Beautiful Illusions Duet Bundle - Georgia Cates

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Eighty-One Nights

1

Caitriona Louden

I hate math.

Column one is my net income. Column two is my half of the rent, general expenses, tuition, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Column two exceeds column one. It exceeds it by a lot.

Dammit, I’m going to have to unfasten an extra button on my blouse to get better tips at the bar.

Rachel, my roommate and BFF, comes through the door, her arms weighted down by shopping bags. It’s not the first time this week. Hell, it’s not even the second time.

“Another shopping spree?” My comment comes off a little bitchier than intended.

She drops all of the shopping bags on the floor. “Ohhh, Cait. I have something grand to show you.”

She rummages through the bags, removing a shoebox. She takes out a Christian Louboutin pump and holds it up. Wow, it’s the real deal. There’s no mistaking that with the signature red leather outsole. And the bottom is completely unscathed, meaning that these shoes didn’t come from a consignment shop or thrift store.

“They’re to die for, aye?”

Black paisley lace. Peep toe. Black leather trim. They could possibly be the most gorgeous shoes that I’ve ever seen. “They’re stunners for sure.”

She slips her feet into them and stretches one leg outward, admiring the way it looks on her foot. “I’m so in love with them.”

Christian Louboutin shoes today. Louis Vuitton handbag and Clive Christian perfume three days ago. Unless Rachel has a long-lost aunt who died and left her a fortune, she can’t possibly afford luxury brands like these. “How are you paying for all of these things you’re buying?”

She stands tall and places her hands on her hips. “I have this month’s rent if that’s what you’re getting at.”

I’ve clearly pissed her off, but I think that my concern is a legitimate one. “I’m not implying that you’d stiff me on the rent. It’s just that these shopping sprees are expensive. Very expensive. And I’m wondering how you’re paying for them.”

“In case you forgot, I have a job.”

We have the same job. I know how much money she makes. “Waitresses at The Last Drop can’t afford Christian Louboutin and Louis Vuitton and Clive Christian.”

She takes off the shoes and stuffs them back into their box. “Don’t worry about how I’m paying. I’ve got it covered, and that’s all you need to know.”

Rachel doesn’t talk to me like this. Ever. Not even when she’s angry with me. I don’t care for it at all.

“I don’t want you to get yourself into financial trouble because you had a weak moment and charged some things you can’t afford.”

“I didn’t charge anything.”

None of this makes sense. “Some months we are literally scraping together every pound that we have to make rent.”

“It’s okay. I got a second job.”

She hasn’t mentioned a word about another job. “Where at? And when do you go to this job?”

Rachel inhales deeply and her cheeks expand when she exhales. “You can’t judge, and you can’t jump to conclusions when I tell you.”

“I don’t like the sound of that at all.”

“I’m serious, Cait. You know that you can be judgy.”

Okay. I admit that I’m a little critical at times but only because Rachel has a spectacular talent for making really dumb decisions. “I won’t judge.” Maybe, depending upon how bad it is.

“A fancy businesswoman came into The Last Drop a few months ago. When she got up to leave, she handed a small envelope to me. There was £200 inside along with a business card.”

“Two hundred pounds?” Holy shit.

“The card was for a business called Inamorata.”

Inamorata. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“Me either, but I called her because I was dying to know more. She refused to discuss anything over the phone, which I thought was a wee bit weird at the time, but I was too intrigued to question it.”

I can see that. I’m sucked into the mystery of it right now.

“We met for dinner in Old Town at a swanky restaurant by the castle. We had a few drinks, enough that I was feeling pretty damn good, and she began to explain what her company is about. She calls herself a chatelaine.”

Maybe I’m just a dumbass American, but I’ve never heard of that. “What is a chatelaine?”

“Sounds fancy, right? By definition, it’s a mistress of a household or large establishment. Cora’s organization, Inamorata, is a business that introduces women and men.”

“Inamorata is a dating service?”

“Sort of.” Rachel bites her bottom lip and squeezes one of her eyes together, peeking at me through the open one. “But not really.”

That face. I