Opposites become allies to fool their matchmaking friends in this swoony reimagining of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
Jamie Westenberg and Bea Wilmot have nothing in common except a meet-disaster and the mutual understanding that they couldn't be more wrong for each other. But when the people closest to them play Cupid and trick them into going on a date, Jamie and Bea realize they have something else in common after all—an undeniable need for revenge.
Soon their plan is in place: Fake date obnoxiously and convince the meddlers they’re madly in love. Then, break up spectacularly and dash everyone's hopes, putting an end to the matchmaking madness once and for all.
To convince everyone that they’ve fallen for each other, Jamie and Bea will have to nail the performance of their lives. But as their final act nears and playing lovers becomes easier than not, they begin to wonder: What if Cupid’s arrow wasn’t so off the mark? And what if two wrongs do make a right?
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. ONE .
A word to the wise: don't have your fortune read unless you're prepared to be deeply disturbed.
Wrong is right and right is wrong.
I foresee war-merry or misery, brief or long?
A mountain looms built on deception.
Surmount it and then learn your lesson.
See what I mean? Disturbing.
I tried not to get anxious. But the morning after my grim fortune reading, I woke up to an ominous daily horoscope email. The cosmic warning was loud and clear. Duly noted, universe. Duly noted.
Quaking in my Doc Martens boots, I decided to beg off the party. That didn't go so well, seeing as this party is my twin sister's doing and my twin is hard to say no to. And by "hard" I mean impossible.
So even though the universe has all but warned me to buckle up, buttercup, and the air crackles like ozone before a storm, here I am. I reported for duty at the family home-wore a dress, donned my crab mask, made a cheese-and-cracker plate. And now, like any self-respecting scaredy-cat, I'm hiding in the butler's pantry.
That is, until my sister sweeps in and blows my cover. The swinging door flies open, and I'm caught in a beam of light like a crook cornered by the cops. I stash the peppermint schnapps behind my back and slide it onto the shelf just in time to prove my innocence.
"There you are," Jules says brightly.
I hiss, throwing my arms across my face. "The light. It hurts my eyes!"
"No vampires in this costumed animal kingdom. That crab mask you're wearing is scary enough. Come on." Taking me by the arm, she tugs me toward the foyer, into the jungle menagerie of masquerading guests. "There's someone I want you to meet."
"JuJu, please," I groan, dragging my feet. We pass an elephant whose trunk clips my shoulder, a tiger whose eyes hungrily trail my body, then a pair of hyenas whose laugh is spot-on. "I don't want to meet people."
"Of course you don't. You want to drink in the butler's pantry and eat half the cheese-and-cracker plate before anyone else can. But that's what you want, not what you need."
"It's a solid system," I grumble.
Jules rolls her eyes. "For eccentric spinsterhood."
"And long may those days last, but I'm talking about my anxiety."
"Having been your twin our entire lives," she says, "I'm familiar with your anxiety and its bandwidth for socializing, so trust me when I say this guy's worth it."
The peppermint-schnapps-and-hide trick is my social anxiety lifesaver. I'm neurodivergent; for my autistic brain, engaging strangers isn't easy or relaxing. But with the trick of a couple of covert swigs of schnapps-buzzed, calmer-I find the experience less overwhelming, and my company finds me not only passably sociable but minty fresh. At least, that's how it typically goes. Not tonight. Tonight I have grim cosmic warnings hanging over my head. And I have a bad feeling about whatever she's dragging me into.
"Juuuuules." I'm that kid wailing in the grocery store. All I need is a smear of chocolate chip cookie on my cheek, a rogue untied shoelace, and I am typecast.
"BeeBee," she singsongs back, glancing my way and failing to hide how disturbing she finds my papier-mâché crab mask. She tugs it up off my face and nestles it into my hair. I tug it back down. She tugs it back up.
I glare at her as I tug it back down again. "Lay off the mask."
"Aw, c'mon. Don't you think it's time to come out of your shell?"
"Nope, not even for that dad-level pun."
She sighs wearily. "At least you're wearing a hot dress-oops, hold on." We stop at the bottom of the steps before she yanks me behind the banister.
"What?" I ask. "You're letting me go?"
"You wish." Jules cocks a smooth dark eyebrow as her gaze dips to my dress. "Wardrobe malfunction."
When I peer down, I see my dress gaping along my ribs. Thank you, universe! "Pretty sure it's busted. I should go check it out in the bathroom."
"So you can hide again? I don't think so." She slides the zipper up my ribs, the sound of my fate being sealed.
"It could be on its last little zippery legs. Shouldn't chance it. A boob might pop out!"
"Uh-huh." Clasping my hand, Jules launches me forward. I'm a meteor hurtling toward catastrophe. As we approach our destination, sweat breaks out on my skin.
I recognize her boyfriend, Jean-Claude, and Christopher, next-door neighbor, childhood friend, surrogate brother. But the third man, who stands with his back to us, a head above them, is a stranger-a tall, trim silhouette of dark blond waves and a smart charcoal suit. The man turns slightly as Jean-Claude speaks to him, revealing a quarter of his profile and the fact that he wears tortoiseshell glasses. A molten ribbon of longing unfurls inside me, curling toward my fingertips.
Distracted by that, I catch my toe on the carpet. I'm saved from a face-plant only because Jules, who's used to my body's abysmal proprioception, grips my elbow hard enough to keep me upright.
"Told you," she says smugly.
I'm staring at a work of art. No. Worse. I'm staring at someone I want to make a work of art. My hands crumple around the fabric of my dress. For the first time in ages, I ache for my oil paints, the cool polished wood of my favorite brush.
My artist's gaze feasts on him. Impeccably tailored clothes reveal the breadth of his shoulders, the long line of his legs. This man has a body. He's the jock of your dreams who forgot his contact lenses and had to wear his backup glasses. The ones he wears at night when he reads in bed.
The fantasy floods my mind, red-hot, X-rated. I'm a walking erogenous zone.
"Who is that?" I mutter.
Jules stops us at the edge of their circle and takes advantage of my stunned state, lifting up my mask as she whispers, "Jean-Claude's roommate, West."
Oh shit. Now, thanks to my recent deep dive into hot historical romance, I've got even higher expectations for the guy, with a name like West. I picture a duty-worn duke, thighs stretching his buckskin breeches as he walks broodingly across the windswept moors. Braced for ducal grandeur, I fight a swell of anxiety as Jules breaks into the trio, as West turns and faces me.
Stunning hazel eyes lock with mine and widen. But I don't linger on his eyes long. I'm too curious, too enthralled, my gaze traveling him, drinking in the details. His throat works as he swallows. His hand grips his glass, rough at the knuckles, his fingertips raw and red. Unlike nonchalant Jean-Claude, whose stance is arrogantly loose, his tie looser, there's nothing relaxed or casual about him. Ramrod-straight posture, not a wrinkle to be seen, not a hair out of place.
His eyes travel me, too, and while I'm poor at reading facial expressions, I'm excellent at noticing when they shift. I observe the record-scratch moment as his features tighten. And the heat previously flooding my veins cools to a chilly frost.
I watch him register the tattoos swirling over my body, starting with the bumblebee's dance down my neck, across my chest, beneath my dress. His gaze drifts upward to the frizz of my just-showered hair and messy bangs. Finally, it wanders over the family cat Puck's white hair stuck to my black dress. There's a rather aggressive tuft on my lap area, where Puck parked himself before I nudged him off. Mr. Prim and Proper looks like he thinks I forgot the lint roller. He's absolutely judging me.
"Beatrice," Jules says.
I blink, meeting her eyes. "What?"
After twenty-nine years of twinning coexistence, I know that her patient smile plus my full name means I zoned out, and she's repeating herself. "I said, this is Jamie Westenberg. He goes by West."
"Jamie's fine, too," he says, after an awkward beat of silence. His voice is deep yet quiet. It hits my bones like a tuning fork. I don't like it. Not a bit.
He's still scrutinizing me, this man I've decided most definitely doesn't get to ruin hist-rom Wests and is instead getting called Jamie. Judgy Jamie suits him much better.
His eyes are back at it, traveling the tattoos along my neck, over my collarbone. His critical gaze is an X-ray. Heat flares in my cheeks. "See something you like?" I ask.
Jules groans as she steals Jean-Claude's drink and throws back half of it.
Jamie's gaze snaps up to mine as he clears his throat. "Apologies. You looked . . . familiar."
"Oh? How so?"
He clears his throat again and slides his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "All those tattoos. They reminded me of . . . I thought you were someone else for a moment."
"Just what someone who busts their ass on designing highly personal tattoos wants to hear," I tell him. "They're so unremarkable, they're easily mistaken for someone else's."
"I'd think you're accustomed to being mistaken for someone else," Jamie says, glancing toward my twin.
"Thus the highly individual tattoos," I say between clenched teeth. "To look like myself and no one else."
He frowns, assessing me. "Well, no one can say you lack commitment."
Christopher snorts into his drink. I rub my middle finger along the side of my nose.
"Maybe West recognizes those tattoos because you two have bumped into each other in the city . . . somewhere . . . at some point?" Jules says hopefully.
"Doubtful," I tell her. "You know I don't go out much, and definitely not to places that someone as stuffy-I mean, serious-as him would like."
Jamie narrows his eyes. "Considering that club Jean-Claude dragged me to last year was a den of chaos, complete with an inappropriately handsy woman who projectile vomited on my shoes, I'm reassessing. Perhaps it was you."
Jean-Claude rubs the bridge of his nose and mutters something in French.
I smile at Jamie, but it's more like baring my teeth. "Chaos dens aren't my speed, but whoever the poor soul was that bumped into you, then upchucked, I imagine puking was an involuntary response to the misfortune of making your acquaintance."
Jules elbows me. "What's gotten into you?" she hisses.
"I remember that night and it definitely wasn't her," Jean-Claude tells Jamie, before he directs himself to me. "West is determined to die a miserable old bachelor and has grown crotchety in his solitude. You'll forgive his rusty manners."
Jamie's cheeks darken to a splotchy raspberry red as he stares into his half-empty lowball glass.
A determined bachelor? That means I'm not the only one who's been avoiding romance. Dammit. I don't want camaraderie with Mr. Bespectacled Stick Up His Ass.
"Bea, too," Jules adds, like the nosy mind-reading twin she is. "She hissed at me when I found her hiding tonight. The determined spinster's turned feral." Smiling up at Jean-Claude, she tells us, "But I'm just as determined to see her put away those claws and be as happy as I am."
The two of them share a lovey-dovey look, then a long, slow kiss that makes the cheese and crackers I ate crawl up my throat. As their kiss becomes kisses, Christopher adjusts his watch. Jamie studies his lowball glass. I pick Puck fur off my dress.
Glancing up from his watch, Christopher gives me a meaningful lift of his eyebrows. I shrug my shoulders. What?
He sighs before turning toward Jamie. "So, West, you and Jean-Claude go way back, right?"
"Our mothers are friends," Jamie tells him. "I've known him my whole life."
"That's right," Christopher says. "You went to the same boarding school?"
"Our mothers did, in Paris, which is where they're from. Jean-Claude's family didn't move stateside until we were teens, and then we didn't cross paths academically until we went to the same university."
I roll my eyes. Of course Jamie's one of those people whose French mother went to boarding school. I bet Jamie did, too. He's got prep school written all over him.
As Christopher asks him another question, Jamie drains the rest of his cocktail. It smells like bourbon and oranges, and when he swallows, my gaze dips from his lips to his throat.
I stare at him as they talk, telling myself I don't have to like him for my artist's eye to love observing how the soft lighting of my family home knifes down the long line of his nose and caresses the angles of his face, revealing sharp cheekbones, a sharper jawline, a tight slash of a mouth that might be secretly soft when he's not pinning it between his teeth. A stuffy stick-in-the-mud shouldn't be allowed to be this beautiful.
"Well, Miss Crabby," Christopher says, nudging my crab mask and rudely dragging me back into the conversation. "Did you make this yourself?"
"But of course," I tell him, feeling Jamie's eyes on me and hating how that makes me blush. "I'm not even going to ask you, Christopher. This brown bear disguise is clearly store-bought."
"Sorry to disappoint. Some of us are too busy working to make our own masks for Jean-Claude's masquerade birthday party."
"Well, at least you're color coordinated." Christopher's dark hair and amber eyes are the same shades as his bear mask. I sink my fingers into his neatly styled locks and purposefully mess them up.
He flicks my ear. "Ever heard of personal space? Back up. You reek of peppermint schnapps."
I dodge the next flick. "Better than having bourbon breath."
Jamie watches us in silence, a notch in his brow, like he's never seen two people good-naturedly tease each other.
Before I can make some jab about that, the lovebirds break apart on a loud lip smack, leaving my sister breathless and pink-cheeked.
"The things Juliet comes up with," Jean-Claude says on a sigh as he stares down at my sister. "A masquerade party, full of people I have to share you with." Tucking her tighter against his side, he adjusts the neckline of her wrap dress so her cleavage is covered. "When all I need is you."
Jules smiles and bites her lip. "I wanted to make it special. You always have me to yourself."
"Not enough," he growls.
Something about Jean-Claude's intensity with my sister makes my skin crawl. They've been together for a bit over three months now, and rather than mellow out after the first frenzy of infatuation, like the people Jules has dated before, Jean-Claude just seems to be ramping up. It's to the point that I can't even walk around the apartment in a bathrobe because he's always there, on the sofa, in our kitchen, in her room. My gut says it's too much.