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"Proving Southern belles can backstab with the best of 'em, Jen Calonita weaves a soapy tale that keeps you guessing from beginning to end."—Kate Brian, New York Times bestselling author of the Private and Privilege series on Belles
"A page-turner that has it all—tingly romance, shocking secrets, and tons of heart. You're going to love it."—Sarah Mlynowski, author of Gimme a Call and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) on Belles
"This adorable, heartwarming book is pure beach-ready fun."—Justine on Belles
"Izzie, wake up!"
Isabelle Scott could hear someone calling her name, but she ignored her. Izzie was napping, and when it came to naps, the rule was you didn't wake her unless you absolutely had to. Like if the house was on fire, or she was missing Ryan Lochte about to win some Olympic gold.
Unfortunately, Mirabelle Monroe didn't seem to remember Izzie's rules.
"Izzie!" Mira's voice rose to a shrill as she shook her sister gently by the shoulders. "Get up! We're going to be late!"
Apparently, the time allowed for a soothing awakening was over. "Come on, it's Saturday!" Izzie said with a yawn. Isn't it? Her brain felt kind of foggy. She squinted to read the hula-girl alarm clock on her nightstand. "What time is it?" The room was so dark it had to be the middle of the night. Her eyes narrowed. "Did you wake me up to watch another E! True Hollywood Story?"
"No." Mira rolled her eyes. "I have one DVR'd for when we get back," she added quickly, and tugged on one of the custom-made window treatments Izzie's aunt had ordered for Izzie's room. The Roman shade retracted, flooding the room with sunlight. "And it's not the middle of the night. It's one thirty in the afternoon."
Izzie pulled her comforter over her head to block out the light. "So? A person can sleep in once in a while, can't they?" Mira grabbed the blanket and the sisters glared at each other. Izzie could tell by Mira's outfit (Go-to sweater set. Check! Slim-fitting cords. Check! Riding boots. Check!) that she had someplace to go. Her long, curly brown hair was equally watch-me-world ready. Izzie felt tired just looking at her. "I don't have the energy to get dressed," she admitted.
Mira's face softened. "Iz, I know this is hard to deal with, but it's been a month. We have to talk about this."
"No, we don't." Izzie's voice was hoarse. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing left to say. She had accepted as many condolences as a person could. She'd eaten from a dozen fruit baskets from Antonio at the Harborside grocery mart. But no amount of eating or talking made her feel any better.
Grams was gone, and she wasn't coming back.
Mira was still hovering. "You've missed almost three weeks of school. Isn't it time you rejoined the world of the living?"
Izzie closed her eyes and tried to drown out her sister's lecture, but deep down she knew Mira was right. Sleeping her life away wasn't going to fix anything.
"I heard Mom on the phone with school," Mira added. "They say if you don't come back this week, you'll get an incomplete for the semester, and the semester just started a month ago."
School. How could she even think of going back to Emerald Prep? Sure, her friends Violet and Nicole were there, but so were Savannah and her minions, who did nothing but whisper behind Izzie's back. In just six months, she had gone from living with her grandmother in the less-than-desirable town of Harborside (known for having the highest crime rate in the county) to residing in exclusive Emerald Cove. Along with the new zip code came a family that included her state senator father (who, for half a second, had claimed to be her uncle), her aunt Maureen, her sister Mira, and two brothers. After a rocky start, Izzie had made peace with her new, privileged life. Her grandmother had been in the finest rehabilitation center in the state, she had a family that loved her, and Brayden was officially hers (and out from Savannah's perfectly manicured clutches).
"Is this about Zoe?" Mira's voice was tentative. Even though Izzie had turned to face the wall, she could picture Mira playing with her pearl necklace.
"This has nothing to do with Zoe." Izzie squeezed her worn Lambie blanket like it was a stress ball.
But it was about Zoe, because ever since she arrived, Izzie felt like her life had started to unravel. Her mother, who died when Izzie was nine, had a younger sister. A sister! And everyone had kept her a secret. Izzie only found out about Zoe when Grams's health went downhill fast and her aunt showed up on the Monroes' doorstep. The real punch to the gut came later, when Zoe made a confession on Grams's deathbed: Grams had asked her to be Izzie's guardian last year when she got sick, and Zoe had said no.
Izzie had nothing to say to Zoe after that.
There was barely time to ask Grams why she didn't tell her about Zoe. There was only time to say good-bye to the woman who'd raised her. Grams passed away in early January and took all her secrets with her. Izzie was angry with her grandmother for that. Angry and mad at Zoe, her mom, the world. It was just easier to sleep than to deal with her emotions.
"Zoe's been calling a lot, but Dad won't let her talk to you," Mira said quietly. "He said she needs to give you space."
Izzie wished there was an ocean between them like there had been before. She'd overheard Zoe telling someone at the funeral that she'd been in Africa photographing a celebrity for Vanity Fair when she found out Grams had taken a turn for the worse. Zoe was apparently a famed celebrity photographer, but Izzie hadn't wasted time Googling her to find out for sure. "I don't care what Zoe does."
"If you're not upset about Zoe, then why won't you get up?" Mira finally snapped. Izzie's sister hated a problem she couldn't fix. "Don't you miss the swim team?"
"Yes," Izzie realized. Badly. Being in the water was almost as necessary to her as air.
"Well, if you don't come back to school soon, Savannah is going to be all over Brayden again and be the star of the swim team," Mira felt the need to say. "Is that what you want to happen?"
Over my dead body. Mira's reminder was all it took for Izzie to finally swing her legs over the side of her bed and get up. When was the last time I was out of this room? she wondered. Aunt Maureen had been bringing her food for weeks—some she ate, some she didn't. Her TV had cable and she shared an adjoining bathroom with Mira, so there was no need even to go downstairs. Izzie scratched her itchy green pajama pants. Could the last time she left have been Grams's funeral a few weeks ago? She shut her eyes, trying to block out the memory. She could still see Aunt Maureen and her dad leading her away from Zoe at the grave site. You weren't there for Grams or me before, and I don't want you here now! "Now that I'm up, where are you dragging me?" Izzie stretched her arms. They looked thinner than she remembered. "Are you taking me to EP to make up some homework?"
Mira gave her a look. "I should, but no, this is supposed to be fun." She gave Izzie's disheveled appearance a once-over and pushed her toward the bathroom. "But first, you need a long, hot shower and some new clothes." She threw a towel at her. "I already put a cute outfit in the bathroom. Don't worry," Mira added before Izzie could start her inquisition. (If it wasn't a pair of jeans and a comfy T, she wasn't wearing it.) "They're your own clothes. Now go! We're leaving at two thirty." Mira shut the bathroom door behind her.
For a moment, Izzie just stood in the bathroom, letting the grief wash over her again. Sometimes it came on so strong it seemed like a choke hold. She felt so alone without her grandmother or mother in the world. Then she forced herself to remember she wasn't alone. She had family now, and one of them was waiting on the other side of the door with a hair dryer and expensive gel.
By two fifteen, she was ready, and even though she wouldn't say it, getting out of her pajamas felt good. What felt even better was seeing Brayden waiting at the bottom of the stairs. When she reached the bottom step, he pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Hey, you," he whispered after kissing her softly. "It's good to see you up." She buried her face in his neck and didn't want to let go. How did he always manage to smell this good? Was he wearing new jeans? Was his hair longer?
How many times had Brayden seen her the past few weeks looking like a train wreck with smudged makeup, smelly clothes, and bed head? She could only imagine how she looked—hollow eyes, cheekbones that only looked worse when Mira put blush on them. But Brayden was still staring at her with those magnetic blue-green eyes like she was the winner of America's Next Top Model. She smoothed a crease in his T. "It feels weird to be out of bed."
Brayden's eyes stayed locked on hers. "Baby steps."
"Baby steps," Izzie repeated as if this were a foreign concept.
Mira rushed past on the phone. "I have her and we're leaving in five," she reported to someone on the other end.
"Where is she taking me?" Izzie leaned into Brayden's chest. It felt familiar and safe. "I can't handle a spa day or a manicure/pedicure trip."
Brayden's laugh echoed through the two-story foyer. "Mira and I cooked this up together, so you can relax. You'll like where we're going."
Mira appeared by his side. "Ready?"
Izzie looked warily at the front door. "I don't know. Maybe we shouldn't go out this afternoon. I'm feeling a little tired."
Brayden eyed Mira as he rubbed Izzie's shoulders. "Sometimes doing nothing can make you more tired. Maybe you just need a little push. What did your mom always say?" he reminded Izzie gently.
Izzie's voice was barely audible. "No guts, no glory." They had her there. It was time to let go, figuratively and in real life. She let them pull her out the door.
It didn't take a genius to figure out where they were headed. When Brayden's Jeep turned onto the highway between Emerald Cove and Harborside, it was a dead giveaway. But the more sea grass and dunes they passed, the more anxious Izzie felt. Please don't pass Grams's old house, she thought. It hurt too much to see it. The only piece of her grandmother still in Harborside was in her safe-deposit box at TD Bank. The lawyer for Grams's estate said her grandmother had left something in there for her, and Zoe had agreed to pay for the box until Izzie was ready to see what was inside.
No, Brayden knew better than to take her past her grandmother's recently sold house. So where were they headed? The community center? The Pit Stop? When Brayden parked near a ramp leading to the desolate boardwalk, Izzie grew even more curious. Every shop on that stretch of planks was closed till at least April. "Can someone please clue me in?"
Brayden's mouth twitched as he opened her door. "You'll know soon enough."
The sky was a dreary gray, which fit her mood, and the wind was whipping pretty good as they pushed against it to walk up to the boardwalk. Just as she'd suspected, the area was deserted and the buildings were dark. All except for one.
"Shore Life Arcade?" Izzie asked as they walked toward the brightly lit building. She could already hear the video games inside, and just seeing the place put a smile on her face. Izzie had been going there since she was a toddler. The arcade was where her mom had taught her how to master the crane game. It was where Grams had taught her the secret to Skee-Ball. And it was where she had wound up most weekends when she lived in Harborside. She had a thing for air hockey.
The crowd waiting inside startled her even before they yelled "surprise." But my birthday isn't till March, she thought, then realized they meant surprise as in, "We're here to force a smile out of you if it kills you."
Her dad and Aunt Maureen were there along with her little brother, Connor. Kylie, her best friend from Harborside, was standing on top of the air-hockey table they usually dominated, and Hayden, Izzie's older brother, was standing nearby with Violet and Nicole. Several other familiar faces from both Harborside and Emerald Cove were there as well. It was a tad overwhelming because they were clapping and cheering as if she'd won some sort of pageant. All she'd done was finally leave her room. She thought about bolting for Brayden's car, but her dad quickly put a hand on her shoulder.
"What do you think, Isabelle?" he asked. "Up for an afternoon of arcade games with all your favorite people?" Her dad seemed so pleased with himself she didn't have the heart to tell him her answer was no.
"How did you guys know about this place?" she said instead.
Kylie jumped off the air-hockey table with the help of Hayden. "Me, of course." She gave her a squeeze. "B and Mira said they were trying to coax you out of bed, and I said the surest way to do that was to get you back by the sea air." Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "Since you can't swim outdoors this time of year, I figured the next best thing was to give you a challenge. You've never said no to an air-hockey match."
That was true.
"You haven't heard the best part." Her dad sounded like a kid. "We've got the rest of the afternoon, but at five the community center is bringing over kids to play for free for an hour."
Her father made such an effort to include the things she loved into their lives. For some reason that sentiment made her teary. A lot of things made her teary lately. Even that LEGO commercial with the dad taking time to play with his son made her cry.
Aunt Maureen put an arm around her. "I didn't know your grandmother well, but I know she would want you to enjoy your life. You've done your crying—and I'm not saying there won't be more tears—but it's time to have fun again. You're not honoring her memory if you don't. So what do you say?"
Izzie looked from the bright, blinking lights and video screens to the wall behind them. Somewhere on there was a faded picture of her and Grams. They'd held the Skee-Ball high score for a while and Grams had loved this place as much as Izzie had. She could almost feel her grandmother egging her on. "Do we have any tokens?"
"Do we have tokens?" her dad repeated, and handed her a heavy bucket full of coins. "I expect you to play me at that pirate game later."
"Deal." Izzie grinned and looked at Brayden. "Up for a friendly game of Skee-Ball?"
"Is that a challenge? You're on." Brayden took another bucket of tokens from the row lined up on the prize counter. "But don't get too cocky. I'm not going to let you win just because you're my girlfriend." Both of them were übercompetitive.
"I don't expect you to let me win. I am going to win." Izzie dropped the first token in the slot, and nine balls came rolling down the ramp. She sent the first one up the ramp, and the ball jumped into one of the two hard-to-reach one-hundred-point slots.
"Show-off." Brayden sent his first ball up the ramp and scored fifty points.
"Watch yourself, surfer boy," Kylie said, coming up behind them. Hayden was with her. "Iz used to spend more time in here than the owner."
"So did you," Izzie pointed out before sending another ball into the hundred slot.
"Hey, would I ever leave your side?" she asked. Izzie knew the answer. Kylie was always there for her. "Besties for life." Kylie hip-checked her, then looked at Brayden. "Did she tell you she holds the arcade's high-score record for Skee-Ball?"
Brayden pretended to look outraged. "You were going to hustle me!" Izzie laughed.
"All is fair in love and arcade games," Hayden told him. He turned to Kylie. "What about you? You up for a challenge, too?"
"Aren't I always?" she asked, which struck Izzie as a strange thing for her to say to Hayden. "Winner of four straight games buys lunch at Corky's."
Hayden looked at her intently. "You like to lose, don't you?"
Four games later, Izzie and Brayden were tied (maybe she was getting rusty) while Hayden had whipped Kylie, which surprised Izzie. Kylie never lost.
"Who's up for air hockey?" Kylie asked.
"I am," Izzie said, feeling looser and calmer than she had in weeks.
"Prepare for war, my friend," Kylie said as Mira, Violet, and Nicole walked over to watch the game alongside Brayden and Hayden. "Just because Grams kicked the bucket, doesn't mean I'm going to go easy on you." Izzie's friends looked up in surprise.
"I don't expect you to be." Izzie tried not to be self-conscious. Kylie's bluntness was one of the things she loved most about her. She just wasn't used to experiencing it around her Emerald Cove friends.
Mira waited till Izzie scored the first point to start her Operation Cheer Up Izzie routine again. "So are you having fun? It's nice to be out and see everyone, right?"
Excerpted from The Grass Is Always Greener by Jen Calonita. Copyright © 2014 Jen Calonita. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted April 23, 2013
I loved the Belles series, and i thought this book was really good. It's a cute story, but some parts were predictable. It's not as good as the first two books, but i would recommend it.
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Posted April 16, 2013
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Posted May 25, 2013
I read the first two books in the Belle series and The Grass is Always Greener was also humorous as well and loved Aunt Zoe. Secrets and the past are revealed – was shocked to learn this was the last in the series as though it may end a little differently- as did not enjoy it as much as the first two.
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Posted April 19, 2013
I read the first two books and was fairly impressed. However this one was a let down. Predictable and way too short at under 200 pages. I will not be reading another book in this seris. Very dissappionted that I spent money on this.
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