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Make Me Over: Getting Real

By Doris Brooks,2014-11-04 21:13
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ReviewA fresh, surprising story about real people falling in love, not just pretty bodies tumbling into bed. 4 Stars -- RT Bookclub Another keeper that is full of sass, fun and heat. Recommended Read -- Fallen Angel ReviewsProduct `desc`riptionFrom the back cover: He never guessed he'd uncover the perfect woman...for him! Professor Drew Bennett is thrilled when he learns he'll get the chance to promote his latest book, Beyond Eliza Doolittle, on national television...even if it means getting involved in reality TV. But still, how hard can it be? All he has to do is turn five country bumpkins into ladies. Too bad Drew doesn't know that he's the prize... Tori Lyons only agreed to embarrass herself in front of a nat Published by Harlequin on 2004/11/30

    Make Me Over

     By Leslie Kelly

    Contents

     Prologue

     Chapter 1

     Chapter 2

     Chapter 3

     Chapter 4

     Chapter 5

     Chapter 6

     Chapter 7

     Chapter 8

     Chapter 9

     Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

    Prologue

     “I F YOU THINK I’m ever gonna work on the set of another reality TV show, you’re whackedin the head, old man.”

    Jacey Turner stared at her father across his expansive desk in his highbrow Hollywood office,not believing he’d just asked her to take over as lead camera operator on his latest project.And definitely not believing why he was asking.

    He was nearly broke. Burt Mueller, the king of TV in the 1970s, had backed a string of stinkersin more recent decades—everyone knew that. But she’d never thought he’d come to this. Losinghis edge, his power, his “in”-ness.

    Cripes…his Rolls.

    “I’m serious. I need you, babe.”

    “Whacked,” she continued, as if he hadn’t spoken. “Or you’ve been popping some of thosehappy pills that got you through the sixties.”

    Daddy dearest tsked as he gestured toward his recently Botoxed face, which looked as if itbelonged on a forty year old—not someone two decades older. “Do you think I’d spend thismuch money on trainers and plastic surgeons to go and poison myself with drugs?”

    She cast a pointed look at the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray on his desk. Against policyin this no-smoking building, like every other building in L.A. these days. As if he cared.

    Burt merely shrugged. “They’re not hurting me on the outside, which is more important to methan my lungs right now.”

    God, how could a man say something so completely shallow, yet manage to make it sound sosincere? She couldn’t help chuckling. “Tell that to the wrinkles that are eventually gonnashow back up around your mouth from constantly having a cancer stick clamped between yourlips.”

    “You berate me because you care.”

    Yeah, she did. And he knew it. Leaning back in the chair, she put her boot-clad feet on hisdesk and crossed them, just to keep him guessing. She did not need the old man realizing she’ddo just about anything for him. “Okay, be honest, how bad could it be? I mean, the residualson Paw Come Git Your Dinner alone should keep you in Bruno Magli shoes until you’re ninety.”

    “You’re thinking like a Hollywood insider of today. Not of the seventies,” he retorted,sounding weary. “Residuals? Ha. Ask me why stars of The Brady Bunch made so many bad reunionmovies, until I thought we might soon see Alice Does Dallas. Or why Gilligan’s gang had to berescued by the Harlem Globetrotters.”

    Jacey, who recognized the shows by their eternal life on TV Land, merely waited.

    “It’s so Gilligan doesn’t have to shine shoes at LAX and Cindy, Jan and Marcia don’t haveto work as Hooters girls. Everything was in the studio’s favor in those days.”

    Okay, she’d heard that, but still found it hard to believe Burt could be so bad off. She waslooking at the man who’d created six of the top ten shows of 1970. Who’d first seized oncanned laughter to beef up audience response and sparked a revolution in sitcoms. Who’d earnedten Emmys, for piss sake!

    “So you really think you can salvage a historic thirty-some-years career as a TV legend byjumping on the reality-show hysteria which hasn’t died its overdue death? What a dumb idea.”

    He didn’t take offense. Her old man never took offense at anything, except being called a has-been. And he certainly didn’t get all fatherly on her. Why would he? Their relationshipwasn’t like that. He hadn’t even known she existed until she’d shown up on his doorstep atage seventeen with a ratty backpack and a bad attitude, informing him he was her dear old dad.

    Some Hollywood types would’ve kicked her to the curb. Burt Mueller hadn’t. He’d taken herin, welcomed her, convinced her he’d never known of her existence, and given her a job.

    Somehow, over the past six years, they’d become, well, if not exactly what you’d callfamily…at least friends. But there was only so much she’d do for friendship. And setting footon the set of another reality show wasn’t on the list. Not after the last one, Killing Time InA Small Town, where she’d worked as lead camera operator. Because getting fired hadn’t beenthe highlight of her frickin’ year.

    Though honestly, she had to admit, the experience hadn’t been all bad. And the show had donereally well in ratings this fall.

    She also had to give thanks because of what it had led to in her personal life. She, tough-as-nails Jacey Turner, had let down her guard and fallen in love.

    Lord, she missed Digg. Missed him like mad. But coming here to California to answer herfather’s desperate call wasn’t such a bad thing. The past couple of months, when she and Digghad tried to make their unconventional romance work in the real world—his world of firestations and big Hispanic-New York families—had been tough. Particularly because she suspectedall of Digg’s friends and loved ones secretly looked at her as a sewer rat who’d glommed onto him for the million bucks he’d won on Killing Time. She couldn’t prove it, but she’d laymoney his mother made the sign of the cross behind her back every time Jacey entered her house.

    She’d been hiding her unhappiness at that—and at not being able to land a job with any studioin New York—for weeks now.

    “It’ll be a good break for you,” Burt said, moving in for the kill. “A classy mansion inNew England in the winter. Snow, skiing, hot chocolate.”

    “Gag me. I’m not an Aspen bunny. Remember? I skied on a skateboard in the aqueducts of SouthCentral.”

    He chuckled. “Then do it because you need the money, too.”

    She raised a brow, but didn’t ask how he knew. He knew everything. “What’s this show about,anyway?”

    He didn’t gloat over being right, though he grinned as he filled her in. When he was done, shesighed. “Sounds boring. A social makeover show. Trashy girls get cash for class.”

    His brow shot indignantly up toward his bald head. “It’s perfect. Like the musical, the onewith Audrey Hepburn.”

    Jacey hated musicals. She could never get past how moronic a guy would look breaking out into abig song-and-dance number right in the middle of a gang war. If it happened in real life,someone would have Baker Acted the loser in two seconds flat. Those things made reality TV lookrealistic.

    “You know the one,” Burt continued. “He makes her over, she sings the song about how shecoulda schtupped all night.”

    That made her snort a laugh, exactly as he’d intended. The old man was good. Because in spiteof hating all musicals, she did have a soft spot for one. My Fair Lady. For the same reason sheliked Pretty Woman. She enjoyed seeing the gutter girl fool all the rich snots into thinkingshe was all highbrow and stuff.

    But she wouldn’t give in so easily. “I still don’t see the great angle. It’s…ordinary.”

    Burt hated to be told that anything he touched could be ordinary. His scowl wasn’t aimed ather, however; it was aimed at himself. Because even he had to see how dull the whole thingsounded. Put a bunch of uneducated girls in a house and teach them stuff. Whoop-de-fricking-wow.

    “Well, this has certainly grabbed enough interest to land on the Times list,” Burt finallysaid as he slid his rolling chair back and pulled a hardbound book off a shelf Jacey hadassumed was merely for decoration. This book actually looked like it’d been opened. At leastonce.

    She took it from him, studying the title. Beyond Eliza Doolittle: Education vs. Genetics inToday’s Society. “Yawn.”

    “But it’s not.” Burt flipped the book over so she could see the large black-and-white photoof the author on the back.

    “Yum.”

    “Exactly. He’s all the rage, and he’s agreed to let us do a reality show based on thetheories in this book, as long as we donate a large sum of money to educational charities.”

    Jacey hardly listened. She was too busy reading the bio on the author, Dr. Andrew Bennett. Thebio didn’t say much, but it revealed the most important detail. “He’s single.”

    Burt tilted his head. “Interested?” The mild tone didn’t fool her. He’d very much like toknow what was going on with her love life. Heck, so would Jacey.

    Shaking her head, she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, letting the creativejuices really get flowing.

    A fancy estate during the holidays. Bubbly hot tubs. Red wine in front of a fire. A bunch ofbusty bimbos in search of a little class-i-fication. And a hunky-as-heck brainiac doctor.

    “I’ve got an idea,” she finally said. “I think I just might have come up with a way for youto take this boring makeover show of yours and turn it into a bona fide hit.”

    Burt sat up straight, immediately interested. “How?”

    “Well,” Jacey replied smoothly, “it’s simple. You don’t make the women compete for moneyor to be named Grand Duchess of Poobah because her pinkie stays the highest during a teaparty.”

    Her father huffed.

    Leaning close to his desk, Jacey crossed her arms on its wood surface and met the old man’sstare. Once she was sure she had his complete attention, she tapped the photo on the back ofthe book with the tip of her nail.

    “You make them compete for him.”

    1

     H E’D STUMBLED into a hooker convention.

    Arriving at the Vermont estate to which he’d been directed, Dr. Andrew Bennett immediatelysuspected he’d made a wrong turn somewhere. Because this had to be a group of hookersraucously making themselves at home in the tastefully decorated library of a fabulous NewEngland mansion. Either that or someone was filming an episode of Girls Gone Wild.

    From the two brunettes and the redhead sitting on top of the bar doing shots—to the trio ofblondes dirty dancing around a hapless waiter serving hors d’oeuvres—to the tall one lying onher back in the middle of the floor attempting to guzzle a yard of beer—to the petite, washed-out girl demonstrating pole dancing against the floor lamp, every woman in the room lookedabout as raucous, uncouth and outrageous as could be.

    He’d asked for women with little education or social skills. Not the entire mud-wrestling teamfrom Big Al’s Slaughterhouse in Bangor.

    Drew wished he felt elated to have such raw material to work with.

    He didn’t.

    He wished he could muster some enthusiasm about the daunting task of overseeing thetransformation of these, er, ladies of the evening into real ladies.

    He couldn’t.

    He wished he’d turned around and left the minute he’d seen two of the women competing in aspitting contest into the fireplace.

    He hadn’t.

    He wished there was some legitimate reason he actually had to participate in this reality-shownonsense, rather than just let his book be the basis for it.

There wasn’t.

    He wished he could change his mind.

    Too late. He was stuck. Here. With the rollicking house full of…test subjects.

    One-on-one he could have handled. Frankly, he would have relished the opportunity to show theworld what he’d learned from his own research…from his own life. Genetics or upbringingdidn’t determine the capacity of a person’s success. Education did.

    Education. Resilience. A modicum of social ability…they could overcome nearly any hurdles merebirth could bestow. Hadn’t his transition from homeless kid of a flighty mother to collegeprofessor illustrated as much? God knew, if he, Drew Bennett—former thief and con artistwho’d once picked pockets in Miami Beach to feed his kid sister—could make it from the backseat of an ancient, rusty VW Beetle to the podiums of Georgetown University, anyone could.

    A crash jerked his attention back to the women in the room.

    “Wooo, girl, you’re gonna have to pay for that!” someone shouted as a redhead giggled overthe vase she’d just knocked off an end table.

    “Maybe they’ll take it out in trade,” the pole dancer said, sounding weary and jaded.

    Drew blew out a long, frustrated breath.

    Why he’d ever thought this reality-show idea might actually do some good, he had no idea. Backin September when he’d first been approached by the TV people, he’d refused. Not only becauseit seemed a silly idea, but also because he simply didn’t have the time to deal with suchnonsense. He’d already had to take the semester off teaching anthropology and sociology atGeorgetown because of the insanity of book tours and publicity associated with being anovernight bestseller. Throw in his next project—a trip to a university in Mexico toparticipate in an expedition to an ancient Mayan city—and he was completely booked.

    Then they’d hit him in his weak spot, his Achilles’ heel. The production company had offeredto donate ten percent of the gross profits of the show—not net profits; even he, a total non-Hollywood type knew better than that—to A Book and a Dream, Drew’s favorite charity. Fewpeople knew Drew had helped found the organization, which taught reading to underprivilegedkids. That they’d investigated him enough to track down the information showed how seriousthey were.

    The biggest hitch came when they’d suddenly decided, last week, that he had to be on the setto oversee things and gauge the women’s progress. But when the ten percent had gone up tofifteen, he’d allowed himself to be persuaded. He’d consoled himself over the decision bythinking it wouldn’t be that difficult. He could transform anyone who had the drive and basicintelligence to succeed.

    But not a dozen women at once.

    Certainly not these dozen women, who looked much more up for a rave than a grammar lesson.

    Sighing heavily, he turned to leave, thankful no one had spotted him, when suddenly hisattention was caught by one woman who stood apart from the rest. Her back to the room, shefaced a floor-to-ceiling bookcase loaded with leather-bound editions, completely oblivious tothe cacophony behind her. She remained separate. Distinct. In a bubble of introspection overthe books—a posture Drew could understand, having lost himself in research on many occasions.

    From behind, she was, well, to put it in the most basic terms…hot. She was petite, likely thesmallest woman here. Tight, worn jeans clung to a slim pair of legs and a quite delectablebackside. They nipped in to hug a tiny waist, though not without spreading over some fine curvyhips.

    Her heavy, red flannel shirt was too bulky to allow him to make out much of the rest of herfigure. But the thick bunch of wavy brown hair cascading down to the middle of her back led himto suspect she had brown eyes and olive skin.

    Suddenly, the most unusual sensation drew his attention to his hands. Prickly. Theytingled—though not from cold. He soon realized why. His mind was overflowing with images of

twining his hands in all that hair, testing its weight, its silkiness.

    It was not his intellect that decided she was most likely sexier than anyone he’d ever known.That intuitive response had come from somewhere south of his brain. South of his belt, to beprecise.

     Turn around.

    She didn’t respond to his silent order, leaving him wondering about the face of the woman whoseemed so separate from the rest of the group.

    “Woo hoo! Look who’s here! Hold me back, ladies, but hands off ’cause he’s mine.”

    Blinking, he tried to pull his focus off the woman by the bookcase, who continued to run herfingertip down the spines of several books as she read their titles. The fifteen or so othershad stopped their various lewd and possibly illegal activities and had focused every bit oftheir attention on him. Every pair of eyes in the place widened in stares that ranged fromfriendly to voracious. He managed to remain completely still under the scrutiny, though hesuddenly began to empathize with those guys who stripped off their clothes for women in trendynightclubs.

    “Come join the party, sweetie,” the one on the floor said, a bit of beer dribbling down theside of her face. Wiping it off with the back of her hand, she gave him a big smile.

    “Yeah, don’t be shy,” said the pole dancer, who suddenly looked much more animated. Like atigress confronting a wounded wildebeest.

    “Don’t mind me, ladies,” Drew murmured, nodding to them all. “I’m simply here toobserve.”

    A flurry of protests broke out from the women, all of whom were giving him lascivious looksusually found during mating rituals. Not in New England mansions.

    He pulled back slightly, deciding he needed to track down Burt Mueller, or whoever was incharge, and try to end this thing here and now. Frankly, he’d rather be back in Boliviasearching for evidence of the ancient lost civilization of the Bodomoqua tribe—while dodgingarmed guerrillas and the military—than spend an hour in this place.

    Before he could exit, however, something came flying through the air from the group at the bar.He tried to duck, to no avail. The thing landed right on his head, dangling down to block hisvision, and he blinked in response.

    It took less than a second to realize exactly what he was looking at: a pair of black-and-redthong underwear.

    And suddenly, because the thing rested right against his face with nothing to cover his eyes,Dr. Drew Bennett wished one more thing.

    That he’d been wearing his glasses instead of his contacts.

    ?

     I F SHE LIVED TO BE a hundred, Tori Lyons was never gonna make another deathbed promise.Specially to somebody who up and got better afterward. Seemed to her if you didn’t die, allbets should be off. Promises, too.

    Not that she wasn’t happy Daddy had recovered from the heart attack that had about given themall heart attacks last September. She was. She thanked the Lord and all his little angels forhis full recovery. Now, just three months later, he was back to his cantankerous self, on andoff the track.

    But she hadn’t counted on him holding her to her promise: to get some education. Criminy, whenshe’d made the durn promise, she’d figured he meant for her to take some shop courses at thetech school near home in Sheets Creek, Tennessee.

    ’Course, at the time, in the exam room of Doc Barnes’s vet clinic—where they’d taken Daddyon account of the closest hospital was forty miles away—she’d figured she might not have togo through with it. In the back of her mind, over the sound of Aunt Teeny wailin’ for Jesus to

    spare her brother, and Daddy’s girlfriend of fifteen years tellin’ him she’d skin him like apolecat if he died before he got around to marryin’ her, she’d figured it was a long shot.Because what high-tech school like Rudy B’s Garage of Higher Learnin’ would have her, a high-school dropout who’d only taken her GED two years ago ’cause it was the only way she couldget her youngest brother to take it?

    She’d passed. He hadn’t. Huh. Go figure.

    Still, she’d made the promise, which she’da kept, if she’d been able to. Would’ve been awaste of time, of course. Tori’d been learning her trade since the age of five in the pits andgarages of drag strips across America. Wasn’t much she couldn’t do with a torque wrench or atransmission. Or an engine that only ran the quarter mile in six seconds at Talladega andneeded to be under 5.6 by MusicCity.

    But yessir, she woulda tried to keep her promise to her dear old departed daddy.

    Only, the stubborn old cuss hadn’t departed. And to add insult to injury, he’d held her toher promise. Tori’d given in, if only so Daddy’d get some peace of mind knowin’ that when hefinally did go to meet Jesus, he could be sure his kin on earth were doin’ what he wanted themto.

    Just like they’d always done when he was alive.

    She’d been fixin’ to start up in mechanic’s class come January. But noooooo, Daddy’d hadsome highfalutin educatin’ in mind. It was her bad luck that he’d run into some fella inKentucky who was lookin’ for girls to be part of a big makeover thingamabob.

    Which was how she’d ended up here. On the set of a hoity-toity, high-class reality TV show.When she should be home, not only helpin’ Daddy get back onto the NHRA—National Hot RodAssociation—circuit, but also gearin’ up for Christmastime in Sheets Creek.

    He’d never’ve asked one of her spoiled rotten brothers to do somethin’ so senseless. Thenshe scowled, the thought of her middle brother, Luther, makin’ her fingers curl up into fists.She’d like to land one of them on his fat nose.

    The phone call she’d had from him last night at the hotel in Albany had repeated in her brainall night long. Stupid Luther and his stupid bettin’. That boy was too poor to pay attention,but he’d been runnin’ with the big dogs out at the track. He’d really done himself in thistime and had told Tori she had to win on the show to come up with enough money to bail him outof his troubles.

    Not durn likely. She was gettin’ outta here first thing tomorrow and headin’ home to whacksome sense into him, then to figure out a way to pay off his debt. Because the money she couldearn if she stuck it all the way out to the end of this here reality-show thing still wouldn’tbe enough to pay off Joe-Bob Baker, the toughest bookie in Knoxville.

    What Luther didn’t know was that the big prize on Hey, Make Me Over was a shopping spree forclothes and stuff. And to get all gussied up and go to some nose-in-the-air Christmas Eve partyin New York City. As if she really wanted to go to a party—on Christmas no less—with thehighfalutin folks who, right now, wouldn’t spit on her if she was afire.

    No, she needed to get outta here. Fast. Then she’d find a way to get the money to keep herornery brother alive all right. At least long enough for her to whale on him like a rentedmule. An ass-whuppin’ was gonna come along with her help, that was for sure. The thoughtcheered her right up.

    “Good evening, ladies, if you’re finished with cocktail hour, perhaps you’d care to followme to the dining room.”

    She looked up at the squeaky little butler, who was dressed like a penguin and looked stiffenough to have been dipped in shellac. His nose was always quiverin’, like he’d caught awhiff of something rank. Put her right on edge.

    Jiminy crickets, she didn’t belong here. Not with a pushy butler, and cameras everywhere andexpensive furniture that looked like it’d break if you took a real sit-down on it. Nossir, she

was as out of place as a skunk at a garden party.

    Except, she had to admit, with all the other women in the room. With them, she almost feltright at home.

    “Whadda I gotta do to get myself kicked offa this thing fast?” she said under her breath.

    One of the other contestants, a redhead named Sukie, replied, “Pick your nose at dinner.”

    Sukie and Tori had struck up a quick friendship when they’d arrived earlier today at thismansion in Vermont. Probably because the two of them had been so tickled by the way the butlercame back every time one of ’em gave a pull on that cloth rope in the corner. Sukie and Torihad pulled the rope about twenty times today, until she thought Mr. Shellac was gonna take apair of scissors to the thing.

    Or to her and Sukie.

    “I gotta be the first one gone, but I grew up watchin’ my granddaddy dig for nose gold at thedinner table, and I don’t think I could do it,” Tori said. “There’s gotta be another way.”

    “You’ll think of something,” said Sukie with a loud smack of her shiny pink bubblegum.

    Sukie worked as a hairdresser in Cleveland and was so far Tori’s favorite to win the grandprize. Anybody who could walk in those fancy, glittery four-inch-tall heels had the makins’ ofa real lady.

    Blowing a big, juicy bubble and cracking it between her teeth, Sukie added, “And if youdon’t, you can always scratch yourself or start a food fight tomorrow. Tonight doesn’t count,anyway.”

    Tori was glad’ve that much. Tonight was just a social gathering, a get-to-know-you partybefore taping got started tomorrow. So there wouldn’t be no pressure to compete with anybodyelse, or time to worry where the cameras were hidden. But Tori believed in getting a headstart. It was never too soon to make a bad impression.

    Trouble was, she greatly feared even nose pickin’ wasn’t gonna make her stand out in thiscrowd, which included a trucker, a bartender—she’d been working the bar and, from the soundof it, making some wicked good hurricanes—some sales clerks, a stripper or two, a maid, andone girl named Ginny who had a huge set of knockers, which she’d gladly flashed at anyonethey’d passed during the bus trip up from Albany.

    “You don’t really wanna leave already, do you?” asked Sukie as they turned to follow theother women—and the penguin—into the dining room.

    “I sure do,” Tori said. “I had to come ’cause I promised my daddy. That don’t mean I gottastay. If I get throwed off, he can’t never say I didn’t try.”

     And then I’ll have time to figure out how to help Luther.

    Then she sighed. Because truly, she wasn’t sure of the best way to get tossed out—by beingtoo bad…or by being too good? The fast-talkin’ producer, Mr. Mueller, might be looking forgirls who were the worst off to keep around. Making it funner for the TV folks. After all,Tori, herself, liked watching the real stinkeroos on American Idol.

    But, since the whole show was supposed to be about one girl gettin’ lots of class and mannersand going to the society party in New York, they might be lookin’ for the girls most likely topull it off. Meaning they’d want the ones who were the best of the bunch.

    So the question remained: should she be on her best behavior? Or her worst?

    “I wouldn’t mind staying if I get to find out who the hunky guy who got a face-full ofGinny’s panties was.”

    Tori scrunched up her brow, not knowing what the other woman meant.

    “You were staring at the books like none of us were even in the room,” Sukie said. “And ooh,girl, what you missed! A hunka burning love standing in the doorway, all tall and sexy andlooking like he stepped right off an underwear billboard.”

“He was in his underwear?” Tori squeaked.

    “Nuh-uh. I was imagining.”

    Tori frowned. “He got a pair of used drawers on his face?”

    Sukie shook her head. “Ginny pulled ’em outta her pocket.”

    Tori didn’t rightly wanna know why somebody carried underdrawers in their pocket. But sinceGinny hadn’t minded showin’ every driver on the interstate her hooters, maybe she didn’t goaround wearin’ her underwear, either, and just had ’em stashed nearby for emergencies. Like,hmm…goin’ to church or climbin’ a ladder or somethin’.

    Before she could ask any more questions, they all had to leave to follow the butler through themaze of halls. Shew, she’d seen hotels smaller than this place. More welcomin’ too. Christmaswas three weeks from today, but there wasn’t one pretty red bow or as much as a sprig of hollyin sight.

    Christmas was Tori’s favorite time of year. And she sure didn’t wanna spend it in this placethat was about as friendly as a huntin’ dog with a burr up its butt. That made her even moresure she wanted to get herself thrown outta here as soon as possible.

    To her surprise, dinner was a hoot. Much more fun than she’d ever expected. The girls had aball squawkin’ over the nasty stuff put in front of them. Finally, after all of them haddownright refused to so much as taste the slimy-looking snails they’d been served, they gotsomethin’ normal. Steak ’n’ potatoes. It wasn’t Granny Lyons’s fried catfish, but it stuckto the ribs all right.

    She had figured somebody official from the show would come and talk to them tonight, but thebutler said they had the evening all free and clear to themselves. And tomorrow bright andearly things’d get underway. So after dinner they were on their own.

    Most everyone went to the game room or the fancy in-house theater, where somebody said they wasgonna watch Days of Thunder. Tori’d seen that movie nigh on a hundred times, always wonderin’if drivers who looked like Tom Cruise really were on the NASCAR circuit—since they sureweren’t on the NHRA. So she passed on the movie. Instead, she moseyed on through the quiethouse, tiptoein’ like, because she didn’t want to bump into anybody. She wasn’t gonna stealnothin’, she just wanted to be alone. To enjoy the one thing about this place she mightactually miss once she got herself thrown outta here tomorrow.

    The library.

    Shew-ee the room was full, floor to ceilin’, of bookcases. She’d never seen so many books inone place in her life. The only library Sheets Creek had was one’a them books-on-wheelstrucks. Since the donated truck had once been driven by the ice cream man—an’ still had thefaintest smell of fudge pops on a hot summer day—it attracted the attention of a lot of dogswhen it drove down the street. Not to mention the young ’uns who came scramblin’ outside withtheir pennies and nickels, only to pitch rocks at the tires when they found out the driver hadbooks and magazines, not fudgies and Sno-Kones.

    Tori watched for the library truck though, since it was a good way to practice up on herreadin’. She wasn’t very good at it, but she sure did like it. Usually the truck only hadpicture books for the kids or magazines that’d been handled so much it’d make your fingersgreasy to touch one. Tori didn’t care. She gobbled up whatever she could find.

    Only she’d never seen nothin’ like this place. Rows and rows of shelves, all of ’em withnice pretty books…hardcover books without cracked spines or yellowed dog-eared pages. Onesthat hadn’t been handled by half the population of KrugerCounty.

    Keeping the lights low, just in case the butler had been funnin’ them about no cameras beingin use tonight, Tori made her way to the shelf she’d been starin’ at earlier. She pulled downthe exact book she wanted…Tom Sawyer, and turned around to curl up on one of the leathercouches.

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