Engaged at the Chatsfield
Series: The Chatsfield
Glitz, luxury and decadence—Juliet Montague should be having the time of her life. Her friend’s hen party is being held at the extravagant Chatsfield Hotel, London, but when she is surrounded by perfect, ultra-stylish women, each with rings on their fingers, a fake fiancé seems her only defense.
Until that very same fake fiancé arrives at the party! Now she must persuade Marcus Bainbridge, her older brother’s gorgeous best friend, not to give the game away. But as the charade deepens, will the lines between what’s real and what’s fantasy start to blur?
An Excerpt from Engaged at the Chatsfield
How many calories are there in a caramel-swirl cupcake? Juliet typed into her smartphone on the way to the Chatsfield Hotel for a hen’s party high tea. Oh no! She bit her lip as she typed in a chocolate éclair and then a macaroon. Double oh no! And that wasn’t counting the champagne cocktails Kendra Ashford would have flowing like…well, like champagne.
Juliet typed again. Groaned again. The smoked salmon pinwheels and sausage rolls were not much better. A weekend of this and she would have to nibble lettuce leaves and drink wheatgrass shakes for a month. Probably two.
But it would be worth it, because for forty-eight hours she would finally be part of the In Group. She would no longer be on the on the fringe where the less popular and less trendy were shunted. She would be part of Kendra’s Clan: the posse of pampered heiresses who partied at all the right places with all the right people.
She would belong.… Even though she was not an heiress and she couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a party… unless you counted the first birthday for her neighbour’s little boy, Haseem, three weeks ago, where she had baked the cake—a teddy-bear-shaped one—because his mum had been too sick with the flu to make it for him.
Juliet walked into the swish foyer of the hotel. Crystal chandeliers overhead threw bright prisms of light over the polished marble floor. The air was filled with the scent of fresh peonies and roses and lilies from a giant and artfully arranged bouquet in the centre of the area.
The recent appointment of a new CEO at the Chatsfield had brought about some major changes to the hotel brand, and already they showed and glowed. Everyone wanted to be seen at the sparkling new hot spot in town. High tea at the London Chatsfield was now a premier event with parties having to book months in advance. Cocktails in the bar where the rich and famous gathered before they dined in the restaurant took sipping drinks and fine dining to a whole new level of decadence.
The Chatsfield signature colours of blue and gold had been totally revamped with plush new velvet and silk furnishings, and when you added the smartly uniformed and attentive staff members, who were intent on giving professional and yet personalised service, the hotel had the atmosphere of a royal palace.
The new broom, Christos Giankrakou, was implementing marketing initiatives, programs and codes of accountability that were rumoured to be causing shockwaves amongst the Chatsfield siblings. Christos was known in corporate circles to be a take-no-prisoners type who would not tolerate freeloaders or timewasters. The paparazzi were on permanent call outside the hotel in anticipation of a showdown with Lucca Chatsfield, one of the twin sons, who was known around town as an idle playboy who lived only to party.
The foyer was buzzing with activity as people checked in and out. Juliet moved forward in the queue and collected her swipe key with assurances from the smiling attendant that her luggage would be sent to her room directly.
Welcome to Kendra Ashford and Her Bachelorette Party Guests was written in gold copperplate on an antique brass notice board. It made Juliet feel like Cinderella gate-crashing the ball. She wasn’t sure why Kendra had sent her the invitation. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Juliet’s older brother, Benedict, had just finished filming the lead role in a Hollywood romantic comedy, which was already causing a stir amongst the critics and mentions of an Oscar Award.
Suddenly she was being invited to everyone’s parties.
The maid of honour, Harriet Penhallon, came teetering towards Juliet surrounded by a cloud of exotic perfume. It didn’t look like Harriet’s pretty floral designer tea-party dress was pinching her under the armpits or squeezing her around the waist, and her sky-high heels definitely weren’t giving her hammertoes. Harriet looked as though she had just stepped off a photo shoot with her immaculate makeup and perfectly coiffed hair.
Juliet felt like a basset hound turning up at a pedigree poodle show.
‘You’re the last one to arrive.’ Harriet’s gaze swept over Juliet’s retro dress. ‘Wow, don’t you look nice?’
Juliet knew that was code for “You look like a fat sow,” but she smiled anyway and sucked her tummy in a little harder. ‘Sorry, am I late? I had to change trains because of a breakdown on the line.’
‘No, we don’t kick off high tea till half-three.’ Harriet glanced at her watch. ‘That gives you thirty-two minutes to freshen up and change.’ She gave a smile that wouldn’t look out of place on an orthodontist’s website home page. ‘If you’re lucky you might even get a glimpse of Lucca Chatsfield. He arrived a few minutes ago. I just got a tweet about it. He’s staying the weekend.’
‘Not for Kendra’s hen party, I take it?’
Harriet laughed. ‘No, but I wouldn’t say no to him doing a little striptease show for us, would you?’
Juliet hated that she blushed so readily. It made her appear as naive and gauche as she felt. Newsfeeds and social media buzzed constantly with Lucca Chatsfield’s latest shenanigans. Not that she moved in the circles he stirred. She didn’t have a circle… apart from one of loneliness. Her job as a library-based rare book expert was her dream career, but it made for a pretty quiet social life.
‘I’m sure he’s very attractive, but I prefer intelligence over looks,’ she said, immediately thinking of Ben’s best friend since childhood, Marcus Bainbridge. But then, she thought of him a lot. Too much. Way, way too much. It was a bit of an obsession she had developed since Christmas, when he had joined Ben and their mother in Bath instead of dividing his time between his bitterly divorced parents and their new partners and families.
Aloof and reserved, which most people mistook for arrogance, Marcus was a perfect counterpoint to Ben’s outgoing daredevil personality. He’d been like a second older brother to Juliet since she was ten, when he had fixed a puncture on her bike because Ben, at sixteen, had been too busy chatting up his latest conquest.
But last Christmas something had changed.
It had been the first time they’d been alone together since The Incident. Her eighteenth birthday party. Blush. Too much alcohol. Double blush. Cornering Marcus in the study. Cringe. Him politely but firmly rejecting her clumsy advances. Him sternly lecturing her on the dangers of excessive drinking. Cringe. Blush. Cringe.
He had avoided her ever since.
Until last Christmas…
Six months on and she remembered as if it were yesterday. They had been washing up after lunch while her mother made a phone call to an elderly relative and Ben talked to his agent in L.A. Marcus handed her a wineglass to dry and her fingers brushed against his as she took it from him. Their gazes collided. Meshed. Stilled. Heated.
A sensation like a fizzing electrical pulse travelled from his fingers to hers, raced all the way up her arm and then through her body to light a fire in her core. She saw the flare of his pupils, the way they made his eyes darken to a midnight blue. The way his fingers didn’t jerk away, but lingered. Burned against hers.
His gaze went to her mouth. Paused there. Her lips felt scorched from the heat of his gaze. She heard the scuff of his shoe on the tiled floor as he closed the half-step distance between their bodies….
But then Ben came bounding in to announce he had got the part for the rom-com. Champagne was opened. Toasts and celebrations were conducted. There were no more private moments. Marcus kept his distance. Business as usual.
‘So—’ Harriet smoothed an imaginary hair behind her ear. It was a ploy Juliet knew was so Harriet could showcase her glittering and ridiculously huge and brand new— as of last week— diamond engagement ring. ‘Are you seeing anyone?’
Juliet was going to say no. Of course she was. Why wouldn’t she say no? She hadn’t dated anyone since Simon Foster had made a fool out of her five years ago, stringing her along for months with weekend dates while he got it on in the city with a size-zero blonde the rest of the time. Of course she was going to say no. Her mouth even went as far to shape the word but instead she said, ‘N-yes.’
Harriet’s impeccably groomed eyebrows shot up beneath her perfectly trimmed and blow-dried fringe. ‘Who is it?’ But before Juliet could think of a name, Harriet had already come up with one. ‘It’s Marcus, isn’t it? That stuck-up naval architect friend of your brother’s?’
‘He’s not stuck up.’ Had she sounded too defensive?
‘Oh. My. God.’ Harriet’s china-blue eyes were as round as the satellite dishes on the International Space Station. ‘Get outta here. Are you serious? Marcus Bainbridge and you?’
Juliet’s back came up at Harriet’s incredulity. She knew she wasn’t beautiful—or at least not without soft lighting or a quick touch-up in Photoshop. She knew she didn’t have the best figure, and she hated her freckles because they made her look about eight years old. But was it that unbelievable that a man like Marcus would be interested in her? He had almost kissed her at Christmas. She hadn’t been imagining that. Had she?
She was tired of being the odd one out.
Tired of being almost twenty-nine years old and unattached. The only one of Kendra’s Clan who was still single. An object of pity. Like at school, where she had been the only girl in her class without a father. The bookish nerd who studied instead of dated. The lonely fringe-dweller who had a sudden rush of best friends around exam time when everyone wanted her to help them swot.
What would it hurt to pretend she belonged to someone? It was only for the weekend. She could head back to Bath on Monday morning and no one would be the wiser. It wasn’t as if Marcus would even hear about it; he was currently living in Dubai while he designed a luxury yacht for a sheikh.
‘Yes,’ she said, and took it one step further because she didn’t care for the way Harriet was still gaping at her. ‘It’s serious.’
‘How serious? Has he asked you to marry him?’ Harriet glanced at Juliet’s left hand, her eyes narrowing. ‘You’re not wearing an engagement ring.’
Juliet curled her fingers into a ball. There was a jeweller’s store half a block from the hotel. She had stopped to gaze dreamily at the rings in the window on her way past. ‘Erm, well, no, not yet. But I’m picking it up. Soon. This afternoon. Before tea.’ What are you doing? Are you crazy?
‘You’d better get a wriggle on,’ Harriet said. ‘I want everyone assembled for when Kendra makes her entrance. I want everything to be perfect for her.’
‘Don’t worry.’ Juliet pasted a smile on her face. ‘It will be.’
Marcus was jetlagged and hungry and a tension headache was throbbing like a pneumatic drill behind his eyeballs as the cab pulled up outside the Chatsfield in London. He still had some work to do on his proposal for Gene Chatsfield’s luxury yacht before he presented it on Monday morning. He was one of three naval architects shortlisted to pitch for the multimillion-pound contract. It would be a career coup if he pulled it off, especially on the back of his success with the Dubai deal. He figured staying in-house might give him the edge on his competitors. It would demonstrate his commitment and dedication to the Chatsfield brand. He had heard the newly appointed CEO, Christos Giankrakou, was a stickler for that sort of thing.
Marcus paid the driver and turned to enter the hotel just as a small figure came bolting down the brass steps from the other direction. Her shiny brown-haired head was bent down as she glanced at her watch, a little pleat of a frown was pulling at her brow and her teeth were savaging her lower lip.
It was as if an invisible wall had come down in front of her. She stopped dead. Froze. Then she slowly turned to face him. For a moment her face was as white as the polka dots on her cute retro dress, but then her cheeks went as cherry-red as the background fabric. ‘M-Marcus?’ her voice came out like a squeak.
‘You’re staying here?’ he asked.
The tip of her tongue swept over her lips in a darting movement. ‘Erm…yes.’ Her throat moved up and down. ‘Y-you?’
He gave her a self-deprecating smile. ‘I just flew in from Dubai. Can’t you tell?’
Her toffee-brown eyes moved over his rumpled clothes and unshaven jaw before meshing with his gaze. She seemed to be having trouble speaking. Her creamy throat kept moving up and down as if something was lodged there.
‘Are you okay?’
‘F-fine.’ She smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. ‘How long are you—’ she gave another tight-looking swallow ‘—staying?’
‘Just for the weekend,’ he said. ‘I have an appointment with Gene Chatsfield, the owner, and his CEO first thing Monday. I’m pitching for a design project. What about you?’
She shifted her weight from foot to foot, the fingers of her right hand fiddling with the strap of her handbag. The afternoon light caught something glittering on her left hand before she tucked it out of sight.
Something grabbed at his chest like a claw. Tightened. Squeezed.
Juliet was engaged?
Why hadn’t Ben given him the heads-up? He didn’t know she’d been seeing anyone. Last Christmas he thought… What had he thought? He hadn’t been thinking. He’d acted on impulse. Something he never did. He blamed it on the glasses of wine at lunch, the eggnog and the brandy butter. It must have gone to his head. His chest gave another suffocating spasm. The thought of her dating…having sex with some guy made his insides feel hollow and empty, as if they had been scraped out with something sharp.
‘Hen’s party,’ she said.
She looked at him blankly for a moment. ‘No…Kendra Ashford’s.’
Marcus had never understood what Juliet saw in the clique of girls who called themselves Kendra’s Clan. A bunch of pampered aristocrats who did nothing but preen and party, usually with the paparazzi around to document it. Not that he could necessarily talk, given his father’s ridiculous wealth, but at least he didn’t brandish it about. And he worked for a living. He couldn’t see how Juliet had anything in common with them, but she’d been at boarding school with them, and she was a loyal little thing and wouldn’t hear a bad word said about anyone.
He pointed to the ring on her finger, trying to ignore the painful ache in his chest. ‘Who’s the lucky guy?’
Two spots of colour spread even further over her cheeks making her cute freckles stand out like a dusting of cinnamon sugar on the top of a teacake. ‘Erm…’ She did that foot shuffling, weight shifting thing again, reminding him of when she was ten years old and embarrassed about asking him to help her change the tyre on her pushbike.
Back then the six years difference in their age had seemed like a generation. Even at eighteen she had been far too young— rather memorably demonstrated by her gauche attempt to kiss him in the study the night of her birthday party. He had always made sure he was never alone with her after that, especially if there was alcohol around. She didn’t have much of a head for it. Not that he could talk given what almost happened at Christmas.
Now it was… it was a surprise to realise how grown up she was. Grown up enough to get engaged.
His chest seized again.
To get married.
He hadn’t noticed quite how grown up she was until last Christmas. In the past she had always been his best mate’s kid sister. He hadn’t seen her as anything else. He hadn’t allowed himself to, especially after the incident in the study. Getting involved with his best friend’s baby sister was breaking a strict code of mateship. If things didn’t work out, it got messy for everyone. He had too much respect for Ben and his mother, Grace—not to mention Juliet herself—to take any risks in that area.
But last Christmas…
Marcus pushed the thought back. Best not to go there. She belonged to someone else now. He tried to ignore the sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. He hoped it was someone who was worthy of her. She was a decent girl. A sweet and caring soul who could easily get trampled on or taken advantage of because she wasn’t street smart or sophisticated. But that’s what he liked about her. She was intelligent and kind, not shallow and vacuous and self-serving like some of the women her big brother was currently hanging out with in L.A. ‘So, it is anyone I know?’ he asked.
The point of her tongue came out again and moistened her soft Cupid’s bow mouth. Her cheeks were so red now he could have cooked a couple of rounds of toast on them. ‘I didn’t think you’d turn up like this,’ she said. ‘Ben didn’t tell me you were due back…’
‘Yeah, well, I’m lucky to get a word from your brother now he’s so rich and famous,’ he said. ‘Last time I heard from him was about a month ago. He texted me a photo of himself on a red carpet somewhere surrounded by Hollywood starlets.’
She did the lip chew thing again. ‘He’s certainly got an awful lot of friends now….’
Marcus’s gut clenched as if a fist had grabbed at his intestines. Was Juliet involved with some guy who only wanted her for a connection to her famous brother? Some sleazy status-seeker who wanted to fast-track his own career in show business? She was so innocent and guileless she mightn’t see past the superficial charm. Why hadn’t Ben warned her?
‘Well, well, well, if it isn’t Romeo himself.’
Marcus looked up to see Harriet Penhallon, one of Kendra’s Clan, coming towards them with a smirk on her face. ‘Congratulations, Marcus,’ Harriet said, eyeing him up and down like an auctioneer does at a cattle market. ‘Who would have thought?’
Who would have thought what? Marcus opened his mouth to say it out loud when he heard Juliet make a strangled sound beside him. He glanced down at her with a frown. ‘What’s wrong?’
Her brown eyes had never looked bigger. Wider. The pupils like dark pools of rippling panic. He even heard her take a gulp. ‘I told Harriet…erm…that I…that we…erm…’
‘Told Harriet what?’
‘That you’re engaged,’ Harriet said.
Marcus blinked. Engaged? Juliet was pretending she was engaged… to him? What was she thinking? What was going on? Why would she do such a thing? He’d been sick with worry that she’d been seduced by some creep, only to find it was all a game of charades. He didn’t have time for such nonsense, damn it. What a waste of angst. He was supposed to be here on business. He wasn’t here to play silly schoolgirl games. His professional reputation was under the spotlight. Not his personal life. Not that he had one right now.
He looked down at her again. Her expression was a mixture of contrition and hope. Hope he wouldn’t blow her cover? Publically embarrass her by denying it? Was she doing this to get social cache with her so-called friends? Surely she’d known he would find out one way or the other. No one could do or say anything these days without someone tweeting or texting about it. There was no such thing as local gossip these days. The whole planet found out in a matter of seconds.
But if he contradicted her, it would make her look foolish in front of her friends. It might draw even more attention to him than he wanted right now. It wasn’t such a leap to think they might be an item. He’d been a part of her family for years.
Besides, he didn’t care for the narrow-eyed look on Harriet Penhallon’s face.
‘Yes… that’s right, so we are.’ He put an arm around Juliet and brought her close to his body. She felt soft and warm and feminine and smelt of summer flowers— sweet peas with a hint of orange blossom. Exotic and yet old fashioned and touchingly familiar. ‘We were going to keep it a secret for a little while longer, weren’t we, sweetie?’
Juliet looked up at him with a faltering smile. ‘I’m sorry…’
Not as much as you’re going to be, he thought. What the hell was she playing at? Engaged? Hell’s bells. What was Ben going to make of this? ‘It’s fine, darling.’ He mentally ground his teeth. ‘It had to come out sooner or later.’
Harriet put a hand over her mouth in a theatrical manner. ‘Oops. I didn’t realise you hadn’t officially announced it. I just tweeted it to all Kendra’s followers.’ She dropped her hand and smiled broadly. ‘All five hundred and fifty thousand of them.’