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The Ex-Debutante

Chapter One

Denial \de-ni-al\ n (1528): one small word crammed with three tiny syllables that quite frankly causes great big problems in a whole lot of lives; a word, like most, with multiple meanings. 1: refusal to admit the truth 2: negation of logic, and 3: (my personal favorite) the reason I got tangled up in what I now refer to as The Debutante Mess.

Granted, I had been around etiquette, manners, and the waltz since birth. And true, I had made my own bow to society eleven years earlier in one of Texas High Societies' premier social events. So on the surface there was no reason I shouldn't have gotten involved. But I had left Texas to get away from all of that.

Actually, I left Texas to get away from my mother's, let us say, larger than life personality and her renowned beauty she never let anyone forget; my sister Savannah's obsession with babies and her inability to have one; and all the complaining I had to endure over my sister-in-law Georgia's lack of obsession with babies and her apparent inability to stop having them.

But as Michael Corleone in Godfather III said, Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. 

My name is Carlisle Wainwright Cushing, of the Texas Wainwright family. More specifically, I am a Wainwright of Willow Creek. My mother is Ridgely Wainwright . . . Cushing-Jameson-Lackley-Harper-Ogden. I kid you not.

Given my mother's predilection for divorce, is it any surprise that as an adult I had become a divorce lawyer?

It had seemed a natural choice given that as the only truly practical person in my family I had been dealing with the dissolution of my mother's marriages in one way or another since I was in ruffled ankle socks and patent leather mary janes—and not the Manolo kind.

To be specific, it was my mother's pending dissolution of her most recent marriage that initially dragged me back to my hometown from Boston where I had moved three years earlier. Then, once back in Texas, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I slid along the slippery slope from divorce court to the debutante court, all because I couldn't say no to responsibility. Or so I told myself.

See? Denial. Whitewashing the truth, a sleight of hands with reality until even I believed the convoluted excuse for why I had gone home.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

"Carlisle is here," announced the woman who swore it was her face that had launched a thousand ships, "to deal with my pesky divorce situation."

My mother sat at the head of the formally set dining table, perfect in her cashmere and heirloom pearls.

"She is?" my sister asked.

"You are?" my brother demanded.

Even Lupe our longtime family maid, who was serving her famous veal cordon bleu, froze for half a second in surprise.

"Have you lost your mind?" I stated in a way that was far more direct than any self-respecting southern belle would ever be.

Ridgely Wainwright-Cushing-Jameson-Lackley-Harper-Ogden shot me, her youngest child, a glare. But I wasn't the same eager-to-please girl who left three years earlier. I returned my wine glass to the formally set dinner table and smiled tightly.

"Mother, could you join me in the kitchen? Please?"

"Not now, Carlisle. We are in the middle of dinner. Lupe, the veal looks divine."


She wore the cream cashmere sweater set with cream, wool flannel pants, bone low-heeled shoes, her shoulder-length blond hair elegant and swept back with a cream velvet headband. She held her own wine glass in her perfectly manicured hand, as she studied me over the length of fine linen, sterling silver, wafer-thin crystal, and tasteful fresh flower arrangements made of white roses, light pink peonies, and lavender hydrangeas. After a second, she nodded. My mother was more perceptive than her porcelain china doll exterior would lead the average onlooker to believe. She understood without having to be told that Miss Never Make A Scene Carlisle Cushing was feeling a whole lot like making a scene. She probably followed me out of the dining room more out of surprise than anything else.

As soon as we stepped into the service galley of stately Wainwright House, the dining room door swinging shut behind us, I stopped abruptly just outside the kitchen and turned back, bringing me face to face with my mother.

"Oh!" she squeaked.

"I really am not in a position to stay here and help you with your divorce. I have a job, remember? In Boston."

She only peered at me. "Dear, have you put on weight?"

I might have pressed my eyes closed and counted to ten. I definitely wondered how I had ever allowed her to trick me into coming back to Texas.

"And your skin, it looks dry, terribly dry. I don't like to brag, but you know I'm famous for my youthful appearance. But I look this good because I take care of myself, Carlisle. Don't the pilgrims sell moisturizer?"

On principle, my mother is not fond of anyone who lives north of the Mason-Dixon line. In her personal dictionary, she refers to New Englanders \new eng-land-ers\ n (1620) as 1: The Pilgrim People (or assorted variations) 2: Yankeefied 3: Panty waist Thurston Howell the Thirds.

I ignored her criticism and maintained focus, not easy to do when she was looking me over like a judge at a beauty pageant. "The only reason I am here is because you called me saying you were having an emergency."

Tension settled around her eyes. "This divorce mess is an emergency. And if you don't clear it up then I swear to goodness it is going to be the end of me." She pressed her delicate hand to her chest. "Darling, really, I need you."

But I wasn't fooled. "There are plenty of attorneys who can deal with this, Mother."

"Yes, just like that one I had for my last divorce who bungled everything so badly. Do you think for a second I am going to trust anyone else but you? 

You are needed here, with your family, to make that sniveling Vincent Ogden rue the day he ever decided he didn't want to be married to me."

Tension settled around my eyes this time, not that there wasn't truth in what she was saying. If anyone could make anyone rue anything, it was me. I had gotten more than one of my clients out of sticky marital predicaments.

But, again, I lived in Boston.

I loved it there, loved the surprise of four true seasons, the lush green Boston Common in spring, picnics at the Hatch Shell listening to the Boston Pops in summer, the stunning orange, yellow and red of autumn, and skating on the iced-over Frog Pond in winter.

Also, it just so happened that I was engaged. Not that my mother knew this, and not that I was about to tell her right there in the service galley amidst the dessert china and coffee cups ready for the next course. But I was engaged to the extremely amazing Phillip Granger, a lawyer at my firm who had a warm smile, laughing blue eyes, and a kind soul that I wrapped around myself like a cashmere throw in winter.

There was just one problem. He wanted me to set a date for the wedding, and, well, even I couldn't set a date until I told my mother that I was getting married, but the minute I told her (after she had recovered from the stupefying shock that I was marrying a Yankee, that is if she did recover) she would dive headlong into the sort of traditional wedding plans she would expect. I had no interest in showers and teas and all the pre-wedding niceties my mother wouldn't see as negotiable. I planned to have a sensible, low-key civil affair, which would definitely kill my mother, bringing me full circle as to why I had yet to set a date for the wedding.

But there had to be a way to convince her that what I wanted to do was the best thing for everyone involved. Which was the only reason I didn't simply walk out of Wainwright House, get back on a plane, and return to Massachusetts. Instead if, say, I stayed, just for a little while, not dealing with the divorce so much as helping my mother find a decent lawyer, it would give me a little breathing room from a certain unset date, and time to figure out how to tell my mother I was getting married and not have to succumb to all that a large Texas wedding would entail.

"This is what I'll do," I said.

In copious detail I mapped out exactly how I would facilitate the process. I would help her find a lawyer. But there would be no other involvement.

"Well, that's fine, dear. Though before you do all that . . . organizing, I have to meet Vincent at his lawyer's office first thing in the morning. Come with me, talk to your stepfather. Vincent always liked you. Maybe you can talk some sense into him. If not, turn on all that unladylike killer charm you are famous for and scare him a little."

I wasn't sure if I was flattered or insulted.

"If there has to be a divorce," she added, "then convince him it should be done quickly, quietly, and without a lot of fuss. Then depending on how the meeting goes, we'll think about getting another lawyer."

Sure enough, first thing the next morning, my mother's driver Ernesto drove us through the craggy live oaks, rolling green hills, and the perfectly kept streets of town, past the main square, alongside Willow Creek High then the University, to the offices of Howard Grout, Attorneys at Law, LLP.

Dressed in an Armani power suit which thankfully I had brought along, I had pulled my shoulder length light brown hair back into a sleek ponytail. Never one to go far without my baby-soft black calfskin briefcase, I held it at my side, my black Chanel, low-heeled pumps the only minor indulgence I allowed myself.

My mother followed in my wake (a rare occurrence in itself) looking stunning, her blond hair perfectly done, her makeup easily camera ready, her nails a demur shade of barely pink that matched her lip color. She also wore her usual strand of Wainwright pearls around her neck.

We walked down the long wide hallways of marble flooring bisected by plush oriental runners, the walls lined with modern art, my mother speaking to most everyone we passed.

"Isn't that a lovely blouse you're wearing, Lisabeth. Though you might consider blue next time. Pink really isn't your color."

Lisabeth stared, pretended the comment didn't bother her, then ran for the bathroom mirror just as soon as my mother was out of sight.

"My word, look at you Burton Meyer. Looking younger and younger every time I see you. Is that hair dye you're using? Or have you given in and gotten Botox?" She kissed his cheek. "Whichever, you look just as handsome as any man your age can look, sugar."

Burton Meyer stammered.

"Morton Henderson, your sweet Mabel must be quite the cook for all the weight you've gained." She patted his round belly, which no other sole in all of Willow Creek dared do given his reputation as blood thirsty litigator. "Don't you worry though, I won't breathe a word of this to your mother. I know how she and Mabel don't get along."

Ridgely left her usual trail of destruction in her wake, like a hurricane racing through town. Anyone with half a brain got out of her way.

When I led my mother into the designated conference room, my stepfather was waiting.

"Hello, Vincent."

Vincent Ogden was a fit man with reddish brown hair tamed within an inch of its life on top of his head, and a well-trimmed beard and mustache. He wore a tweed jacket and cuffed slacks, a white dress shirt but no tie. He looked as if he just stepped out of the faculty lounge at Willow Creek University.

"Carlisle," he acknowledged, though he was eyeing my mother as if a viper had just slid into the room. With little more than a glare, he turned away and started to sit down at the conference table.

"Typical," my mother said. "Sits before a lady does."

"Lady? In your dreams! A lady knows how to treat a man!"

I nearly groaned, and no doubt would have if the conference room door hadn't open just then. Thankful for a diversion, I turned around with my best professional smile. But this time I stiffened and sucked in my breath like a neophyte actor in Drama 101.


"Hello, Carlisle. I heard you were back in town."

His voice was deep and smooth, with hints of fond amusement. Okay, "fond" might have been overly optimistic. Either way, I was so stunned at the sight of him that my muscles wouldn't move.

It had been three years since I saw Jack Blair last, though he didn't look any different, unless even more dangerously handsome counted as different. He wore a blue sports coat and a tie, barely done, and gray slacks. A far cry from the traditional suits back in Boston, but also a far cry in the opposite direction from the black leather bomber jacket and 501 jeans he had sported before.

He still had those same broad shoulders and narrow hips, still had the same dark brown hair and brown eyes, not to mention the crooked smile that made him look like the angel he wasn't, and never had been. 

I knew right then and there I was headed for the worst kind of trouble.

Chapter 2

In the granite-lined law office conference room, with a view looking out over all of Willow Creek, my mother was tight-faced and grim at the realization that my current stepfather had retained Jack Blair to deal with the divorce.

My mother was not a big fan of the Blair family, though as far as I knew, her dislike centered on Jack’s older brother, Hunter. As mentioned, Hunter had made massive amounts of money, but he had done it as a redneck oil fighter, and was supposedly meaner than a Siamese cat tossed into a tub of cold water.

I had never met the man, but I had heard more than a few stories about how the Blair patriarch had died, leaving two sons and a daughter. Hunter had been only eighteen, Jack only five, the sister a newborn, when Hunter was forced to care for his mother and siblings. But he had done it, and pulled out of poverty into extreme wealth, all by the time he was thirty.

My guess had always been that it was Jack’s past that pushed him toward the wildness --- like pushing hard and fast to outdistance demons. But what did I know. I had hated psychology in college.

Most Texans were impressed by what Hunter had accomplished. My mother, well, not so much, saying, “He’s brash and a braggart, and never lets a soul forget he was a poor boy who made good. You’d think he’d try to hide his unfortunate past like any respectable man of importance would.”

Remember, this is my mother we’re talking about, the one who calls New Englanders the Pilgrim People, and thinks the Kennedys should take elocution lessons.

Jack and my mother exchanged barely pleasant pleasantries before he returned his attention to me. His brown-eyed gaze ran the length of my severely clad form in true alpha male, Neanderthal fashion, his arms crossed over a file he held against his chest. I felt ticking indignation and I opened my mouth to give him a searing set-down with my impressive vocabulary.

“You look good, Carlisle,” he said.

My heart leaped. He thought I looked good.

Which was a completely unacceptable form of girly behavior to which I did not subscribe. I was long since over my starstruck status with Jack Blair.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice crisp and efficient. “You look the same.”

Of course, that was a good thing, but the way it came out it didn’t sound like it.

He raised one dark brow, then walked past me, all six feet of him, broad shoulders, narrow waist, and chiseled jaw included. I could feel the raw energy of him, primal, I swear, despite the civilized surroundings. He gestured for us to take our seats.

“I suggest we get started,” he said abruptly, as if not interested in wasting time. I wasn’t sure if this was a billable-hour issue, or a me issue.

I sat next to my mother, across the modernly fashionable cement table from Jack and Vincent. Forcefully, I put Jack and his narrow hips out of my mind.

“I am only here to help until I find my mother an attorney.”

Jack leaned back in the thousand-dollar, ergonomically correct captain’s chair, those dark eyes assessing, before I saw the first hint of a smile crook up his mouth. “Good idea,” he said. “I’d hate to think I had an unfair advantage over one of you Northerners with your fondness for oversized silver buckles, square-toed shoes, and horns of plenty. Even if you are just a convert. But sometimes those are the worst kind.”

A shift occurred in me like a key turning in a lock. I leaned back as well, finding my center, and said, “Clearly you haven’t done your homework, counselor. The Pilgrims never wore silver buckles or those big black hats, for that matter.” I held my number 2 pencil at both ends. “Moreover, I have a win-loss record that should make you shake in your boots.”

“A Yankee win-loss record.”

“Mr. Blair.” I tsked at him. “If I’m not mistaken, the Yankees won the last time the South tangled with them.”

Vincent looked confused, my mother groaned, but I could tell Jack swallowed back a laugh. “Looks like we’ve got a full-blown traitor on our hands,” he said.

True. You weren’t born and raised in Texas, then started siding with the North. Ever. You could become a Democrat, fight for gun control (okay, maybe not gun control), even wear black. But you could never, ever choose a Northern point of view over your own state’s. Just look what happened to the Dixie Chicks if you want proof, despite their slew of Grammys.

“Traitor? No,” I equivocated. “I prefer to think of it as broadening my point of view. But enough about me. Let’s talk about our clients. Based on what I’ve seen today between my mother and her husband, I’d say it’s a safe guess that there will be no reconciliation.”

Ridgely and Vincent harrumphed.

“I agree,” Jack said. “And I think it’s also safe to say we all would like this to go away as quietly as possible.”


“Good.” Jack extended a stack of papers. “Here are the terms to make this easy as pie for everyone.”

Easy as pie, as if he were an easygoing Southern gentleman on the veranda with a cigar and a splash of bourbon. But I wasn’t that naïve. Jack Blair never made anything easy as pie, and beneath the gentleman act I sensed the ruthlessness that simmered just below the surface.

With the cool, calm, and collected manner I had perfected over the last three years, I glanced through the pages. At the end of the last page I forced myself not to drop my jaw. “You seem to have mistaken the divorce case we are here to deal with today with someone else’s.”

“No, we’ve got Ogden versus Ogden.”

“What is going on?” my mother wanted to know.

Without looking at her, I said to Jack, “They want spousal support in the amount of twenty thousand a month.”

My mother stiffened at my side.

If Jack noticed, he didn’t let on. “My client has grown accustomed to the lifestyle he and your mother shared. No judge in town would expect him to do without.”

I ignored him. “He wants both the BMW and the Escalade --- ”

“He needs the sedan for city driving and the SUV for rugged terrain, of which Texas has a lot.”

I rolled my eyes, then read the next line. “He wants the house in Aspen?”


“He doesn’t even ski.”

“He proposed to your mother there.”

“Are you kidding me? He’s the one who wants the divorce, why would he want to remember where he proposed?”

“It reminds him of better days.”

This time my mother rolled her eyes.

“Plus he wants the house on Lake Travis,” Jack added.

“What? Did he write her a poem there?”

Jack eyed me in a way that I knew didn’t bode well. “They had sex there for the first time.”

My mother gasped. As much as I hate to admit it, I felt a blush try to creep up my face because I just might have been thinking about sex between two people in the room... two people other than my mother and her husband. Sue me, but Jack really did look good.

I shook the thought away. “More Kodak moments for the man who doesn’t like what’s in the pictures. That makes sense. This is a waste of our time.”

“We’re not asking for Wainwright House.”

“Because no judge in their right mind would give Vincent property that is the Wainwright family’s, not my mother’s.”

He tapped his pen on the table and considered me. “Hard to say. Your mother is a Wainwright, ergo she owns a percentage of the property.”

“We are done here.” I pushed up from the table and stood. “Come along, Mother.”

“Is that a no?” he asked.

“Is that a no?” I cocked my head and studied him as if he were a troublesome child. “That isn’t just no, but --- ”

He held up his hand. “Don’t say something you’ll regret, Cushing.”

“There are a lot of things in life I regret, but that wouldn’t be one of them. Something else I don’t regret is my mother’s prenup.”

“Ah, that. It won’t stand up in court.”

I might have blinked. “You came to that conclusion... how?”

“Vincent was a good husband to your mother, not to mention a supportive helpmeet.”

My very proper mother scoffed, and why not. Helpmeet?

Jack tossed the pen on top of the file, all flashes of humor gone. “Vincent was a man who added more to her life than is represented by the one-sided prenup your mother forced on him.”


“He has also been a loving companion.”

“Oh, please.” More from my mother.

“And we feel our terms are more than fair, fair enough to keep us out of court where we would be forced to contest the prenuptial agreement. What do you say?”

“Just rewind and replay the ‘no’ comment of earlier.”

“Have it your way,” he said, retrieving the pen and flipping his folder shut. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“We will see you in court, counselor.”

“Then you’re taking the case?”

I ground my teeth.

“My mother will see you in court after I find her a lawyer who will happily make you rue the day you ever walked into my life.”

Which pretty much made us all freeze. Just for a bit of clarification, this wasn’t about me. I knew that.

“I mean, the day Vincent walked into my mother’s life.”

With an impressive display of dignity in spite of my heart doing flip-flops, I gathered my things then directed my mother from the room as my thoughts slid back to Willow Creek High and Mr. Hawkins’s math class. I remembered going home that day, all but floating on air. I couldn’t wait to get back to school, back to math class, back to the table that forced me to sit so close to Jack that his knee brushed against mine. For the first time in my life I had understood attraction.

When I got home that day, my mother wasn’t there, my sister out of town, my brother already living in California with his wife and the first of their children. Before I could think better of it, I went to Savannah’s room to borrow some clothes; just a simple sundress, but a far cry from my usual plaid skirt and button-down shirt.

The next morning I dressed with care, prayed my mother would still be in bed, then winced when I entered the kitchen and found her dressed in a flowing peignoir, her hair pulled up in a loose twist of blond curls, tendrils framing her face, as she sipped a cup of coffee out of her favorite breakfast china.

“Carlisle,” she enthused.

I knew right away she had met a man.

It was always the same after she had met someone new, the pendulum of her euphoria swinging wildly, like a child getting a new toy. When she was in this phase she was exhausting, but only because I had learned it wouldn’t last, the pendulum swinging back with the inevitability of white and pink tearoses at a debutante ball.

“Good morning,” she sang. “Isn’t it a glorious day?”

“Who is he?”

She tossed her head back and laughed. “You naughty girl. Who says I met someone?”

I raised a brow.

“Fine. Have it your way. I did meet a man. And he’s fabulous! Simply fabulous! He’s coming to dinner tonight.”

“So soon? In this day and age, aren’t you supposed to go someplace and meet him, get the lay of the land first, figure out if he’s a serial murderer or something, then decide if you should bring him home?”

“Nonsense, I am nothing if not an expert judge of men.”

Which made me laugh. Sorry. If my mother had a talent, it was for falling for men who inevitably hurt her.

Her smile went coy. “If he asks, you’re ten.”

“Excuse me? Ten?”

“Would it kill you to try?”

“It might. And what’s the difference between me being ten and thirteen?”

“It’s one thing to have a child in junior high, but a teenager in high school? I think not.”

“Mother, in case you’ve forgotten, you have two married, adult children. And last I heard, you’re a grandmother.”

“Bite your tongue.”

As promised, Mr. Rhys McDougal arrived at our doorstep, tall, dark, and handsome --- as was my mother’s preference. No surprise that he bore gifts. Flowers for my mother, a baby doll for me. He clearly hadn’t a clue what a “ten-year-old” played with, though he was smarter than that misstep would make him seem. After one look at me, he said, “You look a mite big for ten.”

I sliced a smile at my mother. Ridgely only laughed and guided him into the receiving room. “She’s always been big for her age,” she cooed, her drawl going extra soft. “And you know how sensitive girls can be if someone says they are b-i-g.”

Pink colored his ears. “Well, I’m sorry --- ”

“No need,” she said, then turned to me. “Carlisle, sugar, tell Lupe we are ready for drinks in the parlor.”

My mother seated herself on the French settee, fanning the chiffon skirt of her gossamer dress over the brocade, crossing her legs like a model in a hosiery commercial.

Lupe entered with a silver tray lined with crystal and ice, which she set down on the highboy server that housed the liquor. I was there to chaperone and was served lemonade.

Mr. McDougal drank bourbon with a splash of water.

My mother said, “Oh, my, maybe I’ll have just a tiny bit of sherry. Though Lord have mercy, I rarely imbibe.”

She shot me a withering glare when I laughed.

It was all very Old South, as if we lived in Atlanta or even New Orleans at the turn of the last century, and my mother was eighteen getting ready to make her debut.

That first night I ate dinner with them. Roast duckling, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, and more than a bit of wine. The second night, I was dismissed after my lemonade on the pretext that I had “scads” of homework to do and had already eaten dinner. The third night, Lupe’s night off, I was conveniently spending the night with a girlfriend (of which I had none) and had to cover my head with a pillow to block out the sound of my mother’s girlish laughter and Mr. McDougal’s deep baritone voice coming from her bedroom.

The night after that he didn’t call.

Wearing her sensible housecoat and slippers, my mother paced and stared at the phone, willing it to ring. I might have said something about a watched pot never boils, which she didn’t appreciate, but she took to pacing in the other room, flying to the phone every time it rang. But it was never Mr. McDougal.

When she determined he wasn’t going to call, she left him messages, which he didn’t return. A week after the first dinner, she dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night and into the truck she had bought Ernesto, taking that instead of the Mercedes so that no one would know it was her. Both of us still wore nightgowns as we drove through the darkened streets to see just what Rhys McDougal was up to. A car she didn’t recognize sat out front of his ramshackle house, so she threw the pickup into park and we waited.

“Mother, this isn’t a good idea, not to mention totally creepy, and probably isn’t the kind of example you should be setting for an impressionable thirteen-year-old, as in: me.”

“Hush. I need to concentrate.”

Unfortunately I knew the drill. I had been through it with disheartening regularity.

I was just dozing off when she stiffened and cursed. “That bastard.”

Blinking awake, I saw Mr. McDougal coming out of his house with a woman.

“Rhys McDougal, shame on you for your cheatin’ heart!” Her shrill whisper echoed through the truck as she sank low in her seat, careful as always not to be seen. “I hate him!”

Her anger filled the space until it shifted into despair as she ranted against the injustice of men. When she started to cry, I knew what I had to do. I leaped out of the truck, my legs tangling in my nightgown, then raced around to the driver’s side. Opening the door, I cringed at the creak of hinges, then stepped up on the running board in order to get inside. Scooting Mother over to the passenger seat, I had to sit on the phone book she kept under the seat in order to drive us home just as I had learned to do.

“They’re all the same,” she cried, her head flung back, tears she would have never shown in the daylight streaming down her cheeks. “They always break your heart. Remember that, Carlisle.”

When we got to the house I went to my room and put Jack’s plastic ring in my drawer. And after sitting in the back of the classroom beside him that entire week, I got to school early the next day and found a seat in the front row. When Jack walked in, he looked at me in surprise. Mr. Hawkins didn’t give him a chance to question me, and once the bell rang I was gone, then managed to avoid him like the plague until he graduated from Willow Creek High. I had learned my mother’s lesson. If only she had taken her own advice.

After we left the law offices of Howard Grout, Ernesto drove my mother and me home. Willow Creek looked much the same as it always had, the curving tree-lined streets, manicured lawns, mixed with sprawling mansions and the university. We arrived at Wainwright House on Hildebrand Square, close to the heart of the city, Ernesto swinging up the long drive, bypassing the front door, heading around back to the garage.

The house was nothing if not stately, a sprawling three-story structure built to resemble a medieval castle made from limestone and granite, replete with turrets and crenellated rooftop. I was surprised my great-great-grandfather hadn’t gone all-out in his dream of regal grandeur and installed a moat and drawbridge.

My ancestors had lived in this same spot since the early 1900s after Gerald Wainwright, the Duke of Ridgely, hit a million-dollar-a-week oil field. And let me just say, a million dollars a week back then made my great-great-grandfather better off than the king of England.

Since then, the family had hit more oil and invested wisely so that the crash of 1987 didn’t so much as cause a blip in the Wainwright assets. My ancestors had been a conservative bunch, at least until my mother took her first breath.

When Ernesto put the car in park, I started to get out. My mother stopped me. Her lips pursed, then she consciously smoothed her features. “You’re going to make Vincent pay for putting me through this, right?”

“The lawyer will make him pay,” I clarified.

My mother frowned at me, as if I were some sort of traitor, a theme I was getting extremely tired of. Regardless, I still had every intention of finding my mother another lawyer. I didn’t need this, I didn’t want this. I had nothing to prove to this town. I had nothing to prove to Jack Blair.

I thought of Phillip and instantly felt my mind ease. I’d return to Boston soon. We’d go to La Fenice for lasagna and a nice bottle of red wine. We would set a date for the wedding. Then life would get back to normal. Just as I had planned.

Nodding, I promised myself I would start doing research into lawyers as soon as I got inside. But inside, everything had gone crazy.

Excerpted from THE EX-DEBUTANTE © Copyright 2012 by Linda Francis Lee. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.

The Ex-Debutante
by by Linda Francis Lee

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312354967
  • ISBN-13: 9780312354961