The Engagement Game

By: Jenny Holiday

What’s a little blackmail between friends?

The black sheep of the old-money Rosemanns, advertising executive Marcus has made his own way in the world—and done extremely well for himself—but his family is still pressuring him to join their investment firm and settle down with a quiet, unobjectionable girl.

Which is why the sexy Rose Verma is the perfect date for his family’s charity ball. A bleeding-heart lefty from the wrong side of the tracks, Rose has never met a stray dog she didn’t love or a polka-dotted mini-dress she couldn’t rock. Marcus has enough dirt on Rose to “convince” her to play along. And if he lets it slip that they’re engaged, all the better.

But all’s fair in love and blackmail, and Rose is ready to play a few cards of her own…

Chapter One

Rosie glanced down at her buzzing phone.

Josephine Withers

Her initial reaction—what the hell?!—was followed by panic. Something had to be wrong for Jo to call. Texting was one thing—it had been grandfathered into their friendship—but talking? With their voices?

Rosie had been exchanging paper letters with her best friend Jo since Jo’s family moved away when both girls were twelve. Since then, they had religiously exchanged a letter per week. A letter. Written by hand. On paper. As they grew up and long-distance telephone calls became less of a big deal, Rosie stubbornly clung to the idea of a weekly handwritten letter—you didn’t just abandon a tradition that had been going strong for fifteen years—though they also emailed and texted pretty much daily.

But calling? Jo knew Rosie hated the phone. The last time they’d spoken on the phone was two years ago when Rosie’s dad died. Heck, they saw each other in person for visits more than they called each other.

“Hello?” Rosie was breathless. The way her stomach fluttered, it might as well have been tonight’s date. Rosie had high hopes that the guy, who was presenting extremely well via text, would turn out to be “the one.”

“I think you made a mistake,” said Jo, “with your last letter?”

Rosie wanted to say, “Huh?” but Jo was talking so fast she couldn’t squeeze it in.

“I thought if I called you might still have time to fix it don’t yell at me I know you hate talking on the phone I’m going to read it and then hang up and it will be like this never happened.”

“Uh, okay?” was all she could think to say in response to that epic run-on sentence.

“Dear Mr. Rosemann—”

Rosemann. As in Marcus Rosemann. As in millionaire Marcus Rosemann, to whom she had just sent a thank-you letter for his sizeable donation to EcoHabitat Toronto, the nonprofit for which Rosie worked.

“Thank you for your generous gift in support of…”

Oh, no. No, no, no, no.

Rosie dropped the phone as adrenaline surged through her limbs, making them shake. When she picked it up, Jo was still talking.

“It’s donors like you, whose regular commitments we have come to rely on, who will truly help us realize our goal: a city in which humans and animals—and their habitats—can coexist peacefully.”

Sending the donor thank-you letter to Jo, and the gossipy, nattering note intended for her best friend to Marcus Rosemann wasn’t just a mistake, to use Jo’s term, it was a fireable offense. As the charity’s fundraising manager, she was the last person who should be making such a careless error. “Shit, shit, shitballs!”

“Sweetie, calm down. You do everything at that place. You’re allowed to make one mistake,” Jo said.

“Triple shitballs!”

“Who’s lined up as tonight’s Mr. Thursday Night?”

Every Thursday night, Rosie went on a date with a guy from one of the many dating sites she used, and Jo had adopted Rosie’s practice of referring to each of her suitors as “Mr. Thursday Night.” Rosie appreciated that Jo was trying to change the subject, to return her attention to something mundane and routine, but she had to fix this letter mix-up. She had to fix it now. “Jo. I love you, but I gotta go.”

Dear Jo,

I’m a day late writing this. I thought about forging the date, but I knew you would KNOW somehow, so I’m just going to come clean. I’m a day late. So shoot me. I was busy this weekend.

With what, you might ask? Was I busy with the latest Mr. Thursday Night, one Mr. Mark Larson, second grade teacher?

Yes, but not in the way you might think.

But, oh, my dashed hopes! Wah! He taught seven-year-olds! He was kind and gentle! He did not have (as far as I could tell) a secret wife/child/family/cocaine habit/sex addiction/storage locker full of vintage typewriters. (He did, however, have an unfortunately untidy—bordering on gross—beard in this whole “I look like a logger but I’ve never even been camping” way that seems to be all the thing. But a girl can’t have everything. A girl becomes suspicious, in fact, when presented with everything. So I was good with the beard. Mostly.)

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