Read an Excerpt
Where is everyone?
Jo Lynn Bidwell entered the Houstonian's Grande Ballroom in a rustle of tulle petticoats and silk. She'd expected to hear music, to see the arch of raised military sabers that she was supposed to walk beneath on her daddy's arm when she was formally introduced, but the enormous room was dead silent.
Despite her elbow-length white kidskin gloves, goose bumps rose on her arms, and she rubbed them as she wandered around, gazing up at chandeliers that dripped from the ceiling. The crystal-beaded lamps were bare, without the clouds of white dendrobium orchids Bootsie Bidwell had said would be flown in from Hawaii to decorate the room for the Rosebud Ball. Jo noticed too that the tables had no linens, and there were folding chairs parked around each. Where are the gold Chiavari chairs and the enormous floral centerpieces that Bootsie had specially designed by Lyman Ratcliffe? They were nowhere in sight.
"Hello?" she repeated, though her voice merely echoed in the huge space. "Is anyone here?"
She glanced around, catching her reflection in a mirror on the wall--then realized it wasn't her reflection at all. The girl in the silvered glass was at least twice her size, and she was smiling maliciously as she approached.
Oh, hell. It was Laura Bell, wearing the exact same Vera Wang gown as Jo Lynn: a silk satin underlay with a layer of English netting and a silk voile overlay with delicate hand-sewn flower appliques and seed pearls. Except Laura's dress was much larger than Jo Lynn's. Forget her being a debu-tank. She was more like a debu-blimp, as in Goodyear.
"Surprise, surprise," Laura taunted her, the sparkle from the heavily jeweled tiara in her upswept blond hair so intense Jo felt blinded. "What's wrong, girlfriend?" Laura's square-jawed face leaned close enough for Jo to feel the girl's hot breath on her skin. "You look like you've seen a ghost. Or is it envy, since I look better in this gown than you? Or maybe it's because I've got the best-looking escort in the room, and you're all by your lonesome?"
Jo Lynn started to open her mouth to fight back, but all words caught in her throat when she saw the broad-shouldered guy in the tuxedo walking toward them. He ignored Jo completely as he took Laura's hand.
OMG. It was Dillon Masters.
"Noooooooo!" Jo Lynn screamed at the top of her lungs.
Hands gripped her, shaking her shoulders, and a gravelly voice said, "Jo, hey, calm down. It's all right."
But it isn't all right. Dillon is with that lard-ass Laura!
Jo struggled against the arms that wrapped tightly around her. A sob wedged in her throat, and she felt the rush of tears behind her eyelids.
"Babe, I'm here. It's okay."
She stopped fighting and forced her eyes open to see Dillon's chiseled features hovering above her. His wide brow wrinkled with concern. She wiped the dampness from her cheeks and touched his jaw, the unshaved skin like sandpaper, and she let out a huge sigh of relief.
"You're here," she whispered, and glanced around them at the familiar living room of the Bidwells' guesthouse. They lay on the L-shaped sofa, across from the plasma TV, its screen dark and empty. It had all been a dream, she realized, the crazy beat of her heart slowing down. This was real. How could she ever have believed someone like Dillon would escort a slob like Laura to the Rosebud Ball?
"Oh, God," she cried, burying her face in his chest. "It was awful."
"I knew we shouldn't have watched Shaun of the Dead again," he said as he stroked her hair. "All that salsa and chips probably didn't help either, and neither did falling asleep on the couch." He squinted at his wristwatch and groaned. "It's already eight o'clock."
"Eight?" Jo lifted up her head, panicking momentarily because it was a Monday morning, until she remembered it was Labor Day. She sighed and settled down again. "It's a holiday, Dill. We don't have to go anywhere for a while if we don't want to."
"Your mom's still gonna freak if she wakes up and sees my car here."
"Please." Jo laughed. "Bootsie adores you."
And it was true. Her mother loved Dillon. He could do no wrong in her eyes, so long as he was making Jo Lynn happy. Jo's mother would totally buy that they'd passed out in the guesthouse watching movies, which was mostly all they'd done. Bootsie thought Mr. Star Quarterback was the model gentleman and he was, more than Jo Lynn would've liked, although he had macked on her plenty last night. Jo's face heated up even now, thinking of Dillon's strong hands on her skin and the firm way he'd kissed her, like he had something to prove.
Which he does, she reminded herself, figuring it was the least she deserved after the romantic drought she'd endured the past month. Dillon always had a million excuses too, like the stress of football practice, training sessions, and pressure from his dad and college recruiters.
"Jo?" Dill's voice brought her back to the present as he settled against the deep cushions, his pale gaze glued on her. "So, what's with your nightmare?"
He obviously isn't in a hurry to disappear, she thought smugly, hoping that things were getting back to normal between them. She'd missed being close to him.
"It was more like a fright-mare," she said, shaking off the flashes of it that still lingered. She squeezed her eyes closed a couple times to clear the visions. "I was at the Houstonian, but no one else was there for the deb ball except that skank Laura Bell, and she was wearing my couture Vera Wang gown, although hers was way bigger than mine, of course. But that couldn't possibly happen because the Glass Slipper Club's historian records everyone's dresses so no two are alike--"
Dillon was staring at her like she was a lunatic so she stopped herself. "Never mind," she told him, because explaining it did make her sound totally obsessive. "I think I'm just feeling the pressure. The first Rosebud meeting's tomorrow night, and she'll be there, acting like she's all that and getting in my face unless I--"
Jo Lynn didn't finish. Dillon didn't need to hear her scheme to get Laura ousted from the Rosebuds no matter what it took, no matter how important it was to her. He wouldn't understand. She gnawed on her lower lip, itching to ask him a question that nagged at her. Finally, she just blurted out, "So what do you think of her?"
From the Trade Paperback edition.