Authors: Samantha Tonge
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!?
Look up the phrase
and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke!
thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate,
Million Dollar Mansion
So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward.
Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…
lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. Along with writing, her days are spent swimming, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at the EuroDisney theme park. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels and short stories for women’s magazines is her passion.
Huge thanks to Lucy Gilmour and the CarinaUK team for this opportunity and their enthusiasm. Same to my agent, Kate Nash, for all her hard work. Thanks to those writing friends who have unconditionally supported my journey to publication, in particular Caroline Green and Emma Darwin. I couldn’t have done it either, without the rest of the WriteWords crew, including Jon Gritton with his technical know-how. Plus I’ve appreciated input into my writing career from Shirley Blair at The People’s Friend.
For Martin, Immy and Jay – thanks for never doubting me.
LORD EDWARD’S E-DIARY
Welcome to this blog. Your visit is appreciated. May I introduce myself – I am Lord Edward, the son of the Earl of Croxley. Our home, Applebridge Hall, is in the final of the
Million Dollar Mansion
competition. For regular updates of our progress, please do grace this blog with your presence.
. Good evening, readers. Finally I write my first entry. Do bear with me, as I am new to blogging, which I see as a modern twist on my ancestors’ habit of keeping journals. The programme-makers insist you will be interested in my thoughts on the competition, so I shall attempt to bring honesty and some perspective to this diary.
Honest thought number one? Chaos has descended. The film crews arrived again today—cue a refresher course on camera and sound procedures. A national tabloid interviewed Father. To my irritation, the photographer suggested we both wore monocles and borrowed a cluster of the Queen’s corgis. Regardless of the fact I don’t know Her Majesty, my response equalled “over my dead body”.
Some perspective? I await a phone call from my, um, dear cousin, Abigail Croxley who, I’m sure, will confirm her intention to join us imminently. How we intend to beat the other finalist, the Baron of Marwick Castle, is still top secret. However, here is an exclusive clue: my cousin’s cooking knowledge will be an instrumental part of our tactics. I am very much looking forward to seeing her.
Best bit of today? Right now, sitting by myself in our tranquil library.
Worst? Gaynor, the director, handing me a DVD of
Pride and Prejudice
, along with a frilly white shirt and breeches. I made it quite clear that I am a down-to-earth gentleman who will
, under any circumstances, resemble some sort of romantic hero like Mr Darcy.
Abbey was born to sophistication, whereas I was more Barbara than Buckingham Palace Windsor. The two of us had just got back from a goodbye lunch with our Pizza Parlour colleagues, and were standing in front of the bathroom mirror. Having toasted each of our redundancies, I felt a bit tiddly, but still sharp enough to realize this idea was bonkers.
‘Look, Abbey, I don’t know what’s behind this plan, but seriously…’ I smiled ‘…wise up. I could never trick people into thinking I was you, a member of the aristocracy. Ask me to mimic a…a pop star or footballer’s wife, then I’d give it a shot, but even then I dunno if I could live a lie for very long.’ With a grin, I shrugged. ‘Run this idea past me again.’ Perhaps I’d misheard.
Abbey’s bottom lip quivered. ‘It’s…um, no joke, Gemma – please, pretend to be me. Just for two weeks.’ Her cheeks flushed. ‘Who else could I trust with such a mission?’
My jaw dropped. ‘Are you out of your mind? You know I’d flog all my make-up and fave shoes on eBay if it meant helping you get out of a scrape… But this? Abbey, mate…’ My eyes narrowed for a second. ‘Marcus next door hasn’t given you one of his funny-smelling cigarettes has he?’
‘Goodness, no!’ Abbey’s face broke into a smile. ‘Honestly, I quite understand your apprehension, but…’ She fiddled with the waistband of her skinny white trousers. ‘It’d only be for a fortnight and it is in a good cause.’ She took my hands and squeezed them. ‘Oh, please, Gemma. You’re the only person in the world who can pull this off. Remember when Laurence, the son of one of Mummy’s friends, stayed over a few weeks ago?’
Ooh, yeah. Hotter than Dad’s chilli con carne, he was, in that white scarf and tux.
‘He caught you fresh-faced in the morning,’ she said, ‘and insisted we looked terribly alike. If you dyed your brunette hair blonde, he joked we could pass as sisters, what with the same shape nose and blue eyes.’
‘He must have still had his beer goggles – or champers shades—on.’ I let my hands drop from her grip and looked down at my skimpy skirt, the streak of fake tan and high-heeled shoes. ‘Mind you…’ I giggled ‘…remember my first day at work?’
Abbey leant towards me and joined in the laughter. My chest glowed, glad to have cheered her up – but then it
funny, me being mistaken for her. Several members of staff had thought that Abbey – who already worked there – had suffered some sort of identity crisis and undergone a chavvy makeover. Or, in their opinion, make
. I should have been insulted at their relief when she’d turned up looking her usual sophisticated self.
‘Even the regular customers were fooled.’ I turned to the bathroom mirror for a moment. Personally, I couldn’t see a strong resemblance but time had taught me that the world at large occasionally considered us each other’s doppelganger.
Abbey’s grey-haired aunt came in, picked up a bottle of cleanser and passed it to me. ‘Do hurry up, Gemma – we only have ten days to complete your transformation.’
A bubble of laughter tickled the inside of my chest. Really? I mean,
? This wasn’t a wind-up? To humour them, I removed the make-up from half of my face. Minus one false eyelash and a cheek of bronzer, I resembled an unsymmetrical Picasso portrait.
I leant towards Abbey and whispered, ‘Come on, spill—tell me what this is really about and what
’s actually doing here.’
has a name,’ said the old dear, who clearly had bionic hearing and a strict dinner lady stare.
‘How rude of me not to introduce my aunt formally,’ said Abbey with a sheepish smile at the old dear. ‘Gemma, this is Lady Constance Woodfold, my mother’s sister—she used to run her own finishing school.’
‘I’m sure you’ll look delightful without all that bronzer, Gemma,’ said Lady C (posh titles were too long to say in full, unless you were Lady Gaga). ‘Surely your mother would prefer to see your skin au naturel?’
‘No idea. She um…’ I cleared my throat ‘…Mum got ill when I was little and…’
Lady C’s cheeks tinged pink. ‘Do accept my apologies. Of course. Abigail told me of her demise.’ Her wrinkled face softened. ‘Was there no female relative on hand during your formative years?’
I almost chuckled. Didn’t people only speak like that on old BBC news reels?
‘Auntie Jan’s cool. If it wasn’t for her, I’d know nothing about clothes and make-up. People always mistook me for a boy, as a kid. When I hit the teen years, she intervened and even bought my first chicken fillets.’
‘She’s a proficient cook?’ said Lady C, brow furrowed.
I grinned. ‘They’re the inedible kind that you stick down your bra, to up the cup size.’
Lady C pursed her lips. ‘Those fake appendages must disappear, along with your heavy eye-liner. Then we can concentrate on the more important things you need to learn, like the art of good conversation and table manners.’
all this about?
The old woman glanced at Abbey. ‘Does Gemma not know yet that your Uncle James is in the final of
Million Dollar Mansion?’
?’ I almost choked on the word. ‘Your Dad’s brother? The one who inherited the family home—Apple…?’
‘Applebridge Hall?’ said Abbey. ‘Yes. That’s him.’
‘Amaaaaaazin’! I saw a clip of that programme! Castles and Tudor mansions and all sorts competing against each other to win a million dollars to set their place up as… what did they call it?
A going concern
… The dosh is up for grabs from some American billionaire obsessed with
. But how…? What…?’
‘All you need to know at this stage, dear,’ said Lady C, ‘is that Abigail is expected to help out with some catering project – no doubt serving cream teas in some shop they’ve probably constructed within a converted part of the estate. With its exciting armoury and dungeons, the Earl believes the opposition, Marwick Castle, could win. The Croxleys have owned Applebridge Hall since the sixteenth century, so must build on its strength of history, tradition and… family values.’ She stood up straighter. ‘Abbey is unable to go. That’s where you come in.’
‘Me? On the telly?’ Wow. So it wasn’t a joke. I bit my thumbnail. ‘Much as I love reality shows, the last thing I’d want is to be on screen. It’s bad enough in real life, worrying about spots and bad hair days, let alone in front of the whole nation.’
‘But people won’t know it’s you,’ said Abbey. ‘Not even my uncle, who hasn’t seen me since I was nine, when he and Daddy had words. My parents will be away on a cruise and my friends don’t watch such programmes. Even if they do, more than once, people have mistaken us for each other. It’s a foolproof plan.’
‘What about Rupert?’ I said.
‘I’ve discussed the matter with him,’ said Abbey. ‘You know my little brother – he’s jolly loyal and won’t say a word. He understands my reasons— and, by the way, thinks you’ll do a wonderful job.’
‘Didn’t your uncle ask for him to help as well?’
‘Yes, but Daddy said no way, what with his final year at university coming up. Rupe’s already left for Cambridge early. You know him – never happier than when his head is stuck in some book about the history of art.’
I stared at her. What had happened to my honest flatmate, who was straighter than hair squeezed through ceramic stylers; as upright as a sentry box guard? Although she had a point and, apart from lush Laurence, no one had seen me without make-up, for years—even boyfriends, as I lazily went to bed with my slap on. ‘But why would your dad want you to help, if he and his brother haven’t spoken for so long?’