A BRIT UNEXPECTED
How do you know when a fake relationship turns into a real one? #AskingForAFriend
The other thing Claire’s asking? How the hell she let her grandmother talk her into pretending to be Greyson Vaughn’s “mysterious English girlfriend”? Sure, the Hollywood hottie is sexy as sin, but that’s practically part of his job description. It’s no wonder his pop-star ex wants him back and is playing dirty to get his attention.
Which is where Claire comes in. She needs a distraction — and the extra cash, thank you very much. Plus, let’s face it, there are worse things than flirting with Greyson Vaughn all weekend. Pretending to be his girlfriend is a bit of fun. The charm Greyson’s turning on? Strictly business. And that kiss? It’s all an act…isn’t it?
My shoulders loosen as the taxi crawls up the gravel drive leading to Castle Calder. From the backseat, I see white lights blinking in the trees, a massive potted fir by the door, and the old-fashioned light hanging over the entrance. The late afternoon sky is grey—damn British weather, it looks like it’s going to start pouring any second—but the castle-hotel glows like a scene from a fairytale.
“Pretty, innit?” the taxi driver says, turning to glance at me over his shoulder. He’s older—my grandfather’s age if I had a grandfather—and pure Yorkshire, which means I can only understand about half of what he says.
“I love it here.” Of all the places my grandmother could have planned this year’s family gathering, Castle Calder is the best possible option. And not only because the owners are incredible hosts, but because turning up here always makes me feel like a princess. And, okay, it’s not a “real” castle anymore, but a plaque in the lobby says Queen Victoria once graced these halls, and if it’s on a plaque it must be true.
“My wife and I stayed here for our anniversary one year. Kids got us a night away in one of the suite rooms. The owners are first-rate, too,” the cab driver says.
“They’re amazing.” I’ve spent ten summers working at Castle Calder, and I agree ten thousand percent. The St Julien’s are amazing. But I stop short of gushing about Hannah and Paul in case he’s the kind who’d pass me a stack of business cards and want me to put in a good word. Hannah would take them, but I’d feel responsible if he turned out to be a nutter.
The real nutters never look that crazy.
The taxi pulls up behind a shiny black Mercedes, its boot open to reveal mahogany-colored leather duffel and a sleek black Tumi suitcase that looks like it would be filled with designer clothes. My battered red Samsonite by my feet looks more youth hostel than a castle-hotel, but sod it. I have as much right to be here as anyone and I’ve brought my own designer dress, thank you very much. Granted, my LBD is my only designer dress, thanks to my ultra-fashionable friend, Scarlett, and her sample sale connections, and it still cost more than I’ve ever spent on a single piece of clothing. But with its fitted bodice and flared skirt, it’s a classic. I can probably get its per-wear cost down into the single digits if I can keep my ass from expanding for the next twenty years. Life goals dictated by wardrobe choices. Which, honestly, is as good a method as any at this point.
I crane my neck to see if Scarlett’s waiting outside, because in addition to being the poor girl’s source for Stella McCartney, she’s Hannah and Paul’s only daughter. So even though she has a fancy job in London now, she’s agreed to meet me here for the weekend. It won’t be a relaxing weekend for her–being the owners’ daughter means she’ll end up working whether she wants to or not–but she jumped at the invite to meet and I wasn’t about to talk her out of it.
I texted her from the train station and she responded with a bunch of emojis, including a bottle of champagne popping open and the message: Ready and waiting! xxx Knowing Scarlett, there’s a fifty-fifty chance she opened the champers without me, she’s watching from the window, or she’s been recruited to help with some pre-dinner task. I know technically that’s a thirty-three percent chance of each, but I also know Scarlett’s not really one to watch from the window.
“That’ll be sixteen pounds-fifty, love,” the cab driver says.
I dig in my wallet for a twenty and hand it through the partition. “Can I have two pounds change, please?”
The driver nods and slips the change onto the little tray so I can grab it. I toss it in the bottom of my bag and open the door. “Thank you so much. Have a great evening.”
“You, too, love. Enjoy your stay,” The cab driver says as he watches me yank my case out of the cab. It’s not heavy, but it’s awkward on the gravel and I wait for him to hop out and take it up the five stairs leading to the front entrance.
When he doesn’t, I slam the door and wave, wishing I’d saved myself the one pound-fifty tip after all. Then again, you get what you pay for and I probably wouldn’t carry my suitcase for one-fifty either.
I bend down to grab the duct-tape-wrapped handle and when I straighten, I’m face-to-face—well, face-to-chest—with a guy reaching for the leather duffel bag in the Mercedes. His other hand reaches for my suitcase.
“Can I help you with that?” he asks in an American accent.
I let my eyes wander up from the grey cable knit sweater to a stubble-covered jaw and up to those green eyes and tousled light brown hair that are familiar even though I’ve never met this guy in my life. Oh my giddy aunt. You have got to be joking.
I’m not one for crushes—celebrity, sport, or otherwise—but standing before me is the larger-than-life, movie-star exception. My breath catches in my throat and I open my mouth and close it twice before managing to squeak out, “You’re Greyson Vaughn.”
“I am.” He grins. He grins! At me! “And you are?”