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The Charade

The Charade

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When my math tutor made me sign a contract promising I wouldn’t fall in love with him, I thought he was joking.

Main Tropes

  • Billionaire
  • Fake Relationship
  • Forbidden Romance
  • Grumpy-Sunshine
  • Prep School
  • He Tutor's Her
  • Forced Proximity
  • Steamy-Clean Kisses
  • He Promises He Won't Fall in Love With Her

Synopsis

When my math tutor made me sign a contract promising I wouldn’t fall in love with him, I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t.

Yes, Carter Hastings is the prince of Eden Falls Academy—one of the most beautiful humans on earth—and boy, does he know it.

But I can use this to my advantage.

Since I basically signed a paper saying I’d never catch feelings for him, it makes my plan even more perfect.

So I offer him a deal: a fake relationship.

The arrangement helps Carter get revenge on his ex and helps me hide the fact that I’m not smart enough to be at this prestigious school. Win-win.

Only, as we pretend to be in a relationship, I find out he’s different from what I expected.

He’s better. So much better.

And when he kissed me last night, I just wanted it to be real.

But as I’m searching for a loophole in that stupid contract I signed, a huge family secret comes to light and all the sparks I started feeling for my fake boyfriend suddenly become forbidden.

I know I should walk away from him. That I should go back to keeping our tutoring sessions strictly professional…

But I don’t want to.

Chapter One Look Inside

"I'm going to miss you girls so much," my mom said, gathering my twin sister, Elyse, and me into her arms for one last hug before she left us at the entrance of our new private boarding school. 

My sister and I hugged our petite mother, our five-foot-nine-inch frames towering over her barely five-foot one. 

"Sure you can't just take us with you?" Elyse asked our mother when we pulled away from the hug, the look of apprehension in her expression mirroring how I felt. 

"Yeah," I said. "I mean, isn't online schooling all the rage these days?" 

Mom shook her head as she gazed at my sister and then at me. "I won't have you miss the last opportunity to be kids." But even as she said it, the tears at the corners of her dark-brown eyes told me she hated saying goodbye as much as we did. "You're going to love it here. Some of my best memories were made at this school when I was your age."

I looked behind us again, feeling so small next to the hundred-year-old castle-like building that would be my home for the next nine months.

I'd been so on board with the dream of my mom finally making it big in the fashion world, since I loved fashion and couture almost as much as she did. But if I'd known that getting her own fashion show in New York this past year would soon lead to her traveling the world—necessitating that Elyse and I attend a boarding school to finish our senior year—I would have told her to hold off on that dream a little longer. Because I wasn't ready for the three amigos to be separated.

But ready or not, my mom's dreams had finally come true and now we were starting our last year of high school on the outskirts of Eden Falls, Connecticut—a world away from the tiny house in Ridgewater, New York where we grew up.

My mom had attended Eden Falls Academy when she was our age—her family being wealthy property developers in Israel and wanting to give her the study-abroad experience.

So now that she could afford to send us here, there were apparently no other options worth considering. After all, if her strict Jewish parents had felt safe sending their only daughter half a world away to school here, then it was most certainly good enough for us.

So here we were with our suitcases already delivered to our room, ready to start our senior year at a high school whose tuition and board for a year cost more than my mom used to make annually.

I was thankful my mom cared about us so much that she would do anything to give us all the things she felt we'd lacked the first seventeen years of our lives. But as a rabble of butterflies fluttered around in my ribcage when I looked up at the huge iron doors surrounded by vines with pink flowers, I couldn't help but think that staying at Grandma Cohen's home in Israel would have been a much less daunting prospect. At least I’d been there before, so it was somewhat familiar.

What if no one liked me here?

What if all the social groups were already so tightly knit that there wasn't extra room for new faces?

But since I knew this was already a hard enough goodbye, I forced myself to stand up straighter, pulled my shoulders back, and said, "I'm sure once we're settled, we'll like it." I looked at my sister, whose golden-brown eyes were the same color and shape as mine. "Elyse and I will watch out for each other."

"Yes, I'll make sure Ava gets at least some of her homework done in between flirting with all the guys," Elyse said, shooting me a smirk.

"And I'll make sure Elyse has a little fun as she's maintaining her 4.0 GPA," I countered back with a wink.

"Just look out for each other and everything will be fine." My mom glanced at Elyse and me. "And remember, I'm only a phone call away if you need me."

She gave us each one last hug, and before we could shed too many more tears, she waved goodbye and climbed into the black car waiting for her on the cobblestone drive.

And there she went, the great Miriam Cohen, the woman who had clawed her way back up to the top after her father had disinherited her when she had Elyse and me out of wedlock.

I hoped that someday I could be half as strong of a woman as my mom was.

Which meant that I needed to practice being strong now, even though I was afraid.

Elyse and I linked arms and waved as we watched the car holding our mother drive away, a cool fall breeze causing the leaves of the towering trees nearby to rustle. 

Once the black car disappeared down the tree-shrouded path and through the tall iron gates, Elyse turned to me and asked, "Ready to go back inside for our tour?"

"I guess."

And so, instead of putting off the inevitable, we walked side by side up the few steps that led to the entrance of our new school.

* * *

A girl wearing one of the school's blue blazers and plaid skirts was waiting for Elyse and me when we made it back into the school's lobby. She had long, dark auburn hair and looked so much like a younger Lily Collins that I couldn't help but wonder if they were related. 

"Ready for the grand tour?" she asked us when we got closer.

"I, um…" I glanced over to Elyse briefly, then returned my attention to the girl ahead of us. "Sure. That would be great."

"Perfect." She beamed. "My name is Scarlett, by the way." Scarlett held her hand out for me to shake. "I'm one of the captains for our house."

"I'm Ava." I shook her hand. 

"And I'm Elyse." Elyse did the same.

Scarlett narrowed her brown eyes for a moment, looking us up and down and side to side.

"Trying to figure out how you're going to tell us apart?" I guessed, knowing the look in her eyes well enough.

Scarlett pursed her deep pink lips. "Usually, when I meet twins, I can tell them apart because they do their hair or makeup differently from one another. But you two are obviously the kind of twins who like keeping people on their toes."

"Why have an identical twin if you can't have a little fun tricking your friends and family every once in a while?" I said, proud of the certain mystique Elyse and I took with us wherever we went.

"Just give me a few days." Scarlett's lips curved up into a slow smile, like she thrived on the idea of a challenge. "I'll figure it out."

I shrugged. "We'll see."

Elyse and I had cultivated our own looks through the years with our own fashion styles and beauty preferences—me taking after our mother more when it came to dressing up and Elyse going for the more natural and casual look. But if we wanted to do the twin switch here and there, even our own mother had a hard time discerning who was who.

So if we could still trick our mom on a weekly basis, I didn't see this new acquaintance deciphering the tiny differences that made us unique anytime soon.

Scarlett guided us around the main section of the school first, showing us the various classrooms, the auditorium, and the gym. And despite the actual school building being over a hundred years old, everything inside was state-of-the art—the school and its grounds breathtaking, actually. According to Scarlett, the school sat on ten acres. It had the usual football, baseball, and other sports fields, which she pointed out from the doors near the swimming pool. But it also had lush gardens with a walking/running/bike path that reminded me of the beautiful gardens from the rich estates in the regency romance movies my mom sometimes watched.

It actually kind of felt like a real castle. Only that instead of royalty living within the walls with servants helping to run the place, there were teachers and students milling around, chatting among their peers about their plans and hopes for the new school year.

"Do either of you play sports?" Scarlett asked Elyse and me after we'd walked around the girls’ locker room, which displayed the school colors of maroon and silver everywhere.

"Definitely not," Elyse said, a hint of amusement in her voice, like the thought of anyone even asking if she was athletic was comical. "I think all the athletic genes went to Ava when the egg split. But I'll be first in line for this year's theater productions."

"Oh cool. I'll have to introduce you to Nash and Cambrielle then. They're in our house, too, and know all about that." Scarlett turned to me next, an expectant look on her face. "So if you're the sporty one, does that mean you're going out for any of the girls' teams this year?"

"I'm hoping to try out for the girls' basketball team this winter," I said with a shrug, trying to seem like I didn't care too much if I made the team.

"Nice!" Scarlett said. "I'm on the girls' volleyball team right now, but basketball is my first love."

"Oh fun." My cheeks warmed at the prospect of already getting to know someone who had similar interests as me. "What position do you play?"

"I was the forward last year, so I'm hoping Coach will put me there again," Scarlett said. "What about you?"

"I was the point guard at our last school, but I know that coming in when there's already an established team, I'll be lucky just to get a spot on the roster." 

"Our point guard actually graduated last spring," Scarlett said. "So I'm sure Coach Jenkins will be excited to have you try out."

"That would be awesome." 

You know, as long as I earned grades high enough to even try out in the first place. 

When my mom had applied for us to come to her alma mater, I almost didn't get accepted because my GPA was lower than they’d like for such a prestigious school. 

Eden Falls Academy was serious about their students’ education and only wanted to accept those who would fit into their high academic standards—they wanted to make sure they could continue to boast a ninety-percent acceptance rate to all the Ivy League schools in the New England area.

But after a lot of back and forth between my mom and the headmistress, they came to the agreement that if I put extra effort into my math class this year—meaning, I met with a tutor twice a week to keep my grade up—then I could join Elyse at the academy.

It was embarrassing that I hadn't even started the school year and was already set up for extra help with math. But if Elyse could say that I got the athletic genes when our egg split, I could also say that Elyse had gotten the math genes.

So humiliating or not, I was already set up to meet with my new math tutor in the library after school tomorrow. 

I just hoped it wasn't some hoity-toity rich snob who’d make me feel dumber than I already did.

Scarlett led us out of the girls' locker room, through the gym and across the hall, to a long room with weight-lifting machines and free weights lined up along the walls. When we stepped onto the padded black floor, I saw there were already a few guys who looked about our age at the other end of the room lifting weights.

"This is the weight room, obviously." Scarlett gestured at the various black-and-white machines beside us. "We have PE every day, but if you want to get some strength training in during your free time, this is open from six in the morning until nine at night for you to use."

I looked around at the various machines, not having the slightest idea of what I would even begin to do in here. I’d never taken a weights class at my old school and definitely never had a pass to a gym before, but I was intrigued and would probably try to find a time to sneak down here when there weren't other people to watch me fumble my way around the machines.

"Scarlett Caldwell?" A deep voice sounded from across the room, taking my attention. "Is that you?"

"Mack!" Scarlett turned her gaze to the owner of the voice, a huge grin lifting her cheeks. And in the next second she was bounding toward a tall guy with rich brown skin, wearing a maroon stringer tank top that showed off his well-defined biceps.

"Do you think that's her boyfriend?" I whispered to Elyse as Scarlett enthusiastically hugged the guy she'd called Mack.

"I don't know," Elyse said, eyeing Mack's toned arms. "But if that's what all the guys at this school look like, I don't think I'll be complaining too much about transferring here."

"Me neither." I looked Mack over again. He was so tall, at least six-foot five from the looks of how he towered over Scarlett. And yes, he was super cute.

"Ava and Elyse," Scarlett said, turning back to my sister and me after pulling away from the giant beside her. "This is Mack."

I stepped forward, holding my hand out to him. "Hi Mack, I'm Ava."

"Ava?" He shook my hand, his large one engulfing mine. "Nice to meet you."

Elyse introduced herself next, and then Mack narrowed his dark brown eyes at us both. "So, do you two always dress alike?"

"Not all the time," I said, looking down at my pink T-shirt with the graphic of a blue whale on it that matched Elyse's. "Just whenever we want to make a statement."

"I like it." Mack's big lips lifted into a crooked grin. "Though, hate to break it to you, but everyone at this school dresses alike. So you might need to find a new way to make a statement." He winked, and I knew immediately that I was going to like this Mack guy. He seemed to be the kind of guy who could joke around with anybody.

"I guess we'll just have to find another way to stand out then," Elyse said, and I didn't miss the sparkle in her eyes as she looked up at the handsome stranger.

Mack turned his gaze to my sister, looking her over from head to toe. "Somehow I don't think you standing out is going to be a problem." 

And in that moment, I really hoped, for my sister's sake, that Scarlett and Mack were just friends because I really didn't want Scarlett to hate us after seeing the sparks between him and my twin.

When I glanced over at Scarlett to make sure she wasn't staring daggers at us, I was relieved to see that she had turned her focus instead to the two guys racking their weights behind Mack.

"Carter. Hunter," she called, waving her hand. "Come meet my new friends before you start your next set."

A guy with dirty-blond hair turned to look at us over his shoulder, and when our gazes met, my heart did a little flip-flop because…wow. He was gorgeous. Totally my type: Tall. Aqua-blue eyes. Square jawline. An athletic build. Warm tan skin.

Yeah, he might even be cuter than the male model I'd been crushing on since my mom's fashion show.

I drew in a quick breath, hoping no one had noticed how I'd stopped breathing for a second, and then made my gaze move to the other guy with chestnut-colored hair approaching us.

But as the two guys moved closer, all I could think about was how maybe Elyse was right after all. Maybe transferring to a school full of extremely good-looking guys might just be the best thing that ever happened to us.

The guy with short chestnut hair held his hand out to Elyse first. "Hi, I'm Hunter," he said in a deep voice. "Welcome to Eden Falls." 

She shook his hand and told him her name, and then he shook my hand next. 

"I'm Ava," I said. "It's great to meet you."

"Likewise." He nodded. "It's been a while since we've gotten new seniors to our house, so I'm sure everyone will be excited to meet you when school starts tomorrow."

I smiled, grateful for the positive comments. "I'm excited to get to know everyone."

Especially the tall, deliciously handsome guy behind you.

As if reading my mind, Hunter turned and gestured to Mr. Hottie McHot-Hot behind him. "And this is Carter. He's a senior, too."

"Nice to meet you, Carter," I said, feeling all jittery with nerves.

But instead of offering his hand to shake in greeting like the other guys had, Carter simply folded his arms across his defined chest and gave us a quick nod. "Good to meet you." Then turning to look back at his friends, he said, "Ready for the next set?"

Okaaaay, I thought, rocking back on my heels at his immediate dismissal. 

So maybe not all the people at this school would be as welcoming as Scarlett, Mack, and Hunter.

Mack must have noticed my discomfort because when Carter and Hunter went back to their weights and Scarlett and Elyse walked over to look at the dance studio, he put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Don't take Carter's one-track mind personally. He's just the kind of person who likes to focus on one thing at a time."

I furrowed my brow, not understanding. "What do you mean?" 

Mack lifted one of his broad shoulders. "Let me just put it this way. If he's marked a workout in his planner from 3:30 to 4:15, you can bet that he will work out from exactly 3:30 to 4:15 with only thirty seconds to a minute break between each set."

"So he's very regimented and likes to stick to a specific routine?" I asked.

"Precisely," Mack said, his big lips forming into a smile. "But he makes time for socializing, too."

"As in he probably wrote, 'Work out with Mack and Hunter' into this planner of his and considered it bro-bonding time?"

Mack lifted his ball cap from his head, rubbed his hand across his short, curly hair, and said, "I mean, I didn't look at his schedule for today or anything, but yeah, knowing him, that's probably what he wrote."

"Well, maybe we'll have to teach him to add a few minutes of wiggle room into his calendar here and there so he can make a better first impression when he's meeting new strangers."

Mack looked back to where Hunter was spotting Carter as he started a rep using the bench press. "I'll make sure to tell him that one of the cute new girls says he needs to be more flexible." And when he shot me a flirtatious wink, my cheeks heated.

Had this tall, dark, and handsome hottie just said I was cute?

And then winked at me?

I was just trying to think of a witty response to his comments when Scarlett and Elyse returned. 

"Ready to see the girls' dormitory?" Scarlett asked.

"Um, sure." I tucked a lock of my light-brown hair behind my ear. "That would be great."

"Great," Scarlett said before turning to head out of the door we'd come through with Elyse trailing behind her.

Before I followed them, I turned back to Mack who still hadn't returned to his friends and said, "It was great to meet you, Mack. I'm sure I'll be seeing you around."

"I'll make sure to save a spot for you and your sister at my table tonight." He winked again.

"Thanks." My cheeks flushed even deeper at his offer. "I guess I'll see you later."

Deciding to end on that high note, I made myself walk away from probably one of the most welcoming and cutest guys I'd ever met before and went to find Scarlett and Elyse.

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