Prada and prejudice (dating mr darcy - book 1)

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He’s a man in possession of a large fortune….but is he in want of a wife?!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Natalie Dashwood loves to shop. After all, as the heiress to the renowned London department store Dashwood & James she’s been wearing designer shoes since she could walk! But a socialite’s life isn’t as perfect as you might imagine… Natalie’s spending is spiraling slightly out of control, her rock star boyfriend is engaged to someone else, and it seems the family business is in financial crisis.

New high-flying business exec Rhys Gordon has been brought in to save the company from ruin, but what are his motives? And infuriatingly even a shoe-shopping spree can’t take her mind off his distracting and oh-so-charming smile…

Couture and confetti mix with scandal and intrigue in this wonderful tale of retail, romance and redemption.

 

Prada & Prejudice

 

 

Katie Oliver

 

www.CarinaUK.com

Contents

 

Cover

Blurb

Title Page

Author Bio

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Epilogue

Endpages

Extract

Copyright

 

Katie Oliver

loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute”, Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.

Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.

So if you like a bit of comedy with your romance, please visit Katie’s website, www.katieoliver.com, and have a look.

Here’s to love and all its complications…

 

 

 

 

Look out for more books by Katie Oliver from Carina UK

Love & Liability (3rd February 2014)

Mansfield Lark (3rdMarch 2014)

To my husband, Mark, who always knew I’d do it; to my family (you know who you are); to my good friends (and beta readers), Jane, Michael, Karen, Danielle, Margaret, Ian, and Leigh; to Helen Williams and Lucy Gilmour at Carina UK/Harlequin for their editing expertise; and to my agent, Nikki Terpilowski…without your unswerving support, this book would never have happened.

Chapter 1

 

Honestly, Natalie Dashwood thought irritably as she folded a stack of knickers on the display table for the third time, if I hear ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ one more time, I’ll put my head in the loo. And hold it there. Until I drown…

Five too many glasses of champagne at her sister Caroline’s birthday party last night had left her head throbbing and her outlook decidedly un-festive. And the relentless blare of Christmas carols over the department store’s tinny sound system did nothing to improve matters.

If grandfather hadn’t been desperate – an outbreak of flu had left Dashwood and James’ flagship department store seriously short-staffed – she wouldn’t be here, working in the lingerie department a week before Christmas. Natalie hadn’t worked in the family store since she was seventeen, nearly six years ago. But she couldn’t possibly say no to Sir Richard.

Besides, if she refused, he might cut off her quarterly allowance. And that wouldn’t do at all.

Her mobile phone vibrated. With a furtive glance round – mobile phones were strictly forbidden on the sales floor – she took it out and glanced at the screen.

“Grandfather! Good morning. I’m so glad you called. The new ‘Poppy’ handbag just arrived in Smart Accessories.” She was breathless with excitement.

“What in God’s name is a ‘Poppy’ handbag?”

Natalie opened her mouth to explain that Poppy and Penelope Simone were the two hottest ‘It’ girl sisters in London – correction, in the world – and that Poppy’s new handbag was destined to become a classic, but she refrained.

Grandfather would never understand.

“It’s a very coveted handbag,” she said instead. “I know I shouldn’t ask—” guilt stabbed her, but she ignored it “—but might I put it on my store account? Please?”

“How many handbags do you need?” Sir Richard asked reprovingly. “You have dozens already.”

“If you let me put it on account,” she pleaded, “I promise I’ll never ask you for another thing.”

They both knew this was utter bollocks, but Sir Richard refrained from comment. “You need to learn economy, Natalie. You know the stores are in serious financial trouble.”

Natalie’s gaze swept over the store’s selling floor. Although the first floor was busy at the moment, she knew it was only because this was the last week before Christmas, and the smell of fake pine and desperation hung heavy in the air. In years past, shoppers thronged the aisles during the holidays. The line for Santa’s Grotto wound twice around the third floor and required a special permit from the fire safety inspector.

She sighed. “I know. I’m sorry. That’s horribly selfish of me, isn’t it? Forget I asked.”

“Excuse me.”

Natalie looked up to see a man, late twenties, possibly thirty, dark blond-brown hair, standing before her. Under his jacket (Barbour) he wore a cashmere sweater (brand uncertain, but definitely expensive) and jeans; sunglasses hid his eyes.

He looked like a celebrity. But if he was a celebrity, he must be a B-lister, she decided dismissively, because no self-respecting A-lister would shop in Dashwood and James.

She indicated the phone at her ear. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

He pressed his lips together but said nothing.

Sir Richard sighed. “Very well, get your handbag. I’ll allow it this once. But no more,” he warned her. “And you must promise me that you’ll come to the board meeting on Monday morning. It’s imperative that you attend.”

“Oh? Why is that?” Natalie asked, her heart sinking. She usually avoided the board meetings; they were horribly dull, and – to her, at least – a complete waste of time.

“I’ve hired a new Operations Manager. I’m introducing him at the meeting, and I want you there.”

“Excuse me, please. I need assistance.” Barbour jacket was growing impatient.

“And I said I’ll be with you in a moment,” Natalie snapped. She’d forgotten what a pain in the arse customers could be.

She returned her attention to Sir Richard. “Sorry, grandfather. Of course I’ll be there.”

“Good. We start at nine o’clock, in the fourth floor conference room. Mind you’re not late.” And he rang off.

Blast. She flung her mobile aside and turned back to her customer – he looked more than a bit irate now, actually – and fixed a polite smile to her lips. “Sorry. How may I help you?”

“Ah, help at last! How very kind. I thought I might have to chew my own arm off or relieve myself on the carpet to get a bit of attention.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Natalie said, her words frosty. “Did you wish to buy a gift for someone?”

“That was my intention, but God knows, I don’t wish to inconvenience you.” He scowled. “I’m looking for something upscale, and suitable for a lady.”

“Upscale?” She glanced doubtfully around the department, which hadn’t changed since 1982. “I’d go to Agent Provocateur, then. You won’t find much that’s upscale here.”

“But I’m here now, so let me see what you have, please.” His mobile vibrated; he thrust a hand in his jacket pocket to retrieve it. “Yes, Tom,” he said, an edge to his voice. “Sorry. I’m dealing with a store clerk at the moment.”

She glared at him. He plainly equated store clerks with lower life forms…single-celled organisms incapable of thought or, God forbid, intelligence.

She turned away and strode across the carpeted floor to the glass display case where the better lingerie was located. There was no ring on his finger, so the gift must be for a girlfriend. As she bent down to unlock the case and pulled out some lacy, sexy underclothes, she tried (and failed) to ignore the jackhammer pounding of her head.

Back at the counter, she laid out a half-dozen bras and knickers for his inspection. “These are very nice,” she informed him. “Notice the lace detailing.”

He prodded at a pair of knickers with his free hand and, with a cursory glance, shoved them aside as if they were £1.99 cotton pants. “These won’t do. Let me see your nightgowns.”

She bent down with a put-upon sigh and withdrew several negligees from beneath the counter. “These ones are lovely—”

“I need those cost overrun estimates ASAP,” he said into the phone, and dropped the mobile back into his Barbour. “Haven’t you anything that doesn’t look as if it came out of a stripper’s closet? The lady’s tastes are conservative.”

“Well in that case,” Natalie said with barely concealed irritation, “we have a nice assortment of flannel granny gowns.”

He leaned forward, his expression combative. “Show me something else.” It wasn’t a request. It was a command.

As Natalie glared back, her mobile came to life, vibrating on the counter behind her. “Excuse me.” Before he could object, she dove back under the counter to (1) look for the least sexy nightgown she could find and (2) take her call.

The moment she saw Dominic’s name on the screen, Nat pressed ‘Answer’. “Dom!” she hissed. “Where were you last night?” His side of the bed hadn’t been slept in.

“Went back to mine,” he said, and yawned. “I had a few pints with the boys, got pissed, passed out.”

This, Natalie knew, was probably a lie. Not the ‘went back to mine’ part, but the ‘passed out’ part. He’d likely spent the night in bed with his latest slag du jour.

“Don’t forget, Alastair’s anniversary party is tomorrow night,” she reminded him.

“Oh, shit,” he groaned. “All right, just be ready when I pick you up.” He paused and added ominously, “We need to talk.”

She frowned. “Talk? About what?”

“I can’t go into it on the phone, can I?” he snapped.

Natalie sighed. When Dom was in One of His Moods, a single cross word from her could easily escalate into a shouting match. She hadn’t the energy – or time – to deal with him now.

He might be playing Glastonbury this summer, and he might rock a guitar, but on a day-to-day basis Dominic Heath was a nightmare. His temper was legendary. Last week he’d trashed a curry house in Soho because the vindaloo wasn’t spicy enough.

Nor had two years of therapy cured his sex addiction; Natalie recently discovered he was shagging his sex therapist.

Good thing she planned to dump him at Alastair’s party tomorrow night.

Her customer leaned over the counter. “What are you doing down there, having a chat with the bras and knickers?”

“I’m on the phone,” Natalie retorted. “Do you mind?”

“Actually,” he replied, his expression grim, “I do.”

She glared up at him and returned to her call. “We’ll talk later,” she hissed, and rang off.

Natalie rummaged under the counter until she found a negligee and a matching dressing gown of apricot silk. She stood and tossed both on the counter. “I think the Queen herself would approve of these.”

He studied the items with a frown. “Very well, ring them up. And hurry. I haven’t got all day.”

Wordlessly she complied. He paid the entire bill – just over £250 – in cash.

“Oh, and I want them gift-wrapped,” he added as Natalie pulled out a carrier bag. “Can you manage that, do you think?”

“Sorry, but I haven’t any boxes.”

“You do,” he retorted. “I see them, there—” he pointed to the shelf behind her “—and I see tissue paper, as well.”

“Oh, fancy that! Right you are.” Natalie grabbed up a couple of flat boxes and tissue, flung the items inside, and thrust the boxes in the bag. “Here you go. Happy Christmas.”

“What about wrapping paper? Bows? Ribbons?”

“You have to go to the gifting counter for that.” She glanced at theGuardianMrs. Tuttle had left under the counter. “I could wrap it in yesterday’s newspaper, if you like. Is theGuardianall right? Or do you prefer theTelegraph?”

“We’re talking about an overpriced Christmas gift,” he said, his jaw set in a tight line, “not yesterday’s cod. And I haven’t time to wait in another queue. Just give me the damned boxes so I can be on my bloody way.”

Natalie held the carrier bag out. “Here you go. Have a lovely day,” she gritted out. “Hope to see you again soon!”

“Oh, you will,” he promised her grimly. “Count on it.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” she muttered as he departed, carrier bag in hand. “Like the plague. Or my next gyno exam.”

Thank God, Natalie consoled herself as she rang up a bra and a pair of Wolford tights for the next customer in the queue, I’ll never, ever see him again.

 

Chapter 2

 

She probably shouldn’t have had that third glass of Pinot.

Of course, Natalie reminded herself as she made her way unsteadily through the crowd, she hadn’t actually drunk the wine; she’d hurled most of it at Dominic.

Too bad she’d missed.

Natalie paused in the drawing room doorway. Her gaze swept past the clusters of elegantly-dressed people clutching glasses of champagne, intent on finding the door. The exit had to be around here somewhere.

As she lifted her tissue – already soggy – and blew her nose, Natalie scowled.

Bloody Dominic.

This disaster of an evening was entirely his fault. After all, they’d come to Alastair’s party together. She’d even bought a new dress for the occasion. But she never imagined Dominic would dump her halfway through the party to announce his engagement…to his ex-wife.

Natalie sniffed. She honestly didn’t give a fig if Dom and Keeley got back together again; they deserved each other. No, it was the public humiliation factor that upset her.

She’d seen the furtive glances of surprise and pity cast her way when Dominic announced the engagement, not to mention Keeley’s smug little smile as she lifted her hand to show off the ginormous diamond ring glinting on her finger.

Those glances of pity had stung. She didn’t want to be the girl everyone felt sorry for, the girl everyone whispered about.

Not ever again.

As everyone lifted their glasses to toast Dominic and Keeley’s happiness, Natalie’s humiliation curdled into fury. She hadn’t meant to fling her glass of Pinot Noir at that well-dressed bloke in the bespoke suit; she’d been aiming for Dom. But two glasses of wine drunk in quick succession had left her light-headed, furious…and her aim a bit off.

Where inhellwas the door?

Ah, there it was. Lovely door, marvelous door! She’d leave here and…Natalie frowned. Well, with no money for a minicab, and no ride home forthcoming from Dominic, she’d figure that out when she left.

Her hand closed over the doorknob, and she flung it open. Rows of coats hanging on wooden hangers met her gaze. Oops…not the front door, then, but the coat closet. She could’vesworn…

“Excuse me,” a male voice behind her asked in mild concern, “are you all right?”

She whirled around – which, truthfully, didn’t help her spinning head – and snapped, “Of course I am. I’m fine.” She glared at him, and her heart sank. Those penetrating blue eyes…that expensive bespoke suit…

Crikey. It was the bloke she’d just doused with Pinot Noir.

“Your attempt to exit via the coat closet – not to mention the state of my shirt and tie—” he glanced down at the wine staining his front “—tells me that you’re far from all right.”

“I told you, I’m sorry about your shirt,” she said stiffly. “I’ll pay for the dry-cleaning bill.”

“That’s not necessary. Have you a ride home?”

“No,” Natalie said. She narrowed her eyes as she glimpsed Dominic, holding court in the drawing room with his arm draped around his new fiancée’s shoulders. “Not any more.”

He plucked the empty wine glass from her hand and put it on a passing tray. “Look, I have to leave. I find I need a change of clothes,” he added dryly. “I’ll give you a lift home if you like.”

For the first time, she studied him. He had dark blondish hair and blue eyes, coupled with a rugged build and a lived-in sort of face. Not classically handsome, perhaps, but compelling, in a Daniel Craig-ish sort of way.

Perhaps that’s why he seemed vaguely familiar.

“I’d be happy to take you home, Natalie.”

Ian Clarkson stood before her. Although married to her best friend Alexa, and darkly handsome, Ian always made her feel a tad uncomfortable. He’d made it clear he was interested in her, the cheating sod. He was definitely a wolf in posh clothing.

“I’m taking her home.” Daniel Craig left no room for argument.

“But Natalie doesn’t know you,” Ian challenged him, “does she?”

Before hostilities could escalate further, Alastair James made his way towards them. “Natalie, darling, there you are! You’re not leaving, I hope?”

“I’m afraid so.” She kissed his cheek. “Grandfather wants me at the board meeting tomorrow morning, God knows why. Congratulations, by the way! How has Cherie put up with you for so long?”

He laughed. “I’ve no idea.” Still handsome despite the grey that peppered his dark hair, Alastair put his arm around Nat’s shoulders. “I’m glad you made it to our anniversary celebration. Ah, Mr. Gordon,” he added, and thrust out his free hand. “I see you’ve met my goddaughter.”

“Wait – you two know each other?” Natalie said in surprise.

“Only by reputation,” Alastair said, and raised his brow. “And quite a formidable reputation it is, too.”

“Oh. Well, he’s offered to take me home.” Natalie regarded Alastair quizzically. “Should I accept?”

His eyes met Gordon’s. “I’m sure I can trust you to see Sir Richard’s granddaughter safely home, Mr. Gordon?”

“Of course,” he replied, and extended his hand to Alastair. “I’m a man of my word, if nothing else. Unlike some.”

The smile he directed at Alastair, Natalie noticed, was chilly. Odd, that…but no one else seemed to pay any mind.

“Congratulations, by the way,” Gordon added. “I apologise, but the state of my clothing prevents me from staying.”

Alastair frowned. “Yes, Natalie, what happened? I’d no idea you and Dominic had parted ways.”

“It was a…mutual decision.” She refused to cry over spilt wine; Dominicsowasn’t worth it. “I planned to break up with him after the party, but he dumped me first. I’ve apologised to Mr. Gordon for ruining his suit.”

“No harm done. Are you ready?” Gordon asked her.

She nodded. “Yes, let me just get my coat.”

He put a hand on her back and guided her out through the crush of people. As he stopped to collect their coats, Natalie glimpsed Dominic halfway across the reception room, and he glanced over at them with narrowed eyes. She resisted the urge to flip him the bird.

After all, one of them needed to be an adult. It might as well be her.

Outside, Mr. Gordon gave the valet his keys and helped Natalie on with her coat. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit dizzy,” she admitted.

Five minutes later, the valet roared up on a gleaming Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle and brought it to a stop before them. Natalie’s eyes widened. “Is that yours? You can’t expect me to ride on the back of that…in this!” She looked down at her short coat, shorter dress, and six-inch heels.

“I’m afraid you’ve no choice, if you want a ride home.” He produced two helmets from the saddlebag and handed her one.

Natalie eyed the gleaming silver-and-black motorbike doubtfully. “I’m really not dressed for it—”

He gave her legs and her strappy shoes a critical once-over. “If you weren’t wearing those bloody stripper heels—”

“They’re not stripper heels!” she protested. “They’re Louboutins, and very expensive.”

“Well, you and your very expensive shoes will have to sit sideways. Put on the helmet. And button up, it’s cold.” He swung one leg over the motorcycle and waited.

“Bloody hell but you’re bossy.” Natalie did up her buttons and sat sideways behind him, shivering in the unseasonably cold night air, and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I won’t fall off, will I?” she called out anxiously over the growl of the engine.

“Not if you hold tight. Where do you live?”

“Ladbroke Grove.” She gave him the address and rested her helmeted cheek against his back in mingled trepidation and anticipation. Her head spun, but in a good way.Sod Dominic, and Keeley, and her ginormous engagement ring, she decided. She was ready to have some fun.

He revved the engine, and with a satisfying, throaty roar, they were off. Natalie tightened her hold on him as they turned off Holland Park Avenue onto the A40. It was already unseasonably cold, but with the wind in her face, it felt about three degrees.

As they roared through Notting Hill, Natalie nestled closer, glad of his warm, broad back. He smelt of soap and leather, and also, rather strongly, of Pinot. Strange, she thought as he skillfully wove in and out of the evening traffic and onto her street, since Dominic had dumped her, she ought to feel gutted. But she was having too much fun to care.

The Triumph growled to a stop in front of her building. Natalie slid from the seat, stood up unsteadily, and removed her helmet. “My hair must look a sight.”

He took her helmet and removed his as well, then hung them both on the handlebars. “A bit. But it suits you.”

“Thanks.” She looked up at him with wide grey eyes and murmured, “You know, actually, you’re quite sexy.”

“And you’re quite drunk.” He held out his hand. “Come on, let’s get you inside. It’s cold out here.”

“No, wait.” Natalie pressed herself against him and slid her arms up around his neck. She giggled as she stumbled and his arms came around to steady her. “I’ve never said this to anyone before,” she breathed as her eyes locked with his, “but I really, really want to have sex with you.”

He removed her arms gently but firmly from around his neck. “No, you don’t. You don’t even know me.”

“That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To…” she hiccupped “…get to know you.”

“Miss Dashwood—”

“Why don’t you want to have sex, then?” she demanded.

“Because you’re drunk,” he said again, his words patient but firm. “And because you’re mad at that boyfriend of yours—”

“—ex-boyfriend,” she interrupted.

“—and I won’t be your revenge sex.”

Natalie sniffed. “He’s been engaged to Keeley for two weeks! I still can’t believe it.” A tear trickled down her cheek. “It’s not that Icare, mind you. It’s just that I – I couldn’t bear the way everyone at the party was looking at me, as if they feltsorryfor me.”

“I think it was curiosity, that’s all,” he said. “They wondered how you’d react.” He lifted his brow upwards. “Is Pinot Noir your usual weapon of choice?”

“No. Prosecco.” She giggled and wound her arms round his neck again. He smelled of some deliciously expensive aftershave and, very faintly, of Pinot. “Come upstairs,” she murmured. “I haven’t a flat mate. And I don’t—” she hiccupped again “—I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

He swore under his breath. Her fingers were caressing his hair, and it was getting harder, in more ways than one, to refuse.

“You’re a lovely girl, Miss Dashwood, and your offer’s very tempting; but I have to decline.”

“Decline? But…why?” she asked, bewildered. “Don’t you want to have sex with me? Doesn’tanyonewant to have sex with me?” she wailed.

He met Natalie’s wide grey eyes. “Believe me, I’d like nothing better,” he murmured. “But,” he added firmly as he untangled her arms once again from his neck, “that’s the last thing you need tonight. Trust me.”

“Never trust a man who says ‘trust me’,” she mumbled. “Grandfather taught me that.”

“Your grandfather’s a very wise man. Come on, inside with you. Let’s go.”

“Won’t you at least kiss me goodnight?” she asked forlornly, her words softly slurred.

“No.” He put his hands on her arms. “You need a good night’s sleep. You’ll thank me in the morning. Now come along, put your arm around my waist, there’s a good girl.”

And with that, he helped her up the stairs to her flat – really, Natalie thought, the bloody stairs had a mind of their own tonight – unlocked her door, bade her a polite good night, and turned to leave.

Suddenly her sister’s dog shot out the door, a tiny white ball of lightning intent on escape, and made for the stairway.

“Nigella!” she cried, and lurched after her. “My sister Caro’s dog,” she explained breathlessly. “I’m dog-sitting.”

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