What's a little blackmail between friends?
The black sheep of the old-money Rosemanns, advertising executive Marcus has made his own way in the world—and done extremely well for himself—but his family is still pressuring him to join their investment firm and settle down with a quiet, unobjectionable girl.
Which is why the sexy Rose Verma is the perfect date for his family's charity ball. A bleeding-heart lefty from the wrong side of the tracks, Rose has never met a stray dog she didn't love or a polka-dotted mini-dress she couldn't rock. Marcus has enough dirt on Rose to "convince" her to play along. And if he lets it slip that they're engaged, all the better.
But all's fair in love and blackmail, and Rose is ready to play a few cards of her own…
About the Author
Jenny Holiday started writing in fourth grade, when her awesome hippie teacher, between sessions of Pete Seeger singing and anti-nuclear power plant letter writing, gave the kids notebooks and told them to write stories. Most of Jenny’s featured poltergeist, alien invasions, or serial killers who managed to murder everyone except her and her mom. She showed early promise as a romance writer, though, because nearly every story had a happy ending: fictional Jenny woke up to find that the story had been a dream, and that her best friend, father, and sister had not, in fact, been axe-murdered.
From then on, she was always writing, often in her diary, where she liked to decorate her declarations of existential angst with nail polish teardrops. Eventually she channelled her penchant for scribbling into a more useful format. After picking up a PhD in urban geography, she became a professional writer, spending many years promoting research at a major university, which allowed her to become an armchair astronomer/historian/particle physicist, depending on the day. Eventually, she decided to try her hand again at happy endings—minus the bloodbaths. You can follow her on twitter at @jennyholi or visit her on the web at jennyholiday.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Engagement Game
19th Floor Series
By Jenny Holiday, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jenny Holiday
All rights reserved.
Rosie glanced down at her buzzing phone.
Her initial reaction — what the hell?! — was followed by panic. Something had to be wrong for Jo to call. Texting was one thing — it had been grandfathered into their friendship — but talking? With their voices?
Rosie had been exchanging paper letters with her best friend Jo since Jo's family moved away when both girls were twelve. Since then, they had religiously exchanged a letter per week. A letter. Written by hand. On paper. As they grew up and long-distance telephone calls became less of a big deal, Rosie stubbornly clung to the idea of a weekly handwritten letter — you didn't just abandon a tradition that had been going strong for fifteen years — though they also emailed and texted pretty much daily.
But calling? Jo knew Rosie hated the phone. The last time they'd spoken on the phone was two years ago when Rosie's dad died. Heck, they saw each other in person for visits more than they called each other.
"Hello?" Rosie was breathless. The way her stomach fluttered, it might as well have been tonight's Match.com date. Rosie had high hopes that the guy, who was presenting extremely well via text, would turn out to be "the one."
"I think you made a mistake," said Jo, "with your last letter?"
Rosie wanted to say, "Huh?" but Jo was talking so fast she couldn't squeeze it in.
"I thought if I called you might still have time to fix it don't yell at me I know you hate talking on the phone I'm going to read it and then hang up and it will be like this never happened."
"Uh, okay?" was all she could think to say in response to that epic run-on sentence.
"Dear Mr. Rosemann —"
Rosemann. As in Marcus Rosemann. As in millionaire Marcus Rosemann, to whom she had just sent a thank-you letter for his sizeable donation to EcoHabitat Toronto, the nonprofit for which Rosie worked.
"Thank you for your generous gift in support of ..."
Oh, no. No, no, no, no.
Rosie dropped the phone as adrenaline surged through her limbs, making them shake. When she picked it up, Jo was still talking.
"It's donors like you, whose regular commitments we have come to rely on, who will truly help us realize our goal: a city in which humans and animals — and their habitats — can coexist peacefully."
Sending the donor thank-you letter to Jo, and the gossipy, nattering note intended for her best friend to Marcus Rosemann wasn't just a mistake, to use Jo's term, it was a fireable offense. As the charity's fundraising manager, she was the last person who should be making such a careless error. "Shit, shit, shitballs!"
"Sweetie, calm down. You do everything at that place. You're allowed to make one mistake," Jo said.
"Who's lined up as tonight's Mr. Thursday Night?"
Every Thursday night, Rosie went on a date with a guy from one of the many dating sites she used, and Jo had adopted Rosie's practice of referring to each of her suitors as "Mr. Thursday Night." Rosie appreciated that Jo was trying to change the subject, to return her attention to something mundane and routine, but she had to fix this letter mix-up. She had to fix it now. "Jo. I love you, but I gotta go."
I'm a day late writing this. I thought about forging the date, but I knew you would KNOW somehow, so I'm just going to come clean. I'm a day late. So shoot me. I was busy this weekend.
With what, you might ask? Was I busy with the latest Mr. Thursday Night, one Mr. Mark Larson, second grade teacher?
Yes, but not in the way you might think.
But, oh, my dashed hopes! Wah! He taught seven-year-olds! He was kind and gentle! He did not have (as far as I could tell) a secret wife/child/family/cocaine habit/sex addiction/storage locker full of vintage typewriters. (He did, however, have an unfortunately untidy — bordering on gross — beard in this whole "I look like a logger but I've never even been camping" way that seems to be all the thing. But a girl can't have everything. A girl becomes suspicious, in fact, when presented with everything. So I was good with the beard. Mostly.)
The problem was not the beard. It was that in addition to teaching seven-year-olds, he had the alcohol tolerance of one. Which would not have been a problem if he had owned up to this, and we could have adjusted our consumption accordingly. But three tequila shots later, he was barfing in my lap. On that new dress I texted you a pic of.
So when I got home, all I could do was make a cup of tea and take a shower. I was not in letter-writing mode. And here I thought I might make a Mr. Thursday Night into a Mr. Friday Morning. No. A thousand times no. Maybe I should start listening to my mother.
But! Once more unto the breach, dear friend! If I want to find a boyfriend, I've got to get back onto the horse, right? I have a couple options for this Thursday and am leaning toward TallDoctor83, with whom I've exchanged a few messages. Who doesn't want a tall doctor, right? If I had pink eye, he wouldn't even have to stoop to examine me. (Har! Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here all week.)
And what about you? The hubs is still adoring you, no doubt? (As he should!) And Toby? Is he conjugating French verbs yet? Or still only just rolling over? The last pic you sent was so ridiculously cute it made my teeth hurt, and if I didn't love you so much, I would hate you.
What the? Marcus turned the letter over, as if the back of the pink floral stationery would yield some clue as to the prank someone was obviously playing on him. Nothing. He grabbed the crisp ivory envelope it had come in. Yes, all was in order here. The return address was EcoHabitat Toronto, the ecosystem conservation charity he'd been financially supporting since his mother died nearly a year ago.
But instead of the usual canned thank-you letter from whichever wizened gray-haired society matron was currently chair of the board, he had this ... pink thing.
There was a tap at the door, two soft raps he recognized as his assistant. "What is it?" he asked when she popped her head in, murmuring apologies. Carla never came in when he'd blocked off work time.
"I'm so sorry," she said, looking close to tears, which was highly unusual for the take-no-prisoners admin assistant.
"Your father's on the phone. I know you said no calls from him, but I —"
He knew immediately what she wasn't saying. The thought that his father had been bullying his capable and loyal assistant shoved him right into that familiar groove, the one lined with four decades of resentment.
"Put him through."
"I tried telling him —"
"Put him through."
Carla nodded and backed out of the room. A moment later, his phone buzzed. He picked it up. "What?"
"Are you bringing a date Saturday?"
Here we go. "I told the aunts I don't know yet."
"It's forty-eight hours away, Marcus."
"And why have you taken such an interest all of a sudden? The Fall Ball was Mom's thing." And we all know how much you cared about her.
"All eyes will be on our family," his father lectured. "Especially this year, with your mother ... gone."
Marcus snapped a pencil in half.
"Don't you think it's time you settled down?" his father went on.
Marcus heard everything his father didn't say. Come back to the firm. Get married to someone I approve of, and have two-point-three kids. Conform.
It would be easy enough to find a date. Any of the women he saw casually would be delighted to accompany him to the social event of the season. "I'll bring someone," he snapped, and hung up. But the moment he did so, he regretted his easy capitulation. He scrolled through the contact list on his phone. All of these women were ... perfectly suitable. Most of them were wealthy and ran in the same circles as his family. All had impeccable manners and social instincts. His father would be pleased to see any of them on his arm on Saturday.
He returned his attention to the absurd letter from EcoHabitat Toronto, staring at it as if it were a life preserver keeping him tethered to his sanity.
The ink was green, for God's sake.
It wasn't like he objectively gave a shit about EcoHabitat. But his mother had. So it irritated the hell out of him that this "xoRosie" person was sloppy enough to mix up her letters, which was what he assumed had happened. Marcus had no tolerance for carelessness. It signified a lack of discipline. Wasted potential.
He had half a mind to march over to EcoHabitat's office and give xoRosie a piece of his mind. Or maybe xoRosie's boss. The only thing stopping him was the thought that that was something his father would do.
He pulled up the charity's website, which was a complete mess — not at all intuitive, difficult to navigate. Perhaps instead of money, he should offer his company's services pro bono to straighten it out. A professional ad agency could do a lot for EcoHabitat.
Eventually, he managed to land on a page labeled, "The team."
Ah — there she was. Rose Verma, fundraising manager. He cocked his head, squinting at the overexposed headshot next to her bio. In addition to a better website, EcoHabitat also needed a better photographer. But even so, it was easy to tell that she was a beauty. Long black hair, a killer smile. She looked a little like that TV star that Lauren, his executive creative director, was obsessed with. Mindy Something.
So she was sloppy, undisciplined, and beautiful.
He picked up the shards of the pencil his father had caused him to destroy, and an absurd idea took hold. An evil-genius idea.
Why the hell not?
Yes, the train wreck known as Rose Verma would do quite nicely.
"All right, if that doesn't dazzle TallDoctor83, he should change his handle to Tall BlindDoctor83," Hailey declared, capping the lipstick she'd just applied to Rosie's lips. EcoHabitat's receptionist moonlighted as a makeup artist, and she always insisted on doing Rosie's face for her Thursday night dates. Sometimes the looks were a little extreme — with her goth style, Hailey herself looked like a cross between a MAC saleswoman and the Corpse Bride — but the result of her makeup applications was always better than anything Rosie would have been able to achieve on her own.
Since Rosie was meeting TallDoctor for drinks at the upscale Thompson Hotel, she'd asked Hailey to give her a classic smoky eye. Her personal makeup artist had added a matte magenta lip. Rosie eyed her reflection in the hand mirror Hailey held. She looked good. Sometimes, when she saw herself like this, dressed up and made up, she thought back to her lonely, miserable middle school years. After Jo had moved away, she'd had plenty of alone time to fantasize about what life would be like when she escaped the white-bread suburb her family lived in, where she stuck out like a sore thumb. Back then, she'd imagined herself an independent career woman living in the big city, getting ready to go on a date. And look at her now. "I would never have known to try a color like that," she said of the lipstick. "How do you do that?"
Hailey winked as she packed up her cosmetics bag. "It's a gift."
Rosie gave herself a final once-over. If only she weren't so damn tall. "Well, if he's into Indian giantesses, he will definitely be dazzled."
"Who isn't into Indian giantesses?" Hailey deadpanned.
"Um, the last Mr. Thursday Night, and the one before that, and the one before that." So maybe she wasn't so far from the gangly, awkward teenager who didn't fit in. Because although she went on plenty of first dates these days, second dates — not so much.
"I don't know if you can really say that about the last one. If he hadn't barfed on you, who knows where things would have gone?"
It was true. To be fair, Rosie was — outwardly, anyway — not the awkward ugly duckling anymore. She rejected men more than they rejected her. She was on Mission: Boyfriend, but she wasn't going to settle for just anyone. She was looking for a life partner, after all. A father to her future children.
She was looking for love. So she had high hopes for TallDoctor.
She always did.
"You going home first? Want to walk to the subway with me?" Hailey asked.
She shook her head. "Nope. I'm not boarding any critters at the moment, so there's no need to make a pit stop. I have tons to do here, anyway. Mr. Carroll wants —"
"Ah, ah, ah!" Hailey showed Rosie her palm. Then she looked at her watch. "It is 6:27. I've been off the clock for fifty-seven minutes, and I won't tolerate any talk about Mr. Carroll. The fact that Mr. Carroll is in charge around here and not you is a crime against humanity."
Rosie grinned. EcoHabitat's executive director was universally disliked by his staff. He was basically an incompetent, mansplaining ass, so it was easy to see why. Rosie sometimes felt bad for him, though. It must be difficult to go through life so completely clueless yet with responsibility for important things like, oh, say, the well-being of entire ecosystems. But Hailey, who was young and still undisappointed by life, had no tolerance for human failings of any kind. Still, Rosie appreciated the show of loyalty. She pretty much did everything that was in her job description and half of what was in her boss's. In her more ambitious moments, she fantasized about deposing him somehow. Mr. Carroll's ineptitude got in the way of so many of their projects.
"Hit the lights, will you?" Rosie said as her friend waved good-bye. "I'll leave out the back when I'm ready."
The lights in the hallway flicked off one by one, and Rosie heard the thunk of the heavy door at the top of the stairwell. Her office was located on the third floor of the converted Victorian that housed EcoHabitat. It had been left to them by a wealthy benefactor three years ago. Though it had allowed them to move out of the cramped, expensive space they had been renting in a nearby office building, the place was still a little rough around the edges. They'd been plowing what they used to pay in rent into renovations, but having started from the ground level and worked their way up, they hadn't made it to the third floor yet.
In truth, Rosie kind of liked the creaky old bedroom that functioned as her office. The slanting attic walls still papered in a Laura-Ashley-style pattern from the 1980s and the uneven wood floors had a lot more charm than her cubicle at the old place.
She shrieked and reared back, which caused her chair to roll backward toward the door, and, given the slope of the floor, she just kept rolling. There was nothing to grab. She glided ingloriously to a stop at the feet of the visitor.
The ridiculously hot visitor.
He had blue eyes with laugh lines around them and thick, premature salt-and-pepper hair. With his gray, exquisitely tailored suit, he looked like a corporate lawyer, or a banker.
"I'm Marcus Rosemann."
Or, you know, the head of an ad agency and one of EcoHabitat's most important donors.
Another shriek. The reaction was involuntary. She rolled back to her desk and literally banged her head against it a few times. Why not? It wasn't possible to humiliate herself with this man any more than she already had. Head still resting on the desk, not caring that her speech was muffled by her arms, she said, "Please tell me you got the second letter." The letter she'd FedExed, explaining the mishap and assuring him that the lapse had nothing whatsoever to do with the general standards of professionalism and decorum observed by the organization.
"Mr. Rosemann, so nice to meet you," he said, his voice oddly devoid of inflection. She lifted her head from its hiding place and narrowed her eyes. Was he mocking her? "Your mother was such a devoted advocate of this fine organization. I'm delighted to finally meet her son."
She sat all the way up. "How did you get in here?"
"How can I help you, Mr. Rosemann?" He held up the letter. She'd known he had it, but, oh God, seeing it there, the flowery stationery clasped in his big hands — it was too embarrassing. "Especially given the recent mix-up with our correspondence. How will I make it up to you?"
Geez. Was he really so mean that he would come here and throw an innocent mistake back in her face? "Because the receptionist left before you got here, so I'm not really sure how you got in." Her instincts told her that she, if not her pride, was perfectly safe, but the rational part of her brain was starting to realize that she was alone in the building with this angry stranger who was holding in his hands not only her letter, but the fate of her continued employment at EcoHabitat. Because all he would have to do is call Mr. Carroll, and that would be it for Rose Verma, fundraising manager.
Excerpted from The Engagement Game by Jenny Holiday, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2015 Jenny Holiday. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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