After her long-time boyfriend breaks up with her, Sloane Chatfield’s well-meaning friends are so determined to put her back in the saddle that they’re borderline obnoxious. When Sloane insists she’s waiting for Jamie Fraser to come along, her friends surprise her with a trip to Scotland… to find her a new boyfriend. In order not to have her vacation ruined, Sloane is determined to pre-empt them. All she has to do is find the most remote part of the Highlands, get there first, find a Scot who will pretend to be her boyfriend, then break-up before they arrive. She figures no friend will try and match her up while she’s nursing a second broken heart.
Galen Buchanan has his hands full trying to keep the family pub afloat in a remote Highland village. Everything is falling apart, he’s running out of money, and now there’s a buttoned-up American princess that has, for some reason, landed on his doorstep…. and takes his best table and hogs his wifi all day. She may be cute, but she’s also full of free advice and doesn’t like the way they do things in the Highlands. Then she proposes something completely outrageous—that he be her pretend boyfriend...and offers him enough money to save the pub. It's only for a few days, he figures. What's the worst that could happen?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Perfect Bargain
A How to Marry a Highlander Novel
By Jessa McAdams, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Dinah Dinwiddie
All rights reserved.
Sloane was ready. She knew what she had to do. She'd rehearsed in the tiny bathroom of the self-catering cottage she'd rented, and now all she had to do was walk into the Black Thistle and make the damn call. Simple.
And yet, she didn't move.
She stood outside the whitewashed pub set against the blues and greens of the Scottish Highlands and surveyed its shabby appearance. It was a shame, really, because the pub could be so cute. Not in its current shape, no — the flower boxes beneath the windows were empty. The faded metal sign with The Black Thistle that hung perpendicular to the building creaked with every breeze. Rusted wrought iron chairs sat on an overgrown lawn, with an equally rusted table sitting lopsidedly between them.
Frankly, the pub was the perfect setting for a slasher movie.
Sloane couldn't think about that. She had to make the call. She adjusted the messenger bag with her laptop over her shoulder and hesitated again. For the love of all that is holy, just do it.
What's one big fat fraud between friends anyway?
She strode forward with determination, almost reaching the door before coming to a halt when a cow with shaggy hair moseyed around the corner and onto the flagstone path before her and began to eat the weeds.
What was it with the livestock in this town? It was maddening! For two weeks, every time Sloane tried to enter the Black Thistle there was a cow or sheep or some random dog guarding the door. Was it a Scottish thing? Or was it something peculiar to the little village of Gairloch?
The cow didn't seem to notice her, intent as it was on eating the grass between the flagstones. Why didn't someone just weed whack around here? Wouldn't that be a whole lot easier than relying on livestock?
"Will you shoo?" she asked the cow, waving a hand at it.
The animal swung its head and stared at her with one enormous brown eye for a moment before returning to its grazing.
"Shoo," Sloane said, a little more emphatically, waving with a little more enthusiasm.
The cow casually studied her as it chewed its cud.
Apparently, she'd have to resort to physical violence for the third time this week. "I said, shoo, you piece of leather," she said, and slapped the cow on the rump.
The cow lurched forward a few steps into an overgrown kitchen garden and began to munch on the leaves of a cabbage.
"I'm not going to let anyone blame that one on me," she said, pointing to the cow's destruction, and stepped around the bovine's back end and swishing tail to the door of the pub.
The Black Thistle was the only place in the quaint little sea village of Gairloch with both wifi and decent cell reception. Sloane had tried Padraig's, the Italian restaurant in the local inn. They had wifi, but the cell phone reception was horrible. It was only at the Black Thistle, which sat up on a bit of a hill, that Sloane could get a signal all day long.
That she was even here in this backwater village was her own damn fault. In her eagerness to get away from her meddling, sometimes overbearing, we-know-what's-best-for-you friends, Sloane had picked the most remotely populated place in all of Scotland for their summer trip. She thought the location might put them off, but no. Her friends would be arriving in two weeks.
But that still gave her plenty of time to pull off her plan.
She stepped into the pub and stood a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the dingy light, wrinkling her nose at the pervasive smell of beer. It was two o'clock, and the regulars were already at the bar, hunched over their pints. Three of them turned in unison and, seeing it was just the uptight American, turned back to their ales.
The bartender was here, just as he was every day, polishing an empty spot on the bar and eyeing Sloane warily. She'd figured out that he was also the owner. Maybe because he was the only one whoever seemed to work here. He was tall and broad shouldered, with a head of thick, shaggy auburn hair and icy gray eyes. Today, he sported a shadow of a beard, and she idly wondered if he'd had a rough night. He lifted his chin toward the window and said in his deep Scottish brogue, "I thought we had that chat about beating the coos, did we no'?"
"Why don't you go ahead and turn this place into a barn and be done with it?" Sloane tossed back, exasperated. That was the way it had gone the whole week with him — tit for tat. He seemed annoyed that she would come and sit at his table and use his wifi and order only tea. She was annoyed that he seemed to judge her by her drink of choice.
"I think I'll give the pub business a go first," he said. "What will it be today, your highness? Tea and crumpets?"
"Crumpets? That's a definite improvement over yesterday's offer of crackers."
"No' really. They're still only crackers. I'm fancying them up for you." He smiled. At least, Sloane thought it was a smile. It might have been more of a devilish smirk.
"Thanks, but I'll pass," she said pertly. She walked to her usual table in front of the window and pulled her laptop from her bag, then her notebook and her green pen that had been neatly stored in the built-in leather loops along with four more identical pens. She'd be working after she made The Call. There was so much to do — six-month progress reports, proposal reviews — she had a lot on her plate.
Sloane pulled out her phone and took a deep breath. She scrolled through her contacts. Of all her friends, Dylan was the one who had tried the hardest to fix Sloane's life, going above and beyond the call of friendship ... like way beyond. Frankly, the reason Sloane was forced to resort to any machinations at all was because Dylan would not let up.
Sloane hit the call button.
It took a moment for the connection to make, but when it did, Dylan picked up on the third ring. "Hello?" she said sleepily into the phone.
"Hey, did I wake you?" Sloane asked.
"Huh? Sloane? I can barely hear you."
"I said, did I wake you?" Sloane repeated, loud enough that the three men at the bar turned and looked at her again.
"No. Well, maybe. Hey, I'm glad you called. I was going to call you later —"
"Guess what?" Sloane blurted, needing to get this over with. "I met him."
That was not exactly what she'd rehearsed, but she'd go with it.
"Met who?" Dylan asked through a yawn.
"Are you kidding?" Sloane said. "Have you forgotten the reason you're all following me to Scotland?"
"Speak up, I can't hear you," Dylan said.
"I said, I met him!" Sloane said again, a little louder than she intended. She glanced sidelong at the other patrons. No one was paying attention to her.
"Who?" Dylan asked. And then she suddenly gasped. "Ohmigod, tell me you met Gerard Butler. I love him. He's gorgeous."
"No, not — Listen." Sloane had failed to factor in her friend's tendency to wander off topic. She inched around in her chair so that she was facing the window. "I met my Jamie Fraser." She tried to whisper that part, but it was more of a low shout.
"What? You're kidding. When? Without us? Where? Details! Wait — you don't mean the guy that plays Jamie Fraser on TV, do you? Cuz you'll have to get in line to tap that, according to Us Weekly."
Sloane rolled her eyes heavenward at her friend's enthusiasm for celebrity gossip and the actor who played the hunky seventeenth century Scot on the hit television show, Outlander. "No, silly — someone like him."
"This is so exciting! Where?" Dylan asked.
There was a pause. "Hiking. Hmm. That doesn't seem like you," Dylan said thoughtfully.
"That's what you do here," Sloane insisted. If this lie was going to work, she was clearly going to have to sell it harder. "Seriously, I'm learning to love the outdoors." Which was half true.
Dylan was right. She wasn't the hiking type, but she'd taken some very long and meandering walks along the shoreline since she'd arrived in Gairloch. This wasn't exactly a hotbed of single female activity. Or any activity. She'd been walking a lot and she even liked it sometimes. When it wasn't raining sideways, or a stiff breeze wasn't knocking her over, and she'd not stepped in anything mushy or been attacked by rogue farm stock. Otherwise, it was magical.
"Okay, so tell me everything, and don't leave out a word," Dylan said eagerly.
Sloane did just that. She laid out the imaginary meeting of the guy her friends were so desperate to set her up with, and thereby set into motion the plan she'd been working on for weeks.
Sloane was generally very honest. But broken engagements did funny things to friends, especially when a wedding dress was involved. That Sloane already had hers when Adam broke up with her seemed to make his leaving that much more egregious. And because Sloane had been a wreck, her best friends insisted she be the first one to move on and show Adam what he'd lost.
Turned out, Adam was the first to move on. Within a month. To Cassie Vandermeem, a Chicago socialite and probably a bitch. Not that there was anything wrong with that.
After her friends threw her a cheer-Sloane-up party that degraded into a screw-Adam-drink-a-thon and ended with a sobbing Sloane cutting up Adam's remaining clothes into Barbie ensembles, her best friends of fifteen years were on a mission to help her move on to Mr. Better Man.
At first, Sloane had gone along with it, but the guys they'd fixed her up with were so not her type. So she'd tried to slow things down. She thought she'd found an opportunity when they were all gathered at Paige's apartment for their weekly viewing of Outlander, their do-not-miss time together. Sloane told them what she really wanted was a Jamie Fraser. "You know, a real man."
"Except that he's totally fictional," Paige had pointed out.
"I mean a guy who is all brawn, and fiercely protective of his family ... and great in the sack."
Paige snorted. "In Chicago? Those guys aren't in Chicago."
"No, wait. Maybe they are," Dylan said, looking far too enthused. "I bet we could find one if we put our minds to it."
Sloane had laughed at them. "You'll never find Jamie Fraser in Chicago," she'd scoffed. And that, she realized much later, was her unwitting throw of the gauntlet. Because her friends were on a mission to find a Highland hero through Tinder, Match.com, Twitter, and, God help her, Instagram.
She'd begged them to stop, but the more she'd begged, the more convinced they were that it was exactly what she needed. When Victoria found a Scots ex-pat group and insisted that they all attend a meeting, Sloane had tried to deflect the idea with an airy, "Can't."
"Why not?" Victoria had asked.
"Because I am going to Scotland this summer," she'd blurted. "I'm going right to the source." Of course, she'd had no intention of setting foot on this soil, but she'd hoped a red herring would buy her some time. She should have remembered she'd never really been that lucky.
Victoria had gasped with delight. "O-M-G, why didn't we think of that? We can all go —"
"I don't know when, exactly," a panicky Sloane said.
"We'll make it work," Victoria eagerly agreed. "Yes, let's do it! Let's go to Scotland."
Sloane was horrified. She could picture the old, have-you-met-my-friend-Sloane routine being played out in pubs across Scotland ... Oh hell no.
When it became clear her friends were going to Scotland or bust, Sloane conceived a new plan during one long bubble bath. She would suggest that she fly to Scotland a little early and set up a rental cottage for them. A place in the Highlands, which would sound dreamy to her friends, but where Sloane knew there would be fewer men for them to sort through and catalogue.
Once there, she'd give it a week or two then announce that she'd met the guy, The One, the Jamie Fraser from Outlander they all swooned over. Two weeks later, when her friends arrived, Sloane would have broken up with the phantom Jamie. Naturally, her heart would be broken, and naturally, her friends would let it go. How could they not? Her plan was a little devious and a lot perfect. Game, set, and match.
When Sloane finished spinning that tale, Dylan said, "This is perfect. Does he have any friends? Never mind, we'll find out in a few days."
"That's right, only two more weeks," Sloane said, looking at her watch. Now that this was done, she really had to get to work. She glanced down at the notepad in front of her and saw loopy hearts she hadn't realized she'd doodled all over the page. She started crossing out each and every annoying image.
"No, in a few days," Dylan corrected. "I was going to call and tell you."
Sloane's stomach did a crazy little flip and her pen froze mid-cross. "Tell me what?"
"We changed our flights. Remember that teaching job I applied for? If I get it, it starts in August. So I should get back sooner. And Paige and Tori and I had drinks, and I was telling them about it, and they said, let's go early! So we're flying into Glasgow on Thursday. Surprise!"
Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Sloane didn't like surprises. She hated surprises. Her pulse began to race and there was a strange buzzing in her ears. "Wait, what? You're coming Thursday?"
"Yeah, isn't it great?" Dylan exclaimed. "We can meet him! What's his name? Should we bring something from Chicago for him? Like ...well, I don't know what."
"No." This was a disaster. A complete and utter disaster. Sloane dropped the pen on the offending page and dropped her head on her hand. Her perfect, beautiful lie was unraveling before her eyes. "Are you coming to Gairloch on Thursday? Because, you know, you could hang out and see Glasgow, and then Inverness —"
"Oh no, lets do that together," Dylan said. "We'll be there Thursday afternoon. We're taking the bus, can you believe it?"
Jesus, today was Sunday. Sunday! Sloane needed more time than that. This was a nightmare — she'd just told the biggest lie of her life, and what, now she would have to tell Dylan it was a lie? No way — she needed to find her damn Jamie Fraser. Fast.
"Oh, geez, I almost forgot. There is something I need —"
"That's great, I'm so excited," Sloane said quickly. "So listen, I have to run."
"Why, is Jamie there?"
"Yep. Right here. Text me when you land."
"Okay, but —"
"I'll email you directions to the cottage. This is so great," Sloane said, trying not to sound panicky. "Talk soon." She hung up before her friend could ask more questions, threw her phone into her messenger bag, and stared at the dusty picture of a bagpiper on the wall. She was so screwed.
What about her carefully constructed, bulletproof plan? She felt like a fool for having just told Dylan that extravagant story. If they found out what she'd done, they would redouble their efforts. They would read some psychological trauma into it — which, in all honesty, Sloane hadn't completely ruled out herself, hello — and believe the only cure for her was to find a real man.
Well then, she was just going to have to find a real Jamie Fraser and then stage a break-up just as they got here. She sat back up quickly. That was it. A whirlwind romance, a big let down, and then, of course, they'd need to get out of here and go nurse poor Sloane's wounds. Preferably at the spa resort she'd found and pointed out to them. Turned out, it was just over the hills.
Okay. Sloane took a breath. First things first: find the right guy.
She turned to review the bar patrons for potential Jamies. There was the really big guy, a daily regular, who sat like Jabba the Hut on the same barstool every day, his brogue so thick that Sloane never understood a word he was saying. That could come in handy. Then there was Mr. Andrews, who had stopped by her table the first day to say hello. He was old enough to be her grandfather so he was out. Ned, the lech-y one, leered at her breasts every chance he got and, if she hadn't imagined it, reached for her ass on one occasion. The thought of giving him any license to get grabby made her cringe.
No, no, and definitely not.
Excerpted from The Perfect Bargain by Jessa McAdams, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2015 Dinah Dinwiddie. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.