She took a breath. No offer of shoes, or pretty clothes, could be allowed to distract her from what she was doing here, she had to remember that. The wedding was window dressing, the beauty of the palace was window dressing, everything but the Chatsfield scandal was window dressing.
Isabelle had done so much for her. Without her, Sophie doubted she would’ve ever found her place at university. She doubted if she would have ever made friends at all. She certainly wouldn’t have her job at the Herald. More than that, Isabelle had been a true friend to her, regardless of where Sophie had come from. And that was something Sophie couldn’t put a price on.
She owed her this now. Isabelle had been through enough at the hands of Spencer Chatsfield, and the idea of her losing The Harrington was inconceivable.
She would not allow it. If she could play even a small part in preventing it from happening, she would.
And she would not be distracted.
Now, she just had to get cleaned up, and begin to feel human again. Then she could choose something to wear for dinner. She really hoped that there was something stunning in the closet. Because she had a feeling she would need it to feel confident. She had a feeling that interviewing Zayn would be a lot like going into battle.
And that meant she needed to get her armor on.
She went to the closet and examined the contents. Inside she saw a rainbow of fine fabrics, the lush textures denoting a quality that she could scarcely believe was at her fingertips. A quality that she was, frankly, almost afraid to put her fingertips on.
The kinds of clothes she passed in a store with barely a glance because she knew she couldn’t afford them, and she always had a feeling the store employees knew it, too.
She reached out and laid a hand on a dress that was a vibrant orange and an involuntary breath escaped her lips.
This was the one.
As she took her clothes off and got ready to slip the dress on, she had a sudden fear that it wouldn’t fit. But she pulled it up over her hips and contorted, sliding the zipper up, and found that it conformed perfectly to her curves.
He had indeed guessed accurately. Again, she got all weird and tingly thinking about what the guessing entailed. She shook her head and turned, coming face-to-face with her reflection in the vanity mirror.
And she lost her breath.
Standing here in a castle, in a dress that fit like a dream. Like magic mice and birds had tailored it to suit her, or a fairy godmother had conjured it up using nothing but silk and magic.
She turned away sharply, her heart hammering hard. She was being an idiot. This wasn’t a fairy tale. She wasn’t the maid-turned-princess. She was a journalist. She was a friend. And she did not have time to indulge in fantasy.
She had a job to do.
ZAYN WAS UNPREPARED for the sight that greeted him when he entered the dining room that night. Sophie was already there, seated next to the head of the table.
She was a far cry from the woman he had found crouched behind trash cans in the alley. Certainly, it had been apparent she was beautiful even then, but just now she was somewhere beyond beautiful.
Radiant was one word that could be used to describe her. If he was given to such flights of fancy, and he was not.
Her golden hair was piled on top of her head, giving the impression of a halo, which was laughable all things considered.
Her face was made up, but done so in a very subtle way. Her cheeks glowed, an iridescent shimmer around her eyes brightening the green of them. Her lips were slick with some kind of pale pink gloss.
But it was the dress that she wore that made him want to call his sister’s personal shopper and fire her on the spot. Not because it wasn’t perfect, but because it was too perfect.
The burnished orange fabric molded itself to her skin, the structured bodice cupping her breasts, drawing his eyes to them. It was the dress, and not him, and certainly not her. Because he had been celibate for nearly three years now, ever since his engagement had been made official. And in all that time, he had never had any trouble keeping his eyes where they ought to be. He respected women, he did not see them as tools for his personal pleasure, or visual enjoyment. He did not leer at them when he invited them to join him for dinner.
That meant the only answer was that the dress was sincerely inappropriate. Because he was most certainly not. He had been nothing but appropriate for a great many years now. And he was hardly going to start changing his ways now.
“I did not expect you to be here already.” He strode past her, and took his seat at the head of the table.
“I thought I would spend some time taking in the sights. Getting oriented. I made it to the dining room a little quicker than anticipated.”