Exclusive Chapter 1 excerpt: Shacking Up by Helena Hunting

Coming May 30th is Shacking Up―new standalone romantic comedy from author Helena Hunting! Together with my partner-in-crime, Natasha Is A Book Junkie, we’re giving you a sneak peek at what awaits with a never-before-seen excerpt! Start reading Chapter 1 here, and then head to Natasha’s blog!

Pre-order now: Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble ✦

About Shacking Up

Ruby Scott is months behind on rent and can’t seem to land a steady job. She has one chance to turn things around with a big audition. But instead of getting her big break, she gets sick as a dog and completely bombs it in the most humiliating fashion. All thanks to a mysterious, gorgeous guy who kissed―and then coughed on―her at a party the night before.

Luckily, her best friend might have found the perfect opportunity; a job staying at the lavish penthouse apartment of hotel magnate Bancroft Mills while he’s out of town, taking care of his exotic pets. But when the newly-evicted Ruby arrives to meet her new employer, it turns out Bane is the same guy who got her sick.

Seeing his role in Ruby’s dilemma, Bane offers her a permanent job as his live-in pet sitter until she can get back on her feet. Filled with hilariously awkward encounters and enough sexual tension to heat a New York City block, Shacking Up, from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Helena Hunting, is sure to keep you laughing and swooning all night long.

Chapter 1

Keep Your Tongue to Yourself

RUBY

I set the half-full lemoncello martini—it’s as close to honey and lemon water as I’m going to get right now—on the table, and nab the waiter as he passes. Taking one of the offered napkins, I daintily select a variety

of appetizers, oohing over the mushroom blah blah blah canapés. The name of the appetizer doesn’t matter as much as how good it is. My taste buds are dancing with joy and so is my stomach. If this engagement party is an indicator of what the wedding will be like, I’m going to smuggle Tupperware in my purse.

My best friend, Amalie—who I refer to as Amie and have since we met in prep school—is marrying an insanely wealthy man, which makes sense since she also comes from an incredibly wealthy family. This union is still a couple of steps up the social ladder for her, so in her family’s eyes, she’s making a very smart partner choice.

As a product of the same kind of privileged background, I will say this financial partnership dance is one of the less desirable parts of being among the wealthy. Our parents all preach marrying for love—but really, it’s marrying for love of the bank account and maintaining status. Amie’s fiancé has a bank account the size of a porn star’s dingle—according to her reports, his actual dingle is just average, which is a little sad. But you can’t have everything.

I ignore the waiter’s disapproving frown as I delicately shove an adorable shrimp tart in my mouth to make room for one more on my cocktail napkin. Plates would be far more effective, but I set mine down somewhere and someone’s already been by to clear it away. I’ll make do with the napkin.

My current employment status—or unemployment status, to be more accurate—means I’ve had to resort to a modified eating plan. One that consists of a lot of Ramen noodles. I could ask my father for help, more than he already provides, but requesting additional funds will prove, to both of us, that I’m struggling to make it on my own. That is not an option. The minute I do that, he’ll have me moving back to Rhode Island so I can sit behind a desk and become another one of his corporate drones. That definitely ranks low on my list of awesome things to do with my life.

I wait until the waiter has moved on to the next group of people, make sure no one’s paying attention to me, then pretend I’m looking for something in my purse—which, in reality, I am. I stealthily open the plastic baggie, fold up the napkin with the shrimp tart and slide it inside.

This is the third time I’ve done this tonight. I’ve racked up quite an array of snacks for the next couple of days. They’ll make nice sides for my Raman noodle dinners. And lunches.

Between appetizer thieving sessions, I’ve been busy scoping out the hotties since I’m without a date. I suppose I could’ve invited someone, but an engagement party is the kind of event that indicates interest in further dates. Currently there’s no one I’m that interested in. Besides, I have an audition tomorrow and I can’t be up late. This negates any potential for post-date make-out sessions, so it’s better that I came alone anyway.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity over my datelessness, I’m ranking the eligible bachelors on their hair and shoes. Hair says a lot about a man. I know who has plugs and who doesn’t. Plugs indicate self-consciousness and excessive vanity.

Shoes also tell me a lot about the type of man I’m interacting with. If the shoes are pointier than mine, the man is usually too high maintenance and by that I mean that their expectation of their women is outside of anything I’d ever be willing to comply with. Plugs and pointy shoes are the worst of the worst. Those men are the ones most likely to insist on boob jobs and liposuction— whatever it takes to make their wives look as close to Barbie as possible. I refuse to be someone’s silent arm candy.

“Ruby? Everything okay?” Amie puts her hand on my

shoulder.

“What? Oh, yeah. Everything’s fine. I have to get going, unfortunately.” I should’ve left half an hour ago but the food is incredible.

She side hugs me. “I’m glad you could come for a little while.”

“I honestly wish I could stay longer. I feel bad about having to leave so early.” And without even one phone number. Although, in fairness, I’ve been distracted with appetizer thieving.

She waves a dismissive hand. “I’m sure there will be plenty more parties before the wedding. I know you must be nervous about the audition, and excited.”

“I’m crossing everything that it goes well tomorrow. I’d even cross my vagina lips if they hung low enough.”

Amie coughs and glances around to make sure the pickle-up-the-ass trust-fund boys missed my inappropriate vagina talk.

“Sorry.” I only sort of mean it. I don’t want to embarrass my friend, but it’s only since a massive three carat diamond toting man came into her life that she’s adopted this somewhat snooty, upper crust attitude. Vagina jokes

used to be our thing. At least in college they were.

She flutters a hand around in the air, the one with the rock, and smiles. “It’s fine. I shouldn’t even care, but Armstrong’s mother will end up with a case of the vapors if she hears anyone say anything pertaining to who-ha’s.”

That my best friend is referring to girl parts as “whoha” is more reason to worry about this engagement. Never have we traded dirty sex part names for highbrow approved ones until now.

“Amalie! There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I need you for photographs.”

Amie turns to address the woman who’s approached. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize they were scheduled now.”

She looks as if she’s probably somewhere in her late fifties, although extensive surgeries keeps her skin baby bottom smooth, at least on her face. Her neck tells another story. I take in the rest of her. She’s wearing a black dress that says more funeral than engagement party and around her neck is some kind of animal. “Is that alive?” I reach out, as if I’m about to give her pet a pat, but her recoil has me mirroring her.

“Ha!” she barks out a laugh. “Aren’t you a funny one.” Her tone seems to imply she doesn’t find me funny in the least.

“That’s a stole,” I say stupidly. “Is that a fox?” She strokes the dead animal wrapped around her neck, her lip peeling back in distaste. “It’s a mink.” At least it’s not a baby seal. Who in world wears fur stoles in this century unless they’ve been abandoned in the wilderness and need it for survival? And it’s May. “Let’s hope PETA isn’t waiting outside with a bucket of

paint, huh?”

She blinks at me.

“Gwendolyn, this my best friend and maid of honor, Ruby Scott. Ruby, this is Armstrong’s mother.”

Shit. I’ve just insulted my best friend’s soon to be mother in law. This is not a good start.

Gwendolyn holds out a hand as if she’s expecting me to kiss it. I shake it instead. “Oh yes. Amalie’s told me about your family. Scott Pharmaceuticals, isn’t that right?” She tilts her head and arches a brow, or at least I think this is what she’s doing. It’s hard to tell since very little of her face seems to move.

“Uh, yes.” I hate this part. The way people look at me differently the moment they know who my family is and that I come from money. Then there’s the judgment that I don’t quite belong because I’m “new” money. I’m third generation trust fund, but in this circle, that’s considered new.

“Your father’s new medical breakthrough has been ground breaking, hasn’t it?” She sounds like she disapproves. Maybe her husband has discovered the wonders of the artificial, never ending hard-on and her dried out vagina is angry with me.

My father’s team created the newest erectile dysfunction medication. It’s a real porn star legacy. I nod and smile, even though my father had absolutely nothing to do with the actual development of the medication. He just struts around making people think he did.

“Ruby is just on her way out. I’ll be along in a moment and then we can take some pictures.”

“Of course, of course.” Gwendolyn waves us off as Amie takes my arm and guides me away. Gwendolyn is already striking up a conversation with someone else.

“I’m sorry about the stole comment,” I mutter as we cross the room.

“It’s fine. She’s drunk, so she probably won’t remember anyway.”

She seems like a real piece of work. It also explains a lot about Armstrong. I’m still trying to figure out his allure. He seems to walk around with an entire jar of pickles rammed up his ass at all times. I’m also wary about how fast things have moved. They’ve only been together for a few months, but she seems convinced they’re a match made in heaven. I guess divorce is always a scandalous option down the line if necessary.

Not that I’m predicting divorce or anything. I’m just rather familiar with the way these men trade in wives like cars when the model gets a dent—or the botox stops erasing the wrinkles. My own father is on wife number three. His current wife is all of twenty-eight. She used to be his secretary—so cliché.

Amie fingers my hair when we reach the door to the ballroom. I used a curling iron to no avail, it’s already straightened itself out for me. Amie has this incredible wavy, sandy blond hair, the opposite of mine in color and body. “Should I give you a wakeup call in the morning? Just to make sure you don’t sleep through your alarm?”

“You don’t have to do that. You’ll be exhausted tomorrow morning after this. You should sleep in for once.”

“I have to work tomorrow, I’ll be up early.”

I don’t really understand why anyone would plan an engagement party on a Monday night, but apparently Armstrong’s mother was highly influential. Even if it was on a weekend, there’s a good chance Amie would be up early anyway. It doesn’t matter what time she goes to bed at, her internal alarm is set for 5:45 am.

“Sounds good. Maybe you can come by my place for lunch or something later?” I’m sure I can manage to scrounge up enough money to buy the necessary items to make sandwiches.

She makes her scrunchy no-no face. “I’m having lunch with Army’s mother to discuss wedding plans.” I mirror her displeased expression. “Have fun with that.”

“We can do dinner later in the week. My treat.”

“You don’t have to buy.” In all honesty, I can’t afford to go out for dinner with Amie unless we do the dollar menu at the burger place down the street from my apartment, but my pride won’t let me admit that. Sadly, Amie swears that place gave her food poisoning, so she refuses to entertain eating there. Being in between jobs sucks.

“I’ll take you out to celebrate your audition.”

“If you insist.” I would love to eat something that isn’t from a cellophane package.

“I do.” She smiles, as if it’s not a big deal. I’m already reviewing the menus at various restaurants and picking the most reasonable, filling dinner options.

Amie’s unaware of how dire my financial situation currently is. I honestly didn’t realize how bad it was until I checked my account yesterday. The one my father doesn’t know about. The one that’s very close to zero. Until three weeks ago I had a steady paycheck and a role in a successful production that’s been running for five months. I’d known something was up when the last two paychecks were late, and then bounced entirely. The production company had gone bankrupt, and I suddenly found myself with no income.

To make matters even worse, less than a week later, my agent decided to take early retirement with no warning. She dumped her entire client list, leaving us all scrambling for representation. So far I’m not having much luck securing a new agent, or a new role.

I need this role, otherwise I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get a part time gig making overpriced coffee for the over-pampered dicks in this room. Which I’m not opposed to. It just sucks, given that I graduated with a Triple Threat award from Randolph almost two years ago. I naively assumed my ability to sing, dance and act would mean an automatic ticket to Broadway. Boy was I ever wrong about that. So far I’ve managed two small parts in off-off Broadway productions. Hopefully tomorrow pans out and I’m back on the payroll. I don’t really want to entertain the alternatives so I’m thinking positive and hoping for the best.

I give her a hug, drain my martini, set the glass on table, and tell her to have fun. As much as she can considering the crowd she’s managing. The massive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling have been dimmed, so the lighting isn’t great. Or maybe it’s effects of the martini impacting the clarity of my vision.

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