Authors: Susan McBride
“Good Lord, Mother.” Deena set her china cup down so hard upon its saucer that the clank startled Ginger and made
Rose wince. “It was the eighties, for heaven’s sake. No one I knew would’ve been caught dead in her mother’s deb gown, much less sat for hours for some fussy old artist.”
“Yes, God forbid, you would’ve actually honored me by donning vintage Givenchy,” Rose countered, the creases around her eyes deepening as she added, “particularly when big bows and puffed sleeves were all the rage. You looked like a wedding cake that exploded.”
Deena opened her mouth as if to fire back, and Ginger prepared to duck for cover. She hoped things would never get that tense between Deena and her, although chaining herself to a tree with that backstabbing, heartbreaking Javier Garcia and getting hauled down to the police station hadn’t exactly made their mother-daughter bond any cozier.
But instead of blowing up, Deena settled her hands demurely in her lap and quietly uttered, “I’m so sorry you didn’t like my dress, Mother.”
“Didn’t like it?” Rose’s slim, drawn-on brows arched high above her eyes. “My dear, I
. I was ecstatic when you and that cheating, conniving bastard eloped so I wouldn’t have to pay for another god-awful monstrous white gown of your choosing.”
Stop the madness!
Ginger wanted to scream. It was just like Deena and Rose to turn talk of portraits and debuting into a verbal slug-fest that included jabs at Ginger’s father. Their squabbling drove her crazy.
“Your portrait, Grandmother,” Ginger interjected before either of the two older women could get another word in edgewise. Besides, she’d heard more than enough of what a “cheating, conniving bastard” Edward Fore was since the divorce. “Will you tell me about the man who did your portrait?” she prodded. “Who was he? Someone you knew?”
It was as though Ginger had pressed the On button, and Rose let out a squeal of delight (although Ginger knew her grandmother really wouldn’t “squeal”—it was unladylike). The elderly woman’s cheeks flushed pink beneath the fine layer of powder and she clasped her hands at her breasts, nearly snagging her triple strand of snow-white pearls.
“His name was—and is—Augustus Wakefield,” Rose declared, and let out a bawdy, naughty schoolgirl laugh. “And oh, my, but he was the cat’s pajamas. The man was utterly divine. He could paint like a master, and he was far too handsome for his own good.”
“You had a crush on him,” Ginger said, amazed she’d even suggested such a thing, but her grandmother merely grinned.
“A crush? Oh, yes, a big one.” Rose reached over the mantel and touched the signature at the base of her portrait, near a barely visible satin shoe, just peeking from beneath her gown’s hem. “Sitting for him when I was eighteen almost ruined me for your grandfather. When you’re young, love’s a dangerous thing.”
Ginger wanted to say, “I know what you mean exactly.” She’d gotten her heart smashed by Javier. He’d painted an amazing mural of Provence in the Fores’ dining room, before his underhanded tactics to use Ginger for a tree-saving crusade had gotten him fired and her grounded for a month. She hadn’t talked to him in weeks, and he’d finally stopped calling and texting her. It was better that way, Ginger decided. It was time to move on. She was all for forgiving and forgetting, except when it involved being deliberately misled and used.
“Boys are notorious liars,” Rose remarked with that gentle smile on her face, and Ginger thought,
You’re telling me
“Mother, please,” Deena said, but Ginger wasn’t sure if it was a note of warning or if Deena was appalled that her mother was being so uncharacteristically revealing.
“Well, it’s the God’s honest truth,” Rose insisted, and glided away from the fireplace to stand behind Ginger, placing her hands on the velvet back of the chair. “Gus was a charmer, and I think he had half my debutante class madly in love with him by the time he’d finished with us.”
“Finished with you?” Ginger echoed, an auburn brow raised.
Rose shook a finger at her. “Finished with our
, dear heart—at least, in my case, though I can’t vouch for the others,” she said, and gave Ginger a wink.
“Augustus Wakefield is a well-respected federal judge, and an incredibly generous philanthropist,” Deena interjected, giving Ginger a look that clearly meant “Don’t listen to your grandmother.”
“Oh, but he wasn’t always a judge, now, was he, Dee?” Rose replied. “Or even very respectable, come to think of it. Just because he’s well thought of now doesn’t make him a saint.”
Deena looked primed to respond but Rose beat her to it.
“Nothing happened between Gus and me,” Ginger’s grandmother clarified with a toss of her silver hair. “I may have been a teenager but I was no fool, though I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. Gussy certainly knew his way around women, and he still does, if marrying his fourth—or is it fifth?—
younger wife is any indication. Let’s just hope his desire to be a Lothario wasn’t passed down to future generations.”
What’s the deal with older guys and younger chicks?
wondered, realizing her last few crushes had been on older dudes. Hadn’t her own father left them for his twenty-something secretary? And look at Mac’s dad and Honey, too. Mac was closer to her stepmom’s age than her dad was. Then there was Harrington Bell, who seemed about a hundred years older than Laura’s mom.
Mac would probably chalk it up to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest or something. Ginger just figured it was pure and simple lust.
“So Gus was a player, I get it,” Ginger said, ignoring her mother’s disapproving sigh. “Still, the painting’s so truthful it’s brilliant. Whatever this Gus dude was or wasn’t to you, he definitely captured your essence. I mean, look at your eyes …. They’re so alive!” She set aside her cup and saucer and rose from her chair, walking over to stand beneath the seven-foot portrait. “And your skin seems to glow.” She clasped her hands behind her back, studying the effects of the colors and texture of the strokes on the canvas. “It’s incandescent, Grammy. Really, it is. I know I’d love it if someone ever painted such an honest portrait of me.”
Her grandmother looked surprised. “You would?”
“I would.” Ginger nodded, thinking nothing of the exchange until Rose Dupree smiled so broadly it looked like her face would crack. A lightbulb went on in Ginger’s head, and she quickly glanced in her mother’s direction. But Deena wouldn’t meet her eyes. She merely concentrated on her teacup as she raised it to her lips and took a sip.
So this has to do with the portrait
, Ginger realized, and wondered if perhaps Rose was thinking of donating hers for the upcoming charity auction to raise funds for Trees for Houston, one of Ginger’s favorite green causes. But would
her grandmother truly part with something so sentimental? It didn’t make sense.
“I’m delighted you feel that way, darling girl, because I have a surprise for you.” Her grandmother strolled toward her, arms extended, blue-veined hands reaching for Ginger’s freckled ones. “I could only hope you’d be pleased, and now I’m sure you will be.”
With that, Rose let go of Ginger and scooped up a small crystal bell from a carved sideboard. She rang it with a practiced hand and, within moments, a slender mocha-skinned woman in a neat gray pantsuit entered the room, pausing just inside.
“Are you ready for him now, Miss Rose?” she asked.
“Yes, Serena,” Ginger’s grandmother responded. “Do bring the boy in.”
? What the hell is going on?
Was she going to be asked to babysit or was she being set up? And what, if anything, did this boy have to do with Rose’s deb portrait?
Ginger didn’t like the sound of it. If only she was as good at throwing a tantrum or turning on the tears as Laura Bell. Laura could dramatize her way out of any situation. It was a talent Ginger didn’t possess, since she tended to overdo and Deena could see right through her.
Before Ginger could do anything, Serena returned with a tall young man. “Let me know if you need anything else, Miss Rose,” the woman said, and nodded at the elder woman before bowing out of the room, drawing closed the parlor doors.
“Ah, Mrs. Dupree, you’re looking as exquisite as ever,” the fellow said, smiling familiarly at Ginger’s grandmother.
He brushed at midnight black hair that nearly reached his collar, and Ginger noticed threads of gold as the light from the chandelier struck the thick waves. Professional highlights, and expensive ones too.
How totally metrosexual
, she thought. She was normally drawn to less materialistic guys who didn’t look so picture-perfect (like Javier, for example, though look where that had gotten her).
“Kent, darling, so good to see you,” Rose gushed, and made a graceful beeline across the parlor toward the lanky young man in the pin-striped trousers that clearly screamed “Armani.” His black T-shirt was neatly tucked into the low-slung waistband of his pants, and he wore a black leather belt with a flat silver buckle.
He looks like Ralph Lauren’s version of Goth
, Ginger thought with amusement, having passed through a true post-punk dark-wave period herself. She suddenly heard Laura’s voice in her ear, whispering disdainfully, “Someone should have told Kent
the new black.”
She had to bite her cheek to suppress a giggle.
“Come in, dear boy, please,” her grandmother said, the pitch of her voice rising like a giddy schoolgirl’s. Rose drew her guest forward, pausing fleetingly in front of Deena. “You know my daughter, Deena Dupree Fore, of course.” She hesitated only long enough for Kent to acknowledge Ginger’s mother with a brief “So nice to see you again, Mrs. Fore.”
Rose didn’t even wait for Deena to reply in kind before dragging the fellow over to Ginger and parking him directly in front of her.
Rose said, waving an arm at the young man as if he were a game-show prize, “is Kent Wakefield, the grandson of my dear old friend, Gus Wakefield.”
“Augustus Wakefield?” Ginger repeated, more confused now than ever.
Her grandmother smiled, bobbing her head. “Yes, yes, the artist who painted my debutante portrait. Kent, this is my granddaughter, Ginger. She’s the one you’ll be painting. How positively delicious is that? Sort of like coming full circle, is it not?” Rose clapped, clearly enjoying Ginger’s deerin-headlights expression too much.
Ginger could only stare as Kent Wakefield stuck out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Ginger,” he said, and she snapped to, shaking his hand. He didn’t let go.
“Uh, yeah, hi,” she replied, biting on her bottom lip as she took in his patrician features. She tilted her head and squinted. Something about him seemed so familiar, but she couldn’t put a finger on it. “Are you at Caldwell?” she asked, easing her fingers from his lingering grip.
“I am now, yes,” he replied, his smooth-shaven face taking on a guarded expression. “I just transferred back from prep school up east. I was in Connecticut at Rockhurst, my father’s alma mater, until my grandfather requested I come home. He’s finagled several local galleries into showing my work, and he arranged for an internship at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was too tempting an offer to resist.”
“Gus is the one who suggested I have you paint Ginger’s portrait,” Rose said, beaming like it was the greatest idea since instant messaging.
Kent cocked his head. “I’m sure his brilliant idea was merely a ploy to keep in touch with you, Mrs. Dupree. Apparently, once upon a time, he was pretty infatuated with you.”
Ginger couldn’t believe it when her always poised grandmother blushed. “You flatter me, dear boy.”
Oh, this dude was smooth, all right. Apparently, he did take after his silver-tongued grandfather after all.
“I’m the one who should be flattered … by your interest in my art, I mean,” Kent said, ducking his head modestly. “I’ve no doubt Gus twisted a lot of arms here in town, because my paintings are selling really well and ending up in amazing private collections. I’d like to believe he’s so involved in my art because he imagines I’m that good, but I have a feeling it has more to do with his wanting to keep an eye on me.”
Rose chuckled. “He’s a smart man, your granddad.”
“He’s certainly got an eye for beautiful things, though I think that runs in the family,” Kent said, and smiled at Ginger.
Give me a break!
Ginger cleared her throat and picked up where she’d left off before her grandmother had interrupted them. “So you went to Caldwell for middle school before you left the Wild West for Ivy League turf. Maybe we crossed paths, because there’s something about you—I don’t know. I feel like we met a long time ago.”
Kent’s smile evaporated, and he shifted weight from one Gucci loafer to the other. “Um, well, I was only at Caldwell until the sixth grade before my father shipped me off to Rockhurst. Could be we ran into each other at some event or other, since our families run in similar circles.”
“I guess,” Ginger said. It sounded plausible enough, even if she didn’t believe that was it.
“Surely, I would’ve remembered if we’d met.” His gaze
locked on hers, and this time it was Ginger who felt flustered. “You’re very different from most girls,” he remarked, and seemed to take her in from head to toe. “You’re not so … obvious.”
“You mean, I’ve actually got clothes on, and I didn’t buy half my body parts,” she replied, earning her a chastising “Ginger!” from Deena.
But Kent just laughed. “I can already tell that capturing you on canvas is going to be quite challenging.”
“In a good way, of course,” Ginger teased.
Maybe it was her imagination, but Ginger thought he seemed a little
eager; sort of like a boy who’d had too many Krispy Kremes and now hungered for an organic blueberry muffin. Or perhaps like a boy who felt guilty and wanted to make up for it.
“Wonderful,” Rose drawled, interrupting them. “It’s settled, then. How about we schedule the first sitting for tomorrow evening at, say, eight-thirty, if that works for you, Kent. Do you have a studio?”