With cotillion season right around the corner, however, Izzie and Mira have barely had time to process their newfound sisterhood. Mira has dreamed of making her debut in a gorgeous white gown forevernow if only she had an escort... Izzie, meanwhile, is still struggling to find her place in Emerald Cove, which seems ever more impossible with EC mean girls, young and old, trying to keep her down. As cotillion preparations heat up, there are dance steps to learn, manners to perfect... and secret initiations to complete?
It's time for the gowns to go on and the gloves to come off.
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Jen Calonita
PoppyCopyright © 2012 Jen Calonita
All right reserved.
“How y’all doing this fine morning, North Carolina?”
Wendy Wallington’s famous Southern twang ricocheted throughout the television studio, whipping her audience into a frenzy. The adulation increased as she strutted down the aisle in her signature four-inch sparkly heels and shook hands with excited viewers, like the woman wearing a Waa-Waa Wendy T-shirt. The nickname was one the legendary talk show host nabbed after it became apparent that she was a whiz at making her guests cry.
If there was ever a day Wendy wanted to work her tear-duct mojo, it was this one. Bill Monroe, the charismatic state senator in the middle of a deliciously juicy scandal, was bringing his whole family on The Wendy Wallington Show. Wendy adored her old college buddy, but she couldn’t help seeing the bigger green dollar-sign picture: If this episode with Bill and his family turned out to be the solid gold she thought it was, she might finally get that syndication offer she had been dreaming of for years.
Wendy turned to the camera with a sultry pout that likely nabbed her the Miss USA crown. “Let’s settle down, y’all. We need all the time we can get today. My good friend North Carolina Senator Bill Monroe is here with his gorgeous family.”
The cheering quickly died out, and whispers rippled through the crowd like the wave at a ball game.
Wendy adopted a serious tone. “Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last few weeks, then you already know this family’s heart-wrenching saga,” she told the cameras. “A few weeks ago, just as Senator Monroe was about to announce his run for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs because of Senator Harmon’s retirement, Bill revealed that his recently discovered niece, Isabelle, was, in fact, his daughter.” More whispers. “They’re here today to talk about how their family is dealing with his confession and what this revelation means for the senator’s political future.” Her effervescent smile returned. “And they’ve chosen to exclusively share their story with y’all! We are the only show you will see that has the entire Monroe family on to speak for themselves,” she couldn’t help but add. “So let’s give them a huge Wendy Wallington welcome!”
As the Monroes walked onstage and took their seats on the floral couches sandwiched between Wendy’s girlie armchair and the camera crew, they looked like an average family—if the average family were wealthy and gorgeous and played a major role in state politics. None of them had a hair out of place, a wrinkle in their expensive threads, or a frown on their beautiful faces. If they were worried about Wendy’s notoriously prying questions, they didn’t show it. Instead, the senator looked as relaxed as ever when he moved in to hug his old friend and said, “Thanks for letting us come on today.”
“Honey, are you kidding?” Wendy looked at the audience in mock surprise. “Thank you for having the decency to come on and tell us the truth. We are dying to hear from this stunning family of yours.” She looked at the Monroes’ smiling faces. Bill, as usual, looked dignified and prepared to face the press. His wife, Maureen, always the proper Southern belle, was ready with a polished hairstyle and a picture-perfect dress that brought out her green eyes. It was the same twinkling shade of green she shared with her two sons, seventeen-year-old Hayden, the crush of almost every girl at his private school, and Connor, a precocious six-year-old who seemed slightly in awe of the lights, cameras, and studio audience.
But first impressions can be deceiving, can’t they? If those in the audience were paying attention—instead of fishing under their chairs to peek at the show’s daily giveaway—then they would have had their eyes on the Monroes’ two most-talked-about members, Mirabelle Monroe and Isabelle Scott. The fifteen-year-old girls were stunning brunettes with hazel eyes so similar, some might wonder how they didn’t catch on to their true relationship sooner. What Wendy picked up on that day were Mira’s clenched fists and Izzie’s nervous toe-tapping. A good talk show host—especially one who wanted a show that would tear up The View in the ratings—always noticed those kinds of things.
Wendy settled into her plush chair and leaned forward intimately. “I have known y’all forever. I was at the hospital when Mirabelle was born, for goodness’ sake! So it breaks my heart for y’all to air your dirty laundry to the world.”
“Thanks, Wendy,” Bill said with a thin smile, running a hand through his slightly graying brown hair that people said reminded them of Patrick Dempsey’s. “This has been two of the hardest weeks of my life. What we’ve been dealing with is so personal, and yet, living our lives in the public eye as we do, I know we owe it to the people of North Carolina to set the record straight.”
“And what do you wish they knew, Bill?” Wendy asked. She looked at her studio audience. “I can call him Bill, y’all, because I knew him before he was a senator. We met when he was nothing but a fraternity boy.” The audience laughed.
Bill smiled. “I want them to know the truth.”
“I don’t mean to be blunt,” Wendy said, “but don’t we already know the truth? You knew about your daughter Isabelle and kept it not only from the world but also from her.”
“The story isn’t as black and white as people make it out to be,” Bill said, crossing his legs carefully so he wouldn’t wrinkle his tan suit. “You’re a mom, Wendy. You know how hard it is being a parent. If you learned something that would change your daughter’s life, wouldn’t you want to protect her till she was ready to face the truth?” He looked at Izzie. “I wanted Isabelle to have a chance to get to know me and our family before she knew her world was turning upside down again. It had already changed so much.” His face creased slightly with worry, and his wife took his hand. “What I regret is how this story came to light. I feel terrible about the pain it caused Isabelle and our family, but I was trying to do what any father would—put the needs of my child first.”
The audience applauded, the Monroe family smiled brightly, and Bill went on to tell the story most of them already knew from the nightly news.
Up until a few months ago, the Monroes had never heard of Isabelle Scott, and the only thing Izzie knew about them was that Bill Monroe was a state senator. Izzie was raised in the gritty neighborhood of Harborside by her grandmother after her mom died in a car crash right before Izzie’s tenth birthday. Her grandmother looked for a guardian for Izzie when her health had started to go downhill last year, and a hidden diary revealed Bill to be Izzie’s dad. Quicker than you can say paternity test, Izzie’s grandmother was on the phone with the Monroes. But by the time the details were sorted out months later, Izzie’s grandmother was a shell of her former self and Izzie was on the verge of entering foster care. The situation deteriorated so quickly that Izzie got only a few hours’ notice about her move to her “cousins’.” To hear Bill tell it, there had been no time to second-guess his decision—the right choice was to let Izzie settle into her new life first and drop the bombshell later. And boy, was it a bombshell. The only thing keeping the mess from truly becoming a full-blown scandal was the fact that Izzie wasn’t born out of an affair—Bill didn’t know Izzie’s mom was pregnant when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves and got back together with Maureen, who was a widow with an infant son. The pair married almost immediately, and Mira was on the way soon after.
“I know you’re a great father, Bill,” Wendy told him, “and I think we can understand why you didn’t want the world to know who Isabelle was till she was ready. But didn’t you think about how Isabelle would feel when she found out the truth?” She turned her attention to Isabelle before Bill could answer. “In just a few short months, you’ve gone from living with your ailing grandmother in a humble home in Harborside to attending private school in privileged Emerald Cove. Then you find out that your uncle is in fact your daddy.” Wendy shook her head at the audience. “That is a TV movie waiting to happen, y’all.” The audience murmured their agreement. “What was your first thought when you heard the news?”
“Shock?” Izzie questioned herself. She tucked a piece of her wavy, shoulder-skimming bob behind her ear. “Surprise?” She spoke slowly, trying to find her words. “They were already my family; now they were closer. For me, that was a good thing. I had so little family as it was.”
“But you must have felt some sense of betrayal, no?” Wendy pried. “Did you wonder why your father would keep you from knowing the truth about yourself?”
Izzie’s toe-tapping started again. “I’m not sure I could have handled hearing it all at once. Losing my grandmother, my home, moving, and learning my uncle was actually my dad?” She rolled her eyes. “Talk about a freak-out session waiting to happen.” The audience laughed. “But I won’t lie. This has definitely been an adjustment.”
“What about the rest of you?” Wendy asked the other Monroe kids. “How does it feel to know your cousin is actually your sister?”
“I like her,” Connor said. “Izzie plays with me, and sometimes she takes me to get ice cream when she tells Mom we’re just going for a walk.” Everyone laughed.
“I’m with Connor,” Hayden agreed, his green eyes gazing at Wendy so piercingly that she would have swooned if he wasn’t so young. “But not just because she likes ice cream. Izzie is awesome. I liked her before, so nothing’s really changed.”
“Hayden, you must be able to relate to Izzie the most,” Wendy said. “Bill adopted you as a baby when he married your mom after your birth father, a Marine, was killed in the line of duty. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” Hayden said, shifting slightly. “I obviously don’t remember my dad, but I know what it means to feel different in a family.” He grinned at Izzie. “Izzie knows if she ever needs me, I’m here.”
“They’re all very close, Wendy,” Maureen Monroe said, touching one of her heirloom pearl earrings that matched her necklace, bracelet, and even her cream pumps. “The kids were upset we kept the news from them, of course, but now we’re all really coming together.”
“What do you think, Mira?” Wendy asked. “Are you one big, happy family?”
“Yes,” Mira said decisively, bobbing her head up and down so quickly her curls bounced. “I’m thrilled to finally have a sister.”
“But you’re always yelling at her when she locks you out of the bathroom and you have to get ready for school,” Connor said, making the audience laugh.
Mira’s hands clenched tightly, but then she relaxed. “That’s different. Bathroom privileges are sacred, and Izzie doesn’t seem to realize that yet.” Mira shot Izzie a reproachful look.
“You take over an hour in there sometimes!” Izzie shot back playfully. “Can’t I brush my teeth without you yapping to me?”
“See, Wendy? We act like sisters already,” Mira said wryly.
Wendy laughed. “I have two sisters, and the fights we used to have over the bathroom weren’t pretty.” She shook her head and turned back to Bill. “I’m glad y’all are taking this in stride, but you can’t deny that a man on the verge of a political run can’t risk the sort of scandal this story has brought you.” Wendy held up the North Carolina Post. The headline said, Daddy’s Not-So-Little Hidden Girl, and there was a picture of Bill and Izzie from a recent charity event where the news had broken. “The timing on this couldn’t be worse,” Wendy said grimly. “You announced your run in the middle of this firestorm, and your Democratic primary is this May. Do you really think you can win that and move on to the race for the open seat when a story like this is out there?”
“North Carolinians are smart folk,” Bill said. “They know how to differentiate between news and hearsay. I can understand why people are covering this story, but I want to remind the press that we’re talking about a child who has been through so much. I’ve asked the press not to approach her at school. I’m a big boy, and I can take their punches, but she shouldn’t have to.” There was more applause. “This was a private family matter, and I don’t believe it affects how I would work for the people of this great state,” Bill said, looking at the audience and then at the cameras. “I let down the people I love, but my intention was never to hurt them. I wanted to cushion Izzie’s blow to this new world she entered for as long as I could, and I think I did that.” He smiled at her. “At least, I hope I did. And now I’m ready—we’re all ready”—he took his wife’s hand—“to be the family you need us to be to help represent North Carolina. If you vote for me during the primaries, you’re voting for a man with heart, with resilience, and determination to do right by all.”
The audience applauded again. Some stood up and cheered. All eyes were on the Monroes, including Wendy’s. She’d gotten the interview she wanted, and she’d nailed it. That syndication offer was probably waiting on her desk already.
“Thank you, Bill,” Wendy said, shaking each of their hands before turning back to the camera again with a winning smile. “When we come back, y’all, we’ll meet Chef Allison Hyde and get her recipe for buffalo-style chicken chili!”
The camera panned out to show one last shot of the Monroes. This was their moment, and they stood together and waved to everyone in the studio. Bill was in the middle with his arms around Mira and Izzie, and then he broke free to shake hands with audience members. Anyone watching the episode was probably thinking, What a nice story! This family weathered a perfect storm and won. But Wendy knew better.
You can’t believe everything you see on TV.
Aunt Maureen was the last one to get in the limo. When the door finally closed behind her, she removed her heavy pearl earrings, dropped them into her butter-colored leather bag, leaned her head against the seat, and sighed. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
No one answered her.
The limo carrying the Monroes from The Wendy Wallington Show in Raleigh was eerily quiet, and it was making Izzie start to feel claustrophobic. She couldn’t wait to get out of this car and back to the safety of Emerald Cove.
The safety of Emerald Cove.
She smiled to herself. Had she really just described EC as safe? She used to think of the wealthy community she now called home as a lion’s den. But compared with being on a talk show with Wendy Wallington, EC was safe. Wendy was scary, mostly because she was live in the flesh and asked questions that made Izzie feel nauseated. Izzie couldn’t wait to leave the studio. When those hot lights and all those cameras were on her, all she could think was, What would happen if I puked on television?
Some things had been easy to gush about, Izzie realized as she ditched the uncomfortable heels she seemed to wear for all Monroe outings and slid back into her reliable woven flip-flops. She loved her slightly fussy aunt, Connor was adorable, and she and Hayden were as tight as a pair of leggings. Even Mira and her over-the-top, high-society ways were growing to be amusing. The Monroes had given her a home when she had none, put Grams in an incredible nursing home, and given Izzie all the stuff a fifteen-year-old girl could possibly want (laptop and iPhone) and some of the stuff she didn’t (a closet full of way-too-frilly dresses). But when Wendy had asked how she felt about Uncle Bill, or Bill, or Dad (exactly what was she supposed to call him now, anyway?), Izzie had no choice but to lie. Of course she hadn’t forgiven the man she was suddenly supposed to call Daddy from keeping a secret this big! But she couldn’t say that to Wendy. Thank God the senator’s newly appointed image consultant trained her how to answer dicey questions.
Callista Foster was sitting across from Izzie in the limo, her BlackBerry and laptop never far from her fingertips. “I think you all did super!” she gushed. “Wendy lapped up everything you guys said. I told you the Q-and-A prep work would help, didn’t I?” Hayden was sitting next to her, and she nudged him for an answer.
Hayden winked at Izzie. “The fake Q-and-A was a super idea.” Aunt Maureen glared at him.
The Monroes’ new PR guru, a twenty-five-year-old juggernaut who had reshaped the world’s opinion of onetime pop bad girl Lyla Lowry was now on board Team Monroe. Callista was incredibly cool, except for one annoying habit. She used the word super way too much.
“Okay, maybe I’m selling it a bit,” Callista admitted. She pushed her long reddish-blond hair behind her ears and adjusted the tortoiseshell glasses that served as a window to her sky-blue eyes. “This story is a hard sell, but the more we plug away at your side of the story, the more people will get to know the truth just like Wendy did. I just know they’re going to love you as much as they did before.” She gave an encouraging smile.
“Wendy was very complimentary,” Aunt Maureen said. “And she went pretty easy on you, Bill, considering how upset she was when she first learned what you’d been hiding from Isabelle.”
“At least she didn’t run me over with a Mack truck,” Bill said grimly. Izzie thought his hair got more gray with each passing article about the scandal.
“Kissing butt is a miserable job,” Callista agreed. “I hate making you tell this story over and over till it sticks, but in today’s media-hungry world, this is what we have to do.” Callista smiled. “Now we can take a breather and let all your goodwill sink in. Even if Oprah’s OWN network begs me to put you in one of their specials, I’ll say no.” She bit her lip. “Okay, no one says no to Oprah, but…”
Izzie might hate doing press, but she and Mira liked working with Callista. She talked to them before booking appearances, and even when they groaned about interviews, she didn’t get ticked off. Instead, she took the time to listen to what was bothering them, like a friend would. Callista even gave them advice when their problems had nothing to do with press at all. She was the perfect buffer between them and Bill.
Callista’s BlackBerry pinged. She glanced at the screen and frowned. “Okay, I take back the part about getting a breather.” Mira, Izzie, and Hayden groaned. “This is the last thing, I promise! The North Carolina Monthly wants to come by tomorrow at three-thirty to take pictures of you guys playing flag football in the backyard.”
Mira groaned the loudest, letting her displeasure for contact sports be known.
“Mira, don’t tell me you’ve never tossed around a pigskin.” Callista stopped herself, looking at Mira in her Elie Tahari dress and peep-toe pumps. “Okay, we’ll have Hayden show you how.” Connor snorted. “One more thing,” she added as she continued scrolling through her messages. She glanced at Bill, who had barely said a word since he got in the car. “I pitched the morning shows the idea of coming to your house to see you throw a barbecue for Izzie’s community center. It was a long shot, which is why I never said anything, but I just got an e-mail from a producer at Good Morning America who might be interested.”
“Seriously?” Izzie couldn’t help being surprised.
Callista nodded. “Why not make you guys look good and get a plug for your community center at the same time? You said it could use some TLC, right?”
“Absolutely.” She couldn’t believe Callista remembered how much Harborside’s community center meant to her. The thought of the center going under because of a lack of funding—which was the rumor, even after all the money she’d helped raise at Emerald Prep’s recent fall festival—made Izzie sick to her stomach.
“That’s a wonderful idea, Callista.” Bill nodded approvingly.
“I love the idea of helping Izzie’s community center, too. We’ll just have to make sure there’s enough time to hire caterers and a waitstaff and get more seating for the yard and…” Aunt Maureen fidgeted slightly.
“Don’t panic.” Callista’s short pink nails flew across the BlackBerry keys. “I have people who can take care of every detail. You won’t have to do a thing, Maureen.”
Bill chuckled. “I’m not sure what panics my wife more: that this party could actually happen or that you’re leaving her completely out of the planning.”
“Want to shop for outfits for the family?” Callista suggested. She was speaking Aunt Maureen’s language now. “How do you guys feel about matching shirts?”
Connor looked up from his Nintendo DS. “Cool! Can they be red like Iron Man?”
“Uh, I don’t know, C. I think we would feel too matchy,” said Hayden.
Bill jumped in. “Callista, if you think we need matching shirts, we’ll wear matching shirts. You are Yoda till I get a new campaign manager in here to boss us all around.”
Izzie knew he was joking, but his comment wasn’t funny. His last campaign manager, Lucas Hale, had blackmailed her and was the reason why Bill had covered up his paternity in the first place. Just thinking about Lucas made her queasy. Wendy made her nauseated. Seeing her own picture in the paper all the time made her ill, too. Maybe what she needed right now was lunch. She was starving.
“I am not being caught dead in matching shirts,” Mira declared. Izzie couldn’t imagine Mira in anything other than high-end designer clothing, like the fitted beige dress she had on now. “I get enough grief at school without having videos on YouTube pop up of me looking like one of the Von Trapp kids.”
“Do people even know who the Von Trapps are?” Hayden wondered aloud. “Not everyone was as annoyingly obsessed with The Sound of Music as you were.” Hayden was the only one in the family who had regained his sense of humor after everything that had happened. He had even made peace with their dad. One golf outing together and the two were already back on good terms. Izzie couldn’t imagine forgiving someone that easily. But then again, Bill hadn’t lied to Hayden about being his father.
Mira’s voice reached a feverish shrill when Hayden started singing “Do-Re-Mi.”
“Okay, we’ll forget about the matching shirts,” Aunt Maureen said to keep the peace. “Is anyone up for a celebratory lunch?” Mira’s mom pulled out her BlackBerry and began scrolling through restaurants in the surrounding area without waiting for a response. “That seafood place we’ve been dying to try, Wildfish, is right near here.” Her eyes met Izzie’s. “What do you say? We haven’t had a decent meal out together as a family since…” She trailed off.
Since we all found out Bill lied, Izzie thought.
“Don’t you guys want to start acting like a family again?” Aunt Maureen pressed. She was met with more silence. Mira appeared to be examining a chip in her nails, and Izzie stared at her shoes. “We need to stop ignoring each other when there isn’t a camera around to capture every sound bite. We can’t fix things unless we sit down and talk, and maybe a restaurant is just the neutral territory we need.” Aunt Maureen sounded so desperate, Izzie felt bad.
“I’m with your mother,” Bill agreed. “If Callista wouldn’t mind, we could drop her off first.” Callista nodded. His face was pensive. “There is so much I want to say—”
“I have to study for my Spanish midterm,” Izzie interrupted. “I don’t want my being out of school for a talk show taping to affect my grades, which are on their way up.” She could feel the anger bubbling up inside her again. She might have liked being able to skip school for the day, but she was not sitting at a table and making small talk with Bill. It was hard enough being in the same car.
“I was great at Spanish,” Bill said, his hazel eyes meeting hers. “I could help you when we get home later. Podemos trabajar en su tarea juntos.”
“No, gracias. Que puedo hacer yo mismo la tarea. Estoy bien,” Izzie said, hoping that proved she could handle studying on her own.
“Very good,” Bill said softly. He turned to Mira. “Pea, what about you?”
“Please don’t call me that,” she said quietly, playing with her Pandora bracelet.
“Mira”—her mom sounded exasperated—“that’s been your nickname since birth.”
“I have a landscape scene I have to finish for my painting class since I was out today, too.” Mira’s eyes met Izzie’s. Maybe their dad was ready to make peace, but they weren’t.
“What if we ate somewhere in EC?” Aunt Maureen suggested. “Somewhere close so you girls could—”
“No,” Izzie and Mira said in unison. They both smiled slightly. They were a lot of things at the moment, but mad at each other was not one of them.
“Hayden? Connor?” Bill asked, trying not to look hurt.
“I don’t have plans,” Hayden told him as he tried to steal the DS from Connor.
Connor clung to his DS. “Somewhere with fries?” Their dad nodded. “I’m in!”
“Girls, are you sure you can’t get away and…” Aunt Maureen’s voice trailed off. Izzie had tuned out again, and she assumed Mira had done the same. She watched the open farmland roll by her window. The car grew quiet again. “Well, if you really can’t come,” Aunt Maureen said reluctantly, “we’ll drop you guys off first.”
Izzie breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn’t in the mood for another fight or a family feeling session. Forget studying for Spanish. All she wanted to do was clear her head and hit the waves. And that’s exactly what she planned on doing.
“Bye! Have a super time at lunch!” Callista waved as the limo backed out of the Monroes’ driveway. Mira watched the car go, her hair billowing in the light breeze and getting caught in her lip gloss. She still felt deflated. She wondered if Izzie felt as guilty as she did for bailing on the post–Wendy “Big Mouth” Wallington Show celebratory lunch. Her mom had looked disappointed, but Mira still couldn’t force herself to break bread with her dad. Even though it had been more than two weeks since he told them the truth about Izzie, every time Mira thought about what he did, she wanted to scream. She had a sister. A sister. And she was standing right next to her with a pout on her face that was probably an exact duplicate of Mira’s own.
Callista waved till the car disappeared from sight, then turned to the girls with a sad smile that was partially masked by the breeze whipping her hair around. “You can breathe, ladies. They’re gone. You’ve got at least two hours to bash your dad all you want.”
“Is it that obvious?” Izzie asked, scuffing the brick driveway with her flip-flops. The heels she had been forced to wear for the taping hung from her right hand by the straps.
“A little bit,” Callista admitted. “But probably only to me because I know what you guys have been through. You guys were rock stars on Wendy’s show. You made my job much easier, but I’m sure it wasn’t much fun for either of you.”
Mira bit her lip. “Do you think the audience could tell?”
Callista shook her head. “No. Just me. I know your quirks already.” She pointed to Mira. “You make a fist every time someone asks you something that makes you nervous, and Izzie taps her feet like drumsticks.” Callista studied them curiously. “Things aren’t getting any better with your dad?” Izzie and Mira shook their heads.
“I know he’s trying, but I don’t forgive him,” Mira said.
“Don’t look at me,” Izzie said. “I get angry just being in the same room as him.”
“Me, too,” Mira agreed, happy to have an ally. She and Izzie were so in sync lately, it was scary. This fight with their dad might be rough, but it had brought her and Izzie closer. “Last night at dinner, he said, ‘Mira, pass the peas?’ and I wanted to throw the whole bowl at him.” She bit her lip. “That’s wrong, isn’t it?”
Izzie laughed. “It could have been worse. You didn’t actually pelt him with peas.” She grinned mischievously. “I, on the other hand, think I spent half of dinner dreaming about dumping the bowl of mashed potatoes on his head!”
“I probably wouldn’t forgive my dad yet, either,” Callista agreed. “I think it’s practically law in the teen handbook to fight with your parents. I know I did. Just don’t do it in public,” she added as an afterthought. Callista reached into an oversize Gucci bag and fumbled for her keys. “Now, do you guys really have places to be and tests to cram for, or can I take you somewhere for lunch that your family will never find you? You have the day off from school! You should do something fun.”
Mira smiled to herself. This was why she liked Callista so much. The public-image guru might work for her dad, but she seemed to know exactly how it felt to be a frustrated fifteen-year-old girl. Every interview or press request she gave to the girls came with an apology (“Diane Sawyer doesn’t deserve to know what you think about half siblings, but it would help your family a ton if you answered the question anyway.”). When they finished an event, Callista let them complain (“Maria Menounos really asked you that? How tacky. I’m going to give her a piece of my mind.”). Callista acted like their big sister. Their dad had done one thing right by hiring her.
Izzie looked up from texting. “While I could use something other than the celery sticks Wendy had in her green-room, I have to pass. Brayden has off last period, so he is skipping out early and meeting me to surf.”
“In this weather?” Mira asked. The breeze sent leaves tumbling down the driveway almost like they were trying to say they agreed with her. Callista’s cell rang loudly to put in its two cents, too. Callista stepped away to take the call.
“It’s not that cold,” Izzie said. She headed for the front door to go get her wet suit and board. Once Izzie had her mind set on something, there was no talking her out of it.
At Emerald Prep, everyone thought Izzie and Brayden were doomed, and they weren’t even officially going out yet. No one took Savannah Ingram’s boyfriend and lived to tell the tale. But Mira couldn’t help being impressed with Izzie anyway. She always seemed to know what she wanted, and she went after it with gusto. Maybe it was time she tried that. She couldn’t stop thinking about Kellen Harper. He had been kind of weird at the fall dance, but Mira still thought—okay, hoped—he might be into her. Maybe it was time she found out for sure. She got out her phone and texted him.MIRA’S CELL: Hey, do I smell french fries?
Kellen always had food on his mind, so she wasn’t surprised when he texted her back.KELLEN’S CELL: Smothered w/cheese & bacon? I’m there. MIRA’S CELL: Corky’s. Meet you there in a bit? KELLEN’S CELL: Yep! Need time to digest first. Just had lunch. MIRA’S CELL: LOL. Deal!
Callista ended her call and walked back over to Mira, who was now grinning from ear to ear. “What about you?” Callista asked. “I know you’re not putting on a wet suit.”
“I’ve never worn a wet suit, and I don’t intend to start now,” Mira said. “They’re too clingy. They show everything.” She shivered at the thought.
“I agree,” Callista said. “So, want to drown your daddy sorrows in a milk shake at Corky’s? I keep hearing how good that place is, but I feel too lame to go alone.”
Were publicists also psychic? “I’m actually meeting someone there a little later,” Mira said sheepishly. She wanted to add, “You can join us,” but hanging with both Kellen and Callista seemed strange. “Corky’s is great, though. Want to go tomorrow instead?”
“Nah. This is the universe’s way of telling me I don’t need a milk shake,” Callista told her. Mira doubted that. Callista was probably a size two. She’d said she had a scary-fast metabolism, and her pants were always falling down on her. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about anything that happened at the taping?” she asked one last time. “I felt bad when Connor caught you off guard with that bathroom comment.”
Mira winced. Why did Connor have to call out her bathroom habits? He was six, but still. “That’s not your fault. You can’t know everything Wendy was going to ask me.”
Callista laughed. “I should. That’s my job! You bounced back quickly, though.”
When Wendy “Big Mouth” Wallington—her dad’s supposed good friend from college—had asked Mira whether they were one big, happy family, Mira had smiled, of course. She had been raised to be a proper Southern belle, and that’s how she always behaved. She had grown up in front of cameras, thanks to her dad’s professional ball-playing and political careers, but that morning she wished she could have thrown some punches. Not just at Wendy for her invasive questions, but at her darling dad, the one she had always held up on a pedestal. Maybe she and Izzie wouldn’t have had such friction if they had known the truth. They were still polar opposites—if their two hometowns were jewels, Emerald Cove would be emeralds, of course, and Izzie’s Harborside would be the plastic stuff you got in Piggly Wiggly vending machines—but they were trying to get along now. They had been through too much not to.
Callista unlocked her Prius, which was sitting at the curb. “Want a ride to Corky’s?”
“Oh, I’m not going to Corky’s yet,” Mira said with a grin. “First I’m going to de-stress.”
“How do you plan on doing that?” Callista asked.
“By doing what I always do when I’m stressed. Shop.”
Two and a half hours later, Izzie and Brayden collapsed in a booth at Scoops, their favorite Harborside Pier haunt. Between the frigid water and the chill in the air, they were still trying to catch their breath.
“Let’s promise each other right now,” said Brayden, holding out his pinkie. Izzie hooked her finger with his. “We will not go back in the water till May.”
Izzie pouted, her lips still blue. Being able to go from her front door to the ocean in less than ten minutes flat used to be her favorite thing about living in Harborside. Now that she lived in Emerald Cove, she had to make actual plans to go to the beach. She hated the idea of not getting back in the ocean till May, but she kept her finger linked with Brayden’s anyway. She liked when their hands touched.
Brayden kept his blue-green eyes on her, almost as if he knew she still needed persuading. “Iz, today it was only sixty degrees! That means the water temperature was only…”
“I know, I know.” Izzie tried to run her free hand through her sticky hair. The Wendy show hairstylist had put so much lacquer in her normally product-free tresses that her locks were practically one big knot now that they’d been tangled up by the waves. “You think it’s too cold to swim, even with a wet suit on.” She didn’t want to admit it, but she knew he was right. When they dove in today, her body practically screamed in protest at the icy intrusion.
“I think?” Brayden repeated. “Everyone thinks so!”
“Everyone?” Izzie gave him a skeptical look. “No one else was out there.”
“Exactly!” Brayden said. “Other people are smart! They don’t go in the freezing cold water just because the girl they like wants to and they don’t want to seem like a jerk for saying no.” She bit her lip and blushed. “The only fools in the water today were us and the pelicans, and they thought we were crazy, too.” Izzie tried not to laugh. “Oh yeah, I totally speak pelican,” he said seriously. “It is one of my hidden talents.”
Brayden looked so cute, it was hard for her to keep a straight face. His light brown hair was still wet from the frothy surf, and he had changed out of his wet suit in the back room of Scoops and into jeans, a long-sleeve T, and his rope necklace with the pirate medallion. This is how she liked seeing Brayden, not in his stuffy private school uniform. Here, he was relaxed, funny, and all hers, without the drama of Emerald Cove breathing down their necks.
Brayden was still ranting. “If we had seen any dolphins, I’m sure they would have thought we were deranged as well. Even the penguins…”
Izzie started to laugh and squeezed his finger tighter. “I get it! You’re the animal whisperer! Every sea creature and bird you’ve encountered agrees that it is too cold for us to be in the water, and they’re right. I admit defeat.” Satisfied, Brayden unhooked their fingers.
Izzie tried not to appear disappointed when he let go. She glanced around the nearly deserted ice-cream shop. The pier was still officially open for another few weeks, but most of the seasonal T-shirt, arcade, boardwalk fries, and custard stands would close that weekend. After the annual Halloween parade, no one really visited the wind-whipped boardwalk unless they were skateboarding or taking a shortcut to the community center.
“I’m going to miss being here,” Izzie admitted. “If we’re not surfing, I really have no excuse to come around as much as I do.” Her aunt and Bill didn’t even know she was in Harborside at the moment. She was supposed to be home studying.
“That’s not true,” Brayden disagreed. “You’ve still got to single-handedly save the community center and mentor the younger kids on your old swim team, and you can’t do either of those things from a remote location. You tell the Monroes I said that if they give you a hard time.” He winked.
Sometimes Izzie still couldn’t believe one of the most popular guys at Emerald Prep was into her. She wanted to be with him, but things were complicated, and that complication had a name: Savannah, Brayden’s utterly awful former girlfriend.
“Here comes one more reason you can’t ditch Harborside this winter,” Brayden added, gesturing to the girl walking toward them. “This pain in the neck right here.”
Izzie’s best friend, Kylie, grinned mischievously. “Hello, lovebirds.”
No matter how many times Izzie begged Kylie not to tease her about Brayden, she wouldn’t listen. Kylie followed her own rules, which was pretty much how most of her friends in Harborside were.
Kylie wiped her hands on her ice-cream-covered apron. “What are you two talking about? How much you love me?”
“Yes,” Brayden said solemnly. “That’s all I talk about all day long. Kylie, Kylie, Kylie.” Izzie tried not to laugh.
Kylie gave a satisfied smile. “That’s what I like to hear, surfer boy. So, what are you two having today? I won’t even make you go up to the counter to order.” Her smile turned to a scowl. “And don’t say nothing, because you owe me for letting you change here. Andy would have my head if he knew I let you in the back even if it is the last week of the season.” She pushed her long blond hair away from her paling face. None of them had summer tans anymore. It was sort of depressing.
“Relax,” Izzie told Kylie. “We’re starved.”
“Good,” Kylie said. “I don’t want you to turn into one of those toothpick prisses from Emerald Cove who come in here and order a cup of sprinkles, hold the ice cream.”
“Not in a million years,” Izzie promised. “In fact, today I was thinking of a three-scooper with mint chocolate chip, caramel, and Reese’s Pieces.” She gave her a look. “Non-toothpick-priss enough?” Kylie nodded.
“Make that two,” Brayden told Kylie. “But make mine five scoops.”
“I knew I liked you, Prep School,” Kylie said. She went back to the ice-cream counter and turned up the rock radio station full blast. No customers meant she could pretty much run the shop however she liked. That was the freedom that came with being a kid in Harborside. Most times, you were pretty much on your own. For some reason, Izzie thought of her own family. Or what was left of it.
“What’s wrong? Mad I outscooped you?” Brayden teased. When Izzie didn’t answer him, he tried again. “Are you thinking about Grams again?”
“I really miss her,” Izzie admitted. “I know she’s better off at the nursing home, and I’m better off in EC.” She hesitated. “Living with the Monroes makes sense. He is my…” She stopped and looked down at her lap. “Sorry, I still can’t say the D word.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to say that yet, either.” Brayden tapped his fingers lightly on the table. If he moved them slightly to the left, his hands would be on hers. “He screwed up big-time. He seems to feel bad about it, though.” He raised his eyebrows. “At least when he’s talking to Waa-Waa Wendy.”
“I think he does feel bad,” Izzie admitted, then sighed. “But it doesn’t make it okay. I don’t know.” She drummed her fingers, too. “It’s like when I walk by the potpourri Aunt Maureen has in bowls all over the house. One minute I like the scent, the next I get a whiff of something in there and I feel sick.” She shrugged, trying not to move her arms so their fingers would still be grazing. “I can’t get over being lied to.”
“Order up!” Kylie slid their sundaes across the table, and Brayden caught them.
He didn’t waste any time before scooping up a chunk of ice cream drizzled in caramel sauce. “No matter how bad things are right now, you can still tell that the Monroes care about you.” His face clouded over. “You’re lucky. Your family is not just about appearances.”
“I’m sure your family is the same way,” Izzie said, because it sounded like the right thing to say. She had a feeling the Townsends weren’t as warm and fuzzy as the Monroes. From the way Brayden talked about his mom’s society commitments and his dad having a Bluetooth glued to his ear twenty-four-seven, she didn’t get a parental vibe.
“My family is… calculated,” Brayden said carefully. “Sometimes I feel like I have a part to play, and if I screw up…” He jammed his spoon into his sundae and pushed it away as if the very mention of his family was enough to ruin his appetite. “But I don’t want to talk about them.” He looked at her. “I want to talk about us, Iz.”
At the word us, Izzie’s spoon stopped midway to her mouth, and a drop of mint chocolate chip plopped onto her shirt. She quickly wiped it away with a napkin. Why did everything in life have to be so messy? She put down her spoon and placed her hands nervously on the table so she could focus on what he was saying. Brayden placed his hands right on top of hers, and she felt a tingle go right through her.
“There never seems to be a good time to talk at school, and you’ve had so much going on, but I want you to know I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“Really?” Izzie smiled. Brayden did want to be with her. She felt so full—even with half a sundae still in front of her—that she wanted to burst. But as soon as Brayden took her hands in his, Savannah’s face flashed in her mind. What if Savannah walked in right now? What if anyone from EP walked in right now? “But…”
“No buts,” Brayden insisted, reading her mind again. “Savannah and I are over. I want to be with you, and I don’t care if it’s weird for anyone else or whose parents know,” he added strangely. “I want us to be together.”
The words hung in the air as they looked at each other and grinned. Then Brayden’s phone rang, and he frowned. “It’s my mom. I didn’t tell her where I was going.”
“Go ahead,” Izzie said, and squeezed his hands.
He winked at her. “Don’t go anywhere, okay?” He looked over at Kylie. “Hey, can I take this in the back?”
Kylie nodded. As soon as Brayden was out of view, she scooted over to the table. “Did I just see you two holding hands? Does this mean you’re finally going to date him for real?” She stopped jabbering only when the little bell on the door signaled a customer. When Kylie saw who it was, she lost her focus.
“What are you doing here?” Kylie asked, rushing toward a tall, pretty girl Izzie vaguely recognized. She knew she had met her once or twice when she had come to visit Kylie, but it had been right after she moved to EC and, needless to say, she had been a little distracted. She couldn’t even remember the girl’s name. All she could remember was liking the girl’s kicks. She wore the same black Chuck Taylors as Izzie’s, but this girl had covered all the white spaces on hers with ballpoint-pen doodles and quotes.
“I came to see you, obviously!” said the girl, hugging Kylie. “Your brother said you were on, and I’m craving the Marshmallow Devil’s Food Cake Delight. The model wannabees at my school do not eat.” She pulled her blond hair away from her face, and Kylie squealed again. Izzie saw a small tattoo right where her hairline ended at her neck. It was a red-and-black star surrounded by waves.
“I can’t believe you got it! I’m so jealous,” Kylie said, sounding bummed. “My mom won’t let me get a third tattoo until I’m sixteen.”
“That’s the nautical star, isn’t it?” Izzie asked.
“Yeah,” said the girl, sounding impressed. She stared at Izzie with blue-green eyes that seemed very familiar. “How’d you know that?”
Izzie shrugged. “I’ve always liked that symbol.” If she ever got a tattoo, the nautical star was the one she would want. It stood for the ocean, something she loved, but it also meant something bigger—finding your way in life, which was something she was constantly trying to do. Izzie stared at the tattoo wistfully. It looked so cool. She quickly made herself play the game she usually did when she got an itch for a tattoo: She asked herself how the tattoo would look when she was eighty. It did the trick.
“It also stands for good luck,” said the girl, holding her long hair back so both girls could look. “And if you met my family, you’d know I need all the luck I can get.”
“Dylan?” Brayden had walked back in without anyone noticing.
When the girl saw Brayden, she ran over and hugged him.
Kylie and Izzie stared at each other in confusion.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Don’t tell me. I told you you would like Harborside if you gave it a shot. It’s nice to get out of EC and take a breather, isn’t it? That place is such a lion’s den.”
Lion’s den. That’s exactly what I’ve called EC, Izzie thought.
“How do you two know each other?” Kylie asked.
“She’s my sister,” Brayden said, staring at Dylan as if he were seeing a ghost.
His sister. That was a relief. Izzie had assumed Dylan was an extremely stunning ex-girlfriend. With her height, almost olive skin, and long blond hair, she easily could have been EP’s homecoming queen, or Miss North Carolina, but Izzie didn’t have to look hard to see that she fought hard against that stereotype. Her outfit (black shirt, jacket, and skinny jeans), her graffitied sneakers, and everything from her nautical star tattoo to the way she described EC told Izzie that Dylan Townsend bucked the Emerald Cove class system. Izzie already liked her.
“How do you two know each other?” Brayden asked Kylie and Dylan.
“Dylan hung out with my brother and his friends all summer,” Kylie explained. “Which meant she basically watched him sleep for a while and then we would go hang.” They both laughed, and Izzie felt a little left out. It was all coming back to her now. Kylie had mentioned hanging out with Dylan several times, but with taking care of Grams all summer and then having a new school and an army of mean girls to contend with, she hadn’t paid much attention. What else had she missed?
Dylan turned back to Brayden. “So, rebel, what finally brings you to Harborside?” He didn’t answer her, and she grabbed a lock of his hair. “Wait, why are you wet? Don’t tell me you are surfing. Oh my God, they’re going to kill you!” She laughed, and he colored slightly. “No wonder you come down here where no one knows you. Wait”—she turned to Izzie—“are you a Harborside townie, too?”
“She was,” Kylie said. “This is my best friend, Izzie. I told you about her. She’s the one who fell into the champagne-and-caviar lifestyle. She’s the senator’s daughter.”
Dylan slapped her own face, and Izzie noticed the evil eye pendant ring. She was wearing the same one. She and Mira had bought them together a few weeks ago. “You’re Isabelle Scott! How did I not know that? I read about you in People.”
Izzie unconsciously started tapping her foot. Here it comes, she thought. The classic Emerald-Cove-princess-bashes-the-Harborside-townie exchange. “That’s me. Live in the flesh.” Let me hear it.
Instead, Dylan pulled her into a hug. “Get over here. I want to thank the girl who saved my brother from that she-wolf, Savannah Ingram. It’s about time somebody did!”
Izzie was so taken aback, she didn’t know what to say.
“I cannot stand her or her social-climbing minions,” Dylan said, releasing Izzie and taking a seat at their booth. “Is this yours?” She asked Brayden, pointing to the half-eaten sundae and then digging in before he could stop her. “I hated growing up in EC,” she said between bites. “Every girl I went to school with thought a black Amex equaled power. They do all these fund-raisers and charity events, but do you think any of them even stop for two seconds to think about who they’re raising money for? No, they just care about writing an oversize check and getting their pictures in the town paper.”
Izzie was flabbergasted. She had said basically the same thing to Kylie on more than one occasion. She felt disgusted every time she sat in on a Social Butterflies meeting at school and heard the other girls talk about charities as if they existed just to look good on their college applications. Izzie may have joined the club reluctantly, but she actually believed in its mission. She was constantly thinking of new ways they could raise money. She just hadn’t raised her hand and brought any of them up yet.
“I can’t wait till those girls leave EC and see how little people care about their summer homes and two-thousand-dollar bags in the real world,” Izzie chimed in, then blushed. She was talking about Brayden’s hometown, and he was standing right there. Maybe that was taking things a bit too far.
“Finally, someone who speaks my language,” said Dylan appreciatively. “Glad to see EC hasn’t suffocated you yet.” She pushed her hair behind her ear. Izzie noticed that Dylan had several earrings, and instinctively reached for her own multipierced ear. “Being shipped off to boarding school my final year of high school turned out to be a good thing. I couldn’t wait to get out of town, but some of those girls will never leave EC. They’re lifers. Like my mother.” She stared at Izzie curiously and smiled. “I like you.”
“Iz, you’ve got to come back to Harborside more and hang with us,” Kylie insisted. “Dylan is a riot. She’s the one who streaked on the boardwalk on a dare so we didn’t have to pay for dinner at the diner. I told you about that, right?”
“Sounds like my sister,” Brayden said, but it didn’t sound like a compliment.
The story was hazy, but there was no denying the cool factor attached to a girl who could pull off something like that. Dylan Townsend seemed to be as unaffected by her EC upbringing as a girl could get. Izzie was about to say something to Brayden about how cool his sister was when she noticed that he was squirming.
“So what are you back to pull off this time, Dylan?” Brayden asked quietly.
“Nothing really. Just here to give Mom and Dad a slight heart attack.” Dylan stretched her legs out in front of her. “I just came from the house. God, B, I wish you could have seen their faces when I told them I dropped out of college.”
“You dropped out of Vanderbilt?” Brayden’s jaw dropped. “You’ve only been there for two months!” ’
“I don’t know what I was thinking going there,” she said to Izzie and Kylie. “It’s so stuffy, and the girls are all buttoned-up, headband-loving beauty queens in training.”
“Who would want to deal with that every day?” Kylie agreed.
Dylan rubbed her temples just thinking about the travesty. “I’m transferring to the University of South Carolina next semester. I was originally wait-listed, but a spot opened up, so I’m in come January. My friend Lila goes there, and that place is a lot more fun.” She squeezed Brayden tightly. “Till then, I’m all yours.”
“For two months?” Brayden reminded her. “You’ll never survive.”
“Of course I will. I’ve been craving home,” Dylan told him. “I haven’t been home for more than a weekend since boarding school.”
Brayden didn’t look convinced. “What are you not telling me?”
Dylan glanced at Izzie. “Is he always this paranoid? I swear, sometime in the last two years, we switched roles. When did you become the older sibling?”
“When you left me to fend for myself with Mom and Dad,” Brayden said pointedly, and Dylan stopped laughing. Izzie could sense some tension, but she pretended to stare at her nails. It was a Mira technique that always seemed to work.
“I should probably get going,” Dylan said, and for some reason, that disappointed Izzie. She liked this girl, and the truth was, she hadn’t liked a lot of people from Emerald Cove she’d met so far. She watched as Dylan threw a twenty down on the table. “This should cover their sundaes.”
“Nice tip,” Kylie said appraisingly. “Will I see you this weekend?”
“Absolutely,” Dylan told her, and looked at Izzie. “You should join us, Izzie. We can hang out and compare EC notes.”
Brayden’s face was strained, but Izzie was too busy staring at Dylan to notice. Trading EC war stories with Dylan sounded like a better way to spend an afternoon than shopping for yet another dress with Aunt Maureen. “I’m in.”
“Great.” Dylan slung her bag over her shoulder. “Want to hang tomorrow, too?”
“I have school,” Izzie said.
“So?” Dylan winked and headed for the door. “As far as I know, missing fourth period never killed anybody.”
100% CASHMERE. Mira stared at the sweater tag in her hand and smiled. Just the words 100% cashmere were enough to put her in a good mood.
The pale pink sweater with a ballet-scoop neckline was so soft that she could have slept on it. Prepsters, Emerald Cove’s popular high-end clothing boutique (so named for girls like her who went to Emerald Prep and could afford three-hundred-dollar riding boots) must have just gotten a shipment because the cashmere sweater was available in every size and color. The only decision Mira had to make now was pink or taupe. She was going to try on both along with a pair of those new jeans she saw on the table at the front of the store. While she was here, she might as well look for some casual dresses, too, to wear to a few of her dad’s fund-raisers she was dreading. There was so much to choose from at Prepsters, she wished she could stay all day.
Shopping really was retail therapy. Maybe that was why Mira had been doing so much of it in the last few weeks. When her dad apologized to the family for the first time, Mira ran out afterward and bought expensive white flip-flops with interchangeable bands. When her mom cried over a blog that said she was crazy for standing by her dad, Mira bought luxurious lavender 900-thread-count sheets for her bed. And when Savannah, her friends, and pretty much the whole tenth grade blacklisted her, Mira bought her and Izzie matching sterling-silver evil eye rings so she would have something to look at in class when her former friends were talking about her.
Today’s TV interview with Waa-Waa Wendy had shot Mira’s nerves so badly that she headed to Prepsters in search of new sweaters. It was getting colder—well, cold for North Carolina—and she needed something to warm her up, especially now that she was single and didn’t have a boyfriend’s arms to wrap around her.
Not that she was that upset about the boyfriend part. Taylor Covington, EP’s own version of the Ken doll, had been nice to look at, but he wasn’t really boyfriend material. Mira knew she was better off without him; she just wished she had a few more shoulders to cry on. But Savannah had taken those away, too. Losing friends had definitely turned out to be worse than losing a boyfriend.
Mira piled a few pairs of jeans on top of the cashmere sweaters she was carrying and headed to the fitting room. She made it only a few feet when she spotted a wine-colored sweater dress with a turtleneck collar that would look adorable with her new riding boots. She stopped to check it out, and that’s when she heard talking.
“Sarah Collins, daughter of Myra and Peter Collins, was escorted by Todd Selzner, at the White Ball in Birmingham, Alabama….”
Hearing the voice made Mira freeze with her hand on the dress tag.
“Miss Collins is a proud cotillion participant who hopes to someday study special education at her mother’s alma mater, Ole Miss.”
“What does she look like? Stop hogging the magazine, Lea!”
“Would you two stop? Give it to me. I paid for it. Which one is she? Oh, her. Talk about bad lighting. She looks like she should play a vamp on The Vampire Diaries.” The others laughed. “What a waste of a gorgeous gown. See what I mean, girls? My mother is right. One bad photographer can ruin your whole cotillion.”
Excerpted from Winter White by Jen Calonita Copyright © 2012 by Jen Calonita. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.