Get ready for your next favorite romantic comedy, THE REAL DEAL, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blakely!
April Hamilton wants you to know she hasn’t been on GigsForHire since that time she sold her futon after college. She doesn’t even spend that much time online. And even if she did, she would not be looking up personal ads. But going home alone for her family's summer reunion is an invitation for every single relative to butt into her personal life. She simply can’t handle another blind date with the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker from her hometown. So when she finds the GigsforHire ad for a boyfriend-for-hire, she’s ready to pay to play.
Heading Home and Need a Buffer? I’m the REAL DEAL.
Theo Banks has been running from the past for years. He’s this close to finally settling all his debts, and one more job as a boyfriend-for-hire will do the trick. He’s no gigolo. Please. He’s something of an actor, and he knows how to slip into any role, including pretending to be April’s new beau -- the bad boy with the heart of gold.
Even if it means sleeping in close quarters in that tiny little bed in her parents’ inn. Even if it means spinning tales of a romance that starts to feel all too true. What neither one of them counts on is that amid the egg toss, the arm wrestling, and a fierce game of Lawn Twister that has them tangled up together, they might be feeling the real deal.
She only wanted to show her family once and for all that she had no need to settle down.
He didn’t expect to have the time of his life at her parent’s home.
They didn’t plan on loving every single second of the game.
But can a masterful game of pretend result in true love?
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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If the phone rings, it's bad news.
Why else would someone call?
Texts are for topics both easy and emotional, from I'll meet you at Jane's at 7 to I got the new gig to Don't let that jerk get you down.
An email means a friend snagged a great deal on makeup, a massage, or a flight out of town, so she's forwarding it to you. It might also mean one of your crazy relatives is trying to pitch you on a blind date with her butcher.
But a ring-a-ling-ling? That means someone died, or someone's going to disappoint you so badly, it'll feel like death.
Fine, perhaps I'm being dramatic. Some might say I have a penchant for theatrics. But let's get real — who the hell uses the phone function anymore besides telemarketers or the insurance company? And, for the record, insurance companies don't call with good news.
When Xavier's high-cheekboned, so-pretty-I-covet-it face flashes on my phone, my Spidey-senses flare.
I adjust the strap on my fifty-ton bag of paint, makeup, and brushes. It's digging into my shoulder, but that's what it does. It dents me daily as I walk around Manhattan. I slide a finger across the screen and answer. "You're in prison and you need me to post bail?"
Xavier's laughter rings bright in my ear. "Love, you know you'd be the last person I'd call. You never have enough cash on hand for that."
"Not true. I always carry at least two hundred dollars." I lower my sunglasses over my eyes and weave through the afternoon crowds on Seventh Avenue. "Usually in small bills, though. In case I need to slip any in the G-strings of hot men at strip clubs. Oh, look. There's the Magic Mike bar. Gotta go make it rain for some hotties. But seriously. What's up, handsome? Are you all right? You never call unless you're bemoaning the loss of a hot date."
Okay, fine. I've spoken to my good friend a few times on the phone, but we always make arrangements for a call via text first. See? My point still stands.
A loudspeaker crackles from his side of the call. "Attention in the boarding area. We're about to begin boarding for Flight 405 to London."
All the air leaks out of me as I stop in my tracks outside a wig shop in the Village. A mannequin sporting a purple bob stares at me.
"April, I have good news and bad news." Xavier's tone is cheery. It's the official tone one adopts when delivering news that will feel terribly devastating to the recipient. Three, two, one, go: "The good news is I landed a last-minute opportunity and I'm heading to London for a photo shoot for the new Timeless Watch."
His news is devastating to me, but even so, I shriek. A woman in a sharp gray suit raises an eyebrow as she marches past. "That's amazing!" I can't mask my excitement even if I would like to swat him with a makeup brush for leaving me high and dry at the worst possible time.
"The bad news —"
"You can't be my date at the family reunion," I say because, yes, this is horrible. But even if I'm out the hottest piece of arm candy, I'd be a total doucheberry if I wasn't excited for this huge opportunity. Generally, I strive to avoid being a doucheberry, a douchecanoe, or douchenozzle. And honestly, if there are other types of douches one can be, I don't want to be them either. "This is amazing for you. You're on the cusp of breaking into the big time."
"Do you really think this could be my big break?"
I nod resolutely. "Of course. The Timeless shoot is huge. It's only the hottest watchmaker in the world. Have you ever seen a guy wear one of those watches? They basically send all women into heat."
He laughs. "Some men, too."
"There's just something ridiculously sexy about a man wearing a big fancy wristwatch."
I resume my path to the subway, staring longingly at the cabs, Lyfts, and Ubers zipping by. I want to hail a taxi or order up a car stat, but I remind myself that all this damn walking with my makeup and paint is akin to a CrossFit workout. Those people who toss tires in parking lots in suburbia? Pssh. I'll show them. Try trudging through Manhattan with a bag full of body paint and hordes of harried New Yorkers to battle your way through. I'm the baddest badass in all of Fitnesslandia. I don't need a stinking gym membership.
"And now I'll be the man wearing the big fancy wristwatch in the ads. I'm so excited about this." Xavier lets out a small scream of his own, then reins it in. "My group is about to board. Listen, you have to know I was so looking forward to playing your new boyfriend in front of Aunt Jeanie, Cousin Katie, and — who's the other one who fancies herself a matchmaker?"
"My sister, Xavier. My sister, Tess."
"Right. Her. I was looking forward to pretending to be your man. It would have been a true and challenging test for me."
"Thanks," I say dryly.
"You know what I mean, love."
"I do, and now I just have to find someone else," I say, letting some of my frustration trickle into my voice.
The thing is, I can't just suck this up and go dateless to the Hamilton Family Reunion, which comes complete with a day at the amusement park, a Hula-Hooping contest, lawn bowling, and Lord only knows what additional activities my parents have planned. Probably rock climbing, rope swinging, necklace beading, strawberry picking, and T-shirt tie-dyeing.
I'd rather take a cruise in the Arctic with ten thousand time-share salesmen than go solo to this extravaganza. My sister is already chomping at the bit to set me up.
"Are you seeing someone?" she asked in an email last week. "If not, I can ask Mark to be your scavenger hunt partner at the reunion. He's fabulous, and guess what? He's added tri-tip steak to the menu. It tastes absolutely amazing with pesto sauce. You must try it. Mark can tell you all about how the pesto is made."
Mark runs the local sandwich shop in my hometown. He's nice, and exceedingly boring.
"I'm not going to leave you in the lurch," Xavier says as the tinny speaker crackles once more in the background, alerting everyone in the terminal — and possibly the entire five-mile radius of Kennedy Airport, judging from the decibels — that Boarding Group B needs to get its collective ass on the plane.
"Did you put out a casting call for me?" I joke as I near the subway entrance. This is the toughest obstacle course portion of today's Manhattan CrossFit workout — successfully navigating the steps at the Christopher Street entrance. But I've mastered it. Just try to swing a dumbbell over your head as well as I can Frogger it down these steps, CrossFitters.
"No. Better. A good friend of mine can do it. He's available, and interested. He works next door. He tends bar."
"Code for 'he acts'?"
"Aren't we all acting all the time?"
Except for me. I might run with the same crowd as actors and models, but I don't pretend to be someone else. Instead, I paint them so they can become someone else — a leopard, a goddess, a swan, a woman in gold, a playing card, a nest with a baby bird in it. My hands are slicked with peach-orange and midnight-black from the cheetah I painted this afternoon on a fit, toned track star for a magazine spread advertising sneakers.
"Yes, he's an actor, and wait till you hear his voice," Xavier tells me amid the hustle and bustle of the boarding. "You might want to mate with it. I know I do, but lucky for you, he's straight, so he won't have to act as much as I would. You'll have to pay, though."
I don't bat an eye.
What choice do I have at this point? I need a date for the reunion like a bowl of cereal needs milk. Besides, a guy with a sexy voice could work as my reunion date if he can make it believable that we're a thing. Though, honestly, what I really need is a big vial of Stop Trying to Set Me Up with Men Who Are Wrong for Me formula to waft under the noses of the wannabe matchmakers in my family. Which is pretty much every single person in my family. But the apothecary I usually go to is fresh out of any potions to calm the overactive matchmakers in the Hamilton clan. Hence, my quest for a man who can be my buffer. If Mr. Phone Sex Operator is that guy, bring him on. "Name and number, please."
"His name is Theo." He rattles off his phone number, and I repeat it back instantly, since I'm good with remembering numbers. "But I'll text you his info in five minutes just so you have it. I won't leave you hanging. Hanging is for Christmas tree ornaments and other assorted unmentionable items, not lovely girls with flawless skin."
I roll my eyes and laugh. "You have perfect skin, too, since you're just as religious as I am about your lotions and potions. Have fun in London. Wow them at Timeless. Make them love you like a teenager loves her iPhone."
"When I'm through, it'll be more like how a teen worships selfies."
"I have no doubt."
I end the call and heave the sigh I've been holding in. I'm beyond happy for him. Truly, I am. But we're all a little selfish, aren't we? And the selfish part of me wishes my friend were still playing the part of my date.
But really, my greatest wish is to not show up at my parents' home without a plus-one. The women will smell blood. They'll swarm me. I'm the fresh meat for the matchmaking grill. I'm one of the last single women left standing, and this single woman needs to stay standing.
I'm happy being single, and that seems to surprise my family. They're not traditional or even old-fashioned. They're just old-school. They're "small-town" and love it, and they want me to love that lifestyle, too.
Xavier would have been perfect as a temporary boyfriend. A true gentleman, he's the darling of parents, and mine would figure once and for all that I hadn't landed a dud. I can only hope his friend will be as good. I hoof it down the steps, and then I sprint ahead of a slinky gal in a pink halter top, swipe my subway card, push through the turnstile, and make it to the platform in two minutes flat, and without once knocking a single other person with my bag.
I peer down the tunnel to see if the train is coming, when my phone buzzes from my pocket.
I'm expecting Xavier to deliver a phone number.
But it's not a phone number that I get. It's a link, and a note:
Once I click and read, a strange little thrill zips through me. I don't think I want a gentleman anymore. No, I don't want a nice guy to take home to the parents at all.
I want this one.CHAPTER 2
"Please don't laugh."
Whenever someone says those three words, you're almost guaranteed to chuckle. Chances are the person is going to tell a ridiculous tale that makes him or her seem like a complete fool. You'll want to guffaw.
But I've mastered the art of giving people what they want, and the lady at the bar wants my straight face.
"I won't laugh, I promise," I tell the woman with red glasses and shoulder-length, TV-anchor-style black hair. Lori is dining solo today. She dines solo most days. She considers me a confidant.
"This is going to be a weird request," she warns.
I highly doubt her request will be weird to me. "I can handle it."
She takes a deep breath, then exhales. "Can you make sure — like, absolutely positive — that the nachos won't be steamed?"
Who the hell steams nachos? "You have my word the nachos you just ordered won't be steamed. And the gin and tonic won't be toasted either." My face is deadly serious, because I do know how to act.
She clasps her hand to her chest. "Thank God, Theo. Because that happened to me the other night. It was awful."
As I reach for the gin, I fix my gaze on her. "Tell me everything about the steamed-nacho debacle."
People tell me things. They always have. It's not just because I'm a bartender. It's that I have brown eyes, too. I've studied this phenomenon. People with brown eyes are more likely to be considered trustworthy.
Ironic, isn't it?
This trust has nothing to do with whether I'll spill a secret or not. Spoiler alert — I'm a vault. The trust issue has to do with the fact that having brown eyes also means you're more likely to have lips that turn up more frequently at the corners. Translation — the eyes come in a safe face, so you can trust me with your nacho secrets. Evidently, a smile is the number one social lubricant.
Lori drums her chipped peach fingernails along the edge of the bar. "I went to my favorite taco shop and I ordered the mini nachos, like I always do. Only, they brought me the full-size plate instead," she says as she eyes the drink longingly. She's on the fast track to becoming a regular here. "But do you know what the waitress did when I pointed it out?"
My phone vibrates in my jeans pocket. I grip the gin bottle tighter, because my fingers itch to check my messages. "What did she do?" I ask as I finish pouring the gin. I grab a napkin and set it in front of her, then place the glass on it. I can check the message later.
"They took the plate back, scraped off half the nachos, stuffed the plate in the microwave, and zapped it. To rewarm it," Lori says, taking her time with each awful word.
My nose crinkles. I swallow harshly. "And you not only had steamed and soggy nachos. You had hot sour cream as well." I shake my head, disgusted with how her food was treated.
"The guacamole was broiling. It had steam curling off it."
That actually sounds quite foul, especially because the image of a steaming pile of guacamole has now been planted in my brain. I shudder. She smiles so damn wide that her eyes crinkle behind her glasses. It's sweet, really. It makes me wonder if she has anyone to talk to besides the guy who fixes her drinks and takes her orders for apps. She usually doesn't even finish her drink when she comes here. I've often wondered if she wants me to join her on the other side, grab a stool, and chow down.
Sometimes I'm tempted. She seems like she needs someone, and she's nice enough. But I know what happens when you start opening up to someone. They let you down. Some of them stab you in the back. "Let me get you the best nachos you've ever had."
I head to the kitchen and turn in the order, and then I check my watch. I have a five-minute break, so I push open the heavy, rusted door that drops me into the alley behind the Two A.M. Club. It's six in the evening. One of the busboys leans against the wall, one foot parked behind him on the bricks, a cigarette dangling limply from his lips.
He gives me the barest of nods.
I do the same, then walk a few feet away. I unlock my screen with ten digits. Four digits are never enough. Once I click on my notification, my shoulders sag. Turns out the buzzing in my back pocket was the sorry sucker kind. You know how you'll get excited for an email, and then it's just a store with a sale, a news site with a new subscription offer, or a deal on Viagra. I don't need any little blue pills, thank you very much.
The buzz is for a notification that my credit card bill is due in three days. No shit, Visa. Tell me something I don't know.
I'd been hoping it was an email from GigsForHire, a notification that I'd been contacted by a potential customer.
I log into the site anyway. It's become an addiction. Most of the time it disappoints, because scoring a gig from here comes with the same odds as a slot machine payoff. You don't get three cherries terribly often, but when you do, man, they add up to a delicious treat.
Looks like someone viewed my ad, but there are no replies. On his way to the airport, Xavier called and told me he had a sure thing. What's odd, though, is he said I'd be a replacement for him. I love the dude, but we're hardly interchangeable, and I'd never peg my buddy as the bad boy. But that's what his friend needs, he told me when he asked if I could fill in for him at a family reunion.
"I can't let her down, but I can't let this job go. Any chance you could fill in for me for five days?"
"Five days," I'd said, surprised. Most gigs don't last that long. "I have the weekend off, and if the pay is right, I can swap shifts for the rest."
"Perfect. She's a darling, and you're the only one I know who can cover in a pinch."
"But she knows there's a fee?"
"Did you think I was going out of the goodness of my heart? April took a vow to tell me for the rest of my life if my jeans ever make me look fat. I'll be sure to let her know you require old-fashioned greenbacks."
"Tell me what she wants."
"If I know April, she'll go bananas for the ex-con ad. It's hilarious. Let me show her that one, 'kay?"
With a name like April, you'd figure she'd want the guy next door. But hell, maybe she's the good girl who likes the black sheep.
I've slipped into that skin for Thanksgiving dinners, wedding dates, even bat mitzvahs. I've slipped into other roles, too. I've been a salesman, a pimp, a swindled fool, a beleaguered boyfriend. It's all in the eyes, and in the heart that you put into the role.
But the slot machine idles quietly as my break ends. No payouts come. Maybe April has cold feet. Perhaps she decided to try it solo rather than shell out for a rent-a-date.
I head inside as the busboy sucks the last ember of his cigarette. The nachos are ready. I grab the plate, spoon some extra guacamole on, and serve it to Lori.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Real Deal"
Copyright © 2018 Lauren Blakely.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: April,
Chapter Two: Theo,
Chapter Three: April,
Chapter Four: Theo,
Chapter Five: April,
Chapter Six: Theo,
Chapter Seven: April,
Chapter Eight: Theo,
Chapter Nine: Theo,
Chapter Ten: April,
Chapter Eleven: Theo,
Chapter Twelve: April,
Chapter Thirteen: Theo,
Chapter Fourteen: Theo,
Chapter Fifteen: April,
Chapter Sixteen: Theo,
Chapter Seventeen: April,
Chapter Eighteen: April,
Chapter Nineteen: April,
Chapter Twenty: Theo,
Chapter Twenty-one: April,
Chapter Twenty-two: Theo,
Chapter Twenty-three: Theo,
Chapter Twenty-four: April,
Chapter Twenty-five: Theo,
Chapter Twenty-six: April,
Chapter Twenty-seven: Theo,
Chapter Twenty-eight: April,
Chapter Twenty-nine: Theo,
Chapter Thirty: April,
Chapter Thirty-one: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-two: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-three: April,
Chapter Thirty-four: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-five: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-six: April,
Chapter Thirty-seven: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-eight: Theo,
Chapter Thirty-nine: April,
Chapter Forty: Theo,
Chapter Forty-one: April,
Chapter Forty-two: April,
Chapter Forty-three: Theo,
Chapter Forty-four: April,
About the Author,