I was told I had a private room.”

This vacation in paradise was turning into a nightmare.

Susan chuckled. “You’ve got to be kidding! A room on the pool? To yourself?” She shook her silky bob. “No. There are ten girls, and we share the five rooms on the pool. You can open the back door of the room, take two steps, and you’re in the pool. Or you can just sit on your own private porch and chill beside the water.”

She stopped at a door and took out her key card. “This is us. You’re still dripping, so just run into the bathroom and strip all that off. I’ll bring you some dry clothes, but you know, we’re supposed to be at a photo shoot with tall, blond, and handsome in about ten minutes.”

Marissa froze in the doorway. “What! What photo shoot?” She rubbed her throbbing temples as she stumbled into the room.

“Hey, girl.” Susan gave her a little push. “You’re dripping all over the carpet. Didn’t they give you your schedule? Oh, you haven’t seen it yet. It’s on your bed. Go dry off, and I’ll be right with you.”

Marissa caved. She couldn’t do anything about the situation until she dried off anyway. She stepped, shivering, into the bathroom and peeled off her jeans and t-shirt. A basket of complimentary toiletries perched on the side of the tub, so Marissa climbed in the shower and quickly washed the chlorine out of her long, dark hair. When she stepped out, Susan stood there holding a towel.

Marissa grabbed at it and covered herself. “Uh, thank you, Susan. Now…about that schedule and photo shoot…I’m not who you think I am.”

“You’re not Marissa Green?”

“Yes, but I’m not part of a group thing. I’m more like part of a charity thing. Seth Jernigan offered a free vacation to some poor, pathetic person who needed some encouragement, and my pastor picked me.”

Susan looked her up and down, and Marissa held the towel more tightly against her chest.

“Marissa, there’s nothing poor or pathetic about you. Actually, I was kind of jealous when Seth gave you that sappy grin of his. Although, you could use a new do. When was the last time you had your hair styled? And I mean by someone that knows how to style hair.”

“Susan, you’re missing the point. There’s been a mistake.”

“No, honey, you’re missing the point.” Susan smiled. “It’s too late now. Your name is on all the publicity brochures. If you back out after that run-in by the pool, it won’t look very good. You’re kind of stuck. Now dry off, and we’ll get you something to wear. Put this hotel beach robe on for the time being.” She shut the door.

Marissa studied herself in the mirror. A gorgeous girl like Susan was jealous of her? Wet strands of straggly, brown hair hung limply beside her wide green eyes.

She shook her head and wrapped a towel over her hair. After she slid into the robe, she walked into the other room. Susan had donned a sundress and was just opening the door to a tall, dark-haired man.

“Jason! Thank you for coming so quickly. Marissa has a little problem.”

She threw open the door, and he walked in. Marissa shrieked and ducked back inside the bathroom.

“Marissa, don’t be a baby. Get out here. Jason is in charge of this shindig.”

Jason knocked on the door. “Miss Green, I’ve already seen you, and you’re wearing more than you would in the pool, so what’s the problem?”

Marissa smiled at her reflection in the mirror. He had a point. She came out of the bathroom.

Jason, the publicity man, stood with arms crossed and the tired look of the eternally long-suffering. His arms dropped when he saw her, and an uncertain smile lit his face.

He held out a hand. “Miss Green? I’m Jason Long.”

Marissa smiled back and took his hand. “How do you do? I’m sorry to trouble you, Mr. Long, but there’s been a terrible mix-up. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m a charity case for Jernigan Enterprises. I believe you called my pastor…David Williams?”

Jason’s mouth gaped, and panic widened his eyes. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how this happened.”

“Would you like to sit down, Jason? You don’t look too well.” Susan grabbed his arm.

He collapsed in a chair, and Marissa sat across from him. He stared at her. “Please, call me Jason.”

She offered him a worried look.

“I’m fine, Miss Green. My constitution isn’t that weak, I’m just thinking.” He gave her a lop-sided grin.

He seemed a likeable guy. She took pity on him. “Marissa.”

He flashed her a smile that could light a billboard and leaned forward.

“Well, Marissa. I seem to recall seeing your nightie, amongst other things, floating in the pool. What do you say to a new wardrobe…compliments of Jernigan Enterprises?”

Susan perched on the corner of the bed. “Hair.”

Jason studied Marissa’s wet locks. “What’s wrong with her hair?”

Susan frowned at him.

He shrugged. “Hair, yes. By all means. Anything else?”

“Her suitcase disintegrated in the water, and she needs the pool photo shoot moved to tomorrow.”

They still expected Marissa to join those women.

“Wait! I don’t even know what you’re getting me into, and I didn’t say I’d do it.”

“Don’t worry.” Jason turned on that megawatt smile. “You’ll be perfect for this.”

“That’s not good enough. What is this?”

“Seth Jernigan is now Destin’s most eligible bachelor,” Susan purred like a kitten. “One of us will become his newest heartthrob. Welcome to the show.”

“You mean that bachelor contest? I don’t want to date Seth Jernigan. I don’t even want to meet him. He knocked me in a pool, and when I pointed this out, he said I stopped too suddenly. The man is a little too full of his own importance.”

At a sudden knock on the door, Susan rose like a goddess. She swung the door wide and stood with her hand on her hip. “Hello, Seth. What can I do for you?”

Marissa put her head down on the table. How could it get any worse?

“I believe this is the room belonging to the woman I knocked into the pool. Would it be possible for me to speak with her?”

Jason yanked on Marissa’s arm. “Don’t tell him. Don’t tell him you’re not one of his dates.”

She raised her brows at him.

His expression assumed the most pathetic hangdog expression. “Pleeease?”

Seth stepped up to the table. “Please…what, Jason? What are you doing here?”

“Pleeease…accept our offer of a new wardrobe.”

Seth glanced at Marissa. “Yes, about that…could I see you for a moment…please?” He looked completely dry. Even his hair had been styled perfectly.

Marissa rose from the table with as much grace as she could manage in a beach robe and bedraggled hair.

“Of course, Mr. Jernigan. You see me right now.”

“I meant…could we speak privately?”

Jason stood and joined Susan at the door. “Why don’t we see about that hair appointment? I’ll be back in a few minutes, Marissa. Don’t worry about a thing.” The door closed behind them.

“Marissa. That’s a pretty name.” Seth gave her a polite smile.

She raised her gaze. Goodness, he was tall.

“Thank you. What can I do for you, Mr. Jernigan?”

“For starters, call me Seth. And then, I’d appreciate it if you can forgive me for knocking you in the pool and ruining your belongings.”

“It was an accident. Certainly, I forgive you, Mr. Jernigan.”

He smiled with genuine warmth, and Marissa’s knees felt weak.

“Marissa, I asked you to call me Seth.”

“Seth.”

His eyes squinted as he stared at her. “How did you get into this? You seem…different from the others.”

Marissa gulped. What did she say now?

“Uhh, sort of an accident. I didn’t realize you were having a dating contest when I signed on.”

He cringed. “Want to know a secret?”

She nodded.

“Neither did I. Maybe we should hang together.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works, but I haven’t read the rules yet.”

He stared at her.

“By the way,” she began, “what does the winner get?”

“Me.”

A dull, red flush crept up his neck. He was completely serious, and apparently, the thought made him miserable.

Marissa tipped her head to the side, considering.

“For how long?”

“I’m not sure how interesting you’d find me, but I’d do my best to entertain.”

“Movies are entertaining, Seth. I think relationships are based on a little bit more.”

He studied her then smiled faintly. She found it disconcerting the way he listened attentively, absorbing everything she did or said.

“Marissa…I can’t wait until our first date.”

“Why, Seth, I bet you say that to all the girls.”

He laughed and walked to the door. “I’ve never said that before in my life. Welcome to the Destin Palms, Marissa. I hope you find us more than entertaining.”

The door closed behind him, and Marissa collapsed into a chair, laughing. This week would be completely different from what she’d anticipated. Seth Jernigan was completely different from what she’d anticipated. She liked him.

Susan sashayed through the door, laden with clothes. “Aren’t you the giddy girl! Seth must have said something pleasing.” She dropped the garments in Marissa’s lap. “Here. I guessed at your size, but I’m usually pretty good. After you get dressed, we’ll go over to the salon. You’ve got an appointment.”

Marissa picked up a dress and held it out. Bright yellow with tiny rust-colored flowers. “I’ve never worn this color before.”

“You’ve never worn yellow? With your coloring, it should be one of your primary choices.”

Marissa dropped the dress against her waist. It seemed a nice fit.

“Who are you, Susan Fletcher? Why are you helping me? I realize I’m no competition for your little contest, but still…”

Susan lifted an elegant shoulder. “I’m a rare creature. I enjoy making other women beautiful…you know, the sisterhood thing. It brings out my better qualities. And you looked like such a poor, lost mouse when you came out to the pool. I felt almost maternal.”

Marissa clasped her hands together then dropped them. No one had cared what she looked like or shown an interest in what she did for a long time. Susan appeared genuine enough.

“I see. Well, thank you.”

When she came out of the bathroom, Susan had changed into a white sundress that displayed her bronzed rounded shoulders to advantage. She certainly changed clothes often.

She put a finger to her lips and whistled. “You have a lovely figure. Why don’t you use it?”

“I appreciate your interest in my…er, appearance, but I’m not comfortable…”

“Being a girl?”

“It’s not that. I don’t think it’s necessary to display sex to attract the right man. Men that are only attracted to sensual women may not ever bother to know who I am aside from the sex.”

Susan laughed. “You’re sweet, and you’re absolutely right. Only a weak woman would want a man who cared nothing for her soul. But you’ve been blessed with beauty, and you don’t need to hide it. Esther made herself beautiful to win the heart of a king. She prepared every part of herself for the one man who was to share her life. Why shouldn’t you do the same?”

“You’re a Christian?”

Susan nodded. “Most of the girls in the contest are. Seth Jernigan is a Christian. But, now is not the time to discuss Seth. You have a beauty appointment.”

Marissa remained in the resort salon for two hours. They gave her a facial and helped her choose cosmetics that accentuated her facial shape and skin tones. They did her nails then set her in the chair before a mirror. The hair dresser took over now.

Guy stood behind Marissa and flipped her hair one way and another. “All right, Miss Marissa. Are you dead set on keeping that long mane?”

“I haven’t had someone cut my hair in years. I don’t have any concept of how I’d look any other way. What did you have in mind?”

“Your eyes are overshadowed by all that hair, and your face is lovely. I think you should let others see it. Are you interested in a perm…hi-lites?”

“Not really. I’d like to have something I can keep with the minimum of professional help. You see, I don’t have a lot of money for that kind of thing. This trip is sort of a gift.”

Guy sprayed some water on Marissa’s hair. “Would you like to catch a movie some time? You do live around here, don’t you?”

“I live in Fort Walton. But I thought you were…”

“Gay?” He grinned. “Why, because I cut hair? I’m not gay. I like girls, and I see a lot of them this way. And I have a knack for this sort of thing. So…when you finish with this little publicity tour, how about we go out?”

“Sure, if you like. I have no idea what this publicity tour is for.”

“Neither do I.”

He turned her chair away from the mirror, and she no longer saw what he did. She closed her eyes. Having her hair done was a soothing experience. If only she had the money to do it more often. But her parents…No, she wasn’t going to think about that right now.

The haircut didn’t last long then Guy dried her hair. When he finished, he twirled around her chair. “All done. What do you think?”

He’d given her bangs and layered all the hair around her face. Instead of shading her face, the hair now hung as a frame for her delicate features. He’d kept most of her length, but somehow it seemed bouncier, fuller.

“I love it! How did you do it without cutting it off?”

“I thinned it. You’ve got very thick hair. Now, I think you have a date with nine other girls and the great Seth Jernigan. You better change.”

Marissa stepped out of the salon into warm, humid air. What now? Susan had dropped her off without telling her where to go next, and Marissa didn’t know if she had any other clothes yet. She wandered into the lobby and ran into Susan.

“There you are.” Susan locked arms with her. “I went back to the salon, and you were already gone. Marissa, you look beautiful! Let’s run over to the boutique and get a dress for tonight. It’s formal, you know. There’s a ball at the resort and another every Friday for the next three weeks.”

“Three weeks! I can’t stay here that long. I’ve got to get a job.”

“You only get to stay if Seth keeps you. He’ll be voting girls off just like the television shows. Isn’t this fun!”

Fun.

Marissa followed Susan into the boutique. It might be exciting to pick out all new clothes, if she didn’t feel like she’d be put on parade in front of the whole world.

And why? She still didn’t know why Jason had arranged for Seth to do this publicity stunt.

According to the conversation she’d overheard at Seth’s office, he didn’t want to date anyone. What had changed his mind? And why was he being so nice to her?

Susan stopped before the shop manager. “This is Marissa Green. Mr. Jernigan would like her to have everything she needs for tonight’s ball. I know it’s a frightful rush, but he knocked her and her suitcase into the pool. She doesn’t have a thing to wear.”

The chic older woman smiled, resting a hand on one hip. “That’s awful. But, I think I have just the thing. Red. That dark hair just cries out for red.”

“No, that won’t do. I happen to know there are already two other girls wearing red. Marissa needs something different.”

The boutique manager held a finger to her chin. “Turn around, Miss Green. What size…a six?”

“Yes,” said Susan.

“No,” said Marissa. “I always wear an eight.”

“And that’s why you always look like you’re wearing a gunny sack. Just try a six.”

The manager had turned away to slide dresses across the rack. She pulled down a shimmering white gown.

“This. I know it looks plain on the hanger, but try it on.”

Susan pushed Marissa into a changing room and pulled the curtain.

Marissa slid into the evening gown, a beaded dress that sparkled and glowed with the luminosity of pearls.

She stepped out of the changing cubicle and stopped before a three-way mirror.

When she turned from side to side, the dress reflected the different colors in the room. It felt heavy against her legs. She’d never worn a beaded dress before, and it hugged the shape of her body.

Susan and the manager sighed in unison.

“What about shoes?” asked Susan.

The manager walked away.

Marissa reached for Susan’s arm. “You don’t think it’s too clingy?”

“I think this dress is very modest without being boring. It shows you have a shape without being seductive. And I haven’t seen anyone else with a white dress, too virginal for the natives.”

“All right. What about my hair? Aren’t you supposed to put your hair up with a dress like this?”

“Not necessarily. And with that new look, I think you should let Seth see it. The other girls are putting their hair up. Be different.”

Marissa gave Susan an impulsive hug. “What would I do without you?”

“Get kicked out the first week.”

Marissa tried on matching shoes then the two young women returned to their room. They had less than an hour before the dinner started.

Susan handed Marissa a packet. “Why don’t you read through this material on our adventure? It will give you a better idea of what to expect. I’m going to fix my face.”

“But your face is perfect.”

“For an evening ball, you wear a little different make-up. But, don’t worry. I’ve got time for yours, too.”

“What color dress are you wearing, Susan?”

“Emerald green. It’s hanging on the back of the closet door. With this red hair, I’ve really got to make a statement. It’s soft, clingy silk. Don’t you just love the way it feels?”

Marissa ran her hands down the dress. “Smooth…and sort of wispy. You’ll look fabulous.”

“Until I can charm Seth with my glowing personality, I’ll have to rely on my looks.”

Marissa turned her attention back to the schedules. Dinner at seven. Seth would be seated with five of the girls tonight and five the next evening.

She hoped she got seated at Seth’s table tonight. She’d never looked so nice. Perhaps he’d notice.

Her hand flew to her mouth. She wanted to impress Seth! When had she decided to participate? She smiled. This was already fun. And Susan had a lot to do with that.

Thank you, Lord, for a great roomie.

She studied the notes again. The mingling started at eight. Each girl was assured at least one interview with Seth. What would she talk about? The last few years of her life had revolved around terminally ill parents. Not a proper topic for ballroom conversation.

The carnival began at half past eight. That allowed Seth a half hour to speak with ten girls. About three minutes each. She could hold her own for that long.

Susan waltzed out of the bathroom. “Come along, dear. Let’s make you even more beautiful.”

She looked at Marissa’s eyes and added a soft brown shadow to her lower lid then a frosted white just under the brows.

Marissa blinked at her reflection. Her eyes seemed large and bright. Ten minutes later, they put on gowns and stood back to survey their efforts.

Susan wrapped an arm around Marissa. “We look great!”

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