Michelle “Mac” Mackenzie—brainy, cynical, and maybe a tad judgmental, Mac would rather bury her nose in a good book than embrace her deb destiny. But being a debutante was her late mother’s dream.
Ginger Fore—this adorable tree-hugger wants to wear her grandmother’s vintage ball gown instead of splurging on an expensive dress. Yet when she gets tangled up with an older guy, Ginger will have plenty more to think about.
Jo-Lynn Bidwill—a former child beauty queen, Jo-Lynn is a bitchy vamp who makes it her mission in life to take out the debu-trash. And Jo-Lynn’s sights are set on Laura Bell.
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Laura Delacroix Bell grabbed the armrests of her seat in a death grip as the Southwest Airlines jet touched down at Houston’s Hobby Airport, the wheels bumping hard against the tarmac before rolling to a stop. The kid behind her let out a wail loud enough to split her eardrums, and she gritted her teeth, willing the Flight from Hell to be over with ASAP.
Ten more minutes and I’ll be off this cattle car, she told herself, thinking that nothing would feel better than stretching to her full five feet nine inches after her cramped ride from Austin. Besides getting a major crick in her neck, she’d been stuck smack in front of the crying child, who’d kicked the back of her seat for nearly an hour. As if that wasn’t torture enough, all they’d fed her were two tiny bags of peanuts.
“Welcome to Houston, home of NASA, Minute Maid Park, and the late, great Ima Hogg and her baby sister, Ura,” a flight attendant in a bright orange shirt and khaki shorts drawled. Laura rolled her eyes, thinking how everyone who’d lived in H-town for more than two minutes knew that Ima Hogg had really existed, while her “baby sister” Ura Hogg was pure hogwash.
The Fasten Seat Belts light blinked off, and Laura instantly freed herself from the nylon straps. She hunched over to retrieve her black patent Dolce & Gabbana tote from where she’d wedged it between her bare feet, then hunted down her pewter Sam Edelman flats before she slipped them on and was ready to roll.
Never again will I fly coach, no matter how desperate I am, she thought, and wished her first-class flight on American hadn’t been canceled without warning. She’d had to scramble to catch anything departing at the same time, but it was better than standing around waiting. She had been aching to get home, and finally, she was here, after two months away from her own bed; her best friends, Mac Mackenzie and Ginger Fore; and anything remotely edible. If she’d had to spend another week at fat camp, she would’ve gone totally postal.
They’d made her surrender her precious BlackBerry Pearl upon arrival and had only given her ten minutes of e-mail time on a communal computer before breakfast and after dinner. How the heck could she keep up with TMZ and Perez Hilton and stay in touch with her friends in only twenty minutes a day? The counselors didn’t even let the inmates watch TV, so she’d missed every rerun of The Hills.
Camp Hi-De-Ho was the corny name of Laura’s expensive summer prison, though she thought of the place more as Camp Hellhole. There was a reason carrots and lettuce were called “rabbit food.” Human beings couldn’t survive on the stuff, unless you were a size zero and your name was Mary-Kate or Ashley (either of whom probably considered eating rabbit food splurging).
She turned on her BlackBerry immediately after deplaning, checking it first for voice mail and finding a message from her mother. “Hey, darlin’,” Tincy drawled above background noise that sounded like the engine of Harrington Bell’s company Gulfstream. “Hope your trip home is quick and painless. Unfortunately, Daddy and I won’t be there to greet you. We’ll be at the cabin in Telluride if you need us. Can’t wait to see my baby girl again, all fit and spectacular and ready for debdom! Kisses.”
Laura felt a little pang but shrugged it off. Her daddy never liked to stick around H-town in the summer, when it was as hot and humid as a steam shower. So it didn’t surprise her that Harry Bell’s needs came first, even ahead of welcoming home his younger daughter.
Did that mean Daddy’s driver would pick her up?
Laura hated to think of riding in the backseat of a smelly cab, especially after being squashed amid the hoi polloi on Southwest long enough to make her crave a leisurely soak in a vanilla-scented bubble bath.
She sighed as she looked up her text messages next, finding one from Mac that brightened her mood considerably:
Talked to UR mom. Ging & I will pick U up. C U soon!
Well, well, well. Maybe her karma didn’t need an overhaul after all. Laura smiled, sticking the Pearl back into her D&G bag and rummaging for her compact. She checked her teeth for any trace of peanuts and did a quick repair of the liner that had smeared around her wide-set blue eyes. She ran her fingers through her straight blond hair before she tucked the strands behind her ears. A touch of Stila daiquiri glaze on her lips, a tug on her gray tee to make sure it covered the white of her belly that her low-riding True Religion jeans didn’t; then she took off, striding away from the gate, suddenly dying for fresh air, no matter how muggy it was–and August in Houston was always muggy.
Can’t wait to see my baby girl again, all fit and spectacular and ready for debdom!
Her mother’s words stuck in her head as she walked. More than disappointment, she felt relief that Tincy wouldn’t be around for a few days, likely until after school had already started. As for her father . . . well, Laura didn’t see him much as it was. He ran his plumbing parts business with a tight fist on the reins and was forever jetting somewhere on business. When he wasn’t, he spent long hours at his downtown office, often not getting home until Laura was fast asleep. But Tincy Bell was another story entirely. She was the classic Helicopter Mother, hovering about and keeping tabs on everything from Laura’s friends to her GPA to her weight. And lately, Laura’s weight had been the touchiest subject of all.
What would Ma Bell do when she realized Laura hadn’t lost a single pound in two months? Would she cut off Laura’s platinum AmEx? Deny her their traditional everyother- Sunday post-brunch mother-daughter mani-pedis at Sensia, with its cool seagrass floors and shoji screens? Get rid of all the Pillsbury Slice ’n Bake cookie dough in the fridge, to which Laura had been addicted to since childhood?
Like the immortal Scarlett O’Hara, Laura figured she’d worry about that tomorrow. Instead, she shrugged off her apprehension, silently repeating her personal mantra, which Mac had claimed she’d partially stolen from the old Popeye cartoons: I am who I am.
Someday, she decided, after she died, she was coming back as a lizard, the kind that lived in Mexico and spent all day lying on rocks in the sun. Lizards surely didn’t live to please their overzealous mothers.
Of course, Laura knew what was making Tincy so nervous these days–why her hypersensitive mom had insisted on sending her to fat camp–because it was making Laura anxious, too: “D-Day,” also known as “Deb Day” among their social set. This year at all-girls Pine Forest Prep–her senior year– would entail more than the usual aggravations of the ugly plaid skirts that made her butt look twice its size, the whispers and dirty looks from übersnob Jo Lynn Bidwell and her Bimbo Cartel, and all the charitable work Tincy made her do to pad her prep school transcript. (Not that Laura minded candy-striping at Texas Children’s Hospital or doling out food for the Bread of Life, so long as it didn’t take up every single minute of every weekend.)