Authors: Susan McBride
“I’ve been working out of the sunroom at my parents’ house, Mrs. Dupree, and I believe Mother’s throwing a dinner party tomorrow night, not that I’m invited.” Kent shrugged. “My father has business partners flying in from Japan.”
“Ah, I see. Well, perhaps we can arrange something else,” Rose suggested.
Like, maybe another night and another time?
“Um, excuse me, Grammy,” Ginger butted in, not really appreciating the way they talked as if she wasn’t even there. “But I have my first Rosebud meeting tomorrow at seven at
the Glass Slipper Club. I can’t be there and do the sitting, too.”
“Pish posh,” Rose Dupree said, and dismissively waved a blue-veined hand. “That initial meeting’s merely a formality. It won’t take all night. It never lasts longer than an hour or so, does it, Deena?”
“Never,” Deena dutifully agreed.
“But I already have plans,” Ginger tried to beg off. She wanted to go to the first Rosebud meeting with Mac and Laura, and definitely didn’t want to carpool with Deena any more than she wanted to return to her grandmother’s afterward. “No, I’m sorry, but tomorrow night won’t work for me.”
“Hush, please, darling. Let Grammy think.” Rose cocked her head and fiddled with the pearls around her neck, a sure sign that she was cooking up something that suited her, regardless of what anyone else had in mind.
Ginger felt completely at her mercy. Not even a prearranged call from Mac faking car trouble could bail her out this time, she thought with a sigh.
“I know.” Rose brightened. “How about y’all come here? Ginger can model my debutante gown so you can take pictures or whatever it is you do to prepare, Kent, dear. You can even use the library for as long as you’re working on the portrait. It’s where Gus painted me, if you hadn’t already guessed.”
“What a lovely idea,” Deena piped up with a smile—the first real smile that Ginger had seen on her mother’s face all afternoon. She turned to Ginger. “Sweetie, we can go together, if you’d like. I have to be at the meeting anyway.”
Would anyone listen if she said no?
Kent obviously noticed her frustration. But instead of making it easy on her by suggesting another date, he stepped toward her, explaining, “I promise it won’t take long. We’ll just do some preliminary staging, and I’ll take some photographs. It’ll be over in a flash.”
“A flash, huh?” Ginger sighed, realizing this wasn’t something she could get out of gracefully—or at all. She nodded reluctantly. “Okay. So long as I’m allowed to come by myself. Thanks anyway, Mother.”
She glanced at Deena, who shrugged, which was as good a nonresponse as any. Ginger had expected a bit of an argument, but her mom seemed too happy about the turn of events to put up a fight. That got Ginger to wondering if this whole scenario hadn’t been cooked up between Deena and Rose to keep her occupied for a while so she wouldn’t waste her time on “unworthy boys” like Javier Garcia. Ginger wasn’t normally a conspiracy theorist, but she found the idea entirely plausible.
“So there we are,” Rose said, and her pale eyes lit up within the soft folds of her face. “I’ll see everyone back here tomorrow night at around half past eight. Ginger?” Her grandmother’s penciled brows arched.
“Yes, Grammy, I’ll be here,” she agreed, wishing it didn’t mean skipping out on her two best friends.
Trust has noting to do with love.
It’s vigilance that’s import.
Love may be blind, but I’d rather
keep both eyes wide open.
—Jo Lynn Bidwell
“No freakin’ way!” Jo Lynn squealed into her iPhone as she drove her Audi one-handed down tree-shaded Bunker Hill toward the cul-de-sac where Dillon lived, already late for his family’s Labor Day barbecue. “You saw
working out at the club? Sure you didn’t sprinkle crack on your Frosted Flakes?”
“It was Laura, I swear to God,” Camie Lindell assured her.
“Damn, I would’ve paid to see that! Does the Hostess Cupcake even know how to break a sweat?”
“Only if it involves shoveling food into her mouth,” Camie said, laughing.
“Snap!” Jo wondered if Laura’s workout was in any way inspired by the edible gifts she’d been getting from her phony admirer. She smirked at the thought. If Laura seemed panicked about her weight, then maybe Jo’s plan to bulk her up and get her booted from the Rosebuds was right on track. Being a Glass Slipper Club deb was a privilege that a debutank like Laura didn’t deserve. “Was she alone?”
“Do Randoms ever travel alone?” Cam retorted. “She was with that mousy Mac Mackenzie. Although they were both
gone by the time Trisha and I finished with yoga. They probably had heart attacks after five minutes on the treadmill.”
“I doubt Laura even lasted that long.” Jo snorted.
“Dillon was there too. We ran into him before our class.”
“Oh, really?” Dillon had mentioned working out before the party, but still Jo’s pulse picked up at the idea of Dill and Laura being in the same room when she wasn’t around. It was that conniving slut she didn’t trust. “Was he with anyone?” Jo Lynn ventured to ask.
“Just some other jock.”
Jo’s heartbeat slowed, and she told herself,
See, nothing to worry about!
“I’m on my way to Dill’s house now,” Jo Lynn told her friend, and took her hand off the wheel long enough to hit her right blinker, before she turned onto Dillon’s street. “I’m a little behind, so I’ve gotta run. I’ll catch up with you later so we can talk smack. Did you hear that one Rosebud already bit the dust? Though Bootsie wouldn’t tell me who.”
“Omigod,” Camie breathed. “It must be Mindy Sue Mabry. My mom was yakking on her cell this morning about the Mabrys going bankrupt and Donatella Versace refusing to do Mindy’s dress on credit.”
“Mindy Sue? Are you sure?” Jo couldn’t help feeling disappointed it wasn’t the Hostess Cupcake or one of her troll-like friends.
“Like, ninety-nine percent sure, but I guess we’ll find out all the gory details tomorrow night at the first deb meeting, right?” Camie said, adding giddily, “God, I can’t wait!”
“The first deb meeting, yes,” Jo said, playing down her own excitement when just uttering those words gave her an unbelievable rush. The Rosebud orientation was the official
start to their debutante season, and it couldn’t begin soon enough for her.
“So you’re going to Dill’s barbecue?” Cam asked, changing the subject. “Tell me if you see Avery, and take notes on anyone he talks to, pretty please? He didn’t ask me to go with him, the jerk. He told me he wanted to chill with his homies.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Jo promised, wondering what the hell was going on with Avery. Ever since Jo had caught him kissing Laura-the-Party-Crasher at Jo’s end-of-summer bash, he’d been acting more and more like a loose cannon, doing things his own way instead of following her advice. Jo just hoped it wouldn’t get to be a real problem, or she’d have to yank him back in line again.
“At least Brody didn’t invite Trisha either,” Cam rambled on. “They probably just want to get drunk and act like idiots, which is why the coaches aren’t ever invited.” When Jo didn’t respond, Camie sighed. “So, anyhoo, we’ll be getting mani-pedis at the club spa while you frolic poolside with the football studs.”
“Look, I gotta go. TTFN,” Jo Lynn drawled into her phone and hung up before Camie could say more. She dropped the cell into her lap.
She glanced at the clock on her dash. It was fifteen past one, which she’d hardly consider late for a formal dinner, much less a casual barbecue. Besides, it wasn’t as if Dillon ever expected her to be on time, and Jo liked being unpredictable.
For anybody else, being late might mean parking miles away, particularly since the line of cars in front of the Masterses’ house went from one end of the street to another. But Jo wasn’t just
She smiled to herself, knowing that Dillon had arranged for her to park in the driveway. So, no worries about having to wedge her pristine Audi between any of the dusty vehicles perched on the grassy shoulder between the dip of the drainage ditch and the road, thank God.
As Jo slowly rolled forward, she glimpsed Avery Dorman’s burnt-orange Corvette stuck between two oversized Chevy pickups with tires so huge they came up to her hips. One truck wore a bumper sticker that read:
WARNING TAILGATERS! DRIVER CHEWS TOBACCO
, Jo thought, and stuck out her tongue.
Dillon might play football with a few cowboys, but he definitely isn’t one
Jo slid her Audi between the rows of cars on either side of the street, cruising toward the sprawling Mediterranean-style mansion at the cul-de-sac’s far end. Within a blink, she spotted a handmade sign tacked to a stepladder at the foot of the driveway, the only open space, as it looked like a parking lot with the BMWs, Mercedes, and Escalades packed in like sardines.
Reserved for Jo Lynn
the sign read in Dillon’s hand writing.
How precious is that?
she thought as she put the car in park, jumping out long enough to get the stepladder moved, and then hopping back in the driver’s seat to pull the car in. Dillon always made sure she was taken care of. So few guys even bothered to hold doors open for their girlfriends these days, and here Dill had gone and made her a front-row parking space.
Before Jo Lynn turned off the engine, she sat in the cool of the air-conditioning and dabbed another layer of MAC gloss on her lips until her mouth looked slick and luscious. She checked her hair, the pale tresses worn long and straight, which made her blue eyes pop.
Can’t improve on perfection
, she told herself, and grinned as she slipped her Prada shades on. Then she cracked the windows in the Audi before she locked up, even though it wouldn’t help much. It might officially be September, but a high of near ninety was predicted, which meant her thighs would stick to the leather seats when she got back in, no matter what. Looking on the bright side, at least living in H-town meant she never had to break out the snow tires, right?
She tugged on the hem of her brown BCBG miniskirt and turquoise-striped tee before striding toward the front door of the Masters mansion in her matching turquoise Max Azria sandals.
With each long-legged step, the sun warmed her arms and the top of her head. A prickle of anticipation raced through her as she followed the curve of the driveway toward the custom new-construction home that looked very much like a Texas builder’s idea of an Italian villa. Dillon and his family had moved in just about when he and Jo had started dating. She recalled Ray Masters mentioning that his “baby” exceeded ten thousand square feet, and figured Dillon’s dad had definitely wanted to outdo the Joneses in a big way. According to Dill, the contractor had torn down two adjacent McMansions to make way for Big Ray’s showplace.
Not bad for an ex-football jock who peddles cars for a living
, Jo Lynn mused as she reached the sandstone path set precisely between rows of Royal Palms that towered overhead at least twenty feet. Ahead lay a two-story entrance with a carved teak door below the second-story balcony with its hand-forged iron railing.
Beyond the pale peach stucco facade, she heard Willie
Nelson wailing, “You were always on my mind,” from the backyard speakers. Dillon’s dad did love his Willie … and his barbecue. Jo sniffed the air, thinking she could smell that, too.
“Hey, there you are!”
Dillon burst through the front door before Jo Lynn had even reached the welcome mat. He must’ve been on the lookout for her, she figured, and her heart nearly jumped from her chest.
“I was wondering when you’d show.”
“Like I’ve ever been on time to anything,” Jo teased with a smile, taking in the sight of him as she walked forward. He had on Quiksilver board shorts, slung low on his hips, and his chest was bare and bronzed, sculpted muscles everywhere she looked. His blond hair was slicked back from his head and appeared dark, damp with pool water.
God, he’s too good to be true
She had to stop herself from drooling. “Did you miss me?”
Instead of answering, Dillon pulled her in for a bear hug, and Jo Lynn breathed in the warm smell of him, like tanning oil and beer. It was like nectar to a bee, and she couldn’t resist catching her fingers in his hair and pulling him in for a deep, wet kiss that sent heat oozing through her belly and left Dillon’s lips covered in MAC gloss.
“You’re a mess,” she said, and ran a thumb over his mouth, wiping away the pink smear as he grinned and tugged her by the hand.
“My dad’s been asking where you were. Hell, most of the team has been wondering, too. I think they just want to eyeball you in your bikini,” he said, leading her through the ginormous foyer with its patterned marble floors, pink
marble columns, and double staircase with a stylized wrought-iron banister that split and swirled above them.