Authors: Laura Simcox
This book is for Chelsey Emmelhainz:
Thank you for your warm guidance, expert editing, and great sense of humor
If Virginia were real, she would totally want to hang out with you in Manhattan!
lifted her Jackie O sunglasses, she realized that, although she'd had a lot of weird days in her life, this one was the winner of a chicken dinner. As she squinted through the tears in her eyes, rain began a steady plink-plinking on the bench. Clouds whisked across the sky, and a glint of sunlight burned her retinas like demon fire. And if that wasn't enough to piss her off, the paparazzi stalking her were making only a halfhearted effort to hide behind trees. They looked a lot creepier in the daylight than they did at night. Is
what it was like to be outdoors in Manhattan before noon? If so, she didn't want any part of it.
Sitting in Central Park wasn't one of her favorite pastimes anyway because when she did, the mediaâwho followed her on a normal dayâwent crazy. It didn't help that today she had, without really thinking about it, thrown her favorite sequined jacket over the black funeral dress she wore. Or that she'd chosen purple pumps to accent the outfitâfoolishly thinking that all black was too drab. She looked like a shiny penny sitting in the sunny rain .Â .Â . and the men with cameras four trees over were just like little grubby raccoons. At least her Secret Service agents were keeping them at bay. Which was a good thing because her eyes were ringed with melted mascara and she was as pale as a vampire. Virginia needed to get out of there, but she couldn't. Her future depended on the man who should have arrived by now.
“Today is going to make me break out in hives,” she muttered to no one as she squinted up at the sky again and wiped a rivulet of rain from her cheek. One of the agents, Larry, walked over and wordlessly handed her an open umbrella. She nodded her thanks and pulled out her phone, pressing it to her ear as if she were talking to someone. She had to do something other than just sit there staring across the grassy expanseâself-conscious, anxious, and in deep doody. She glanced up, silently cursing the creepers with cameras, and then, as if she didn't have a care in the world, she casually stood and began pacing.
Her boss, Sam Owlton, who'd died a week ago at the age of eighty-seven, had finally been buried this morning, which was a bittersweet relief. He'd been a sweet old man, but he'd done something he never should have done. He'd left her his company.
After his will had been read and the news got out that Virginia Fulton, daughter of the president of the United States and New York City's most famous party girl, was the new owner of the Owlton Company, the few remaining clients had dropped like flies. She hadn't had a clue that the respectable old real estate consulting firm she'd chosen to intern with had
been on its last legs. Now it was legless.
“How could I have known?” she muttered toward the blank screen of the phone. During the two years she'd worked for the man, she'd spent most of the time sitting in an armchair in his dusty office a few afternoons a week listening to him chatter about the good old days as he attempted to infuse her with his brand of street smarts and intuition. She'd earned her real estate license and learned a lot, but it hadn't been an actual job, not really. It was
, which was a hell of a lot better than doing
âappearances meant a lot when the media expected the world out of a person.
Virginia knew what she was supposed to be: smart, friendly, kind, witty, attractive, trend-settingâcompletely and easily in control of her well-balanced, healthy life and bright future. As long as all those boxes were checked, she was the perfect First Daughter. The ironic thing was, the people closest to herâher parents, her younger sistersâdidn't expect all of that. They expected her to be exactly who she wasâsmart but not too serious. Capable but lacking ambition. They meant well by accepting her as is, but nobody had ever really pushed her to try harder, including herself. Still, at twenty-six years old, she should have been able to find some kind of balance in her life. But the rest of the country expected her to be perfect, and she was no dummy. She just couldn't seem to check all the
boxes at the right times.
She'd been arrested at sixteen for sneaking into a bar. It had been to haul out a friend whose dad had found out where she was, but instead of finishing the good deed, Virginia had gotten sucked into a good time. At nineteen, she'd helped her sorority sisters raid a frat house to steal back what the guys had stolen from them. She'd been photographed running across their lawn carrying a cardboard box full of liquor bottles. At twenty-one, she'd been caught in a restricted area of a museum, making out with her thesis advisor's son. She'd only jumped over the rope to call him back before he got into troubleâbut in the dark corner where she'd found him, he'd been too delicious to resist. And now, at twenty-six? She was New York's premier party girlâwith no real excuse for her behavior.
How was she going to fling herself headlong into running a real estate business with the paparazzi watching her every move? She'd screw up somethingâthere was a 100 percent chance of thatâbut if she could fly under the radar for long enough to get some experience, she just might eventually be able to buy and sell Manhattan with confidence. It would be nice to be taken seriously, and this was her chance, even though what Sam had left her to work with was less than ideal. No, make that next to impossible.
At one point, the Owlton Company had been the number one broker for firms who bought posh corporate apartments to use for visiting executives. Now? There was only one client left. One. And she was stalking him like a bounty hunter today. Pacing, looking like a drowned rat as she waited for him to cross her pathâall while talking to herself like a nut job as the paparazzi watched. Really, she'd kind of hit bottom, hadn't she?
“This sucks. Totally sucks, and I'm not sure what to do except try not to talk to myself,” she said to the squirrel perched on the wrought iron arm of the bench. The squirrel ran away.
“Fine,” Virginia said, giving in and letting the words come tumbling out. She sat back down and angled the umbrella to better hide her face as she mumbled. “I know. Sam was getting erratic, but I didn't
anything about it. Besides, erratic is my middle name .Â .Â . if you believe the media.” She paused, frustration welling up. “But Sam shouldn't have dumped all of his assets, or lack thereof, onto one person. What am I going to do with his apartment? And all of his ancient furniture? And Junior Mint. What am I going to do with a twenty-pound cat who hates me?”
Glancing up, Virginia looked at Larry's ramrod straight back. He stood a polite distance away, pretending not to listen while she pretended she was actually talking to someone. That guy would have no problem figuring out how to take care of a cat. Despite the fact that she referred to him as Muscles, he was a sharply intelligent federal agent. He had his shit together. Most of his life wasn't spent playing at work and working at play, and the only reason he went out clubbing every other night was because he had to. Because she did.
She looked down at her pumps, which she'd bought on impulse two days ago, thanks to her friend Stacey, who knew just how to coax Virginia into buying something new and prettyâsomething to make her feel good. She sighed. Stacey was a personal shopper at Saks, and a damn good one. She was also Virginia's clubbing buddy, and when the two of them got together, they did a lot of things they didn't need to be doing. Virginia turned her foot to the side and grimaced because the shiny patent heels were caked with mud. Kind of like her reputation. “I need to grow up and .Â .Â . start wearing sensible shoes. Or something.” Movement at the end of the sidewalk caught her eye, and she watched as her two agents converged on a man in a suitâa man who stood there stiffly as he was patted down. Her client. It had to be.
She stood up, her heart lurching a little as she slid the phone into her bag and clutched the umbrella. Too bad it wasn't a magic Mary Poppins umbrella. If it had been, she would have lifted off straight up into the sky thirty seconds ago and transported herself back to her apartment and cozy bed so she could think until her head was on completely straight. But she didn't
that kind of timeâshe only had opportunity.
So she waited and watched as the agents finished frisking the infamous Dexter Cameronâor at least that's who she assumed he was. She'd never met him, never seen a photo of him, andâas far as social media wentâhe was a complete void. From his posture though, he was none too pleased at the moment, and it was widely rumored that even on a good day he could scare the crap out of people.
But what did
have to be scared of? Just the fact that his company was her only remaining client? And that since he hadn't returned her calls, she'd stalked him a teeny bit? Cameron Enterprises was also Owlton's oldest client, and that had to count for somethingâeven though Cameron only used Owlton's relocation services when they moved employees to corporate headquarters in New Yorkâwhich wasn't often. Still, his apartment was only three blocks away. He hadn't had far to go, even if he was old, and he could take five minutes to speak with her. And if he tried to railroad her or treat her likeâ
Virginia's pep talk flew right out of her head as he emerged from the cocoon of agents and shook his shoulders, striding forward.
, he was tall. And a lot younger than she expected.
Why the hell had she thought that Dexter Cameron I was just shy of putting his teeth in a glass? Nope. He definitely wasn't geriatric. Not even close, which meant .Â .Â . her agents had gotten the wrong Dexter. Dammit!
But it wasn't their fault because she hadn't been specific, had she? Virginia sighed and tried to think positive thoughts. So she wasn't going to meet with Dexter Cameron I. Or with Dexter Cameron IIâwhom she'd learned had been living overseas for years. No. The guy walking toward her had to be Dexter Cameron III. The
. She didn't know a thing about him, either, but he had to have some pull with his grandfather. This meeting wouldn't be a total lossâshe couldn't let it be.
As he approached, his features became clear, and as she realized how handsome he was, her heart sped up a little. Quickly, she pasted on her sparkly smileâthe one usually reserved for bartenders and friends of friendsâthe one that lit her eyes but not enough to be genuine. When he stopped in front of her, she unlocked her knees and stuck out a hand. “Mr. Cameron? I'm Virginia Fulton. Nice to finally meet you.”