Fashionista Francesca St. James has agreed to work as a "fairy godmother" on the reality TV show Project Cinderella, taking contestants from geeky to dreamy. When Francesca's archrival bets she can't transform the awkwardly sweet CEO to hot in under eight weeks, Francesca accepts the challenge.
As CEO of a tech company, Greg may have billions, but what's it worth without a woman to share it with? From day one on the show though, he clashes with his gorgeous fairy godmother-yet off-set, he can't stop thinking about her. But this sexy woman is so far out of his league...and wants to change every single thing about him. It's up to him to show her it's more than clothes that make the man.
May the best man or geek win...
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About the Author
Award-winning author Hope Tarr earned a master's degree in psychology and a PhD in education before facing the hard truth: she wasn't interested in analyzing people or teaching them. What she really wanted was to write about them! Hope has written historical and contemporary romance novels for multiple publishers, including Operation Cinderella, the launch of her Suddenly Cinderella contemporary series for Entangled Publishing.
Hope is also a cofounder and current principal of Lady Jane's Salon, New York City's first and only monthly romance reading series, with five satellite salons nationwide.
Look for the Suddenly Cinderella series finale, Stefanie and Nick's story.
Read an Excerpt
On Top Magazine, Manhattan, February 14, Present Day
Francesca had never understood why so many women seemed to equate workout wear with an antidote to depression. How optimistic could one truly hope to feel whilst swimming in a shapeless jumper and baggy elastic-waistbanded trousers? So when she stepped off the elevator onto the eleventh floor of the McGraw-Hill Building quite alone on St. Valentine's evening, she did so clothed in couture from head to foot. Her three-quarter-length belted trench was Carolina Herrera, the beaded champagne-colored chiffon sheath beneath Stella McCartney, and her evening bag Prada.
Compared to galas held atop Paris's Eiffel Tower, Seattle's Space Needle, and New York's Top of the Rock, all of which she'd attended in the last year, On Top magazine's annual Valentine's cocktail party was a modest gathering. As a work function, it was also one of the few Valentine's events she could go to alone without appearing pathetic. If she truly couldn't bear the boredom, she needn't stay beyond the requisite hour. Such was the beauty of an open house.
Handing off her coat and scarf to a waiting attendant, she darted a fast glance inside the double glass doors to the people-packed office reception area. Men and women wearing jeans and high-top sneakers mingled with those outfitted in tuxedos and floor-length gowns. Most guests were paired off, but then on this day of hearts and flowers, she'd hardly expected otherwise. For a fleeting few seconds, she regretted her Thanksgiving weekend breakup with her sous chef boy toy. Freddie, despite his myriad failings, had made a marvelous bit of arm candy.
Shoulders back, head high. Deep breath, then one foot after the other ...
Francesca pulled back on the chrome door handle and entered, immediately engulfed by body heat and competing conversations. Perfumes ranging from designer to drugstore fought against a steaming garlicky dim sum cart, the cloying sweetness of wilting roses, and the sourness of perspiration. Dodging darting elbows and sloshing drinks, she made a quick circuit of the room, searching out familiar faces including a few she might wish to avoid. Spotting a chubby sixty-something man wearing a bad toupee and the modern-day equivalent of a leisure suit, an LA television producer for whom she'd once worked on a commercial, she cut a sharp left in the opposite direction.
A glimpse of upswept red hair and a bark of laughter drew her attention to the room's center, where the magazine's managing editor, Cynthia "Starr" Starling, held court. Or at least, Francesca thought the petite redhead must be Starr. The radiant creature joined at the hip to a tall, vaguely familiar chestnut-haired hunk hardly resembled the hard-bitten newswoman who'd been a pain in Francesca's posterior on more than one project. Gone was the scowl and stressed-out demeanor. Instead Starr seemed to glow with a soft, undulating energy. Could this be the same woman whom everyone on staff addressed as "Boss Lady" to her face — and "Iron Woman" behind her back?
The man leaned forward and whispered something into Starr's ear, lighting her porcelain skin a perfect candy-heart pink. Laughing, Starr reached up and tucked a stray strand of hair behind his ear. He caught her hand in his, turned it palm-up, and carried it to his lips.
Rapt with watching the loving exchange, Francesca felt a lump forming in her throat. Partnered or not, she'd always felt so dreadfully alone.
I need a new life plan. But most immediately, I need a bloody cocktail.
She began to forge forward to the bar when Starr spotted her and waved her over. Bollocks! Giving up on a proper drink for the time being, Francesca snagged a champagne flute from the tray of a circulating server and pushed a path toward her hostess.
"Happy Valentine's, sweetie!" Starr exclaimed, hugging her as though they were best mates.
Stepping back, Francesca said, "Congratulations on the crush." She gestured with her glass to indicate Starr's black tulle and lace cocktail dress. "You look smashing. Dolce & Gabbana, isn't it?"
Before now, Francesca had only ever seen the managing editor in shapeless sweaters, peasant skirts, and the ubiquitous boots and Birkenstocks. Who knew she even had legs, let alone nicely shaped ones, shown off to perfection by the sheer lace-patterned black hose and scarlet velvet and rhinestone shoes? The latter looked to be from the art deco era, although Francesca couldn't yet identify the designer.
Starr nodded, her color deepening ever so slightly, and it struck Francesca that perhaps the other woman wasn't so much bitchy as shy. "Sample sale." She reached out to her date, her hand coming to rest on his forearm. "Do you remember Matt?"
Francesca hesitated. Wearing a tweed blazer with suede elbow patches, jeans, and scuffed Western-style boots, Starr's boyfriend struck her as being from the South or Midwest, definitely not a native New Yorker. Although they'd met before, she couldn't recall the circumstances.
"Matt Landry. I signed on as art director last year. Glad you could make it tonight." He stuck out his hand in the brash way of Americans.
Grateful that he'd saved her from fumbling, she took it briefly. "Lovely to see you again."
They'd met for all of two minutes the previous fall but the encounter was a bit of a blur. Like everyone else, Francesca had been caught up in the drama of her ex-husband, Ross, and his love interest and now wife, Macie Graham, who walked off from her position as On Top's features editor.
Matters had sorted themselves out — perhaps a bit too well. At her express wish, Francesca and Ross's daughter, Sam, was staying on in DC with her dad and new stepmum — indefinitely. Though miserable with missing her, Francesca wasn't about to pull Sam out of a situation where she was so obviously blossoming, particularly after the previous tumultuous year. Still, an empty nest felt just that — empty. Rattling about her posh Upper East Side prewar with its peerless river views, twelve-foot ceilings festooned with crown molding, and state-of-the-art chef's kitchen, she sometimes felt on the brink of going stark raving.
Starr's curious gaze slid over Francesca. "You're usually bouncing between London, Paris, and Milan Fashion Weeks this time of year, aren't you?"
Francesca forced a shrug. "I'm giving myself a mini-break this winter."
What she was, in point, doing was taking time off to figure out how she might work less — and earn as much or more — in order to be present in her daughter's life. Jetting from one exotic shoot locale to another might seem paradise to some, it might be paradise, but her lifestyle had cost her the one person in the world who mattered above all — and it wasn't bloody worth it.
"Taking time off is important," Matt said, casting a significant look at Starr, who rolled her aquamarine eyes.
Looking at Francesca, she said, "What do you say to us taking a load off in my office? I tucked away a top-shelf bottle of single-malt scotch in my desk earlier. It's a helluva lot better than the crap we're serving out here." She winked and then turned back to Matt. "I'll be back in twenty, sweetie." She rose up on her toes and brushed a kiss over his jaw.
He wrapped his arm around her waist, drawing her against him. "Not so fast. It's Valentine's, remember?"
He pulled her in for a kiss, a real one this time. Looking awkwardly on, Francesca would swear Starr's scarlet shoes deepened in hue, giving off a softly shimmering ... glow. But no, that was absurd. Clearly she needed to look into having the prescription on her contact lenses changed.
The couple broke apart with obvious mutual reluctance. Flush-faced, Starr gestured Francesca toward the hallway leading back to the staff offices. "C'mon, London, let's go get snookered."
Eschewing the pair of vintage modern office chairs, Francesca and Starr sat side-by-side on the glass-topped desk with legs swinging off the side and hands wrapped around plastic party cups of Macallan 25.
Starr took another sip of the single malt before continuing her story. "And so the next thing I know Matt's pulling me back beneath the mistletoe — hanging mistletoe at a Matzo Ball supper, I mean who does that! — and asking me out on this totally romantic New Year's Eve date, and we've been together ever since."
Suppressing a sigh, Francesca looked up from tracing tiny invisible heart patterns on the veneer surface and took another sip of the scotch. It wasn't like her to become sentimental about the holiday — or much of anything really. Other than the obvious — quite a bit of liquor — what had gotten into her?
Starr slid a bowl of candy hearts toward her. "It's no biggie. We beat the crowds and celebrated last night."
Francesca gave the sweets a glance, hesitated, and then tucked in. Her nose was numb and now she had the munchies. Could a hangover headache be far behind? "It sounds as though you've got everything figured out." She hoped the envy she felt didn't find its way into her voice.
"Getting there, I guess." Starr's smile dimmed. She swirled the scotch around her cup, staring into the honey-colored liquid as though it were a crystal ball. "So what gives with you? The last I heard you were seeing some hot chef."
Francesca didn't need a mirror to know she grimaced. "Sous chef, actually, and we've been over since Thanksgiving."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Francesca popped another candy into her mouth — a terrible accompaniment to the scotch, but oh well. "Don't be."
Starr's brows lifted. "That bad, huh?"
Francesca shrugged. "Not good, not bad, just ... not enough. Don't mistake me, it was a great lot of fun at first, and he did manage the most amazing late- night meals, but in the end it just didn't feel ... sufficient." That Freddie had found someone else in a mere ten days confirmed she'd made the right choice.
Starr sent her a "been there, done that" look. "And now you want more, right?"
Pushing the bowl aside, Francesca sighed. "I don't know what I want, that's my bloody problem. But these last few months, I've gotten a lot better at knowing what I don't want." Pouting and immaturity led the list.
She glanced away and her gaze snagged yet again on Starr's shoes. With more than three fingers of scotch beneath her belt, she could almost believe the rhinestones on the vamp winked at her.
"Those are lovely," she said. "I didn't know you fancied vintage."
"These were a gift from ... a friend," Starr admitted, expression turning sheepish.
Francesca didn't remember Starr having all that many friends — or friends at all. "Matthew gave them to you for St. Valentine's?"
The question drew Starr's chuckle. "God, no! Matt's artistic eye turns blind when it comes to clothing and accessories. Tonight is as dressed up as he gets."
Francesca thought a moment more. "Macie?"
Starr hesitated before admitting, "Yes. Does that bother you? I know Ross is your ex — and Sam's father."
Francesca felt her eyes welling. Since Sam's leaving, it seemed her stiff upper lip was virtually nonexistent.
Wishing she might numb her heart along with her nose, she finished off the scotch in a last unladylike gulp. Setting the cup aside, she said, "Ross and I were over a long time ago. I'm happy he's found someone — really." Blinking back tears, she turned away, hoping Starr might miss seeing what a bloody basket case she'd become. "It's just that ... our daughter has decided to live with them full-time and the worst of it is ... I can't blame her!"
Starr handed her the box of tissues. "I'm not a mother except to a cat, so I can't begin to imagine what you're going through, but it sounds pretty fucking tough."
Francesca shook her head, amazed that she'd poured out her troubles to a colleague. Tomorrow she'd be frightfully embarrassed, but for now she pulled out a fistful of tissues and used them to dab at her running nose. "I focused so much of my time and energy on my career and my stupid bloody boyfriend that I neglected my child. That's the real reason I'm taking time off — to figure out how to fix the mess I've made of my life."
Starr hesitated and then laid a hand on Francesca's shoulder. "I have an idea, something that might help."
Francesca shook her head. "I have a therapist, thanks." She did — and a fat lot of good "Dr. Freud" had done her.
"I was thinking more along the lines of retail therapy, only without the retail."
Likely the booze was to blame but, regardless, Francesca was most definitely not following. She finished blowing her nose and looked up. "Sorry?"
Starr stretched out one slender leg, flexing one dainty, ruby-velvet-shod foot. "Take my shoes. Think of it as my way of saying Happy Valentine's."
"I couldn't!" Good God, was Francesca really that pathetic? Between all the designer samples and her shopping addiction, her walk-in closet was crammed with clothing and accessories, many with the tags still attached. More mildly, she added, "You're being terribly sweet, but I cannot take the shoes from your feet."
Starr handed her one and started taking off the other. "Of course you can. They've already worked their magic for me. I've got the guy I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. Now it's your turn."
Francesca ran a hand across her damp cheek, for once forgetting to have a care for her cosmetics. Had she heard properly? The formerly flinty magazine editor was speaking of magical shoes as though they existed beyond the Cinderella fairy tale.
"Take the shoes, London. Trust me, you need these more than I do — a lot more."
Apparently her loveless love life constituted an emergency. A shoe in either hand, Francesca bristled. "Thanks a bloody lot."
"Sorry, I didn't mean it that way, but these aren't just any vintage shoes. I have it on good authority that they once belonged to Maddie Mulligan."
Francesca had heard of the famous Irish-born film actress, of course, but her familiarity ended there. She wasn't terribly keen on old films. It was yet another interest she and Ross hadn't shared.
Starr continued, "The story goes that she wore these very shoes on the day she got the news that she was nominated for an Oscar. That night, her moneybags boyfriend, international financier Carlos Banks, proposed. Until then, she didn't think he'd ever ask, seeing as how she'd been around the block three times already and he was forty and still a bachelor. But he asked and she said yes and they not only got married but stayed married for the rest of their lives. According to her memoir, he was the love of her life, her soul mate."
Francesca had to admit it was an intriguing tale — even if it was rubbish. "I don't believe in soul mates," she said, wishing she didn't feel so very bleak about that.
"You know," Starr said quietly, "believing doesn't cost anything. And neither does trying on these shoes."
Examining the footwear at arm's length, Francesca mentally measured their length and width. "My feet are easily a size larger than these. They shan't fit. Besides, you have Matt waiting, and I ..."
Have no one. Which served her bloody right. Last Valentine's she'd trotted out the apartment door on the arm of a tuxedo-clad Freddie, leaving Sam sulking on the sofa. If she could travel back a year, she'd stay at home with Samantha. They'd order their favorite greasy takeout, whip up a pitcher of mock margaritas, and watch whatever sappy old films Sam fancied. Instead she'd ditched her daughter for a date.
A less-than-gentle nudge brought her back to the moment. "Put them on," Starr commanded, bringing her Boss Lady voice to bear.
Francesca sighed. To humor her hostess, she set the vintage shoes on the desk and then reached down to unbuckle her Christian Louboutin T-strap heels. Handing those to Starr, she picked up one red shoe, the vintage velvet seeming to pulse against her palm. "If I force my foot to fit, it may stretch the leather," she warned.
Starr held her gaze. "Go for it."
Francesca steeled herself to squeeze into the vintage Saks — only no squeezing was required. Slipping her foot into the shoe, she flexed her toes against the buttery leather lining and reached down to fasten the bejeweled strap.
"Take them for a test drive," Starr urged, handing her the mate.
She put it on as well and slid off the desk to stand. Footwear from the thirties was notorious for being torturous, but this pair was a happy exception.
Starr reached for the scotch bottle and refilled Francesca's cup to the rim. "Keep them as long as you like," Starr said with a grin. "And either send them back to me when you're done or pass them on to an unlucky-in-love friend, up to you."
Francesca hesitated. The moment before she'd been adamant, but now she found herself wavering. "Then you must take mine — I insist," she added when Starr started looking stubborn. "They'll go smashingly with your dress."
Excerpted from "The Cinderella Makeover"
Copyright © 2013 Hope Tarr.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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