“Who knew that pretending you’re not falling for someone would be so much more difficult than pretending that you are?”
Stephanie Kendrick gave up her whole summer to ace her NYU film school screenwriting course, so she’s pissed to be stuck with a preppy, spoiled frat boy as her writing partner. Then again, with her piercings, black-rimmed eyes, and Goth wardrobe, Stephanie isn’t exactly Ethan Price’s type, either. He’s probably got his eye on some leggy blonde with a trust fund . . . or does he?
As the summer scene kicks off in the Hamptons, Ethan is desperate to make his snobbish mother forget the pedigreed girl who broke his heart. While Stephanie’s a stretch as a decoy, the right makeover and a pastel cardigan just might do the trick. She may not love the idea of playing Ethan’s brainless Barbie girlfriend, but the free rent and luxurious digs make a tempting offer. So does the promise of a ready-made screenplay idea inspired by their charade.
But when Stephanie steps into Ethan’s privileged world, the “acting” begins to feel all too real. The kissing and touching that were intended to fool the Hamptons crowd wind up manipulating them. And Stephanie faces a question she’s too afraid to ask: Is Ethan falling for the real her or for the dolled-up princess he wants to see?
Praise for Isn’t She Lovely
“Fresh and authentic, Lauren Layne’s Isn’t She Lovely packs intelligence, wit, and an addictive romance into one fantastic read! I loved the bold characters, the slow-building yet steamy romance, and the raw and painful edge of self-discovery. I couldn’t put it down!”—New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cora Carmack
Lauren Layne’s New York Times bestselling Oxford Novel series can be read in any order:
I WISH YOU WERE MINE
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
I KNEW YOU WERE TROUBLE
I THINK I LOVE YOU
Don’t miss any of Lauren Layne’s hot reads:
The Love Unexpectedly series: BLURRED LINES | GOOD GIRL | LOVE STORY | WALK OF SHAME | AN EX FOR CHRISTMAS
The Sex, Love & Stiletto series: AFTER THE KISS | LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH | JUST ONE NIGHT | THE TROUBLE WITH LOVE
The Redemption series: ISN’T SHE LOVELY | BROKEN | CRUSHED
The I Do, I Don’t series: READY TO RUN | RUNAWAY GROOM
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My mom always used to tell me that I wouldn’t really know myself until I turned thirty. I’m pretty sure that’s crap.
I’m twenty-one, and I already have a pretty good list of things I know about myself. The smell of roses makes me nauseous, I look sallow in green, small talk makes me queasy, and I’ve got a thing for old movies.
Oh, and I hate being late.
But it must be some sort of cosmic requirement that on the first day of a new semester you’ll sleep through your alarm, misplace your backpack, and naturally the subway will be running way behind schedule.
Not that being late to my Classic Film Narratives class is something to get worked up about, since it’s just an elective, but it’s like I said: I hate being late.
On the plus side, I’ve been at NYU for three years now and know my way around campus. At least I’m not lost, on top of having to do that awkward boob-jiggling half-run/half-walk thing as I make my way toward the classroom.
I’m digging around in my ancient black backpack for a granola bar since I skipped breakfast when I run smack into a wall of, well . . . beefcake, for a lack of a better word.
I’ve never done the whole round-the-corner-run-into-someone thing, but I always imagined it happening kind of slo-mo.
It’s more of a split-second flash of surprise and teeth-jolting discomfort followed by stinging humiliation.
I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that my shit’s now all over the ground or the fact that I’m gaping at the guy I just slammed into. He’s obnoxiously good-looking in a clean-cut, star-quarterback kind of way. Dark blond hair, strong chin, golden brown eyes, and yummy shoulders . . .
Totally not my type. I prefer the wiry artist type with soulful eyes. But still, he’s pretty if you like ’em tall, muscly, and hair-gelled.
Instead of apologizing like a good little plastic doll, he lets out the smallest of sighs, like he’s the one inconvenienced, even though he’s not the one who has tampons and notebooks scattered all over the floor.
“Awesome,” I mutter, bending down to pick up the mess.
He leans down at the same moment and I jerk my head back to avoid bumping skulls like in a B-movie scene. Unfortunately, my movement causes my chest to thrust up toward his face, and we both leap back just in time to avoid him face-planting into my boobs. Basically I just replaced a slightly awkward moment with the motherlode of awkwardness. Could this day get any better?
“Sorry ’bout that,” Pretty Boy says with a crooked grin. I don’t know whether he’s apologizing for our initial collision or for the humiliating near-miss of an inadvertent motorboat situation. Since he looks like he’s ready to bust out laughing, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.
I keep my eyes locked on the mess of books and papers, because my face feels like it’s on fire. Of course I had to go with a skimpy tank top today. I’m not usually one to show a lot of skin, but it’s blazing hot, with the humidity at like 400 percent, and my usual collection of dark T-shirts seemed oppressive.
This is what I get for being practical.
The guy starts to help me gather my stuff, and I discreetly study him. His crisp white polo shirt and wrinkle-free plaid shorts are majorly out of place in the Tisch School of the Arts. Most of the students in my program look more like me: dark hair, dark clothes, three more swipes of eyeliner than necessary.
My eyes lock on his espresso-colored messenger bag, where there’s a discreet Prada logo.
“Are you lost or something?” I blurt out.
The guy gives a little laugh. “Just because I don’t come barreling around corners doesn’t mean I’m lost.”
“I wasn’t barreling,” I snap. “I’m just in a hurry.”
He picks up a tampon and hands it to me with an innocent smile. I try to look unfazed as I grab it and stuff it into the bottom of my bag. Really, of all the things to pick up, he goes for that one?
I snatch up the rest of my things and jam them into the bag, standing as I yank the zipper closed. “Whatever. I just thought I could point you in the right direction.”
“I’ll be a senior starting in September. I know my way around the campus,” he says, standing to tower over me.
“A senior here?” I gape. “Because you look like you walked off a Harvard admissions brochure.”
He raises an eyebrow that’s a couple of shades darker than his blond hair. “Stereotype much?”
I don’t even know why I’m engaging in an argument with the guy, but there’s something smug about him, and all that tidy perfection bugs the crap out of me. I prefer my dudes real, and this one isn’t.
I sort of wave my hand up and down in his direction. “It’s just that I think you forgot to change out of your country-club uniform.”
He takes a tiny step closer to me, and I try to ignore the fact that he’s about a foot taller than me and has a perfect view down my shirt.
“Does the surly mood come with the goth outfit?” he asks, giving me a once-over. “Or do you have to buy it separately?”
I hold up a hand to shield my eyes. “Could you please watch where you’re pointing your teeth? The glare from your caps is hurting my eyes.”
He runs a tongue over his ridiculously white teeth, looking thoughtful. “You know, sometimes if I don’t have enough light to study by, I just smile and use the reflection from these pearly whites.”
It’s a lame comeback, but I roll my eyes and let him win the sparring contest. I’m over this ridiculous conversation, and I head toward my classroom, well aware that I’m now a full twenty minutes late.
“You’re not even going to say good-bye?” he calls after me. “I picked up your tampon!”
I give a dismissive flick of my hand over my head, not bothering to turn around.
I quickly find my classroom and brace myself for that awkward late-girl moment. The room is overly full considering that this is a summer elective course, but then I guess that’s to be expected when the professor has two Golden Globes and an Oscar under his belt.
And actually, the professor isn’t a professor at all, but the current darling of Hollywood screenwriting. Martin Holbrook graduated from NYU’s Tisch School like a hundred years ago, and he guest-lectures at his alma mater every now and then to throw some wisdom at the undergraduates.
Of course, this class isn’t my only reason for sticking around New York this summer. Hell, it’s not even my primary reason.
But it’s still pretty freaking cool to work with a guy who’s done the red carpet and all that. Most of my professors’ experience is limited to behind-the-camera indie stuff.
“Ms. Kendrick, I presume?” Martin Holbrook says as I try to slink unobtrusively along the side.
“Um, yeah,” I say as I slide into the first empty seat against the wall. “Sorry I’m late.”
But to my surprise, Mr. Holbrook doesn’t seem fazed by my late arrival. Neither am I getting the usual collegiate-judgment stare from my classmates.
Instead, they’re all staring at the toothpaste commercial standing in the doorway.
Oh, good God. I think for sure we’re dealing with a wrong-room scenario.
“Ethan, it’s good to see you again,” Martin Holbrook is saying.
Wait. What? What does Holbrook mean, again?
Instead of skulking along the wall like I did, Ethan ambles easily toward the empty row of desks where I’m sitting, looking completely unperturbed by the fact that everyone is staring at him.
I glare at him in a way that I hope coaxes him to put a couple of desks between us. Instead, he lets his hip brush against the edge of my desk, tossing my smashed granola bar on my lap as he passes.
“You dropped this,” he says with a wink.
Everyone is staring at us in confusion, and I don’t blame them. I look like the troubled girl parents warn their kids away from, and Ethan looks like the homecoming king. In no ecosystem should we even be acknowledging each other’s existence.
And yet we both came in late, practically together, and now he’s being all winky and you-dropped-this, making it seem like we actually know each other.
I catch the eye of Carrie Sinders, one of my closest friends at school, and she widens her eyes dramatically, as if to ask, What’s going on?
Good question, Carrie. Good freaking question.
The only good thing about the whole situation is that Martin Holbrook isn’t the prima donna I was fearing and doesn’t seem at all annoyed by the interruption. Probably because he played lacrosse with Pretty Boy Prada’s dad or something.
I pull out my notebook and a pen and try to focus on what Holbrook is saying when I feel a poke between my shoulder blades.
“Hey, Morticia, can I borrow a pen?”
I start to tell Ethan that I don’t have one, but of course he knows firsthand that I have about ten in my bag. I dig out a blue ballpoint and drop it onto his desk without looking at him. I don’t like people I can’t figure out, and his very presence in a place where he doesn’t seem to belong is unsettling.
That, and he smells good. Really good. Normally I hate dudes with cologne. But this is clean and sexy and smells kind of like summer in the Hamptons, and it’s more than a little distracting.
I shake it off and remind myself that I’m avoiding the male population in general since David. David, whose idea of cologne is deodorant.
“So everyone’s good?” Holbrook says. I panic a little because I haven’t been paying attention at all, and instead of there being notes to copy down, Holbrook has just written on the board a link to a website. I hurriedly scribble it in my notebook.
Luckily, there’s a total stoner in the back row who’s apparently as clueless as me, because he raises his hand in confusion. “Wait, so like . . . we just go online, pick out one of these common film narratives, and then write a screenplay based on one?”
Holbrook nods. “Pretty much. I’ll be here Tuesdays and Thursdays during the scheduled course time if you have questions or want to run something by me.”
I frown. Wait—we don’t actually have to come to class?
Normally this kind of freedom would be right up my alley, but I’ve kind of been counting on this course to keep me busy this summer. In previous summers I was able to stay on campus as long as I took a certain number of credits, but this year they’re repainting all the dorms, so on-campus housing isn’t available. Instead I’ll be subletting my cousin’s shoe-box-sized apartment in Queens, and I’m not sure she has Internet, much less air-conditioning. What am I going to do all summer?
Still . . . anything beats going home.
“Okay, unless there are more questions, I’ll connect you guys with your partners and you can be on your way.”
It takes my brain a second to absorb that.
I am not a group project kind of girl.
“I had my four-year-old daughter draw names out of a cereal bowl last night, so this is as random as it gets,” Martin was saying, pulling a small notebook out of his bag. “Aaron Billings? You’re with Kaitlin Shirr. Michael Pelinski, you’re with Taylor McCaid . . .”
The list goes on, and Carrie looks at me, holding up crossed fingers.
Oh, please, God, let me be with Carrie. I can tolerate that. Mostly.
“Stephanie Kendrick . . .”
Oh, please, oh, please . . .
“ . . . you’re with Ethan Price.”
My mind goes temporarily blank. Film students are a pretty tight-knit group, and I thought I knew everyone in the class.
Everyone except . . .
Pretty Boy must have put the pieces together too, because I feel another sharp poke between my shoulder blades.
“You hear that, Goth? Partners!”
I close my eyes. This can’t be happening.
Instead of the carefree, find-myself summer I envisioned, I’ll be spending the next three months with my own life-sized Ken doll.
And that isn’t even the worst of it.