Gwen Andersen loves being a schoolteacher, but she isn’t exactly raking in the big bucks. With her bank account shrinking by the minute, she needs a well-paying summer job if she’s going to hold onto the childhood home she inherited from her parents. So when the father of one of her students asks her to fill in as his au pair for the summer, she knows she should be thrilled. Alexander Romanescu is loaded, and Gwen adores his daughter Isabella. Plus, they’re planning to spend the vacation at their ancestral estate—in Romania!
And yet Gwen can’t shake the nagging feeling that saying yes to this man could lead to more than she bargained for. She knows so little about him—and the idea of spending six weeks in the land of Dracula and Vlad the Impaler is more than a little creepy. But the legends of Romania will be the least of her concerns if she doesn’t make some money…fast. And so Gwen says yes: yes to the job, yes to a European excursion…and yes to a summer that will change her path forever.
This is not your typical chick lit tale. This is something new. This is gothic chick lit.
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“Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we: For such as we are made of, such we be”
“You’re not wearing that, are you?” Zoe asked as I opened my front door.
I glanced down at my outfit—khakis, scalloped-neck T-shirt, and strappy sandals. “What’s wrong with it?” I was no fashionista, but I thought I’d succeeded in my goal of neat yet casual attire.
She brushed past me and into my living room. “You are so lucky to have me as a friend.”
“You know, I tell myself that at least once a day,” I said and shut the door behind her.
“Har, har,” she replied, and we both smiled. Then she flounced down the hallway in the direction of my bedroom, her black-and-white print dress swishing around her legs, which looked even longer and shapelier in her red peep-toe platform pumps.
Dressing me, or more accurately, re-dressing me, was one of our time-honored traditions. In our fifteen years of friendship, I could only recall two instances when Zoe had approved of my outfit without suggesting even one minor alteration. The first was when I’d donned my high school volleyball uniform. Zoe thought the Westside Cobras’ short red shorts and cap-sleeved jerseys made us look hot. The boys in our school agreed, which was why we had such great turnouts for all of our games. Attendance dropped considerably the next year when the school hired a new coach, who replaced our sexy uniforms with the same baggy outfits the girls’ basketball team wore. The second instance was the morning of my parents’ funeral. Obviously neither of us was thinking clearly that day since I spent the majority of it wearing two different black pumps. I only realized when my mother’s former boss asked me why I was limping.
“This’ll work,” Zoe said, pulling a white sundress with embroidered flowers from my overstuffed closet. To be fair, the closet was original to my 1920s-era Los Angeles bungalow. Even with a monk’s wardrobe, my closet would’ve been overstuffed. Although admittedly my wardrobe was much larger and more varied than a monk’s.
“I’m not getting dressed up for a seven-year-old’s birthday party!”
“Hello. This is not just any seven-year-old’s birthday party. This is Isabella Romanescu’s birthday party.”
“And I’m not getting dressed up for a rich seven-year-old’s birthday party either.”
Zoe glanced down at her watch. “Gwen, we’re already late. Can’t we just skip the twenty minutes of debate, the eight alternative wardrobe choices, and get to the part where you admit that I know way more about fashion than you do? You know you’re going to.”
I didn’t always capitulate. But Zoe did have an amazing sense of style. All of us—her family and friends—had been surprised when she’d chosen to become a teacher instead of pursuing a career in fashion design. Zoe had said it was because once she’d realized she’d have to spend her days with a bunch of spoiled rich people, she’d decided it would be much more enjoyable if they actually listened to her. The truth was she loved the kids as much as I did. As a teacher you can actually change someone’s life. There aren’t many careers you can say that about.
I grabbed the sundress from her outstretched hand. “Fine, but I’m wearing the sandals.”
She pursed her ruby-red lips as she glanced down at my feet. “Only if you let me choose your jewelry.”
“Done.” I’d planned on asking her advice on accessories anyway.
We were headed out to Zoe’s car when I realized I’d almost forgotten the most important part of my outfit. I ran back into the house and emerged two minutes later clutching my short-sleeve shrug.
“Gwen, it’s ninety degrees out.”
“You want to wait ten minutes while I layer concealer, foundation, and powder on my shoulder?”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Just get in the car.”
“That’s what I thought.” I smiled smugly. Zoe may have known more about fashion than I did, but she also knew better than to argue with me about baring my shoulder. My rule on this topic was ironclad:
No exposed shoulder. Not now; not ever.