Can a fake date—change everything?
Paramedic and single dad, Tom, is gorgeous, but to Cara he’s simply her best friend. So when she needs a pretend date for her meddling father’s fundraising ball, Cara knows exactly who to call! Yet learning to dance together in preparation, is it her imagination or is there suddenly a spark between them? Firefighter Cara knows she can’t replace the wife Tom lost, but deep-down she’s always loved him, and his son.
Is Tom beginning to feel the same?
A Date With Her Best Friend comes out next month! But here’s a little to whet your appetite!
Cara Maddox was two sets in on a five-set high-intensity weights workout when her phone went off. The scary ringtone she’d allocated to her father filled the fire station’s small gym and she debated whether to ignore the call. But familial duty got the better of her and she set the weights down with a sigh.
Wiping her face with a soft towel, she accepted the video call. ‘Hi, Dad.’
Her father smiled at her. ‘Hello, darling, how are you doing?’
He was sitting in a comfortable leather chair, and his background told her he was in the library of Higham Manor, her childhood home. Shelves and shelves of leather-bound books behind him reached from floor to ceiling.
He peered closer, then frowned. ‘You look shattered. Are you taking care of yourself?’
‘I’m in the middle of a workout, Dad.’ She checked her watch to note her heart rate and then paused her workout.
‘Right. Of course. Got to stay fit in your type of job, I guess.’
She stiffened slightly when he mentioned her job. Felt herself instantly go on the defensive. Her father had never been a fan of her joining the fire service. If he was calling just to have another go at her about it, or to suggest she change jobs, then she’d end the call. She really didn’t have any time for that kind of nonsense any more.
‘What can I do for you?’ Best to get right to the point.
‘I was wondering if you were going to come back home at the end of the month, for your mother’s party? We haven’t seen you in a long time, and it would be nice to see you.’
As he finished speaking, Michaels, her dad’s butler, came into view, carrying a tray with coffee and biscuits.
‘You’re seeing me now.’
‘Come now, Cara, you know it’s not the same. It’s your mother’s birthday. She’d want you to be there.’
‘She’s been dead for years, Dad. She’s not going to know whether I’m there or not.’
Her father bristled, waiting for Michaels to leave the room before he began speaking again. ‘But your family will. Our friends will. The servants will. What will they think?’
‘It doesn’t matter what they think. I don’t know them. They’re your friends and associates. Not mine.’
‘It’s her birthday, Cara,’ her father said, as if that should be enough explanation for everything. As if that should be enough motivation to get his daughter to do everything he wanted.
She felt guilty for trying to avoid it, but she’d been to many of those evenings before. They were meant to be about her mother, but all they were was a huge chance for her father to network with his friends and/or try to fix her up with the son of one of them. There would be a speech. Her mother would get a token mention. Heartfelt but short. Everyone would raise a glass and then her father’s pals would go back to whatever business deals they were arranging, exchanging cards and contacts over cigars and brandies. And the entire time Cara would stand there, feeling awkward, trying to make conversation with a Tarquin or a Theodore—people she didn’t know, who were all rather surprised that she did the job that she did.
It wasn’t what they expected. She was the daughter of an earl, and they expected her to be something other than a firefighter. The patron of a charity, perhaps? Someone who had a lot of lunches with her lady friends and cared way too much about handbags and nail polish. She was Lady Cara Maddox, after all.
But Cara didn’t care for titles, or expectations, nor did she have lady friends. Most of her friends were guys. Her best friend was a guy. Tom Roker. Sweet, dear Tom. Handsome Tom. Paramedic. Father to a beautiful little boy called Gage. And widower of Victoria, who’d been willowy and tall and exquisite. Preened to perfection. The kind of woman Cara’s father obviously wished his daughter would be more like. The kind of woman Cara could never be, which put Tom—dear, sweet, lovable, handsome Tom—completely out of her league.
Cara had always preferred the company of men. But that was what happened when you grew up with three older brothers and didn’t quite fit in with the young ladies at your posh school. You hung around at rugby and polo matches, you laughed and joked with the boys, you competed with them, wrestled with them. You got to know your brother’s friends and they were mostly guys. On the odd occasion when one of her brothers had brought home a friend who was a girl, Cara had had no idea how to talk to them! They’d seemed a different breed. Alien! Not interested in the slightest in Cara’s topics of conversation, such as rugby or whether they wanted to arm wrestle! Clothes and designers and parties had been completely off her radar.
‘I know. You don’t have to remind me. I can remember all by myself.’
Her mother’s birthday had also been her death day. For many weeks Serena Maddox had lain in bed, trying vainly to fight the ravages of breast cancer that had metastasised to her lungs, liver and bones. Cara had sat by her mother’s bedside in those last few days when she was mostly asleep, listening to the fluid building up in her mother’s lungs and throat, sponging her dry lips as her breathing got slower and slower, and she’d held her mother’s hand as she’d taken her final, agonised breath.
It was a day etched into her brain. A memory filled with so much pain and so much guilt that she had never been the daughter Serena had dreamed of. Cara had let her mother down, and her father knew that, and she hated it when he used that to his own advantage.
‘Come home, Cara. Your brothers will be here. Clark is flying in from New York next week. Cameron will arrive a few days after that,’ he said.
‘In Milan, still, but he promises he’ll be back for the party.’
She could hear the tone in her father’s voice. The tone that said, I’m glad my boys have flown the nest and are upholding the Maddox name, but I do wish they lived closer to home.
Her father, Fabian Maddox, Earl of Wentwich, was a proud man, and often boasted about his three sons, but Cara knew he would prefer to have them close by, so that the Maddox men could be a force to be reckoned with. Instead they were spread out across the globe, and their father could only preen, in their absence.
Clark ran a prestigious law firm in New York, specialising in family law and pandering to the rich, Cameron was in Cape Town, South Africa, running a business that built cruise ships, and Curtis was the CEO of Maddox Hotels, whose head office was in London. But she knew they were currently constructing a new hotel in Milan, which he was overseeing.
She spoke to her brothers often, and though she’d never felt any judgment from them, she wondered if they, too, questioned her choice in jobs.
But being a firefighter was all she’d ever wanted to do. Ever since she’d been little, when a fire had broken out in the kitchens and her family and the staff had rushed from the building, only to watch in awe as firefighters rushed towards the flames. They’d arrived in huge fire engines, unloading equipment and hoses, and the flames licking out of the downstairs windows had soon been transformed into thick, grey smoke, billowing up into the sky.
She’d felt a nervous excitement at seeing them, had felt herself come alive watching them. It had been a heady feeling, and one she’d wanted to chase from an early age, even telling her parents, when she was just six years old, that she was going to be a firefighter. Oh, how they’d laughed at that, and Cara had felt flummoxed and confused by it. Why was it such a funny suggestion? Why did they all keep telling her that she’d change her mind when she got older?
She sighed. If all her brothers were coming back, if they were making the effort… She’d not planned on going this year. She’d done her duty, honouring her mother’s birthday over the years. She’d been ready to start missing a few. Remembering her mother in her own way instead. Laying a wreath at her grave. Saying a few words, perhaps. Just…remembering, without having to stand around feeling uncomfortable, with people she didn’t know, in order to fulfil some duty that her father had imposed.
Thankfully, she was literally saved by the bell.
The siren blasted out through the station. ‘Gotta go, Dad.’
‘But you’ve not given me your answer!’ He leaned forward in his chair, filling the screen with his face.
‘Sorry! Speak later!’ And she ended the video call, pulling on a navy tee shirt and trousers over her workout clothes.
When that siren sounded you dropped everything.
Including any guilt.
In fact, she was grateful for it.
The siren meant that whatever was happening with her right there and then had to be put to one side for later. It wasn’t important. What was important were the people who needed help. Those trapped in cars after an accident. Those who watched their businesses and often their livelihoods burning to the ground.
Green Watch often couldn’t save someone’s car or house or factory, but they could try to save lives—and that siren meant someone or something needed to be saved.
And that was what Cara lived for.
Mills and Boon