Natasha was devastated when Jackson, her first love, disappeared without a word only to pop up months later as a famous DJ. But now she's over itover him!and ready to move on with her life. Isn't she?
Jackson thought he was leaving Dodge Cove behind forever when he set off to LA to start his DJ career. But the one thing he hasn’t been able to leave behind is the memory of his first love, Natasha, and now that he's proven his success, he’s coming home to win her back...
Don’t miss No Second Chances, the final book in Kate Evangelista’s romantic young adult Dodge Cove trilogy.
Praise for The Dodge Cove Trilogy:
No Holding Back:
“Charming to the max.” Lola, Hit or Miss Books
No Love Allowed:
“It’s like a modern fairy tale.” Camelle, reader on SwoonReads.com
"Evangelista takes a familiar story of young love and makes it fresh." VOYA
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No Second Chances
By Kate Evangelista
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2017 Kate Evangelista
All rights reserved.
SPRAWLED ON THE floor of the backstage area of the Fashion for Fibromyalgia event organized by the Society of Dodge Cove Matrons, Natasha concentrated on pinning the hem of the blue sequined Dolce & Gabbana gown walking the runway in less than — she glanced up at the clock — fifteen minutes. The air smelled faintly of hair spray and expensive perfume. The combination made her nose wrinkle and her eyes water.
"Don't move," she muttered over the pins between her teeth.
"I'm in love with this dress," the cheerleader said, standing on the pedestal in front of a mirror. "I want this for prom."
It was hard enough to focus when time wasn't on her side without her model twisting around for a better view of the back. Comments about how her ass looked in it didn't help either. Add to that the army of people moving as if all at once to finish hair and makeup, dress fitting, and countless other tasks aimed at pulling off the event without a hitch.
"Are you sure —"
"Casey, you can't bid on the dress you're wearing," Natasha interrupted.
"Boo!" The girl pouted.
"Just. One. Last." She tucked the needle into place. "There!"
Both Natasha and the cheerleader breathed a sigh of relief, as if a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders.
"All right. Just don't sit down and you'll be fine," Natasha said, picking herself up off the floor.
Scissors, needles, and extra thread all went into the emergency sewing kit by her bare feet. She took a moment to smooth out the bell skirt of the Kate Spade dress she wore and patted her backside to clear it of any dust that clung to the pink silk fabric, hoping nothing had stained back there. Then she slipped on her nude pumps, feeling inches taller once more.
The cheerleader stepped down from the platform and teetered away. Not a thank-you. Not even a look back. Figured. Yet Natasha envied the girl. For that night she was a model walking the runway in a beautiful dress. What was Natasha?
Pushing the unbelievably frightening question aside, Natasha turned around and headed for the exit. On the way, she paused at every dressing station, making sure all the models were ready. She might not be participating in the event like her mother wanted her to, but it didn't mean she couldn't help out a little. No other dresses needed pinning, which was good. There was no time for big fixes, but the one-of-a-kind gowns needed to look perfect so the bids went up. The higher the better. The biddies, matrons, and debutantes were always more generous when it was for charity.
When she reached the last dressing stall, one of the assistants was in the process of helping the model out of a blush-toned Armani Privé gown. The fabric sparkled as if a million crystals had been hand-sewn on.
"The show is about to start," Natasha said, pausing in her stride to the exit.
"Tash, one of the matrons reserved this gown," the assistant replied, looking frazzled as she returned the garment into its bag.
Natasha took a deep, calming breath. "And who reserved this gown?"
"Mrs. Vanderlin," the model chimed in.
Feeling the blood rush to her head, Natasha pointed at the gown. "No reservations."
"I will take care of Mrs. Vanderlin," another, more subdued voice than Natasha's said from behind her. "Dress her quickly. That gown needs to walk the runway. If Mrs. Vanderlin wants it, then she will have to place a bid like everyone else."
The model quickly hopped into the gown the assistant removed from the dress bag once more.
Natasha bit down on the side of her cheek to keep from wincing. She was supposed to fly under the radar. The last thing she wanted was to be spotted by one of the most important people who helped organize the event. It was wrong of her to think she could escape without notice.
Forcing a smile on her face, Natasha turned around. "Adeline."
The current president of the Dodge Cove Debutante Society returned her smile. They exchanged air kisses on each cheek. Adeline smelled of lilacs.
"I thought you were sitting this one out," Adeline said. Radiant. Calm. Her cascade of dark chocolate hair was tamed into an elegant side-braid. The cream dress she wore had a fifties vibe to it that was both understated and eye-catching.
"Just passing by," Natasha said cordially. "It was on the way. Shouldn't you be in your seat? The show is about to start."
"You know me. I can't sit still for five minutes." She waved a dismissive hand. "Are you sure you can't stay?"
A sheepish grin curled Natasha's lips upward. "Be glad, because I had my eye on that purple Gucci number."
"The one with the feathers?" Natasha nodded.
Adeline faked concern and teased, "Then you'd best be on your way."
"Oh, don't tempt me," Natasha threatened. "If it wasn't for my appointment, I would totally have a paddle in my hand right now."
The lie flowed out of her lips like honey. There was no appointment that couldn't be rescheduled.
"How is the gap year coming?"
Natasha had made the decision after returning home from Amsterdam almost seven months ago. It was already mid-April and yet the dreaded question that had followed her around still sent chills down her spine. Couldn't people move on? Let go? It was tiring clinging to her ready answer: "It's going really well. Thank you for asking."
Adeline tilted her head as if unconvinced. "Are you sure you don't want to replace me for the DoCo Debutante Society presidency? You're my first choice."
"I ... um ..." Natasha channeled her inner debutante and relaxed her face. Then she glanced at the clock over her shoulder. "I really have to go, Adeline. You know how appointments are." She slowly started backing away.
"Will I see you at the party?" Adeline called after her.
"With bells on!"
Natasha turned on her heel and grabbed her purse and coat from the closet by the exit. Not bothering with buttoning the coat she shrugged on, she pressed against the bar across the door and exited. Once outside she breathed in deeply — the air was so much fresher. It was like drinking a cool glass of water on a hot day. The relief it brought was sublime.
On the way to the white Tesla SUV she'd parked out back, her phone pinged, signaling a new message. The moment she saw the name of the sender she deleted the text, not bothering to read it. She got into her car, slid her phone into the special attachment on the dash, and with the press of a button, started the engine. After buckling in, she checked all mirrors before driving out of the parking lot onto the open road.
Minutes into the drive, Natasha's phone rang. Her first instinct was to ignore the call. But when she read the name on the display, she pulled the hybrid onto the side of the road.
"Hey, baby bro," she said once her twin's handsome face filled the screen.
Nathan's expression soured almost immediately. "I thought we were done with you calling me that."
"Last I heard, you're still two minutes younger than me," she teased.
"Are you in the car?" he asked. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Just finished with my daughterly duties."
"Are you telling me you're not attending the actual event again? Mom's not going to like that."
She hated the admonition in his voice, but what she hated more was the fact that she was running away. Bidding on beautiful dresses would have been fine if not for the questions that came with mingling. What are your plans? Are you interested in an internship? What college are you applying to? Natasha had no answers for any of them.
Sighing, she said, "Adeline actually asked me to be president of the debutantes."
"That's great!" Nathan beamed. "You've wanted that position since you learned what a debutante was."
"Not anymore," Natasha said, feeling nauseous.
"Oh, Tash. Don't be that way."
"Like things are never going to get better." Genuine sadness formed on Nathan's face.
She thumped the back of her head against the seat. "You have your party- planning business. Preston is training to be an Olympian. Caleb, of all people, is in college. And Didi is a brilliant artist. I am nothing."
"Stop that right now. You are not nothing."
"Easy for you to say."
Nathan ran a hand down his face before tapping his chin with a finger. "There's something you can do for me."
"Please don't make me repeat another mantra, because I've heard them all. Mostly from you."
"I am not that bad, am I?" He raised an eyebrow. "And that's not what I meant."
"All right," she said with an exasperated sigh. "Anything for you."
"Will you pick up Didi? She needs a ride to her meeting with Cynthia."
She glanced at her phone. "She should have called me."
"It must have slipped her mind. You know how she gets when she's finishing a painting. And Caleb has class until six."
"I'm on it." Natasha sat up straighter. Despite her ongoing pity party, there was nothing she wouldn't do for her friends and family. Driving Didi to the gallery was easy.
"Good." He smiled. "By the way, I called to let you know our flight is booked."
Natasha bounced in her seat. "You're coming home!"
"Last I heard, we are all invited to the engagement party that will kick off the wedding of the century. So, yes, I'm coming home." Nathan winked. "I wouldn't miss an event planned by Patricia Sinclair."
"You know what they say about meeting your heroes."
"Don't you dare jinx this for me! I'm nervous enough as it is."
"I miss you, little bro."
"Miss you more. And stop calling me that!" Nathan blew her a kiss. "I'll see you soon."
* * *
Half an hour later, Natasha parked the Tesla at the curb, got out, and walked up to the door of Didi's house. A fresh coat of paint livened up the once-dull exterior. The yard had yellow spots in places, but the grass was cut and free of litter.
She rang the doorbell and waited. No answer. Natasha shifted to her toes and patted for the Hide-a-Key box on the frame. She slipped the key out of the small rectangular box and let herself in.
Closing the door behind her, she called out, "Didi?"
She went straight toward the kitchen and turned left to Didi's studio. As Nathan had suspected, the artist was seated on a stool in her paint-splattered overalls, chewing on the end of a paintbrush. Two other paintbrushes kept her brown hair in a knot behind her head.
"You're not ready." Natasha stepped forward.
Didi's studio was a small room that perpetually smelled of paint and turpentine, with a wall made entirely of glass that let in natural light. Canvases rested three deep against the other walls, and prints from famous artists Didi loved hung above them.
Seemingly in her own world, Caleb's girlfriend dipped the business end of the brush into a blob of black paint on the palette balanced on her left hand and with expert strokes added shadow to the corner of the canvas before her. From the looks of it, the painting was of an elderly couple holding hands while sitting on a park bench. The image reminded Natasha of something. A memory, maybe. It caused an ache in her chest.
Clearing her throat to ease the growing tightness there, she called Didi's name again. Only louder.
"Natasha!" Didi cried out. She set her painting tools aside and hopped out of her seat, heading straight for Natasha and giving her a big hug. Natasha hoped none of the paint on Didi's overalls was still wet. "You came."
"Of course I came! When Nathan said you needed help, I drove right over. Why didn't you just ask me for help yourself?"
"You've already done so much," Didi said, looking embarrassed. "I never could have gotten that appointment without you. Let me show you what I've done so far."
Didi lifted the still-wet painting off the easel gingerly and placed it against the glass wall. Then she picked up the one Natasha had posed for and rested it on the vacant easel.
Natasha bent forward as close as she could get without pressing her nose against the canvas. The painting featured her in the flapper dress she'd worn for Caleb's Roaring Twenties birthday party. She clutched a strand of pearls in one hand while resting her elbow on her other hand. There was a pensive look on her face. Her hair was gathered to one side and pinned down by a collection of peacock feathers.
The brushstrokes were so fine. And the colors were vibrant. It was as if Natasha was looking at a photo of herself instead of a portrait done in oil. The most amazing part was the backdrop. Instead of being at the party, Natasha found herself in the middle of a crowded street, the only one in period costume.
"Didi, it's gorgeous," Natasha said in awe.
"I'm happy I finished it in time," Didi said, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her overalls. "It's the centerpiece of the collection. I call it Timeless Princess."
"I don't know what to say." Natasha's cheeks flamed.
"You don't like it."
"No!" She waved her hands. "It's beautiful. I don't think I ever thought of myself like this."
"Are you kidding me?" Didi gestured at the painting. "You're the perfect muse. Well ... not as perfect as Caleb, but close."
"That's certainly an ego boost if I ever heard one." She pulled Didi into another tight hug. "Thank you for letting me be a part of this."
"Enough with the mush." Didi stepped back. "Let's head to the gallery before I miss that meeting."
"Maybe we can consider an outfit change first?" Natasha smiled. She strode out of Didi's studio and straight into her room.
"Can't I just go as I am? I mean, my clothes already scream artist," Didi said, following after her.
Natasha narrowed her eyes at Didi.
"I know that look." Didi's eyebrow twitched. "Fine."
"I knew you'd see it my way." Natasha flung open the closet doors and began pushing hangers along the metal bar, one after another.
"It's like Nathan's in the room, except in a dress."
"Ha!" Natasha's lips quirked. "He's an amateur compared to me."
As she pulled out one dress after another, discarding each as soon as she put it against Didi, an unexpected pang of longing hit Natasha so hard it surprised her that she was still standing instead of crumpling into a sobbing ball on the floor.
"What's wrong?" Didi asked.
"It's nothing." Natasha turned back to the closet, embarrassed by the sting in the corner of her eyes.
"Come on. I know it's not."
"It's just ..." She paused, biting her lower lip. "I remember the days when picking out what to wear was exciting. That feeling of finding the perfect outfit for a date."
"Oh." Didi shifted her weight from one flip-flop to the other. "You mean Jackson."
"I'm being silly."
"No. No, you're not. I'd be a total basket case if Caleb did to me what that jerk did to you."
Drawing on the anger that Didi's words triggered, Natasha inhaled sharply. "I hate his guts and nothing will ever change that. I choose what I wear for myself now and no one else."
"That's the spirit!"
Pressing her lips together to keep them from wobbling, Natasha nodded. "Now, let's get you dressed for that meeting."
* * *
Natasha took a deep breath as she sat in her car outside the Cove Gallery, located in downtown Dodge Cove. Many artists who debuted at the Cove — as the locals called it — went on to show in all the top galleries in the world. Its owner and curator possessed one of the best eyes in the business for spotting undiscovered talent.
"Are you sure about this?" Didi asked from the passenger seat as she gazed at the window display. It was the third time she'd asked in the last five minutes. "I mean, it's the Cove. I used to stand outside, thinking I was never good enough to go inside."
"Well, now you are going inside, and not only will you wow Cynthia, you will secure your first showing," Natasha said.
"You think so?"
"I know so."
Didi unsnapped her seat belt. Natasha reached over to unsnap her own, but her hand paused at the clasp.
"What's wrong?" Didi asked.
Natasha worried her lower lip again. It had become a habit she didn't like. Yet it always happened when she found herself unsure of what to do. Cynthia was inside the gallery. The gallery owner and Natasha's mother walked in the same circles.
There was no such thing as a secret in Dodge Cove, especially when the talk involved a high-profile debutante. Natasha still hadn't recovered fully from the barrage of questions Adeline had hurled her way. She hated lying. But it was worse to have to admit to the world and to herself that she had no idea what she was doing next.
"Is it okay if I stay here?" Natasha blurted out the question. She twisted around to face Didi. "I mean ... if you really need me in there, I'll be out of this car in three seconds flat."
Natasha wanted to close her eyes against the hurt she was sure would form on Didi's pretty face. But before she could give in to the urge, Didi took both of Natasha's hands in hers and squeezed them.
"Tash, I can do this." Didi's smile was so bright, it was blinding. "Thank you for driving me here."
Excerpted from No Second Chances by Kate Evangelista. Copyright © 2017 Kate Evangelista. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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