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Pippa Bared All
By Ally Blake, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Ally Blake
All rights reserved.
Pippa Montgomery was a fraud.
She made a darn fine living with P.S., her widely syndicated blog, traveling the country, shining a spotlight on girls who'd done extraordinary things with their pint-size lives, and on the back of those stories conjuring bite-size affirmations for hopeful tweens.
And yet, her first time back in Bellefleur after leaving the place in her dust, Pippa sat hunched down in the driver's seat of the exact same swamp-rescued Firebird in which she'd once fled the scene, trying very much to achieve invisibility.
From the corner of her eye she watched the river of wedding guests in an array of spring pastels flooding past her car. The joining of the Moreau and Delacroix clans was akin to forming a dynasty, so maybe the wedding was big enough that a small person like her might be able to disappear. She could only hope!
A row of knuckles materalized in front of her face, knocking so hard on the window it rained down desert dust, causing Pippa to flinch so hard she banged her knee on the underside of the steering wheel.
"Pippa?" a muffled voice singsonged with a Louisiana lilt. "Pippa Montgomery? That you, sweet pea?"
Pippa cranked the squeaky old window to halfway, letting in air thick with humidity and the mixed scent of distant magnolia and adjacent talc.
"Why, of course it's you!" Bellefleur native Lady Calliope shouted in a kind of fervor. "I'd have recognized that car of yours anywhere!"
Right. The car. Duh. With its faded red paint job, the huge black bird sprayed on the hood, and an engine that sounded like a monster truck rally all on its lonesome, the car she and the bride and groom had once famously rescued from a Baton Rouge bayou must have stuck out among the Bellefleur Bentleys and Beemers like a gnome in a rose garden.
Lady Calliope leaned in deeper as she wrapped her long pink talons around the window. "Now tell me true, what you doin' here, sweet pea?" And Pippa knew she wasn't asking why she was still in her car.
Lady Calliope wanted to know why — after disappearing into the night after high school graduation, leaving behind the boy who'd loved her and the best girl friend she'd ever had — Pippa had decided to come back to Bellefleur on the very day Brent Delacroix was to marry Honey Moreau.
Her reasons were ... complicated, and none of Lady Calliope's business, frankly. So Pippa conjured the art of gracious endurance that the achingly short amount of time she'd lived in Bellefleur had taught her. She spread a smile across her face, blinked sweetly, and said, "Why, Lady Calliope, I was invited. You?"
Lady Calliope barely raised a brow before she guffawed so loudly heads turned, saw her, saw her car, and the those well-coiffed heads bent together as the word began to spread — Pippa Montgomery was back in town.
"You always were a lively one, girl. Would have been a grave disappointment to find the big wide world had subdued you any."
An unexpected smile quirked at Pippa's mouth. "Same to you, Lady."
With a smile, Lady Calliope straightened, putting her impressive bust at Pippa's eye level as she said, "Better scoot. Bride'll be a sight to see. Mind you, the groom ain't ever been hard to look at either, as you well know." Then she tottered off to join a colorful group of women in big jewels and bigger hats, leaving Pippa to let out a long, slow breath.
That went okay, considering. If they were all as well behaved as Lady Calliope, she'd get off lightly.
She laughed at the thought of Lady Calliope being well behaved. According to the old-money types in town, Lady had earned her fortune the shady way, by marrying it. Which was fine for someone with breeding, but not an outsider, not a woman with no family or ties to the Mayflower. Which is why they'd spitefully pinned the Lady moniker upon her. But rather than pretending she didn't know, Lady Calliope had owned it until it stuck.
Now that was the kind of chutzpah P.S. was recognized for. Hiding out, not so much.
Like a kick in the pants, it shot Pippa upright. She angled herself for one last check in the rearview mirror. Her long dark waves had so far survived the humidity shock, and waterproof mascara was doing as advertised by taming her overlong lashes and making the most of her light hazel eyes. She lifted a compact to her cheeks before letting it drop. It was late spring in the Deep South and LA had given her something of a tan; there'd be no stopping the "Louisiana glow."
P.S. Don't sweat what you can't change! she'd quip if she were blogging about it. Or, P.S. It's your chance to shine!
It made her think of the faces of the eleven-year-olds she'd met in Texas the day before, their faces so sweet, so hopeful, so enamored of her cool car, her amaaazing life, so matter-of-fact as they told her how they'd managed to survive a night in the Guadalupe Mountains after getting separated from their parents while camping.
Buck up, Pippa. How about, P.S. Get the hell out of the car!
So told, she did. Her knees wobbled from being cramped so long in the one position. And okay, from more than a little nerves. Unforgettable as she was, Lady Calliope had been only peripheral to Pippa's time in Bellefleur. There were others who'd loomed larger. Several of whom she owed far more than gracious endurance.
For one, there was the groom; handsome and amiable Brent Delacroix, the absolute catch of the town. The last time she'd seen him had been high school graduation. That night he'd proposed. To her.
Behind her back, Pippa gripped the handle of the open door with both hands, so tight she fast lost feeling in her fingers.
There was also the bride. The lovely Honore Moreau — Pippa's once-upon-a-time best friend forever. The last time she'd seen Honey, she'd been even more dumbstruck that Pippa had turned Brent down than Brent had. People didn't turn down Delacroixes. It just wasn't done.
If possible, Pippa gripped the door handle harder still.
Brent's parents would be in there somewhere too. When her impossible mom had stayed true to form and chased another man across the country just six months before Pippa had been due to graduate high school, Marie and Robert Delacroix — the most munificent, astute, dazzling people she'd ever known — hadn't hesitated before insisting on taking their son's non-native girlfriend in so that she could graduate with her friends.
And Pippa had left Bellefleur that fateful graduation night without even telling them good-bye.
When the fingers gripping the handle began to cramp, Pippa unclamped and slid them free. She ran her damp palms down her slinky black dress - a dress she hoped made her appear fearless, even if she sure didn't feel it - and closed her eyes as she breathed in deep.
She hadn't been surprised when birthday messages from the Delacroixes had arrived at her first dilapidated shared apartment in LA. When cheery Christmas cards had followed, as if she was still one of their own. They were the Delacroixes after all — and knew everyone and everything. And they were pure class, all the way, especially in inviting her the way they had.
Because yes she did have an invitation, thank you very much. A beautiful blinding-white embossed card with Honey's signature flower etched into the top corner.
Honeysuckle. Bellefleur near drowned in the stuff. And yet it had always reminded her of one very particular moment: standing in the moonlit Delacroix kitchen, the scent drifting from the patio on a thick summer breeze.
Of Griffin Delacroix.
When she felt herself come over all vapory, Pippa reached frantically behind her for the door handle, only to scrape a knuckle against a corner of the silver stripe trim that had lifted. The car was trying to tell her something. Probably to grow a spine and get the hell inside.
"Not yet," she told the car, not until the thump of her heart settled back into a less supernatural rhythm. Nothing new there though, not when Griff Delacroix was concerned.
He'd been a couple of years ahead of Brent and already off at college when Pippa and her whirlwind mom had first crash-landed in Bellefleur, and yet she'd heard the stories about the near-mythical Griff from almost the moment she'd arrived. The star quarterback who'd been offered football and academic places at a half dozen top universities, who'd notoriously taken a place at the one farthest from Bellefleur. Ouch.
He'd been just as notorious for cutting class, breaking hearts, and nearly losing his license drag-racing down Main Street at three in the morning as he was for his prestigious surname. And he'd gotten away with it all.
It had helped that he was well over six feet of solid muscle and natural grace and God-given charm. It helped more that he was a Delacroix.
Pippa shook her head. He was the last person to concern herself with. Of all the Delacroixes, she didn't owe Griff a damn thing.
Since the wedding was clearly going to be titanic, and since the guy would be simple enough to spot, considering he stood head and shoulders over everyone else in town, it would be easy enough to avoid that particular blast from the past.
Pippa shut the Firebird's door, then gave it an extra bump with her hip when it missed the mark. A new twitch she'd need to get fixed. For what she'd spent keeping the Firebird going over the years, she could have bought two new cars. Or an actual designer dress rather than a knockoff from eBay.
But no, she couldn't complain about the dress. The dress was fabulous! Black, cut away at the back and sides, held up by the great elegant bow behind her neck. The top half draped lovingly to her waist, the bottom swept the floor with its voluminous skirt. And it boasted a great swath of dust where her hip had bussed the car.
She wiped it away, and doing her very best to channel her inner Lady Calliope, Pippa tilted her chin at the hot blue sky and slipped into the stream of people heading through Belles Fleurs' intricately twisted wrought iron gates and onto the grounds of the plantation itself.
As she walked beneath the shade of the double row of enormous oak trees arching across the long drive leading to the languid elegance of the main house in the distance, the temperature seemed to drop five degrees, and Pippa began to breathe easier.
Maybe it would all be fine. Maybe nobody would remember her bar the main players. She would take this chance to thank them from the bottom of her heart, to wish them all the luck in the world, to say proper good-byes, and then she could close that chapter of her life for good.
"Look, Cecily. It is that Montgomery girl. The one in black."
Cocktail party syndrome in force, Pippa's eyes flickered in the direction of her name, only to find half a dozen different clumps of people now glancing her way. Some had slowed; others had come to a complete halt as they ogled her.
Feeling the heat of a dozen pairs of eyes burning into her, Pippa checked to make sure her dress wasn't hooked into her panties after her quick stop at the Tastee Freez off I-10.
Another voice snagged her hearing. "That's the one Brent dumped for the Moreau girl. Poor thing was so devastated she fled town."
Before Pippa could even think about putting the woman's story straight, someone else said, "Her mother was the one who ran off with Trudy Carlisle's beau."
"Think that kind of thing's in the blood?" Now they'd given up whispering and talked about her as if she were some kind of museum exhibit.
"'Course it is. Lived in LA, I heard. Now she's some kind of bohemian, living out of her car."
She didn't live out of her car, for Pete's sake! She just traveled a lot, talking to tween girls around the country who'd done special things with their short lives. Role models for her P.S. devotees. And her car was kind of famous, thank you very much. Her bio on the site had a picture of her with the car, a motif for the long and winding road of possibility her staunch band of followers had stretching out in front of them.
"No man on her arm," one said.
"No ring on her finger, neither," whispered another.
"Can only mean one thing."
Oh God, what's that? Pippa wondered. Then wished she hadn't.
"Look out Honey, Little Miss Runaway is here to take back her man."
"What?" Yep, that was her own voice echoing down the tunnel of treetops as the world tilted beneath her feet. "That's not what it means," she said to no one and everyone. "I'm just not seeing anyone right now. I'm ... They're not ..."
But no one was listening to her, not when the fact that she was clearly on a mission to break up the wedding was spreading down the drive faster than she could run. She knew. Because by that stage she was running.
Her dress hitched up at the sides, her high heels skittering on the gravel, her dark hair flicking into her eyes. No, no, no, bouncing about inside her head with every step.
Word could not get back to Brent and Honey that she planned to create havoc on their big day. Considering the way she'd formerly fled, they'd be in no doubt she'd inherited her mother's flare for the dramatic. But she was no home-wrecker. The truth was the exact opposite. She needed to see that they were all happy. Then maybe, please God, she would stop looking over her shoulder as if she'd left something precious, and broken, behind.
Otherwise every word she wrote for a living would make her a fraud the rest of her natural life.
When Pippa hit the end of the drive it was to find a crowd gathered at the bottom of the mansion's front steps, chatting, waiting, laughing, knocking back mimosas like orange juice was going out of fashion.
She considered, for a moment, just keeping on keeping on, all the way to the river beyond. It was full of gators and leeches. It was a toss-up.
But if Pippa Montgomery was anything, she was scrappy. If not, she'd never have had the guts to leave in the first place. Never have survived the smoggy endless horizon of LA. Never have harassed advertisers into giving her little column a chance so that she could pour her heart out and eat at the same time.
A waiter approached with a spray of wedding programs folded into the shapes of fans and a tray of mimosas in tall glasses dripping with condensation.
Needing to do something, Pippa took one of each. Too late she discovered she needed to be some kind of contortionist to reach the drink with her elbow out of action, gripping her purse.
She looked around to see what other women were doing, only to find most had men hooked to their sides, men who held their drinks while they fanned themselves.
And then came an idea so brilliant it sparkled!
Pippa Needed a Man.
Not in the forever sense. Her capricious mom had managed to turn that concept into a four-letter word. But not just to hold her drink either. She needed a man to stand close. To deflect the stares and the scandal. To pretend to be her date. It was the only way the rumors would abate.
She'd barely started casing the crowd for a candidate when a man with a long white beard and an impressive girth moved to the top of the stairs and called in a booming voice, "Mademoiselle Honore Moreau and Monsieur Brenton Delacroix request the honor of your presence on the lawn for the commencement of their nuptials."
The crowd bumped and bustled as they poured up the stairs and into the house, and Pippa's possible saviors disappeared one by one. She began to panic. To sweat. To —
And then she saw him.
A man ambling slowly up the stairs holding a program that had been unceremoniously unfolded and curled back into a tube to be slapped against his left thigh. Better and better, his left hand was wedding-band-free.
Pippa slipped between guests until she was right behind him heading up the stairs. He was tall. She wasn't sure how tall, because he was a step above her. Nice suit, though. A gray so dark it was almost black. Fit well, too, she realized as he bent over to pick up something someone in front of him had dropped, leaving her at eye level with very nice backside.
He straightened and her gaze snapped back up to the back of his head.
The niceness of his backside was beside the point. What was the point was that his thick dark hair was overlong, curling a little over the snow- white collar of his dress shirt. Her mouth tugged into a grin. No southern woman would ever let her man's shirt collar hook under his jacket that way.
She hitched her skirt and took the last two steps. Saw her chance. Took it. Tucking her hand into the crook of his left arm.
When he flinched away from the contact she held on for dear life. She neatly rid him of his program and uncurled it, peering at its insides as though checking for something of great importance.
Excerpted from Pippa Bared All by Ally Blake, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Ally Blake. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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