An exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter of Kate’s upcoming release
Who likes blind dates? Anyone?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
They’re super awkward and they rarely go well. I mean, you get your hopes up until they’re jostling with the clouds, only for them to come crashing back down into the weeds when you find out the guy is an idiot, a psychopath, a jerk—or all of the above.
I guess the one saving grace of having Google at your fingertips is that you never have to go into a blind date truly blind.
The only problem for me right now is, the guy I’m about to meet is some kind of 90s throwback. No Instagram, no Tik Tok, no Snapchat. Not even an old person’s Facebook profile.
I’m going in blind, people, and it does not feel good.
But still, here I sit, on a hard wooden chair in a quaint London pub, Celine Dion belting out that her heart will go on even when Leonardo di Caprio is long gone. And you know what I do? I do what I do every time. I get my hopes up.
This guy could be different.
This guy could be The One.
Not only will he look like Theo James’s younger, hotter cousin, but he’ll be kind and funny and intelligent and successful and totally not weird. Plus—crucially—he’ll look at me and like what he sees, our chemistry so instant and strong you could slice it up and eat with a cup of hot tea.
Oh, yeah. My hopes have shot so high, they’ve reached the next galaxy by now.
“He’s here,” my friend, Emma says, her eyes bright.
Instantly my nerves kick up. I look up to see a man walking through the busy pub toward us. I trail my gaze over him, and heat prickles my cheeks. He’s a classic heart throb through and through: tall and athletic, with broad shoulders, a square, stubble-lined jaw, and thick, dark-blond hair. His stride is purposeful, strong, and as his piercing Bradley Cooper eyes land on mine, my belly gives an involuntary flip.
Charles Cavendish is the full package.
So far, so amazing.
I flick my eyes to Emma and offer her a small smile. She and her husband, Sebastian, set this blind date up and I only agreed to it if they would come along for moral support. And yes, that’s Emma and Sebastian from the famous Dating Mr. Darcy reality TV show, in which bachelor Sebastian chose Emma over me.
Which didn’t bother me in the least.
Okay, maybe it did a little. But they’re a great match and I’m super happy for them.
Really, I am.
Anyway, back to the hot man with everything going for him striding toward me.
I sit up straighter in my chair, thankful I’m wearing a cute dress that does wonders for my cleavage—meaning it gives me cleavage—smooth my long dark hair over one shoulder, and try to act as though I meet guys who look like they stepped off the pages of an aftershave ad every day of my life.
Which of course I don’t because, you know, real life.
Charles Cavendish comes to a stop at our table and greets Emma and Sebastian like the friends they are as I sit and watch, my hopes still floating around somewhere in Andromeda Galaxy.
Those stark blue eyes land back on me, and he gives a small, extremely English bow of his head. “Hello. I’m Charles Cavendish. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
He’s so formal, like royalty, but in a totally endearing and sexy way.
“I’m Kennedy Bennet,” I reply, doing my best to ignore the way his gaze makes my tummy think it’s in some belly dancing competition.
He takes my hand in his. “A Miss Bennet?” he questions, a sexy smile teasing the edges of his mouth. It does nothing for the state of my cheek-to-body blood flow ratio. “With Mr. and Mrs. Darcy over here, does that mean you’re all Jane Austen themed at this table?”
I let out a light laugh. It comes out like a girly, flirty giggle.
“It’s my real name, actually. Nothing to do with the TV show. I’ve had it all my life.”
“That’s the way surnames usually work, I believe,” he replies as he sits down in the wooden chair next to mine. “Unless you marry a lord, and then you get named after a large house in the country. Isn’t that right, Emma?”
“Yup, although I prefer to be plain old Emma,” my Texas gal friend replies. “Lady Martinston sounds super stuffy to me.”
“Yeah. You’re right,” I reply. “Lady Martinston” sounds more like a character from Downton Abbey than the name of my closest friend in London.
Charles leans closer to me and the hairs on my neck stand to attention, as though they’re a hot guy radar. “So, tell me, Kennedy, do you get set up with strange men by your friends often?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t call you strange, exactly.”
His smile begins to grow, lighting up his handsome face. “Oh, I’m very strange, actually. You’ll find that out soon enough.”
“Not the run-of-the-mill hottie then, huh?”
Yup, I’m flirting. Sue me.
Wait. I just told him I think he’s hot?
I suck in a sharp breath.
The guy doesn’t miss a beat. “You think I’m hot?” he asks with a laugh, his blue eyes dancing.
Alert! Alert! Pull up! Pull up!
Oh, who am I kidding? I know he’s hot. He knows he’s hot. The girls at the table nearby definitely know he’s hot, if the glances they keep throwing his way are anything to go by.
But I’ve only just met the guy. I can’t blurt out something like that, two sentences into our very first conversation.
There is such a thing as being too eager.
“Oh, I, uh…it’s an expression,” I explain about as smoothly as a potholed road.
The heat in my cheeks has begun to burn my eyes.
His gaze doesn’t leave mine. “I’m more than happy to be labelled ‘hot’ by a beautiful woman.”
Was that cheesy? It felt a touch cheesy—but also a touch wonderful.
I almost chortle, but I manage to stifle it.
He’s flirting with me, too.
Could this be going any better?
When I don’t reply—because how do you reply to something like that?— he asks, “What?”
I shake my head. “Nothing.”
“No, really. You had an odd look on your face. Is it because I called you beautiful?”
“You started it by calling me hot,” he teases. “Which I appreciated, by the way.”
“Did you now?” I ask with a laugh.
Wow. I’ve been reduced to a giggling, blushing mess in front of this guy.
I need to get a grip, perhaps steer the conversation to grown up lines. Something that won’t have me melting into a puddle on the carpeted pub floor.
“Do you live here in London, Charles?” I ask him.
“I do, yes. And please, call me Charlie.”
More blushing. Geez.
“I’ve got a place not far from here, in fact. It’s very handy. I use it all the time.”
“Charlie’s got a pied-à-terre in Mayfair,” Sebastian explains, naming the most exclusive address in all of the city. “It’s seen a few parties over the years.”
“What’s a pied-à-terre? It sounds like a French soccer player,” Emma says.
Sebastian pulls a mock serious face. “Brady, we’ve talked about this before. It’s football, not soccer.”
“Three hundred and thirty million American people say it’s ‘soccer,’ Seb,” Emma replies.
“So, we’re going with majority rules, are we?” Sebastian asks.
“Well, we do live in a democracy, so she does have a strong argument,” Charlie replies with a laugh. He turns to me and adds, “Pied-à-terre is just a French expression for a small place in the city that isn’t your main home.”
“I’d hardly call your flat a small place, Charlie,” Sebastian says.
Emma told me Charlie’s family owns half of England. I size him up out of the corner of my eye. In his beautifully tailored navy jacket and crisp white shirt he definitely looks like he leads a life of privilege.
A single alarm bell tinkles faintly in the back of my head, reminding me of another man I once knew who wore jackets as finely and expensively tailored as his.
I push the uncomfortable feeling from my mind.
Charlie isn’t him.
The conversation turns to some friend of theirs named Rupert, and my ears prick up when Emma calls him a ‘party boy.’ Pushing thirty, I’ve got no interest in dating a guy who likes to party too much. As hot and charming as Charlie might be—and he’s definitely hot and charming—hearing he likes to live it up on a Saturday night could be the death nail for anything between us.
Guys like that aren’t exactly known for their long-term monogamous relationship status.
“Are you a party boy?” I ask him, and hold my breath.
“I used to be a bit of one, but that was the version of me that thought he was invincible. It turns out, I wasn’t. Just a bit of a fool.”
Good answer, dude—good and intriguing.
“Well, that sounds like a story.”
A brief shadow passes over his face before he rearranges his features. “Perhaps for another day,” he replies evasively. “Tell me all about your life here in London. I believe you moved recently from across the pond.”
“Yes, I escaped the unrelenting warm sun of SoCal to move to London,” I reply with a smile.
Emma’s phone rings, she glances at the screen, and immediately rises to her feet. “I’m gonna go take this,” she says as she turns to leave.
“And I’ll get us all some drinks. What’ll you have?” Sebastian offers.
Charlie looks at me. “Ladies first.”
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay, please.”
“Mine’s a pint of lager, thanks, Seb,” Charlie replies.
With the table now empty but for the two of us, Charlie asks, “SoCal?”
“It’s shorthand for Southern California. I’m from San Diego.”
“That’s meant to be a great city. It’s on my list, but I’ve never been.”
“Oh, you should. It’s a fun town, especially if you like beaches.”
“Aren’t there something like twenty beaches in San Diego?”
“Thirty-one,” I correct. “All of them golden sand and gorgeous.”
He studies my face for a moment before he replies, “You miss it there. Don’t you?”
Suddenly achingly homesick for the wide beaches, easy lifestyle, and most of all for my family and friends, I reply, “I do miss it, but I moved to London for a new life.”
“I know why.”
My heart rate kicks up a notch. How could he possibly know that I moved here to escape the memory of someone who broke my heart?
I clear my throat. “You do?” I ask, my voice doing a pretty convincing cartoon character impression.
He nods, his eyes dancing with mischief. “You came here for the weather.”
A surprised laugh bursts out of me. “Clearly. Rain is so much better than sun.”
“Exactly. No risk of skin cancer from the rain.”
“Or tan lines.”
“Oh, I hate tan lines.”
I’m powerless to stop my mind from imagining a tan line on his golden skin, somewhere around about where I imagine his six-pack hits his shorts.
Ahem. Let’s keep this PG, Kennedy.
“Don’t forget the unrelenting heat,” he says, pulling me back to the room.
“You’re never too hot in London.”
“Not unless someone turns the heating up too high, anyway. And besides, isn’t too much sun boring? At least here we’ve got a dozen different types of rain.”
“Oh, yes. There’s the big, plop-y rain, the freezing cold winter rain, the angled windy rain. To name a few.”
“Don’t forget the light rain that makes my hair go all crazy. That’s a personal favorite of mine.”
To my surprise, he reaches out and gently takes a strand of my long hair in his fingers. The light tug on my scalp sends a spark of electricity racing down my back. “I can’t imagine you with crazy hair.”
“Oh, I look horrendous. Believe me,” I breathe. “Diana Ross on steroids.”
He lets out a low laugh. “Now there’s an image.”
We share a small smile, and I know he feels it too, this instant attraction between us.
Sebastian returns to the table with our drinks and Charlie quickly releases my hair, our moment gone.
“Cheers,” Sebastian says, as he raises his glass of red wine. “Here’s to good friends.”
“To good friends,” Charlie echoes.
Can we get back to the hair fondling again?
I take a sip and return my glass of wine to the table. “How do you two know each other?”
“We go way back, don’t we, Seb?” Charlie says.
“Right back to boarding school. Back then, Charlie was known as ‘Sinatra’ because of his blue eyes, and probably also because he was one of the illicit poker game organizers. Didn’t you call it Little Vegas?”
“Vegas Lite, actually,” Charlie replies, smiling at the memory. “We’d meet after lights out in the creepy basement. It was pitch black. The only light was from our torches.”
“You had torches? As in, sticks with fire on the end? How old are you, exactly?” I ask with a laugh.
“As in plastic torches with batteries,” Charlie explains.
“Oh, you mean flashlights,” I correct.
He chuckles. “Remind me who invented the English language?”
I shoot him a grin, loving our easy, flirty banter. “Fair point.”
“I get this all the time from Emma,” Sebastian says. “Charlie, do you remember when we all nearly got caught by Dumbledore and had to stash both the cards and your dad’s whiskey behind the boxed paintings?”
“And then the booze was gone when we went back the next night,” Charlie says.
“We never found out what happened to it.”
“Oh, it was definitely Jerry.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He fell off his clogs at chapel the following evening, remember? Landed flat on his face and then promptly threw up all over Fincher’s feet. He was lucky not to be expelled.”
Sebastian laughs at the memory. “That’s right.”
My eyes dart between the two. “Clogs and Dumbledore? Did you two go to Dutch Hogwarts?”
“Nothing quite so exciting,” Charlie replies.
“Just your regular, everyday boarding school I’m afraid,” Sebastian adds.
Boarding school. Right. More evidence of Charlie’s privilege.
“Charlie’s a very good polo player,” Sebastian tells me. “Are you still playing for the Seventh?”
“I’m getting too old and fat for all that carry on.”
I sweep my gaze surreptitiously over him. He’s neither old nor anywhere near fat. The guy’s an Adonis. Period.
“Rubbish. The Other Charles played until he was in his mid-sixties. You’re only halfway there, my man.”
“The Other Charles?” I question.
“The prince,” Charlie explains succinctly, as though I should just know.
I cock an eyebrow in his direction. “You know Prince Charles?”
“Not well,” he replies.
“Doesn’t your family have a house just down the road from him?” Sebastian asks. “You’re neighbors.”
“Well, yes, but I don’t spend much time there.”
I blink at him. The guy lives next door to the future king of Britain?
A sense of unease seeps through me, but I push it away.
“Let me get this straight. If you need to borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor, it would be from Charles and Camilla?” I ask.
“Oh, no,” he replies, and I begin to feel a little less like the low-bred, impoverished American imposter at this table, until he adds, “I don’t bake.”
I open my mouth to reply, then close it again.
Is he kidding me right now?
Sebastian is still not finished with his line of questioning. “I don’t think you should give up playing for the Seventh.”
“What’s the Seventh?” I ask, still processing all of this.
“I’m sorry, Kennedy. I should have explained. It’s a polo team,” Charlie says. “You probably have zero interest in polo.”
Hmmm, that was a little condescending.
“What makes you think that?” I ask, keeping my tone light. Because why would he assume I don’t have any interest in polo? He knows nothing about me.
“What I meant is I don’t imagine you know much about polo,” he adds.
“I know all about polo,” I reply, hearing the defensive note in my voice. Which isn’t true, strictly speaking. I’ve never been to a match, let alone played the game, and couldn’t tell you the rules if my life depended on it.
But he doesn’t need to know any of that.
The sound of that faint alarm bell in the back of my head grows in volume. A wealthy, privileged man who thinks I don’t know anything about his world?
For all his charm and good looks, is Charlie Cavendish just another Hugo Carter?
The man who made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
The man who chose someone else.
I paste on a smile. “Boarding school, polo, living next door to royalty. You’re a regular Elon Musk,” I joke.
“Only with significantly less wives,” he quips.
“As in none?” I question.
“As in none,” he confirms with a grin, his eyes dancing.
But I’m not feeling it. There’s something about his flippant reference to his obvious wealth and status that gets my back up.
“Enough about me. Tell me about you, Kennedy. Emma tells me you were on the dating show with her. What made you want to do a thing like that?”
I tighten my lips. Judging much?
“My sister, Veronica applied after, well, after she decided it would be good for me.”
His grin spreads. “What had you done to your poor sister to deserve something like that?”
“Thanks a lot, Charlie,” Sebastian replies with a laugh, as I quietly seethe. If he wasn’t so darn handsome and charming…
No. I’m not going to sabotage this. It’s hard enough being single at twenty-nine, with a married sister with two kids who reminds you about it at every turn, without sabotaging this date.
So, instead, I make light of it. “Isn’t it obvious? She hates me.”
Charlie lets out a hearty laugh. “What was Mr. Darcy over here like on the show?”
“He was too busy falling in love with Emma to bother much with us contestants.”
“Is that true, Seb?”
“I did try to be a gentleman with everyone,” he replies. “But Kennedy’s right. It wasn’t exactly easy to ‘date’ the contestants when my heart was otherwise engaged.”
“You were a total gentleman, Seb. You and Emma are the perfect match,” I say to him. “And if it wasn’t for the show, I wouldn’t be living here, and I love living here. London is awesome.”
“I can tell you’re new here. Wait until you’ve had to deal with Tube delays and all that rain and endless queues,” Charlie tells me.
“The English do love to line up, that’s for sure.” Feeling more relaxed I ask him, “What do you do for a living?”
“Oh, you know. This and that,” he replies elusively.
“Don’t play coy,” Seb says. “Charlie runs the family business.”
“Well, my father’s the boss. I’m the group C.O.O.”
“It keeps me off the streets.”
“Off the streets? I’m amazed you have time for anything else. You see, Kennedy, it’s more of an empire than a business,” Sebastian says. “How many companies are there?”
“A few,” he replies modestly.
“Wow. So, you were just given this business empire, huh?” I ask with a laugh, even though I’m only half joking. Because it sounds like this guy has had everything handed to him in life on a great big silver platter.
He shakes his head. “Not ‘given’ exactly.”
“Did you have to interview?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Right. Got it.” I say it with a smile that masks the growing gulf between us.
Me? I’ve had to fight for everything I have. From going to college, to getting my first job, to finding my dream job as a writer for Claudette magazine here in London.
It’s becoming increasingly hard to block out the chime of that bell.
Charlie’s eyes narrow. “What are you saying, exactly? That I’m just some poor little rich guy who’s never had to work for a thing in his life?” His features are soft, but there’s a new edge to his voice.
“Of course she’s not,” Sebastian says. “Isn’t that right, Kennedy?”
“All I’m saying is that we don’t all start out in life with a silver spoon the size of Texas in our mouths. That’s all,” I say.
“That sounds awfully uncomfortable,” Charlie replies with a laugh. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s an anatomical impossibility.”
“It’s a metaphor.” I cross my arms and set my mouth, challenging him with my eyes.
My hopes have returned to Earth with a disappointing thud.
Emma arrives back at the table, reads the tension, and shoots me a questioning look. I’m not sure how to convey I liked this guy until I found out he’s an over-privileged jerk who’s been handed everything his whole life. But I can’t quite work out how to say that with just one look.
“Hey, did you two know that you’ve got a bunch of things in common?” she asks, as she sits back down. “Kennedy grew up in San Diego and loves the beach. Right, Kennedy?”
“The beach. Sure,” I reply. I don’t want to be drawn into conversation with this guy again. I know his type. Heck, I dated his type.
And it did not end well for me.
“And Charlie, you like to race motorboats, right?” Emma continues.
“I have been known to dabble,” he replies in a haughty way.
I’ve been known to dabble? Who is this guy?
I leap on it right away. I’m not proud, but I do. “You see that’s where we differ once more: I like to surf and paddleboard and swim, whereas you like to create noise pollution and actual pollution in a speedboat.” I smile at him, but it’s more of a challenge than a wish to be polite.
He cocks his head to the side. “So, you’re at one with nature, and I’m some ignorant petrol head, is that what you’re saying?”
Caught: hook, line, and sinker.
I broaden my smile. “I didn’t say that.”
He shakes his head. “You’re impossible, did you know that? Oh, what am I saying? Of course you do.”
I widen my eyes. “I’m impossible? I’m not the one ruining the serenity of the ocean and spilling gas onto the poor sea creatures below, destroying their delicate ecosystem.”
Wow. Who knew I was such an eco-warrior?
“It’s not like I get a tin of petrol,” he says pointedly, as though it’s the correct word for gas and not the stupid British version, “and drain it overboard every time I take a boat out.”
“You might as well.”
He drains his beer and places the empty glass back on the table. “Well, this has been an excellent evening. Thank you, Sebastian and Emma for the drink.”
He has clearly decided he’s had enough.
Am I sad about that?
That would be a heck, no.
He rises from the table. “Such a pleasure, Kennedy. Let’s not do this again.”
I simply glower at him.
He turns on his heel and leaves, trailed by a confused Sebastian.
“What the heck, Kennedy?” Emma says, once the guys are out of earshot.
“What? The guy’s a jerk.”
“You liked him. You were flirting with him.”
“That was before I knew he was an overprivileged speedboat racer who thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”
“He’s not like that. Sure, he’s wealthy, but he’s a regular guy. He and Seb are really good friends.”
She pushes out a breath. “Okay. I get it. Charlie’s not the guy for you.”
“But you did like him.”
“He’s a jerk.”
“Good to know.”
A moment later, Sebastian returns to the table. “Well, that went well,” he says sarcastically. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out between the two of you.”
I give a shrug. “You win some, you lose some.”
“And I think that signals the end of our matchmaking career, Brady,” Sebastian tells Emma.
“What about Rupert?” she has the audacity to suggest.
Is she kidding me right now?
“No!” is both Sebastian’s and my firm response.
“No more blind dates, Em. Promise me,” I warn.
She gives a reluctant nod. “Promise.”
I, for one, will be quite happy to go through the rest of my life without ever having to go on a blind date again, especially with someone like Charlie Cavendish.