For the first time on sale, fall under the spell of Cathy Yardley's fairy tale novella in her Fandom Hearts series, Hooked, in which a geeky girl with a love for the TV show Once upon a Time finds her own real life prince charming.
After a disastrous experience with a boyfriend who turned out to be a con artist, the last thing Stacy Fielder is looking for is another guy. But dashing, devilish Englishman Rodney Charles seems determined to change her mind.
But when she realizes he’s been keeping a secret from her — and lying about who he really is — will she be able to trust him with her heart?
About the Author
Cathy Yardley is the author of the Fandom Hearts series, starting with Level Up, and needs to get out more. When not writing, she's usually lurking on social media, playing Fallout 4, or watching D-list movies and adding to her unnatural mental store of character-actor trivia. She's a fangirl of Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, LOTR, and too many others to name. She lives with her family in Seattle. They are considering performing an intervention for her addiction to pop culture.
Read an Excerpt
"Mysterious Pickles Games, how may I help you?" Stacy Fielder said, answering the phone.
"Really, Stacy? Answering phones??" she heard her mother say, her tone irritated. "I thought you were simply filling in for an executive position, not as receptionist. This is why you couldn't meet Martha and me to talk about the foundation fund-raiser on New Year's Eve?"
Stacy winced. Her mother had deliberately avoiding calling her on her cell phone, but she hadn't anticipated a call at work. Whatever she wanted to talk about, she was obviously determined.
"Mom, first of all, I'm the interim office manager, which just happens to include answering the phone," Stacy said, forcing herself to sound reasonable and patient. That she was, in fact, sitting at the reception desk was beside the point. "It's not a huge company. Second, you and Martha do the masquerade ball every year. You've had it all planned since before Thanksgiving, and it's tomorrow night. There isn't anything to talk about, really. So you didn't need me there anyway."
"Yes, but ..." She sighed. "Well. Maybe you could join us for lunch. We've got some last minute details we'd love you to look over. You know, fresh eyes. Can you make it up to Gianfranco's? Around noon? We should be ready for a break by then."
She sounded breezy, totally casual. But having known her mother all of her life, Stacy was onto her tricks.
"I couldn't possibly. I need to go over to Ain't She Sweet, pick up some things for a, erm, meeting." Actually, she was grabbing cupcakes for her new friend and co-worker Tessa's birthday. She'd worked with Tessa here at MPG for three weeks, but over the past twenty-four hours they'd hung out at Stacy's best friends' bookstore and bonded over a mutual love of Sherlock, Doctor Who, Mystics, and all things geeky. Tessa's roommate and fellow coder Adam wanted the cupcakes to be a surprise, which was why Stacy wasn't saying anything aloud about it at the reception desk, where Tessa might overhear. She would've gotten the cupcakes even if she wasn't friends with Tessa, because it was good for company morale.
The fact that it gave her a valid reason to avoid her mother's earnest matchmaking efforts was just a bonus.
"This is important," her mother insisted. "Honestly. Can't you have someone else get it, and stop by instead?"
Stacy's eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me. Martha's got a son, or nephew, or cousin or something who is around my age and just happens to be single."
A slight pause, then her mother huffed. "Stepson. And from what I hear, he's absolutely charming."
"I already fell for charming, thanks." Stacy tightened her jaw.
"Sweetie," her mother pleaded, now sounding sad. "You can't judge all men based on one bad one."
"I know that," Stacy replied, then plowed forward before her mother could interrupt. "No, seriously. Logically, I know that all men aren't con artists like Christian was."
But it wasn't about him, she thought bleakly. It wasn't that she couldn't trust men. It was that she couldn't trust herself — or her own judgment. She hadn't even been attracted to a man, and even those that she thought she might eventually develop an interest in, she'd second-guessed herself.
"You made a bad choice," her mother said, snapping her out of her thoughts. "But you've made good choices before. Remember Lloyd Weathers? He was lovely. Polite. From an impeccable family."
And here it comes, Stacy thought, already pulling out her preemptive ibuprofen and popping out two capsules onto the table.
"Lloyd is still single, you know," her mother said, with obvious, calculated casualness. "And he's still in the area."
"I broke up with Lloyd in high school, Mom," Stacy said.
"He's matured since then, I'm sure. And you wouldn't know unless you —"
Her mother made a hrumph sound. "You're young, and it's easy to get misled by some fast-talking, good-looking man. They count on that, in fact."
"I'm twenty-six, not eighteen." Which made the fact that Christian had duped her out of two hundred thousand dollars a little more than a year ago all the more mortifying.
"Trust me. That's still young," her mother said with annoyed affection. "That said, you're not getting any younger. There are plenty of eligible young men that are from good families, families we know — with enough money that you'll know for a fact they're not trying to rob you of yours."
"Mom, I don't want you and Dad setting me up anymore." Stacy was pleased her voice stayed firm. "I'm serious."
"Well, are you at least bringing someone to the masquerade ball?"
At least Stacy could smile at this, feeling some of the tension between her shoulder blades release. "Yes. I'm bringing several somebodies, in fact."
"Several? What do you ... oh. The girls." Stacy heard the eye-roll in her mother's voice. "Well, I'm sure they'll be ... memorable."
"We also agreed to do that little promotion for the bookstore."
"It's a benefit fund-raiser, not a yard sale," her mother said primly. "Nothing so tacky as flyers, correct?"
"Don't worry. We'll all be tasteful." Stacy frowned, suddenly unsure what Mallory would end up wearing. "Well, most of us."
"But will you bring a date?" her mother pressed.
Stacy sighed. "I've been on dating sabbatical all year," she said. "That technically includes New Year's Eve."
"A year is a long time, especially at your age."
"Thought you said I was young," Stacy said, then gratefully saw the other line light up as another call came in. "Need to go back to work, Mom."
"We're going to talk about this more," her mother warned.
"And I look forward to it. Love you," she said, then hung up, clicking on the other line. "Mysterious Pickles Games, how may I help you?"
"I was wondering if you could bring me a cup of tea," a low, sexy British voice said.
She blinked, staring at the phone blankly, then looked up when she heard chuckling.
Rodney Charles, one of the coders, was leaning against a nearby wall, talking on his cell phone, staring right at her. In the three weeks that she'd worked here, he was the only one of the guys who hadn't asked her out, it seemed ... something she appreciated. He winked, shutting off the phone. "Sorry. Seemed like you needed an escape there."
"You have no idea," she said, feeling both grateful and embarrassed.
"Oh, I've an idea, right enough," he said. "Seems like my mum calls weekly to see if I've any plans to procreate and carry on the family name."
"Really?" she said, surveying him. He looked to be in his late twenties, although the twinkle in his eyes made him seem even younger. "Is that a concern? You look like you've got plenty of time."
For a second, a somber look crossed his normally cheerful face. He was striking — deep cobalt blue eyes, black hair, a trimmed beard that only accentuated those turn-quick-and-I'll-cut-you chiseled cheekbones. He was damned good-looking with a wicked grin.
With a serious expression, though, he was downright mesmerizing.
"Yes, well," he said, shaking off the moment with a flippant gesture. "She's concerned that I'm too focused on sowing oats of some wild sort. Which is nonsense. I've told her repeatedly: I can't even keep a houseplant alive, much less oats."
She smirked. "I'm guessing you've sowed plenty."
"Do you, now?" He leaned on the reception desk. "Given it much thought?"
"Not really," she said, quickly and emphatically. "I'm allergic to oats like yours, pal, so eyes front."
"Seems like you're allergic to everyone's oats," he pointed out. "I heard you say something about a dating sabbatical. Sorry, didn't mean to eavesdrop, but you were just out here at the front desk," he added, obviously unrepentant.
"I decided to take the year off from men. And women, before you ask."
His eyes widened with amusement. "I wasn't planning to, but thank you for that vivid image."
"Sorry. José hit me with that one." She shook her head, then palmed the ibuprofen and downed them with some water. "Relationships are headaches. I don't need any more headaches."
"True." he said, nodding sagely, then grinned, one of pure deviltry. "Of course, that doesn't discount, ah, oat farming."
"Moratorium on that, too," she said. "Which Steve from marketing could've told you, since he made a similar offer."
"That was more of an observation than an offer, but I suppose it's good to know." His expression turned sincere for a second. "Truly, though — you looked upset, and getting more so. And I sort of specialize in family headaches." He winked. "Keep your chin up."
"Keep calm and carry on, right?" She smiled. "That's so British."
"As I am," he said, tipping an imaginary hat to her. "Right to the marrow, love."
She watched as he waltzed away, heading back to his office down the stairs. She felt a little tingly squirm of admiration.
"Stop that," she scolded herself ... then decided to sneak one last peek at him as he was walking away. Those blue eyes, that devilish smile, those were intriguing. But let's face it: she hadn't even casually dated in a year. Was it any wonder she wanted to check out the bod, as well? See if it matched that fallen-angel face?
He wasn't bulky with muscle, but he obviously had a decent physique. And it might have been a tad objectifying, but ... Damn. That ass in a pair of jeans? She felt her body warm like she'd just stepped in front of the heating vent.
He stopped just before the stairway and looked over his shoulder (damn, those shoulders too, she thought, biting her lip). "Let me know if you see anything you like," he called out with a jaunty wink. Busted, she thought, and quickly buried herself in filing as she waited for her blush to cool off. There was a reason why she was on a dating moratorium. The absolute last thing she needed was a sexy-as-sin Englishman, who was a player with a capital P, ruining all her carefully built defenses.
An hour later, Rodney was still thinking about his exchange with Stacy as he typed away at code. Just routine programming at this point — he was waiting for the next project to come down the pipeline and almost all publishers were shut down for the holidays, so he was just killing time. His own phone jumped to life beside him. Seeing the number, he smiled.
"Hello, darling," he said. "It's odd, I was just talking to someone about you."
"Don't darling me," his mother, the Dowager Duchess of St. Charles, said sharply. "I'm still unhappy you missed Christmas."
"I am sorry about that, but the weather was terrible. Also, we had a late release we needed to go to the wire on," he said.
"You know none of that makes any sense to me." She sighed. "You've been there three years already. Aren't you done having your fun?"
He felt his muscles tense. So it was going to be this conversation again. "It's my job, Mother."
"Your job. You realize how utterly horrid that sounds. How plebian." He could envision her grimacing. "Bad enough that you try to speak like those low-class friends of yours with that hideous slang —'mate' this and 'love' that and whatnot — but really ..."
"Now, now. Let's not dabble in class warfare," he said, hoping to head her off at the pass. He was also trying not to snicker at hearing "mate" out of his mother's patrician mouth.
"You are Roderick Andrew Murray Fitzclarence, the twelfth Duke of St. Charles, Earl of Loamshire, and one of the British peerage," she said, gaining steam. "Not this little 'Rodney Charles' you keep playing at. You could probably buy that little company twenty times over, and there you are, at their beck and call. At Christmas!" She was quiet for a second. "Your father would be scandalized."
He rubbed his head. Like Jacob Marley, his father was a ghost that usually visited around Christmastime, even though the man had been dead for some twelve years now. "Mother, must we? Haven't we exhausted this avenue of conversation?"
"You are the duke," she repeated. "You're not getting any younger — and Lord knows, neither am I. At what point will you buckle down and tend to your responsibilities?"
"What responsibilities?" he countered, lowering his voice and shutting the door. "I keep an eye on the family investments. I ensure that my sisters are taken care of. And employment is hardly scandalous. Most of the other members of the peerage work."
"At respectable jobs," she countered. "They don't work in denim and T-shirts at silly little games!"
"More's the pity, the poor bastards," he said, through gritted teeth. "These 'silly little games' are my passion. I love working on them."
"Spoken like a toddler," she said. "Keep being immature, and you'll never have children of your own."
"My four sisters all have progeny," he shot back. "If you're feeling remiss in grandmotherly duties, I'm sure a nice visit will calm your sensibilities."
"You know very well that only you can produce the heir to the title!"
"I'm twenty-eight," he said, remembering Stacy's observation. "There's plenty of time."
"Anything could happen. You have no idea how much time you have," she said, her voice solemn, and he knew she was referring to his father, yet again, who had unexpectedly died of a massive heart attack while returning from the bank.
"I may move back to England," he said, a small effort at comforting her. "But right now, I'm learning too much, doing too much, here."
"And still chasing around those women, I imagine." She sniffed. "Not a one suitable to be a wife and the mother of your children, I might add."
He held his breath and mentally counted to ten. "I'm not having this conversation." But it was too late. Memories rushed to the fore, back when he was still at university ... when paps had followed him as tabloid fodder. When women had thrown themselves at him — or, more to the point, at his title. When he could've had sex with any woman who crossed his path, but didn't, especially after one of those times resulted in a woman throwing a false claim at him and trying to get him to pay her to shut up, even after her claims were proven patently false.
He shuddered. There was a reason he no longer went by his family name.
His mother paused, then sighed softly as they reached the usual impasse. "I suppose it's too much to ask if you're coming home for New Year's?"
He'd considered doing just that, but in his current frame of mind, he realized there was no way. "I can't," he said. "But I will try to be home for a visit the month after or so."
"Very well." She sighed again, a demure, restrained exhalation. "I'm sorry we had words. But this is important."
"I know, Mother. Love to the girls," he said, then rang off, putting the mobile phone down on his desk.
She hadn't understood. He'd mourned his father, although the two of them had never been close. He wasn't necessarily that close to his mother, either, although he felt more affection for her. He knew how much his presence here pained her. It represented a clear threat to the legacy that she was trying so hard to preserve.
But he wasn't kidding. Games were his life. They'd been a salvation for him at boarding school. It was through mass multi-player games that he'd befriended Fezza. He'd studied computer engineering and programming when most of his mates were studying law or finances. That was how he'd gotten the job here at MPG.
He'd done too much to get this far. He could've been partying in Ibiza or skiing in the Alps, like his rich and reckless cousin Gerard. But even though he was "roughing it," he was still happier here than he'd ever been anywhere else.
There was a light tapping on his door — more like a light kicking. Puzzled, he got up, and opened it.
Stacy was standing there with a tray.
"You called," she said, smirking. She proceeded to put the tray down on his empty desk. "Requesting a cup of tea, remember?" The tray held a teapot, a teacup and saucer, a strainer, a small pitcher of milk, and a bowl of sugar.
"How do you take it?" she asked, her smile widening.
Stunned, he replied, "Ah, milk and one. Thanks."
She poured the milk into the cup, then deftly poured the tea into it, removing the leaves once they'd served their purpose. She stirred in one spoon of sugar. "Hope it's up to standard," she said. "It's been a while."
He took a sip, and moaned. "Oh, God," he said. "You have no idea how long it's been since I've had a decent cup of tea. This is brilliant."
"Least I could do," she said. "Thanks for this morning."
"No, this is above and beyond," he said, feeling genuinely grateful. "I insist. I must pay back the favor. What can I do?"
"I don't know." Her laugh was soft, the light in her eyes dancing. "What are you good at?"
Excerpted from "Hooked"
Copyright © 2017 Cathy Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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