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He’s gorgeous. He’s successful. And he’s technically my employer. Introducing Jackson Callaghan, who looks like no lawyer ever should.
I shouldn’t be noticing how he wears a suit or thinking about what his hair looks like in the mornings. Instead, I’m meant to be sticking to just three things:
Growing my marketing business.
Buying my cheating, arrogant ex out of said business.
Never getting involved with anyone I work with. Ever. Again.
London, England. The residence of the queen, suited City boys and the man who won’t give up: Jackson Callaghan. With his tattoos and a talent for charming, he’s set his sights on one thing other than his career – me.
Just one night won’t hurt, will it? A simple hook up isn’t really breaking my own rules.
But what happens when a hook up leaves you hooked?
ENGAGEMENT RATE is a steamy office romance with no cheating and a happily ever after. It's the first book in the CALLAGHAN GREEN SERIES, set in London, England.
- Fake marriage
- An English Gentleman
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Chapter One - Noah
“I completely disagree with the colour for the bridesmaids’ dresses.”
My mother’s voice tore through the dusty peace of the salon. We were seated in her favourite room in Wastham Hall, our family’s country home in Norfolk. The room hadn’t changed since I was a child; the chair I’d been sitting in when she administered a scolding about my English grades was still proudly placed next to the window that overlooked the lawn, recovered in exactly the same material as it had been back then. The settee was a new leather chesterfield, but exactly the same as the one that had been there when I received my first lecture on what a suitable girlfriend looked like. And there was, of course, the small, walnut side table on which my mother’s latest notebook was placed.
I had no idea what was in those notebooks; I never did have the urge to take a look, but I was pretty sure it was a list of all my failings and misdemeanours. Lady Soames-Harrington was not one to overlook an error, no matter how small.
“I think it’s too late now to change.” I glanced out of the window where my niece was dancing around the lawn, and hoped my mother didn’t notice. If she did, she’d complain that the child was ruining her grass.
The lawn, one should note, was key to her ladyship’s happiness. This was something myself and my brothers had never fully understood. Football, rugby, cricket and setting fire to the delicate blades of grass had been strictly forbidden and punishable in many, many ways. To be fair, the setting fire I could understand – that had been problematic – but the rest… when I had children, they’d be able to play on the lawn as much as they wanted.
Just as long as that lawn was not Lady Soames’.
“It’s never too late to change. I can have a seamstress to your fiancée’s apartment tomorrow to take measurements, and they’ll be ready with plenty of time for any alterations, although I can assure you that the people I would arrange wouldn’t need to make any alternations.” She picked up her notebook and studied her pen.
I sat a little further back into my seat and glanced over at my father. He was studying the paper he always placed in the salon, knowing that Lady S didn’t approve of technology in there. He didn’t look up, fully immersed in the crossword and paying no attention whatsoever to the conversation.
“Carla is pretty set on what she’s chosen.” My wife-to-be would certainly not humour my mother in any way, shape, or form. Both were as stubborn as hell, and both were extremely happy to use me as their go-between.
“Why is Carla not here? I had assumed she’d be with you this weekend.” Her Ladyship sat up a little straighter, those finishing school lessons on deportment never having quite left her.
Jeanne Soames-Harrington, neé Buchanan, had been a Lady from birth, the second child and oldest daughter of my maternal grandfather. She married my father, who was also a Lord, at nearly thirty, had my brothers when she was thirty-two and thirty-five, then I arrived, rather a surprise, when she was forty-two.
She was now seventy-four, her father ninety-eight and still one of my favourite people, living in his Scottish home that was from the stuff fairy-tales were made of. Physically, Grandfa was in the finest of health, but dementia had relieved him of some of his faculties a few years ago. I visited him as often as I could, which wasn’t as often as I liked, given work and the various engagements I had to attend.
“Carla’s having a girls’ weekend to prepare for her hen events.” I tried to bite back the irritation I was feeling. We were due to get married in six weeks. In that time, she had three hen parties: this weekend in London with meals at the top restaurants, a spa day, and ‘secret’ events that I’d seen the invoice for. It was enough to buy a top of the range Maserati. Another was a five-day trip to Monte Carlo; the third a sedate afternoon tea with her mother and older guests.
Lady Soames’ nose wrinkled briefly. “How very modern.” There was a brief shake of her head. “I have informed her that I find her bridesmaids’ dresses more than distasteful. I understand she’s a modern woman, but she has been brought up to have some dignity. Also, I raised the issue with her mother.”
I nodded and glanced back outside. My niece – the daughter of my eldest brother, Angus, was still running on the grass. I really hoped my mother didn’t spot her. Luckily for Catherine, Lady S’s attention was all on me.
“Her mother understood, of course. I think she’s most disconcerted by Carla’s behaviours.”
She wasn’t the only one.
“Apparently, Carla’s dress is rather undignified also.”
“I wouldn’t know, mother. Tradition is that the groom doesn’t see the dress until the wedding day.” I sighed and folded my arms, trying to conjure up some form of excitement at seeing my bride walk down the aisle towards me, and failing miserably, just as I had for most of the last six months since we’d become engaged.
Don’t get me wrong, Carla was gorgeous, in a way that social media expected her to be. She was the daughter of the owner and CEO of a company that developed software, and her father was ambitious for her to step into the upper classes of society, hence the reason for part of the marriage.
Or possibly most of the marriage.
“Of course, and this will be a very traditional wedding. I was hoping she’d be with you this weekend. I had the Hollyhock room specially prepared.” There was another shake of the head. “Such an inconvenience.”
My mother was under no illusion I was a virgin, but she had every hope that Carla was. She wasn’t. I had first-hand experience that her V-card had been well and truly stamped, and not by me. Not as much experience as you might’ve expected given we’d been engaged six months and ‘dated’ for two, but we’d managed a few nights together in between dates on her hectic social schedule.
“I’m sure Carla didn’t mean it to be an inconvenience, mother.” I was pretty sure Carla hadn’t even thought what preparations might occur for in case she stayed. This wasn’t what you could call a love match. Complicated match was definitely a better description.
There was a shout from outside, my nephew, Catherine’s slightly older brother rugby tackled her from behind, slamming them both onto the ground. I watched, ready to run outside if Catherine was injured, but instead she wriggled free and punched him in the face.
The sound had caught Lady Soames’ attention, her usually pale skin flushing pink. Not with concern for her grandchildren, but instead for her lawn.
“I’ll go and ask them to play elsewhere.” My father put his paper down and stood up. “You continue with your conversation. That’s far more important.”
My father was one of the few people who could play her like a fiddle, completely ignoring the glare she gave him, folding his paper and strolling out of the room, knowing full well she wouldn’t argue with him in front of me.
That would be uncouth.
“Have you arranged for movers to pack and transport Carla’s belongings to your home while you’re on your honeymoon?” Lady Soames clasped both hands in her lap. “You shouldn’t return to different houses after your honeymoon.”
I didn’t let the wince show. I wasn’t sure I was ready to live with Carla. She stayed over a couple of times a week, usually after we’d been out to dinner with some of her society friends or business acquaintances of mine. I lived in West Brompton, in between Chelsea and Fulham, in a house that had been in our family since it was built.
Carla had an apartment in Chelsea that she shared with her friend, a friend who’d made appearances on a long running reality TV show, something I figured my mother was unaware of. If she was, she’d been remarkably calm about it, and I had a feeling that if she knew what Carla’s friends were like, she’d be terminating this engagement with immediate effect.
“I have a team booked.” This wasn’t quite true. I had the number of a team to book when I got round to it. And when I’d discussed it with Carla. She’d hinted at moving in already, but we’d decided that we were better waiting until after we were married – which seemed to please both sets of parents, at least. Carla had mentioned that she wanted to make a big deal of it when she moved in, having a housewarming or something so she could show her new friends where she now lived, which seemed to be the theme of our relationship so far.
The door opened, my eldest brother, Angus, burst through it. Angus should’ve been the one to carry on the family business of property management and looking after the investment portfolios that my father had inherited from his father, but he’d avoided that by becoming a surgeon. A pretty good one, or at least good enough for Lady Soames to not be too displeased by his decision to flee the family shackles – sorry, business.
“Afternoon all.” He grinned as he walked in, sitting heavily on the sofa. “How’s the groom to be?”
I flipped him the bird.
Her ladyship looked displeased.
“It’s not that bad. Just learn when to nod without actually listening. That’s how our dad survived for so long.” He put his feet up on the coffee table.
“Angus, you are not at your home now. No need to act as if you are feral.”
“Sorry, Ma.” He put his feet down and grinned, the dimple that we’d all inherited on display. “Looking forward to your stag do?”
I grunted, trying to drum up some enthusiasm. Truth be told, I wasn’t looking forward to anything.
The wedding ticked boxes. A society wedding that met Lady Soames’ approval; a bride whose family were old-new money and she therefore wasn’t after any of our fortune – although I suspected she was hoping she’d have more to spend than what she got from her father; a future wife who understood etiquette and presented nicely, which equalled the youngest son married and settled.
And it meant my grandfather would see the one thing he seemed to remember wanting.
Alister Buchanan had been my favourite person when I was a kid. I spent summers with him, and most Christmases too. He taught me to ride, to shoot, to fish. He taught me the rules of rugby and exactly how to camp with nothing other than a tent and a running river.
He was my boyhood hero, and when his daughter was being unnecessarily strict, he stuck up for me.
Four years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia but remained physically fit. He still recognised me now, he’d phone me, and we’d have a conversation about the next time we’d go wild camping, or about the rugby, and then he’d ask me when I was getting married.
He wanted to see me married. He’d ask about my girl, then want details about the wedding. I knew we probably didn’t have that much time before attending a wedding would be beyond him, or how much longer we’d have him around.
That was why I was marrying Carla so quickly, or maybe even at all. She ticked boxes. She was attractive, she could hold a conversation and maybe we would fall in love, eventually.
Just excuse me if I wasn’t that enthusiastic.
“It’s a weekend of drinking.” I shrugged. My stag do would have to happen. After it, we’d be closer to the wedding.
“There’s nothing wrong with a weekend of drinking. Make the most of it, because once that ring’s on her finger, you no longer belong to you. You’ll just be some sort of lackey with the title of ‘husband’.” He grinned, rubbing his hands together. “I’m looking forward to watching every minute of it.”
“That does not sound pervy at all.” I glared at him. He was basking in the idea of me getting married.
Gus had married his wife when he was twenty-four and still in med school. His wife was not the socialite Lady S had wanted for him, but the doctor who’d been there while he recovered from some near-fatal virus he caught from a patient he’d been treating.
Vivi was great; no nonsense, practical, organised and completely ruled his roost. My brother loved every minute of it, and he’d told me on at least three occasions when he’d had too many whiskies how glad he was that he found her when they were young.
I hadn’t envied him. Our mother had been half-pissed off that he married someone she hadn’t decided for him, him being the first born and all that, but she begrudgingly liked Vivi, she just hadn’t been the one to ‘pick’ her as a wife and future Lady. And unlike me, Gus hadn’t been pictured in far too many gossip columns with a different woman on his arm each time.
That had been me.
“I don’t mean watching that bit.” He laughed, glancing at Lady S.
She looked even more disgruntled. “Do you have to be so uncouth?”
Angus laughed. “Boys will be boys, mother.”
She shook her head. “You need to speak to Vivienne about letting the children play on the lawn, Angus.”
“No, I don’t.” He sat back. Angus did not take any telling off from Lady S, he never had. “They’re children and playing outside is good for them.”
“But they flatten my lawn.”
“Which will repair and be as good as new, unlike children’s spirits if you quash their enjoyment out of them.” He raised a brow at her.
“I didn’t let you destroy my lawn and you turned out…” She stopped and shook her head. “Never mind. I have to go and prepare for my call with Jane Bebbington.” She stood up, more slowly than she had in the past, but still with the same grace I knew she’d wanted to pass onto a daughter. She sometimes tried with Catherine, who was more tomboy than future socialite, and never in the mood to listen to what her grandmother had to say.
Angus seemed to be studying me as Lady S left the room, his arms folded over his chest.
“What?” I stood up and went to the bay window, looking at the lawn that was definitely flattened.
“If she’s not right for you, don’t, for fuck’s sake, marry her.” His voice was low, quiet. “You might look pretty together, but you have no chemistry and I’m not sure you even like her, never mind be in love with her.”
“Being in love with someone isn’t necessary for a wedding.”
“This isn’t just a wedding, Noah, it’s a marriage. One of those commitments that’s meant to last a lifetime.”
I didn’t say anything, because part of me knew he was right. Marrying Carla was a way to cover a lot of bases, the biggest being my grandfather getting to see me married. I had no idea what would happen six months, twelve months, hell, even two months, after we were married. Neither of us had thought that far ahead.
“If she’s not your Vivi, you shouldn’t marry her. Even for Grandfa.” His expression wasn’t full of laughter now. He looked serious. “I know why you’re going through with this, Noah, and it’s noble of you, but Grandfa wouldn’t want you to marry just to so he could see your wedding.”
I sighed and watched the river that ran through the garden, far enough away that it looked like more of a stream.
“I know. But for how much longer is he going to be aware of anything that’s actually happening? If Carla and I end up separated after six months, he’s not going to know. But at least I’ll know he saw me get married. I’ll have those memories.” I turned back around, my father chasing Catherine and my nephew, Jimmy, across the lawn now my mother wasn’t around to watch.
“What’s her motivation for marrying you? Apart from the obvious.” Gus rubbed his chin.
“She has enough money of her own. Her parents are pissed at her for how she’s been behaving the last couple of years and they’re on at her to settle down. And I think she’s pretty into me.” I felt a total tool saying that last bit, but I kind of got the impression that she did. She’d told me once that I was ‘good arm candy’, and how much the camera loved me. I’d put her words down to the margaritas she’d been drinking and hoped there was more to it than that.
Gus shook his head. “Whatever. Vivi doesn’t like her. And she doesn’t like what you’re doing either. She thinks this is just going to end in disaster.”
“Not everyone can fall madly in love with the right person at the right time. And you know I don’t subscribe to this whole madly in love with someone fairy tale any way. You and Vivi are an exception.” I’d already known two of my friends go through divorces, one engagement end sourly and seen one of my best friends from university get severely fucked up when the girl he’d lost his mind over ended their relationship. Carla was a lot of things I wasn’t sure of, but I was sure that I wasn’t going have my heart broken by her.
“What about Robbie? Does he not count?” Gus grinned when he mentioned our other brother.
“He counts double. You think Her Ladyship will ever actually say she’s happy for him?” Robbie lived in Manchester with his husband. When he came out to our parents, Lady S had refused to speak to him for three months. It was awful and difficult for us all, especially Robbie and Connor. Dad wasn’t surprised or bothered, and Robbie had told me and Gus a couple of years before that he was gay, although it wasn’t like we hadn’t suspected it.
Lady S was always going to take it badly. She actually asked what she’d done wrong, something that made Gus lose the plot completely and Dad walk out. But, to her credit, she attended Robbie and Connor’s wedding, and made Connor feel welcome when they visited. But we all saw that she was struggling with Robbie not being ‘society perfect’ even if he was the happiest he’d ever been. Now she’d worked through it, and her relationship with her son-in-law was one we all knew she treasured. Thankfully. Else we’d have had to disown her.
“I think she just pretends to not be impressed. She’s far worse with Carla. Robbie said they’ve started to look into a surrogate.” Gus stretched and the rubbed his shoulder.
“That’s good. They’ll make excellent parents.”
Gus laughed. “No one makes excellent parents, but they’ll give it their best shot. Have you sorted the pre-nup?”
I pushed a hand through my hair. “Her solicitor has sent it to mine. I’m meeting her on Monday.”
I nodded. We’d been using Callaghan Green for years. My father and Grant Callaghan went way back, and I’d continued to use the same firm when I took over the reins. “I need to go into their offices anyway to sort out this boundary dispute.”
Gus didn’t even try to look interested at that. “Before you sign the pre-nup, can I look through it? I know you’re desperate to get married so Grandfa can be there, but that’s not worth a momentous fuck up that’ll hang over the rest of your life.”
I nodded. “Meet for drinks on Monday?”
“Can do. I finish at four, so I’ll see you at five. The kids have a party to go to and it’s Vivi’s turn to sit through hell.” His grin was wicked. “Never, ever go to a children’s party. It’s a level of pain that you’ve never experienced before.”
I nodded. There wasn’t much chance of that at the moment.