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Overview: She only wanted a fake boyfriend.

She ended up with a hitman.

Magdalena McCarthy

All I wanted was a date to accompany me to dinner with my parents.

A decoy to distract my mother from her ongoing mission to find me a husband.

What started out as another awkward dinner ended with us being run off the road.

Turns out my pretend boyfriend isn't who I thought he was.

He isn’t even the man I was supposed to hire.

And he has secrets that might just save us from the nightmare unfolding around me.

Rook Chambers

I moved to Glenville to start over, to escape my dark past.

And found myself mistaken as a boyfriend for hire.

I go along with the charade, only to find myself entangled with the life I left behind.

I could walk away and leave her to her fate.

After all, she's just a girl. A nobody. An innocent pawn in a dark world.

We don't even exist in the same reality.

But now, I may be the only person who can keep her alive. 


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Rook by L. Ann Book Read Online Chapter One


Magdalena


“F-five hundred dollars … upfront, like you asked.” I cursed myself when I stumbled over the words I’d practiced over and over in front of the mirror before coming to the diner. How did I still manage to sound like an idiot?


The man at table twelve paused, a forkful of food halfway to his lips, and looked up at me. I wasn’t typically a nervous person, but I shivered, my mind convincing me I could feel his eyes skimming over my skin. He scanned me from head to toe, his brows dipping into a frown, but he didn’t speak. I held out the white envelope, my hand shaking. His frown deepened, dark eyes dropping to look at it, but he made no move to take it from me. After an awkward couple of seconds, I placed it on the table beside his plate.


“Five hundred,” I repeated, firmer this time. “That’s how much you said the platinum package would cost.” I tried to inject more confidence in my voice—a far cry from the way my stomach was doing backflips, my mind screaming at me to turn around and walk away, and my dry mouth.


This was such a bad idea. Why had I let Jasmine talk me into it?


He leaned back in his seat; the fork dropping onto his plate with a loud clatter. I jumped, and those eyes lifted to look at me again. My entire body locked up at the contact. His eyes were dark, almost black in the dim light of the diner, and cold … so cold.


I swallowed. This was the man Jasmine had said would be perfect? He looked more like a hitman in his dark suit and white shirt.


Wait! She hadn’t hired someone to off my mother, had she?


I was giving serious thought to turning around and fleeing when he spoke.


“Honey, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” His voice was pitched low—deep and rich. He slid the envelope back toward me with one long finger.


My lips parted, and I forced myself to press them back together to stop the shaky intake of breath at his words. “We … you told me to meet you here. Well, not me. Jasmine ... my friend, I mean. She contacted you. You arranged all the details with her, but insisted I was the one to come and pay you. I guess that’s because you need to meet me before Saturday. Of course you’d need to know what I look like … otherwise you wouldn’t know who you were supposed to be spending the evening with ...”


One dark eyebrow rose above those cold eyes, and I stammered to a stop.


Oh no! I mentally slapped myself. Obviously, he didn’t want everyone around to know what he was doing, what I was hiring him to do.


“I’m sorry! I’m such an idiot. Before talking about money and the job, I should have introduced myself. I didn’t think about how it would look. This isn’t something I do … I mean … I’ve never done something like this before!” I dropped onto the bench seat opposite him. “I don’t think anyone noticed, though.”


“Noticed what?” He glanced around the diner, and I did the same.


There were three people other than me and this man inside the small building—two women chatting over coffee, and another man sitting alone, drumming his fingers on the table. I assumed that’s why he picked it—because it was quiet. The perfect location for a meeting. None of the other diners paid attention to what we were doing.


I pushed the envelope toward him again. “I put the name and address of a tailor in the envelope. I’ve already paid for your suit, and booked the appointment for tomorrow at two-thirty.”


He didn’t respond. Desperately wanting to get this meeting over with, I soldiered on, “I—I would also like you to hire a car, as discussed. Not something too expensive looking, but …” My tongue swept out to wet my lips. Why had I let Jasmine talk me into this? “You know … something decent … clean. One that suggests you’re a safe driver.”


“A car and a suit,” he repeated. His frown hadn’t smoothed out. In fact, I was certain he was glaring at me, although there was no hint of irritation in his voice, and his expression hadn’t changed. There was no hint of anything. But it was the way his eyes looked at me, through me—it sent a slither of alarm up my spine. He reached up and scratched his jaw. “Remind me again what you’re paying for?”


“The platinum package?” My heart hammered against my ribs. Nausea threatened to make this situation even more unbearable than it already was. If I threw up on the table, on his lunch … 


This was such a huge mistake. I wasn’t this person. I didn’t hire strangers to make my life easier. I didn’t lie to my family.


He studied me, and the silence lengthened. I shifted on the seat.


This was definitely a bad idea.


I reached out to take back the envelope, and that’s when he spoke.


“Which platinum package did you want?”


I frowned at him.


Was this a test? Did he want to see how serious I was? Maybe he was hoping I was going to cancel. Oh god, what if he didn’t want to be seen with me?


“Well … umm … when my friend spoke to you, she said you agreed from mid-afternoon into the evening …” My cheeks heated. “And that if I paid to hire a car, you would pick me up to drive there and back as well.”


“Day and evening?”


When I nodded, he pursed full lips. “And when is this for?”


“Saturday.”


He gave a slow nod. “And you want the full package, right?”


“That’s right.” I tried to swallow down my nerves.


“The full package?” There was a note to his voice that woke up butterflies in my stomach.


“Yes.” God, why was he making this sound way weirder than it already was? I should never have listened to Jasmine’s insane ideas.


His fingers tapped the envelope. “And this contains five hundred dollars … in cash?”


“Cash, yes.” I whispered the words, my eyes closing briefly while I hoped no one could hear us, and prayed that the floor would open up and swallow me.


Why did I feel like I was taking part in something illegal?


I shifted on the hard and uncomfortable seat. “That’s how much you asked for. Unless …” I bit my lip, then blurted, “Have you changed your mind?”


He didn’t reply, those cold eyes tracking over my face.


Why was this man even hiring himself out, anyway? He could make a fortune as a male model with those brooding good looks.


“This is stupid. I never should have—”


“Write the address and time I need to pick you up on the envelope.” He spoke over me, reached into his jacket and pulled out a pen, then held it out to me.


I stared at it.


This was happening then? I was really about to hire someone—a stranger—to pose as my boyfriend in front of my parents?


“Sometime today would be good, honey.” The dry words snapped my attention back to the moment.


“My address is already in the envelope, along with the itinerary for the evening.”


“There’s an itinerary?” One eyebrow shot upward.


I nodded. “I’m afraid so. My parents … well, my mother likes things done a certain way. So, we have to be at the house at three for drinks and mingling, which means we need to set off at two. Dinner will be served at seven.”


“Sounds very formal. Are we eating at the house or a restaurant?”


“The house.”


“And we’re looking at something that’s going to go through late into the evening?”


“Yes. Afternoon and evening. Is that … will that be a problem for you?”


He shook his head. “Not at all. I assume you need a plus one, and that’s where I come in?”


I bit my lip. “Kind of.”


“What’s the occasion?”


“It’s my birthday.”


That dark eyebrow hiked again. “You’re hiring me to accompany you to a birthday dinner with your parents?”


“Didn’t Jasmine explain when she called you?” What had she told him was the reason I was hiring him?


“I get hired for a lot of things, honey, and take a lot of calls. So, humor me. Remind me what I agreed to do.”


“I … umm … well …” Was it possible to erupt into flames from embarrassment? If it was, I expected to be ashes on the bench seat in the next few seconds. “It was Jasmine’s idea, really.”


“Jasmine? She’s the one … I spoke to?”


I nodded, grateful to be on common ground at last. “That’s right. She saw your ad in the newspaper, listing the services you offer.” My cheeks burned hotter. That sounded like he sold sexual favors. “Umm …” I took in a deep breath, then started again. “I told them … my parents, I mean, that I am dating someone. It was a couple of months ago, so I didn’t actually expect them to invite that person to my birthday dinner.”


“You didn’t expect them to want to meet your boyfriend?”


“Well … no. I’d forgotten I said anything to them.”


I sounded like an idiot. He must have been questioning what kind of stupid person hires a stranger to be their boyfriend. Hell, I was questioning my sanity! But then, if he advertised this kind of service, maybe more people than I thought needed a pretend boyfriend.


“You’re not actually dating someone, then?”


“No. Otherwise, I wouldn’t need to hire someone to pretend to be my boyfriend.” Any second now, I was going to spontaneously combust. The heat in my cheeks couldn’t get any hotter. Did I look as red as I felt?


“Fair point.” He picked up his fork and ate a mouthful of pie. “Okay, I get a nice suit, pick up a hire car and take you for dinner with your parents. Is that it? Or …” He paused, that eyebrow hiking up again. “Was there more? Do you want a full boyfriend experience? Dinner, dancing … seduction?” His voice dropped an octave on that last word, drawing it out, savoring it.


I almost swallowed my tongue.


“What?” Oh my god! Was he asking if I was paying to have sex with him? What kind of guy had Jasmine hired? Was he a … a gigolo? “No!”


“Then what happens afterward?” His voice returned to normal. “We go to dinner and then break up? Do you dump me or I you? Are you paying for a big heartbreak scene during dinner, perhaps? Or do I need to block-book my weekends for the next six months so we can play happy families, and slowly devolve into disgust? Or are we thinking of a more long-term con? Get married, have kids, and then throw in a divorce in a year or two?”


“No!” My voice was higher this time. “I’ll tell them it didn’t work out in a few weeks.”


“Hmm.” He tapped the fork against his lips. “Our relationship has become serious enough for you to introduce me to your parents, but not serious enough for it to devastate you when we break up? I think I’m already more invested in this relationship than you are.”


I blinked, gaping at him. Was he serious? There was no hint of his thoughts on his face or in his voice that I could see. “I’ll tell them you dumped me. It doesn’t matter. I just need to get through this dinner without my mother—” I pressed my lips together. He didn’t need to know the details of the relationship I had with my mother.


He eyed me while he ate another piece of pie.


“Which platinum package do you want? The perfect besotted boyfriend or the jerk?”


“I … umm … I didn’t realize there were options.” My voice was faint. He was throwing all these things I hadn’t considered at me.


“There are always options, honey. If I’m to be besotted with you, then we’ll need pet names, handholding, stolen kisses. If I’m a jerk, then that’s easier. I’ll get drunk and flirt with the female guests … I assume there will be female guests? Maybe I could just hit on your mom and ignore you.”


I gaped. “The only female guests will be my mother and sister, so I would rather you didn’t do any of that.”


“Besotted boyfriend it is, then.” He nodded. His fork clattered to the plate again, and he held out his hand. “Rook.”


The hand hovering in front of me was large, tanned, and … was that a tattoo peeking out from beneath the cuff of his sleeve? I took it gingerly, and his fingers wrapped around mine in a warm, firm grip.


“I’m … umm … my name is Magdalena.” 




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