Frenemies and Lovers: A Fake-Dating Age-Gap Standalone Romantic Comedy
Fake partnership, real attraction, and one hilariously haute disaster waiting to happen...buckle up for this age-gap rom-com.
Carly Rose, forty-five and fiercely independent, is rebuilding her life. Newly divorced, she's determined to make her stylist business blossom, even with the thorn in her side: Audrey, her frenemy with a tongue sharper than her designer stilettos. Enter Andrew, Audrey's son, a charming blend of geek energy and fierce loyalty. Who happens to be Carly’s completely off-limits secret one-night stand.
When a chance for Andrew's dream promotion hinges on a polished public image, he makes an unexpected proposition: a mutually beneficial charade. Carly, facing the gauntlet of her ex's destination wedding in Barcelona, agrees to become his pretend girlfriend. What starts as a carefully curated act evolves into stolen moments whispered over tapas, kisses in front of Gaudi fountains, and feelings as warm as a cashmere scarf on a crisp autumn day.
Caught between ambition and a forbidden yearning, Carly and Andrew navigate a minefield of sabotaged styling appointments; cringeworthy encounters with exes, bosses and disapproving mothers; plus the undeniable truth that attraction doesn't follow age brackets.
Swoon for this steamy standalone romantic comedy featuring fabulousness after forty, making friends with enemies, and finding love with a wildly inappropriate fake date.
(Shh, don't tell Audrey, but Andrew's dimples are definitely the hottest accessory this season.)
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- Fake dating
- Age gap (she’s older!)
- Longstanding crush
- One-night stand
- Vacation romance
Chapter 1 look inside
Everything about the Jones-Hayes mansion in Presidio Heights was exquisite, from the graceful curve of the staircase leading to the front door to the delicate amber spider mums spilling over a planter on the doorstep. The first time I’d come here, I’d stood on the doorstep like a slack-jawed noob, listening to the doorbell’s lovely, melodious chime. To a girl who’d grown up in low-rent apartments, it sounded like angels singing.
I banged the side of my fist on the heavy wooden door. Audrey’s flipping angels could shove their tiny harps where the sun didn’t shine.
The door swung open, making me wobble back on my two-seasons-ago Jimmy Choos. The pretty, smiling young woman who answered wasn’t my frenemy.
She was her daughter, Natalie, a stunning blonde in her midtwenties, about the age I’d been when I’d entered her mother’s social sphere. But Natalie hadn’t bumbled her way in like I had. No, Natalie had been born into San Francisco’s tech royalty.
No one would kick her out the way they’d done to me.
“Mrs. Winner. Would you like to come in?” As Natalie pulled the door wider and stepped aside, her high-waisted beige trousers swished. Her periwinkle-blue silk blouse was Brunello Cucinelli, if I wasn’t mistaken. Natalie was the youngest of Audrey’s children, but she had the best sense of style, vastly superior to her brother’s. I would not think about him today. Not while I stood on his mother’s doorstep.
“It’s Ms. Rose now.” I stood as tall as I could on the doorstep. “Or just Carly. Is your mother here?”
“She’s in the conservatory. Shall I show you to her?” Her phone buzzed in her hand, and she glanced at it.
My phone hadn’t rung in weeks. Except for today’s call to cancel my job. I sucked in a deep, calming breath through my nose. “No, thank you. I know where it is.”
“Great. See you later.” She bounded up the grand staircase, leaving me in the foyer.
I’d been to Audrey’s home often enough to be able to find my way around. I used to come with Brad for formal events and dinner parties. One time, when we were on the friend side of our frenemyship, she’d brought me to the conservatory to show off an orchid she’d coaxed into a pink bloom so ethereal I thought it might crumble like sugar if I touched it.
I rounded the pedestal table in the center of the foyer with its enormous arrangement of alstroemeria and stalked through an arched doorway into the hall that led to the back of the house.
My heels echoed off the Spanish tiles as I passed the doorway to the dining room. Audrey usually held committee meetings there and presided over them like a queen in her armchair at the head of the table. I strode past her private wing, the black and white powder room, and her husband’s office.
Finally, when I smelled green things, I flung open the French double doors that led to the glass-enclosed room. I slowed my steps, watching for wet places on the tile. Avenging furies didn’t fall on their asses.
Everywhere I looked was verdant. Trees grew from pots that two people could fit inside. Leaves the size of an elephant’s ear nodded in the gentle breeze from a fan. Graceful pink and white flowers cascaded from hanging baskets and planters. Although it was autumn outside, here, it was spring.
“Audrey?” I called.
I followed her voice toward the trickling fountain in the center of the room. She sat in a rocking chair facing the garden outside. She wore yoga pants, a simple white T-shirt, and a man’s plaid flannel shirt—in her signature color, red—thrown over like a jacket. She’d tied a matching kerchief over her blond bob.
I’d never seen her dressed casually before, not even when we’d gone to the rainy, muddy groundbreaking for the library their family foundation had funded. Without her Dior 999 lipstick and couture armor, she looked as small and fragile as one of her orchids. But I knew the truth.
As one of the most powerful women in the city, she could bar anyone’s entry into the upper echelons of San Francisco society.
And today, she had put up her metaphorical keep-out sign in front of me.
I balled my fists at my sides.
She wore no makeup, and her unmasked wrinkles made her look almost as old as she was. With four grown children, I knew she had to be in her sixties and not forty-five as she’d claimed for the past ten years.
I was forty-five. And I was not going to think about her children right now. Especially not her second son.
There was a small bench beside her, but fury kept me on my feet. I stomped up and towered over her, planting my hands on my hips.
Her pale lips opened in surprise. “Carly, what are you doing here?”
The nerve! As if she didn’t know exactly why I’d come here madder than a wet hen.
I took a deep breath. When I was this angry, my Texas twang tended to pop out, but I wanted to inspire the fear of god, not laughter.
“What you did was low, Audrey. We used to be friends.” Sort of. “Before…” I swallowed down the words my divorce and, even worse, my downfall. “We worked together on more committees and galas than I can count. You know I’m a hard worker, professional and talented. I’d have done a good job for Bianca and started to build my business. There was no reason for you to go behind my back.”
“Behind your back?” Audrey shook her head slowly, her diamond earrings glinting in the afternoon sunlight. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“Bianca Waddingworth.” I parked my fists on my hips. Feigning ignorance was beneath her. “I was supposed to be styling her for her birthday party tonight. She texted me to cancel because you told her to.”
“Me?” She planted a perfectly manicured hand on her chest. “Why would I do that?”
“You’re trying to kick me to the curb.” A fresh wave of anger tightened my throat. “News flash: you’re too late. Brad already took care of it.”
“It seems like something you could have predicted,” she said in that cultured voice of hers. “Since he left Eleanor for you.”
Why did she have to be right? Brad hadn’t told me he was married when we met. And I was positive his new fiancée hadn’t known we were still living together when she knocked on my door eighteen months ago. But if I let Audrey distract me with that disaster, I’d never get my point across.
“All I want—”
“Hey, Carly, a question for you while you’re here.” Natalie’s voice at the door to the conservatory startled me. She was barefoot, and I hadn’t heard her approach. “If someone is sixty-something and in decent shape, what type of gown would you recommend for a formal party? She’s a yoga nut, if that helps.”
I paused. That could have described a dozen women in her mother’s social circle. “Good arms, then,” I mused.
“That’s right. And she’s a blonde.”
That narrowed it only slightly. But I had a sneaking suspicion she was asking for styling advice for the woman who’d backed out of paying me to do it. Still, Natalie was a nice girl. I only wanted to jerk a knot in her mother’s tail. “An A-line. Sleeveless, of course. In red.”
Natalie approached me, looking down at her phone. “Here’s a red sequined gown. But which shoes?” She showed me a photo of a pair of glittery gold pumps. “These?” She swiped to show a pair of strappy black sandals. “Or these?”
“Does she have a neutral dress shoe? Something beige?” I asked.
“Good idea.” Natalie tapped on her phone. “She should’ve asked you to style her.”
“Who?” I gritted my teeth.
She did. And then she canceled. But that wasn’t Natalie’s fault. It was her mother’s. “Maybe next time,” I said with a sweet-tea smile, hoping my tone didn’t sound as strangled to her as it did to me.
“Will these work?” She flipped her phone around to show me a photo of a pair of rose-gold rhinestone-spangled sandals.
“Thanks. I’ll let her know.”
Damn it, I’d just styled Bianca Waddingworth. For free. And let Natalie take all the credit. I sucked in a breath, but the conservatory’s moist air weighed heavily in my lungs.
Natalie looked between her mother and me, her gaze lingering on my fists jammed onto my hips. “You two okay?”
“Fine, thanks.” I broadened my smile.
“We were talking about Carly’s styling business,” her mother said smoothly.
“Nice. I’m sure you can refer lots of clients her way, Mother.”
“Perhaps Carly’s style would be better suited to a different type of clientele.” Audrey’s smile was brittle. She muttered low enough that only I could hear, “The kind down on Capp Street.”
I sucked in an outraged breath.
The doorbell chimed, and Natalie glanced down at her phone. “I lost track of time. I’ll get the door, but then I’ve got to go.” She pecked her mother’s cheek. “See you at the party. Will we see you there, Carly?”
Pain speared behind my right eye. “No, I’m not on the guest list tonight.”
Her cheeks went red. “Oh. What about the gala at the Merchants Exchange?”
“A gala?” I repeated. The event would be chock-full of potential styling clients.
“On November first. You should come. Is there room at our table, Mother?”
Audrey looked like she’d sucked on a lemon. “I don’t think so, darling. I’m sure Carly would prefer to sit with the new wives.”
Because after nineteen years of marriage, I was still a new wife. An interloper. I balled my fists.
“Still, you should come, Carly. You haven’t been to anything since…” Natalie grimaced.
The doorbell rang again.
“Saved by the bell!” Natalie said, trotting toward the exit. “Really, you should come.”
Across the room, a buzzing erupted from a phone resting on a wireless charger. Audrey ignored it, so I did too.
“I don’t care about being invited to parties anymore.” Staying home was preferable to facing down my asshole of an ex and his fiancée. “But I do care about making a living for myself.”
Audrey pursed her lips. “I heard your divorce settlement was less than ideal.”
Heat licked across my forehead. I wished I could go back and shake my twenty-five-year-old self, the one who’d blithely signed away any future interest in Brad’s business ventures. The ones I’d supported through dinner parties and networking for almost twenty years. But even if I didn’t have his money, I still had my pride, and my dirty laundry was none of her business.
“I came to talk about my clients. I need women like Bianca to hire me.”
She rose from her chair. She was shorter than me, but fire ants are small too. “Why do you think I had anything to do with Bianca canceling?” Her pale-blue eyes glinted.
“Of course you did. You’ve always had it out for me. You and the other first wives.” I’d never said it out loud, not to Audrey or any of her cronies. But it had been true since the day I walked into that first party on Brad’s arm, so much younger than his friends. Back then, she terrified me. Now, I was old enough not to give a damn about what she thought of me. I only feared what she could do to my business. “You’re kicking me when you think I’m down.”
I straightened my spine. I’d show her, and all the other first wives, that even without Brad, I was a force to be reckoned with. Someday, Audrey’s circle would beg me to style them for their parties. “I’m not down. Far from it. I’m going to show you, and everyone—”
“Mother?” A familiar voice echoed down the hall, sending lightning up my spine.
I couldn’t keep the images from my mind. His sexy saunter as he approached me that night in Monterey. His outrageous suggestion that I meet him in his hotel room. The way his face lit up when he opened his door to find me standing there.
His handsome face, slack with pleasure, as he groaned my name.
“In here, Andrew,” Audrey called. She raised an eyebrow. Her son could move his eyebrows independently too. “You were saying?”
Shit. I couldn’t face him. Not in front of his mother. Not after I’d left him asleep in his hotel room six weeks ago without a word. His heavy footsteps echoed on the hallway tile.
I held up a finger. “Do. Not. Mess. With me, Audrey. I might not have Brad’s clout anymore, but I’ve got plenty of fight left in me.”
I whirled and wrenched open the glass-paned door that led out to the garden. Heedless of the damage to my shoes, I scurried down the gravel path and around the side of the house, out of sight of the conservatory windows.
Tessa waited for me in her SUV. When I yanked open the passenger-side door, my middle fingernail snapped, shooting pain up my hand, but I didn’t pause as I hopped into the seat. “Floor it!”
Even though we’d been friends for only about six weeks, Tessa trusted me enough to do what I asked. She whipped the BMW into reverse. I missed the roar of a gas-powered engine, but the whisper-quiet electric motor did the job. Seconds later, we flew down the hill, away from Audrey’s house and the peril her son represented.
“So, how’d it go?” She flicked her auburn hair over her shoulder and swerved around a corner.
“Not like I planned.” I checked the rearview mirror. “You can slow down now. I think we got away.”
She decelerated only slightly as we merged onto California Street.
“What about the shock and awe?” she asked.
“Fizzled into turn-tail-and-run. He showed up.”
She rolled her green eyes. “We’re alone in my car. No one can hear us.”
“I’m trying to forget it ever happened.”
“Carly. He’s thirty-something years old—”
“Old enough to make his own decisions. You’re consenting adults. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Nothing wrong?” I plucked my blouse from my sweaty chest. Stabbing at the switch, I lowered the window to let cool air blow over me. “His mother can destroy my career. In fact, she may have already started. Do you think she knows? Is that why Bianca canceled on me?”
Tessa shrugged. “Fuck them both. You don’t need those bitches to be successful or happy.”
“Don’t I?” Women like Bianca and Audrey could afford my services, and I was comfortable styling them after years as their peer. In fact, that gala would be a perfect opportunity to prove it.
“Turn here,” I said. “We’re making a stop.”
She jerked the wheel and flew around the corner onto a side street. “Is it a revenge plot? I’ll work out your alibi. I’m an excellent accomplice.”
“Not that kind of revenge. Park here.”
She parallel parked the car in three moves. “What kind of revenge are we getting at a boutique? Are you going to hide a stiletto in your, um, stilettos?”
“No! It’s the kind where I show up to a gala I can’t afford.” Maybe this wasn’t a great idea.
“Ah, and you look like a million bucks and everyone wants to hire you so they can look fabulous too.”
“That’s the plan.” I got out of the car, and she met me in front of the boutique.
“Find me a dress, too, and I’ll go with you. And to pay for your styling services, I’ll buy your outfit too.”
“You don’t have to do that,” I protested.
“But I want to.” Linking her arm with mine, she walked toward the store.
I blinked away the sudden moisture in my eyes. Tessa was worth a hundred Audrey Hayeses. And this afternoon, I wasn’t going to worry about my dangerously-close-to-the-limit credit cards or what my frenemy would do if she found out I’d slept with her son.
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