His smile flickered, fading off his face. My revelation seemed to displease him, but it was like I couldn’t shut up.
“You’re that prince or duke or whatever.”
“Not a prince. Or a duke. Just an earl.” That teasing lilt in his voice was gone, but I couldn’t focus on that. All I could think about was that this entire situation was completely impossible. How had I ended up at a party, one that I wasn’t even supposed to be at, with the very man Alice had hoped would be here? It was like she was reaching out with her puppet master hands, tugging at my strings, willing this entire encounter into being.
For a second I wondered whether I was having some kind of guilt delusion, a wonderful fantasy that I’d conjured up to share with my sister, but it was very real.
And he was looking at me like I was a ditzy airhead.
Which might have been warranted, considering how I was gawking at him with my mouth hanging open. I snapped it shut.
“My sister’s obsessed with you.” The words were out before I could snatch them back.
“With me, specifically?” He edged back slightly, as if afraid I might rush him.
“No, your whole family. She . . .” There was no way to tell him about my conversation with Alice and her sending his photo to me without us sounding like weirdos. “She’s just a fan.”
He squared his shoulders. “Could I ask a rather large favor? Would you mind not mentioning to her that I’m here? I don’t want anyone to know.”
“I . . . She won’t tell anyone.” I could have lied to him—easily and in a very professional way—but I found that I didn’t want to. “She’s really sick and this will bring her so much joy. To know that we met. She’s not on social media or anything. I’ll swear her to secrecy and she won’t tell a soul. I promise.”
Griffin hesitated, as if unsure how he wanted to respond. That charming smile of his popped back onto his face. “So long as I have your word, I suppose it’s fine, then.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “Thank you. That’ll mean a lot to her.”
“I’d rather hoped no one would recognize me.”
Walking around with that face? Not likely. “How did you think that was possible? I have it on very good authority that you’re England’s most eligible bachelor.”
He ducked his head, as if embarrassed. “No one here knows who I am. I can usually stay fairly anonymous in the States.”
“I’ve actually never been recognized outside the UK. Although I suppose that if I wanted to be truly incognito, I should have worn a mask to this event.”
“I’m sure that wouldn’t have drawn any kind of unwanted attention to you at all.” He smiled at my slightly sarcastic jab, and it was then that I realized that he still hadn’t given me my shoe back. “So, were you planning on keeping my shoe or were you going to return it to me at some point?”
That mischievous glint was back and I was realizing that I had no power to resist it. If he’d been wearing this expression when he asked me to keep things about him from Alice, I might have done it.
“If I’m remembering the stories correctly, one can only return a shoe with a marriage proposal.”
I knew he was joking, completely joking, but I swear I had a moment where I imagined myself in a white dress walking down an aisle toward him.
Which freaked me out. I had to take a deep breath before I said, “I’m sorry, but that only applies if you’re a prince.”
“Just a lowly earl, I’m afraid.”
I still didn’t get how this whole nobility thing worked. “I don’t even know what that means.”
He nodded seriously. “No one really does, but they all pretend as if they do.”
“Is saving damsels in distress part of your earl thing?”
“Yes, but only if they’re in mild distress. Dropping a mobile, losing a shoe. There’s a special license required to slay a dragon.”
I couldn’t help myself. He made me laugh. He grinned at me in response and it was doing funny things to my insides. I pressed a hand against my stomach, trying to calm down. I couldn’t remember ever being this attracted to someone who wasn’t also sporting a neck tattoo.
Maybe I was growing as a person.
He was undeniably attractive, though. The way the light hit the golden strands of his hair, and how I would have to get much closer to be able to figure out the actual color of his eyes . . . Again my fingers itched for a canvas and a brush. Then my stupid mouth, the one Alice had tried to teach to be only honest, decided to let him know what I was thinking. “You’re a lot prettier than I thought you would be.”
I wanted to die. I wanted a giant hole to open up underneath me and suck me down into oblivion. What was wrong with me?
Not to mention that pretty was wholly inadequate for how he looked. Gorgeous. Handsome. Perfect. The kind of face that would make a nun forsake her vows.
He apparently found it funny. “Just what I’ve always longed to hear. How pretty I am.”
I could feel my face flush, and I didn’t know how to respond. I was currently afraid that if I tried to speak I might say something else ridiculous.
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Griffin said, changing the subject for me.
I’d like to have you at a disadvantage, I thought and then immediately hushed myself. “How so?”
“You know my name but I don’t know yours.”
Name. I had a name, right? What was it again? It took me a second before I finally blurted out, “Diana Parker.” I felt actual relief that I had remembered it.
“Pleased to meet you, Diana Parker. You have a lovely name.”
“Thanks. I got it for my birthday.”
He chuckled and then asked, “Were you named for the Roman goddess of the hunt?”
Hardly. My mom had chosen it because she thought it sounded regal, and that it would make people trust me more if she named me after a famous and beloved figure. “My mother loved Princess Diana.”
“She was a distant relation via marriage. Did you know that?”
“No. But everything I do know about your extended family I know against my will.” He smiled again, and before I got suckered into the beauty of his face I asked, “Can I have my shoe back?”
Because at some moment he was going to notice my toes and I was going to be humiliated. All the women he dated probably had perfect pedicures, and I had cracked toenails—plus my left pinkie nail had fallen off after I’d stubbed it hard against a chair.
Not to mention I could feel that the Band-Aid I’d put on the back of my heel was only partially hanging on.
“Yes, I’ve been holding on to this for a long time, haven’t I? I hope you don’t think I have some sort of foot fetish.”
“I didn’t before, but now you’re kind of making me question. I also need it back to keep my foot warm. That way when I stick it in my mouth it won’t be cold.”
“What if I think it’s cute when you stick your foot in your mouth?” When I didn’t answer because his flirtatious tone was short-circuiting my brain, he held the shoe out. “Here. A lovely shoe for a lovely woman. And I am not interested in drinking champagne from it or whatever it is that people do.”
He handed it to me while I tried very hard not to fixate on the fact that he’d just called me lovely. Maybe it was just some British thing and he thought everything was lovely. The slushy, blackened snow surrounding the parking lot. Lovely. My missing toenail. Lovely. Margery Brown’s conversational skills. Lovely.
Griffin started to kneel down, like he was going to help me put my shoe back on me. I did not want him that close to my feet. “It’s okay. I’ve got it.”
He straightened up, looking a little confused, but when I bent at the side to slide the shoe onto my foot, he offered me his forearm to hang on to. It was an impressive and gentlemanly move, but it also made me think about the fact that it meant he had a lot of experience helping women get their shoes back on.
Why would England’s most eligible bachelor be interested in someone like me? I wriggled my foot into place and let go of his nicely formed forearm. With the return of both heels, I was nearly as tall as he was. And by straightening back up, I had somehow moved closer to him. Which was inappropriate and I was invading his personal space like I was the Roman Empire, but in my defense, he smelled really, really good.
Griffin cleared his throat. “Your shoes. That’s my grandmother’s favorite brand.” It was interesting, this statement from him sounded a little off. Like he was trying to distract himself or couldn’t think of something else to say, so he’d settled on that. I got the impulse, but why would he feel the need to do that? He struck me as the sort of man who always knew the right thing to say.
Stepping back and then teasing him was obviously my only recourse. I used his own words. “Just what I’ve always longed to hear. That I remind you of your grandmother. Is that the same one who read you Cinderella as a warning?”
“Who uses a fairy tale as a dating guide?” I asked.
“Controlling people,” he responded grimly.
Well, I definitely wanted to know more about that, but from the way his eyes shuttered, I saw that he wouldn’t be very amenable to further questions.
Not that he gave me a chance to ask. “What made you run from the ballroom like you’d just committed a bank heist?”
“Do most robbers you know wear an evening gown to commit crimes?”
There was no mistaking the interest in his eyes as he studied my dress. “I don’t know any criminals.”
That made one of us.
“Why did you follow me?” I asked, realizing that if he’d seen me fleeing, he had obviously been watching me.
Griffin put his hands in his pockets and shrugged slightly. Like he knew exactly how charming that particular gesture would be. “Perhaps I was hoping to ask you for a dance.”
“What?” My stomach fluttered. It was like my brain was not understanding his words. Because despite some flashes of possible attraction, men like Griffin did not like women like me. “Why?”
“Why does any man ask a woman to dance?” His voice seemed to have dropped an octave and the deliciousness of it was making me feel weak.
I couldn’t be taken in by this act. It had to be an act, right? Nothing else really made sense. “Usually because he wants something.”
“Yes. The pleasure of your company.”
“My company is pretty bad, actually.”
“Shouldn’t I be the one to judge that?”
“Or you could just take my word for it,” I said.
“I prefer to discover things for myself.”
I crossed my arms, ignoring the little tingles racing through me at his declaration. I was not going to be taken in, no matter what his game was. Because everyone had a con, didn’t they? Some sort of scheme in every interaction? Something they wanted? I walked over to an armchair and sat down. “I would have said no. I don’t like to dance.”
He followed me, undid the button of his suit coat, and sat on a sofa right next to the chair, so close that our knees were almost touching. The phantom warmth floating against my kneecaps was making me feel a teensy bit woozy.
“If you don’t like dancing, what do you do for fun?”
He laughed, but I was dead serious. Eating on the regular in the hotel had so far been the best part of my experience with the Crawfords. I realized he might have been figuring out just how serious I’d been in my reply when his laughter trailed off and he studied my face, intently.
“What about you?” I asked brightly, hoping to distract him. “What kind of stuff do you do for fun? Doesn’t it involve crumpets and . . . what’s it called? The sport you have that’s like baseball, only stupider?”
“That’s the one!”
Griffin leaned forward and I had to back up so that our faces wouldn’t be close together. “Cricket is excellent and crumpets are delicious. But I thought we’d already established that in my free time, I enjoy rescuing damsels. And if you’d let me ask you to dance, I would have rescued you.”
“That terrible Margery Brown woman. She cornered me before the dinner and wanted me to spirit her daughter away from her son-in-law. I saw you seated next to her and you’ve had my sympathy all evening.”
“You should have joined us.”
“Perhaps if I were a braver man.”
“Or a masochistic one.”
“That too.” He grinned. “She spent a long time telling me how much she loved visiting London although it was clear she’s never actually been. I told her I hadn’t been there, either, but she didn’t believe me. She’s one of those people who assumes everyone with a British accent has been to London.”
I didn’t tell him that I thought he lived in a castle there. “You haven’t?”
“Oh no, I grew up there, I just very much wanted the conversation to end.”
I smiled. “I completely understand.”
“I also happen to be a very poor liar, as it turns out.”
Again, that made one of us. But he did not need to know that. “While she was busy trying to convince you to woo her daughter, she was trying to off-load her youngest son on me. Although I think she rescinded the offer when she found out I hadn’t gone to college.”
“Really?” His eyebrows lifted slightly, reminding me that I probably shouldn’t have shared personal information, but what was the harm? It wasn’t like I was ever going to see him again. He asked, “You didn’t go to university?”
Right. He assumed I was like him. Which wasn’t a big jump, given the clothes I had on and the fact that I was here. “No. Did you?”
“Of course.” I should have known. Honestly, it was a bit surprising he hadn’t already brought it up, as people who’d gone to prestigious schools usually did. “Do your business cards have ‘Oxford alum’ on them?”
“No, they say ‘Earl of Strathorne.’”
Right. He didn’t need to boast about anything. His entire life was one big brag.
There was more than one new thing happening in this conversation. The first was that I’d never had this experience before, this rush of getting to know someone for no other reason than I was just honestly curious about him. There was nothing I was trying to take from him, no information I wanted to extract to use against him later, no manipulating him to get what I wanted. Every relationship I’d ever had contained some element of manipulation on my part—it had been an incredibly hard habit to shake. I’d worked to overcome it, justifying it at the time by telling myself that the type of men I dated needed to be handled.
But there was nothing I wanted from Griffin. He seemed like a decent person. It was just this organic encounter, and while on one hand it was wonderful, it was kind of scary on the other.
My mom had raised me to fake confidence in any situation I stepped into. Because confidence, real or otherwise, would carry you through just about anything. But I was sitting here realizing just how out of my depth I was with the Earl of . . . whatever, that place he’d just said. That was my second realization—he lived a completely different life than mine.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do about it. Just leave?
If I did that, I didn’t think Alice would ever forgive me.
But if I stayed . . . I hadn’t ever met a man quite so charming and all around yummy in every way imaginable.
It might be dangerous if I stayed.
“Is there somewhere you have to be?” Griffin asked.
I knew what I should do. What the smart thing would be.
No one had ever accused me of being smart, though.
Excerpted from Cinder-Nanny by Sariah Wilson with permission from the publisher, Montlake. Copyright © 2022 by Sariah Wilson.
What could come between a nanny and an earl in a fairy-tale love story? A reality check—in an endearing and witty romance by Sariah Wilson, the bestselling author of Roommaid.
With her sister’s medical bills mounting, Diana Parker can’t say no to a high-paying opportunity like this: accompany a wealthy couple to Aspen and nanny their precocious five-year-old son for three months. Necessary qualifications? She must know how to ski and teach math, speak fluent French, excel at social graces, and hold a master’s degree in childhood development. Who’ll be the wiser that Diana’s only skill is packing for Colorado?
So far, so good—having a con woman for a mother has turned out to be a benefit, even if Diana has complicated feelings about telling lies. But she’s doing this for her sister. And the perks—like a ticket to a lavish charity fundraiser, a new gown, and a Prince Charming–adjacent earl named Griffin Windsor—are pretty irresistible. Diana can’t deny the Cinderella vibe.
Wary of gold diggers and scandal, England’s most eligible bachelor is nevertheless falling for Diana, and sweeping the not-quite princess off her feet.
The warmer their relationship becomes, the slipperier the slopes are for Diana. Sooner or later, she’ll have to come clean. When that happens, does an honest-to-goodness happy ending stand a chance?
Romance Comedy [Montlake, On Sale: June 21, 2022, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781542030588 / ]
Funny, Flirty, Feel-Good Romance
Bestselling author Sariah Wilson has never jumped out of an airplane or climbed Mount Everest, and she is not a former CIA operative. She has, however, been madly, passionately in love with her soul mate and is a fervent believer in happily ever afters—which is why she writes romances like The Royals of Monterra series. After growing up in Southern California as the oldest of nine (yes, nine) children, she graduated from Brigham Young University with a semiuseless degree in history. She currently lives with the aforementioned soul mate and their four children in Utah, along with three tiger barb fish, a cat named Tiger, and a recently departed hamster who is buried in the backyard (and has nothing at all to do with tigers).
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