Authors: Lauren Layne
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Flirt eBook Original
Copyright Â© 2014 by Lauren LeDonne
The Real Thing
by Cassie Mae copyright Â© 2014 by Cassie Mae
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Flirt, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the F
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
The Real Thing
by Cassie Mae. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
Cover design: Caroline Teagle
Cover photo: Shutterstock
Only in Manhattan would parents throw a dropping-out-of
-college party for their daughter. And only on the Upper East Side would people actually show up.
Now, to be fair, the invitations didn't actually
the whole dropping-out bit. Nothing so crass as that. I mean, this is New York, after all. People have standards. At least when other people are watching.
See, the twelve-dollars-each invitations spun the whole debacle as a “sending-off celebration for Olivia Elizabeth Middleton.”
The destination? Bar Harbor, Maine.
The reason? Charitable endeavors.
At least they got the location right, although even that's a bit of a joke. It's not exactly Rwanda or Haiti or any of the places that Olivia Elizabeth Middleton
intended to go with the intention of saving the world. But when your parents know someone who knows someone who knows
you're bound to get hooked up with someone who needs help a little closer to home. So Bar Harbor, Maine, it is.
But the whole do-gooder motivation? Total bullshit. I should know.
Olivia Elizabeth Middleton: NYU drop-out and soon-to-be resident of Middle-of-Nowhere.
And let me tell you, my reasons have
to do with charity. I'm not that good. Not even close. I certainly don't deserve a freaking party for the things I've done.
But I'm a Middleton. Parties are what we
. At this point, I'm just counting myself lucky I talked my mother out of the Mother Teresa ice sculpture.
I wish I were kidding.
So here I am, dressed in a brand-new Versace cocktail dress, trying to make everyone believe I was bitten by the philanthropic bug just in time to bail on my senior year of college.
The most depressing thing is that everyone seems willing to just go with it.
Well done, Liv! So proud of you, Olivia. Lovely inside
My best friend, at least, doesn't seem to be buying it. “Liv, you can't be serious. I mean, where are you going to get your hair highlighted all the way up in Maine?”
Some deep part of me wants to snap at my oldest friend to stop being so superficial. But the other part of meâthe one that's more familiarâis dying to grab her by the shoulders and give her an
shake. Because the truth is, I've spent way too much time wondering about how I'm going to keep my honey-blond hair from returning to its natural mud color while in Maine.
Bella Cullinane and I have had the same hairdresser since our mothers decided it was time we become versed in the difference between highlights and lowlights. We were thirteen. But Bella and I were inseparable long before that. She was the cute brunette to my classy blonde all through twelve years of private school. Bella taught me the art of rolling my plaid uniform skirt just enough to be interesting without being obvious, and in return, I was her alibi when she let Todd Akin talk her out of her lavender couture dress on prom night. Even when Bella went off to Fordham and me off to NYU, we made a pact to see each other at least a couple times a month. So far we've stuck to it.
And since I dropped my off-to-Maine bomb on her two months ago, she's been telling me she'll be my best friend no matter what (the
no matter what,
of course, being the not-so-minor fact that I won't be finishing my senior year with that management degree I've spent three years chasing).
But deep down, we both know things have changed. Phone calls just aren't the same as Wednesday wine nights. And even when we
see each other again, we'll have nothing in common. Bella will be knee-deep in studying for her LSATs and cherry-picking the law school of her choice while I'm shuttling a war vet back and forth to physical therapy and coaxing him to eat split-pea soup, or whatever it is irritable elderly people subsist on.
“I'll be home for Thanksgiving,” I say by way of response to Bella's horror over my hair crisis. “I'll make an appointment then.”
My best friend purses her glossy lips and takes a sip of Taittinger champagneâa tiny one, since champagne has carbs, and Bella lives in constant fear that her hourglass figure will turn lumpy before she can make it down the aisle in a size-2 wedding dress.
“So three-plus months,” she says, giving my hair a once-over. “Your ends
survive it if you don't flat-iron your hair, but the rootsâ¦ugh.”
“Maybe I could just wear a bag over my head,” I say, taking a sip of my own champagne. A bigger sip than Bella's, because unlike my curvy friend, I'm more of the willowy (read: flat-chested) type, and if my parents' genetics are any indication, my beanpole figure will probably outlast my teeth.
Being able to legally drink at my parents' frequent social gatherings is pretty much the only good thing about getting older. I suspect that's one of the reasons the drinking age is twenty-one. It's as though some wise person way back when knew that alcohol would start to get
helpful at that point of your life. I'm nearly twenty-two, and God knows I've found a drink handy a time or two. Especially in the last year.
I catch a whiff of candy-scented perfume a second before an arm goes around my waist.
“You'll never guess who dared to show his face,” my friend Andrea murmurs in my ear. “And he brought
Bella and Andrea are giving me that wary, wide-eyed look that everyone gets when Ethan Price and I are in the same room, and before I know it I'm flanked by four of my other friends, all nearly identical in jewel-colored cocktail dresses and designer high heels.
I don't have to turn around to know that the girl Andrea is so concerned about won't be matchy-matchy with anyone. Ethan's new girlfriend has a distinct style that the socially polite set refers to as
and the total snobs among us would call
In my circle, there's nothing worse than
“What the hell is she wearing?” Sarah asks cattily.
It's no secret that my friends fall into the snob category, Bella excepted most of the time. Sarah's the worst of the lot, and not for the first time in my life I wonder why I continue to let her pretend we're friends.
Knowing that they'll continue to hover around me like a pack of glamorous guard dogs until I've dealt with the newcomers, I sneak a tiny peek over my shoulder at where Ethan and Stephanie stand talking to a mutual family friend.
My heart twists the tiniest bit at the sight of Ethan. In his gray slacks, perfectly tailored white shirt, and Burberry tie, he looks as well groomed and gorgeous as ever. He has the dark blond hair and broad shoulders better suited to Hollywood than the Manhattan business world, but luckily he's got the brains and the charm to keep his head above water amid the Manhattan sharks.
Then I look at
From the sneer on my friends' faces, I was expecting Stephanie to be wearing torn jeans, a leopard-print catsuit, or something else ridiculous, but the truth is she looks kind of cute. Her dark eye makeup is the perfect complement to her wide blue eyes, and the strapless gray dress would be downright demure if not for the bright orange belt around her tiny waist. She's paired the whole thing with these beat-up-looking riding boots, which, while not exactly an Upper East Side standard, gives the whole effect of a girl comfortable with herself.
Of course she's comfortable. She's hanging on the arm of the boy you thought you were going to marry.
I push the bitchy thought away. I've had months to accept that Ethan isn't coming back. Hell, I was even the one who insisted that he and his new girlfriend be invited to the party. Ethan's parents and mine have been best friends since we were barely out of diapers. I'm not about to let a little thing like
throw a wrench in that.
“You okay, Liv?” Bella asks softly.
I tear my eyes away from Ethan and Stephanie. “Yeah. Give me a minute, though, 'kay?” I hand her my champagne glass. “And don't let them attack Stephanie,” I murmur to my best friend.
But escaping is no easy task. I'm stopped at least five times by well-wishers who want to tell me that they always knew I had such a good heart.
Finally I'm able to pour myself a glass of my raspberry iced tea to stave off the impending headache and head toward the stairs to escape to my bedroom, just for a couple of minutes.
My mother grabs my arm. “Where are you going?”
I point down at my six-hundred-dollar Jimmy Choo pumps. “Blister. I just want to grab a Band-Aid.”
Mom's green eyesâthe ones everyone is always saying are identical to my ownânarrow slightly, but her grip eases on my arm. “Everyone is so proud of you,” she says, looking both relieved and delighted. “Holly Sherwitz said she wouldn't be surprised to see you win a Nobel Peace Prize someday.”
Inside, I'm cracking up in bitter amusement, but years of training in social appropriateness have me merely lifting my eyebrows. “I hope you told her that was absurd.”
Mom's smile slips. “It's not absurd. It's admirable, what you're doing. Moving to the middle of nowhere to help out one of our injured veterans?”
“Except it's not the middle of nowhere, is it? It's a one-hour plane ride, thanks to your and Dad's interference.”
Mom doesn't bother to look guilty. “Olivia, honey. You wouldn't have lasted a day in El Salvador or wherever it was you were going to go build houses. There are plenty of people right here at home that need help. And we're so proud of you for doing this.”
I give her a look. “Uh-huh. Is that why you guys didn't speak to me for a week when I first told you about it?”
“We were in shock,” Mom says, unruffled. “Your father and I had no idea you weren't happy in business school, and of course we'd always envisioned you taking over the companyâ¦.”
It's times like these that I wish my parents were
old money instead of second-generation money. Each of my friends is richer than the next, but most of their families' wealth goes back to some 1800s railroad or some industry whose income is pretty much self-generating by now. Not in my case.
My grandfather had the whole American-dream syndrome going on and changed his midwestern middle-class destiny, building a highly respected advertising firm instead. Dad's only built on his father's success, and the business is fully expected to remain a family affair.
And I'm an only child.
“I might still take over the company, Mom. I just need to get away from all this, you know? The only time I leave Manhattan is to go to the Hamptons in the summer or Saint-Tropez in January. I mean, you've always said you don't want me to be one of
Mom shakes her head to interrupt me. “I know. Believe me, as much as I play the New York society game, I
want you to know that there's a big world out there, Olivia. But are you sure you don't want to stay a little closer to home? There's a facility out in Queens, andâ”
“I'm already committed, Mom,” I say gently. “Mr. Langdon's already sent a check to cover my travel expenses, and I'm expected next Friday.”
Mom sighs. “Can't a grown man arrange for his own care? Something's weird about his father having to do all the planning.”
“You're the one who connected me with the Langdons in the first place. They're legit. Plus Paul's an invalid. If he could arrange for his own care, he probably wouldn't
care.” I say this as patiently as possible. It's a clear indication of just how small my mom's world is, despite her good intentions. She doesn't know anyone who's actually gone to war, much less been injured.
Not that I do, for that matter. Park Avenue isn't exactly swarming with members of the U.S. armed forces.
“Well,” Mom says, taking a deep breath and pushing my long hair over my shoulder affectionately, “it's lucky he has a pretty girl like you to take care of him.”
I smile wanly. I've been hearing this refrain all evening, and it makes me slightly ill. Not only because it's condescending to the poor guy I'll be caring for, but because it makes me into some sort of sweet, saintly figure.
Only two other people in this house know the truth about me. My mother isn't one of them.
“Hurry back down,” Mom says. “The Austens said they hadn't had a chance to talk to you yet.”
Probably because I've been dodging them. Annamarie Austen is the catty kind of gossip I've avoided like the plague in recent months, and Jeff Austen stares too long at my chest.
“I'll be fast,” I say before fleeing up the winding staircase to fetch my imaginary Band-Aid. My feet are far too used to being pinched in high heels to be plagued by blisters. I just wantâ
âfive minutes to myself. A chance to be away from everyone's misplaced fawning and the crushing pressure in my chest every time I look at Ethan.