Dating Mr. Darcy - Kate O'Keeffe Page 0,1

paste on a smile and say what’s expected of me. “I so hope you’re right, Linda.”

She leans in conspiratorially. “You know, I’ve seen him. He is hot. Tall and muscular and handsome. And that British accent of his?” She fans herself. “So sexy.”

“Oh, great,” I reply, not caring one bit. The guy could be Quasimodo as far as I was concerned. It made no difference to me.

“I heard he’s super rich, too, from this aristocratic English family.” She leans even closer to me and I take an accidental lungful of garlic breath. “I’m not meant to tell you this, but he owns some fancy house in England, like Downton Abbey. They call it his ‘manor,’ and I heard he’s got servants, too.”

An egotistical rich idiot.

Better and better.

“I tell you, if it wasn’t for my Eugene, I’d be making a play for him for sure.”

My phone beeps on the counter in front of me, saving me from having to comment on Eugene and the Mr. Darcy imposter. “I should check this.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

It’s a message from Penny. My best friend since we met at college—all wide-eyed and out of her depth—and more recently, my business partner.

Call me! Last minute idea!! xoxo

I smile to myself. Penny has got to be the most enthusiastic person I know. Sometimes, I don’t know how her husband Trey copes. But—and there’s a big but— it was Penny’s idea for me to apply for the show. Sure, we agreed that doing it could give our new, struggling activewear business, Timothy, a much-needed boost. But equally, if it wasn’t for her, I would be home right now, curled up on my sofa, watching Netflix with Frank, my tabby cat.

And I know practically every contestant on reality dating shows like this say they were put up for the show against their will by their friend/ mom/ podiatrist/ a pimply teenager who packs their groceries. But I am that girl.

Linda nods at my phone. “They’ll be taking that off you pretty darn soon, honey.”

I pull a face. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

As I begin to tap out my reply, I look up, startled, as loud approaching footsteps come to a sudden stop. In the mirror, I’m met with an extremely officious looking woman. She’s probably in her forties, she’s dressed in a navy suit, a clipboard in hand, and with a stern look on her face.

“Linda. You’re needed in room fourteen,” she says.

“No problem.” Linda places her hand on my shoulder. “Good luck, honey,” she says to me. “I hope you win.”

“Thanks. And thanks for making me look like this.”

“It’s all you,” she says with a smile before she slips away.

Sure. All me and a fancy dress I could never afford and expert styling. But I’ll take it.

With Linda gone, the severe, frankly scary looking woman throws a critical eye over me before she consults her clipboard. “Emma Brady. Correct?” she says in a curt British accent that makes me want to slump down in my chair and hide.

“That’s me,” I reply brightly. I carefully slide my soon-to-be contraband phone under my sequin-clad butt.

“Well, it’s an Austen name, even if it is the wrong book.”

I shoot her an uncertain look. And this matters how, exactly?

“I’m Margaret Watson. I’ll be coordinating the contestant’s activities over the coming weeks. Anything you need, you come to me. Of course, I probably won’t get it for you.” She laughs at her own joke.

“It’s nice to meet you, Ma’am.”

“Mrs. Watson. That’s what you’ll be calling me from now on.”

“Mrs. Watson. Got it.”

“You’ll be leaving to meet our Mr. Darcy in approximately ten minutes. We need you to hand him this.” She fishes in a capacious bag she has slung over her shoulder and produces a piece of material. She hands it to me and I look at it in puzzlement.

“What is it?”

“It’s an embroidered handkerchief.”

“We’re out of Kleenex, huh?”

Mrs. Watson’s face doesn’t crack. “It’s meant to show your interest in him. Although traditionally a man would give his handkerchief to a woman in Regency England, in this instance we’re reversing that moray. Look at it as a handkerchief you embroidered yourself, a personal, enchanting gift for a gentleman to treasure.”

I look down at it in my hand. That sure is a lot for one small scrap of material to achieve. I scrunch up my face. “Do I have to?”

“On the red carpet when meeting Mr. Darcy, every girl has a bit. This is yours, Emma.”

My bit’s a lame handkerchief? Terrific.

I smile up at her.