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BONNIE BLYTHE HOVERED near the tall windows, nursing her cocktail and watching the lights from the Navy Pier Ferris wheel twinkle in the fading spring twilight. It was a romantic moment, one she should have been enjoying with Gabe, except her fiancé wasn't here. As was so often the case lately, her significant other was significantly absent.
Gabe had promised he'd accompany her tonight, but then begged off at the last minute. His PhD adviser had called and requested another meeting, and as Bonnie well knew, all things related to Gabe's dissertation came first. Thank God he was almost done with grad school, so they could focus on other things — like finally deciding on a wedding date.
The reminder of her prolonged engagement had Bonnie knocking back the rest of her drink. The bittersweet sting of alcohol burned her throat and warmed her belly, but did nothing to loosen the knot of frustration in her gut. She set her empty glass on the window ledge and adjusted her crown of flowers, fingers tingling. She never could hold her liquor. A source of eternal amusement for her Irish cousins, one drink was often enough to do her in.
Right now, she could go for a little bit of doing in. She was Ophelia without her Hamlet, so why not drown her sorrows in another cocktail? Bonnie turned away from the wall of windows and headed for the bar, attention focused on the trailing ends of her gauzy dress as she dodged Romeos and Juliets, Oberons and Titanias, Henrys and Falstaffs. The foyer of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was stuffed with a menagerie of the namesake playwright's characters.
Each April, the company held a gala in honor of the bard's birthday, and this year's event was a costume ball. Bonnie had been looking forward to the gala for months, ever since her best friend, Cassie, invited her to attend. As a broadcast journalist covering stories for the local morning show, ChiChat, Cassie often scored tickets to the city's hottest events. Fresh drink in hand, Bonnie surveyed the room, looking for any sign of her friend. A flash of plaid caught her eye, and Bonnie grinned. Of course. She headed toward the couple lingering in a quiet corner.
"Bonnie!" Cassie exclaimed, pushing away from the man she'd been canoodling with. "I was wondering when you'd get here."
"Oh, I've been here awhile, but I think your attention was elsewhere." Bonnie nodded at the tall auburn-haired man standing next to Cassie. "Hello, Logan. Let me guess ..." She pointed at the kilt he was wearing. "Macbeth?"
"And Lady Macbeth." Cassie held up her hands. "What do you think? Is it too much?"
Bonnie considered her friend's palms, dyed a grisly red. "I think you both look perfect."
"Aye. Well, I already had the kilt, you ken." Logan winked. "And seeing as how the first time we met, I was accused of talking like a — what was it you called me, love?" he asked Cassie, a mischievous smile playing about his lips.
"A Macbeth reject." Cassie shook her head. "You're never going to let me forget about that, are you?"
Logan pulled Cassie close. "Neverrr," he growled against her neck, his Scottish burr a low purr that likely had every female in hearing distance perking up. Even Bonnie wasn't immune to the Scot, though she enjoyed his charm on a purely spectator level.
Not that it mattered. Logan only had eyes for Cassie.
Which was as it should be. Since he was engaged to her best friend, Bonnie would punch Logan in the sporran herself if she ever caught the Scot checking out another "lass." But Bonnie couldn't imagine such a thing happening. She knew how much Logan loved Cassie, had watched their romance blossom from the start — she'd even had a hand in bringing them together. Though, she hadn't expected their relationship to progress quite so quickly. Cassie and Logan had gotten engaged this past New Year's and had already set the date for their wedding in early August, on the one-year anniversary of the day they met.
Yep, Bonnie had been engaged for over a year to a guy she'd been with since middle school, and still didn't have a wedding date. Meanwhile, Cassie and Logan were getting married in less than four months.
Nope, she wasn't bitter. Or, at least, she was trying very hard not to be. Bonnie was truly happy for the couple and was genuinely excited to be Cassie's maid of honor. It's just when Cassie asked Bonnie her opinion on invitations or dresses or, well, anything wedding-related, Bonnie sometimes (okay, all the time) felt the sting of envy. They should be planning her wedding. But it was hard to send out invitations when you didn't know when or where to invite the guests.
Gabe said he wanted to get school over with, to have this final piece of his academic life wrapped up before starting the next stage. Bonnie understood. Mostly. But she and Gabe had been together for so long, she wanted to get on with the next step of her life. What was the big deal if they started planning the wedding before or after he finished the last leg of what had felt like a marathon?
She'd been by Gabe's side every step of the way, and though Bonnie may not have been the one running the race, she'd sacrificed much to help her runner reach his goals. She'd waited this long, she could wait a little longer. It was almost May. By this time next month, Gabe would be finished with his final semester of grad school.
Soon, she'd be applauding, bursting with pride as Gabe walked down the aisle and accepted his degree. She couldn't wait to call him Dr. Gabriel Shaughnessy. Couldn't wait to write it on their wedding invitations and finally, finally, walk down the aisle herself and become Mrs. Dr. Gabriel Shaughnessy.
"Where's Gabe?" Cassie asked, breaking into Bonnie's thoughts.
"He had a meeting with his adviser."
"Another one?" Her best friend frowned, brown eyes shadowed with concern. "On a Friday night?"
"The dissertation presentation is coming up soon, and they're working out the final kinks." Bonnie shrugged. "His adviser often calls on evenings and weekends."
"What a wanker," Logan said. Cassie slapped him on the arm but didn't correct him.
Bonnie wasn't sure if Logan meant Gabe or his adviser. Either way, she rather agreed with the Scot. She took a swig of her cocktail. Her glass was almost empty again. The second one had gone down much smoother — and faster — than the first. Bonnie glanced toward the bar and considered seeing how a third would fare.
Following the line of her gaze, Logan flashed a grin. "Shall I fetch you a wee bevy to wash your cares away?"
"Sure. A Manhattan, please." She couldn't remember the last time she'd had three drinks in one night, but right now she didn't care.
"And for you, lass?" Logan turned to Cassie. "Dark and Stormy?"
"Perfect." Cassie went on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, fingers tugging on a lock of red hair as she whispered, "You know how I love ginger."
The Scot lowered his eyes, now hooded with lust. "Aye, I do." He bent toward Cassie, tilting his face so her lips trailed across his cheek and met his mouth. Sexual tension radiated between the two of them.
Bonnie flushed, looking away from the happy couple. Jealousy clawed at her insides, and she fought against the green-eyed monster. Of course, Cassie and Logan's relationship seemed fresh and exciting ... they'd only met last summer. But when's the last time Gabe looked at you like that? Or kissed you that way? With such raw hunger. Such need. Has he ever? Bonnie swallowed the last of her drink and cleared her throat. "On second thought, maybe I should call it a night."
"No! You can't leave yet." Cassie slipped out of Logan's embrace and grabbed Bonnie's arm. "There's something I want to talk to you about."
Bonnie suppressed a groan; she was not up for discussing her friend's wedding plans tonight. "Can it wait?"
"I guess, but you may not get another chance to meet her."
"The lady from Cambridge."
"Explain," Bonnie ordered, pulse racing. What was Cassie up to?
"I'll see to those drinks, aye?" Logan excused himself, not at all subtle about being grateful for the opportunity to escape.
"Cassie," Bonnie warned, "spill."
"Well, one of the people I interviewed for the next segment of Coming Out of the Book Closet is a faculty member at Cambridge."
"Cambridge University, as in the UK?"
"Uh, yeah. And we got to talking and ..." Cassie paused, attention drifting past Bonnie to scan the room.
"And?" Bonnie prompted.
"And she wants you to teach a seminar."
"Six weeks." Cassie started to tap her chin but stopped, cringing at her bloody finger. "Or maybe eight, I can't remember."
"Here? In the city?"
Cassie shook her head. "In England. Some kind of Shakespeare intensive the university runs every summer. One of this year's guest instructors had to cancel, and they're on the hunt for a replacement. Of course, I thought of you. I told her about the adaptation you did of that fairy play a few years ago, and she loved it. Said she couldn't wait to meet you."
"She did?" Bonnie's head felt fuzzy. "What's the catch?"
"No catch." Cassie tugged on her arm. "There they are. Come on, just talk to her, okay?"
Before Bonnie could protest further, Cassie had dragged her across the room to where a short, stout Julius Caesar stood next to a statuesque Cleopatra, his crown of laurel leaves barely reaching her toga-clad bosom.
"Cassie Crow!" Cleopatra exclaimed in a throaty, cultured voice. "Please tell me your lovely companion is the talented lady I've heard so much about."
"Barbara." Cassie returned the hug, careful not to let her stained fingers mar the woman's white gown. "I'd like you to meet Bonnie Blythe."
"A pleasure." Cleopatra clasped Bonnie's hand. "Delighted to make your acquaintance, my dear."
Her smile was regal yet warm, and Bonnie relaxed, instantly drawn to the woman.
"Has Cassie mentioned the summer seminar to you?"
Bonnie's moment of calm collapsed. "Ah, briefly." Very briefly. She swallowed, wondering where Logan was with that third drink.
Cleopatra continued the introductions, turning toward the man at her side. "Philip, this is Cassie Crow, the young lady from the telly studio, and her friend Bonnie Blythe." Cleopatra — Barbara — paused for the man to greet them. As he bent forward to kiss Cassie's and Bonnie's hands, she told them, "Professor Newton is a fellow academic director."
"You'll be joining our merry little band this summer, eh?" the professor asked, adjusting his laurel wreath, which had slipped down his forehead, snagging on a pair of bushy brows.
"To be honest, sir," Bonnie hedged, checking to make sure her own floral crown was still in place as she tried not to stare at the man's eyebrows, which hovered above his sharp, bright eyes, quivering like a pair of restless ferrets.
"Please, call me Philip."
"Philip," Bonnie obliged before continuing, "I don't know if I'm qualified for Cambridge." She was only an associate professor who directed the occasional theatre production at a small liberal arts college. She had her master's, yes ... but this was Cambridge.
"Oh, pish-posh." He waved his hand dismissively. "We have all the stodgy old scholars like myself we could possibly need."
"And if it makes you feel better," Barbara added, "this isn't the university precisely. It's Ice."
"Nice?" Bonnie repeated.
"ICE," Philip corrected. "Institute of Continuing Education. An international outreach program." His eyes widened with excitement, making the ferrets jump. "We want — we need — fresh blood."
"Please, Philip, you make us sound like a troupe of vampires." Barbara shook her head, black bob wig swinging, full ruby mouth pursed in repressed amusement. "What he means to say is, the summer program is a chance to explore new ideas." She laid a jeweled hand on Bonnie's arm. "We want people who've proven they can think outside the box."
"Oh, that's definitely Bonnie." Cassie beamed at her with pride.
Bonnie tried to return her friend's smile as her stomach rode the elevator down to her slippers. She knew Cassie was only trying to help, and at any other time, she'd be over the moon to have this opportunity. "I'm flattered," Bonnie said, "really, I am. But I don't think I could afford it right now." The European vacation she and Cassie had taken last summer with their best buds from college, the same vacation where Cassie met Logan, had drained what little savings Bonnie had. She'd scrimped and saved for five years to make that trip happen, there was no way she could go back to England so soon. Besides, she hopefully had a wedding to pay for in the near future.
"My dear, let me assure you on that score." Barbara waved her arm, bangles jangling. "Room and board are provided."
"Yes, yes," Philip chimed in. "And in addition to your salary, a stipend to cover residuals such as travel expenses is provided as well."
"See?" Cassie grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "What do you think?"
"Uh ..." Bonnie took in the three faces smiling at her expectantly, "I think I need to use the restroom," she said, struggling to keep her voice calm and polite as her heart hopped on the elevator to join her stomach. "If you'll excuse me."
Tucking herself into a stall, Bonnie took several deep breaths. The space was too tiny to allow for pacing, so she turned in a tight circle, careful not to let her dress fall in the toilet. Why? Why did this have to happen now?
At any other time in her life, she'd have jumped at the opportunity. Teaching Shakespeare, even only for a few weeks, at a school like Cambridge would be a dream come true. But this summer was supposed to be the summer another dream finally came true. She was supposed to be planning her wedding, not running off to England for two months.
"No offense, but how much longer you gonna be in there?" An irate South Side accent demanded from the other side of the stall.
Is forever an option? But when South Side began pounding on the door, Bonnie knew she needed to get out of there. She flushed the toilet for appearance's sake and opened the stall, coming face-to-face with an irritated- looking witch. Bonnie slipped past the girl, offering her an apologetic smile. Leaning against the wall, waiting in line, were two more witches, looking equally annoyed. "The Weird Sisters, huh?"
The girls glared at her. Right.
Before she found herself in double toil and trouble, Bonnie washed her hands and made a hasty exit. She hurried through the restroom door, careening straight into a solid wall of suit-covered muscle. "Oof!" she exhaled, stumbling as her floral crown flopped down over her eyes and icy liquid splashed across her chest.
"Sorry!" a smooth male voice apologized, his British accent slicing the r's into a crisp d sound.
Bonnie froze. She recognized that voice, knew that polished British accent. Heart beating faster, Bonnie lifted her chin, trying to peek through the tangle of flowers currently blinding her. Warm fingers brushed her forehead, and a moment later she could see ... straight into a pair of familiar blue eyes fringed with sinfully long, sooty lashes.
"Theo!" she sputtered. "What are you doing here?"
"At the moment?" He set his now-empty glass on a passing server's tray and reached up to adjust her crown, gently freeing a flower ensnarled in her mass of curls. "Assisting you." Theo grinned, twin dimples appearing in his cheeks.
A fluttering sensation tickled the backs of her knees, and she swayed.
"Are you quite all right?" he asked, holding her by the shoulders and steadying her.
"Me? I'm fine, totally fine," she babbled, wishing she'd gone home when she'd had the chance. Why hadn't Cassie mentioned Theo was coming tonight? She had to know he would be here; Logan was his best friend.
In fact, it was through Logan that Bonnie had met Theo in the first place while in London last summer, on a supper cruise along the Thames. It was a meeting she was unlikely to forget, even though she'd been trying very hard to do just that ever since. Tall, dark, and handsome, not to mention that accent, Theo embodied every Austen hero Bonnie had ever crushed on. And she'd crushed on several.
Meanwhile, her friend Ana, who'd also been on the supper cruise that night on the Thames, had christened Theo "Prince Eric." It was an apt moniker. With his cap of thick black hair, soulful blue eyes, and easy smile, the Brit did look like the cartoon prince come to life.
"Who are you supposed to be?" Bonnie took a closer look at the get-up Theo was presently sporting and smiled. Maybe he wasn't a prince, but he looked like someone noble ... "A duke?"
Excerpted from "Smitten By The Brit"
Copyright © 2019 Melonie Johnson.
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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