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Authors: Susan McBride

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BOOK: Love, Lies and Texas Dips
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Texas men were kind of possessive that way, even the well-bred ones who’d been reared in River Oaks or the Memorial Villages with silvers spoons in their mouths and Gucci saddles beneath their butts (if they rode at all). For sure, Dillon Masters was no redneck. He didn’t like to hunt, for one, and he didn’t do chaw, wear Lucchese boots day in and day out, or drive a pickup—with or without a gun rack—with that omnipresent bumper sticker that read:
DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS.

Not that Jo Lynn didn’t appreciate the motto, because she did. She kind of wished the whole world lived by the credo “Don’t mess with Jo Lynn Bidwell,” though it was pretty much unwritten law at PFP that most girls seemed inclined to obey. At least, the ones who knew what was good for them.

There was one woman, though, who intimidated Jo Lynn, and it wasn’t a prep school rival or any competitor she’d ever encountered on the pageant scene, but rather Bootsie Bidwell, her mother, who just happened to be this year’s chair of the GSC debutante selection committee. And Jo Lynn didn’t want to cause an early-morning stink with her mother for strolling in at breakfast time, even if she’d spent the night only yards away in the family’s guesthouse with the
Golden Boy of Caldwell Academy whom she had every intention of marrying one day.

Jo used her key to open the door to the main house and stepped into a rear hallway near the utility room, just past the butler’s pantry, where kitchen deliveries were received.

She heard the familiar noises of pots and pans clanking in the granite and stainless steel kitchen as the Bidwells’ longtime cook prepared brunch, always served promptly at eleven. Jo figured Cookie was getting double pay for sticking around and feeding the fam on a holiday when even the housekeeper, Nan, had been cut loose for Labor Day. But Jo liked having Cookie around, since it meant the house would smell like cinnamon and spices all day.

Deciding it best to slip in unnoticed, Jo removed her shoes, dangling them from her fingers as she tiptoed past the kitchen and scurried across the foyer, the marble floor cold beneath her feet. She briefly glanced up at the impossibly high painted ceiling—Bootsie’s ode to Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel—and took the curving stairwell up to her bedroom as quietly as possible, avoiding the floorboards that creaked beneath the Oriental runner just outside her parents’ bedroom. She had one hand on the knob of the door to her bedroom suite and was about to turn it when a voice from behind startled her.

“I believe you missed your curfew,” Bootsie said, her honeyed drawl laced with sarcasm.

Please. Like I actually
have
a curfew
.

Jo Lynn slowly turned to face her. “Good morning, Mother.”

Her mom gave her a slow once-over, and Jo knew she looked a mess. Her makeup no doubt was smeared, and she
wore the same pair of hip-hugging D&G jeans and pleated white shirt she’d had on last night when she’d gone out to eat with Dillon, only now she looked severely wrinkled. Her fabric flats were damp with dew. In stark contrast, Bootsie appeared her typical unruffled self, the model nouveau riche mummy, perfectly dressed in tailored pearl gray Chanel slacks and sage green silk side-wrap blouse. She’d always been the best-dressed mother on the pageant scene, and Jo rarely saw her with a hair out of place.

Jo Lynn shifted on her feet, uncomfortable beneath Bootsie’s critical gaze.

“Good thing I’m not doing pageants anymore, huh? I wouldn’t even win Miss Junior Oil Refinery looking like this,” Jo cracked, then pressed her lips together, waiting out her mother’s silence. Such a lengthy pause meant Bootsie’s brain was making a list of Jo Lynn’s imperfections, like she’d done back in Jo’s pageant days.

“You do look a mess,” Bootsie said finally, crossing her arms and tilting her head. “But I guess that’s what happens when you don’t sleep in your own bed.”

Aw, hell, here it comes
.

Jo Lynn squirmed but couldn’t escape.

“Did Dillon stay over?” her mother asked, point-blank. “And don’t lie, because I heard a noise a few minutes ago and I caught his car pulling out of the drive.”

“It was no big deal really,” Jo muttered, glancing down at her feet. “We fell asleep in the guesthouse watching movies.” Well, it was the truth. She just left out the part about them mashing, because no mother alive wanted to think her daughter put out for anyone, even Mr. Perfect, Dillon Masters. “I’ve got some stuff to do before his parents’ party
this afternoon,” she said, meeting her mother’s eyes as she inched her bedroom door open. “So if you’ll excuse me …”

“You be careful, baby girl,” Bootsie warned, catching her by the shoulder. “The Glass Slipper Club takes their debutantes very seriously, and you know the rules. Any public indiscretion could cost you your position.”

Public indiscretion?

“It’s not like we were getting it on in the street, Mother, for God’s sake,” Jo Lynn groused. “If anyone spread any nasty gossip about me or Dillon, it’d just be because they’re jealous.”

But the warning look didn’t leave Bootsie’s narrowed eyes. “I’m serious, Jo Lynn. You need to watch yourself. All it takes is one unforgivable slip, and the GSC will review your Rosebud status. If that happens, I won’t be able to do a thing about it. We’ve already had to terminate one girl, and it hasn’t been pleasant.”

“What?” Jo Lynn perked up. “Who?” she asked, hoping against all hopes it was that fat blob Laura Bell.

Bootsie gave a little shake of her head. “Now, Jo, you know I can’t discuss that with you. You’ll find out soon enough. Besides, it’s not anyone else’s daughter I’m worried about. It’s you.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, I swear,” Jo Lynn insisted, but her mother didn’t look completely reassured.

Still, Bootsie nodded, giving her shoulder a squeeze before she released her. “Why don’t you get cleaned up, and I’ll see you at brunch? Cookie has a new stuffed French toast she’s trying out on us this morning, and an egg soufflé with green peppers and caviar.”

“Egg soufflé with caviar?” Jo Lynn made a face, and Bootsie laughed.

“You can stick to the French toast.”

“I think I will,” Jo said, watching her mother stride down the Oriental runner toward the stairs. Then she pushed into her room and shut the door, locking it behind her. She had something to take care of before she showered and made herself presentable for brunch.

She dumped her shoes on the floor and slid into her cane-backed desk chair.

Settling in front of her widescreen flat-panel monitor, she palmed her mouse, which was yellow and shaped like a VW Bug. When she clicked on it, tiny headlights lit up and it beeped. She pulled up a bookmarked page and prepared to place an order, her third in the past few weeks. Last time, it was for Godiva. This time, it was for two dozen brownies from the Fairytale Bakery. Just for the hell of it, she added a Caramel Endings dessert sauce and a bag of cashews.
How many calories are in those suckers?
she wondered.
Like, a million?

Enough, she was sure, to lead the already oversized Laura Bell on a course to debutante destruction, if she wasn’t already on the fast track to an early exit.
We’ll see if big girls
do
cry
, Jo Lynn thought, pulling out her prepaid debit card (which she’d bought with cash, so there was no way to link the purchase back to her) and smiled as she clicked Order Now.

If I were well-behaved,
I’d die of boredom.
—Tallulah Bankhead
Is screwing with your enemy’s head
considered a legit hobby?
—Laura Bell

Two

“If I have to drag you out from under the covers and haul you over to the country club in your underwear, believe me, I’ll do it. C’mon, Laura! You’re the one who made such a big deal about working out this morning since we don’t have class.” Mac Mackenzie sighed and stabbed her fists onto boyish hips. Her blue eyes narrowed behind her black-rimmed specs, and the way her usually wild dark hair was pulled back into such a tight ponytail made her square face look positively menacing. “Now are you gonna get up, or do I have to spray you with the hose to get you moving?”

“Maybe I changed my mind,” Laura growled, her sleep-tangled blond hair spilling over her pillow, and she tugged the sheets over her head. “If you’d called first, I would’ve told you so,” she added in a muffled voice. “Now go away.”

Okay, so Laura
might
have complained about adding a pound or so since their Rosebud invitation dinner at the end of August, not long after school had resumed two weeks back (school in Texas always started
way
earlier than the rest of the civilized world). Her teensy weight gain could’ve had something to do with a mysterious admirer who’d been sending
her chocolates (the last box contained to-die-for truffles from Godiva—oh, Lord, those were
good!
). And she
might
have whined a little about humiliating herself doing the Texas Dip and falling on her face in the Grande Ballroom.

Still, it was Labor Day, for God’s sake. If Laura had nagged Mac about working out today, she must’ve been crazy drunk or at the very least crazy, which had to be the case since she hadn’t gotten trashed since the summer before last when she’d passed out and Jo Lynn Bitchwell and her toadies had penned slurs on her body with laundry marker
and
snapped pics of the whole sordid thing—a memory she was still trying hard to blot out.

“I did call, you lazy bum,” Mac insisted, “and I can prove it.”

Laura heard a gentle clunk on the nightstand, which had to be Mac picking up her BlackBerry.

“Your last three incoming calls were from me, starting a half hour ago. When you didn’t answer, I had no choice but to head straight over and kick your sleeping butt.”

“Did I say ‘go away’ in Swahili or something?” Laura mumbled from beneath the covers, having no intention of crawling out any time soon. “Where’s Ginger, anyway? I would’ve thought you’d bring backup.”

“She’s still grounded, remember? Now, for the last time,
get up
!”

Mac poked at Laura’s backside through the covers, though Laura didn’t budge an inch. Instead, she muttered, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you go play with Ginger at
her
house?”

“She’s stuck going to her grandmother’s for tea this afternoon with Deena,” Mac said, then cleared her throat before
doing a bad impression of Rose Dupree’s dry Southern drawl: “I do declare, isn’t that what all properly bred Rosebuds do for fun?” When Laura didn’t so much as chortle, she quickly dropped the accent and continued in her own voice, “Ginger thinks Rose is plotting something, so she’s a little freaked out.”

“I’d rather have tea with a sneaky old bird like Rose than sweat buckets on the club treadmill this early on a holiday,” Laura whined, still refusing to get out of bed. “Please, just leave me in peace so I can get my beauty rest?”

If she was going to win back her one true love, Avery Dorman, she needed all the help she could get. Though Laura didn’t say as much to Mac, considering how Mac felt about Avery. Hell, Mac called Caldwell’s star running back “the Ratfink” because he was such a player, jerking girls around and never able to commit, as Laura could attest to.

“I’m counting to three and then I’m playing hardball.” Laura felt a tug on her pale pink Ralph Lauren sheets and ruffled floral spread. “One …”

“It’s my God-given right to sleep in,” she protested into her pillow, steadfastly refusing to open her eyes.

“… two …”

“Maaaac.”
She breathed the name, exasperated.
“Pleeeeze.”

“… three!”

With a yank, the covers were gone and Laura felt the cool rush of air-conditioning on her exposed skin. She yelped, her eyes popping open as Mac pulled the sheets and down comforter below her ankles, leaving her bare legs and her Victoria’s Secret nightshirt and undies with pink printed across the butt in plain view.

“You brat!” she cried, and scrambled to grab the sheets
and blanket so she could enfold herself inside her warm cocoon again and go back to sleep.

But Mac kept pulling until all her bedding was in a pile on the floor at the foot of the four-poster bed.

Laura scowled at her pushy pal, who stood with arms smugly crossed. “What in the name of Gucci are you wearing?” she asked, gawking at Mac’s striped green hoodie and clashing red sweatpants, which looked way too much like Christmas and didn’t go at all with her black smart-girl glasses and the polka-dot headband and scrunchie that held unruly dark hair off her face.

Mac raised an eyebrow defiantly. “Let’s see who’s making cracks after I dig up something for
you
to wear.”

Without waiting for Laura’s approval, Mac headed straight for the mahogany chest of drawers, pawing through them until she unearthed a running bra, a faded Pine Forest Prep T-shirt, and a pair of cropped yoga pants.

BOOK: Love, Lies and Texas Dips
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