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Authors: Susan McBride

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BOOK: Love, Lies and Texas Dips
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“Mind what?”
For a genius, he can be so dense sometimes!
Mac felt the dull thud of her pulse at her temples.

“I sort of invited someone else to join us today, this really cool girl I met at the auto show last weekend,” Alex said, talking so fast that Mac’s head started to spin. “Her dad owns an honest-to-God Shelby Cobra, Mac, and not one of the redesigns but one of the originals from the 1960s. It’s, like, one of six still around today. I think the others are in museums. She’s got one of the new Cobra Mustangs. Those things cost, like, seventy thousand dollars, can you believe?”

Okay, so far, Mac knew more about Mystery Girl’s car than about the girl herself.

“Who’s this ‘she’ you keep babbling about?” Mac asked point-blank, hardly able to disguise the irritation in her voice. But then she’d thought they were going to be alone today. She’d been looking so forward to it. “What auto show hoochie have you invited over without telling me, Alex?”

And why was he being so secretive?

“She’s not a hoochie,” he said just as the doorbell chimed.

They stared at each other dumbly until Alex revved into
gear. He shoved the empty pitcher onto the countertop and scurried around the corner of the kitchen and through the great room. There was a vague whine as the carved front door was pulled wide, and Alex’s greeting of “Hey, that was fast” followed by a higher-pitched voice, one Mac thought sounded familiar. She knew why soon enough, when Alex reappeared around the corner with a tall girl with shiny black hair and exotic almond-shaped eyes.

“Oh, hey, Mac,” the girl said when she saw Mac standing there.

“So you two know each other?” Alex appeared surprised and way too pleased, which somehow irritated Mac all the more.

“Yeah, we know each other. Hi, Cindy, so nice that you could join us,” Mac said, sounding flat and insincere despite her best efforts.

Cindy Chow was one of the newer members of the Pine Forest Prep senior class, having transferred from St. John’s late last semester. Even if Mac had wanted to hate her guts, she didn’t. Cindy wasn’t part of the Bimbo Cartel, was rumored to ride a motorcycle, and was, unfortunately, super-sweet.

Damn her.

“So, you live around here?” Mac politely inquired while secretly wishing the car-loving, Harley-riding,
Top Model-
pretty transfer student would vanish into thin air.

“Yep, just up the street,” Cindy said, all dimples and toothy grin, casually flipping ink black hair over her shoulder. “Who’d of thought I’d run into you here, Mac? I didn’t realize you and Alex were friends. Memorial can be such a small world, huh?”

“Pea-sized,” Mac agreed.

“Hey”—Alex gestured toward the food Mac had laid out on the granite island in the kitchen—“anyone else hungry? I’m starving all of a sudden.”

“You promised me peanut butter and jelly, right?” Cindy asked, fixing her doe eyes on Alex. “Please tell me it’s chunky?”

“Oh, it’s chunky all right,” Alex said, and pushed at the bridge of his glasses, the way he did when he was nervous. “Smooth is for wussies.”

Oh, God, is he flirting with Cindy?

Mac felt like she was watching a train wreck. She couldn’t tear her eyes away, but it made her vaguely nauseous.

“Smooth is
so
lame,” Cindy agreed with a giggle. “Kind of like driving a Japanese muscle car when you could be driving a Mustang.”

“Especially a hot-off-the-line Shelby Cobra Mustang,” Alex piped up, and his cheeks flushed. “What kind of power does that baby have under the hood? Five hundred and forty horsepower?”

“Five fifty,” Cindy said, causing Alex to whistle.

I’m gonna be sick
, Mac thought, trying hard to keep her mouth from hanging open.

“Hey, Mac, you want Coke or Aquafina?” Alex asked out of the blue, and strode purposefully around the granite island.

“You’re talking to me?” Mac asked, surprised he’d even remembered she was there. She’d felt invisible during the “chunky versus smooth” discussion.

Alex’s pale eyes narrowed behind his preppy lenses. “Yeah, I’m talking to you. I said, ‘Hey, Mac,’ didn’t I?”

“Coke, please,” Mac said, deciding to help him with the
drinks. She started toward him only to watch Cindy blow right past her, saying, “No, no, Mac, you should sit down. Let me do something. I mean, y’all are so sweet to let me hang out with you today. It’s been kind of lonely being the new girl at PFP.”

Reluctantly, Mac settled onto a stool across the counter, watching the way Alex’s face lit up as Cindy fussed over their modest lunch, folding napkins and distributing chips onto plates while Alex extracted bottles of soda and water from the tiny cooler in his knapsack.

Something lodged in Mac’s throat—it tasted an awful lot like resentment—and she tried to swallow it down, but it wouldn’t budge. She had a really bad feeling that her perfect day of goofing off with Alex had flown right out Uncle Ed’s window, and there wasn’t a damned thing she could do about it.

You live but once,
You might as well be amusing.
—Coco Chanel
Preparing for tea at Rose Dupree’s
means putting on my best manners and
accessorizing with a sense of humor.
—Ginger Fore

Four

If there was one thing Ginger figured could spoil a Monday off from Pine Forest Prep entirely, it was being summoned to her grandmother’s house in River Oaks for afternoon tea.

Tea at Rose Dupree’s boded ill for so many reasons. Usually when Rose invited Ginger and her mother to appear at her pillared mansion on Piping Rock (or rather,
summoned
them), it meant Rose had something up her lace-edged sleeve, some Old South-inspired, matriarchal agenda she wanted to push. And as much as Ginger’s mom, Deena Dupree Fore, liked to play the independent divorcée with her constant round of cocktail parties and her residential real estate career, she couldn’t seem to say no to her domineering mother, in the way that most well-bred daughters of Texas women never could. Ginger usually ended up suffering the consequences.

Deena had even made Ginger change out of her shorts and flip-flops into “something more presentable,” which Ginger interpreted as “put on a dress and real shoes.” Grudgingly, she’d donned her rose-colored Earth Creations tank dress and sandals. As if dressing up on Labor Day
wasn’t punishment enough, before they’d passed through Rose’s front door, Deena had used spit in a futile attempt to flatten Ginger’s spiky auburn hair
and
she’d pulled out her Dior compact to powder Ginger’s freckled nose. But Ginger had flatly refused to swipe on any of Deena’s bloodred lipstick.

“For heaven’s sake, it wouldn’t kill you or the environment if you put on makeup,” her mother had chided before Rose’s housekeeper, Serena, had let them in. “Somebody must make eco-friendly mascara. You’ve got such lovely green eyes, Ging. I don’t understand why you try to hide the fact that you’re a beautiful girl. Is it anti-Earth to be pretty?”

Once they’d all been seated and the tea had been poured, Ginger considered grabbing a poker from the set by the fireplace to stab herself in one of her “lovely” green eyes, anything to get her out of this. But instead she acted like a well-reared blue blood, sitting primly in a stiff-backed Victorian chair in the stuffy formal parlor, sure that the hot buttered scones would go cold before her grandmother got around to explaining why they were there. Until that time came, Ginger stirred her cup of Earl Grey and listened to her mother and Rose Dupree blather on about the latest shenanigans of the Junior League set.

“Did you see that obnoxious Amanda Pepper driving around town in that god-awful tank?” Rose remarked, and Deena cleared her throat before correcting her.

“It’s a Hummer, Mother, not a tank.”

“Well, it certainly looks like a tank. Is she afraid of a mortar attack while she’s drivin’ her kids to soccer practice?” Rose’s laid-back drawl took on a sharp edge. “Whatever’s wrong with a good, solid Cadillac? Your father drove his El Dorado till he drew his last breath.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a Cadillac, Mother,” Deena replied, holding her voice remarkably level. “It’s just some folks find them old-fashioned.”

“So driving a tank through the streets makes more sense?”

Oh, Lord, here we go again
, Ginger mused, and rolled her eyes as she balanced the Sevres cup and saucer on her knee and escaped the inane conversation by taking in the room around her. She was surrounded by ornately carved Eastlake furnishings with overstuffed cushions and cranberry-colored walls smothered in period paintings, mostly landscapes of gloomy-looking glades in Scotland or bleak portraits of relatives who seemed to glower at her from within the gilded frames. The only portrait of interest was an enormous one situated over the marble mantel of a fireplace that was rarely used—Houston wasn’t exactly known for its chilly winters-showing Rose Dupree at eighteen, wearing her formal debutante gown.

“Ah, dear girl, I see you’re admiring … well, me,” her grandmother said, smiling, and set down her teacup with the gentlest of clinks.

Ginger nearly dropped the cup and saucer from her knee, surprised that Rose had paid attention to her wandering eye. She usually got reprimanded for daydreaming.

“It’s quite an amazing painting, Grammy,” she said, and Rose beamed at the compliment.

“I was hoping you’d take an interest in it one of these days, and never better than now.” Rose took the monogrammed napkin from her lap, got up gracefully from the settee, and walked slowly toward the fireplace.

Crossing thin arms, the older woman gazed up at the portrait of her much younger self, and Ginger squinted, trying to imagine the grandmother she knew—with the fine lines
about her subtly powdered face, the perfectly coiffed white hair and ever-present pearls—having once been the lithe and lovely teenage girl painted in the flowing white dress.

“I was something, wasn’t I?” Rose Dupree said, as if reading her mind. “Hard for you to believe I was ever your age once, hmm?”

How to answer that one without inadvertently insulting her? Ginger played it safe, replying, “You were beautiful then, and you’re beautiful now.”

Rose smiled appreciatively, but there was a knowing look in her eyes. “You are quite the little diplomat. I’m not sure where you got your even temper, not from either of us”—she flicked a hand toward Deena—“and most certainly not from that no-good father of yours.”

Deena frowned. “Mother.”

“It’s true.” Rose scowled back at her daughter. “Probably one of the reasons that arrogant bastard you married finally left you. You’re both stubborn as mules.”

“Please, Grammy, tell me more about the painting,” Ginger begged, stepping in before any real fireworks went off.

Besides, she was actually curious. Art had long been a love of hers, ever since she was a kid and Deena had enrolled her in summer classes at the Glassell School, part of Houston’s Museum of Fine Art. Though Ginger had redirected her passion toward the environment last year, she figured the beauty of the earth and the beauty of true art went hand in hand, like the Ansel Adams photographs she had hanging in her bedroom. Sometimes she wondered if artistic talent wasn’t a big part of what had attracted her to her last ill-fated crush, Javier Garcia—besides how good-looking he
was and his activism, of course—and she had to admit that it was. There was something sexy about the smell of oils and the way Javier always seemed to have a smear of paint in his hair ….

She cleared her throat, pushing
that
thought away, asking her grandmother, “What was it like posing for a true artist? Did you have to stand there for hours, holding the back of a chair and looking over your shoulder like
this?”
She tipped her head coyly and discreetly arched her back, mimicking Rose’s stance in the portrait, and her grandma chuckled.

“It wasn’t easy, let me tell you, but it was well worth it.” Rose stared up at the mammoth painting and sighed. “That was certainly a time in my life I’d never want to forget. You’ll see what I mean, Ginger, very soon. Becoming a Rosebud is an incredible privilege, and I’m so proud you’ll be following in my footsteps.”

A quiver of excitement traveled up Ginger’s spine at her grandmother’s words, and she flashed on the sight of the messenger in top hat and gloves who’d delivered her formal Rosebud invitation. What a relief that had been! Especially when her bad judgment in boys had nearly derailed her.

“She’ll be following in my footsteps too, don’t forget,” Deena said, sounding miffed, as if she felt forgotten in the conversation between grandmother and granddaughter.

“Although you weren’t exactly the model deb, were you, Dee?” Rose cocked her head, tapping a finger to her chin. “I so vividly recall your refusal to wear my gown or anything else that had belonged to me. Isn’t that right, darlin’? And you wouldn’t let me have your portrait done either, would you?”

BOOK: Love, Lies and Texas Dips
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