When I Fall (Montgomery Manor #2)

 

Socialite Rebecca Clare gets through life one vodka tonic at a time. Emotionally shattered after her best friend’s death, she’s cast as the latest pseudo-celebrity screwup and hounded by paparazzi 24/7. So naturally, the cameras are rolling when she gets into a scrap at a club (he started it). But then an unexpected white knight steps in.

Playing caretaker isn’t Jake Montgomery’s usual role, but Becca is his stepmother’s little sister. As they bond over their bad reputations, they find they have a lot more in common than the spotlight. When a photo of the nightclub incident goes viral, it raises protective instincts that Jake never knew he had. What better way to save Becca—and the family—from scandal than by claiming he’s her fiancé?

Becca agrees to play along, never expecting a fake engagement to feel so right. But she’s vowed never to depend on a man for happiness; how can Jake convince her that falling in love is worth the risk?

 

 Now Available in paperback!



Chapter One

If there was an art to holding someone’s hair while they puked, Becca deserved her very own gallery opening. Or a wall at MoMA. Maybe even a chapel ceiling somewhere.

“You’ll be okay, sweetie.” Becca pulled Livvie’s signature dark silken strands out of the way and rubbed a soothing pattern on her back. “It’s almost over.”

Although Becca was the last person to comment on another person’s life choices, she knew from past experience that almost an entire bottle of vodka was rarely a wise decision. She also knew Livvie probably hadn’t eaten much in the way of absorptive calories today.

“I have a water bottle in my purse with your name on it,” she promised. The deceptively tiny beaded clutch also contained breath mints and an energy bar, both of which were going into her friend’s stomach as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

This happened sooner than expected, Livvie rising on unsteady legs and bracing herself on Becca’s arm as she righted herself in six-inch platforms. She glanced down at the front of her outfit and groaned. “Oh, no. You let me get sick all over my skirt.”

Darn it. Even da Vinci only had two hands. There was no way she could have saved the hair and the skirt at the same time.

“Don’t worry,” she said, eyeing the stain doubtfully. “We can wash it out in the sink. No one will ever know.”

She helped Livvie out of the stall and led her to one of the overstuffed ottomans arranged in the adjoining lounge, which was plush seats and velvet walls as far as the eye could see. Ma Petite was great at offering restrooms that emphasized rest, even if most people only used this area to snort a line or two before heading back out into the fray. Cocaine had never been Becca’s thing, but she tried not to judge.

Livvie took a grateful swig from the water bottle Becca handed her and tugged unhappily at her skirt, a frown marring her otherwise perfect exterior—cheekbones to die for, those heavy Slavic brows only the most gorgeous women were able to pull off. “There’s no point in washing it. It’s ruined. It’s Italian silk.”

“Is it?” Becca took a step back and examined the overall effect. She’d seen Livvie when she came into the nightclub, already well on her way to the summit of her alcohol-infused heights, but she hadn’t bothered taking note of her outfit. Becca’d had a particularly arresting man on her arm at the time—one of those dark, beefy types who could have been a gangster but probably worked on Wall Street—so her attention had been somewhat distracted.

She could see now that Livvie was seriously working her look, her tight white skirt shimmering under the low bathroom lights, a sparkling purple tunic top falling artfully off one shoulder.

“Then lose the skirt altogether.” She circled her friend, eyes narrowed as she gauged the distance between the bottom of her ass and the hem of the shirt. Hmm. Becca might never make it into the Guggenheim with her hair-holding skills, but fashion was another matter altogether. She couldn’t sew, mind you, or cobble shoes or even sketch designs—but she was excellent at getting dressed. “If I lend you my belt, I think you can pull that shirt off as a dress. It’s scandalous, but doable. You’ve worn less.” She giggled. “I’ve worn less.”

“Yes, you have, you dirty slut.”

“Take that back. I’m a clean slut, thank you very much.” Becca handed her friend the energy bar from her purse. “And if you eat this, I’ll let you have a breath mint for dessert.”

Livvie wrinkled her nose. “Those things have half my daily calorie intake and they taste like glue. Can’t I just have the mint?”

“Nope. You need the carbs and protein.”

“Ugh.” She dangled the package between two fingers. “Carbs go straight to my stomach, protein right to my ass. The agency will have a fit. You must be drunker than you let on if you think I’m eating this.”

Becca paused. Am I? She straightened her stance and extended her arms. Since she never did any driving herself—she never did anything herself—she’d never had to perform a sobriety test before. She’d seen them done in the movies though. She brought a finger to the tip of her nose and switched hands. Finger, nose. Finger, nose. This was pretty easy.

“Nah. I’m good,” she said. Her current state of non-intoxication probably had less to do with the amount of vodka tonics she’d consumed and more to do with the fact that she’d remembered to have one of the energy bars before she came out tonight. Mean Max, her personal trainer, made her eat one every six hours like clockwork, and she had to promise to carry a spare for emergencies of this nature. He was a cruel son of a bitch on the treadmill, but her ass had never looked better.

“Well, at least help me out of this skirt. I smell awful.”

She really did, though Becca doubted anyone on the dance floor would notice above the general aura of substance abuse. One person sweating eighty-proof alcohol was unpleasant. But one hundred people sweating eighty-proof alcohol? That was a party.

“Uh-oh.” Becca stopped the zipper halfway down and peeked over Livvie’s shoulder. “Sweetie, are you wearing any underwear tonight?”

“Oh, shit.” Livvie slapped a hand over her mouth to cover her laugh. “No. You know how I feel about panty lines. I got reamed by that fashion magazine last year for always announcing my cut to the world.”

“Call me old-fashioned, but I think the alternative is worse.” She was not letting Livvie go back out there with her cootchie showing. Even clean sluts had their standards. “Maybe I can sneak you out back and have my driver come get us.”

“Your driver always looks at me like I belong on his shoe.”

“Yes, but he’s very reliable.” And Becca had long ago learned not to let his disdain dictate her actions. She’d learned not to let anyone’s disdain do that. According to the collective judgment of the world, the only place she belonged was in the gutter, broken and beaten down. Or locked up somewhere the walls were soft and the meals bland.

The world was kind of mean.

“It’ll be fun. You can come hang out at my place.” She tried not to let her desperation show as she casually added, “You can even sleep over if you want. We’ll make it a girls’ night.”

Livvie shook her head, all those dark strands swirling and taking Becca with them. It had been a long shot anyway. No one past the age of thirteen had sleepovers. Then again, no one past the age of eight had to sleep with a nightlight—and her light fixtures were permanently taped in the onposition.

“It’s too early to go home.” Livvie extended her hand. “Just give me your underwear.”

“What? Ew. No.”

“Come on. It’s not like you need anything under that dress. It practically goes to your knees.”

First of all, no, it didn’t. The black cage corset dress was longer than many of the outfits she wore, but it still only hit mid-thigh—and that was assuming she wasn’t in motion at the time. The falsely modest skirt made up for the fact that the top was basically bra cups and some tightly wrapped bands across her torso.

Second of all, there was no way she was risking her own cootchie making an impromptu appearance tonight. Not that anyone could accuse her of being overly modest, but she was under strict orders from her mother. The world has seen enough of your lady garden for one lifetime, Rebecca Louise. Wrap it up or I’m shipping it out.

She would too.

“Livvie, I love you. You know I do, and I’d do anything to help a girl out. But I absolutely draw the line at giving you my panties.”

“Please? You always have such cute underwear.”

“That isn’t even close to the point right now.”

Livvie stuck her lower lip out in a pout. “I’m not ready to call it a night—now that I’ve purged, I’m getting my second wind.”

“Maybe we can still salvage the skirt,” she suggested. But the crumpled fabric wrapped around Livvie’s lower half looked sad and dirty, and they would both rather walk out of there buck naked than lower themselves to wear crushed, stained silk.

“If you give me your underwear, I’ll eat the energy bar,” Livvie promised. “I swear.”

Becca examined her with renewed interest. “Every bite?”

“Every bite. My stomach is growling just thinking about it. I bet it’s delicious.”

“Now you’re overselling it,” Becca said, but she felt her resolve weakening. “How about you eat the energy bar and you come out with me and my trainer one day next week? He’ll change your life, Livvie, he really will.”

“You know how I feel about exercise. I can’t afford the bulk.”

“What he does is way more than exercise,” she said, but she didn’t press the issue. Opportunities to get Livvie to consume food products that weren’t green olives or pearl onions were rare. It seemed wrong to let this one slip by while she had the chance.

“Pretty please?”

“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.” With a quick and fervent prayer to whatever deity oversaw sanitary codes and really bad ideas, she pulled her underwear off and tossed the boy-cut lace shorts to her friend. “Please don’t ever mention this again. Or try to give them back.”

“You’re an angel.” Livvie leaned in to give her a peck on the cheek, but Becca took a wide step back. She’d never turn away from a girlfriend in need, but no way was that mouth coming anywhere near her.

She helped Livvie exchange clothes, not displeased with the end result. Livvie was short in the torso, which meant the shirt’s hem skimmed the tops of her thighs, offering brief flashes of the black underwear and nothing more. And on her model-thin derriere, they looked like upscale hotpants. With the addition of Becca’s wide silver belt, she looked put together and chic—and not at all like she’d just been hauled up from the bathroom floor and force-fed compact protein.

“Bitch.” Becca pulled the belt a notch tighter and circled to make sure everything was tucked in. “You’ll start a new trend tonight—see if you don’t. I want partial credit.”

Livvie made good on her end of the promise and took a bite of the energy bar. “Darling, if we make it through this night alive, we can name this outfit after you. Now come on. I think I owe you a drink.”

Becca thought about the amount of alcohol she’d already consumed, factored in her body weight and deducted the fact that Livvie had eaten most of her food. Ha—who was she kidding? She couldn’t perform complex mathematical calculations under the best of circumstances, but she could still touch her nose. That meant she wasn’t even close to wasted yet. If she wanted a chance at actual sleep tonight, she was going to have to try a lot harder than this.

Pausing only a moment to toss the discarded skirt into the garbage, she grabbed her clutch and followed Livvie out the door. Just one or two more hours, she promised herself. Then I’ll have Liam pull around and take me home. In bed by sunrise, when the dark wasn’t an issue anymore. Up and sober by noon, ready to face another day.

Who knew? She might even try to make it to her mother’s house for tea tomorrow.

Stranger things had happened.